Welcome to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to RB for Week 9! Normally, I start this column off with the same introduction each week. I talk about what this column covers, and frankly attempt to get out of my own way given each edition typically stretches 4,000-5,000 words. However, this week I can do no such thing. Fantasy Football is at times a remarkably frustrating game. You’re taking large stands at thin margins which often go awry. Even when you hit big on a talent profile, you can still come away fruitless due to team circumstance, bad luck, or injury. Therefore, I think we all deserve to breathe in fresh air when the winds are favorable.
Basis of the Column
The basis of this column is in one part strategy and in another running back evaluation. We evaluate in terms of usage, role, and projection. But what I hope sets this piece apart is the focus on the player itself. We will focus on players in terms of their archetype, ability, and where those fit within a range of outcomes.
I was speaking to one of my good friends in the industry this week talking through process. The way I described what I try to do differently is in the starting point of the analysis. Given this week saw a slot of spike weeks from some of my “favorite” players, both on and off our “roster” in this column, I wanted to dive in.
Feel Free to scroll down to the “Weekly Introduction” if you want the standard weekly content.
Evaluating RB Talent and Archetype
As we know, and as is the basis of the running back streaming strategy, running back production is linked more with volume than “talent” when compared to other positions. I talked about this distinction as a distinction between earned and given volume in the introductory column for this series.
With that being said, evaluating talent DOES matter. This is especially true when we view talent evaluation through the lens of not only talent but archetype evaluation. For example, the array of skills a player is equipped with, and the ways in which and extent to which that player can earn volume.
This is mostly the case because we are not making decisions in a vacuum. Our goal in a fantasy draft is not to prioritize players in the most efficient way possible vis a vis each other. It is to make the most efficient choices vis a vis the market. Therefore, any form of analysis rooted in the dominant forces driving the market will struggle to be actionable.
Your Edge is Differentiation
Let me put this another way in case that sounds like mumbo-jumbo. I hand you, and several others, five rocks and ask you to order them in terms of which weighs the most. Knowing nothing else, the most-logical thing to do would be to order them from the largest to smallest in terms of diameter and circumference. But we know, of course, that will not be 100-percent successful. The rocks may all be different types of stone, may have different density, and thus a slightly smaller rock may weigh more than a larger one.
If your goal is to get as close to the accurate order of rocks as you can, ordering by size is a directionally accurate way of doing so. It is likely much more accurate than just ordering them randomly. However, if we expect that everyone I ask is primarily determining their expected order by size, doing the same has no edge against the field.
If you are to out-perform the others, you need to seek some form of analysis that is directionally accurate vis a vis the other contestants rather than vis a vis a random ordering. Perhaps you are able to discern other signals of weight from the color of the rock signifying which materials it is made of. Maybe you can inspect any cuts or indentations along the rock to peer into the density.
The point of this metaphor, of course, is that in order to derive an edge, you need your lens to not just be accurate, but more accurate than the market. More precisely, you need to be more accurate in a way that is most impactful for your success.
When Talent Matters
The great Ben Gretch wrote a post echoing some of the same thoughts the other day on running back “talent.” I will apply the thesis a bit differently.
We know that given volume is ultimately the most determinative aspect of running back success. We know that (mostly) the projection of given volume is the primary driver of ADP. So how do we beat the market under those conditions?
There are Generally Three Ways
The first is we try and diagnose when the market is not consistently applying the terms we presume it to. What I mean by this is, when are certain biases obstructing the market from ordering itself properly?
I wrote a thread about Josh Jacobs – a player I have never been particularly high on at cost – in the pre-season when his best ball ADP was dropping deep into round seven. My thesis was that while in my view the market generally overrates projectable volume, and underrates factors of uncertainty and contingent value, Jacobs was being singled-out as an ADP faller among many other comparable bets.
Josh Jacobs routinely going R8 in “sharp” fields is one of the more fascinating plots of this draft season.
I think it’s probably correct. But I also think it’s mostly isolated from a broader movement toward re-imagining ADP in terms of ceiling and roster construction utility
— Jakob Sanderson (@FF_RTDB) September 6, 2022
Jacobs is a fine player: almost certainly his teams best RB. He’s capable in all phases, his offense is probably good, and he can handle a workload.
He’s not even the worst projection by any measure among his archetype of dead zone RB2 type RBs.
— Jakob Sanderson (@FF_RTDB) September 6, 2022
Jacobs’ ADP feels like step 1 in Westworld’s Bicameral mind.
The voice of the “gods” – aka cool analysts we like – tell us to fade. But we still have not (Likely neither has any of us) developed the full comprehension of WHY we’re doing that and how to apply it systematically
— Jakob Sanderson (@FF_RTDB) September 6, 2022
To be clear, I was still not targeting Josh Jacobs nearly enough, although he was mixed into my best ball portfolio more than I anticipated. I also will say that if Jacobs was going in Round 5 of best ball drafts I never would have made this thread, and he would still be a league-winner. He would be a league winner I had zero exposure to. Therefore, I think the route of identifying individual instances of market inefficiency is rather tenuous as a means by which to derive a significant edge.
