Welcome to Week 6 of the Ultimate Zero RB Watchlist. The Watchlist helps you find running back targets for your Zero RB teams before anyone else even knows about them. 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.
All players highlighted in this watch list are owned in less than 50% of ESPN leagues.
Teams and Players on Bye in Week 6
Buffalo Bills — Frank Gore, T.J. Yeldon, Devin Singletary, Patrick DiMarco
Chicago Bears — David Montgomery, Tarik Cohen, Mike Davis, Cordarrelle Patterson
Indianapolis Colts — Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, Jonathan Williams
Oakland Raiders — Josh Jacobs, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard, Alec Ingold
Week 6 NFL RB Injury Report
Current as of October 9, 2019.
Injured Reserve List
The following RBs have been placed on IR, PUP, or the Commissioner’s Exempt List. Each player is either out for the season or is without a clear timetable to return.
|Kareem Hunt||CLE||Suspension||Eligible to return in Week 10.|
|Theo Riddick||DEN||Shoulder||IR - Eligible to return in Week 10|
|Alfred Blue||JAX||Ankle||IR - Eligible to return in Week 10|
|Adam Choice||SEA||Lower Body||IR|
|Derrius Guice||WAS||Knee||IR - Eligible to return in Week 10|
Week 6 Injuries
The following RBs are dealing with injuries that do not threaten their season-long status but may affect their Week 6 availability.
|Christian McCaffrey||CAR||General Soreness||Probable|
Weekly Streamers Due to Injury
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
Cardinals RB David Johnson is questionable to play against the Falcons due to a back issue. Johnson suffered the injury during the second half against Cincinnati in Week 5, and he reported that his back intermittently “locked up” throughout the game. In fact, the injury caused Johnson so much distress that he could not bear sitting at his locker during post-game interviews.
He has no prior history of back problems, which means the injury is acute rather than a chronic nuisance. In a best-case scenario, Johnson may be dealing with a muscle strain resulting in intense back spasms. But in a worst-case scenario, it could be a herniated disc.
Encouragingly, Johnson continued to play despite his back discomfort. But back injuries are notoriously difficult to shake, with a high rate of re-injury and comorbidity with secondary muscle group injuries. If Johnson suits up this Sunday, he may be limited. And there’s a non-zero chance that he may miss multiple weeks of action depending on the severity of his condition.
In either case, Johnson’s injury catapults Chase Edmonds’ value through the roof. Since the preseason, I’ve consistently highlighted Edmonds as the premier handcuff in football, and now is his time to shine. The Cardinals’ RB room is shockingly barren, featuring only Johnson, Edmonds, and D.J. Foster. Foster is coming off a torn ACL in 2018 and has only played on special teams this season. Behind Foster, Arizona has no RBs on its practice squad.
That leaves Edmonds as an every-snap workhorse if Johnson misses any time. On top of that, Edmonds’ stock was already pointing up before Johnson’s injury news. His opportunities have increased in every game this season, culminating in a career-high 12 opportunities in Week 5.
How did Edmonds perform with that increased volume? He gained 71 total yards — including a 37-yard scamper for a TD in the fourth quarter — and scored 17.6 fantasy points. Granted, he achieved that stat-line against the lowly Bengals defense, but there are myriad other reasons to be excited about Edmonds in a potential featured role.
First off, Edmonds reports exceptional combine metrics for lateral agility — which the eye test confirms when you watch him play.
Johnson is an exceptional pass-catching talent and route-runner, but he has appeared sluggish as a rusher this season. Edmonds may actually be an improvement in that regard. His 9.5 ruFPOE ranks 13th among RBs this season and easily eclipses Johnson’s mark of 3.3 points below expectation as a rusher.
Edmonds is no slouch as a receiver either, reporting a 44.1% career PPR (Rec) and 28.8% Opps (Tar). His two best player comps across those two metrics are Justin Jackson1 and … none other than David Johnson.2
With Johnson ailing, Edmonds now offers legitimate standalone value deserving Flex consideration. And if, God forbid, Johnson’s injury turns into a chronic issue for the rest of the season, Edmonds could easily turn into a league-winning waiver pickup. Here’s hoping you took my advice and stashed him away early this season.
Benny Snell Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers
RB Jaylen Samuels suffered a minor knee injury in Week 5 and underwent arthroscopic surgery on Monday. He is scheduled to miss around four weeks as he recovers from the procedure.
