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Cheaper Alternatives: Two Quarterbacks & Two Running Backs

Cheaper Alternatives

Everybody loves discounts. Whether online or in-store shopping, the buy two get one free or 50% off notice will draw us in. Sometimes, not everything is worth it at a discounted price, but it might make us feel good to grab the cheaper alternatives. It’s usually clear with a given store with a bright sign or alert telling us here is the discount.

Unfortunately, there’s no discount sign in fantasy football other than a player falling past their ADP. However, we find situations where players fall past their ADP for a reason and may not be worth it. We plan to identify cheaper alternatives at each position possessing similar skills to find potential value. Check out my previous article on the backward drafting strategy relating to this one. 

Cheaper Alternatives at Quarterback No. 1 – Justin Fields

Last season, I loved Jalen Hurts with the massive rushing upside. Thankfully, Hurts paid off with ten QB1 weeks, and he averaged over 32 PPR/G in four games – elite production at quarterback. In 2021, Josh Allen finished with six contests of 32 fantasy points or higher and Tom Brady with five games meeting that threshold. 

Hurts has an Underdog ADP at pick 64 (QB6). The Eagles ranked bottom five in Pass% and second in Rush% in neutral game scripts, and one could argue Hurts is Lamar Jackson 2.0. Hurts led the league in rushing attempts and ranked second in rushing yards per game, with 40.3% of his carries going for first downs (No. 10) per Sports Info Solutions (SIS) amongst quarterbacks with 30 attempts.

I wouldn’t recommend avoiding Hurts with the rushing floor since there’s a possibility the Eagles’ pass efficiency and opportunity improve with the acquisition of A.J. Brown, meaning an even higher ceiling for Hurts. However, let’s jump to what we came here for: finding cheaper alternatives to Hurts that could make a Year 2 leap in Justin Fields.

Comparing Jalen Hurts to Justin Fields

Last season, question marks surrounded the Eagles offense, with Jalen Hurts at quarterback entering his Year 2 season. If I recall correctly, Hurts had an ADP in the QB1 territory because we know the cheat code at quarterback includes the rushing ability. Interestingly, Justin Fields heads into Year 2 with an Underdog ADP of 126 at QB16. Each year, ADP seems more efficient, so it’s reasonable to expect Fields to perform more like a QB2 than a QB1.  

Before we lay out the positives supporting Fields as one of the cheaper alternatives, let’s highlight the reasons for concern. Often we’ll find some of the best fantasy and real-life quarterbacks ranking highly in Adjusted Yards Per Attempt. Unfortunately, Fields ranked 30th with 4.2 AY/A amongst quarterbacks with 250 pass attempts between Sam Darnold and Zach Wilson. According to SIS, he also ranked 30th in OnTarget% at 67.2%, with the highest Sack% (10.3%) and No. 28 in quarterback rating (73.2). 

For context, Hurts finished with 5.9 AY/A (No. 28), a 72.1% OnTarget% (No. 40), and a 77.6 QB Rating (No. 39) as a rookie in 2020. Progress isn’t linear, and it’s possible Hurts tanks in Year 3. However, Hurts improved slightly in all metrics, evidenced by his 6.4 AY/A (No. 15), 75.6% OnTarget% (No. 17), and 87.2 QB Rating (No. 22). While we’re not relying heavily on Fields’ passing ability, he likely improves in the throwing metrics, but a question of how much. 

Bears Team Context

Bad teams run fewer plays, and the Bears fit that mold in 2021 with the 21st most total plays that dropped to 28th in neutral game scripts. Unfortunately, the Bears also had a slow pace of play, with 28.8 seconds per snap (No. 21). If Fields and the Bears’ offense improves with the hype surrounding Darnell Mooney, we should expect the play and pace to progress. 

Through the first five weeks of the season, the Bears limited the passing attempts of Fields with 17.5 from Week 2 to 5. The air yards and passing attempts increased from Week 6 and beyond, with the rushing production rising too. Since Week 6, Fields ranked fifth in carries, third in rushing yards per game, and the second-best in Stuff% at 9.8% behind Lamar Jackson amongst quarterbacks.