The second and third approaches are generally what this column tries to blend most:
Archetypal Drafting and Contingency-based Talent Evaluation
I wrote in Week 2 about the idea of “drafting (and managing) with intentionality” by applying and maintaining use-cases for players. The idea being that we should approach each player in a vacuum first. We should consider their abilities and the type of value they could hold if all breaks right for them. Then we view each new piece of information in relation to that use-case and decide whether we should adjust our case positively or negatively.
Stevenson and Herbert
Examples of this that worked well for us were focusing more on Khalil Herbert‘s effectiveness than usage. Herbert’s use-case always baked in his ability to increase his role with performance rather than only benefit from injury.
Herbert did grow his role. He saw his highest snap rate in a game Montgomery was healthy for in Week 7, and out-carried Montgomery 16-15 in Week 8. He is currently the RB24 in PPR points per game and ahead of Montgomery despite just one start.
Similarly, when Damien Harris out-snapped Stevenson in Week 1, we maintained that Stevenson was the best path by which to play the backfield when Ty Montgomery was placed on Injured Reserve because of his pass-catching profile.
Stevenson now has 15 receptions in his last two games, and is the RB8 in PPR points per game.
It does not always manifest into beneficial production. We were bullish on Rachaad White being the only active backup to Leonard Fournette, emphasizing the signal for his contingent value vs. any concerns over a standalone role. To this point, that contingent role has not yet emerged. However, there is a world where it was Leonard Fournette getting hurt rather than Ezekiel Elliott, and it’s White, rather than Tony Pollard, we are discussing as the handcuff who just put up 30.
Proof of Concept
We can never know what injuries will occur in season, or how coaches will decide to allocate touches in their backfield. But we can make bets on talent and archetype in hopes this improves our odds of success, and maximizes the size of the hit when it does. The top three running backs by NFL Next Gen Stats’s Rush Yards Over Expectation per Attempt (RYOEPA) are: Travis Etienne, Tony Pollard, Khalil Herbert. Etienne and Pollard had too high of ADP to be targets of this column, but for those who follow my full work you know they were major targets of mine.
Pollard – like Herbert – has translated his performance into a standalone role next to an established running back who he is outscoring in points per game despite one start. Travis Etienne is perhaps the best example of altering his own team’s plans due to performance. Etienne went from a secondary option to the featured back, and now the sole bell cow in Jacksonville’s offense without any additional injury.
If there is a second place in the category of talent ascension it would be Dameon Pierce – who ranks No. 16 in RYOEPA, No. 6 in PFF grade, and No. 15 in Juke Rate. I was not as ardent in my support of Pierce this year as the others, but he is another great example of talent winning out and altering the pre-season expectation for a backfield.
Josh Jacobs – possibly the most impactful selection at ADP this year – has also altered his role via excellent play. He ranks No. 1 in PFF grade and leads a top 10 that includes targeted streamers Eno Benjamin and Rhamondre Stevenson.
We did not, and will not, get everything right. But the underlying assumption that identifying talent and capability of expanding into a larger role ought to be a driving force of our decisions rather than projected volume has been borne out in a major way. And our identification of which backs will display and pay off this talent has been largely successful.
One Last Metaphor
On the call I referenced at the top, I described my process thusly: I want to view each player in an individual and archetypal vacuum, assessing the impact of each bet if externalities resolve positively toward them rather than the assessing the most likely opening outcome. To articulate more clearly:
I want to start every player evaluation in a vacuum. What are the strengths of this player? How talented are they and where is their comparative advantage on a football field?
Next I want to zoom out to the archetype: Is this a young player? How much uncertainty do we have about their ceiling? Could they be capable of things we don’t expect? … How have they been used in the past and how have they handled that type of role? Can they handle a large workload? Can they play on passing downs?
Framework and Opportunity
Next, I try to assess them in the framework of their environment from a systemic level. What kind of plays does this team want to run? Is this running back a fit for them and can they excel if given the opportunity?
The last stage is viewing the immediate opportunity. In my view, too much of the industry is starting at the last step and viewing each player in terms of their projectable opportunity rather than all the factors which may cause that projection to be fragile or determining in which direction it is weighted.
Think about a gas in a container. Gasses occupy only the space with which they are provided. The size of the container in our analysis is important, yes. But with the twists and turns of a fantasy season, I want to focus more on which options can exert the most pressure on their container and most rapidly command greater space when it is provided.
OK now for the regularly scheduled programming.
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 8 Recap – League-Wide
I have added more columns to your weekly spreadsheet this week.
