Last season James White ranked No. 6 and Tarik Cohen slotted in at No. 5 on our target list of the best Zero RB Candidates. They finished at RB7 and RB11 overall. Both players are going off the board at palatable ADPs again in 2019. But what if we had a quick hack for finding the next breakout receiving backs at an even greater discount?
RotoViz alum Ben Gretch joined Colm Kelly and me on RotoViz Overtime yesterday. We discussed the crazy positional trends in the Apex Experts draft and wide receiver breakouts. Ben even nailed the RB acquisition in Houston. But most importantly, Ben gave us a cool stat to help find the 2019 James White.
James White and the 2018 Emergence
White spent 2015 to 2017 sitting right at 10 PPG and functioning as an emergency starter and bye-week fill-in. His 2018 explosion followed the path Darren Sproles blazed earlier in the decade.
White and Cohen joined a small but illustrious group of runners who have scored 200 points while rushing fewer than 100 times.
This list gets particularly interesting with Duke Johnson joining the Houston Texans.
Tyler Loechner has the details on how this affects his outlook, diving deep into his updated situation using the newly released Projection Machine. You can work through your own expectations for Johnson, using the tool to find run/pass history and more by team, head coach, and offensive coordinator.
What If We Want to Find the Next James White?
Ben has been thinking along the same lines as Ryan Collinsworth, whose series on passing game trends and the RB position will change the way you look at risk and reward in the early rounds. Ben wanted to avoid RBs with a lot of lower value carries and prioritize those with receptions and goal-line carries. He used the RotoViz Screener to search for total rush attempts, receptions, and rush attempts inside the 10. Not surprisingly, the first category didn’t contribute much to fantasy scoring.
Over the past five seasons, 75.1% of all running back touches were this type of low-impact rush attempt. Just 42.1% of all running back Fantasy points in the same sample were scored on these plays.
With a little help from the acronym genius of Pat Kerrane, Ben calls the percentage of low-value carries TRAP, or Trivial Rush Attempt Percentage.
This type of score is obviously going to favor the passing-down backs, but it also illustrates the value these backs have even if they don’t receive a traditional workload. The three best scores from the last five years were James White 2015, James White 2016, and James White 2017. The fifth-best score came in his 2018 breakout season. The other score in that group was recorded by an RB who may be the best value in all of fantasy.
Two Cheap Targets – One of Whom Is Almost Completely Free
The five best 2018 TRAP scores belong to Jalen Richard (42.3), White (43.6), Duke Johnson (46.6), Nyheim Hines (53.4), and Cohen (57.6). It’s easy to see Johnson’s score and worry that it’s due to his very low overall workload, but it’s almost identical to his 2017 numbers when he finished as RB11.
The key to focus on here is not that TRAP will directly predict a breakout but that these profiles have a very high floor and high ceiling as it relates to both total touches and to ADP. Even with minimal work, these backs provide a fantasy safety net. When their touches jump, they can be league-winners even without the all of the empty calories.1 You can see how the fantasy community is ignoring this intersection between scoring and price in 8 Explosive Breather Backs and How to Exploit Their Crazy ADPs.
Hines and Richard are the two backs I own everywhere in 2019. Readers have probably had their full of my Hines rhetoric.2 It’s time to take a closer look at Richard.
Jalen Richard And Do We Need to Fear the Duke Johnson 2018 Predicament?
All of the non-Duke backs on this list were top-30 RBs last year. Unlike workhorses, they aren’t drafted based on their prior year scoring.
We know that early-round back are land mines waiting to go off, and it’s certainly the case that players at lesser ADPs might also hit a road bump. That happened to Duke Johnson last year. Many are forecasting the same hurdle for Jalen Richard in 2019.
Josh Jacobs and Losing Receptions
Last season Richard caught 68 balls for 607 yards. Those high-value touches led to 160.6 fantasy points and an RB29 finish. Yesterday I selected him at RB66 in the Apex draft.
Toward the end of last season, Jon Gruden compared Richard to Charlie Garner and suggested he might eventually have a season with 1,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards. This is all a little silly on the surface, but Gruden does have a background creating impressive run/pass seasons. Garner gained 1,400 yards from scrimmage with Gruden as his head coach. He went over 1,900 yards from scrimmage the following year under Bill Callahan. When Gruden says that Richard could produce the same kind of season that David Johnson has set as a goal … well, we shouldn’t take that literally or seriously. But it’s a compliment.
Gruden then went out and drafted Josh Jacobs in the first round, which makes the statement look quite a bit more fanciful than it did already.
On the other hand, Jacobs caught 48 passes in three years in college.3 He’s got a ton on his plate to handle the rigors of being a bell-cow as a rookie. It’s certainly possible that he takes some of Richard’s receptions, but the idea that he’ll rush 275 times and catch 60 passes is almost as rose-colored as the thought of Richard going 1,000/1,000.4
The Raiders also have one of the league’s thinnest depth charts at RB, WR, and TE. Their offense is based on the idea that Antonio Brown’s frostbitten feet5 will heal. And hope.
Richard has a good floor with Jacobs healthy and becomes a poor man’s Christian McCaffrey should injury strike. Is it possible Richard’s touches get squeezed by Jacobs and fellow rookie Hunter Renfrow? It’s possible. The Raiders love both of those players. But at RB64, it costs you nothing to find out.6
Image Credit: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: James White.
- And without being exposed to the high injury rates that come with those touches. (back)
- In addition to a deeper dive in the breather back piece, I examined other elements of his profile when I selected him for the MFL10 of Death and the Apex Experts League. (back)
- He doesn’t have the athletic profile of an elite passing-down back, but he was clearly the RB Alabama preferred catching the ball in that role last year. (back)
- According to the Screener, only one rookie has managed 275/60 as a rookie since 2000. That was Matt Forte in 2008. (back)
- I hope this has been exaggerated. (back)
- Blair Andrews, Hasan Rahim, Pat Kerrane, and Pete Overzet selected both Hines and Richard in the late rounds of their recent FFPC draft after cobbling together a scary-good WRx6 start. (back)