Samuels’ injury elevates Benny Snell Jr. into backup duty — which could quickly develop into a full-blown committee role. Over the past couple weeks, Pittsburgh has been experimenting with various wildcat packages to ease the burden on backup quarterback Mason Rudolph. Not only did Pittsburgh lose Samuels last weekend, but they also lost Rudolph, who suffered a concussion on a violent hit from Earl Thomas. Rudolph is in concussion protocol and is unlikely to play in Week 6, thereby likely elevating third-stringer Devlin Hodges into starting duty.
James Conner has also been playing through a nagging knee injury of his own, so it’s not a given that he’ll rush 30-plus times on Sunday. Instead, Conner could slide into Samuels’ previous wildcat role on occasion, and it’s reasonable to expect Conner and Snell to operate in a rotation on standard-formation rushes. After all, Pittsburgh drafted Snell to be Conner’s potential one-for-one replacement. Conner ranks among Snell’s top player comps in the RotoViz Box Score Scout.
Snell doesn’t project as a can’t-miss waiver wire prospect like Edmonds, but his path to lead-back work just got much clearer. With Edmonds likely assuming a strong standalone role, Snell is now my favorite handcuff in football.
Jonathan Hilliman, New York Giants
If you missed on Edmonds or Snell — or if you’re facing major bye week issues and need an RB off waivers with a respectable floor — then Jonathan Hilliman is a solid pickup. Saquon Barkley is still rehabbing a high-ankle sprain from Week 4 and has been limited in practice this week. Backup Wayne Gallman suffered a concussion in Week 5 and is currently in protocol. Neither will suit up this week.
In their stead, Hilliman projects as New York’s No. 1 RB, with Elijhaa Penny likely mixing in for around 25% of the team’s backfield touches. Over the last two weeks, Hilliman has earned 19 rush attempts for 53 yards and added one reception for four yards. Those numbers likely won’t blow you away, but he’s also been operating as second-fiddle to Gallman over that span. The Giants face off against New England on Thursday night and may opt for a pass-heavy offensive approach. That could stymie Hilliman’s rushing volume, but it could also modestly elevate his receiving floor.
Unlike Gallman before him, Hilliman is unlikely to provide an explosive fantasy performance as the Giants’ next man up. But his role may be sufficient to provide low-end Flex value for teams in deeper fantasy leagues.
Tra Carson, Green Bay Packers
RB Jamaal Williams was inactive last week as he recovers from a Week 4 concussion and preexisting neck injury. Tra Carson beat out rookie Dexter Williams for backup duties, rushing six times for 14 yards and adding four receptions for 18 yards. Meanwhile, lead-back Aaron Jones posted the best fantasy performance of his career, hoarding 27 opportunities for 182 yards and four rushing TDs.
Jamaal Williams is once again questionable to suit up this week, which affords Carson at least one more week as Green Bay’s No. 2 RB. Carson was unspectacular in that role last week, but he did receive 10 opportunities. Green Bay could have opted to let Jones run the show unabated, but instead Matt LaFleur still employed a soft committee. That is encouraging for Carson’s potential workload in Week 6, and his four receiving targets last week also suggest he may deliver some receiving upside.
The case for rostering and/or starting Carson comes down to your opinion on head coach Matt LaFleur. If you believe Jones has won the RB1 job indefinitely — and that Carson’s 10 opportunities only came due to positive game script — then Carson is too risky to roster. Alternatively, if you believe LaFleur is stubborn enough to employ a committee regardless of Jones’ performance — an opinion supported by Jones’ and Williams’ usage through four weeks and LaFleur’s treatment of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis last season — then Carson could be worth a flier.
Top Players with Weekly Standalone Value
The following players provide modest standalone value each week, but their production is relatively inconsistent. However, they also possess a three-down skill set and would be high-value RB1s contingent on depth chart disruption. This category of RBs is of greatest value to Zero RB teams due to their moderate short term value and high-leverage potential.
Ito Smith, Atlanta Falcons
As Devonta Freeman’s targets have increased over the last few weeks, so too have Ito Smith’s. Since returning from a concussion in Week 4, Smith has averaged five targets, four receptions, 32.5 receiving yards, and 11.8 points per game. During games in which both Falcons RBs have been active, Smith has earned 33% of the team’s backfield opportunities and 40.5% of backfield fantasy points.
