Welcome to Week 3 of the 2022 Footballguys Roundtable. Our intrepid panel of fantasy pundits discusses and debates four topics every week. From this point forward, we're splitting the topics into separate features.
This week's roundtable features these four topics:
- The True Reveal
- Tackling the Subscriber Contest
- Running Back Game Script Dependency (See below)
Top Fantasy Running Backs and Game Script Dependency
Matt Waldman: From the list of running backs below — all lead backs with (mostly) starter expectations among most in the hobby — answer the following:
- Which back is the most game-script dependent? Explain the how and the why behind your answer.
- Which game-script-dependent back has the best chance for game scripts to go his way?
- Which is the most independent?
Here's the list:
Your thoughts . . .
Jason Wood: Let me preface my comments by saying I think all five of these backs will be fine, for the most part. The one I'm legitimately concerned about is Harris, who was a beneficiary of absurd volume last year combined with equally absurd snap share. With the Steelers offense struggling, an offensive line that can't open holes, and Harris dealing with multiple injuries already, I see this as a lost year for the young talent unless the team puts quarterback Kenny Pickett into the lineup and he re-invigorates the passing attack.
Henry is the most game-script dependent.
Gary Davenport: It has to be Henry.
Wood: Despite this past week's 5-reception outing, Henry is rarely used as a receiver. Henry needs volume and red zone opportunities to live up to his first-round talent without being a key component on third-downs or other obvious passing situations. Unfortunately, the Titans' defense and moribund passing attack will leave the team in too many negative game scripts. With left tackle Taylor Lewan out for the season, Tennessee will be outmatched in some weeks (like against the Bills in Week 2), and Henry will disappoint. But the team is well coached and veteran-laden, so in weeks when they keep the game close (as in Weeks 1 and 3), Henry still has value.
Gary Davenport: We've seen it play out over the past two weeks. Last week against the Raiders, when the Titans were ahead, Henry piled up 25 touches, over 140 yards, and a score. The week before against Buffalo, with Tennessee in getting curb-stomped mode most of the way, Henry saw just 13 touches. Last week's five receptions notwithstanding, Henry just isn't a consistent factor in Tennessee's passing game. If they fall way behind, his usage tanks. And this Titans team, um, isn't very good.
Drew Davenport: Henry is an easy choice for game-script dependency. Before last week's unusual five-catch performance, Henry had exactly one TARGET and zero catches through two games. That's fairly typical as the Titans like Dontrell Hilliard as the passing down specialist. When teams get a lead on Tennessee, or they take away the run, Henry becomes a bit of an afterthought.
Gary Davenport: I have to go with Mixon as the back who is likely to earn the best game scripts this year—slow start or not. The Bengals are going to get untracked offensively at some point soon, and once they do the team is going to be playing from ahead more than over the first three weeks. Mixon's a featured back who has already shown he can post top-10 numbers playing behind five matadors. I know there's a lot of hand-wringing about Mixon right now, but the smart play is to take advantage of that anxiety and target him as a buy-low candidate.
Kevin Coleman: Mixon is the safest player from this list to produce regardless of game scripts. Mixon hasn't had the rushing output that managers want to see, but he is still averaging just over nineteen attempts in the first three games. Those attempts came in two close games and a blowout reiterating the point that Mixon will be involved regardless of the game script. We’ve also seen Mixon involved in the passing game and has earned twenty targets this season. Mixon also is tied for second in the NFL for attempts inside the ten and five-yard line. He is their primary goal-line back. Based on his volume and targets, Mixon is one of the safest plays on this list.
Wood: He's off to a poor start, but I agree that Mixon is a buy low. The Bengals gave up an absurd amount of sacks through two weeks, despite investing heavily in rebuilding the offensive line during the offseason. Joe Burrow is to blame for the sack totals, but I also expect the line and Burrow to build cohesion and normalize the pressure. Unless you think the Bengals' 2021 passing attack was a fluke, Mixon should find himself in quite a few games with shootouts or playing from a lead. And the big, bruising veteran will capitalize on those scripts with breakaway runs and goal-line plunges.
Drew Davenport: The Bengals insist on using Samaje Perine on third down or in obvious passing situations to Joe Mixon's detriment. Mixon has only played 72% of the snaps this year, which, while not awful, isn't what you want to see from him. But the Cincinnati defense is better than people think, and if the Bengals can start clicking on offense, there will be plenty of games this year where they will have a lead and Mixon can go to work running the football.
Wood: I cannot believe I'm saying this, but the back who is the most independent of a game script is Cordarelle Patterson.