Below are the top 24 running backs from Week 7 excluding Monday Night’s game, along with the overall top 24 running backs in points per game. (Minimum three games played) I have also added the stream score by week and added it to the weekly and year-long charts to show where we stand.
The color coding is as follows:
- Teal = drafted in the top 24 at their position by 4for4’s ADP aggregator.
- Yellow = drafted outside the first eight rounds.
- Green = drafted outside the first eight rounds, and selected plays from our “roster” (see last week’s article)
- Pink = players on our roster, not played last week
- Purple = players not on our roster that were recommended plays off waivers last week
- Orange = Un-drafted
- White = does not fall into any of the aforementioned categories: mid-round post-“dead zone” running backs
Note: Rhamondre Stevenson‘s ADP rose to 8.10 (94) just days AFTER the pre-season version of this piece was finalized. At the time it was written, he was drafted outside the first eight rounds and thus streamer-eligible per our criteria.
I went heavy on theory this week at the top, in part because there were less backfields in transition than usual. I will touch briefly on a couple we discussed last time.
Jets First Flight
Michael Carter operated as the lead back but there were red flags in the usage. Carter saw 56-percent of snaps, 51-percent of routes and 61-percent of opportunities, including 78-percent of running back targets. This is a strong profile on the surface similar to Rhamondre Stevenson‘s early-season role.
However, Carter gave way to Ty Johnson on nine of 11 third downs. Carter did out-snap him 9-2 in the two-minute drill however. My concern is that James Robinson – the third back in this contest – will be more involved as he gets acclimated. Robinson is most likely to play on an early-down role. Therefore, there is a possibility for Carter to get squeezed out his early-down majority while losing pass down work to Ty Johnson.
A three-back committee makes all backs flex options at best.
Digging into the Ravens Deployment Patterns
Big runs by Gus Edwards😌 pic.twitter.com/G6MK80DVz4
— Kevin Oestreicher (@koestreicher34) July 16, 2022
In his first game since recovering from the knee injury that kept him out of the entire 2021 season, former Rutgers running back Gus Edwards scores the Ravens’ first touchdown of the day: pic.twitter.com/KuoaqM1zz1
— Brian Fonseca (@briannnnf) October 23, 2022
last week: hey that’s not kenyan drake!
this week: hey that’s not gus edwards! pic.twitter.com/YMHxWMaGSx
— NFL Fantasy Football (@NFLFantasy) October 28, 2022
CMC in the Bay = BAE
It turns out putting the most versatile weapon in the NFL into one of the best play designers on the planet’s offense is a good thing for fantasy after all. I will spend no further time analyzing this than anyone who expected any other outcome deserves.
We could not write a running back column and NOT talk about Tony Pollard.
Pollard got his chance to operate as the lead back for Dallas in Week 8 and he did not disappoint. He wound up posting 33.7 PPR points – good for RB4 on this high scoring week. Pollard did this with just 14 carries and one target, showing off his explosive capabilities on plays like this one.
Tony Pollard 54-yard touchdown!
— RJ Ochoa (@rjochoa) October 30, 2022
Tony Pollard was drafted in 2019.
Since that time:
Zeke starts: 55
Pollard starts: 2
Zeke 30 point PPR games: 1
Pollard 30 point PPR games: 2
— Jakob Sanderson (@FF_RTDB) October 30, 2022
Week 8 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 (21.3)
- Darrell Henderson (5)
- Rachaad White (7.3)
- Khalil Herbert (15.9)
- Isiah Pacheco (BYE)
- James Cook (8.6)
In order to shorten the length of the column, I will bypass further analysis by breaking each into either status quo (with no further explanation), stock up or stock down.
I will however post this Stevenson porn:
Here is our king cooking Kwon Alexander on the ‘Texas’ route: my favourite route in football.
This right here is the next level of Rhamondre Stevenson: a natural catcher of the football, and a dangerous man in space. Get him some more work on route breaks, and he’ll have LBs sweating every time. pic.twitter.com/dUgXrc0hAT
— Khari Thompson (@kdthompson5) October 31, 2022
I’m sorry; Marshawn Lynch is that you?
Rhamondre Stevenson is the Patriots best offensive player right now.
What a run to start the second half and it leads to a Patriots touchdown.
— Pats Buzz (@PatsBuzz) October 30, 2022
Herbert saw the most carries he’s ever seen in a game Montgomery played start to finish in Week 8. Despite mostly negative game script, Herbert toted the rock 16 times and provided 99 yards and a touchdown. David Montgomery had a very David Montgomery 15 carries for 53 yards.
Herbert – who is said not to be as trusted in pass protection as ‘Monty’ – played only 28-percent of snaps and ran just three routes. While Montgomery has always been the preferred passing game option, this was much more extreme than usual with Herbert seeing a carry on 73-percent of his offensive snaps.