Smith and Freeman report nearly identical FPOE on a per-opportunity basis, but Smith’s workload has actually been more valuable. Prorating opportunity for both players based on 10 rush attempts, Freeman reports 7.21 ruEP versus 10.29 ruEP for Smith. Similarly, per 10 opportunities, Freeman reports 10.42 EP versus 11.84 for Smith.
Those differentials may be skewed by a low sample size. Or they could hint that Atlanta trusts Smith more with higher-value touches. Indeed, when you examine both players based on red-zone opportunity, Smith boasts a definitive edge despite missing an entire game this season.
Additionally, Atlanta clearly doesn’t trust any other RBs in its stable of reserves. When Smith was sidelined in Week 3, Freeman absorbed the team’s entire backfield workload. Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, and Kenjon Barner didn’t even see the field. Presumably, Smith would receive the same treatment if Freeman misses games down the road. The Falcons’ backfield is not a particularly lucrative one from a fantasy perspective, but Smith could still provide solid fantasy RB2-style production as the team’s workhorse.
His first-place ranking among RBs in this category is primarily due to his above-average standalone value rather than his absolute ceiling. Unlike many other players on this list, Smith has a proven track record of delivering RB3 fantasy performances variably from week to week.
Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
This one’s a no-brainer. Alexander Mattison has clearly established himself as Minnesota’s No. 2 RB, reporting seven opportunities per game versus 2.6 for Ameer Abdullah and Mike Boone combined. The Vikings rank first in Team RB opportunity share (64.1%), which means that Minnesota provides its RBs with a rush attempt or receiving target on nearly two-thirds of its total offensive plays.
The only other team that even approaches that kind of backfield opportunity share is San Francisco at 60.3%. But the 49ers have utilized four different RBs in concert his season (plus fullback Kyle Juszczyk) whereas Minnesota has delivered nearly all of its opportunities to one player: Fantasy darling Dalvin Cook.
Mattison doesn’t possess Cook’s elite skill set, but the sheer volume of RB opportunity in Minnesota is absurd. Any RB could deliver starting fantasy production given Minnesota’s offensive commitment to feeding its RBs. If Mattison is available in your league, scoop him up immediately, then flog yourself for waiting this long do so.
Latavius Murray, New Orleans Saints
Like many of the players on this list, Latavius Murray’s fantasy value is contingent on depth chart ascension — which, in turn, requires an injury to Alvin Kamara. So, I broke open my spreadsheets in order to project Murray’s fantasy production if ill fates unexpectedly befall his backfield mate.
This season, Murray reports a 37.4% PPR (Rec) and 22.6% Opps (Tar), both of which are career highs. Prior to 2019, he reported career averages of 27.4% PPR (Rec) and 15.3% Opps (Tar). Murray’s 2019 early-season production offers promising evidence that his current workload is more receiving-focused in New Orleans than in his stints in Oakland and Minnesota.
This finding is admittedly tenuous given Murray’s small 2019 sample size (31 opportunities), but it does support our preseason intuition. Under head coach Sean Payton, the Saints have consistently targeted their RBs in the passing game, which prompted many analysts to project Murray for an increased target share than his career average. Through five games, that assessment appears to be accurate.
Furthermore, Murray’s 2019 advanced metrics are eerily similar to his predecessor Mark Ingram’s. From 2015 to 2018, Ingram achieved a 38.4% PPR (Rec) — only 1% higher than Murray — and a 22.6% Opps (Tar) — exactly the same as Murray. This marked similarity strongly suggests that New Orleans is employing Murray in the same fashion as it previously used Ingram — just with a lower overall share of the team’s backfield opportunities. Moreover, this finding offers us probable cause to use Ingram’s career logs before Kamara showed up to induce Murray’s fantasy value in a lead-back role.
I’ll spare you all the methods and calculations and instead get straight into his per-game range of outcomes.3
|Opportunity Share||Total Yds||Total TD||PPR Pts||RB Rank||Player Comp.|
For added context, Kamara currently reports a 77.4% share of New Orleans’ backfield opportunities. So in Row 1, a 100% share would describe Murray’s workload if he maintained his current usage and absorbed all of Kamara’s opportunities as well. Row 2 (75%) more closely mirrors Kamara’s current opportunity, and Row 3 (60%) assumes that Murray fails to reach Kamara’s current usage by one full standard deviation relative to the league-wide sample of RB1s.
