With the full benefit of hindsight, digging into usage and opportunity can help us prepare for upcoming NFL weeks and strengthen our future roster construction. This weekly article will look at some of the standout performances – positive and negative – to determine what lessons we can learn moving forward.
As we evaluate the numbers behind the output, we will attempt to uncover whether we want to take it, and prescribe the performance as predictive, or leave it, and dismiss the results due to game script or simple variance.
After Christian McCaffery’s other-worldly performance yesterday, it got me thinking about running back floors and just how valuable they are or how closely they correlate to cashing in DFS – primarily for 50/50, double-ups or head-to-heads. I think it is intuitive to most players that filling your RB and Flex slots with these high floor skill players is an essential way to boost your overall total, but who are the players we should consistently be locking in to those spots and are there any hidden gems that we can mine to uncover some value floor plays.
Knowing that the highest floor players come from a combination of rushing attempts and targets, I started my search there. With McCaffery on Sunday, you essentially got an RB1 and a WR1 in the same player. Saquon Barkley was able to get you RB1 numbers and WR2 numbers out of one slot. This is what we are looking for.
Using Pro Football Reference’s play index, I was able to identify 35 examples from 2018 where a running back had at least 15 rush attempts and at least six passing targets. The list of players that have done it more than one time wouldn’t surprise you:
Ezekiel Elliott – 7 games
James Conner – 5
Melvin Gordon – 4
Todd Gurley – 3
Christian McCaffery – 3
Alvin Kamara – 2
Kareem Hunt – 2
That’s the entire list of multiple-game backs. Looking further at the names that have tallied these numbers only one time, you see some interesting names and circumstances:
Saquon Barkley – odd to see him here, but if you expand the parameters to 13 rushing attempts instead of 15, Barkley has done it five times. He clearly belongs on the list above.
Alfred Blue – an extreme outlier game where Lamar Miller was phased out and Blue rushed for 20 times. After totaling 2.3 yards per carry on those 20 opportunities, it’s safe to say that won’t be happening again.
Dalvin Cook – this happened on the first game of the season for the Vikings. After a subsequent injury and strong play from Latavius Murray, the Vikings have managed Cook’s workload much more judiciously
Mike Davis – a game where Chris Carson got hurt and Rashaad Penny was ineffective. Davis has only eight total rush attempts his past two games
Nyheim Hines – During Marlon Mack’s injury, Hines totaled 15 rushes and nine targets. He has not rushed more than 11 times in a game since and has nine total targets in his last four games.
Chris Ivory – I’m not going to dwell much on this one because it’s Chris Ivory.
David Johnson – this was the game two weeks that got everyone excited about David Johnson circa 2016 being back now that Byron Leftwich is calling plays – 21 rush attempts and nine targets on Nov. 11. DJ has only six targets and zero touchdowns since that game despite playing the Raiders and being down by more than 30 to the Chargers.
Dion Lewis – another instance during the first game of the season. Lewis has only topped 15 rush attempts twice and six targets once since this Miami game. Even in the projected smash spots against New England and the Colts the past two weeks Lewis had four total targets.
Joe Mixon – this one surprised me somewhat, but then I looked deeper. Even if you loosen the parameters to 10 rush attempts and five targets in a game, Mixon only shows up three times. He is doing a lot with his targets – 7.8 yards per catch – but he is only attracting 4.4 per game.
So if we add Barkley to the first list, that gives us what I will call the Safe Eight. Especially with bye weeks and Thanksgiving behind us, cash game players simply must have one of these guys in their lineups from this point forward. I saw some lineups this past Sunday with Josh Adama, Gus Edwards, and someone like Nick Chubb. I get the strategy here – volume and value plus these assets let you get up to other players. But at what opportunity cost? These backs comprise 31 of the top 50 FanDuel running backs scores on the season. You can try and guess when Tarik Cohen or Matt Breida or Tevin Coleman are going to reach 25 points (they all have this season), but I’m running with the Safe Eight, and building around them.
Now to the performances from Week 12:
Dak Prescott – 289 Passing Yards/2 TDs, 6 Rushes/18 Rush Yards/1 TD
In terms of FanDuel points, it was his best game of the season on Thanksgiving. But the signs for this breakout have been looming for some time. With 31 pass attempts on Thursday, he continued a streak of at least 31 pass attempts in his past five games. In those past five, he has thrown one interception, compared to four picks in the previous six games. Prescott also has been looking to run the ball more consistently in the past month and a half – he has at least six rushing attempts in all but one of the last six games, and scored on the ground five times. He never crossed the end zone via his legs in games 1-5. With Amari Cooper around to finally keep defenses honest in the secondary, Prescott has found more room to operate, opening up the entire offense. But the best part for Dak is not in the past, but rather in the future. He has games left against New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and the Giants – all teams in the bottom 12 of DVOA pass defense.
Verdict – Take It
Kenyan Drake – 8 Rushes/32 Rush Yards/1 TD, 6 Targets/5 Receptions/64 Receiving Yards/1 TD
Drake is doing a kind of poor-man’s Safe Eight impression the past six games. In four of those games he has at least eight rush attempts while also attracting at least four targets in the same timeframe. With that volume has come scoring opportunities. Drake has five touchdowns in since October 21, and only two before that date. To chicken-and-egg this situation, the Dolphins offense has also come alive during that span, scoring at least 21 points in four of the last six – and things look promising ahead. Drake is clearly the pass-catching back in this offense and only Jacksonville represents a major threat to that position on the remaining schedule in week 16 – and who knows what that defense will look like by that time. I’m looking for Big Play Drake to continue this roll for the balance of the schedule.
Verdict – Take It
Calvin Ridley – 13 Targets/8 Receptions/93 Yards/1 TD
Remember that breakout game Ridley had back in Week 3 with 146 yards and three end zone trips? Yeah, that was also against New Orleans. According to Rotoworld, Ridley has a 15/294/4 line in two games against New Orleans and a 32/386/4 line in the nine games against everyone else. New Orleans and their 32nd ranked DVOA against #2 wide receivers is not on the schedule anymore, so expectations need to be managed somewhat. Week 12 was a season high in target share, targets and catches for Ridley. Except for enticing divisional match-ups against Tampa Bay and Carolina, Ridley has games left against three teams all within the top-12 in pass DVOA. He should continue to take a backseat to Julio Jones and may only be serviceable in games with obvious shootout appeal.
Verdict – Leave It