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Zero RB Watch List: AFC Week 7 – The Steelers Reward Your Patience While the Bengals Test It

The Zero RB Watch List provides analysis for Zero RB and RB-heavy owners alike. Blair Andrews examines the running back workloads for every AFC backfield from Week 6.

I’ll be filling in for Ryan Collinsworth this week on the AFC side, so prepare for way more Patrick Laird content than you ever thought possible.1 We’ll use the RotoViz Screener and NFL Stat Explorer to dive into the advanced stats for every team.

Be sure to check out Shawn Siegele’s Week 7 coverage of every NFC backfield.

AFC East

New England Patriots

Rex Burkhead missed his second game with a foot injury, which meant for the second straight week Sony Michel was targeted three times. He accumulated 4.7 receiving expected points (EP) — a career high.

Burkhead will likely return in Week 7, so Michel’s pass-catching days are likely over. The Georgia product has two seasons on his collegiate resume with at least 22 catches, so it’s not as though he is incompetent as a pass-catcher. Alas, he remains a touchdown-dependent back who’s startable in the right matchups. The good news is a number of those matchups appear to be on the way.

It’s not the Week 7 matchup against the Jets that’s so intriguing.2 It’s the games against Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, and Kansas City — all teams who rank in the top 10 in points scored and the top five in yards per play. Look for New England to feature Michel early against potent offenses in an attempt to slow the game down and keep the likes of Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes from posting huge scores.

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo had their bye in Week 6, but the last we saw of them, Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon were splitting RB responsibilities, with Yeldon getting the more valuable receiving work. Yeldon’s receiving EP are trending in the right direction.

He’s not yet worth adding in anything but the deepest leagues, but continue to monitor his workload as he could provide value for teams needing bye week fill-ins.

New York Jets

There are other running backs on the Jets besides Le’Veon Bell, but they shouldn’t be on your fantasy team. If Bell is only going to get one target per game, perhaps he shouldn’t be on your fantasy team either. This looks like an aberration, however:

Miami Dolphins

Kenyan Drake had over 13 receiving EP on Sunday, and after dropping a pass to seal the loss for Miami, he might have earned more work.3 Unfortunately, he has yet to outscore his expected production in any game this season.

Mark Walton chipped in with double-digit EP and is an intriguing if uninspiring stash in deep leagues. Kalen Ballage appears to have been relegated to a rushing-only role (although it’s arguably the worst part of his game). Patrick Laird is evidently too good for this team.

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore actually rushed for over 260 yards against Cincinnati in Week 6, although no Ravens RB had more rushing yards than Mark Ingram’s 52. Lamar Jackson handled 44% of the rushing attempts and led the team in rushing EP.

Jackson’s rushing ability also has the effect of limiting RB receiving opportunities, meaning no one in this backfield is likely to be a reliable fantasy option. If there is a silver lining, it’s that Justice Hill had his first game with positive FPOE.

Pittsburgh Steelers

With Jaylen Samuels hurt, Benny Snell got his first real action of the season, and turned his 17 carries into 75 rushing yards. He also caught his lone target and gained 14 yards with it. While this outing only netted him 9.9 PPR points, the workload and positive efficiency have to be encouraging for Zero-RB drafters who loaded up on rookies late.

However, it was James Conner who led the way in EP, falling just 0.4 receiving EP shy of the coveted double-double. His 30.9 PPR points are a season-high, and he’s now finished as an RB1 in two of his last three games.

Cleveland Browns

Nick Chubb continues to dominate touches in Cleveland, even gaining work as a receiver. His 8.5 receiving EP are the second-highest total of his career, but he’s now had at least 5.0 receiving EP in five of six games in 2019.

Dontrell Hilliard is a change-of-pace back only, and he only has value as a handcuff as long as Kareem Hunt is suspended.

Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Mixon’s inefficiency may be catching up with him, as he has only surpassed his opportunity-based expectations in one game this season, and now his expected points are trending in the wrong direction.

Backfield mate Giovani Bernard has been even worse from an efficiency standpoint.

There’s no question Cincinnati’s offensive line is bad, but at what point do you decide to give one of the most productive rookie RBs in the class a shot? It can’t get much worse, and Trayveon Williams’ top comparables from the Prospect Box Score Scout suggest he could have significant upside.

AFC South

Houston Texans

Carlos Hyde has been traded twice and cut once in the last year. Yet somehow he’s dominating RB touches in Houston while sharing the backfield with a player who ranks inside the top-15 in efficiency since 2015. Duke Johnson is surrounded on that list by players like David Johnson, Melvin Gordon, and Devonta Freeman. The least efficient RB since 2015? You guessed it: Carlos Hyde.

