The Hitchhiker’s Guide to RB: Quarter-Finals

by Jakob Sanderson · Matchups Start/Sit

This is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to RB – Quarter-Finals Playoffs Edition!

If you are new to the column, this is the place we talk all things running back streaming. Before the year started we discussed the philosophy of RB streaming strategies (Hero-RB, Zero-RB etc.) and decided to take on the task of attempting to stream a starting RB using:

(a) A starting roster of six late round running backs

(b) Any running backs we add to our roster throughout the year from the waiver wire

(c) Weekly streaming choices available weekly in your leagues

We have also used this column to offer commentary on the running back position from a real-life and fantasy perspective, discussed strategic takeaways at a weekly, season-long and conceptual level, and discussed evolving backfields each week with an eye to buy-low or sell-high candidates.

With the playoffs now in store, you will see a much briefer form of this column. In this version of the column, we will only use our streaming selections to help you lift that trophy. However, if you preferred the introspective, long-form version, not to worry. At the conclusion of the Regular Season, I will be back to offer a review of the best and worst takes from the column and lessons learned moving forward.

If you did not read the introductory edition of the column, I strongly recommend checking it out here:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Running Back

Note: Any data not from Playerprofiler, or otherwise sourced, is via Pro Football Focus.

Another Note: This column is drafted and filed prior to Monday Night Football.

NOTE: [As mentioned above – This column is submitted PRIOR to Monday Night Football. That means prior to the ankle injury Rhamondre Stevenson sustained in the first quarter of last night’s game. At such time more information becomes available on the severity of the injury, the column will be updated. For now – if you are preparing for life without Stevenson, drop all remaining FAAB on Damien Harris who made the trip to Arizona. Also add Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong Jr. in the event Damien is still inactive next week. The updated “Preferred play” as alluded to will be Isiah Pacheco if Stevenson does not play]

Week 14 Recap

This is the portion of the column where I walk through the results from our ‘roster’ and our streaming picks from last week.

Streaming Rules

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 the 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 I will also discuss 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.

The Categories

  • 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.

Current Roster

Our current roster is the six running backs on our existing roster. Those running backs are:

  • Rhamondre Stevenson (Pending Monday Night Football)
  • Rachaad White (10.7 – RB18)
  • Isiah Pacheco (12.3 – RB15)
  • Samaje Perine (9.4 – RB22)
  • James Cook (2.5 – RB50)
  • Joshua Kelley (4.5 – RB38)

The Result – Week 14 Plays

Last week’s picks were:

  • Rhamondre Stevenson as the preferred play (from our roster)
  • Zonovan Knight as the premium play (under 67% rostered)
  • James Cook as the deep play (under 33% rostered)

We are still awaiting Stevenson’s Week 14 result in order to count our stream score, but thus far we sit at a lackluster 9.1. James Cook‘s dud has to be one of the biggest belly flops of the column this year and I offer my deepest condolences to anyone who played him in a must-win spot.

James Cook

Cook’s role was not as bad as you may think from the box score. He played 41% of the snaps – second only to Week 13 on the year. However, he handled only five of 17 running back touches, a big difference from the way he’s been force-fed on a per-snap basis in recent weeks. The fact the Bills only generated 17 touches to their backs on the whole was most damaging.

While this was a legitimate downgrade from last week, the script did not work in the favour any Bill – as they ran under 60 plays, and did not generate efficient play, two things uncommon to a Josh Allen offense. I am comfortable going back to Cook as a flex option next week if the Bills get back on track.

Zonovan Knight

On the other side of the coin, a call we got (directionally) correct was Bam Knight! While I did not anticipate Michael Carter taking on all pass-down work from Ty Johnson, it was ultimately immaterial to Knight’s role. As expected, he ceded passing downs, but played 32 of 46 early down snaps outside the two-minute drill. This led to a 19-10 touch advantage for Knight who has entrenched himself as the best rusher on the Jets for the remainder of 2022.

With the scale of injuries by this time of year, the running back position often contains an array of this “RB2” archetype: the clear-cut early down 1A who cedes a majority of passing down work. Knight has been efficient, and being a rookie has more role-growth upside than most in this vein. If you’ve been collecting a handful of these options over the past month, Knight is my preferred among this tier that includes D’Onta Foreman, Latavius Murray, Cam Akers, Cordarelle Patterson and others. The only option in this vein I clearly prefer is Isiah Pacheco given the upside of his offense (which we saw hit via Jerick McKinnon in Week 14).

