Blair Andrews examines the running back workloads for the most contentious NFC backfields ahead of Week 14.
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 the NFC backfields where battles still rage, focusing on expected points (EP), fantasy points over expectations (FPOE), and opportunity (targets and carries).
I guess this backfield is still a battle. I say that only because a backfield where Kenyan Drake is starting and David Johnson is the backup seems like it has to be a battle. But you’d be forgiven for disagreeing. Drake held a massive workload lead in both the rushing and receiving phases in Week 13. Drake now ranks ninth in the league in RB targets, and has had at least five targets in three of his four games with Arizona. He’s also had negative receiving FPOE in those three games.
Bo Scarbrough continues to dominate rushing attempts in Detroit while being a complete non-factor in the passing game. Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic split targets and EP almost evenly. Together Johnson and McKissic would have had a more valuable workload than Scarbrough. But as long as they’re competing for touches, this backfield contains almost nothing reliable for the fantasy playoffs, especially with one of the most difficult RB schedules coming up.
Green Bay Packers
Week 13 was the first time in the last four games in which Aaron Jones had more targets and receiving EP than Jamaal Williams. Williams still outscored Jones, as Jones had the least efficient game of his career.
Dalvin Cook injured his shoulder and left the game in the third quarter of Monday night’s game. Alexander Mattison took over and caught four passes for 51 yards while rushing for 22 yards on just four carries. (Minnesota was losing by double-digit points for much of the second half.) Cook is expected to play in Week 14, so what initially looks like an opportunity for Mattison to emerge will more likely see him return to a handcuff role. But if this game proves anything, it’s that Mattison is one of the most valuable handcuffs in the league.
With Jordan Howard missing his third straight game, Miles Sanders took on a near-workhorse role, carrying the ball 17 times and adding five targets. Sanders now ranks ninth among RBs in receiving yards. Much of that has to do with the way the Eagles use him as a receiver, as he’s gained 186 yards on deep targets.
Rashaad Penny’s emergence continued in Week 13. He led the Seattle backfield in total EP and in targets. Surprisingly it did not come at Chris Carson’s expense, as he carried the ball 23 times himself. Both backs may continue to have a large role and could both be worth starting, as Seattle faces one of the easiest RB schedules over the next three weeks.
San Francisco 49ers
Raheem Mostert took control of this backfield in Week 13, but it’s more than likely a one-week mirage. Matt Breida was reportedly close to playing, and appears to be on track for a Week 14 return. It’s anyone’s guess as to who will lead the way going forward, but it’s worth considering other starters in any case, as San Francisco faces one of the toughest end-of-season RB schedules.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Ronald Jones’ up-and-down season continues as he followed up a 15-point outing in Week 12 with his worst performance of the season.
Jones was benched after missing a blitz pickup. Instead, Peyton Barber got 17 carries and scored two touchdowns. Clarity on this situation is unlikely as long as the mercurial Bruce Arians is handing out “You don’t get to play no more” cards with such abandon.
Derrius Guice was excellent in his fourth career game, helping lead Washington to their second straight win and nearly doubling his expected point output. He paced all Washington RBs in targets even with Chris Thompson active. He had three fewer carries than Adrian Peterson, but got both of Washington’s goal-line carries and converted both into touchdowns.
His 14.3 total EP in Week 14 are still less than you’d like to see from a true workhorse back, but he’s shown the ability transcend Washington’s offensive struggles, and likely has earned even more work going forward.