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.
Welcome, hopefully, to the fantasy playoffs. If you’ve made it this far you likely have some running backs on your team who are at least serviceable. In this week’s article we’re going to take a close look at the upcoming schedules to find RBs who can help you win your playoff matchups. First we’ll go through some notes on last week’s action.
- With Adrian Peterson out of the lineup, Kerwynn Williams and Elijhaa Penny split the rushing work, with Williams getting a slight edge in rushing expected points, while D.J. Foster handled all of the backfield receiving work. With only a middling RB schedule for the fantasy playoffs, it’s going to be hard to trust any of these backs.
- With Devonta Freeman back in the lineup, Tevin Coleman returned to a change-of-pace role in Atlanta. He did have a sizable edge in receiving expected points, which game him the more valuable overall workload between the two, though it was Freeman who had a slightly better fantasy day. According to the Buy Low Machine, Atlanta has the easiest RB schedule in the NFC over the next three weeks, facing New Orleans twice.
- Both Tarik Cohen and Benny Cunningham continue to cut into Jordan Howard’s snap share. Cohen was the primary third-down back in Week 13, but as we’ve seen, anything can happen with this backfield.
- Alfred Morris had the second-highest rushing expectation in the NFC in Week 13. Rod Smith had the third highest. Obviously we should not expect Dallas to have this many rushing expected points to go around. And it’s worth pointing out that the bulk of Smith’s expected points came in garbage time on three consecutive goal-line carries. Furthermore, if this series has proven anything over the course of the season, it’s that I am the least reliable analyst when it comes to the Dallas backfield. So tell me who you have on your team for the playoffs and I’ll tout the other guy.
- With Ameer Abdullah out, Tion Green filled in by leading the Lions in rushing expected points. Of course the guy to have on your team was Theo Riddick, who paced the Lions in receiving expectation, total workload value, and fantasy points. Look for a similar split going forward if Abdullah has to miss more time.
- Even with an active Aaron Jones, Jamaal Williams still managed to have the second-most valuable workload in the NFC, as he was on the field for 87 percent of Green Bay’s offensive snaps. However, Jones took his one carry of the game 20 yards to the house. It’s hard to keep someone with that dynamic skill set on the bench for too long, so I would expect to see more of Jones going forward. It’s likely that was the plan all along, but with Jones still recovering from a knee injury, the Packers simply did not want to rush him back.
- Todd Gurley played on 95 percent of the Rams’ offensive snaps and controlled every backfield opportunity in Week 13, finishing the week as one of three NFC players to top 20 total expected points. On the season he is the only back in the NFC to average at least 20 expected points per game. Unfortunately the Rams have the toughest RB schedule in the NFL over the next three weeks. If you can still sell Gurley, now might be the time. However, if you happen to be in a league that includes Week 17 as part of the fantasy season, then you should consider holding on. Assuming the Rams have something to play for at that point, Gurley’s Week 17 matchup against San Francisco is about as good as it gets.
- Alvin Kamara once again outsnapped Mark Ingram and outproduced him from a fantasy scoring perspective, although Ingram led the way in both rushing and receiving expected points. Over the last five weeks, no player has outperformed expectations more than Kamara. He leads the NFL both in rushing fantasy points over expectation and receiving fantasy points over expectation during that time. And over the last five weeks, no player besides Kamara has more rushing fantasy points over expectation than Ingram. Both Kamara and Ingram are bound to regress eventually—efficiency like this is unsustainable. That said, it’s impossible to bench either one of them at this point. The Saints face Atlanta twice over the next three weeks. Although Atlanta has been an average defense this year against RBs, last year they were the easiest matchup in the league for pass-catching RBs, so perhaps Kamara has a slightly easier schedule than Ingram for the fantasy playoffs.
- Continue avoiding all Giants RBs. Not only is there no clear primary RB, but with the recent head-coach and quarterback changes, there is even less predictability here. Couple that with the fact that the Giants have a bottom-five RB schedule coming up and the correct play becomes clear: just say no.
- Mike Davis led the Seattle backfield in snaps and expected points, and he actually looked pretty good, scoring nearly 16 fantasy points and evading a surprising number of tackles. J.D. McKissic was relegated to a pass-catching role, although he barely edged Davis in receiving expected points and caught only one of his three targets. Seattle’s RB schedule going forward is about league average. If you are in need of RB help for the playoff push, Davis is the closest thing to a must add in the NFC this week.
- Peyton Barber took over lead-back duties while Doug Martin recovered from a concussion. He ended with 143 total yards from scrimmage—his second productive week in a row. If Martin has to miss more time, Barber looks like the main beneficiary. He should probably be owned in almost every league considering how well he’s played, but note that Tampa Bay has the fourth-hardest RB playoff schedule in the NFL.
- Byron Marshall’s costly drop in Week 12 does not appear to have affected his playing time. He was in on 43 percent of Washington’s snaps—slightly less than Samaje Perine’s 57 percent. He also led the backfield in total expected points, with his six targets mainly to thank for that. With a RB schedule that is slightly below average over the next three weeks, Marshall might actually be the preferred play over Perine, as his receiving work makes him less matchup dependent.
The Playoff Schedule
Week 13 Data
|Player||Team||Week 13 Snap Pct||Week 13 ruEP||Week 13 reEP||Week 13 Total EP||Week 13 PPR||2017 ruEP||2017 reEP||2017 Total EP||2017 PPR|