Welcome in to the Week 10 edition of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to RB! No special intro today, just some cold hard running-back talk. IF you are new to the column, this is the place we talk all things running back streaming. Each week we discuss running back usage, matchups, and waiver opportunities to convert the least amount of capital into a playable running back position on your fantasy teams.
If you did not read the introductory edition of the column, I strongly recommend checking it out here:
The weekly project of this column is to stream the highest-scoring running back we can using only a select group of bench running backs and the waiver wire. Additionally, I hope this article allows you to think critically about the inputs involved in fantasy production at the position that will inform how you play fantasy football.
In each article, I will briefly recap the week that was at the running back position. Then, I will discuss the status of our existing running back bench and whether to make any transactions on our official roster. Lastly, I will discuss potential waiver options and designate my plays of the week.
Often, I will mix in other tangents week-to-week addressing roster management, draft strategy, backfield shifts, potential beneficiaries from a major injury, or an examination of team or player usage trends.
Note: Any data not from Playerprofiler, or otherwise sourced, is via Pro Football Focus.
Week 9 Recap – League-Wide
Last week was an extra-long column with some theory thoughts off the top, but this week I need to attempt brevity as I am currently penning it from mid-flight. The lack of significant backfield shifts across the league was fortuitous in allowing me to do so. (Excluding those from which we roster running backs).
Because Week 9 came right after the trade deadline, it’s worth touching on the new backfield alignments briefly. However, I expect each to shift as new additions are acclimated, and thus I don’t want to over-analyze a snapshot in time.
The New Additions
I will start by following up on the Jets, which was a pre-deadline addition. Last week we saw a dark timeline in which Ty Johnson took on increased passing down snaps, and feared James Robinson would eventually force an early-down split rendering each unplayable.
Snaps were 31-25-6 in favor of Carter, followed by Robinson, and then Johnson this week. While on first blush it would appear Robinson took over Johnson’s snaps, creating a two-man backfield, it is not that simple. The Jets faced only eight third downs (inclusive of short-yardage) of which Johnson took half. They did not have a two-minute drill.
My read is this backfield will operate somewhat similar to the Washington Commanders, albeit with Carter and Robinson (11 routes each) acting more interchangeably than Gibson and Robinson in terms of deployment. Essentially, expect Johnson to play third and longs and much of the two-minute drill with the extent of his snaps being based on how many of each situation presents. This should leave Robinson and Carter both in the 40-45-percent snap range most weeks with an even split of routes and goal-line opportunities.
However, don’t inscribe this in stone just yet. This was only Robinson’s second game, and his role could grow. Correspondingly, Carter could either be phased out or could edge out Johnson if they prefer to use a two-man backfield once Robinson is up to speed. I maintain reservations about James Robinson‘s effectiveness this season, but for him to force a near-even split with Carter immediately has me reversing course on Carter being the better bet. This is more likely to be near-even or a lean-to Robinson the rest of the way with each in RB2/Flex territory.
In Jeff Wilson Jr’s first game with Miami, he immediately led the team in snaps: 28-26. It’s not as surprising Wilson Jr. was up to speed so quickly given his familiarity with the scheme and Mike McDaniels, his former run-game coordinator. However, this immediate usurping shows us Mostert’s bell cow role said more about Chase Edmonds‘ under-performance than Mostert’s take over. Expect a split to continue, but Wilson has inertia on his side as the preferred RB2/Flex option for now.
Nyheim Hines played only three snaps in this contest with the Bills otherwise keeping to their running back “rotation” from last week. I speculated Hines’ acquisition may be as much about special teams as offense, but I don’t think we should assume that to be the case yet.
Give Hines at least another week of acclimation before we draw any firm conclusions on this backfield. In the meantime treat Singletary as a fragile, mid-range RB2.
Week 9 Recap – Our Roster
This is the portion of the column where I walk through the six backs we have ‘rostered,’ with an eye toward their rest-of-season outlook.
For those joining us in progress, here is the process for the weekly streaming choices.
- In the introductory column, I chose one RB in each of rounds 9-14 based on those available at each round using 4for4’s ADP aggregator. That is my starting “roster.”
- Each week I will address whether to add any running backs available on waivers, and if so, who to drop.
- Because your team is not mine, my weekly plays will not only consist of my “rostered” running backs. Instead, I will recommend a play from each of three categories. (see below)
- My streaming “score” each week will be the average of my play in each category. My “preferred” play will count double and MUST come from a running back on my “roster.” If I choose to make a waiver back my preferred play, I will outline who I am cutting from my existing bench for that running back.
- Bench Streamers: The selected running backs in the introductory article plus and minus any transactions published throughout the year in this column. If a drafted player gets injured, I retain one injured reserve spot.
- Premium Waiver Streamers: This group is comprised of any running back with less than 67-percent roster-ship on Yahoo leagues as of the first waiver run of the week. It can include both generally un-drafted players as well as previously drafted players who have been widely cut by managers.
- Deep Waiver Streamers: This group is comprised of any running back with less than 33-percent roster-ship on Yahoo leagues. The same rules apply as above.
