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Two Dangerously Expensive Receiving Backs and How to Buy Low-Cost Replacements

Even though volume and usage will always be king in fantasy football, there is something about those low-volume, high-scoring “scatbacks” that we just can’t seem to get enough of on our rosters. 2018 offers a couple of dangerous trap candidates and a handful of less expensive but potentially league-winning options.

The hype surrounding these scatbacks has reached an all-time high, with two of them being drafted consistently in the top 20 of most PPR leagues. I’m talking, of course, about Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey. They’re both extremely expensive, with Kamara going off the board in the last week as high as No. 3 overall.
Screenshot 2018-08-15 at 3.14.31 PM

Because I’m old school and prefer my first- and second-round picks to have 300-plus touch upside, I’ll have limited exposure to Kamara and McCaffrey in my redraft and best ball teams. It’s all about draft-day value with these types of RBs. Kamara and McCaffrey don’t offer any. More on this later.

What Is a Scatback?

While there are multiple ways to delineate scatbacks from other types of backs, I like to look at usage more than physical attributes. For my purposes, I’m going to include RBs who had no more than 125 carries and no fewer than 60 targets.
Screenshot 2018-08-15 at 3.35.12 PM

Joining Kamara and McCaffrey as top scatbacks are Duke Johnson, Theo Riddick, Giovani Bernard, Tarik Cohen, and James White. It shouldn’t surprise anybody how wildly efficient Kamara was with his touches, but what definitely jumps out is Johnson’s 41.5 fantasy points over expectation. Johnson finished just 10 PPR points behind McCaffrey, which is something you’d never guess given the two players’ notoriously different ADPs.

Surprisingly, no scatback was more inefficient than Cohen, who was the only player to finish under expectation with his receiving volume. Despite this, Cohen is the third-most expensive draft pick out of all of the RBs listed.
Screenshot 2018-08-15 at 3.43.26 PM

The Importance of Draft Price

While Kamara is almost guaranteed an uptick in usage (at least through the season’s first month), we can’t say the same thing for McCaffrey, who saw a steep volume decline when Greg Olsen was healthy. With Olsen on the field, McCaffrey saw just 5.7 targets per game.
Screenshot 2018-08-15 at 4.30.27 PM

While that’s still a respectable chunk of receiving volume, it’s a sharp decline from his 8.1 targets per contest with Olsen out of the lineup. Add to the situation a first-round draft pick in WR D.J. Moore, a healthy Curtis Samuel, and a between-the-tackles rusher in C.J. Anderson, and we’re left with an extremely difficult scenario for McCaffrey to overcome.

Kamara, on the other hand, has at least a somewhat clearer path to volume with Mark Ingram suspended for the first month of the season. I don’t expect him to bust; Kamara is just a player who should be going in the second-round where McCaffrey is consistently being selected. It’s a volume thing, and historically speaking, Sean Payton-coached RBs generally don’t receive enough of it to warrant the first-round price. Below, I’ve collected the five most productive RBs1 in the Sean Payton-era.
Screenshot 2018-08-15 at 4.59.05 PM

We can assume that while there is room for Kamara’s volume to increase, there’s virtually nowhere to go but down for his efficiency. There’s a broad array of outcomes for him this season, and that’s why I’m fading him as a top-10 pick, even in PPR scoring. I’d much rather have Kareem Hunt, Melvin Gordon, or even Saquon Barkley where Kamara is consistently being taken. If only his ADP were just seven spots lower. . . .

The Importance of Cost Continued

In simplest terms, target the best value available when committing to one of these scatbacks. If we isolate all of the scatbacks with an ADP outside the top 100, that leaves us with Bernard, Riddick, and White. Bernard Riddick White ADP

Given that their ADPs are so close, this is where you’ll have to employ the “get your guy” mentality. Between these three, one’s situation sticks out above the rest. Unlike his two peers, Bernard is just a single injury away from RB1-style usage. In his unique situation, he offers by far the most upside. In two contests without Joe Mixon available, Bernard averaged a rock-solid 19 opportunities and 16 fantasy points.
Screenshot 2018-08-15 at 4.00.24 PM

And we know from the consistency of his first three seasons that he has the upside to gain 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

The second-best target is a bit more difficult to determine. Both White and Riddick are in strikingly similar situations within their respective backfields. Both the Patriots and Lions invested early-round picks on multipurpose running backs with NE selecting Sony Michel and DET choosing Kerryon Johnson. To make things even more annoying, Detroit signed short-yardage specialist LeGarrette Blount to mirror the Rex Burkhead role in NEs offense. Neither is safe in his role, so there’s a hefty amount of risk in selecting one of these two for a bench spot on your roster.

Ultimately, upside is the determining factor when making a choice between Riddick and White. Given that NE targeted their RBs the third-most times in the NFL last season, White is the next-best option after Bernard is off the board. That leaves Riddick as your consolation pick toward the end of your draft.

Buy The Cheap Receptions on Your Way to the Title

Kamara was a perennial league-winner last season, and he went undrafted in literally thousands of leagues across the industry. While it’s borderline unfair to expect another RB to do what he did with his volume, we can use his impact and usage to uncover another championship-winner for the coming season. Based on cost, upside, and potential usage, you won’t find a better option than Bernard.

If you’re just looking to round off your RB depth, you could certainly do worse than White and Riddick. Both, along with Cohen and Johnson, see enough usage through the air to utilize them as full-time flex options.

  1. PPR  (back)

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