Ultimate Zero RB Watchlist: NFC Week 9
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 going to focus on the most fluid situations in the NFC. The rankings from last week are probably still useful for the most part, but there are a few new developments worth taking a closer look at. The trade deadline and other trends have brought about a few important changes. I’ll examine those changes and other interesting backfields in greater detail. I’ve included a table with snap data, expected points, and PPR scoring at the end.
Ezekiel Elliott’s temporary restraining order was dissolved on Monday night, meaning his six-game suspension will start this week. Elliott has 24 hours to file an appeal, but at this point we should expect the backfield touches to go elsewhere for the next six weeks.
Darren McFadden has been the player I’ve been advising owners to hold all along. He has performed well in this system in the past, he was thought to be the primary backup all throughout the offseason, and his lack of playing time thus far supports the theory that Dallas was trying to keep him healthy in case Elliott was required to serve his suspension this season. Jerry Jones says that Alfred Morris will be the RB1 while Elliott is out. I’m not sure I buy this. But at this point I’ve talked myself into my theory so much that I’m certainly biased.
Nevertheless, McFadden needs to be owned everywhere, as I believe he has a legitimate shot to put up several RB1 weeks over the next month and a half. He could be hard to acquire in a trade, as any owner who’s held him this long is likely thinking the same thing I am, but in some leagues he is probably close to free. Try to get him now before it becomes obvious that he is the primary beneficiary of Elliott’s suspension. Morris should be owned everywhere too.
Morris and Rod Smith have been splitting the backup role, each with varying levels of effectiveness. I don’t see their roles changing significantly as a result of this news, though if I’m wrong here, it’s Morris who has the more valuable role.
Dwayne Washington’s four carries in the red zone gave him Detroit’s most valuable workload. Don’t necessarily expect this to continue: the takeaway, as always, is that no back in Detroit can be trusted, and none of them has a reliable workload. Ameer Abdullah led Detroit RBs in snaps, carries, and targets, but because he is not getting the red zone opportunities, his expected fantasy points fall below a startable level. Theo Riddick is not getting the passing-game work he once did and is barely rosterable as a result.
Jerick McKinnon had the most valuable workload of any RB in the NFC in Week 8, largely on the back of his 15.9 receiving expected points. His lead over Latavius Murray in terms of total workload value continues to grow, despite Murray’s lone good game in which he logged one more touch than McKinnon. In case you were worried after Week 7, don’t be — McKinnon is clearly the back to own in Minnesota. Murray has more carries, but McKinnon is getting nearly all of the valuable receiving work.
New Orleans Saints
Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara split snaps evenly on Sunday, although Ingram drastically out-touched Kamara, doubling his targets and more than doubling his carries. It appears New Orleans wants to transition to a lower-volume offense with more focus on the running game, so we may see Ingram continue to dominate touches, especially in positive game scripts.
The Eagles made one of the biggest moves prior to the trade deadline by sending a fourth-round pick to Miami in exchange for Jay Ajayi. On the surface this looks like a puzzling move: throughout his NFL career Ajayi has displayed approximately the same skillset as LeGarrette Blount, though perhaps with more big-play upside. But it would be a mistake to assume he can’t operate in an expanded role: Ajayi caught 50 passes as a junior at Boise State. His lack of passing-game work would appear to be a product of scheme and coaching decisions, rather than a lack of skill. Coming out of college he profiled as a much more complete back than what we’ve seen from him so far in his career.
Ajayi will likely supplant Blount in the Philadelphia pecking order and has a good shot to be an every-down back. But even if he splits work, this is probably positive move for Ajayi. Not only does his offensive line improve, but his entire offense does as well. Miami has been shut out twice so far this year, whereas Philadelphia is the only team that has yet to lose two games. Now in a high-powered offense, Ajayi should have far more touchdown opportunities, far more open running lanes with Carson Wentz at quarterback, and will likely see a big bump in receiving work in a backfield that’s still trying to replace Darren Sproles. I’m extremely bullish on Ajayi after this move, and I would be looking to acquire him now before everyone realizes just how good a situation he finds himself in.
This move is a blow to every Philadelphia back. Blount and Corey Clement will lose carries. Wendell Smallwood was already being pushed out, as he was out-snapped by Clement on Sunday. And Kenjon Barner has never been a central part of this backfield.
San Francisco 49ers
The other big move was not directly related to an RB situation, but it could have major implications for some RBs: the 49ers traded a second-round pick to the Patriots for QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo was insanely productive in his final season at Eastern Illinois, throwing for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns on 568 attempts, and he has routinely shown well in the preseason. If he can improve the entire San Francisco offense, it could be a major boost to Carlos Hyde’s fantasy value.
On the other hand, Matt Breida actually played more of the second half on Sunday, and he played well, after Hyde was ineffective for much of the first half. Hyde led the team with nine targets and 12 carries, but Breida was used quite a bit as well, with 11 total opportunities. Hyde has not completely seized control of this backfield yet, and if he continues to struggle while Breida performs, he could end up on the outside looking in, as this offense has shown no hesitation to shake things up midseason. Hyde is still the top back in San Francisco for now, but a shift in usage toward Breida would not surprise me at this point. Breida should be owned in all non-shallow leagues.1
We’ve been wondering when Washington would stop letting backs other than Chris Thompson go onto the playing field, and in Week 8 we got quite a bit closer to seeing that happen, as he was in for 80 percent of Washington’s offensive snaps. Rob Kelley still handled more carries, but Thompson has been and should continue to lead the team in total workload value, by virtue of his work in the passing game.
Week 8 Data
|Player||Team||Week 8 Snap Pct||Week 8 ruEP||Week 8 reEP||Week 8 Total EP||Week 8 PPR||Week 8 FPOE||2017 ruEP||2017 reEP||2017 Total EP||2017 PPR||2017 FPOE|
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- It complicates matters for Breida that he suffered what has been reported as a mild MCL sprain in Week 8. Additional injuries to Joe Staley and Pierre Garcon may make it more difficult to quickly and effectively incorporate Garoppolo. (back)