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Zero RB Watch List: AFC Week 16 – Josh Jacobs and James Conner Eliminate Committees

Shawn Siegele breaks down the AFC running back committees ahead of Week 16, including the impact of returning bell cows Josh Jacobs and James Conner.

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

We’ve reached championship weekend. Let’s look at backfields with competitions or committees that could determine your fate.

Cleveland Browns

The Browns backfield is a committee, but one with multiple clear-cut fantasy starters. Two weeks ago we discussed how Cleveland had led the league in Expected Points to the RB position since the return of Kareem Hunt. They generated more than 25 total EP against the Cardinals, and outperformed that by a wide margin thanks to Nick Chubb almost doubling his ruEP.

Meanwhile, Hunt has scored in double figures every game this season and ranks sixth in RB reEP over that time period.

Denver Broncos

Denver’s committee has been having the opposite experience of late. Royce Freeman’s share is rising again, but it’s not a large pie. While the snowstorm in Kansas City made it hard to evaluate the Broncos offense, 3.2 points for Phillip Lindsay is hard to swallow.

Kansas City has been a top-five matchup for RBs this season, but this was their fourth consecutive solid performance by FPOE. They may be rounding into playoff shape at just the right time.

Houston Texans

Carlos Hyde carried the ball 26 times in a game where the Texans led early, and he now ranks in the top 10 in both attempts and rushing yards.

Giving this type of workload to an RB who has accumulated 33 more negative FPOE than any other runner in the league over the last three seasons is another example of the Texans’ mystifying personnel deployment.

Indianapolis Colts

It was Marlon Mack’s second week back as leader in Indianapolis, but his 11 carries turned into a measly 1.9 fantasy points. Mack was a red flag player entering 2019 due to his lack of work in the passing game, and it’s been worse than anticipated.

This was his eighth active game with no more than a single target. Six of those were goose eggs.

Kansas City Chiefs

It’s tempting to say the injuries to Damien Williams have stalled the Chiefs running game in 2019, but the numbers don’t back that up.

LeSean McCoy has been the only Chiefs runner capable of any semblance of efficiency this year, and he was just out-touched by both Darwin Thompson and Spencer Ware in a game Kansas City led start to finish.1 The 2020 starter is not currently on the roster.

Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers backfield combined for a humorous 35 opportunities in a game they lost 39-10. Granted, 16 of those were targets, and Los Angeles leads the NFL in RB PPG (34.1) largely because they lead in both reEP (16.7) and reFPOE (4.5). The Chargers’ runners are scoring more than 20 PPG through the air. They have three times the reEP of the Ravens (5.7) and are scoring four times as many points in the passing game as Detroit RBs (5.2).

Justin Jackson even got in the act this week, stealing seven opportunities in relief of Austin Ekeler.2

Miami Dolphins

If you’re a Patrick Laird fan, you can take solace in a workload worth almost 14 EP. If you’re a Myles Gaskin fan, you can take comfort in the fact that he’ll soon be the last man standing.

New England Patriots

Sony Michel broke of a string of six straight performances in single digits, and he logged his sixth game of the season with at least 20 opportunities. That’s a lot of touches to barely qualify as an RB3.

Of course, when you rank No. 58 in targets and outside the top 150 in efficiency, it’s going to be a long season.

Oakland Raiders

Josh Jacobs touched the ball 27 times against the Jaguars. He even earned three targets, his most since Week 11 and a total he’s reached only four times this year. With such a large workload against a weak run defense, owners are lamenting the missed opportunity.

The Jaguars have given up the most fantasy points and the most points over expectation to RBs over the last five weeks, but they held Oakland in check. The Raiders were the only team in that span to accumulate negative FPOE (and that stretch included a date with Tampa’s moribund rushing attack).

Pittsburgh Steelers

James Conner relegated Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels to the bench and took back control of the receiving game, a facet he’d dominated over the first eight weeks of the season.

Conner is currently tied with Le’Veon Bell for the lowest best-ball win rate of any RB drafted in the first two rounds, but for loaded dynasty owners who’ve weathered the storm, he should contribute in the finals this weekend.

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 ScreenerGame Level Similarity Projections, the Strength of Schedule Streamer, and the Weekly Stats tool.

Image Credit: Larry Placido/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Josh Jacobs.

  1. The Chiefs likely really are “keeping him fresh,” although the value of a fresh McCoy in the reality playoffs will simply be the reminder that everything must flow through Patrick Mahomes.  (back)
  2. Melvin Gordon was briefly benched after a pair of fumbles.  (back)

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