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Zero RB Watch List: NFC Week 8 – David Johnson Is Dead; Long Live David Johnson! Or, the Kliff Kingsbury Chronicles

Blair Andrews examines the running back workloads for every NFC backfield ahead of Week 8.

Almost every fantasy team can use a breakout RB, whether their owners drafted them as Zero-RB squads or not. The Zero RB Watch List helps to find these breakout stars before they hit. But it also helps you understand which of the high-profile backs you should be buying and selling based on workload shifts.

We’ll use the RotoViz Screener and the NFL Stat Explorer to dive into the advanced stats for every backfield, focusing on expected points (EP), fantasy points over expectations (FPOE), and opportunity (targets and carries).

Arizona Cardinals

David Johnson was only to be used on an “as needed” basis in Week 7 — or at least that was Kliff Kingsbury’s post-hoc rationalization for why Johnson was active but played only three snaps.1 In any event, Chase Edmonds was on the field for 94% of the offensive snaps and led all RBs in fantasy scoring. He continues to excel as a rusher while mildly underperforming in the receiving game, but as long as Johnson is unable to play, Edmonds should get all the passing down work he can handle. Arizona just signed Alfred Morris, who’s never had even seven receiving EP in a game in his career, and who averaged two fantasy points below expectation over the course of last season. Edmonds, for his part, now ranks fifth among RBs in total FPOE.

If you own David Johnson, you almost certainly can’t trade him after the game he just had. And you can’t start him now that we know Kingsbury likes to play fast and loose with the injury report. And you can’t drop him, because he’s David Johnson. Maybe you can offer him an assistant coaching position?

Atlanta Falcons

As long as Atlanta is losing games by 27 points and refusing to throw to their RBs, there likely won’t be much fantasy scoring happening in this backfield. I really want to say Brian Hill is worth a speculative add, as he was the clear No. 2 option in Week 7. But his 5.6 total EP are not getting near your starting lineup, so unless you have roster spots to burn, Hill is strictly look-but-don’t-touch.

Chicago Bears

Tarik Cohen’s 11.9 PPR points don’t jump out, but his opportunity should. Cohen saw 12 targets en route to a league-leading (among RBs) 15.9 receiving EP. What’s most surprising is that Cohen logged one carry more than teammate David Montgomery. Montgomery has unfortunately not done much to earn carries, as he’s underperformed his rushing expectation in every game but one.

The good news is that Chicago’s RB schedule gets quite a bit easier, compared to the schedule they faced to open the season.

Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott logged double-digit receiving EP for the first time all season, a hopeful sign for his fantasy scoring outlook, which has so far trailed the expectations he set in 2018.

Tony Pollard was not targeted, but as he’s the only other RB getting work in Dallas and would inherit a massive workload if Elliott were to miss time, he should be owned almost everywhere.

Detroit Lions

Kerryon Johnson played 11 snaps before leaving the game with a knee injury. In his stead, Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic split work about 60-40, with Ty Johnson getting the edge in both phases.

The Lions have since placed Kerryon Johnson on IR, effectively ending his fantasy season2 and opening the door for one of these backs to take on a larger role. Ty Johnson is the more popular add, and with good reason — an efficient rusher at the University of Maryland with (maybe) sub-4.4 speed (unofficially 4.26), Johnson has the explosiveness we’re looking for in the next breakout RB.

But don’t count out McKissic. Unlike Ty Johnson, McKissic has actually been here before. The converted wide receiver had multiple fantasy-relevant games for the Seahawks in 2017, has been the more efficient player in 2019, and already had a small role in the passing game before Kerryon Johnson’s injury. Detroit’s RB schedule gets decidedly more difficult from here, so temper expectations in any case.

Green Bay Packers

One would hope that the Packers decide they like putting up 42 points every game. In that sort of offensive environment, Aaron Jones is a borderline RB1 while Jamaal Williams is an RB2 by EP. Williams had a slight edge in receiving EP, seeing one target more than Jones, while Jones led the way in rushing EP. This is a split we’ve seen before and one we’re likely to see more of. Williams is still available in over 40% of Yahoo! leagues, but with the sort of role he appears to have secured, he’s startable on a lot of teams and should be rostered in all leagues.