As you can see from my projections, Murray’s range of outcomes as the No. 1 RB in New Orleans is rather lucrative. His extreme ceiling would approximate Nick Chubb’s production this season, and his most reasonable floor would be LeSean McCoy. If Murray assumes a workhorse role, you should expect RB2-style production or better.
This projection synergizes well with his career history as a three-down back. During his tenure as a dedicated starting RB from 2015 to 2017, Murray delivered RB2 production or better in 54% of his active games.
In 25 career games with at least 15 rush attempts, Murray has averaged 15.6 points per game — which also happens to perfectly match his 75% opportunity share projection.
Given his career history, his projected range of outcomes, and the Saints’ notable thinness at the RB position, Murray profiles among fantasy’s elite stash-and-stream options. He should be owned in all formats.
Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots
Rex Burkhead is questionable to play Thursday due to a foot injury. New England has released little information regarding the quality or severity of Burkhead’s injury. What is known is that he sustained it during Week 4 and was limited in the contest, he joined the Patriots’ inactive list in Week 5, and he has been limited in practice early this week. Some fantasy managers may consider dropping Burkhead due to the uncertainty clouding his injury status, but don’t be one of them. Hold onto him for now.
Burkhead is a mystifying player. He didn’t log any meaningful statistical production until his fourth year in Cincinnati. Then he joined the Patriots in 2017, and Josh McDaniels has tactically featured him in short bursts ever since. One such burst came in the first three weeks of the current fantasy season. Over that span, Burkhead averaged 13.7 opportunities and 13.7 points per game, ranking 17th among RBs in PPR scoring.
One huge mitigating factor affecting Burkhead’s weekly usage is his injury history. During the 2017 season, he suffered two injuries: A rib sprain in Week 2 and a knee sprain in Week 15. Those two injuries explain the first two gaps of inactivity in the above chart. Then in 2018, he endured two more setbacks: A preseason knee tear that limited him in his opening games, and a cervical fracture in Week 3 that sent him to Injured Reserve for eight weeks. Now he’s dealing with a foot injury of some kind, so you could argue that perhaps he’s simply injury prone.
But if we assume that his previous injuries do not represent a chronic trend and instead are due to horrible luck, then his statistical profile becomes much more palatable. For argument’s sake, let’s exclude Weeks 1 to 3 of 2018 (limited by a knee injury) and Week 4 of 2019 (missed most of the game due to his foot injury).
After those exclusions, we’ve got 18 remaining active games in our sample. Over that stretch, Burkhead has averaged 11.6 points and has finished as an RB2 or better in 44.4% of his games. He also totaled 141 yards and three TDs in last year’s playoffs, which doesn’t count for fantasy but reinforces his standalone viability when fully healthy.
Now push all of that aside for a moment. The real reason you should roster Burkhead is due to his unique position as a dual-backup. New England has consistently run an offensive system that deploys two RBs in a strict committee. In 2017, the Patriots used Dion Lewis as their early-down back and James White as their third-down satellite. In 2018, Lewis was replaced with Sony Michel, and White maintained his role as the team’s pass-catching RB.
New England’s player rotation philosophy is unique in the modern NFL and leaves Burkhead as the primary backup for two lucrative fantasy roles in the offense. Those dual paths to RB1 status make him particularly appealing as a stash play, so don’t give up on him just yet.
Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
In Week 3, Darrel Williams leap-frogged rookie Darwin Thompson as the Chiefs’ go-to replacement option for Damien Williams. Over two weeks with Damien Williams sidelined, Darrel Williams totaled 26 opportunities, 175 yards from scrimmage and two TDs. His 36.5 combined fantasy points ranked 11th among RBs over that span.
Through five games, head coach Andy Reid has clearly illustrated his intention to utilize a 60-40 RB committee regardless of which players are active. Across Kansas City’s first four games, its RB1 (either of the Chiefs’ Williams duo) has averaged 39.3 snaps and 14.8 opportunities per game. The Chiefs’ RB2 (LeSean McCoy in each game) has averaged 27.3 snaps and 12.8 opportunities per game. Reid’s strict adherence to that split has been remarkably consistent … until Week 5.
Last week, Kansas City was hobbled by injuries across the board and abandoned its previous four-week plan altogether. Damien Williams logged 35 snaps and 13 opportunities versus 14 snaps and only two opportunities for McCoy. Darrel Williams did not record any opportunities, but he earned just as many snaps (14) as McCoy.
