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’ve tried nothing, and we’re all out of ideas!
– Mike McCoy trying to figure out how to best deploy David Johnson, probably.
With Week 5 in the rear-view mirror, I’m changing up the format of this piece a little bit. Instead of discussing backfields that are dominated by stud running backs such as Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, and Christian McCaffrey, I’ll be breaking down some of the more convoluted RB situations in an attempt to find future breakout candidates. I’ll also be commenting on usage notes and highlighting players who could benefit going forward.
Unfortunately Jay Ajayi tore his ACL in Week 5, and the Eagles placed him on injured reserve. Darren Sproles is still dealing with a lingering hamstring issue, and the Eagles’ backfield is all kinds of banged up.
In the game Ajayi missed earlier this season, Corey Clement led the backfield in rushing attempts. Clement has missed time with a nagging quad injury, but practiced in full ahead of Thursday Night Football. Wendell Smallwood has impressed over the last few weeks and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if he leads this backfield in rushing and receiving going forward.
Josh Adams should continue to spell both players, but I doubt he sees a significant increase in opportunity.
Both Smallwood and Clement should be rostered in all leagues. I expect that we will see a messy running back by committee, but both RBs hold value as low-end RB2s going forward.
There’s rumors that the Eagles are interested in acquiring LeSean McCoy from the Buffalo Bills. Assuming this trade goes through, I expect that McCoy split work with Smallwood and Clement as he gets up to speed on the Eagles’ playbook.
Both Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson suffered injuries against the New Orleans Saints. Thompson left the game in the fourth quarter with a rib injury, whereas Peterson played through a dislocated shoulder. Although Samaje Perine has been a healthy scratch all season, he makes for a savvy pickup if you can spare the roster space.
Green Bay Packers
Game script got away from Green Bay in this game. The Packers trailed 24-0 at the half and were forced to abandon the run. Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones continue to split carries, and it looks like Mike McCarthy is comfortable employing a committee approach going forward. In a game that set up perfectly for him, Ty Montgomery saw limited run.
The Buy Low Machine indicates that Green Bay’s backfield has one of the softest schedules over the next six weeks, so both Williams and Jones carry appeal as low-end RB2’s.
Given the favorable schedule for Green Bay RBs, it’s possible that Jones breaks out in the coming weeks. Try and see if you can buy Jones on the cheap.
Kerryon Johnson split the work with LeGarrette Blount in the Lions’ Week 5 win over the Packers. Johnson posted an efficient 12-70-0 rushing line, and caught both of his targets for 15 yards. Blount handled two carries from the one-yard line and converted both into touchdowns, and as a result he boasts the higher expected point and fantasy points over expected numbers for the week. Theo Riddick saw minimal usage in the game, and was a casualty of positive game-script.
After five weeks Blount and Johnson have seen similar rushing workloads, but Johnson is gaining traction in the receiving game as well.
Note that 19 of Riddick’s 30 targets came in the first two weeks of the season.1 Riddick’s passing game usage evaporates when the Lions play with a sizeable lead, and he’ll be a highly volatile asset going forward.
Blount has maintained a stranglehold on red-zone carries, and Riddick on red-zone targets, much to the chagrin of Johnson’s fantasy owners.
Matt Patricia frustratingly continues to prioritize Blount’s usage and appears to be content by taking a committee approach at the running back position. It’s quite likely that Blount will continue to see high-leverage touches in the coming weeks, which lowers Johnson’s ceiling.
Hopefully Patricia opts to utilize Johnson more heavily once the Lions return from their bye.
New Orleans Saints
In his first game back from suspension, Mark Ingram dominated the workload. Washington were hilariously inept in all phases of the game, and Sean Payton didn’t have to deploy Alvin Kamara.
Ingram’s return places a hard cap on Kamara’s upside. However, there is a possibility that we will get to see Kamara continue to wreak havoc. I’ve previously mentioned that Ingram is more game script sensitive than most fantasy gamers believe.
The Saints released Adrian Peterson after Week 4 last season, and opted to give Ingram and Kamara the bulk of the work. In regular season and playoff games where the Saints led by a score, Ingram saw significantly more work than Kamara.
However, when the Saints trailed by at least a score, Sean Payton felt comfortable turning to Kamara as the team’s primary RB.
Although Ingram still accounted for the majority of the rushing workload, Kamara’s receiving workload was significantly more valuable. It’s interesting to note that the Saints rarely played with a one-score deficit last season.
The Saints’ defense has fallen off relative to last season and have given up an average of 28 points per game. If the Saints continue to play from behind, I expect that Kamara will continue his onslaught against opposing teams.
The Atlanta Falcons played mostly from behind against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the running back usage was light. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman saw similar usage in the rushing and receiving game. Ito Smith saw light usage, but scored a touchdown on one of his carries.
I’ll be tracking the backfield over the coming weeks to see if the Falcons’ coaches will consider moving to a three-headed RBBC.
Most importantly, I will be tracking the receiving usage for all three RBs. The lack of RB targets has left both Freeman and Coleman with a floor that is scarily low.
Under Steve Sarkisian, the Atlanta RBs have seen fewer targets compared to the offense Kyle Shanahan ran back in 2016. It’s likely that the addition of Calvin Ridley led to targets being siphoned away from the RBs, but the trend has been negative since Sarkisian took over in 2017.
San Francisco 49ers
Find someone who loves you as much as C.J. Beathard loves checking down to his RBs. That’s an uncharitable reading of the situation, but here’s the target breakdown since Beathard took over quarterback duties back in Week 4.
In his two weeks under center, Beathard averages 11.5 targets to RBs per game. Before going down with an injury, Jimmy Garoppolo targeted the RBs 7.3 times per game.
Matt Breida suffered a mid-ankle sprain, and it sounds like he’s going to miss some time.2 Alfred Morris should see all the rushing work he can handle, and I expect that he will see healthy usage in the receiving game as well. Morris hasn’t been utilized heavily as a pass-catcher over the course of his career, but could set career highs this season.
Morris is currently averaging a career-high two targets per game.
Kyle Juszczyk’s role should remain unchanged. He’s accounted for 11 percent of the target share thus far, and doesn’t offer much in the rushing game. Juszczyk’s Week 5 carry was the first one he’s registered this season.
Pick up Morris if he’s available on your waiver wire. Additionally, feel free to snag Breida if a disappointed owner has given up on him. The San Francisco 49ers have run an average of 63.4 plays over the first five weeks of the season, and given Beathard’s tendency to check down to the RBs, there’s fantasy points to be salvaged.
Conversely, the Arizona Cardinals have not shown an inclination to play football under offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. The Cardinals average approximately 48 plays a game, and the teams glacial pace of play is a death knell for fantasy players. McCoy is incorrigible about David Johnson’s usage and continues to deploy him in the least imaginative way possible.
Under McCoy, Johnson’s been tasked with picking up yards the old fashioned way. Johnson salvaged his day with two TDs, but the lack of volume and receiving work leaves him with a lower floor than what we’ve come to expect from an RB of his caliber.
Mike McCoy had approximately nine months to figure out how to best deploy Johnson, and I doubt it changes going forward.
Former seventh-round draft pick, Chris Carson returned to the starting role for the Seattle Seahawks. Former free agent Mike Davis appears to have cemented himself as the RB2 in the Seahawks’ backfield. Wasted first round pick Rashaad Penny failed to step onto the field.
Unless either Carson or Davis miss time with an injury, it looks like Penny will be forced to redshirt his rookie season.