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A Surprisingly Simple Way to Identify Breakout RBs and the 5 Players You Should Be Targeting Now

A couple of days ago, we discussed a quick hack for finding the top breakout WRs. Yesterday, we noted that some of the biggest FFPC risers are on a collision course with the RB Priority Window. What if we could use these two pieces of information to supercharge our RB breakout picks?

Another Metric That Suggests You Will Profit By Selecting Good Players

We’ll begin again today with the excellent research from the Wrong Read by Blair Andrews.

To review, we noticed not only that rookie year efficiency leads to more opportunity and fantasy scoring in the following year, but also that it persists. If a WR outplayed their opportunity in their rookie season, they tended to do so the following year as well.

The same is true for RBs. RBs who have positive rookie seasons in total FPOE tend to score more fantasy points the following year.

ppr chart

Blair notes that rookie RBs with positive efficiency numbers have historically earned more opportunity and continued to generate higher efficiency levels in Year 2. He also makes another surprising claim and backs it up with the evidence. I won’t spoil that conclusion, but it has the potential to fundamentally change how you select RBs.

The RBs to Target in 2019

Blair is focusing on combined efficiency, so we can use the RotoViz Screener to pull up the fantasy points over expectation in both the run (ruFPOE) and pass (rePOE) games.

The Early Round Picks

I draft few RBs in the early rounds, but Saquon Barkley and Kerryon Johnson are both among the 31 priority targets from my August board. Barkley is an easy pick in the top-three, but is he the No. 1?

I’ve read thousands of fantasy football articles through the years, and very few come close to the Game Script Series just completed by Ryan Collinsworth.1 In Part 5, he focuses on teams projected to win 7.0 games or fewer by Vegas, and he comes to this conclusion on Barkley.

I spent the better half of this article arguing that game script does not affect Q4 RBs the way people may expect. And, I’ll be honest: My primary reason for harping on that so much was to alleviate anxiety regarding Barkley in particular. So what if the Giants may suck this season? The data analyzed herein demonstrates that the Giants’ potential offensive deficiencies likely won’t hinder Barkley’s campaign for the overall PPR RB1 title.

His rookie season team share stats are off the charts. He posted a 73.5% team rushing share, 20.8% target share, and 40.7% total opportunity share. Those marks rank fourth, fifth, and fifth, respectively, among all 273 running backs examined in this study. His Opps% splits were 68.3% rush vs. 31.7% targets, which confirms what we already knew: Barkley is perhaps the most balanced and versatile running back in the NFL.

Nick Chubb is more controversial. He lands on my list of RB Land Mines due to a rush/receive profile that gives him a low ceiling and high injury risk. Matt Jones disagrees, arguing for his emergence as a pass-catcher and hypothesizing that the second-year star may even be undervalued by a full round. Chubb’s efficiency numbers lend ammunition to this argument. He generated more ruFPOE (34.9) than Barkley last year and also finished with positive reFPOE (5.8).

The Potential League-Winners

In the Best Ball Workshop, we’ve used the Roster Construction Explorer to discuss the brutal results for RB-heavy lineups and the sterling returns for 1-Elite-RB and Zero RB squads. We can see yet another reason this holds true when we look at points implied by ADP using the Win the Flex app.

These are the numbers for 2017 and 2018, but the same RB window exists if you set the tool for 2015 and 2016 instead. RBs selected in the general range of pick 90 to pick 130 can compete with WRs in points scored. The only other area where RB is as good or better comes at the very beginning of drafts.2

We can contrast this with the ADPs for four of the most interesting second-year RBs.


Phillip Lindsay: Lindsay currently sits at RB24, which historically has not been a good range. Cort Smith’s research on RB ADP shows that running back committees with small gaps between the two runners are exploitable. Unfortunately, it’s the cheaper RB who’s the bargain. Lindsay falls into the worst cohort with results that also trail elite RBs and their handcuffs. Lindsay also projects poorly according to research from Ryan’s other series, a deep dive into RB trends during the new passing revolution. With more than 70% of his value coming in the running game, Lindsay’s profile gives him an RB2 ceiling.

Rashaad Penny: Penny has started to fall over the last several weeks due to reports that Chris Carson is again separating in training camp. As he moves toward the priority window, the former first-round pick becomes a must-buy even with a discouraging rush/receiving profile. I grabbed him at 8.04 in the Apex Experts draft.

Jaylen Samuels: The real fun starts with Samuels. He sits right in the sweet spot for our various selection criteria as a small-gap-2 RB in the priority window with more than 50% of his value coming in the receiving game. Samuels was a RotoViz favorite a year ago, in part due to a collegiate receiving profile that saw him catch more than 50 passes in each of his final three seasons. We often talk about backups who would have more value than the starter in the case of injury. Samuels is a candidate for that designation,3 which is scary when you consider what James Conner did in 2018.

Justin Jackson: Jackson’s drop in last year’s reality draft was baffling. After the Melvin Gordon holdout threat first became public, I did a deep dive into his prospect profile and found that his closest comps included Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Jones, and Lindsay. That seems like utter nonsense, of course, but I arrived at that conclusion after working my way through the Combine Explorer, the Box Score Scout, and the RB Workhorse Score. The only reason to exercise caution on Jackson? Austin Ekeler is most likely to benefit from the starter’s absence, and he’s a freakishly athletic runner in his own right. Ryan explains why Ekeler may even be Alvin Kamara-in-waiting. Should Gordon return, this backfield gets awfully crowded.

How to Play It

Zero RB works because powerful trends favor the strategy. But it also works for RotoViz users because we put so much time and effort into player selection. The research from Blair, Ryan, and Cort gives us a window into the past and a portal into the future. Finding runners with such strong evidence for their breakouts is the reason our picks blow up to league winner status every year.4

Saquon Barkley and Kerryon Johnson are good foundation pieces for fantasy teams that choose an RB early. Rashaad Penny, Jaylen Samuels, and Justin Jackson make excellent picks for almost any construction.

The 2019 Zero RB Candidates will debut shortly.

Image Credit: Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Rashaad Penny.

  1. I’m biased, of course, but if you read this series, I guarantee it will open your eyes to the opportunities players have on different types of NFL teams.  (back)
  2. Giving the 1-Elite-RB approach merit.  (back)
  3. Although I continue to believe Benny Snell is a sleeping giant.  (back)
  4. Devonta Freeman, 2015; Melvin Gordon, 2016; Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara, 2017; Nick Chubb and James White, 2018  (back)

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