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Zero RB Watch List: NFC Week 13 – Rashaad Penny Emerges in a Backfield Battles Edition

In a Thanksgiving week Backfield Battles Edition, Shawn Siegele looks at Rashaad Penny’s dream opportunity and details the NFC running back committees ahead of Week 13.

The RotoViz Screener and NFL Stat Explorer provide a smorgasbord of data as we dive into the advanced stats for every team. Much of the focus is on how RBs score their points. We use expected points (EP) and fantasy points over expectation (FPOE) along with carries and targets to better understand each player’s workload.

Backfield Battles Edition

For our Thanksgiving version of the Zero RB Watch List, we’re going to focus on backfields with competitions or committees.

That Le’Veon Bell routinely averaged double-digit EP in both rushing and receiving during his heyday – Christian McCaffrey is doing it this year – becomes even more impressive when you consider that among the NFC’s committee backfields, only a single back managed 10.0 rushing EP. That came from a surprising source and was the result of Qadree Ollison earning goal-line carries in Atlanta.

Atlanta Falcons

Brian Hill still led in opportunities (13), but he disappointed owners with his absence on Atlanta’s first-quarter scoring drive. Devonta Freeman practiced on Tuesday, perhaps a sign that Hill owners will be spared the start/sit decision on Thanksgiving.

Chicago Bears

It’s too early to give up on David Montgomery. He’s a rookie in a bad offense. But it’s gotten ugly for the mauler after a two-week stretch when he seemed to be finding his rhythm.

It will be interesting to track his offseason dynasty value, as the rookie expectations were never fair. His closest comps were all borderline NFL players.

I’m not sure why the computer mentions Todd Gurley here. As a top-10 pick with 4.5 speed, there’s little comparison between the two players. A more realistic and hopeful comp comes in the form of James Conner. The former Pittsburgh star was another poor tested athlete with a ferocious running style and plus receiving ability for a big back. Bears fans and Montgomery owners can dream of the same second-year leap for their guy.

Detroit Lions

Bo Scarbrough only garnered 8.8 EP on his 18 carries, but he did turn them into 98 yards. He also relegated the competition to the bench, making him a priority addition.

Unfortunately, Scarbrough doesn’t catch passes and the loss to Washington highlighted this offense’s downside without Matthew Stafford.

Green Bay Packers

This one got away early, and Jamaal Williams mopped up with a second-half edge in touches (12-7) and EP (11-5). Dismissed (somewhat accurately) as a plodder, the Packers do continue to emphasize their backup in the passing game.

Purely in terms of reEP, this is his fourth RB1 finish in the last six weeks. That receiving value has turned Williams into a weapon in FFPC best ball formats.

New Orleans Saints

Latavius Murray rescued a 3.3 EP week with his 26-yard TD scamper. He continues to look like a one-for-one replacement for Mark Ingram from an efficiency perspective – he’s at 2.1 FPOE/G this season, a mild upgrade on Ingram’s 1.8 from 2018 – but owners will be disappointed by the touch disparity in this one, especially the lack of targets.

Murray averaged 28.4 total EP during Alvin Kamara’s two absences and outperformed that to the tune of 34 points per game. Unfortunately, the going hasn’t been as smooth the rest of the season.

This was my hypothesis before the season, but it’s still frustrating for Murray owners. Ingram averaged 12.5 PPG when Kamara played last year.

Philadelphia Eagles

It’s been feast or famine for Miles Sanders this year. His big-play ability has directly translated into two blowup games with double-digit FPOE, but seven of the remaining nine contests have been in the negative.

If you go into the NFL Stat Explorer and break that down further, you’ll see that Week 6 was a 13.2 reFPOE day and Week 8 a 12.6 ruFPOE performance. Other than that eruptin against the Bills, his rushing numbers have been discouraging. That led to concerns that he would be replaced on early downs by Jay Ajayi. For at least one week, that wasn’t the case.

The other good news for Sanders owners comes in the form of continued engagement as a receiver. He has at least three targets in nine of his last 10 games.

The schedule continues to look promising as well. With Jordan Howard day-to-day, Sanders retains serious playoff potential for RB-needy owners.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks may have reached the breaking point with Chris Carson’s fumbles, and despite differences in running style that make the erstwhile starter look “better,” this may simply be an upgrade for the rushing offense.

Although Penny has struggled with the consistency necessary to win the starting job since being drafted in the 2018 first round, he’s offered plenty of glimpses. His rushing efficiency numbers have been far superior both in terms of yards per carry and fantasy points over expectation. The gap has grown larger when looking exclusively at 2019. Penny averages 0.34 FPOE per attempt while Carson has dropped to -0.05.

Carson offers the more rugged rushing style, but Penny brings more big-play ability and better ball security. Moreover, it’s better for the Seahawks decision-makers if they’re “right” about Penny, giving him another edge in what promises to be an interesting backfield battle over the final month. The second-year bust could move from waiver wire to high-end RB2 overnight.

If Penny can cement himself the next two weeks, he has monster upside during the fantasy semis and finals.

San Francisco 49ers

Two things we know about the 49ers: Tevin Coleman is going to earn a valuable role and either Raheem Mostert or Jeff Wilson will steal a crucial TD. Including Matt Breida, Coleman is the only member of the committee with triple-digit EP (116.5) and the only member with single digit FPOE (5.7). Check out the Weekly Explorer to easily compare and contrast the competitors.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Ronald Jones breakout continues after a brief intermission. Peyton Barber was back with 11 carries after a Week 11 goose egg, but Jones was more dynamic on his red zone opportunity, slashing through for a TD. He also out-targeted the rest of the group combined. Jones’ fantasy viability remains tenuous, but he appears on the verge of corralling the high-value touches in both phases.


Derrius Guice and Adrian Peterson split 23 touches almost equally and turned them into 10.7 points. Washington still won despite Dwayne Haskins going 13 for 29 with an interception.

If Washington is looking for a less offensive name with a little bit of edge, I recommend Darkest Timeline.1

Image Credit: Christopher Mast/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Rashaad Penny.

  1. True, it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it works a little better if you insert “The” and make it plural.  (back)

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