Blair Andrews examines the running back workloads for every NFC backfield ahead of Week 10.
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).
Both David Johnson and Chase Edmonds missed Thursday’s matchup against San Francisco, leaving newly acquired RB Kenyan Drake to handle the bulk of the work — he ceded only 0.8 total EP to Alfred Morris and Zach Zenner. What resulted was the highest fantasy-point output of Drake’s career.
Johnson is expected to play in Week 10, but Kliff Kingsbury has tricked us before. In any event, despite playing well in his first game as a Cardinal, Drake is likely to be marginalized eventually.
Christian McCaffrey has played eight games in 2019. He’s scored at least 27 points in six of those games, including in Week 9. On the season, McCaffrey is 0.2 receiving EP short of the double-double often required for a truly dominant season. But because of his ridiculous 8.6 FPOE per game, it doesn’t even matter. Since 2000, only four other players have managed more than 8.0 FPOE per game in a season,1 and only Priest Holmes’ 2002 season was more efficient on a per-game basis.
David Montgomery has at least 20 EP in each of his last two games. Although it would appear he’s getting a RB1 workload, in fact about 75% of his workload value is coming from rushing opportunity — a split which suggests an RB2 profile. The fact that Tarik Cohen siphoned off double-digit EP speaks to this depressed outlook, and gives us reason to think Montgomery’s workload is not as secure as we’d like.
Ezekiel Elliott wasn’t targeted in a blowout win and totaled only 11.2 total EP on 23 carries. Meanwhile, Tony Pollard was targeted three times and handled three carries. Pollard couldn’t do much with his targets, failing to beat expectations for the sixth time in eight games.
Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic split backfield duties, though because McKissic saw more receiving work, he held the edge in total workload value. He also outperformed his opportunity in both phases of the game; Johnson underperformed in both. McKissic’s play has probably earned him more opportunities, and he appears to be the player to own in this backfield in PPR formats as he does his best Theo Riddick impression.
Green Bay Packers
Coming off his second 40-point game of the season, Aaron Jones led Green Bay’s backfield in total opportunities. As they were mostly rushing opportunities, he trailed Jamaal Williams — who saw most of his opportunities in the passing game — in EP. You can’t bench Jones if you own him — those 40-point games weren’t flukes. But if this workload split continues, he’s far less reliable than other top RB options. The good news is that Week 9 was the lowest receiving EP mark Jones has had in the last six games. His opportunity may bounce back.
Dalvin Cook was one of two RBs to accomplish the EP double-double in Week 9. He underperformed expectations for only the third time this season en route to just his second non-RB1 performance.
It won’t be easy, but with tough matchups against Dallas and Denver before a Week 12 bye, it might be possible to pry Cook away from his owner. Only New England RBs face an easier playoff schedule than the Vikings.
New York Giants
Saquon Barkley was the other RB to have at least 10 rushing EP and 10 receiving EP in Week 9. He’s had at least 24 EP in each of the last two games and now ranks third among RBs in EP per game.
Week 9 was Barkley’s second-worst game of his career from an efficiency perspective.
Look for a bounceback in an easier matchup against the Jets.
Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders split work almost evenly, with Howard getting the rushing work and Sanders getting the receiving work. Many are waiting for Sanders to take over this backfield altogether, and Howard’s presence is frustrating. But it shouldn’t go unnoticed that Darren Sproles was all but excluded from the passing game in his return, with Sanders getting almost five more receiving EP. Sproles has only had one game with positive FPOE this season, so the rookie may continue to get more opportunity.
Chris Carson once again dominated touches in the Seahawks backfield, and unlike his teammate Rashaad Penny, he was able to outperform his opportunity. If this sounds like more of the same, then you need to pay closer attention. In fact, Carson is averaging 0.0 total FPOE per game, and needed Week 9 to get back into the black.
Penny, on the other hand is averaging a full 1.0 FPOE, and Week 9 was only the second game in which he failed to meet expectations.
Among RBs, Penny ranks 13th in yards per carry and 30th in FPOE per game. Carson ranks 24th and 61st respectively. Penny has actually been good — arguably better than Carson. But Carson is No. 4 in total opportunities and No. 2 in rushing attempts, with no sign of losing work. At this point if you’re still a Rashaad Penny owner, you’re probably hoping the Seahawks trade or cut him.
San Francisco 49ers
Tevin Coleman couldn’t replicate his Week 8 heroics, but he actually saw almost the identical number of total EP in Week 9.
Matt Breida is a clear No. 2 in this offense, but the discrepancy between his and Coleman’s EP is probably not as great as you would think. Coleman holds the edge in the receiving game which gives him the advantage. Still, with both players you’re hoping for a long TD to make them valuable fantasy assets. The upcoming schedule looks exploitable, but it’s impossible to tell which of them will deliver in any given game.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronald Jones finally had the game his owners have been waiting for, and he now looks poised to take over this backfield. He led the way in both rushing and receiving EP, and was efficient in both phases. In stark contrast to his rookie year, Jones has met or exceeded opportunity-based expectations in all but two games in 2019.
The Washington American Football Club still barely deserves even that name, but one positive thing that can be said about them is that Adrian Peterson has played well lately, notching his second consecutive game with positive FPOE — his first two of the season.
Following the Week 10 bye, Washington gets a string of positive matchups.
As much as I hate to say it, it might be worth sending offers to the Peterson owner in your league if he’s feeling the bye-week crunch.
Image Credit: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Ronald Jones.
- Five if you count Joe McKnight’s one-game season in 2014. (back)