Welcome to the Ultimate Zero RB Watchlist where we follow usage patterns, advanced stats, and injuries to locate RB targets for your teams before anyone else even knows about them.
We are through four weeks of the NFL season, and the bye weeks are in full swing! Several backfields have seen some changes in personnel, so let’s jump right into it.
As always, check out Mark Wemken’s accompanying AFC piece here.
Jay Ajayi is currently dealing with a back fracture, but you’d never know it. With both Darren Sproles and Corey Clement inactive, Ajayi rushed 15 times for 70 yards, and caught three of his four targets for 11 yards.
Despite Clement’s absence, Wendell Smallwood saw a handful of carries. Smallwood should be rostered in deeper leagues, and I’ll be following his usage once Clement returns.
Ezekiel Elliott exploded in Week 4, totaling 240 yards from scrimmage. Elliott carried the ball 25 times against the Lions, and posted 152 yards on the ground. He also successfully converted all four of his targets into 88 yards and a touchdown. Elliott led all RBs in Week 4 in reFPOE, and currently leads the Cowboys in target market share.
New York Giants
After four weeks, Saquon Barkley is among the top-10 RBs in rushing expected points, and he’s among the top-three RBs in receiving expected points.1
The Giants placed Jonathan Stewart on injured reserve, which leaves Wayne Gallman as Barkley’s primary handcuff. Pat Shurmur noted that Stewart could return after eight weeks. Who cares?
Green Bay Packers
Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones split carries this week. Jones out-gained Williams and scored the Packers’ only rushing touchdown.
Most interestingly, Aaron Rodgers continues to lobby for Jones as the Packers’ primary RB. Hopefully Jones begins see increased opportunity over Williams going forward.
Ty Montgomery, a WR in RB clothing, saw a handful of targets this week. He converted two of the three targets into 56 yards, and he totaled 74 yards from scrimmage. He’s nothing more than a change of pace RB, but I’m hopeful that Montgomery earns more receiving work.
Tarik Cohen saw a significant increase in usage in Week 4. Cohen showed off his receiving chops, and parlayed seven of his eight targets into 121 yards and a touchdown. He also converted 13 rush attempts into 53 yards. Meanwhile, Jordan Howard saw only 11 carries and failed to catch his only target.
It’s a bit surprising to see Cohen lead the backfield in rush attempts, considering that the Bears led 38-3 at the half. Game flow suggests that Howard should’ve seen a heavy workload in the second half, as the Bears looked to ice the rest of the game.
After the game, Matt Nagy noted that he will be deploying his RBs on a game-by-game basis. If Cohen continues to cut into Howard’s playing time after the Bears return from their bye, it’ll be disappointing for Howard’s fantasy owners.
Note that after four weeks, Howard has the seventh most valuable rushing workload, but is among the league’s worst in terms of rushing efficiency. Only Peyton Barber and Derrick Henry have posted worse efficiency numbers than Howard. All that said, I think Howard will continue to be a viable RB2 candidate going forward, provided he maintains his share of the rushing workload.
Kerryon Johnson held a slim lead over LeGarrette Blount for rushing attempts, and drew one target. Clearly the more efficient runner, Johnson’s ceiling is sky-high provided he takes over the Lions’ backfield. Matt Patricia is of the belief that Johnson is getting enough work, and it’s clear he’s afraid of playing his best players.
Theo Riddick continues to siphon away targets. Riddick’s presence places a hard cap on Johnson’s receiving upside
Dalvin Cook recently admitted he’s still less than 100 percent, and that he is doing his best to get fully healthy. Hopefully Cook gets healthy soon, because he flashed mouthwatering upside before tearing his ACL last season. In Cook’s absence, Latavius Murray has been an abject disaster. Roc Thomas saw a handful of carries last week, and it’s likely that a changing of the guard is imminent. Neither Thomas nor Mike Boone need to be rostered in redraft leagues, but monitor this situation closely. I’ll be providing updates in the forums
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In a bit of a surprise twist, Ronald Jones was active against the Bears in Week 4. Peyton Barber is currently the worst rusher in the NFL, so in hindsight it’s not that big of a surprise. Jones saw more carries than Barber on Sunday and led the team in rushing. It should be noted that a 10-29-0 rushing line is not something to get excited about, but it is quite likely that Jones emerges as the Buccaneers’ primary RB in Week 6.