That indicates the Bears allowed Fields to use his rushing skills, and opposing defenses couldn’t account for him, or he eluded defenders at the line. There’s probably some noise in Stuff%, but when Fields sits near Hurts and Jackson in a few metrics, that’s positive. 

Early 2022 Outlook

With Matt Nagy gone, maybe Fields earns the chance to unless the upside and floor in 2022. It’s unknown how new head coach Matt Eberflus, former Colts defensive coordinator, will roll. Ideally, they lean on their most talented players in Fields, David Montgomery, Darnell Mooney, and Cole Kmet. No disrespect to their skill players, but Fields could selfishly carry the offense with the rushing skills going at QB16 near Kirk Cousins and Tua Tagovailoa.

Although the 49ers remain a better-projected offense, Fields possesses the skills and should be going near Trey Lance as QB9 with top-5 upside. Hopefully, Fields lowers the Sack% and improves the passing efficiency, with the already established rushing skills as one of my top quarterback values. 

Cheaper Alternatives at Quarterback No. 2 – Daniel Jones

Tell someone you like Daniel Jones, and they might laugh at you. Or show someone a picture of Jones at a social event, and someone might be clueless about the Giants quarterback. All kidding aside, Jones boasts sneaky sleeper value as QB21 in Underdog leagues behind veterans in Jameis Winston and Matt Ryan. In 2021, Jones started the season strong with three QB1 performances in the first four weeks, averaging 27 fantasy points per game with an average of 47 rushing yards per game.

Unfortunately, Jones suffered a concussion in Week 5 that didn’t impact his ability to play the following week, but he posted single-digit performances in Week 4 and 5. Around that time, his rushing opportunities and yardage dipped from that point forward, hinting at Jones being more careful to avoid another concussion. That provides context as we discuss him as a cheaper alternative with injuries and struggles clouding our minds. 

Jones’ Underlying Metrics

According to SIS, Jones ranked 21st with 5.6 AY/A with a 73.4% OnTarget% (No. 26). Jones improved with a 4.9 AY/A, ranking 31st amongst quarterbacks with 200 pass attempts in 2020. His OnTarget% remained similar at 74.6% (No. 31), though it’s positive to see the improved AY/A.

While we can’t recommend using Jones as a QB1 with the passing struggles and risks associated with his profile, Jones possesses underrated rushing skills. In 2021, Jones ranked ninth in carries and 10th in rushing yards, yet 25th in YAC/att amongst quarterbacks with 30 rush attempts. Jones tied with Ryan Tannehill and Deshaun Watson for seventh with 31 rushing attempts going for 10+ yards from 2019 to 2021, according to TruMedia. 

Early 2022 Outlook

Although those numbers aren’t mind-blowing, Jones adds around three fantasy points per game on the ground, which makes him an enticing option as a QB2. If we buy into the narrative that Brian Daboll, the Giants’ new head coach, could help Jones progress, then we want to make him a draft target around pick 150-160. It’s not a wide gap in ADP, but queue up Jones, serving as one of the cheaper alternatives to Trevor Lawrence, Jameis Winston, and Matt Ryan. 

Cheaper Alternatives at Running Back No. 1 – Darrell Henderson 

Running backs in fantasy football compare similarly to closers in baseball. A handful of teams and backs or closers garner a high opportunity paired with above-average skills. Like closers, many franchises use multiple backs in a committee, with some being more frustrating than others to figure out. 

The 2021 Rams Backfield

Last season, Cam Akers suffered a torn Achilles in training camp, which boosted Darrell Henderson’s ADP and value. Akers miraculously returned in Week 18 to log eight opportunities for 13 yards. Then, in the playoffs, Akers bested Sony Michel in carries (67 to 26), targets (10 to 4), and total yards (248 to 72). The table below shows us the productivity and opportunity between the Rams’ backs when Akers returned. 

While neither back rushed effectively, it’s notable to see Akers’ receiving ability, though it’s not a significant part of how the Rams used their backs in 2021. Akers and Michel might linger in our minds most recently, but don’t forget Darrell Henderson led the Rams backs through the first 12 weeks of the season with a 76% Snap Share and 60% of the team’s rushing attempts. Henderson ranked RB14 with 15.7 PPR/G amongst backs with seven games played. 

