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Zero RB Watch: NFC Week 11 – Did You Just Come Down to Deliver Your Mixed Message in Person? Ronald Jones Breaks Out, Maybe

Shawn Siegele looks at a breakout performance from Ronald Jones, a big opportunity for Brian Hill, and a disappointing result from Ezekiel Elliott as he details the running back workloads for every NFC backfield ahead of Week 11.

Our goal with the Zero RB Watch List is to help you locate RB breakouts and waiver adds before they happen, but this column isn’t just for Zero RB owners. We’re just as focused on the high-profile backs. Understanding workloads is key to making tough redraft and dynasty trades.

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.

Arizona Cardinals

David Johnson was a shell of the 2016 version even before back, knee, and ankle injuries wrecked his season.

His five carries against the Bucs were painful to watch. He resembled a late-30s Antonio Gates.

Johnson can still help them in the passing game – Kenyan Drake continues to fail upward, garnering seven targets but turning them into -3.1 reFPOE – but he’ll need to get healthier to do so.

It wouldn’t be surprising if the workload is even more skewed in favor of Drake against San Francisco, as Johnson gets some more rest ahead of their Week 12 bye. Drake’s Week 9 performance against those 49ers is the only one on the season where he didn’t record negative FPOE. He’ll look to repeat that result as the Cardinals try to finish the upset this time.

Atlanta Falcons

Devonta Freeman was only able to score 7.8 points on 14 opportunities before leaving with a toe/foot injury. Brian Hill rolled up 14.1 in his absence and is one of the week’s top pickups with the starter expected to miss a couple of games. I profiled Hill during the preseason and like him against a Panthers team that’s been gouged by the run.

Not only are opponents’ top RBs averaging more than 25 points per game over the last five weeks, the Panthers are allowing the most ruFPOE/G in that span.

Qadree Ollison is another name to watch for Atlanta.

Carolina Panthers

Christian McCaffrey continues to enjoy one of the best RB seasons ever. Blair Andrews provides some crazy stats in the excellent EP Report.

Chicago Bears

David Montgomery is deep in the negative in ruFPOE (-11.1) with even his two big games in Weeks 8 and 9 netting him only 3.0. That’s not the big concern, however. As a mediocre athlete in a bad offense,1 Montgomery’s bread and butter is volume. That’s why this game qualifies as such a disappointment.

After two consecutive contests where Montgomery crested 20 expected points with at least 5.0 coming in the receiving game, he dropped back to 7.8 EP against Detroit. His 17 carries were of the low-value variety and the Bears rookie finished with only 6.0 points. Making it an especially bitter pill to swallow, game script appeared to set up nicely and the Lions hadn’t held an opponent’s top RB below 23 points in the previous month.

Perhaps this can be the week Tarik Cohen starts to turn his season around? It’s been a nightmare campaign for the receiving back. His receiving volume has actually ticked up ever so slightly (8.1 reEP to 8.5), but his efficiency has fallen off a cliff.

This was one of his lower-volume games in 2019, but it was also his first with at least 5.0 reFPOE. After scoring five receiving TDs last season, his nine-yard score against the Lions was only his second this year.

Dallas Cowboys

A nightmarish scenario has unfolded for Elliott owners over the last several games. His Week 10 performance was among his career worsts.

  • Third-lowest career PPR.
  • Third game ever held below 10 points.
  • Tied for his worst two-game stretch in reEP (2.7).

A number of elements have gone wrong in 2019. Most importantly, after nearly averaging 10 reEP/G in 2018, he’s dropped back much closer to his numbers from 2016-2017.

The early-career efficiency has also evaporated. After a monster rookie season where he averaged 5.7 FPOE, he’s averaging a career low 1.0 FPOE in 2019, numbers that are more or less in line with the last two seasons.

As a result, Elliott is averaging 17.8 PPG, well below the average of his first three campaigns (21.6). The Sunday night debacle also pulled his best ball win rate back below average where it hovered for the first six weeks of the season.

Detroit Lions

J.D. McKissic held a 17-8 opportunity advantage on Paul Perkins. That included a 9-3 edge in the second half. (Ty Johnson left early with a concussion.) Since the Lions don’t have a true early-down option and are arguably the worst running team in football regardless, McKissic’s receptions are the only relevant stat in this backfield.

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Jones scored three TDs on only 13 opportunities and recorded his third game with 1.5 reEP or less. It continues a crazy year for Jones where the consistency in usage and efficiency has been all over the place, but the overall results have been beyond a best-case scenario.

