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Ultimate Zero RB Watchlist: NFC Week 1

Welcome to the Ultimate Zero RB Watchlist. The goal of this piece is to help you find RB targets for your 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. 

Each week, 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 Mark Wemken’s companion piece on the AFC.

After a long and grueling offseason, football is back! There’s a lot to get through, so let’s dive into it!

Note that I’ll be utilizing rushing expected points (ruEP) and receiving expected points (reEP) as a way to measure the value of a player’s workload. Expected points are a metric point derived from the average fantasy point total a carry or target would be worth based on down, distance, and field position.

Fantasy points over expectation (FPOE) are measures of efficiency. The metric takes the player’s actual fantasy points, and subtracts out the expected points, in essence leaving us with an indication of how efficient or inefficient a player was.

Keep in mind that we’ve only seen one week of action, and the sample sizes are tiny.

NFC East

Washington

The touch distribution in the Washington backfield worked out exactly as expected. Adrian Peterson saw the bulk of the rushing workload, whereas Chris Thompson saw work as the primary receiving option for Washington.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Adrian Peterson WAS 0.53 26 3 18.5 4.5 -2.9 4.5
Chris Thompson WAS 0.42 5 7 2.6 10.3 3.9 8
Rob Kelley WAS 0.1 3 0 1.3 0 -0.6 0

Peterson’s 18.5 Rushing Expected Points are the most among all NFL Week 1 RBs. Unfortunately, Peterson was an inefficient runner, posting -2.9 rushing fantasy points over expectation, which is among the bottom-10 among all NFL Week 1 RBs. Volume is the name of the game at the RB position, and Peterson should be a safe, every week starter.1

Despite seeing only three targets, Peterson led the team in receiving yards. He caught two balls for 70 yards. Note that the bulk of his receiving yards came in the fourth quarter, well after the game was out of reach. Peterson converted a short pass into a long 52 yard gain, before fumbling away the football.2

Thompson garnered a handful of carries, but looked electric. He carried the ball five times, and rushed for 65 yards. Rob Kelley saw a meager three carries, but it’s important to note he’s running ahead of Samaje Perine for now.

Philadelphia Eagles

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Darren Sproles PHI 0.4 5 7 2.9 10.4 -1.9 -4.2
Jay Ajayi PHI 0.4 15 0 10.1 0 8.1 0
Corey Clement PHI 0.2 5 0 2.8 0 -0.2 0

The Eagles used a committee approach in their first game. Doug Pederson noted that Jay Ajayi was nursing a lower body injury, and reiterated that Ajayi will be their workhorse RB. This is a situation I will be closely monitoring.

Darren Sproles got a significant chunk of the Eagles’ rushing and receiving work, and Corey Clement saw usage as a breather RB. Future games will determine whether Clement has any standalone value, so don’t over react to Week 1’s results.

Dallas Cowboys

Just a friendly reminder that Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith are the only two RBs currently on the Cowboys’ roster. Currently Smith is only on 2.1 percent of ESPN fantasy rosters, but should be owned everywhere. In the event Elliott misses time with injury, Smith should inherit the majority of Elliott’s workload.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 0.92 15 4 8.9 5.3 4 -0.6
Rod Smith DAL 0.06 1 1 0.5 1.5 0 -1.5

Both teams played at a glacial pace, which capped Elliott’s fantasy upside. Elliott dominates the rushing and receiving work, and should have better outings in the future.

New York Giants

As expected, Saquon Barkley3 dominated the rushing and receiving workload for the Giants.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Saquon Barkley NYG 0.77 18 6 9.8 8.4 6.8 -4.2
Jonathan Stewart NYG 0.14 2 0 1 0 -0.2 0
Wayne Gallman NYG 0.08 1 2 0.5 2.8 -0.6 0.1

Wayne Gallman and Jonathan Stewart were also there.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers

As expected, Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery were the only two active RBs for Green Bay. Williams played on 62 percent of the snaps compared to Montgomery’s 38 percent, and was the primary ball carrier for the Packers.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Jamaal Williams GBP 0.62 15 2 7.9 3.1 -3.2 -3.1
Ty Montgomery GBP 0.38 2 3 0.9 4.3 -0.2 -0.2

Note that Williams was targeted twice, but failed to catch the ball in either instance. Williams’ final 15-47-0 line appears to be lackluster, but they were squaring off against a stout run defense. Williams should once again garner the bulk of the workload this Sunday against the Vikings.

Chicago Bears

It’s difficult to draw many conclusions from this game, but the early returns look good for Jordan Howard.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Jordan Howard CHI 0.71 15 5 7.7 8.3 0.5 -0.8
Tarik Cohen CHI 0.4 5 4 2.5 5.2 0 -0.6
Mike Burton CHI 0.13 0 1 0 1.8 0 -0.2

Tarik Cohen was heavily involved early on, but saw the field sparingly once the Bears jumped out to a huge lead. Howard saw plenty of usage as the Bears tried to drain the clock. All of it was for naught as a hobbled Aaron Rodgers engineered a fantastic comeback and won the game.