 

Hyde already looks slightly better in 2019 than he did in 2018, but when you compare him to Johnson his workload advantage becomes truly baffling.

 

If you’re going to give a player 20 carries a game, I guess it’s better to give those carries to Hyde rather than risk a Johnson injury. But replacing a few of those Hyde carries with Johnson targets could work wonders.

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis was on bye in Week 6, but Week 5’s game against Kansas City gave us confirmation of just how matchup dependent Marlon Mack might be. His two big games this season have come in Weeks 1 and 5 — those were the only games in which he’s amassed over 100 yards from scrimmage or more than 17 fantasy points. And unsurprisingly they’ve been the two softest RB matchups the Colts have faced.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t get another favorable matchup until Week 10, and that’s his only positive matchup left this season. The best time to sell Mack was before his bye week, but the second-best time is right now.

Tennessee Titans

Derrick Henry hasn’t had a positive efficiency game since Week 2, and last week’s matchup against Denver was the worst yet.

It was perhaps the worst game for a lot of the Titans, with Marcus Mariota finally getting benched for Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill will get the nod in Week 7, and it’s hard to see how he could be worse than Mariota has been over the last two weeks.

But it’s not hard to see how the Titans’ problems are deeper than just poor quarterback play. Through seven weeks, the only teams with fewer total team expected points are teams who have already had their bye week. According to the RotoViz Pace Tool, only four teams attempt fewer passes per 60 minutes, and one of those teams has been starting a third-string rookie QB.4

Jacksonville Jaguars

Leonard Fournette fell just short of the EP double-double in Week 6, but his workload — especially in the receiving game — has been impressive. Only Christian McCaffrey has more total EP in 2019.

Fournette has generally been underperforming his opportunity this season, but a reversal of fortune in the touchdown department could vault him into the elite tier of RBs in 2019.

Ryquell Armstead is nearly a must-own handcuff, as he figures to inherit a massive workload if the injury bug bites Fournette.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs

With Damien Williams back from injury, the Kansas City backfield becomes decidedly murkier. The only thing we can say for sure is that sadly Darwin Thompson appears droppable in almost every league.

LeSean McCoy led the way in Week 6 but only by a slim margin, and it was Darrell Williams who had the edge in the receiving game. In most games, you can expect Kansas City’s backfield touchdown equity to be higher, so the dearth of EP isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. The difficulty is in determining who will be the one scoring those touchdowns.

Oakland Raiders

Oakland had their bye in Week 6, but in Week 5 Josh Jacobs had his first game with over 20 total EP. He out-targeted Jalen Richard and appears to be securing a workhorse role in Oakland. Oakland’s upcoming RB schedule appears favorable, so if you can pry Jacobs away from his current owner, now is a good time to do so.

Los Angeles Chargers

Melvin Gordon’s return finally appears to be affecting Austin Ekeler’s workload, as he trailed Gordon in total EP, and held only a 0.8-point edge in receiving EP in Week 6. Coming off a 16-target game in Week 5, Ekeler’s four targets in Week 6 are a mild disappointment. Week 6 also marked the second week in a row that Ekeler failed to outplay his opportunity.

Gordon, for his part, was not much better, but this opens the door even more for him to grab a bigger chunk of the backfield work. He matched Ekeler’s four targets but was able to turn them into 30 receiving yards, more than doubling Ekeler’s 14. Ekeler should have some value in spot starts, but he is no longer a reliable every-week option.

Denver Broncos

Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman split work fairly evenly in Week 6, with Lindsay getting the edge in rushing EP and Freeman getting the edge in receiving. Week 6 also showed us that these two backs might be suited to those roles, as Lindsay was the more efficient rusher and Freeman the more efficient receiver. For most of the season, Lindsay has been more efficient in every phase of the game, as Freeman has generally underperformed his opportunity.

But Freeman has the athleticism and the profile to suggest he should continue to be a plus receiver. And Week 6 was the fourth time in 2019 that his receiving EP crested 6.5, while Lindsay’s receiving EP has been trending down.

If Freeman is going to be the receiving back in Denver, he’s someone you want to invest in now, before his eventual breakout.

Image Credit: Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Benny Snell.

  1. Wait, the Dolphins lost to Washington, and Laird still didn’t get an offensive snap?  (back)
  2. The last time those teams faced it was Burkhead who did the most damage.  (back)
  3. The logic is fuzzy here.  (back)
  4. And another one is Minnesota, who attempted only 10 passes in Week 1.  (back)

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