Los Angeles Rams

With Malcolm Brown dealing with an injury, Darrell Henderson took over backup duties. He underperformed expectations in the rushing game but was still not as bad as Todd Gurley, who finished with double-digit rushing fantasy points below expectation. Gurley avoided a truly disastrous night by corralling a 1-yard receiving touchdown, but you were probably still hoping for more than the 12.4 PPR points he added to your starting lineup. The good news is that Gurley saw the second-most total EP he’s had all season.

Minnesota Vikings

One would hope that the Packers Vikings decide they like putting up 42 points every game. In that sort of offensive environment, Dalvin Cook gets … 0.1 receiving EP more than C.J. Ham? Cook is still dominating the rushing workload, logging his third game in the last four with at least 20 total EP. But while he ranks in the top five in most rushing categories, he ranks only 15th in targets at the position.

This complaint — a lack of targets for an elite offensive weapon — could legitimately be about several Minnesota players, so it’s unlikely this frustration gets resolved in near future.

Adam Thielen injured his hamstring and has not yet practiced, and would appear to be a long shot to suit up against Washington on a short week (the game is on Thursday). If Thielen is inactive, some of his targets might go Cook’s way.

New Orleans Saints

Alvin Kamara sat out in Week 7 nursing an ankle injury, and in his place Latavius Murray saw a week-high 27.7 total EP, including 9 receiving EP. The Saints have a bye in Week 9, so it might make sense for them to hold Kamara out for one more game. On the other hand, the Saints just released six-day team veteran Zach Zenner, suggesting Kamara may return this week. If Kamara is 100%, one only hopes he can match Murray’s EP total (which he’s done only once this season). If he’s less than 100%, this may be a game in which neither back can be started with confidence.

New York Giants

Saquon Barkley returned to action in Week 7 and surrendered exactly zero opportunities to any of his backups. Only Golden Tate had more targets for the Giants, though Barkley was only able to turn his five targets into eight yards. He scored a rushing touchdown to salvage his day, but one hopes his total workload value increases as he gets further removed from his injury. We still haven’t seen Barkley command the sort of opportunity he was getting in 2018.

Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia was down by 14 points only six minutes into the game on Sunday night, and never truly made the game competitive. As such, no RB was able to secure a big workload, with Boston Scott even entering the game and rushing seven times. Jordan Howard led the way, as his 7.2 total EP edged Miles Sanders’ total by 0.4 points. Howard was the only Philadelphia back to outperform his opportunity, if you can call it that — the difference-maker was that he caught both of his targets for six receiving yards.

Seattle Seahawks

Chris Carson once again led the way in the Seattle backfield with Rashaad Penny effectively being a healthy scratch. He actually played two offensive snaps, but they were easy to miss. Penny is droppable in all shallow redraft leagues, especially considering the massive shift about to occur in Seattle’s RB strength of schedule.

Carson owners should look to move him now.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers scored only nine points on Sunday, and they still won the game fairly easily, with Jimmy Garoppolo attempting only 21 passes. Tevin Coleman managed 20 carries to lead the way in total EP. He also led all RBs in targets with two. Matt Breida appeared to take on a clear backup role. The coming weeks should present more opportunities for all RBs, as the schedule not only gets easier but also should require the 49ers to play faster.


San Francisco’s opponent on Sunday, Washington scored zero points, marking the third time this year they’ve failed to get into double digits. Chris Thompson did not play in Week 7 and he looks unlikely to play in Week 8 on Thursday night, meaning Wendell Smallwood will once again handle the bulk of the receiving work. In Week 7 he saw 100% of Washington’s backfield receiving EP, which amounted to one target. With Washington only implied to score 13.25 points against Minnesota, don’t expect a Smallwood breakout in Week 8.

Image Credit: Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: David Johnson.

  1. And that’s giving Kingsbury the benefit of the doubt. The alternative is that he more or less lied on the injury report.  (back)
  2. He’s eligible to return in Week 16 at the earliest, but with Detroit bringing up the rear in their division, it seems more likely his return will come in 2020.  (back)

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