We are all just trying our best. Week 1 is a harsh reveal that has elevated in difficulty with changes to the NFL preseason. The cycle with four preseason games ramped up a team for the regular season, with first-team usage growing game by game and peaking with the third preseason game—the dress rehearsal. A major reveal on ambiguous use, while a first-team offense would frequently play the entire first half. The fourth game would decide camp battles with the first team offense set.
That is gone. The Rams broke the model by sitting their entire first team starting in 2018. Teams have followed suit, and dropping to three preseason games increased the trend, with game action serving to decide roster spots instead of giving an early offense reveal. The result has been twofold, teams have entered the season healthier, and 2022, fortunately, avoided any seismic injuries before Week 1. But it has also left fantasy players with uncertainty.
Week 1 served up several frightening reveals centered explicitly on backfields.
The Rams led it off Thursday night by relying on Darrell Henderson (82% snaps, 18 opportunities) over Cam Akers (18%, 3). Henderson's ADP of 110 overall compared to Akers' at 48 is dramatic, and it could have been worse. ESPN's Adam Schefter mentioned on NFL Kickoff Sunday morning the Rams intended to use Kyren Williams as the change of pace back with Henderson, but an early injury forced Williams out.
The Bills left a reveal of their own, swinging work between Devin Singletary (59%, 10, 94 ADP) and Zack Moss (37%, 12, 242 ADP), with highly touted rookie James Cook (107 ADP) only seeing three snaps and one touch that resulted in a fumble. Cook is unplayable in any format currently and is likely a drop in shallow leagues.
Sunday was more.
The Texans shelved buzzy rookie Dameon Pierce (29%, 12, 66 ADP) in favor of Rex Burkhead (71%, 20, 212). The Patriots continued their multi-faceted approach with Damien Harris (39%, 11, 78) leading the buzzy Rhamondre Stevenson (25%, 10, 79) and Ty Montgomery as the clear third-down back (38%, 6, 317). Meanwhile, the Jets confirmed concerns with Michael Carter II (60%, 18, 115) leading over rookie Breece Hall (45%, 14, 46).
But the most severe reveal happened in Jacksonville.
Travis Etienne was one of the hottest names in the fantasy draft ending the offseason with an ADP of 36. His first-round draft capital, familiarity with Trevor Lawrence, and James Robinson's return from an Achilles injury allowed the buzz to mushroom with few applying the brakes. Etienne still held off Robinson in snaps, 36 to 34, but Robinson out touched Etienne 14 to 8. Etienne's opportunities showcased his upside, he had two of the team's three longest plays with a 27-yard rush and a 23-yard reception, but he dropped an easy touchdown in the first half and, in the closing moments of the half, fumbled with the ball, fortunately, going out of bounds. In the second half, the team shifted heavily towards Robinson, with Etienne only seeing significant usage on one of the team's six second-half drives.
The narrative quickly points out how close Etienne was to a huge day, which is a valid point. But with a new team, coach Doug Pederson is trying to turn towards winning, and his tolerance for mistakes seems evident. If you roster Etienne, it may be time to pivot early onto a receiver like Tee Higgins (who exited into concussion protocol) or Mike Williams, who disappointed in Week 1. As Robinson proves healthy, this is the best case, a 50/50 split and could swing harder in Robinson's favor.
The cases of Etienne, Hall, and Akers illustrate the reality of a fantasy belief growing in popularity:
The Running Back Dead Zone
Rounds four through six have come to hold this moniker, and Week 1 was rough for its inhabitants. Adding to the previously mentioned players is Bears' RB David Montgomery (65%, 21, 42), who posted 50 total yards compared to running mate Khalil Herbert's 43, but Herbert (29%, 10, 149) scored a touchdown to top Montgomery on the day. Meanwhile, Elijah Mitchell (ADP 53) left with an injury that could cost him weeks (Jeff Wilson was the only other back to get work), and J.K. Dobbins (ADP 58) was a pre-game scratch with the Ravens stating they will not rush him back.
Moving forward, players need to understand how to handle this area. The simple answer is "avoid it." But we are now operating with the benefit of hindsight in 2022. In the immediate term, the narrative will not be kind to this group, making pivots difficult. For many redraft teams, using a pick in this range on running back has left them short at receiver. Players like Montgomery or Etienne could still have trade value in the right situation, but the injured players are stuck.
This valuation is another lesson. From a dynasty lens, all of these players except Hall likely face value declines. Flipping them for a 2023 1st is the preferred method, but the weight on those picks creates uphill sledding. Our Jonathan Morris dove into running back lifespan here, and his article pegs the optimal running back age between 24 and 26.
The scary reality is most of these dead-zone running backs are already in that zone or just primed to enter it. And none look like the fantasy studs we hoped. Redraft values can often be a good self-check on dynasty valuations, and running backs hitting their prime production window holding ADPs should raise a red flag on dynasty valuations. Our dynasty rankings still have players like Etienne and Dobbins in the RB1 range, but it is fair to question if those rankings need revision. One of the most critical skills dynasty managers can develop is the ability to realize when players still hold expectations on ceilings they are unlikely to meet. Capitalize on that expectation and capture value. For these dead zone running backs, that time is likely now.
Every week we will dive into blind statistical resumes. Answer at the end of the article!
Revenge! A Dish Best Served On The Field
Revenge games of the week look at players who may be playing for a little bit extra.
- QB Carson Wentz, Washington vs. Doug Pederson: 27-41, 313 yards, 4 TDs, 6-12 rushing, win 28-22
- QB Baker Mayfield, Carolina vs Cleveland: 16-27, 235 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int, 5-6-1 rushing, lose 26-24
- QB Joe Flacco, Jets vs. Baltimore: 37-59, 307 yards, 1 TD, 1 Int, lose 24-9
- WR DeVante Parker, New England vs. Miami: 1 reception, 9 yards, lose 20-7
Looking ahead to Week 2
- WR Robert Woods, Tennessee vs. Buffalo
- RB J.D. McKissic, Washington vs. Detroit
- RB Kenyan Drake, Baltimore vs. Miami
- WR Equanimeous St. Brown, Chicago vs. Green Bay
- WR Jalen Reagor, Minnesota vs. Philadelphia
Deep Dynasty Watch List
Players potentially available in deep leagues who deserve monitoring:
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