If you’ve held Jones for this long, keep holding onto him. The Buy Low Machine indicates that the schedule for Buccaneers RBs is quite appealing.
There’s plenty of opportunity for RBs in this backfield, and hopefully Jones is able to cement himself as the lead RB going forward.
New Orleans Saints
Alvin Kamara has been an absolute monster with Mark Ingram sidelined. He’s currently the Saints’ RB1 and WR2, and as a result he leads all NFL players in expected points. Shawn Siegele has noted that Kamara’s four-week stretch compares quite favorably with some of the best in fantasy history.
Ingram threatens to ruin the Kamara party. Ingram should eat into plenty of Kamara’s rushing workload and cut into some of the red-zone work. Note that it’s possible that Ingram has a reduced impact, given how poor the Saints’ defense has played over the first four weeks. I’ve previously noted that Ingram is more game-flow dependent than we expect. If the Saints’ offense continues to face large deficits, it’s likely that Ingram is marginalized. I’ll be monitoring the Saints’ backfield situation closely over the next few weeks.
Head coach Dan Quinn noted that Devonta Freeman is expected to play Week 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Tevin Coleman’s time as the Falcons’ lead RB has now drawn to a close. Hopefully Coleman sees an uptick in his receiving work when he returns to his old role. As Blair Andrews has shown, Coleman saw fewer targets with Freeman out under the current coaching staff.
Ito Smith showed quite well in his brief stint as Atlanta’s RB2.
Freeman’s return possibly pushes Smith back down the depth chart, but I’ll be following his usage in the coming weeks. If Smith has proven that he’s a capable RB, it’s possible that the Falcons’ coaching staff opts to deploy a three-headed committee approach. If you can spare the roster space, Smith is a good speculative add in deeper redraft leagues.
Los Angeles Rams
Todd Gurley has posted over 100 yards from scrimmage or a touchdown in four straight games. Had he broken the 100 yard from scrimmage threshold against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2, the blurb would’ve been slightly different.
San Francisco 49ers
C.J. Beathard’s tendency to check-down early and often was on full display last Sunday.
All three 49ers RBs saw equal opportunity in the receiving game. Both Matt Breida and Kyle Juszczyk are more efficient pass catchers, as indicated by their reFPOE. Alfred “Stone-Hands” Morris caught only one of his three targets for a four yard gain.
It should be noted that Breida has started to separate from Morris in this backfield. Early in the game, Morris subbed in for Breida when the 49ers were on the goal line and failed to score the TD. Morris has been awful in high leverage situations, and is among the league’s least efficient RBs after four weeks. I’d expect that Kyle Shanahan phases him out of the offense sooner rather than later.
As Blair Andrews has noted, despite the Cardinals’ ineptitude, David Johnson has met expectations. Hopefully the move to Josh Rosen will help spark the Cardinals’ offense, and in the process help raise Johnson’s rock-solid floor.
Johnson’s Week 4 showing against the Seattle Seahawks was his best thus far. Although Johnson wasn’t targeted heavily in the receiving game,2 he converted three of his four targets into 41 yards. The lack of targets is a slight concern, but Johnson’s locked into workhorse carries. Chase Edmonds is one of the highest value handcuffs in the NFL.
The Seattle Seahawks utilized a first-round pick on Rashaad Penny in the 2018 NFL Draft. It was a question of when, not if Penny would assume control over the Seahawks’ backfield.
After the first four weeks, Penny has not seen usage that reflects his high draft slot. The Seahawks have prioritized former seventh-round pick Chris Carson over Penny thus far. In Week 4, with Carson inactive, Mike Davis dominated the bulk of the workload over Penny.
Despite spending their only high-equity pick in the first round on a RB, it’s unclear what the Seahawks’ plan is for Penny going forward. Pete Carroll expects Carson to return in Week 5, and it sounds like the Seahawks will deploy a RBBC going forward. Maybe the Seahawks should’ve spent their first-round pick to bolster their offensive line instead.