Fantasy players were understandably vexed and perplexed. Why would the Chiefs deviate from their typical script, and why was McCoy in the dog house? Andy Reid addressed the issue on Monday, explaining that McCoy’s low snap count was due to his poor pass protection. That also explains Darrel Williams’ increased snap share, especially in the second half.
McCoy’s role as Kansas City’s RB2 is likely still secure, but Reid’s decision to pull McCoy for Darrel Williams is strong evidence that Reid trusts Williams in the backfield. In fact, in his two weeks as the Chiefs’ RB1, Darrel Williams out-snapped McCoy 73-to-58.
It’s clear that Darrel Williams is Kansas City’s next man up, and it’s equally clear that Reid trusts him as much as anyone in the Chiefs RB room. Stash him on your bench not just because of his 36.5 fantasy points in Weeks 3 and 4 but also because Reid believes in him. All it takes is one more injury or one more blown blitz pickup from McCoy for Williams to become a weekly Flex play.
Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh Steelers
As I iterated in my discussion for Snell, Samuels is out for the next four weeks due to a knee injury. If Snell performs admirably, or if Samuels’ knee injury persists longer than expected, there’s a non-zero chance that Samuels will lose his backup role this season. However, Samuels has played ahead of Snell for a reason. It could be due to receiving aptitude, pass-blocking, experience in the offense, or any of a number of other reasons.
But whatever the cause, Samuels has been Pittsburgh’s preferred backup. Until we gain more information on Samuels’ status or see Snell in action, we have to assume he will continue to be a volatile but high-leverage standalone play when he returns. So, his inclusion among this group is less of a recommendation to go pick him up and more of a recommendation not to drop him just yet.
Jamaal Williams, Green Bay Packers
See: Samuels, Jaylen.
See also: Burkhead, Rex.
Williams is in an uncannily similar position to Samuels as a secondary committee RB that is currently recovering from injury. It’s unknown when he’ll make his return for Green Bay, but when healthy, Williams ranks among the league’s top handcuff options and still delivers modest standalone value from week to week.
When Jones suffered a knee injury in Week 15 last season, Williams stepped in as the team’s go-to RB1. During Weeks 15 and 16, Williams earned 41 opportunities, gained 253 total yards, scored two TDs, and delivered 47.3 points. He ranked fifth among RBs in PPR scoring over that span, boasting back-to-back weeks as a fantasy RB1.
That’s the upside. That’s the reason to hold onto him despite Jones’ breakout performance. As a committee back, Williams is unlikely to deliver exceptional fantasy value. But as a lead-back, he is capable of winning the week for you. In 10 career games with at least 12 rush attempts, Williams has averaged 99 total yards and 16.5 points per game.
Other Standalone Players that Deserve a Modicum of Consideration
- Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers
- Malcolm Brown, Los Angeles Rams
- Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens
- DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders
- Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
The following players possess clear paths to RB1 status but offer minimal weekly standalone value. They are true backups rather than committee contributors. Strongly consider stashing these players on your bench due to their lucrative potential workloads as lead-backs in their respective offenses.
- Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
- Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans
- Reggie Bonnafon, Carolina Panthers
- Ty Johnson, Detroit Lions
- Ty Montgomery, New York Jets
- Ryquell Armstead, Jacksonville Jaguars
Buried Reserves With Moderate Upside
The following players do not possess standalone value and do not possess a clear path to a lead-back workload. Nonetheless, they do project as viable contributors contingent on one depth chart shift and would be viable fantasy starters contingent on two depth chart shifts. Among all reserves buried on NFL depth charts, the following RBs boast the best long term upside. They likely offer no value in standard redraft leagues but could be viable stashes in deeper leagues or keeper/dynasty formats.
- Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers
- Jordan Wilkins, Indianapolis Colts
- Corey Clement, Philadelphia Eagles
- Dare Ogunbowale, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Justice Hill, Baltimore Ravens
- Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
- Dontrell Hilliard, Cleveland Browns
- D’Ernest Johnson, Cleveland Browns
- Wendell Smallwood, Washington
- Darwin Thompson, Kansas City Chiefs
Be sure to check out each of my other two RB columns, both of which serve as helpful companions to this Watchlist. The Jump Cut reviews all RB performances from the previous weekend, and the NFL Week 5 RB Market Share Report provides advanced metrics for all NFL RBs and breaks down key position battles.