Hello and welcome to the first installment of the Zero RB Watchlist! For the first installment of this weekly article, I’ve looked at the depth chart for all 32 teams and tried to forecast the fantasy viability for each player.
Note that this post will be frequently updated, since depth charts across the NFL are currently in flux. In order to ensure that this post remains up-to-date, feel free to let me know if I’ve missed any moves on the message board thread. That way we can keep everyone abreast of the latest developments.
David Johnson went on injured reserve following a wrist injury suffered in Week 1 last season, but now he’s back! Johnson received over 78 percent of the Cardinals’ RB carries, and nearly 85 percent of their RB targets. Johnson accounts for the lions share of the Cardinals’ RB rushing and receiving expected points (EP).
When Johnson went down with injury, the Cardinals pieced together one of the grossest running back committees in recent memory.
Johnson perfectly fits the profile of a B1 RB, as identified by Charles Kleinheksel. If Johnson were to miss time with injury, Fordham rookie Chase Edmonds will likely take over as the Cardinals’ feature RB. Currently Edmonds checks in as No. 15 on the Zero RB list, and should be stashed in dynasty leagues and deeper leagues. He’s overtaken former super deep fantasy sleeper T.J. Logan in the pecking order, and Cardinals coaches are enthusiastic about his NFL future. Elijhaa Penny is currently on the Cardinals’ practice squad, and hopefully his services are not required this season.
When healthy, Devonta Freeman is the undisputed No. 1 RB for the Falcons. He’s led the backfield in carries, targets, and expected points over the last three seasons.
Unfortunately Tevin Coleman is reduced to more of a change-of-pace role. However, in the event that Freeman misses time with injury, Coleman has the potential to put up RB1 numbers.
It comes as no surprise that Coleman is the top Zero RB candidate for 2018. Ito Smith holds sleeper appeal if either Freeman or Coleman miss time this season.
The Ravens turned their backfield over to Alex Collins in Week 10.
They treated Collins as their potential workhorse RB this preseason, and he should retain his stranglehold on the backfield provided his health cooperates.
Although Collins was given the bulk of the rushing workload, Danny Woodhead was utilized as their change-of-pace RB. I warned about Javorius Allen’s shrinking usage in Week 9’s Buy Low Report and it appears that the worst came true. Although Woodhead is no longer on the Ravens’ roster, Kenneth Dixon is. Given Dixon’s prolific receiving ability, its possible he plays the role that Woodhead occupied last season. John Lapinski pegged Dixon as a potential late round league winner, and he is among the reasons why Allen is a potential trap for Zero RB drafters. Either Dixon or Allen could be viable flex candidates, if the other players have to miss time due to injury.
UDFA rookie RBs Gus Edwards and De’Lance Turner both made the practice squad.
LeSean McCoy has yet to be fully cleared of any wrongdoing from the NFL, but he will not begin the season on the commissioner’s exempt list. McCoy faces several headwinds this season that could lower his fantasy ceiling. These include:
- Playing for a team that outperformed their 2017 Pythagorean expectations, and should regress this season. The eventual clawback the Bills will experience as a team will trickle down and impact McCoy’s fantasy production.
- Nathan Peterman is expected to be the starter, and Josh Allen will eventually take over. Whether either quarterback can sustain drives and generate red zone opportunities is yet to be determined, but its safe to say they’re a step down from Tyrod Taylor.
- McCoy could eventually wind up on the commissioner’s exempt list, making him a very risky asset.
McCoy’s the workhorse RB in Buffalo, and should return RB2 value on volume alone.
Chris Ivory is outside the draftable range, but have him on speed dial in case McCoy misses time this season. Taiwan Jones and Marcus Murphy round out the Bills’ RB corps. If you’re relying on them for help this season, its likely that somethings gone horribly wrong.
Unsurprisingly, Christian McCaffrey is listed as the starter for the Carolina Panthers. McCaffrey’s list of rookie comps is impressive, and he’s dominated first-team reps over the course of preseason. High stakes drafters are bullish on McCaffrey’s outlook, selecting him in the late-first/early-second round. McCaffrey’s outsize usage as a receiver grants him an incredibly high floor. If McCaffrey experiences a slight bump in his rushing workload, and is more efficient with his opportunity, he could finish as a top-5 RB this season.
C.J. Anderson does not pose an outsized risk to McCaffrey’s workload, but his usage should be monitored. Currently listed as the No. 2 RB for the Panthers, Anderson could have some usable weeks and should be rostered in deeper leagues. Cameron Artis-Payne finds himself listed as the No. 3 RB, and will be relevant in the event Anderson misses time.