Waldman: This is such a wild development over the past two years, given his age, years in the league as a gadget no one knew what to do with, and the lackluster offense he's a part of. It's absurd.
Wood: Word. The veteran is dominating through three weeks and looks like an every-down, high-volume workhorse in a league that has driven that kind of role into extinction. Patterson is third in the NFL with 302 rushing yards and is playing in all downs and distances. Damien Williams is on Injured Reserve, and rookie Tyler Allgeier has vacillated between the end of the roster and the inactive list. The Falcons are 1-2 and haven't been able to dictate pace much, yet Patterson is producing. And while he's oddly not been featured much as a receiver, we all know he spent the formative years of his career as a wide receiver; so there's no reason to think he won't catch a ton of passes if the Falcons are forced into a pass-first, catch up script.
Gary Davenport: I want to say Najee Harris is the most independent, but Pittsburgh's dreadful offensive line and Harris' workload last year have me concerned. So if he's out, it's Patterson for me, too. Assuming that Arthur Smith now realizes his Week 2 usage of Patterson was, um, yeah, Patterson should see plenty of work regardless of how the game's going. If the Falcons are ahead, he's been effective on the ground. In catch-up mode, we know he can catch the ball out of the backfield. And the backs behind him on the depth chart are no real threat to his workload. There's a real chance he finishes as an RB1 for the second year in a row.
Jeff Bell: Harris lands as the most independent due to his receiving ability and the team’s need for his production. Harris led running backs in targets in 2021, a nod the team is comfortable in that role, and he will see the goal line attempts. Unfortunately for Harris, he is battling a foot injury that may hamper him for an extended period, and the team’s offensive line woes currently put him in a difficult position. So I get where Gary is coming from, but I'm still rolling with him as my answer.
Drew Davenport: Harris is still playing a lot of snaps for Pittsburgh. While he isn't hitting the lofty 90+% snap shares from last year, he's still being used in every phase of the game more than any other Steelers running back. He dominates the carries, but more importantly, they leave him in the game to run plenty of routes and he has 11 targets compared to Jaylen Warren's 3. This is clearly Harris' backfield whether the Steelers lead or trail.
Coleman: Atlanta is not a good football team, but head coach Arthur Smith relies heavily on his rushing attack in his offense. Atlanta has the fifth-best rushing attack in the NFL, averaging 156.7 yards per game entering Week 4. Patterson is at many times the first option for Atlanta based on their offensive game plan and scheme, having rushed for 302 yards already and scoring two touchdowns. Patterson also has a unique skill set that can be used in the passing offense. We’ve seen his target numbers dip the last two games, but his volume helps offset the lack of targets. Due to Atlanta’s insistence on leaning on their rushing attack, Patterson should have most game scripts go his way.
Bell: All of these backs have dominant snap shares except Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Jerick McKinnon has out-snapped Edwards-Helaire 87-77. Edwards-Helaire leads the team with 34 opportunities compared to McKinnon’s 22 and Isiah Pacheco’s 17. The Chiefs have played a game that saw them capture a significant lead, where Pacheco was the back that closed out the game.
The Chargers forced the Chiefs to come from behind and utilized McKinnon in the passing game. Despite Edwards-Helaire leading in targets, McKinnon has played more in passing situations. Based on current information, Edwards-Helaire will not close out significant leads or be the passing down back, leaving him a small window to gain his production. He's clearly the most game-script-dependent back on this list.
Coleman: Edwards-Helaire is essentially a back who needs to be schemed in the passing game to remain relevant as a fantasy option. He hasn’t seen more than eight rushing attempts this season but has converted all his targets into receptions. If the Chiefs use him in the passing game and he’s efficient with that usage, he remains a solid RB2 option, but it's entirely dependent on the Cheifs game script. The offensive coaches have shown they want to get McKinnon touches, so if we see Helaire’s efficiency drop, then fantasy managers need to be concerned about his output moving forward.
Bell: Henry and Harris play on teams that look to be in trailing positions based on this season's results. The Bengals have the best chance at scoring and putting Joe Mixon in place to close games and seeing red zone work. The loss of Damien Williams has forced Cordarrelle Patterson to serve as the team's primary back, sapping his passing game utility. It lands on Mixon and the Bengals' offensive line to figure out their early season struggles and return to their previously productive form, but Mixon is the back with the best game scripts ahead.
Waldman: If you'd like to see the rest of the topics, once again, you can find them here:
Thanks, and good luck this week!
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