“Vacated targets” and “vacated carries” are common ways to look at the available team volume. Antonio Brown leaving Pittsburgh opened up 168 targets. Total up all of the targets of players who left in free agency, retired, were traded, or got suspended and those are the targets available for current or incoming players. This view doesn’t account for a number of factors but it is a quick and dirty way to look at the problem of team volume. One way to clean it up a bit: adjust for the value of each target or carry using expected fantasy points. First, here, we’ll look at vacated rushing expected points. In the next installment, we’ll look at vacated receiving expected points.
|Rushing Expected Points||Rushing Attempts||EP per Attempt|
Backfields to Target
Two teams in the top-10 for vacated carries jumped four spots up relative to their vacated carries rankings. They were to only two teams to make such a leap. Despite the number of carries up for grabs on these teams, the expected fantasy points available reveals how valuable the carries on these teams might be.
The Browns opted to start Carlos Hyde for five games, giving him the full complement of carries too. Despite Hyde’s 3.2 yards per carry, his role in Cleveland was extremely valuable. He carried the ball 144 times, 17 of which came in the red zone. He scored five times. Hyde was inefficient but set up to score often, which he did. Now put an efficient player, say … Nick Chubb, in that role and it’s a recipe for fantasy dynamite. On top of this, the offense greatly improved just after Hyde was traded to Jacksonville. Hue Jackson was fired leading to the beautiful pairing of Baker Mayfield and Freddie Kitchens and the offense completely turned around. After Hyde left, the Browns scored an additional 1.8 points per game.
Chubb is currently going at pick 18.8 but the role he inherits makes him a player that could easily be a top-five pick next year.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints showing up here should be a surprise to no one. The combined New Orleans backfield has scored the most fantasy points in four of the past five years. They were second in backfield points the other year. They’ve also been no lower than fourth in backfield yards from scrimmage over that span. The main departure for the Saints this spring was Mark Ingram, who is now a Baltimore Raven. Ingram leaves behind 137.1 rushing and receiving expected points combined.
Alvin Kamara may take another step forward in terms of volume, but going as the fourth overall pick in drafts, the ability to get value with him is limited. The real beneficiary of the situation is the Saints’ new grinder, Latavius Murray. Even though most think of Murray as a sub-par back, he has been a net-positive in fantasy points over expectation for his career. Now he’ll play in the friendliest spot for any rusher in the league. The best part is that he is currently going outside of the top-30 running backs.
Bonuses Points for Receiving
Looking at vacated carries correctly valued a large number of backfield situations. However, some teams let receiving backs and rushers walk, clearing the way for a running back to touches on all three downs. These teams may unleash the greatest running back values in drafts right now.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are, unsurprisingly, the team with the most expected points available heading into 2019. Kareem Hunt was the bell-cow back on the league’s best offense for 11 weeks before being cut. On top of this, Spencer Ware temporarily filled in for Hunt and they let Ware leave as well. The two combined for 95.2 expected receiving points in 2018.
Damien Williams closed out the season as the Chiefs’ lead back. From Week 14 to the AFC Championship, Williams averaged 18.6 combined carries and receptions. He’s expected to absorb a large portion of the expected points left behind by Ware and Hunt.
Williams, though, has never topped 256 yards or 50 carries in a regular season. He was an undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma and has just 1,626 yards from scrimmage in five years. Since 2000, 9 undrafted running backs have scored 200 fantasy in their sixth season. Seven of them had a breakout season before the sixth. For Williams to succeed he would have to tie just two other players for latest UDFA breakout in this millennia. Even worse; Only one of those nine players was able to repeat the 200 fantasy point season.
This leaves the door open for Darwin Thompson. Thompson is their sixth-round pick who rushed for 1,044 yards at Utah State last season while adding 351 yards through the air. His top-three player comparisons, based on the RotoViz Box Score Scout, are Vick Ballard, Jawan Jamison, and Chris Carson. Two of Thompson’s three best comparisons recorded an RB3 season or better within two years of entering the league.
Thompson’s upside as a versatile back on the league’s best offense has almost no limit, and he can still be taken as a last-round pick in most Best Ball drafts.
The Jags lost Hyde and T.J. Yeldon but the carries they left behind aren’t awfully important. The biggest draw to this backfield is the potential for receiving points. Yeldon’s 111.3 expected points from receiving were the most among any running back who left their team. The departures of Corey Grant and Tommy Bohannon add an additional 31.1 receiving expected points to the pool. The best receiving back the Jags brought in was Benny Cunningham, whose best season as a receiver was 52 targets. Yeldon has topped that in two of the past three years.
This leaves Leonard Fournette with less competition for targets than ever before. Fournette topped out at 253 receiving yards in college but he played on an LSU offense nearly incapable of moving the ball via passing. Per Player Profiler, he recorded an 83rd-percentile college target share. Now that Fournette no longer costs a first-round pick, it’s time to invest in the supposed grinder.
Backfields to Fade
A handful of teams kept their fantasy-relevant rushers in-house while adding even more competition for the incumbents. With little volume available, these backfields may not have any value to offer fantasy players.
The Titans hold the honor of being the only team to not lose any expected rushing points this offseason. That means that for their backs to improve upon 2018, they either need to get more touches or do more on a per touch basis. For Derrick Henry, the latter is likely impossible. Henry scored 12 touchdowns on 215 carries. His 5.6% touchdown rate was seventh among backs with at least 100 carries. Four of the players ahead of him played on top-six scoring offenses. The other two played on top-half scoring offenses. The Titans’ 19.4 points per game were 27th.
Running backs can buoy losses of efficiency with volume but Henry is going to fall off an efficiency cliff. With zero rushing expected rushing points leaving the offense, he’s nothing more than the perfect regression-fade this season.
Fantasy analysts have been quick to anoint Ingram the Ravens’ new workhouse back. Now, unleashed from the shackles of New Orleans, he can finally dominate a backfield like he was always meant to. No one seams to have told Ingram that he is trading in the most fantasy-friendly carries in the league for some of its least efficient. Baltimore ranks sixth in vacated carries but the average expected fantasy points of each rush they lost was 0.49, which ranks 27th in the league. Ingram — not so coincidentally — also owns the largest discrepancy between his RotoViz Positional Rank and his ADP in the top-100.
Ingram is being drafted as the 24th back off the board, while RotoViz rankers would prefer to draft seven other backs before taking him.
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