Shawn Siegele profiles Austin Ekeler’s stardom, Devin Singletary’s breakout, and Darwin Thompson’s opportunity in his look at the AFC running back committees ahead of Week 14.
The RotoViz Screener and NFL Stat Explorer provide a smorgasbord of data as we dive into the advanced stats for every team. Much of our 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.
Zero RB Watch List – AFC
As we head into the first week of the fantasy playoffs, let’s look at backfields with competitions or committees that could determine the fate of your championship run.
Over the last six games this has looked a little more like a committee, but the San Francisco result reinforces Mark Ingram’s supremacy. The committee mirage is almost entirely due to Baltimore keeping him healthy in the second halves of lopsided contests.
When we compare the usage by halves, Ingram holds a solid lead over Gus Edwards and Justice Hill in first-half ruEP. The two backups combine for a slight lead in the second halves of these games, but Ingram’s second-half performance is still better than in the initial stanza. He’s more involved as a receiver after intermission.
If you’re trying to determine whether it makes sense to keep holding Hill for the playoffs, his second-half EP trumps that of Edwards and he’s the favorite for the scarce receiving touches.
Singletary furthered his opportunity advantage over Frank Gore (18-10) and continued to build on his legend with an explosive day as a receiver. While the Rams and Bears were praised for their third-round picks at RB, the Bills were pilloried for selecting Singletary a few picks later.
Singletary has been the most efficient rookie RB, while David Montgomery ranks dead last as a rusher. This is very good news for Singletary owners, as rookie year efficiency is a very positive sign for second-year performance.
In an absolute must-read version of the Wrong Read, Blair Andrews demonstrates that RBs with positive rookie efficiency go on to score more fantasy points, earn more opportunity, and retain an edge in efficiency.
Kareem Hunt averaged 15.5 EP per game with the Chiefs. He’s obviously lost some of that in Cleveland, but he’s still averaging 12.1 EP, a shocking number in this timeshare.
The Browns have done everything they could to make space for Hunt. Over the first nine weeks, the Browns ranked No. 20 in total EP to the RB position with 21.8 per game. Since his activation, they’ve jumped to No. 1 at 31.3. He’s still had a negative impact on Nick Chubb.
Chubb has lost more than 5.0 PPG, even though his rushing attempts have ticked up slightly. The losses have come in the reception and TD departments. His loss of efficiency has been startling. Since the beginning of Week 10, Chubb is tied with Saquon Barkley for the most negative FPOE generated per game (-4.9).
After a couple of weeks where he appeared to be fading off the fantasy radar entirely, Royce Freeman bounced back with 9.3 expected points. He was still out-touched by Phillip Lindsay 20-9, and their efficiency numbers suggest an environment where the defense has little respect for the rookie QB. Despite the big game from Courtland Sutton, it’s hard to see this offense as a juggernaut any time soon.
The Broncos were one of the slowest teams in seconds-to-snap in Week 13, and their relatively run-heavy approach left them bottom five in total plays. That type of environment won’t be a surprise with Drew Lock under center and gives both talented backs a low ceiling the rest of the way.
You can check out pace, run/pass splits, and plays per 60 seconds, while breaking all of those stats down by game situation in our NFL Pace Tool.
Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson rushed 19 times and turned it into 5.9 fantasy points. Fortunately for Johnson owners, he added another 16.4 points on his six targets. The receiving back has generated positive FPOE in eight of his last nine games, and it was encouraging to see his expected points bounce back to the level he was establishing before the Week 10 bye.
Jonathan Williams never seems to find himself on the right side of a coaching staff. Following two standout performances, he was benched for the plodding Jordan Wilkins in the second half against Tennessee. In last week’s Zero RB Watch, Blair offered a provocative explanation for why Williams’ performance might be a mirage. It’s definitely not the answer you’ve been conditioned to accept about RBs. And it may offer a window into this strange move.
Kansas City Chiefs
With Darrel Williams going down on Sunday and the Chiefs “managing” LeSean McCoy, Andy Reid has suddenly been forced to play everyone’s preseason infatuation.
Darwin Thompson offers a speed element the backfield lacks, arguably making him a better fit for an offensive line plagued by injuries and a lack of continuity. It’s difficult to get a read on Week 14 usage given the game context late, but Thompson should get an extended audition just in time for the fantasy playoffs.
Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon out-carried Ekeler 20-9, but he again trailed in the all-important fantasy column. Before the season, Ryan Collinsworth described Ekeler as an Alvin Kamara simulacrum, and he’s been exactly that in 2019. Only Kamara and McCaffrey earn more receiving EP per game, but Ekeler has outscored them as a receiver due to his big lead in efficiency. He ranks No. 1 among RBs with 4.7 reFPOE per game.
Ekeler barely trailed McCaffrey during Gordon’s holdout, but his RB11 status since Gordon’s return has been truly shocking.
After his dud in Week 12, Patrick Laird benefited from an injury to Kalen Ballage to set new career highs in points (16.8) and opportunities (15). This is also a good time to remind you that Myles Gaskin looks a lot like Phillip Lindsay.
New England Patriots
Things have gone from bad to worse for Sony Michel. He’s averaging fewer fantasy points (9.3) than rushing EP (9.5). That means that he’s not involved in the passing game (2.0 reEP) and that he’s been inefficient overall (-2.2 FPOE). Despite the dominant defense, these have not been your LeGarrette Bount, Stevan Ridley, or BenJarvus Green-Ellis Patriots.
Watching the Raiders on Sunday, it’s easy to see why Josh Jacobs is an impending star but difficult to understand how the team could have won more than a couple of games.
The overall quality of the team offers a serious red flag for Jacobs’ specific profile.
Jacobs has scored less than half as many points in losses, but he also catches fewer passes in such affairs. I would expect his profile to change over time, but the current usage is much more that of an RB2.
When James Conner is out and Benny Snell is available, the Steelers have shown no hesitation to ride the rookie.
The former Kentucky star has been perfectly average in his first NFL season, a triumph for an unathletic back in a poor offense. Snell remains a sneaky option for the fantasy playoffs and a solid dynasty stash. He came into the league with a similar profile to Singletary and Montgomery but far less fanfare. Although 2019 hasn’t gone to script for Pittsburgh, the franchise offers a solid floor with its long-term stability.
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 NFL Pace app, the Best Ball Win Rates tool, the Game Splits app, the RotoViz Screener, Game Level Similarity Projections, the Strength of Schedule Streamer, and the Weekly Stats tool.