Recently Matt Nagy announced that Jordan Howard will stay on the field for third downs. However, a quick glance at the Stat Explorer tells us that Howard saw plenty of work on third downs last season.
Twenty-seven total opportunities might not sound like a lot, but it’s nearly half of Chicago’s RB third-down opportunities, and more than Kareem Hunt saw last year. Howard’s 3.9 yards per opportunity on third down pale in comparison to Tarik Cohen’s 6.0, and suggest that Nagy may not keep his promise.
Howard sports an embarrassing 63-percent catch rate, and a 35-percent receiving success rate. The Bears will ostensibly utilize Cohen as a hybrid wide receiver/RB, considering Howard’s poor receiving ability.1
Hopefully both Howard and Cohen are in for big fantasy seasons. Fantasy parasite, Benny Cunningham, is listed as the No. 3 RB and should occasionally spell both players.
Exciting rookie RB Ryan Nall and second year RB Taquon Mizzell are on the Bears’ practice squad.
Joe Mixon took over as the Bengals’ de facto staring RB in Week 3, and led the backfield in rush attempts.
Giovani Bernard led the Bengals in targets, and capitalized when Mixon was forced to miss games last season.
Mixon’s list of rookie comps suggests that he has a wide range of outcomes as a player, and he winds up on Cort Smith’s list of players he’s begging you to not draft this season. Mixon should be locked into a heavy rushing and receiving workload, but Bernard could have standalone value. It’s no wonder Bernard checks in as the No. 8 option on the Zero RB list.
Interestingly the Bengals have Quinton Flowers on their practice squad, and he’s listed as an RB.
Carlos Hyde has put together an impressive preseason, and appears to have a stranglehold on the starting RB role in Cleveland.
Best ball drafters appear to be comfortable with Hyde taking over, as indicated by the sharp spike in ADP. The spike in Hyde’s price has made both Duke Johnson and Nick Chubb terrific Zero RB candidates. Johnson should preserve his role as Cleveland’s primary change-of-pace RB, and should see the bulk of the receiving workload. Chubb is an intriguing Zero RB candidate, as Blair Andrews has shown.
Dontrelle Hilliard is on the Browns’ practice squad.
Interestingly, Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith are the only two RBs the Cowboys are carrying on their 53-man roster this season.
With how light the Cowboys’ RB corps is, Smith could have a bigger role than initially anticipated. Smith’s usage should be monitored, but he needs to owned in all non-shallow leagues. By only carrying two RBs, the Cowboys are telegraphing that Elliott will likely lead the NFL in carries this season.
Tavon Austin, the former WR turned RB has been converted back to WR.
Bo Scarbrough and Jordan Chunn are both on the Cowboys’ practice squad.
Royce Freeman has been declared the starter for Denver, something we’ve predicted since he was drafted by the Denver Broncos. Mike Braude was high on Freeman’s outlook this season, and warned readers about Devontae Booker’s place in the pecking order. Booker saw a high percentage of his targets when the Broncos were faced with negative game flow, and it’ll be interesting to see if he retains this role.
De’Angelo Henderson was released from the Broncos, and Phillip Lindsay slides in as the No. 3 RB in Denver. Lindsay topped the Workhorse Score metric, and it’ll be interesting to see if he can overtake Booker on the depth chart.
The Lions are currently carrying four RBs on their roster: LeGarrette Blount, Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, and Ameer Abdullah.
Johnson makes for an intriguing Zero RB candidate. Technically Johnson’s not listed as the starter, but it’s likely that he and Riddick form a lethal one-two punch later this season. It’s possible that Blount or Abdullah steal goal line work. As is often the case, it’s starting to look like the Lions’ backfield will be a very frustrating backfield to decipher this season.
Green Bay Packers
No surprises here for the Green Bay Packers. Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones2 and Ty Montgomery are the three RBs who make the final 53-man roster. Williams is one of the top-ranked Zero RB candidates this season. If he falters, it’s likely that Jones could force a running back by committee once he returns. Montgomery has multiple paths to success this season, and should smash his current ADP.
Darius Jackson finds his way onto the Packers’ practice squad.
It should come as no surprise to our subscribers, but D’Onta Foreman will start the season on the reserve/PUP list. Foreman will miss the first six games, but monitor his status. He may make for a strong waiver wire option, especially if you’re thin at RB.