Our current roster is the six running backs on our existing roster. Those running backs are:
- Rhamondre Stevenson (16)
- Darrell Henderson (5.6)
- Rachaad White (6.4)
- Khalil Herbert (2.3)
- Isiah Pacheco (4.6)
- Deon Jackson (1.9)
It was not the most eventful day for the backs on our roster; a point worth stressing. Something I fell victim to when I played in just one or two fantasy leagues was over-analysis of minute fluctuations.
Playing a wider portfolio of teams has numbed me to overreacting to shifts in usage that don’t necessarily denote a shift in outlook moving forward, rather than a player merely hitting the positive or negative end of their existing distribution. For those who use this column for their office or home league, consider thinking through this lens as you assess your players in particular by mid-season.
Did the production match the peripherals? Was a shift in peripheral usage explainable by game script conditions? Did any shifts beyond this occur within a foreseeable range of outcomes within game to game variance?
Stevenson ran cold this week with an inefficient performance against a Colts’ defensive front – led by DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart – that is their only strength. Nonetheless, when finishing RB8 (pending Monday Night Football) is a disappointing output, you know you’re in elite territory.
Damien Harris missed this game with an illness, but Stevenson’s status as a locked in fantasy starter is not dependent on his status.
Since his breakout in Week 3, Stevenson averages 13.3 carries and 6.3 targets in games Harris has played compared to 19.7 carries and 4.7 targets with the backfield to himself. Harris is far more live to take goal line carries from Stevenson than any other Patriots reserve. However, the run-heavy New England offense coupled with the former Sooner’s lockdown of the receiving role gives him an RB1 floor and ceiling regardless.
Herbert’s momentum had been gaining the past two weeks seeing 30 touches to Montgomery’s 32. However, the reversion to Montgomery’s large lead in snap share continued this week but without Herbert racking up as high a percentage of touches when in the game.
The backfield continued its trend from recent weeks toward a more inter-spliced rotation rather than the on-drive / off-drive script to open the year. However, the tenor of this split was completely opposite from last week.
A Change in Deployment
We hypothesized last week’s deployment may have signaled an intent to maximize Herbert’s snaps in the run game. This would result in giving Montgomery all pass-catching and blocking reps. It made sense with their relative skillsets. This week, however, Herbert played the entire two-minute drill while staying on the field for his share of third downs, ceding more early down opportunities to Montgomery. PFF’s Nathan Jahnke expressed similar confusion as to their deployment in his weekly recap.
Based on this deployment running counter to their season-long usage, and to the players’ skillsets, I’m hesitant to expect it to continue. However, I will redact my previous hopes they were optimizing deployment intentionally in the week prior. It may be a fairly random snap assignment week to week with only the ratio remaining stable.
Herbert’s proclivity to create explosive plays, and the Bears’ run-first mentality will give him a chance for further spike weeks. However, his lack of involvement in the passing game will keep his floor low. He continues to be a high-variance flex option until further notice, albeit one in a vastly improving offensive environment.
The Chiefs game was an absolute trip, and likely rife with statistical noise. They ran 101 total plays, the most of any team in a game this season, and this number was nearly double the league average. The combination of game script, and a completely inept run game (12 running back carries for 14 yards), led Andy Reid to abandon the pretense of a handoff entirely.
A Very Strange Game Script
For reference, the Chiefs ran 54 plays after falling behind 17-9 midway through the third quarter. This is a fairly average number of plays for a team’s full game.
Of those 54 plays, Patrick Mahomes dropped back to pass on 49 of them. Jerick McKinnon played a season-high snap share of any Chiefs running back this year at 62-percent, but he played nearly every snap in this portion of the game, which the Chiefs treated as a pseudo-two-minute drill fever dream. During the first half, the Chiefs used their typical three-back rotation with McKinnon mostly playing pass-downs and Pacheco leading Edwards-Hellaire on early downs.
After falling behind 17-9 in the 3rd Quarter the Chiefs ran 54 plays (including penalties)
49/54 were drop backs. Chiefs essentially played a full game worth of plays in a two minute drill. Something to keep in mind when assessing McKinnon's 62% snaps- season high for a KC back
— Jakob Sanderson (@JakobSanderson) November 7, 2022
Pacheco got nothing going here, but the fact he has worked past Edwards-Helaire is not for nothing. The Chiefs have shown no inclination to use McKinnon as an early down rusher this year, and in future games, they will have more interest and ability to run on early downs. One may wonder whether Ronald Jones is activated after such a pitiful rushing performance. As well, there is legitimate doubt of whether the round seven pick has the ability to provide plus value rushing. He sits outside the top 50 in juke rate and yards created per touch for the year.
However, if the Chiefs keep the same three backs in the rotation, Pacheco could just easily lead the backfield in snaps as 9.5-point favorites next week if they are able to play from ahead. He’s hardly an inspired start, but he is a viable flex with a remaining contingent upside.
Oh, the Rams.
Sean McVay treats his backfield the way a person rotates through different colors of ill-fitting pants in search of a different figure. Darrell Henderson is almost undoubtedly the best running back on the Rams roster by virtue of being the only back who approaches replacement-level performance.
