We're halfway through the fantasy season. If your teams have been wildly successful, it's time to plan ahead for the stretch run. If your teams are struggling, it may be time for desperate measures in order to make every week count.
With this in mind, let's examine what we think about these topics as we head into Week 8.
- Reserve/UFA Running Back Matters
- The Replacements: The Quarterback Edition
- On the Rise or Likely An Anomaly?
- Devy Prospecting
Reserve/UFA Running Back Matters
Matt Waldman: Pick three backs from this list and discuss their value to you as a fantasy player in redraft or dynasty leagues and how you recommend managers to approach them strategically.
IMPORTANT: It's common that a player who works out with one team often earns a workout with others if he's not signed by the first team, so consider the UFAs mentioned below as possibilities for multiple teams.
Please specify the format(s) where you value them and why as well as how their potential impact may help or hurt other players on a team where they're playing or may land:
- Kareem Hunt, who has been permitted to work out with the Browns two weeks prior to the end of his suspension term.
- Brian Hill, who will back up Devonta Freeman after Ito Smith's concussion.
- C.J. Anderson, who earned a workout with the Raiders the day after Josh Jacobs missed part of the game with a shoulder injury but finished the contest.
- Spencer Ware, who earned a workout with the Cardinals after David Johnson couldn't play in Week 7.
- J.D. McKissic, who, along with Ty Johnson, earned bigger workloads after Kerryon Johnson suffered a knee injury that will cost Johnson multiple weeks.
- Ty Johnson
- Jay Ajayi, who also earned a workout with the Cardinals.
- Mark Walton, who has been one of the most active running backs for the tanking Dolphins in recent weeks.
Who makes your list of notables?
Daniel Simpkins: I don't see Hunt as a competitor to Nick Chubb as some view him but as a complementary option. He is a player who is doing his best to rebuild his career after hitting rock bottom. Consider this year an audition for Hunt. If he does well in his role and shows that he can behave himself during the offseason, other teams will have an interest and he may be able to be a lead back for another club by as early as next year.
Brian Hill is someone that I’ve always thought acquitted himself well when called upon and was deserving of more opportunity. I notice when watching him that he’s good at reading blocks and cutting in the correct direction to maximize his yardage. He’s not half bad as a pass-catcher, either. The fact that Atlanta brought him back after he spent one year in Cincinnati says a lot about what they think of Hill.
He’ll get a shot at committee work with Ito Smith unlikely to play after getting absolutely bulldozed and injured while trying to pass protect. It’s obvious that Hill’s opportunity will not be worth as much on a team that’s sagging and has lost their starting quarterback for a time, but it’s conceivable that Hill will do enough to show this team and others that he’s a quality second option. He’s a restricted free agent this year, so we’ll get an idea of how Atlanta values him when we see his tender offer.
I know it’s en vogue to make Anderson fat jokes, but Anderson is a back that understands that it’s not always athleticism that wins the day. He showed last year with the Rams that his agility and balance was still adequate enough to get the job done and that as long as the line can give him a little daylight, he has the decision-making skills to maximize yardage. If he signed with the Raiders, I would be inclined to hold on to him in both dynasty and redraft formats, especially if I also have Jacobs rostered. That offensive line is good enough and Gruden is determined enough to run often that he would have fantasy value.
Jason Wood: I agree with Daniel, Nick Chubb is too talented to be displaced by Kareem Hunt. On the other hand, Hunt is a talent in his own right and it would behoove the Browns to showcase him a bit to increase his value as a trade candidate. I think there's an excellent chance Kareem Hunt is a starting running back for another team in 2020 and remains a valuable dynasty asset. In redrafts, it all comes down to roster size, but in today's NFL, any backup running back is worth rostering.
While I'm a fan of Kerryon Johnson, he's hurt -- again. We have to wonder if he's ever going to handle a full-time role for more than a few weeks. Ty Johnson gets a chance to elevate his NFL trajectory over the next few weeks. If he's effective, he can carve out a committee role at worst but possibly figure into a starting role somewhere.
Mark Schofield: As many have said, Kareem Hunt is a solid option to consider in a multitude of formats. He will not supplant Nick Chubb as RB1 for Cleveland, but if you look back at how Andy Reid used Hunt while in Kansas City, there is a path to certain fantasy viability for Hunt in the Browns' offense.
I think there will be many packages for Hunt in this offense where they look to get him the football in space as a receiver, and you can even imagine some 20 or 21 personnel packages with both Hunt and Chubb on the field, forcing a defense to decide between staying in its base look or going small.
