Ultimate Zero RB Watchlist: NFC Week 10
Welcome to the Ultimate Zero RB Watchlist. The goal of this piece is to help you find RB targets for your Zero-RB teams before anyone else even knows about them. We know that startable RB weeks can come from almost anywhere in the NFL. By being aware of depth charts that could yield surprising weekly starters, we put ourselves in position to grab the next breakout RB before he breaks out.
We’ll take a close look at depth charts around the league in order to find the next-man-up situations that nobody is talking about . . . yet. Throughout the season we’ll monitor playing time and usage to identify exploitable, under-the-radar trends that have the potential to pay off with league-winning upside.
Be sure to check out Cort Smith’s companion piece on the AFC.
This week, we’re once again going to focus on the most interesting and actionable situations in the NFC. There have been a few notable changes in playing time and workload distribution around the league, so we’ll take an in-depth look at the backfields most affected by these sorts of changes. Snap shares, expected points, and PPR points for Week 9 and for the 2017 season appear in a table at the bottom of the article.
Ezekiel Elliott was granted a temporary stay last week, meaning he did play on Sunday even though early in the week—when last week’s article was published—it looked like he wouldn’t. Elliott’s hearing with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled for Thursday. At this point, he is still eligible to play, but that could change before game time. If you are an Elliott owner, have a backup plan in place. Also, now is probably the last chance you will have to get anything of value in a trade—if he begins serving his suspension this week, he will miss the rest of the fantasy season. Once he starts serving his suspension, he will be worthless in redraft. Find an owner now who’s willing to make a bet that Elliott will avoid serving his suspension in 2017.
I’m pot committed to the notion that Dallas has been slow playing us the whole time by keeping Darren McFadden inactive, so I’m not going to back off that idea now. He and Alfred Morris and even Rod Smith should all be owned at this point, as realistically any of them could have a significant role once Elliott’s suspension takes hold. If it looks like a committee is the most likely scenario, then both McFadden and Smith are interesting as pass-catching backs, while Morris has less value. McFadden is the most versatile and would appear to be the most likely to garner something approaching a workhorse role. He is, for that reason, my preferred back in this situation, despite what Dallas says publicly.
Green Bay Packers
We always knew the Aaron Jones dream was probably fleeting, even if we didn’t want to admit it. Ty Montgomery out-snapped Jones on Monday night and had the more valuable rushing workload. Jones’ five targets led the way in the Packers backfield, but he only caught two of them and failed to gain positive yardage through the air. The sad truth is that this offense is not quite functional without Aaron Rodgers. Brett Hundley was not awful—he didn’t turn the ball over, and he rushed for one touchdown—but he was not exactly good either, as Green Bay’s offense was mostly ineffective outside of Hundley’s rushing TD and a garbage-time TD by Jamaal Williams, whose carry at the 1-yard line was more valuable than all five of Jones’ combined in terms of expected points. Williams added two catches on two targets, while Montgomery caught his only target of the night and turned it into an 18-yard gain.
Jones still ended up with the most valuable workload in terms of total expected points, but with both Montgomery and Williams getting significant work, it’s difficult to trust that he will continue to lead this backfield. I wouldn’t spend whatever FAAB you have left to get Williams after this game—his goal-line carry looks more like a product of the game being already out of reach than a reasoned decision to use him as the goal-line back going forward. The most likely scenario would appear to be a timeshare between Jones and Montgomery, though without either having a clearly defined role as both are capable runners and pass-catchers. In any event, it’s hard to get excited about either of them unless we see this offense improve with Hundley at quarterback.
New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara led all NFC RBs in receiving expected points and led the Saints’ backfield in total expected points on his way to a two-TD game. Mark Ingram had more carries and played more snaps, but was only targeted once in a game in which the Saints were not required to throw often—Drew Brees attempted only eight passes in the second half. Both backs have value in this offense, as the Saints look like they’ve committed to running the ball as much as possible this year. They are perhaps unlikely to find themselves with such positive game scripts going forward, however, which may actually favor Kamara more than Ingram.
New York Giants
Orleans Darkwa led the Giants in snaps and handled the majority of the carries, while also catching both of his targets. Shane Vereen was targeted four times but was used surprisingly little in a game in which New York never held a lead. Wayne Gallman carried the ball nine times in the game, but after fumbling early in the second quarter, he did not touch the ball again until the game was well out of hand in the fourth.
This is one of the most difficult situations to predict but also one of the least fantasy-viable, as no single back played on even half of the Giants’ offensive snaps. Darkwa’s lead in snaps and touches may have been related to Gallman’s fumble, so it’s not clear that we should expect to see this sort of distribution continue. The situation is complicated by the fact that Paul Perkins, who opened the season as the lead back, was also active in Week 9, although he did not play on offense. I’m personally staying away from this backfield entirely—no RB on this team can be started with confidence, even in an attractive matchup like the one they have against San Francisco in Week 10.
Jay Ajayi did not get the most work in the Eagles’ backfield, but he did make the most of the touches he was given, totaling 77 rushing yards and one TD on eight carries. Ajayi was out-touched and out-snapped both by LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement, but given his performance against a Denver defense that ranks second in the NFL in yards per carry allowed, he should expect to get more playing time and more work.
Clement was the only back to be targeted, and the only back besides Ajayi to score.1 But Carson Wentz only attempted 27 passes, and Alshon Jeffrey was the only player he targeted more than four times. Against an offense that’s more able to move the ball and score points, we will probably see more targets going to the RBs. Blount is not likely to get many of those. Wendall Smallwood appears to be on the outside looking in after seeing only nine percent of the Eagles offensive snaps in Week 9, down from an almost-as-disappointing 19 percent in Week 8. Kenjon Barner has been relegated to what amounts to a special-teams-only role. Both Smallwood and Barner are droppable, even in deep leagues. That leaves Clement and Ajayi as the primary candidates for the third-down role. Of the two, Ajayi is the one who displayed superior pass-catching skills in college.
Ideally, Ajayi would take over the (pre-Week-9) Kareem Hunt role in Doug Pederson’s version of an Andy Reid offense. That said, I don’t see either Blount or Clement going away soon, so while the upside case for Ajayi is very intriguing in this high-powered Philadelphia offense, the most likely scenario is that he is stuck in a three-way committee for the foreseeable future.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Doug Martin was mysteriously benched shortly after the start of the third quarter on Sunday and ended playing only 31 percent of the Bucs offensive snaps. He had only gained seven yards on eight carries to that point, so perhaps there’s no real mystery here. In any case, Peyton Barber handled the majority of the carries instead, with only slightly more success. The Saints defense should be given some credit for Tampa Bay’s inability to move the ball downfield, but the Buccaneers’ struggles on offense have been persistent, especially on the ground. On the season they rank in the bottom five in rushing yards and in the bottom ten in yards per carry. They’ve scored only 13 total points in their last two games. Like Green Bay, this is a situation that lacks both clarity and significant upside. With Jameis Winston now out for several weeks, the Bucs may continue to struggle on offense. Martin should remain on your bench for the time being.
Week 9 Data
|Player||Team||Gms||Week 9 Snap %||2017 Snap %||Week 9 ruEP||Week 9 reEP||Week 9 Total EP||Week 9 PPR||2017 ruEP||2017 reEP||2017 Total EP||2017 PPR|
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- He scored twice. (back)