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.
Turning brick walls into doors, I’m coming home – Kerryon Johnson, probably.
With Week 7 firmly in the rear-view, let’s take a look at how some of the NFC fantasy relevant running backs were utilized. Make sure you check out Mark Wemken’s companion piece for the AFC.
- Kerryon Johnson turned 19 carries into 158 rushing yards, and tacked on two catches for an additional 21 yards. The rushing production is certainly quite exciting, but the lack of usage in the receiving game is a bit of a bummer. In fairness, Matthew Stafford only attempted 22 passes, so there wasn’t much receiving work to go around. The Dolphins’ run-stopping defense offers less resistance than wet papier-mache, and the Lions were comfortable keeping the ball on the ground. Even LeGarrette Blount got into the act, tacking on 50 yards on 10 carries.Most interestingly, the Lions’ coaches seem to be expanding Johnson’s role in the red zone.A quick glance at the RotoViz Screener indicates that Johnson saw nearly twice as much opportunity as Blount did when the Lions were in the red zone. Even when the Lions were lined up ten yards away from the end zone, the coaching staff utilized Johnson as their primary threat.A quick look at the Weekly Stat Explorer indicates that Johnson has seen the most red zone opportunity thus far. I expect Johnson’s red zone role to expand in the coming weeks and hopefully he starts scoring touchdowns.
- The Eagles’ running back by committee approach has neutered the fantasy value of Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement. Smallwood lead the team in total expected points, and he should hopefully see more working going forward. With the uncertainty surrounding the roles in this backfield, neither Smallwood nor Clement can be started with confidence in fantasy leagues. Keep an eye on the news, since it’s possible the Eagles add a RB at the trade deadline.
- Although it’s encouraging to see Ezekiel Elliott retain his healthy target share, he’s been incredibly inefficient with the opportunity he’s seen. He caught two of his six targets in Week 7, and ranked dead last among all RBs in reFPOE for the week. Elliott’s 57.2 receiving expected points is among the top-ten for all NFL RBs, but he’s been fairly inefficient as a receiver. Given that the Dallas Cowboys recently traded for Amari Cooper, it’s fair to wonder if Elliott sees a slight reduction in target share.
- Peyton Barber struggled as the primary ball carrier against the Cleveland Browns and was forced to exit the game with an injury. In Barber’s absence, Ronald Jones scored the first rushing TD by a Buccaneer RB this season.If Barber is forced to miss this game, I expect that Jones will see the bulk of the workload. Hopefully Jones is able to cement himself as the Buccaneers’ lead RB for the rest of the season.
- Much like he did last season, Mark Ingram presents quite the headache for fans of Alvin Kamara. Although Kamara saw more rushing work than Ingram last week, neither RB saw much usage in the receiving game. Hopefully Sean Payton realizes the matchup nightmare Kamara presents, and goes back to deploying Kamara as he did prior to Ingram’s return. In a game that was closely contested, Kamara worked as the Saints’ primary red zone RB.I’ve previously noted that Ingram is more game-flow dependent than Kamara, and I’ll be closely following the way both RBs are deployed for the rest of the season.
- Back in Week 4, the Bears opted to prioritize Tarik Cohen over Jordan Howard at the RB position. It’s been heartening to see Matt Nagy continue to prioritize Cohen over Howard over the last two weeks. Cohen’s emergence over the last three weeks has all but marginalized Howard’s role in the offense. Although Howard leads this backfield in rush attempts, he’s been fairly inefficient with the volume he’s received over the last three weeks. Cohen has emerged as one of Mitchell Trubisky’s trusted receivers, and I expect that the Bears continue to lean on Cohen in close games. Howard will have value as a red zone threat, but his usage will be fairly game-flow dependent for the rest of the season.
- It sounds like the Minnesota Vikings are about to make the right decision and will shut down Dalvin Cook until their bye week. Hopefully Cook is able to get healthy this season, since he’s a tremendously talented RB. In Cook’s absence, Latavius Murray will function as the primary RB. The Buy Low Machine indicates that the Vikings face one of the more favorable schedules for RBs over the next few weeks. Neither Roc Thomas nor Mike Boone have established themselves as Murray’s primary backup. Both Thomas and Boone should be stashed in dynasty leagues.
- Ito Smith isn’t the only RB on the Falcons who can score touchdowns on long runs. Tevin Coleman scored a touchdown on a 30-yard run, and out-gained Smith as a rusher. The lack of receiving work for both Falcons RBs continues to concern me. In a game where Matt Ryan threw 39 passes, the RBs were targeted a measly four times.The lack of targets leaves both Coleman and Smith with a fairly lower floor than I’d like. However, both RBs are capable of breaking off big plays and play for one of the NFL’s more prolific offenses.
- I wish I had something to note about the San Francisco 49ers’ backfield, but it looks like Kyle Shanahan is playing coy about Matt Breida’s health. If Breida were forced to sit, Raheem Mostert would be the play over Alfred Morris. Mostert’s ability to break off chunk runs will be a tremendous asset this week against the Arizona Cardinals’ 29th ranked “run-defense”.