RB1 Opportunity Share Series: AFC West

If I was given one wish for the 2020 Fantasy Football season, it would be to properly handicap the RB1 opportunity share for every NFL team. That position is the most critical this season, with an overwhelming number of running backs being drafted in the first two rounds. When projecting the opportunity share for the upcoming season, it is important to include several different factors.

Projecting RB1 Opportunity Share for Each NFL Team: AFC West

Most fantasy drafters simply examine the running back opportunity share based on past performance and if a new running back was added to the depth chart. Those factors are not nearly as important as how that running back performed last season in games they were healthy and received the majority of touches. Even if a reduced sample, it provides the best window into the potential opportunity share for the 2020 season.

For each team’s projected starting running back, I listed the opportunity share from the 2019 season in games they started and did not leave due to injury. For players that joined new teams (i.e Todd Gurley), I used the stats from last year’s primary starting running back (i.e. Devonta Freeman). While the skill set may not match perfectly, it gives us a strong projection of usage for 2020.

In this eight-part series, we will examine the projected lead running backs for each NFL division. Let’s examine with the AFC West.

 

Denver Broncos

2019 RB: Phillip Lindsay
Games: 16
Rushes: 54.77%
Rushing Yards: 60.83%
Targets: 9.98%
Receptions: 13.92%
Receiving Yards: 5.76%
Touchdowns: 25.93%
2020 RB1: Melvin Gordon

Outlook: The Denver Broncos plodded through the season with the 5-foot-7, 184 lb Lindsay as their primary rusher and goal-line back. The signing of Melvin Gordon should allow Lindsay back to a more suitable change of pace role. The statistical comparison from last year’s timeshare with Lindsay and Royce Freeman does serve as an accurate basis on the 2020 projection for Gordon. Lindsay’s 25.93% touchdown share should translate for double-digits scores for Gordon, who tallied 47 touchdowns over his last 53 games with the Chargers. As long as Freeman remains marginalized, this should be an effective fantasy backfield for both Gordon and Lindsay. Second-year quarterback Drew Lock operates best in a conservative offense that limits his turnover potential. Fantasy drafters are cautious because of Gordon’s likely 55% rushing share and Lindsay’s projected usage reduction. However, there is certainly ADP upside for both Gordon at his current RB17 ADP, and Lindsay at a very affordable RB43.

 

Kansas City Chiefs

2019 RB: Damien Williams
Games: 9
Rushes: 53.54%
Rushing Yards: 58.45%
Targets: 11.04%
Receptions: 12.67%
Receiving Yards: 7.29%
Touchdowns: 24%
2020 RB1: Clyde Edwards-Helaire

Outlook:  The first-round rookie’s touch comparison should mimic Damien Williams from last season. It’s hard to envision head coach Andy Reid giving the 5-foot-7 Edwards-Helaire more than 53.54% of the rushing attempts. However, his passing game efficiency should at least match the 11.04% targets share Williams tallied in 2019. It is possible Reid yields goal line touches to the veteran Williams which would make the rookie’s RB14 ADP his fantasy ceiling. All fantasy drafters want a piece of the Kansas City Chiefs offense, but the presence of Williams could severely limit the fantasy upside of Edwards-Helaire. With safety paramount in the early picks of seasonal leagues, the Kansas City projected RB1 opportunity share should cause Edwards-Helaire drafters to be cautious.

 

Los Angeles Chargers

2019 RB: Austin Ekeler
Games: 4
Rushes: 57.73%
Rushing Yards: 53.14%
Targets: 17.24%
Receptions: 23.53%
Receiving Yards: 21.41%
Touchdowns: 60%
2020 RB1: Austin Ekeler

Outlook:  We only have a four-game sample with Ekeler as the lead running back without Melvin Gordon last season, but it was incredibly impressive. During Gordon’s holdout, the Los Angeles Chargers were careful with Ekeler’s rushing opportunities. He only tallied 57.73% of the team’s carries and 53.14% of the rushing yards. But It is his elite passing game usage that provides an extremely high fantasy ceiling. Ekeler ranked fifth last season in target share, second in receiving yardage share, and first among all running backs on this list with an incredible 60% of the Chargers touchdowns. It is unlikely that Justin Jackson or rookie Joshua Kelly earns the goal line work over Ekeler. While the quarterback change to Tyrod Taylor is a concern, the dominant receiving work, and touchdown efficiency more than justify a second-round investment on the hyper-efficient scat back.

 

Las Vegas Raiders

2019 RB: Josh Jacobs
Games: 13
Rushes: 66.85%
Rushing Yards: 71.88%
Targets: 6.91%
Receptions: 6.97%
Receiving Yards: 5.24%
Touchdowns: 25%
2020 RB1: Josh Jacobs

Outlook:  From 2011-2018, at least one rookie running back finished the season as Top-12 RB.  That streak ended in 2019 with Josh Jacobs finishing at the PPR RB15, but the Alabama product still enjoyed a great rookie campaign. In his 13 full games, Jacobs tallied the ninth-most team rushing attempts and fifth-most rushing yards of any running back on this list. He did this despite running behind the 29th-rated offensive line in run blocking efficiency per PlayerProfiler. Jacobs’ minimal passing-game usage is unlikely to change with the uninspiring Devontae Booker, Jalen Richard, and rookie Lynn Bowden rounding out the depth chart. His 25% touchdown share ranks ninth among running backs who started eight games or more. With a sturdy rushing and goal-line workload, Jacobs is one of the safest early fantasy running backs selections in any scoring format.

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