Lamar Miller is locked into a workhorse role to start the season. Alfred Blue is listed as the primary backup to Miller, and could see usage if Miller falters or gets hurt.
Tyler Ervin is listed as the No. 3 RB in Foreman’s absence, and appears to be fully recovered from his torn patellar tendon. Hopefully Ervin can deliver on the exciting promise he held when entering the NFL.
Troymaine Pope is listed as the No. 4 RB. Additionally, the Texans claimed Buddy Howell from the Dolphins. Neither player is expected to have an impact this season.
The Colts have four RBs on their 53-man roster. Jordan Wilkins is the favorite to be the starter for Week 1, and will likely retain the starter role over the near term. It’s likely that Wilkins and Christine Michael split early down work.
Nyheim Hines has had a preseason to forget, and his price is in free fall. Hopefully Hines is able to turn it around during the season, and you’re able to scoop him up off waivers.
Marlon Mack is dealing with a hamstring injury, and has yet to return to practice. He’s likely going to miss Week 1, but should be the Colts’ starter when healthy.
Leonard Fournette is expected to dominate the rushing workload for the Jaguars this season, and should improve upon his successful rookie campaign.
Fournette finished as a top-24 option in 10 of the 12 games he played last season. Marqise Lee’s unfortunate injury could open up more receiving work for Fournette, who was rarely targeted on third down.
The potential increase in targets raises Fournette’s floor in PPR formats.
Both T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant are likely going to retain their backup roles. With Lee out of the picture, Yeldon might see a slight bump in receiving work. Historically, Yeldon’s proven to be a capable pass catcher and an increase in his receiving workload might make him a flex option in deeper leagues.
Grant will likely be the primary beneficiary in the event of a Fournette injury. Jacksonville Jaguars beat writers have noted that Grant might see an increased workload this season, but I doubt he holds much standalone fantasy value.
The Jaguars signed second year UDFA Brandon Wilds to the practice squad.
Kansas City Chiefs
Interestingly the Chiefs opted to keep four RBs on their 53-man roster.3 Kareem Hunt is locked into the workhorse role this season and Mark Wemken makes a compelling case to reach for Hunt in the first round of fantasy drafts.
Spencer Ware and Damien Williams will spell Hunt. Currently Ware is listed as the No. 2 RB, but could be overtaken by Williams if his knee isn’t fully healed. This is a situation to keep an eye on over the course of the early season.
UDFA rookie RB Darrell Williams slides in as the No. 4 RB.
Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, and Detrez Newsome are the only three RBs on the Chargers’ active roster. Gordon appears to be locked into a healthy workload, and is poised to build upon the success he’s experienced over the last two seasons.
Newsome is a UDFA rookie who made the team after a strong showing in preseason. Newsome ranks second in Western Carolina University history, with 3,728 rushing yards. Newsome posted 46 total touchdowns during his time at WCU and led the FCS division in all-purpose yards twice. He should be rostered in dynasty leagues.
Los Angeles Rams
In this world nothing can said to be certain except death, taxes, and Todd Gurley’s workload.
John Kelly should be rostered in all leagues, since it’s likely that he take over as the every-down workhorse if Gurley misses time this season. Based on Kelly’s impressive score in the Backfield Dominator Rating and the RB Prospect Lab, he’s got tremendous upside.
Adam Gase was recently quoted as stating that he’s hopeful that Kenyan Drake will handle “15-20 carries and see 6-8 targets per game.” Although the numbers seem off, it’s clear that Gase views Drake as the team’s workhorse RB. Drake has tremendous upside this season.
Frank Gore appears to be winning the battle against Father Time. He’s listed as the Dolphins’ No. 2 RB and will spell Drake on early downs.
Kalen Ballage flashed big-play potential this preseason, and will likely be the change-of-pace RB. If his preseason play carries over into the regular season, Ballage might carve out a bigger role than expected.
Senorise Perry, Brandon Bolden, and Jeremy Langford4 round out the Dolphins’ roster.
Dalvin Cook returns in time for Week 1, but I expect the team will take it slow with him for the first few weeks. Expect Latavius Murray to get plenty of work over the first weeks, and possibly function as the Vikings’ goal line RB this season.
Both UDFA rookie RBs Mike Boone and Roc Thomas made the Vikings’ 53-man roster. Currently Boone is listed ahead of Thomas on the depth chart, and should have value if Cook or Murray are sidelined this season. Both players should be rostered in dynasty leagues.
