Shawn Siegele examines running back depth charts in flux and recommends stashing four deep dynasty sleepers before the offseason.
The heavyweights battled it out during championship weekend as 2019’s first three picks combined for 107 fantasy points. Saquon Barkley and Alvin Kamara were disappointments this season, but they came through in a huge way for any owners who found themselves in the title game.
Following in the footsteps of their predecessors, our top Zero RB recommendations broke out to league-winning campaigns. Austin Ekeler finished No. 2 in best ball win rate among RBs, and Miles Sanders jumped to No. 4 by scoring 61.8 points over the final two weeks.
We’ll look at the RB position in detail during the offseason, but this week the Watch List sifts through the flurry of injuries. A number of deep dynasty stashes have emerged down the stretch at wide receiver. It’s never too early to get a jump on 2020 at the key positions.
Zero RB Watch List
The RotoViz Screener and NFL Stat Explorer provide a smorgasbord of data as we dive into the advanced stats. 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.
Mark Ingram suffered a calf strain against the Browns, and his absence provided proof of life for Justice Hill. The fourth-round rookie carried only three times, but demonstrated his elite athleticism on an 18-yard TD run where he knifed through traffic at the line and beat the safeties to the pylon.
Hill posted sprint and leap results above the 90th percentile and offered the most McCaffrey-esque skill set in the 2019 draft. We’ve been waiting on him all season. His potential mini-breakout in Week 17 would be too late for redraft owners but just in time to prevent bargain-basement acquisitions this offseason.
Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines combined for four scores in this one, with Hines contributing two punt return TDs. Mack lost nine carries and a goal-line score to Wilkins late, but he looked back to his pre-injury form after two down weeks.
Kansas City Chiefs
The KC backfield has been a quagmire for weeks, and Damien Williams finally brought some semblance of order. Playing for the first time in a month, Williams’ presence allowed the Chiefs to make LeSean McCoy a healthy inactive. The starter’s return provided a boost in the receiving game. His 14-yard score sealed the game in the fourth quarter.
On this week’s episode of RotoViz Overtime, I proposed an offseason RB splash for the Chiefs.
Curtis Patrick recently recommended dynasty owners stash Myles Gaskin. That paid off in Week 16 as he wrested control of the backfield from Patrick Laird. Turning 19 opportunities into 12.8 points and his first NFL score, he looked every bit the sleeper our college metrics loved. Unfortunately, he left with an ankle injury that should cost him Week 17.
New England Patriots
Sony Michel and James White owners are already dealing with a frustrating run/catch split that halves their upsides. Rex Burkhead’s nine touches are migraine-inducing in fantasy but understandable from a reality perspective. He possesses the best hybrid ability of the trio and is the only member of the group in positive ruFPOE territory.
Burkhead makes New England less predictable on offense, a trait that becomes more valuable as the Patriots lose their aura of invincibility.
DeAndre Washington scored 18-plus points in both of Josh Jacobs’ absences this season, and currently provides more hybrid ability than either of his running mates. Jacobs has earned 78% of his EP as a runner, while 78% of Jalen Richard’s EP comes in the passing game. Washington has a much more balanced 53/47 split.
Oakland may not feel comfortable enough with their talent level to engage in shootouts, but they also may be voluntarily limiting their scoring potential. Pulling up the NFL Pace Tool, you find that only the Ravens are averaging more seconds-to-snap. The Raiders have leaned on their rookie back and are among the most run-heavy teams, but they averaged 20% more points-per-drive in the two games he missed.
Boston Scott stole six targets from Miles Sanders, but the impressive rookie still posted 12.7 points in the receiving game. Add in the 20 carries, and he set a new career-high in opportunities.
Sanders averaged 24.2 PPG during the fantasy playoffs and paid off as our pick to be the 2019 Nick Chubb.
Three backs tried to replace James Conner after he left with a thigh injury. All were marooned in the run game, but Jaylen Samuels at least turned his six targets into a handful of points. With Samuels (-16.5 FPOE) and Benny Snell (-10.6) continuing their season-long efficiency struggles, this isn’t a bad time to stash Devin McIntyre favorite Kerrith Whyte.
Whyte played behind Devin Singletary at Florida Atlantic but possesses the same freakish athletic ability that allowed Matt Breida and Austin Ekeler to become cult favorites (and fantasy forces).
Chris Carson (hip) and C.J. Prosise (arm) were both lost for the season in this one, leaving 13 opportunities for Travis Homer. The rookie underperformed his workload but still flashed the athleticism that had Hasan Rahim stashing him in every dynasty league.
The Seahawks have reportedly added Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, but Homer deserves a closer look as the unknown. Cort Smith foresaw this scenario in his Deep Sleepers series and explained what we might find from the youngest back in last year’s draft, a runner with key similarities to Aaron Jones and Devonta Freeman.
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.