This week he provided 12 carries for 56 yards and 0.02 rush yards over expected per attempt (RYOEPA), while his backfield mate Cam Akers offered an Akers-like five carries for three yards.. Malcolm Brown chipped in on the bulk of the passing downs. Ronnie Rivers – long-abandoned brother of the Blood Raven – was phased out.
Kyren Williams – the fifth-round rookie from Notre Dame – appears close to a return from Injured Reserve. He profiles as more likely to take Malcolm Brown‘s pass-down role than any meaningful amount of early-down runs, but I’m long past the point of predicting this backfield with any degree of certainty.
Henderson remains a desperation flex given both the fragility of his role and the lack of ceiling in this backfield.
White offered an uninspiring box score this week but was involved heavily in a close game script. His snap rate of 35-percent was in line with other recent weeks, but notably, he was the back for the majority of the Buccaneers’ first comeback drive (the one which ultimately ended on downs at the goal line). In total, he played 15 of 36 snaps in the two-minute drill/comeback mode.
He is not merely easing Leonard Fournette‘s load to be playing in high-leverage spots like this. Instead, the Bucs viewed him as a comparable or favorable option as their running back in a close and critical game. The Bucs’ run game is completely broken. But passing game involvement has buoyed this backfield into a far different tier from the Rams or Chiefs even if they are no longer the high-value touch gold mine they were in 2021.
Jackson was our post-publish pick-up last week as it became clear Jonathan Taylor would be facing at least a one-week absence. You could argue after the firing of Frank Reich, and a drop to 3-5-1, Jackson’s stock is rising due to the increased likelihood that Taylor is worked back slowly or even shut down over the remainder of the season.
I can’t speculate as to that possibility. But I will note that the state of the Colts’ offense cannot produce meaningful value for any of its members. Deon Jackson battled through an injury of his own this week to play 63-percent of snaps and handle 64-percent of touches. Had Jackson not had a mid-game injury, or had the game been competitive, these ratios would likely have been higher. However, the strong role resulted in just 5.6 fantasy points.
Look to D’Onta Foreman in Carolina as an example of how a running back on a fragile offense can appear to be a locked-in stud one week and a complete afterthought the next. The Colts are likely to continue attempting to run the ball if for no other reason than Sam Ehlinger‘s lack of ability to throw. As well, Jackson has been the preferred passing-down option in each game without Taylor. Therefore, should Taylor miss any further time, Jackson profiles as a viable but volatile RB2 on projected volume alone.
All that being said, the hiring of Jeff Saturday puts any personnel deployment decisions made under Reich into possible question. This includes the usage of Jackson and their backs as well as who plays quarterback. Consider Jackson a highly volatile RB2 while Taylor is out.
The Result – Week 9 Plays
Each of our picks came from inside the roster this week with Stevenson leading the way with 16, Herbert just 2.1, and Deon Jackson posting 5.6.
Our stream score is 9.25, below our season-long average of 12.4. Each of these players has already been addressed above.
The Waiver Wire Priority List
Among everyone rostered in 67-percent of leagues or fewer, here is your Week 5 waiver priority list.
*CON* = Contingent Value-focused use case
*SA* = Standalone Value-focused use case
*STASH* = Role projected to grow organically throughout the season
Feel Free to adjust this priority depending on your need for immediate starting value.
- JK Dobbins – Stash
- Jeff Wilson Jr. – SA
- Deon Jackson – SA
- Gus Edwards – SA
- Rachaad White – CON
- Isiah Pacheco – SA / CON
- Chuba Hubbard – SA
- Tyler Allgeier – CON / Stash
- Elijah Mitchell – CON
- Khalil Herbert – CON / SA
- Alexander Mattison – CON
- Darrell Henderson – SA
- Brian Robinson – SA
- Jerick McKinnon – SA
- Latavius Murray – SA
- Cam Akers – SA / CON
- Kyren Williams – STASH
- Jaylen Warren – CON
- Samaje Perine – CON
- Ronald Jones – CON
Week 10 Transaction
No Transaction this week.
Week 10 Picks
Preferred Play: Jeff Wilson
With King Rhamondre on bye this week we have to mix things up at the top. The high-powered Dolphins’ new (slight) lead running back gets a favorable matchup with the Browns in Week 10. Fire up Wilson as a mid-range RB2.
Jeff Wilson Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile
Premium Play: Darrell Henderson
Not the most inspired play but for now I will be rolling out Henderson in an elite matchup vs. the Arizona Cardinals with projected positive game script.
Khalil Herbert or Rachaad White may be higher ceiling options but each has a more fragile role.
Deep Play: Isiah Pacheco
As with last week, I reserve the right to swap into another low-owned deep play if injury news or material beat reports arise. However, for now, we will roll with Pacheco off a down game based on the script noise outlined above. Pacheco should be considered the favorite to lead the Chiefs’ RB room in carries in a week that may be more meaningful than it was on Sunday Night.
The Final Word
Thank you once again for reading this column, and I look forward to its continued development over the course of the season. Also, credit to Pro Football Focus for providing data I was able to use in this column in addition to the incredible wealth of information on PlayerProfiler.