New England Patriots
The Patriots enter the season with Rex Burkhead, Sony Michel, James White, and Jeremy Hill as the four RBs on their 53-man roster.
Burkhead is reportedly dealing with a “slight tear” in his knee, but is expected to see highest leverage touches in this backfield. Michel has missed all of training camp with a knee injury, and is in a race to get healthy by Week 1. Frustrated Michel owners might be looking to trade him for a pittance, or drop him to waivers if he’s unable to suit up soon. Michel has sky-high potential as a member of the Patriots’ backfield.
White will likely retain his receiving role, and could see added receiving work with Julian Edelman serving a four game suspension. Hill is an intriguing late round option, and hopefully you bought low when you had the chance. If Hill reprises Blount’s role in the Patriots’ offense, you’ll be glad you have him on your fantasy rosters.
New Orleans Saints
One of the most compelling subplots of the offseason has been the Saints’ quest to find a replacement for Mark Ingram. Ingram violated the NFL’s PED policy, and will miss the first four weeks of the season. The Saints recently signed New Englands Patriots castoff Mike Gillislee to a one year deal and summarily waived rookie Boston Scott.
Jonathan Williams was a surprise roster cut, but lands on the Saints’ practice squad.
New York Giants
It’s Saquon Barkley’s world, and the rest of us are simply living in it. Barkley missed training camp after straining his hamstring a few weeks ago, but said he’s ready to receive a full workload. Expect Barkley to dominate the majority of the rushing and receiving work this season.
Currently Jonathan Stewart is listed as the Giants’ No. 2 RB, but after impressing in preseason I’d expect Wayne Gallman leapfrogs him on the depth chart. Gallman is well outside the draftable range, but should be the teams primary RB if Barkley misses time.
Robert Martin and Jhurell Pressley (practice squad) are both running backs who play in the NFL.
New York Jets
Bilal Powell is listed as the Jets’ starter but Todd Bowles has said that he’s looking to ride the hot hand this season. Isaiah Crowell is expected to see plenty of work this season, and the Jets’ backfield looks like it will be a headache for fantasy players.
Trenton Cannon was recommended as a deep fantasy sleeper a few weeks ago, and could have an impact if Crowell or Powell miss any time this season. He’s currently outside the draftable range, but could emerge later this season.
The Jets placed Elijah McGuire on injured reserve.5 The injured reserve designation rules out McGuire until Week 9 at the earliest. McGuire is eligible to start practicing Week 6, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for his return. If McGuire is slow to recover, it’s likely he sits for the rest of the season.
Marshawn Lynch enters the season as the confirmed No. 1 RB for the Oakland Raiders. Although Lynch started the season slowly, he came on strong over the last eight games of the season.6
Doug Martin makes for an intriguing late-round flier candidate, and is currently listed as No. 2 on the Raiders’ depth chart. Personally, I have more interest in Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington than Martin.
Washington and Richard saw more targets than Lynch, and accounted for a higher chunk of the expected receiving points. The battle for change-of-pace duties behind Lynch will be one to keep an eye on.
Promising rookie Chris Warren suffered a knee injury, and has been placed on injured reserve.
Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood are the four RBs who are on the Eagles’ 53-man roster. I’ve broken Ajayi’s usage earlier this offseason, but its interesting to note that both Clement and Sproles are ahead of Smallwood on the depth chart.
Clement is ostensibly the RB who will take over if Ajayi misses time with injury.
Given the high failure rate among older players, it’ll be interesting to see how Sproles is utilized upon returning from injury.
Smallwood will likely require several injuries before becoming a fantasy viable asset.
Le’Veon Bell has yet to report to camp and Mike Tomlin must feel like he’s starring in an off-Broadway production of “Waiting for Godot” by this point. Tomlin is unsure when Bell will report, but it’d be a surprise if he doesn’t suit up for the Steelers’ Week 1 game. Bell’s outsize usage leaves precious little for the other RBs on the Steelers’ roster.
James Conner holds a special place in my heart, since I wrote about him in the 2017 RotoViz Writing Contest. Conner’s comps from the Box Score Scout are intriguing, and indicate he could take over workhorse duties if needed.7
San Francisco 49ers
Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL on the final play of practice, and has been placed on injured reserve. It’s an unfortunate development for McKinnon, who many were expecting to be the workhorse RB for the 49ers this season.
Although Matt Breida is currently recovering from a shoulder injury, he should be ready to go by Week 1. It’s likely that Breida gets first crack at starter reps, but expect Alfred Morris to play a bigger role once he’s fully acclimated with the playbook.