It is possible the Bears are shifting to a more Ravens-esque backfield model where Herbert is being maximized for his ability with the ball when he is on the field, and Montgomery seeing more empty calorie snaps where his ability in pass protection and as an outlet is valued.
In our dreams, Herbert is simply a three-down bell cow. But we will take what we can get, and the total opportunities – carries + targets – are just 32-30 in “favour” of Montgomery the past two weeks. Herbert has outscored Montgomery on the season and in three of the six games they each played fully. His floor is still much lower due to the snap disparity and lack of pass-game work but he is a viable flex option moving forward with high-end contingent value.
Zack Moss was made active again in Week 8, but Cook was the only non-Singletary back to touch the ball. He was impressive, breaking of explosive plays and converting a downfield target. Cook saw just 25-percent of snaps and 29-percent of touches, but similar to Rachaad White, he is building out a standalone role from nothing, and it is coming at the expense of his contingent-value competition.
Cook does not profile as a workhorse which is why we always preferred White. However, if Singletary were to go down, you would be much more inclined to play Cook than Moss. Singletary has not performed particularly well this year at -0.19. RYOEPA, leaving a door open for Cook to continue eating into his role.
The Rams backfield continues to be a farce with several contestants and no winners. Henderson has had the most consistent value, but saw his Week 6 “empty calorie bell cow” role vanish in thin air Week 8. Ronnie Rivers instead was the lead rusher with Henderson leading in snaps on the back of more empty calorie routes. Henderson was ill during the week of practice, so I will hold out some hope this is a one-off. However, this run-game is so anemic that you need to play nearly every snap to be relevant, and that relevance is typically 12 points.
I will simply hold Henderson for now while we wait and see what the next shift is in this backfield or if the Rams make a trade. He may be a cut candidate next week if Rivers continues leading in carries.
The Result – Week 8 Plays
Rhamondre Stevenson is continually a source of joy for the Hitchhiker’s guide. His 21.3 points as the premium play, combined with D’Onta Foreman‘s 31.8 point EXPLOSION and White’s serviceable 7.3 combined for a stream score of 20.43. That’s right kiddos – we broke the 20-point mark!
D’Onta Foreman Week Winner
Foreman was unfortunately too highly owned by the time we got to do a column to add him to the roster. However if you have been following along you know we included him as a stash option weekly in the waiver portion once trade rumours began circling around McCaffrey. As well, he was my preferred option post-McCaffrey trade as discussed last week.
I wanted to bet on Foreman to beat out Chuba Hubbard organically but here he received the benefit of injury and did not look back. The former Longhorn handled 68-percent of snaps and 76-percent of carries including 86-percent of goal-line snaps and 70-percent of two-minute drill plays. Hubbard may return next week and reduce this role, but Foreman likely asserted himself as the lead back when Hubbard is healthy. Foreman had 0.33 RYOEPA and 50-percent of his rushes exceed the expected total; two very strong marks. He also converted on three goal line carries.
I expect Hubbard to act as the passing down and change of pace back with Foreman leading in carries and bogarting the goal line rest of the way.
The Waiver Wire
There were no major running back injuries this week (thankfully) leading to a likely quiet waiver wire.
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.
- Khalil Herbert – CON / SA
- Rachaad White – CON
- Chuba Hubbard – SA
- Isiah Pacheco – SA / CON
- James Cook – STASH
- Alexander Mattison – CON
- Kenyan Drake – SA
- JK Dobbins – STASH (depending on IR rules and bench size)
- Latavius Murray – SA
- Kyren Williams – STASH
- Tyler Allgeier – SA / STASH
- Elijah Mitchell – CON
- Chase Edmonds – SA / CON
- Nyheim Hines – SA / CON
- Jaylen Warren – SA / CON (added SA designation)
- Sony Michel – CON
- Samaje Perine – CON
- Jerick McKinnon – SA / CON
- Jamycal Hasty – CON
- Kenneth Gainwell – CON
There are no transactions for us this week!
Week 9 Picks
Preferred Play: Rhamondre Stevenson
Expect Anything Different?
Premium Play: Khalil Herbert
There is no clear standout, but I doubt we will be able to play Herbert in this category any longer after his (third) breakout performance on Sunday. As a result, I want to celebrate his contributions with a play in the premium section. Justin Fields has performed admirably over the past month and they have a fantastic offensive matchup with the Miami Dolphins this week. Miami’s defense is suspect, and their offense will keep the pedal down forcing opponents to play catchup. I expect the Bears to move the ball at will and continue using Herbert in a near-even touch split with David Montgomery; who also had a costly fumble this week which was returned for a touchdown.
Perhaps Herbert’s role continues ascending. If not, he’s still has good a bet to find the end zone or rip off an explosive play than any of the other timeshare options on offer within this category.
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.