Week 15 Transaction

Fortunately there has not been a significant running back injury (yet) this week. Therefore, we have no reason to make a new add over our current, best-cuffs available Samaje Perine and Josh Kelley.

Jerick McKinnon does not meet our roster-rate cut off but I should address him in case he is on your waiver wire or bench.

McKinnon is now fresh off the best fantasy performance of his 9 year career which is incredibly impressive but exceedingly unlikely to repeat itself. His role has been stable almost the entire season, but the touches fluctuate wildly. He posted a season high in all receiving categories this week but remains a complete afterthought in the run game.

He is a viable RB2/Flex play, but you should not go point chasing here. In what is expected heavy-positive script, I prefer to ride Isiah Pacheco vs. the Houston Texans. However, I will note that McKinnon has seen his special teams usage scaled back, and for the first time all year, only two Chiefs tailbacks saw the field this week.

Unlike early in the year, I think we can view McKinnon as a legitimate contingent upside option. If Isiah Pacheco were to go down, I am not convinced that Ronald Jones or Melvin Gordon would take on a similar role. It’s a lot to ask of McKinnon at his age to serve as a full-blown bell cow, but a role expansion is at least in the picture.

Week 15 Picks

Preferred Play: Rhamondre Stevenson

I was tempted for the first time since Leaves fell from trees to place someone other than Rhamondre Stevenson in this slot. Isiah Pacheco‘s matchup is what dreams are made of  vs. Houston and he may well rank out as a top-12 play for me.

Nonetheless, you’re taking on too much risk playing a back who rarely plays half the snaps over one who has a comparable target share projection to most alpha receiver. Stevenson gets a cake matchup of his own vs. the Raiders and should be in the top-ten conversation as usual regardless of Damien Harris‘ status. Should Harris miss again, given the matchup, it’s plausible to rank Stevenson as high as RB2 overall for Week 15 behind only Christian McCaffrey.

Rhamondre Stevenson Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Premium Play: James Cook

Okay, call me a glutton for punishment. Call me a mad man. Call me a fool!

But I am going back to the well on James Cook.

Miami’s defensive strategy is to force teams to play into the short-middle of the field, and we have seen receiving running backs feast as a result.

There are 13 running backs in the NFL with a Yards Per Route Run of 1.5 or higher (per PFF). Each time they have played one (six games) they have given up minimum seven catches to the running back position outside of their game with Samaje Perine and the Bengals. This includes a season-high 12 (admittedly on 63 pass attempts) in their last matchup vs. the Bills. This also includes back to back eight catch games vs. Christian McCaffrey and Austin Ekeler.

James Cook was barely involved in the offense back in Week 3 offering four grabs for 37 yards compared to Devin Singletary‘s nine receptions. However, it is Cook who ranks No. 2 in the NFL in Yards Per Route Run and has become the primary vehicle of their running back receiving usage. Expect the Bills to orient their backfield around Cook in a plus matchup for his skillset.

Deep Play: (YIKES!) Rex Burkhead / Pierre Strong Jr.

Update: As promised I’m returning to the column to give a later in the week update following more injury news. Dameon Pierce has now been ruled out while Rhamondre Stevenson remains questionable, as does Damien Harris. As it currently stands, here is how I would rank those two backfields:

  1. Damien Harris (If Stevenson is OUT)
  2. Pierre Strong Jr. (If BOTH Harris and Stevenson are OUT)
  3. Rex Burkhead
  4. Kevin Harris (If BOTH Harris and Stevenson are OUT)
  5. Dare Ogunbowale
  6. Pierre Strong Jr. (If Stevenson is OUT)
  7. Kevin Harris (If Stevenson is OUT)

Look folks, here’s the deal. If you’ve been with us for the entirety of this column all year and you are depending on a sub-33-percent running back to pick up for the play-offs that would stun me. However, if you don’t have a better option available allow me to suggest Chuba Hubbard. While clearly behind D’Onta Foreman (one such bench RB you may have rostered), Hubbard received 17 touches this week as the Panthers have leaned heavily on the run while playing from ahead under Steve Wilks.

In a winnable matchup vs. the Steelers in Week 15, Hubbard may once again find his way into volume.

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.

Happy Hitchhiking!