Kyle Juszczyk caught more balls than Breida last season, and could likely lead the 49ers’ backfield in receptions. Although he’s going to be a viable weekly fantasy option, he caps Breida’s receiving upside.
Hell will have to freeze over before Raheem Mostert is a viable fantasy option. Mostert is a journeyman RB who’s played for seven teams over the last three years, and rushed for a career high 30 yards last season.
Despite drafting Rashaad Penny in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Seahawks have declared that Chris Carson is their starting RB. Pete Carroll has banged the drum for Carson all offseason, so it comes as no surprise that he’s listed as a starter. It does however call into question the decision making skills of the Seahawks’ front office. Phillip Caldwell noted that Carson makes for an enticing bounceback option this season, and I’m inclined to agree. Carson performed well over the first four games of the 2017 season, before being placed on injured reserve with a broken leg.
Although Penny is listed as the Seahawks’ No. 2 RB, I doubt he makes an impact in the first few weeks. Penny’s had a poor training camp, and missed the preseason with a broken finger. Penny’s price continues to dip, so he may make for an appealing selection if you’re drafting late. Alternatively, it’s possible he’s been dropped to the waiver wire in your league. If he has, pick him up and hold tight.
Mike Davis holds plenty of sleeper appeal in the event of a Carson injury. He performed adequately when called upon last season, and should be someone to monitor as the season unfolds. RotoViz darling, C.J. Prosise made the Seahawks’ 53-man roster. Hopefully he’s able to stay healthy, and to make an impact later this season.
J.D. McKissic was placed on injured reserve, but he’s eligible to return after eight weeks.
UDFA rookie Lavon Coleman is on the practice squad.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers are another team that seemingly
spent wasted a high-equity draft pick on a running back. In similar fashion to the Seahawks, Dirk Koetter has maintained that Peyton Barber is the entrenched starter. The current depth chart lists Barber as the No. 1 RB, and Jacquizz Rodgers as the No. 2 RB. Charles Sims was waived by the Buccaneers after agreeing to an injury settlement, and its likely Rodgers starts the season as the Buccaneers’ change-of-pace option.
Interestingly, Ronald Jones is listed as the Buccaneers’ No. 3 RB. Following an incredibly poor preseason Jones has seen his ADP crater. It’s difficult to envision a scenario where Jones has any impact in the near-term, but I’m a believer in Jones’ big play potential and hidden receiving ability. Hopefully Jones’ preseason performance is simply noise.
UDFA RB Shaun Wilson has wowed the coaching staff over the summer, and has earned a spot on the 53-man roster.
Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis are expected to form a high powered running back by committee in Tennessee. Eric Moody notes that the situation in Tennessee isn’t as clear cut as we might think. We can anticipate that Lewis gets more usage than Henry in the receiving game, which makes him an appealing option in PPR and half-PPR formats. Given that Henry and Lewis are forecast to dominate the touches, an injury to either player would mean bell-cow work for the other.
David Fluellen won the third and final RB spot on the Titans’ 53-man roster.
UDFA rookie Akrum Wadley failed to win a roster spot, but it’s possible he lands on the Titan’s practice squad. If so, Wadley will join fellow UDFA rookie Dalyn Dawkins.
Unfortunately rookie phenom Derrius Guice tore his ACL in the first game of the preseason, and will miss the rest of the season. Washington wasted no time, and brought in Adrian Peterson who dominated first-team reps in the final preseason game. Peterson should open the season as the starting RB. Chris Thompson is expected to maintain his role as the change-of-pace RB and should lead the backfield in targets and receptions.
Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine round out the rest of Washington’s 53-man roster. Kelley is currently listed ahead of Perine, but I expect neither player to fantasy viable for as long as Peterson is healthy. Perine holds some appeal as a potential waiver wire pickup if Kelley’s poor rushing output carries over from last season.
Marshall was recently placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Kapri Bibbs is currently on the practice squad, and will be fantasy relevant in the event that Thompson misses time.
- Note that the Bears are projected to play with a higher tempo this season, which bodes well for Howard’s fantasy production. (back)
- Placed on the reserve/suspended list until his two game suspension is served. (back)
- No RB has been signed to their practice squad yet. (back)
- practice squad (back)
- McGuire broke his foot on the first day of training camp. (back)
- Note that Lynch’s workload might’ve been the result of Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree missing a handful of games. (back)
- Conner proved to be more than a one-dimensional player over the course of preseason. (back)