Detroit Lions

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
LeGarrette Blount DET  0.19 4 0 1.8 0 -2.1 0
Theo Riddick DET  0.59 4 7 3.4 10.2 -1.4 -3.7
Kerryon Johnson DET  0.23 5 3 2.2 4.3 -0.5 0.7

Shawn Siegele’s already broken down the Lions’ backfield situation for you. My work here is done. *dusts off hands*

Oh, Ameer Abdullah was a healthy scratch before the Lions’ Week 1 game. Additionally, it sounds like Matt Patricia is continuing the tradition of ex-Bill Belichick assistants imploding spectacularly, so this will be exciting to follow.

Minnesota Vikings

So much for the Vikings easing Dalvin Cook back into action. Cook saw the bulk of the rushing workload, and was the only RB to garner volume in the receiving game.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Dalvin Cook MIN 0.8 16 7 8 9.2 -4 2.3
Latavius Murray MIN 0.2 11 0 4.8 0 -0.6 0
C.J. Ham MIN 0.18 0 2 0 2.2 0 -2.2

More interestingly, Latavius Murray appears to be nothing more than an overvalued handcuff. Most of Murray’s work came after the game had been decided. Murray’s ceiling appears to be capped, and his floor is scarily low.

NFC South

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It’s difficult to read too much into a game that was a high powered shootout, but Peyton Barber did not perform particularly well when asked to carry the football.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Peyton Barber TBB 0.73 19 0 10.7 0 -3.8 0
Jacquizz Rodgers TBB 0.23 2 1 1 2.2 -0.9 -1
Shaun Wilson TBB 0.03 1 0 0.4 0 0.2 0

After Week 1, Barber was seventh in rushing expected points. Put another way: Barber’s rushing workload was similar in value to that of Todd Gurley. His workload will be interesting to monitor going forward, but there’s little question surrounding Dirk Koetter’s commitment to Barber as the starter, despite his lack of efficiency.

Barber wasn’t targeted in the passing game, although he demonstrated the ability to catch the football last season.

Doug Martin vs Peyton Barber

Jacquizz Rodgers barely saw any run in the receiving game, and it’ll be interesting to follow his usage going forward.

Ronald Jones was a surprise healthy inactive on game day. Ever since being taken with the sixth pick in the second round, Jones has seen his value plummet. Hopefully Jones has reached his nadir as a rookie, and bounces back next week.

Carolina Panthers

Ron Rivera is making good on his preseason promises regarding Christian McCaffrey.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Christian McCaffrey CAR 0.85 10 9 5.1 11.5 -0.1 -1
Alex Armah CAR 0.3 1 0 3.2 0 2.9 0
C.J. Anderson CAR 0.18 7 0 4.3 0 -0.8 0

I’m not concerned about C.J. Anderson stealing away rushing work from McCaffrey. The difference in total expected points makes it clear that the Panthers are going to give McCaffrey the higher-value touches. As mentioned in the Cowboys section, the slow pace of the game makes it difficult to glean much information regarding the McCaffrey/Anderson rushing split.

Cam Newton converted a carry from inside the five-yard line into a touchdown, robbing McCaffrey of a goal line score. This is a trend that has carried over from last season, and it’s always been the worry when selecting McCaffrey. However, McCaffrey’s true appeal is his receiving ability. He saw the most targets of any Panthers receiver, and finishes the week in the top-10 for receiving expected points. McCaffrey will have plenty of blow-up games once the Panthers are forced to play at a quicker pace.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints were forced to play from behind for the majority of this game, and as a result the team only had 13 rushing attempts. As expected, Alvin Kamara was utilized as the primary ball carrier.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Alvin Kamara NO 0.81 8 12 7.2 18 7.7 8.2
Zach Line NO 0.17 0 1 0 1.4 0 -1.4
Mike Gillislee NO 0.11 3 0 1.3 0 -0.4 0
Jonathan Williams NO 0.05 1 0 0.5 0 -0.5 0

Recently acquired free agent Mike Gillislee carried the ball thrice, whereas recently promoted Jonathan Williams touched the ball once. One of Gillislee’s three carries ended in a fumble that the Buccaneers returned for a touchdown.4 Sean Payton, clearly regretting his decision, refused to give either player a carry for the rest of the game.

The negative gamescript resulted in significantly more passing attempts. Kamara’s 12 targets were second most among all RBs, and he trailed only Melvin Gordon in receiving expected points.