Henderson’s Balanced Profile

From Week 1 through 12, Henderson displayed a balanced profile with 8.6 rushing EP and 6.2 receiving EP, with the 26th-most high-value touches (40) and tied for third with Alvin Kamara in a percentage of team HVT at 78%. People forgot about how solid Henderson performed with the recency bias of Michel and Akers closing out the season. 

From an advanced stats perspective, Henderson ranked 27th with a 1.9 YAC/Att, 28th with 9.2% broken plus missed tackles/att, and the lowest hit at the line percentage (28.2%) amongst backs with 100 carries per SIS. That indicates he likely used his blockers effectively and benefited from above-average run blockers, with some mediocre broken tackle metrics. In 2020, Henderson’s and Akers’ advanced metrics finished similarly, so that’s another note when comparing the two backs.

Early 2022 Outlook

It’s easy to say Henderson is a cheaper alternative to Akers, but that’s too simple with Akers going as RB19 at pick 44 versus Henderson having an ADP as RB44, around 90 selections later. Although Akers returned from the Achilles injury sooner than expected, we wonder how effective he’ll be in 2022. It’s unlikely for Henderson to share the backfield opportunity enough to make him fantasy relevant to begin the season.

However, don’t sleep on Henderson as one of the top backup running backs on a high-end offense similar to Tony Pollard, A.J. Dillon, and Alexander Mattison. Or, if you’re a Zero RB enthusiast like myself, make Henderson a priority since he’s one injury away from a high-end RB2 role with the skills to handle a hefty workload. Keep eating the Henderson value at ADP. 

Cheaper Alternative at Running Back No. 2 – Kenneth Gainwell

Last season, the Eagles established the run in the second half to make unexpected contributors relevant in Jordan Howard and Boston Scott via the ground game. It’s mind-blowing to reflect on the overall rush and pass attempts from Week 1-7 versus Week 8-16, with the rush attempts and yardage doubling. 

The Eagles shifted to an extreme rush rate at 61%, nine percentage points higher than the Patriots at 52%, from Week 8 to 16. Those numbers should regress with the acquisition of A.J. Brown as an elite receiver joining second-year receiver in DeVonta Smith.

If there’s one edge to exploit, we want to target a pass-catching back in a backfield committee like Kenneth Gainwell. Think Nyheim Hines, J.D. McKissic, and James White in past seasons, where Gainwell provides value as an RB3 with upside for more. Sometimes rushing quarterbacks don’t boost the fantasy value of their pass catchers, so it’s not without risk. 

Unfortunately, the usage for Gainwell gave us headaches with duds in opportunity and productivity following quality games in the receiving game. The overall opportunity metrics for the Eagles’ backs keep us grounded since there’s a chance at least two or three backs remain shuffling on and off the field based on the game script, coaching preferences, and effectiveness. 

Gainwell’s Underlying Metrics

It’s a small sample, but it’s unsurprising to find Gainwell’s best four weeks averaging 18.9 PPR/G, aligning with the four contests with his high target shares of 18% or above. Even from a rushing standpoint, Gainwell posted sneaky good advanced metrics with 2.5 YAC/Att (No. 38) and 20.6% broken tackle plus missed tackle/att (No. 6) amongst backs with 50 carries per SIS. While it’s probably related to the defensive formation when Gainwell is on the field with noise from the tiny sample, Gainwell posted the eighth-best Stuff% at 11.8% behind his teammate Miles Sanders. 

Early 2022 Outlook

Gainwell goes around 70 picks past Sanders, with the latter sitting in the dreaded running back dead zone, though it’s a reasonable ADP of RB26 at pick 82 on Underdog. In 2019 and 2020, Sanders showed the receiving ability with a 10-12% target share. Meanwhile, Gainwell’s ADP remains depressed as the Eagles’ second back in ADP with questions on how much Scott or another back factors into the committee.

Theoretically, Gainwell could garner the pass-catching role with standalone value as a cheaper alternative to rising rookies in James Cook, Isaiah Spiller, and veteran Nyheim Hines. Gainwell and Henderson possess the rushing and receiving skills to garner a healthy chunk of the backfield opportunities.