Schematically he is a solid choice, especially in PPR formats. I would imagine both Odell and Jarvis are going to be fine in terms of their target share, but those 20/21 packages might see the tight ends in Cleveland see less and less of the pie.
The Buffalo Bills are 5-1, and they have one of the better defenses in the game right now. Particularly against the run, where they are holding opponents to just 3.9 yards per carry and under 100 yards per game.
Still, Mark Walton looked very good against that defense last week for the Miami Dolphins. It did not take long, as he gashed the interior of that defense for a 19-yard gain on his first carry. This was a simple counter, but Walton displayed precise footwork, great vision and incredible burst through a crease to get into the second level.
From there he showed great change-of-direction ability to make a defender miss in the open field. There might not be much going right for the Dolphins this season (unless you consider Tanking for Tua to be the correct approach) but they have something in Walton.
Jeff Haseley: Hunt was a strong fantasy contributor in his rookie season with Kansas City. He’s hoping he can find that same level of success with Cleveland, but Nick Chubb is securely in the picture blocking Hunt’s opportunity. I only see Hunt as a viable redraft fantasy option if Chubb were to miss multiple games with an injury – and even then it may take a while to get back up to speed.
As for his dynasty value, Hunt still has good potential value with a chance to be a league-winner if he can earn or receive regular RB1 volume. Right now he does not have that as long as Nick Chubb is on the same team.
It looks like Detroit won't acquire another running back to help fill the void left by Kerryon Johnson. If that’s the case, Ty Johnson becomes an automatic upgrade. J.D. McKissic may have more familiarity with Darrell Bevell’s offense from his time with Seattle, but Johnson has more size and can handle a larger role.
McKissic still may have value, especially in PPR leagues, but this appears to be Johnson’s role to lose. I am not sold on him being a strong consistent fantasy starter, but the volume alone will result in an increase in production. The tea leaves may point to a more robust passing attack, which is something we have seen in the past with a Matthew Stafford-led offense after the primary rusher was shelved with an injury.
Walton has shown some potential in the last few games, but his value only hits redraft lineup status if Kenyan Drake exits Miami before the trade deadline, like some believe he will. Walton can be an effective, versatile running back, but we also need to be wary of Miami’s inability to put up points (10.5 points per game).
The lack of team scoring hurts his potential value, which is a concern. He’s not a league-winning lineup factor but he’s someone who could be used in deep rosters with a chance to see increased production if Drake is traded.
Drew Davenport: I'm not much of a dynasty specialist, so I'll limit my comments to redraft leagues in particular.
I think I would focus first on Walton from this list. I know it's odd to highlight a guy in a limited offense, but he needs to be rostered for a couple of reasons. The first is that his snap counts and opportunities have been rising steadily in the last three games.
It's clear the staff is giving him a chance to play, and he's been proficient with his touches. In PPR leagues he is already putting up 8-10 points a game. If his role continues to expand he can push that up into RB3 territory.
The more important part of this, though, is the possibility that the Dolphins move Kenyan Drake before the trade deadline. If that happens then you have a low RB2 type for byes and injuries. If they somehow hold on to Drake I still think he should be owned in deeper leagues because any RB getting the kind of passing game work he's getting is necessary for the many byes still coming. But if Drake sticks around I'd be looking elsewhere in shallow leagues.
I have similar thoughts on J.D. McKissic as I do for Walton. In deeper leagues, he should be owned just for his passing game work alone. But more importantly, while we are all attempting to predict the outcome of this backfield, the truth is we simply don't know how it will shake out. McKissic is virtually free through FAAB or waivers so he's worth a stash. Even if he doesn't get a huge role, it's bound to expand simply from losing the starter. A 35-40 percent snap share is still something to chase at this point in the year.
The more obvious piece of the backfield is Ty Johnson. I don't pretend to know whether he's going to be a good NFL running back, but in fantasy, we chase the opportunities. Johnson is going to get that shot so he should be a priority on waivers.
Having said that, I urge caution in a couple of regards. Foremost, is the performance of Kerryon Johnson when he was the starter to this point. It wasn't impressive. I don't know that Ty Johnson is the player to break the running game out. The second is that the Lions are bound to continue to stress some kind of committee. Even if Johnson corners 50-60 percent of the snaps I'm not seeing much upside for him. Yes, Ty Johnson should be pursued on waivers, but caution should be exhibited.