Atlanta Falcons

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Devonta Freeman ATL 0.56 6 5 8.8 8.2 -5.2 -3.8
Tevin Coleman ATL 0.51 9 2 4.4 3.1 3.5 0.5

Devonta Freeman saw plenty of work in the first quarter of the season. He failed to convert two carries from the one-yard line, and eventually left the field with a knee injury. Freeman is currently rehabbing his knee, and is reportedly good to go for Week 2.

Tevin Coleman performed well in Freeman’s absence, but it’s difficult to ascertain how either player will be deployed going forward.

Interestingly, the Falcons promoted Brian Hill from the practice squad. It’s possible this is a preemptive move in case Freeman suffers any setbacks, so don’t read too much into it.

Los Angeles Rams

Todd Gurley’s workload is precisely why he was the consensus 1.01 in fantasy drafts.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Todd Gurley LAR  0.94 20 5 10.9 7.4 -0.1 5.5
Malcolm Brown LAR  0.06 1 2 0.5 2.9 0 0.9

Malcolm Brown spelled Gurley, and it’s safe to assume that he’s currently the direct handcuff to Gurley.5

San Francisco 49ers

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Alfred Morris SF 0.52 12 0 12.8 0 -9 0
Matt Breida SF 0.45 11 2 6 2.8 -1.4 -1.3
Kyle Juszczyk SF 0.39 0 2 0 3.7 0 2.9

In a bit of a surprise, Alfred Morris garnered the highest rushing expected points in the San Francisco backfield. He was stuffed four (!) times from the five-yard line, and his fourth goal line carry ended in a back-breaking fumble.

Matt Breida’s ruEP was significantly lower than Morris’s6 and he saw the most of his work in the second half. Although the 49ers trailed for large chunks of the game, Breida was only targeted twice. It’s only one week, but the lack of volume for Breida despite playing catchup is a mild concern.

As Shawn Siegele has noted, one of the dangers of a backfield split is that passes are directed towards other receivers. Also it doesn’t help that Kyle Juszczyk steals targets from Breida. Morris wasn’t targeted in Week 1, and I expect this trend will continue.

Arizona Cardinals

Not the most elegant of comebacks for David Johnson in Week 1. The Arizona Cardinals actively tried to not play football, and ran a meager 25 plays through the first three quarters of the game. They picked up the pace in the fourth quarter, after Steve Wilks and company realized they were losing 21-0, and ran 24 plays. Unsurprisingly, the deficit was far too steep to overcome and the Cardinals lost 24-6.7

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
David Johnson ARI 0.68 9 9 6.4 15.9 3.3 -7.9
Chase Edmonds ARI 0.32 4 4 1.8 5.6 0.6 0.8

Johnson garnered the third most receiving expected points of any RB in Week 1. He was targeted four times inside the 10-yard line, but failed to find the paint. He salvaged his fantasy day with a rushing TD.

Although Johnson should remain locked in as the bellcow RB for Arizona, ensure that Chase Edmonds is rostered in deeper leagues. Edmonds saw a handful of carries and targets, and performed adequately. Edmonds may not hold any standalone value this season, but it’s clear he’s the backup to own.

Seattle Seahawks

Pete Carroll said in his press conference that Chris Carson “really took the lead” as the starter, and that Rashaad Penny “looked a little rusty.” You wouldn’t know it looking at their rushing and receiving expected points.

Player Team Snap Rate Week 1 ruATT Week 1 Trgs Week 1 ruEP Week 1 reEP Week 1 ruFPOE Week 1 reFPOE
Rashaad Penny SEA 0.44 7 5 4.1 6.6 -3.3 0.9
Chris Carson SEA 0.44 7 5 3.6 6.6 1.5 -0.8
C.J. Prosise SEA 0.12 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

The split for both players was dead even.8 Carson performed slightly more efficiently in the rushing game, whereas Penny was slightly superior in the receiving game.9 With Doug Baldwin set to miss a few weeks, it’s possible that Penny is used slightly more as a receiver. Penny should be rostered in all leagues, and try sending out buy low offers for him if possible.

C.J. Prosise played on 12 percent of the snaps, but got no opportunity. However, the Prosise dream is not dead yet! Carroll mentioned that the team has talked about deploying Prosise as a WR, so let’s see if the Seahawks follow through.

  1. Until he starts ceding carries to other RBs.  (back)
  2. Arizona coughed up the football after six plays, and the game was over.  (back)
  3. The Chosen One  (back)
  4. Gillislee’s fumble occurred with a little less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter.  (back)
  5. John Kelly and Justin Davis were inactive for Week 1, which lends credence to the notion that Brown is the handcuff to own.  (back)
  6. the lack of goal line carries hurts in the final calculation.  (back)
  7. Not very surprising considering that offensive coordinator Mike McCoy spent most of his career working alongside John Fox.  (back)
  8. More of Penny’s carries came closer to the goal line.  (back)
  9. Carson had a long catch called back on a penalty.  (back)

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