Welcome to the Ultimate Zero RB Watch List. Blair Andrews explores the changing backfield situations in the AFC ahead of Week 17. This week, we look for the top dynasty buy and sell candidates.
You don’t have to draft a Zero RB team to win at fantasy football, but it helps. Whether you did go Zero RB or not, all teams can benefit from finding some waiver wire RB stars. This weekly column will help you unearth waiver wire gems before they start to shine. Along the way we’ll also look at changing depth chart situations to help you find trade targets and make informed start/sit decisions.
For Week 17, let’s look ahead to next season and beyond, and try to identify some dynasty buy and sell candidates in the AFC backfields. If I list a guy as a buy, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m trying to acquire him on all my dynasty squads. It means I think he’s likely to be undervalued given the production he could provide for your team or the surge in value he could experience if things break his way. And likewise, if I list a guy as a sell, that doesn’t mean I don’t like him and don’t want to roster him. It means, rather, that the value you’re likely to be able to get for him in a trade could potentially be better spent elsewhere.
Be sure to check out Shawn Siegele’s companion piece on the NFC.
Sell: J.K. Dobbins
Dobbins is coming off a rookie season that saw him score nearly 30 PPR points above expectation, and we know that rookie year efficiency is a positive signal for future performance. The problem is that Dobbins averaged only 2.5 receiving expected points per game, and underperformed as a receiver. Rushing opportunity and rushing efficiency are two of the most predictive metrics in terms of Year N+1 ADP, while receiving opportunity and efficiency are more predictive of Year N+1 performance. What this means is that Dobbins is likely to be overvalued, given his performance as a rusher. With Lamar Jackson at quarterback, there’s little indication Dobbins’ receiving opportunity is likely to grow in the near future.
Buy: Zack Moss
Sell: Devin Singletary
Neither Moss nor Singletary were particularly good in either facet of the game. But here’s what we know: When a team spends a Day 1 or Day 2 pick on a rookie RB, the incumbent’s value often falls. When rookie RBs underperform in terms of efficiency, they often make for good redraft and best ball picks the following season. When veterans underperform, it’s harder for them to bounce back. Singletary struggled to produce outside of a few games.
Moss was slightly better.
The key difference is that Moss is a rookie, which not only protects his value to a degree, but also further suggests that an increase in opportunity is more likely for him than for Singletary.
Buy: Joe Mixon
Mixon definitely falls into the “not buying on all my squads but he could provide value” category. The truth is, Mixon’s price in redraft and dynasty has never been justified. Prior to 2020, Mixon had played 44 NFL games, and he had surpassed 30 PPR points in only one of them.1 Nearly half the games he’s played have been at an RB3 level or worse, and 2020 did nothing to change that.
On the other hand, Mixon is bucking the trend we’ve seen for early-career RBs — he seems to be improving as he gains experience.
We can attribute some of his recent play to the overall offensive improvement with Joe Burrow at QB, and we should expect the offense to continue to improve. But Mixon’s relative lack of production, and the fact that he’s been injured for most of the season, are likely to bring his dynasty value down into a more palatable range.
Our current dynasty rankings have Mixon as the RB20. However, a simple but powerful regression in the RotoViz Screener projects Mixon as the RB11 in 2021 on a per-game basis (using a 16-week fantasy season).
Of the 10 players ahead of him in these model results, half are older than he is.2
I’m not saying you should go out and buy Mixon on every dynasty team or acquire him no matter the cost. The truth is that I’m unlikely, still, to roster him on many teams in 2021. But at a certain point, a player who continually disappoints is going to experience a price correction, and very often it’s actually an overcorrection. It can’t hurt to be prepared to scoop up Mixon at a discount if the opportunity arises.
Sell: Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt
Chubb and Hunt will both turn 26 by the end of 2021, and neither are reaching the heights they enjoyed in their first two seasons.
Am I saying they’re dust? No, but how surprised would we really be if Cleveland spent a pick in the first three rounds on an RB? Hunt is under contract through 2022, though the team has an easy out next offseason, in which they could cut him with no cap hit. Chubb is still on his rookie deal and would become a free agent after 2021 without a new contract. Cleveland must be preparing for the eventuality that neither Chubb nor Hunt will be on the team after next season. Selecting their replacements in the upcoming draft is not at all far-fetched.
And all that is really to say nothing of the fact that both Chubb and Hunt are declining in productivity and value, and are unlikely to see a meaningful future spike in either.
Buy: Royce Freeman
Sell: Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay
As much as I would love to say that Lindsay is the buy candidate in Denver, the Broncos have shown over the past two seasons how they intend to use him, which is largely between the 20s, and largely on the ground. One of the best pure rushers in the league, Lindsay’s skill set is being wasted. But without a change in offensive philosophy, there may not be much value to be gained by chasing Lindsay’s talent.
Freeman has stepped into a backup role involving both targets and high-value red zone carries when he’s on the field. The biggest factor in his favor is that he’s likely to be almost free.3
Buy: David Johnson, Duke Johnson
It’s an open question as to whether you’d be able to get anything of value for either of the Johnsons, which makes both of them worth more as players than as assets. That is to say, both should outproduce their value. The key, as always, is to avoid overpaying. Try to convince trade partners to throw them into larger deals, knowing their dynasty value is near zero, even though both can still put up useful weekly scores.
Buy: Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines
The same model that has Mixon as a top-11 back has Taylor at No. 7 in 2021, the highest spot for any rookie. He’s a top-five dynasty RB for all but one of our rankers, and there are some good reasons for thinking that still might not be high enough. If you can get Taylor onto your team for something approaching fair value, it’s probably worth doing.
The model has Hines as the RB25, and it’s not crazy. Hines is currently the RB17 overall (RB30 per game), and he excels in exactly those areas that are most predictive of future performance.
Buy: James Robinson
The model likes Robinson even more than Mixon, ranking him inside the top 10, despite the fact that draft position is a major input. Our rankers have Robinson as the RB17, which is probably more in line with his market value. While draft capital is still predictive of opportunity in Year 2, we’ve seen Jacksonville rely on Robinson enough in both the rushing and passing game that his lack of draft capital is only a minor concern at this point.