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Bears-Packers Underlines the Danger in the RB Dead Zone and Suggests Opportunities for Last Second Trades

We’ve talked a lot this offseason about the extremely low win rates that RBs return in the dead zone. It doesn’t matter if this is RB-heavy (RBx4) or balanced (WR-WR-RB-RB) or anything in between, drafting an RB in Rounds 3 or 4 hasn’t been a winning tactic.

Why RBs Struggle in the Dead Zone

There are several key reasons for these struggles. As Blair Andrews has pointed out through the Win the Flex app, RBs just don’t score enough points in this range.

If you’ve read Ryan Collinsworth’s exhaustive and life-changing RB series, you know that’s mostly because they don’t  catch enough passes.

In my look at the RB Land Mines, I encouraged you to avoid almost all of the early-round RBs. I don’t have a 2019 share of any RBs in Rounds 3 or 4, with the exception of Kerryon Johnson, who should probably be going in Round 2 (and is in RB-heavy formats). But I also said that if I had to select an RB in that range, Aaron Jones and David Montgomery would have been in consideration.

Carries Increasingly Don’t Matter

Thursday night’s Packers/Bears contest is an exaggerated example of the problem for run-centric RBs, but it also highlights the concerns.

Jones and Montgomery only averaged 3.0 yards per carry and were consistently swarmed at the line of scrimmage. But the biggest problem for both players was not really the efficiency – although it’s ineffectiveness made the run game less of an option – but that even if they’d been more efficient, it wouldn’t have mattered much.

We talk about Expected Points (EP) at RotoViz because it allows you to conceptualize a player’s volume in terms of fantasy points. An average player earning the specific touches that Jones and Montgomery earned would be expected to score 6.6 and 2.9 points respectively. That won’t get it done from your starting RB.

The Receiving Workload

In order to score points, you have to catch passes, and this was where the enthusiasm for Jones and Montgomery came in. We were told that in the Packers new offense Jones was going to improve on his 2018 numbers where he caught 26 passes for 206 yards. The Chicago coaches raved about Montgomery while suggesting reductions for Tarik Cohen.

These are devastating numbers. Montgomery was out-targeted 17-1 by Cohen and Mike Davis. Jones was doubled up by Jamaal Williams, and even though it was only by a margin of 2-1, that actually makes it worse. In a game where the Packers struggled to move the ball, they threw only three total passes to the RBs.

Can They Turn It Around?

I think the answer to this is yes, but only if you have patience and realistic expectations. Jones has some weaknesses that Williams can exploit for touches, but Jones is going to be the bell-cow on a team that won’t face Chicago every week. He just has an RB2 ceiling, which makes him a difficult back to own at ADP.

Montgomery’s case is trickier. By the middle of the summer, he was being drafted like the second coming of Kareem Hunt, which was obviously unfair. Hunt scored 47 points in his first NFL game. Montgomery was barely on the field.

Montgomery reached cult status in college due to his high number of broken tackles, a result that would matter a lot more if it were accompanied by NFL speed.1 The production/athleticism metrics painted him as a mediocre prospect, and RBs with his draft status have historically struggled as rookies. We’re simply asking a ton from him at his redraft ADP.

But even if Montgomery ends up being Marshawn Lynch, his fantasy value has always boiled down to the number of receptions he could steal in a backfield with Cohen and Davis, two players who combined for 105 receptions a year ago.

The third-round pick looked solid. While Davis caught six passes and turned them into only 17 yards, Montgomery turned his only target into a 27-yard gain. It was easily the highlight of the night, outside of the play of Allen Robinson.

This will get better, but it’s got a long way to go. Right now, Montgomery looks more like a 10th-round value, so it will be interesting to see where he goes in high stakes drafts today and tomorrow.

Trade Possibilities

Ryan’s look at the difference between RB1s and RB2s showed that the top tier scores 50% of their points in the receiving game, whereas the second tier only gets 30% of their points that way. He also gave us a specific look at the RBs who fit this RB2 template.

Marlon Mack, Mark Ingram, and Chris Carson are the players I most want to sell in all formats this week, with Phillip Lindsay and Derrick Henry as honorable mentions.

The Strength of Schedule Streaming app gives us a few ideas for how we might move into better profiles and take advantage of schedule.

The Early-Season Move

Weeks 1-4

I recently recommended buying Kerryon Johnson based on schedule, and he’s still an obvious target. It’s more realistic to move Mack’s bad schedule for Tevin Coleman’s good one. Matt Breida is one of the top targets in the Zero RB countdown,2 but Coleman lands on Ryan’s list of RB3s to target. He possesses the profile we’re after.

A good 2-for-1 option would be Justice Hill and one of our inexpensive breakout WRs (perhaps Tre’Quan Smith) for Lindsay. Owners vary a great deal in how they value a 12th-round throw-in, but most prefer to be on the side of the better player in a 2-for-1 trade.

An Early Trade for the Playoff Run

Weeks 13-16

Carson has gone in the third round of my last two high-stakes drafts. While Jones and Montgomery owners might now disagree, that makes Carson a strong contender for the most overvalued player in fantasy. His playoff schedule does him no favors.

Most of the best schedules go to backs who are too expensive or lack our target profile. You would have to kick in a quality sweetener, but Leonard Fournette becomes interesting in this scenario. Fournette falls on Dr. Budoff’s Do Not Draft list, but Tyler Loechner’s Projection Machine exploration of his upside is compelling for risk-takers.

Kenyan Drake is another player who has been a land mine in the fourth or fifth round but becomes very interesting when he slips into the seventh. His closing stretch looks fantastic, and you should be able to get a solid secondary piece in a trade for Carson.

To give you a snapshot of the most recent RB values as you mull trade possibilities, let’s go to the FFPC Redraft Command Center.

How to Play It

These are just a few ideas for how you can use our tools to accumulate tiny advantages. It’s too late to sell Aaron Jones or David Montgomery, but you still have almost 48 hours to move other risky backs before the opening kickoff.

Dave Caban’s Game Level Similarity Projections will give you some more ideas for how to exploit the matchups in Week 1.

Image Credit: Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Aaron Jones.

  1. Speed is a top indicator for NFL success. Montgomery struggled with his efficiency even in the Big 12 as a result of this limitation. The closest comp for his 4.63 speed and 28.5-inch vertical is Benny Snell.  (back)
  2. And it’s very possible he outscores Coleman outright, but he is dealing with a slightly more difficult profile.  (back)

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