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.
Much like Week 10, Week 11 brought with it several injuries of note, and as a result, several backfields with fluid and uncertain situations going forward. I’ll take a deep dive into those situations below to offer some guidance on how best to approach these backfields. The data tables appear, as always, at the end.
Andre Ellington was a healthy scratch on Sunday and was promptly released on Monday. Adrian Peterson played on 64 percent of the Cardinals’ offensive snaps, with D.J. Foster, Kerwynn Williams, and Elijhaa Penny sharing the rest. The Cardinals also promoted Bronson Hill from their practice squad.
Ellington had been Arizona’s primary pass-catching back for much of the season. In his absence, Foster and Williams saw two targets each. Foster’s college receiving prowess is undeniable, and as a receiving back, some of his comps are encouraging.
Williams is no slouch either in the passing game. Frankly, based on their prospect profiles, either looks like an upgrade over Ellington.
After getting just 38 offensive snaps over the Bears’ last three games, Tarik Cohen tied Jordan Howard for the team high at RB snaps with 31, good enough for a 49 percent snap share. He also got six targets to Howard’s zero, meaning despite the fact that Howard out-touched him 15 to 13, Cohen still had the more valuable workload in terms of total expected points, 13.2 to 7.7.
I, of course, am happy to see Cohen being featured in the Bears’ offense again, and I hope his increased usage is a trend that continues. Benny Cunningham was on the field for 17 snaps, but was targeted only twice and did not carry the ball once. It’s too hard to predict what John Fox will do in the future for me to give any guidance I feel comfortable with. In the long term I am very bullish on Cohen’s skill set.
Rod Smith again led the Cowboys RBs in snaps, and Alfred Morris again led in carries. Unlike last week, however, neither was targeted in the passing game. Morris gained 91 yards on 17 carries, likely solidifying his role as the early-down back. Smith could only manage 11 yards on eight carries.
With Morris getting a carry on 68 percent of his snaps in Week 11 (the highest mark for RBs who played more than six snaps), and getting no work in the passing game, his presence in the backfield likely makes Dallas’ offense more predictable than they would like, which explains why Rod Smith leads in snaps in Ezekiel Elliott’s absence. Ideally for fantasy purposes, Smith would take over every-down work, but until he shows himself to be an effective runner, there is little chance of that happening.
Darren McFadden was a healthy scratch for the ninth time in 2017, and appears not to be a part of the Cowboys plans at RB. I reluctantly admit you can drop him now.
Green Bay Packers
With Ty Montgomery out, Jamaal Williams was a workhorse in terms of usage. He played on 88 percent of Green Bay’s offensive snaps, carried the ball 18 times, and was also targeted six times. His 16.8 total expected points was good for ninth best in the league. Unfortunately the Packers were not able to get close to the end zone often enough to make all his carries and targets count for much. The Packers get an easier rushing matchup in Week 12 against Pittsburgh, and if Montgomery is sidelined again, look for Williams to have a stronger showing.
I highlighted Devante Mays as a speculative add in last week’s column. If you picked him up, I sure hope you didn’t start him, as his negative one yard and two fumbles on three carries netted him negative 2.1 fantasy points. If you are in a position where you did have to start him, he probably didn’t affect your playoff outlook much, as I doubt you were winning many games in the first place. The lone bright spot for Mays fans and (if any besides me exist) owners is that the Packers coaching staff gave him another carry even after he fumbled on each of his first two.
Although Latavius Murray scored the two touchdowns, it was Jerick McKinnon who led the Vikings in snaps and expected points, and he carried the ball only one less time than Murray. Murray had three red zone carries to McKinnon’s one, and each had a target in the red zone.
Considering what is perceived to be a down game for McKinnon and a signal that Murray may be taking over the backfield, perhaps now is a good opportunity to buy McKinnon. The Vikings face a difficult RB schedule over the next five weeks, but this may actually be a good thing for McKinnon, as he is the pass-catching back, and his big-play ability is always there, regardless of the matchup. Murray on the other hand is much more matchup dependent.
New Orleans Saints
Sunday marked the first time since Week 1 that Alvin Kamara has out-snapped Mark Ingram. The Saints were playing catch-up for much of the game and were forced to throw more than they have been over the past several weeks. Drew Brees looked Kamara’s way on nine of his 41 pass attempts—the highest numbers for either since Week 4. Kamara’s passing game work enabled him to lead in total workload value, but it’s difficult to project this sort of lead going forward, as the Saints would still prefer to be a run-first team. Nevertheless, Kamara’s role in the offense is about as stable as one finds in the NFL.
New York Giants
Orleans Darkwa has seemingly taken hold of the lead-back role on the Giants, with 20 carries and four targets for 18.4 total expected points—fifth highest on the week among RBs. However, he only played on 43 percent of the Giants’ offensive snaps, which, although it was a team high, shatters any illusions that he’s a true workhorse. I would not expect this type of workload going forward.
Jay Ajayi is apparently not as comfortable with the Eagles playbook as was reported—he played on only 20 percent of Philadelphia’s offensive snaps. With only two total RB targets, no Eagles RB had more than LeGarrette Blount’s 6.2 total expected points. It was Corey Clement and Kenjon Barner who scored Philadelphia’s two rushing TDs. Ajayi did, however, break off a long run for the second straight game, which will hopefully earn him more playing time going forward. Until we actually see that happen, it’s hard to trust anyone in this backfield.
Mike Davis, a recent promotion from the practice squad, started the game at RB for the Seahawks. He was not terrible—just merely not good—gaining 18 yards on six carries, before injuring his groin. After Davis’ injury, J.D. McKissic led Seattle RBs in snaps and touches, and actually led the entire NFC in expected points. McKissic is clearly the back to own in Seattle, as the only player on the roster with an “RB” next to his name who is both healthy and competent.
Eddie Lacy also played, but you’d barely know it—he rushed for two yards on three carries.
Samaje Perine played on 70 percent of Washington’s offensive snaps and was the clear workhorse after Chris Thompson left the game with a leg injury. Thompson has since been placed on IR, meaning Perine’s workload is relatively safe going forward, and he will likely even get some opportunity in the passing game. If he’s not yet owned in your league, spend what you have left to try to acquire him.
Perine will compete for touches with recently acquired WR/RB hybrid Byron Marshall. Marshall was a productive RB at Oregon before becoming a productive WR at Oregon, rushing for over 1,000 yards in his sophomore season and catching 74 passes for over 1,000 yards in his junior season. He was injured for all but four games during his senior season. Potentially a poor man’s Chris Thompson, Marshall is worth adding in deep leagues.
Washington also promoted LeShun Daniels from the practice squad. Daniels has good size, but not much else going for him. He looks to be a pure backup for Perine.
Week 11 Data
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