Despite those three games with no more than a single target, Jones ranks ninth in targets and fifth in receiving yards. Despite only 21.8 EP over the last two weeks, he ranks No. 10 in EP/G. And despite four games with negative FPOE, he’s been the second-most efficient RB in 2019. All of that adds up to the overall RB3 in an offense that finds different ways to deploy their star on a weekly basis.

Meanwhile, this was the fifth consecutive week that Jamaal Williams earned double-digit EP. The Packers are No. 1 overall in PPR/G to the RBs, edging McCaffrey’s Panthers 34.3 to 33.5.

Los Angeles Rams

You may have thought Cooper Kupp’s goose egg was the most shocking stat to come out of the Rams/Packers tilt, perhaps the most striking result from any game all season, but Jared Goff has now also thrown five consecutive incomplete passes . . . to Todd Gurley? He has one reception since Week 5. The rest of the Los Angeles backs weren’t targeted, and when they benched Darrell Henderson for Malcolm Brown late in the game, it felt like a complete capitulation by a team on the verge of collapse.

Minnesota Vikings

Dalvin Cook’s early-season touches got some negative attention from media and even teammates during a stretch where the Vikings play-calling didn’t put the team or Kirk Cousins in good situations. By contrast, his season-high workload against the Cowboys was a virtuoso performance from Kevin Stefanski. The seven targets consistently put him in the open field and kept Dallas from simply keying on those 26 carries.

Cook’s workload has actually ticked up over the last month, in part due to a 22% target share over the last three weeks. During that time, Stefon Diggs has faced the most difficult schedule of opposing pass defenses and has done it with Adam Thielen only playing a handful of snaps.

Despite Cook’s presence, Alexander Mattison managed nine more opportunities and would have had a much bigger game if not for losing a TD to replay.

New Orleans Saints

Game script prevented us from getting a good look at the early-down workload split between Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara. The latter held a big edge in snaps but turned his 10 targets into only 13.0 fantasy points. Appearing comfortable in his return, Kamara should earn a similar advantage against Tampa Bay. The Bucs are always good for a shootout and give up next to nothing in the running game.

New York Giants

It’s almost impossible to turn 13 carries into a single yard, but Saquon Barkley has been compromised since his return from the high-ankle sprain. The No. 1 overall pick ranks 129th in fantasy points over expectation. On the plus side, he has at least five targets in every appearance this season.

Seattle Seahawks

Rashaad Penny was out-touched 29-2, and the second of his two carries resulted in a fumble. It was almost as though he wanted to get that in quickly, so that once Chris Carson eventually added to his own fumble total there would be no question of going back to Penny.

Carson has now generated negative FPOE in three of his last four games and is underwater on the season, but his ferocious running style fits the Seahawks RB aesthetic. The contrast between the two players has given Carson one of the most valuable workloads in the NFL, and that’s translated into serious results for owners.

FFPC win rates have been added to the Best Ball Player Win Rate tool.

San Francisco 49ers

Matt Breida re-sprained his ankle in this one, offering a partial explanation for Raheem Mostert’s seven opportunities, all of which came in the fourth quarter or overtime. Three of Tevin Coleman’s four targets also occurred during this stretch, but he only carried once. It’s never a good sign to hemorrhage all of the crucial carries to the third-stringer.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Ronald Jones earned the start, scored a TD, produced 8.5 total FPOE, and doubled his previous career high with eight targets. Maligned for his inexperience and poor catching technique, Jones otherwise fits the receiving archetype. He looked smooth and explosive, if not exactly calm. In addition to his non-contact fumble, he also reportedly missed a blitz pickup and got caught blocking on an intended screen.

The coaches were still mostly complimentary after the game, and though his fumble sent him to the bench for the game-winning drive, it doesn’t appear likely to carry over.2

After such a rough start to his NFL career, it was easy to predict a short career that never included a two-game stretch with 40 fantasy points.

I encouraged you to take a shot on Jones this season. Hopefully, you started him these past two weeks and are in position to take advantage . . . if this is truly the start of something.

I’m constantly impressed at the depth and breadth of the information in tools built by Mike Beers, Dave Caban, and Anthony Shook. If you enjoyed some of the visualizations used in this piece, make sure to check out the NFL Stat Explorer, the Strength of Schedule Streaming tool, the Best Ball Win Rates tool, the Game Splits app, the RotoViz Screener, and the Weekly Stats tool.

Image Credit: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Ronald Jones.

  1. Montgomery’s struggles are at least partially related to the overall offense. After averaging 0.7 ruFPOE in 2018, Tarik Cohen has been in the negative every game this season.  (back)
  2. Of course, Andy Reid noted last week that LeSean McCoy “is not a fumbler” before leaving him inactive.  (back)

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