Dan Hindery: Of the running backs on this list, Johnson is the most intriguing from a short-term perspective. He should get an opportunity to take on a role similar to the one Kerryon Johnson was playing.
The two big questions for me are (1) whether he will take on Kerryon Johnson’s role from the first two weeks or Kerryon’s more recent role and (2) whether he can play well enough to maintain that role for the rest of the season.
Before C.J. Anderson was cut prior to Week 3, Kerryon Johnson was used more like the head of a committee than as a true workhorse. He played 56 percent of the snaps and handled just over 50 percent of the running back touches.
After Anderson was cut, Kerryon Johnson took on a much larger role. He played 73 percent of the snaps and over 75 percent of the running back touches. It seems the more likely scenario will be that Ty Johnson won’t step into the full workhorse role.
Something like 50-60 percent of the backfield snaps and touches, like Kerryon Johnson, had those first two weeks, seems like the safer projection. This would put him more in a position to handle something like 14-18 touches per game to start out.
As to the second question, if Ty Johnson is talented enough to maintain that type of workload for the next seven or eight weeks, the answers are more difficult. Johnson impressed me with his burst early in his career at Maryland but faded a bit his last couple of seasons.
He is a bit of a tweener in terms of projection: Decent as a pass-catcher but not so talented in that aspect that he would be a top 3rd-down option and decent as a runner but not powerful enough to project as an early-down banger. However, the Lions don’t exactly have great options.
Johnson is solid enough in most aspects and possesses a very good burst. He could prove capable of filling in as the top option for the rest of the season.
McKissic should have some short-term value as a bye-week, fill-in option in PPR leagues. He is a third-down back capable of catching 4-5 passes a week and that alone will give him a little bit of a weekly fantasy floor. A Theo Riddick-type role is likely, which should make him a top-40 running back option in PPR. Nothing to get excited about but when injuries and byes hit, having a 4th or 5th RB capable of giving you 8-10 fantasy points can have some value. He is worth adding in deeper PPR leagues.
Hunt is not a player I am particularly interested in over the short term as anything more than an injury handcuff. In dynasty, I would try to cash in on his name recognition if I could find a trade partner who was more excited about his long-term prospects.
The pie in terms of touches has been surprisingly small this season for the Browns. Looking at the game logs, Cleveland’s backs haven’t combined for more than 31 touches in any game this season. They combined for just 18 touches two weeks ago.
I don’t expect Hunt to steal a significant amount of touches from Nick Chubb. Chubb is the more talented back, so there doesn’t look to be enough touches for Hunt to carry much fantasy relevance. The one area where Hunt might have a slight edge is as a pass-catcher. Chubb is averaging less than 5.0 yards per target this season while Hunt was over 10.0 last season. Even if Hunt does take some targets from Chubb, this isn’t an offense that throws much to the backs (just 5.2 RB receptions per game). It’s hard to see a path to Hunt putting up fantasy numbers barring an injury.
Maurile Tremblay: Johnson and McKissic both have more redraft value than dynasty value, and they both have more value in PPR leagues than in non-PPR leagues. But unlike any of the other running backs on the list, they have decent value right now in any format.
They both have intriguing attributes, and at least one is nearly a sure thing to get a significant number of touches going forward. Ty Johnson is probably first in line. He got about twice as much work as McKissic last week after Kerryon Johnson left the game.
Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic are similar in that they both have big-play potential, and they're both versatile players who can make an impact running or receiving. Ty Johnson is a rookie with terrific speed but is wholly unproven in the NFL. McKissic has been around a few years and has been extremely efficient so far this season. (On his 15 carries, he's averaged 7.3 yards per attempt, and 20 percent of his rushes have gone for more than ten yards.)
This will most likely be a committee, but either back could break out and establish himself as a decent fantasy option going forward. As I said, Ty Johnson is likely to get the first shot, but both have a shot to be the man.
Walton would be my next pick. The Dolphins are not likely to start scoring a lot of points, but Walton does seem to be separating himself from both Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage as the team's lead back.
Walton has much lower upside than Ty Johnson and J.D. McKissic, but at least he seems pretty likely to rack up a decent number of rushing attempts, which makes him a decent candidate to score a touchdown in any given week.
Walton does not have value in small leagues with small rosters—he'll never warrant a start in such leagues. But in deep leagues with multiple flex spots, his expected workload gives him more value as a potential what-the-heck-flex than the others on the list, aside from the two Lions.