Buying Generic Part 2: Running Back

Buying Generic: Running Backs

In Part 1 of our Buying Generic Series, we saw how a quarterback being selected outside of the top-10 QBs could closely replicate the point totals of a top-4 QB at quite the discount. In Part 2, we will turn our attention toward the running back position, where we will inspect another player who can be drafted at a fraction of the cost of someone similar.

Running Back

Name-Brand: Javonte Williams

Generic: Devin Singletary

Javonte Williams just finished an impressive rookie season while splitting reps with Melvin Gordon. Devin Singletary was a zero-RB monster for Buffalo, finally taking control of the backfield. Their ADPs are quite disparate this season, with Williams at pick 23 (costing you a late second-round pick) and Singletary at pick 102 (ninth round). If we can understand how similar these players’ outlooks and scoring potentials are, we can realize some serious savings.

Divisional Outlook: AFC East

Singletary is in the AFC East, which has improved offensively over the past two offseasons. Other teams will be playing from behind often, especially if the Bills are a dominant juggernaut again.  Their WR room includes Stefon Diggs, Gabriel Davis, Isaiah McKenzie, and newcomer Jamison Crowder. Dawson Knox is back at TE, and the new addition OJ Howard.

At RB, James Cook is the rookie who joins Singletary and out-of-favor Zach Moss. After Brian Daboll left for New Jersey, Ken Dorsey stepped up to orchestrate the offense. It still appears likely that the Bills’ opponents will be primarily game-planning to stop Allen and the aerial assault, leaving the run game as an ancillary consideration.

The Dolphins have a capable but uncertain QB in Tua Tagovailoa and added to their receiving core of Jaylen Waddle and Mike Geiseki by trading for all-world WR Tyreek Hill. The Jets have competent coaching and an immense arsenal of young offensive talent in RBs Breece Hall and Michael Carter and WRs Elijah Moore and Garrett Wilson. The biggest offensive question is: does Zach Wilson have that dog in him? He will need to step up in a big way if the Jets want their playmakers making plays.

The Patriots are interesting, as always, with QB Mac Jones helming this uncertain offense. Former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is back in the AFC West again, hoping that this head coaching attempt is more successful than the last. Which leaves us wondering: how will the Patriots’ new offense operate with head coach Bill Belichek now calling plays?

For receivers, they overdrafted speedster Tyquan Thornton and still have Kendrick Bourne, Jakobi Meyers, and Devante Parker. TEs Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith also remain. The run game is anchored by the effective committee of Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris.

Cause for concern

What about the Bills drafting a pass-catching back? Singletary was not an efficient pass catcher or pass blocker. In fact, he was downright terrible. So they took James Cook in the second round of the NFL draft after failing to acquire both JD McKissic and Chase Edmonds. Surely the Bills’ new offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey must be planning on using Cook in games. 

Yet McDermott is on record saying he desires a more balanced attack this year, which implies a greater number of RB carries. Furthermore, the team wants to protect the health of Josh Allen by having him take fewer hits this year, which also means more RB carries.

Divisional Outlook: AFC West

The Broncos have experienced quite the upheaval this offseason: a new head coach (Nathaniel Hackett), a new offensive coordinator (Justin Outten), and a new QB (Russell Wilson). Changes can be good, but sometimes positive results are not immediate. 

After trying to find a lucrative deal in free agency, Melvin Gordon has doomed Williams’ prospects as an overall fantasy RB1. Not only was the aging back useful in 2021, but he was also highly efficient. He posted a YPC average of 4.52 compared to 4.45 for Williams and doubled the rushing touchdowns (8 vs. 4).

Williams had the look and stats of a future fantasy star coming out of college. But he is still a Gordon injury away from achieving that fantasy greatness. Hackett came over from Green Bay, where he engineered the effective “two back attack” of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. I expect to see continued use of the split backfield in Denver.

The AFC West is one of the best divisions in football. The Chargers roster is loaded with electric playmakers, helmed by young gunslinger Justin Herbert. The Chiefs and QB Patrick Mahomes are perennial title contenders, though they are now without their dynamic speedster Tyreek Hill. The Raiders and QB Derek Carr now have Davante Adams and reliable target hogs in WR Hunter Renfrow and TE Darren Waller. As mentioned, McDaniels is the new head coach, perhaps bringing a Patriots-style offense to Las Vegas. With its plethora of firepower, we can expect some fantasy-friendly shootout games involving the AFC West.

Statistical Comparison

Looking back to 2021 statistics, there is a compelling case for Singletary and Williams finishing with similar fantasy outcomes this year. Many may find it hard to remember that they finished adjacent to each other in total fantasy points last season.

2021 Fantasy Points

Singletary – 157.8 (19th)

Williams – 161.9 (18th)

Buffalo also rushed more times per game than Denver. In 2022, we would expect the Bills to run more, but the Broncos to run less (and pass more), having upgraded at QB to Wilson and “designing the offense around him.”

2021 Rush Attempts Per Game

Buffalo – 27.1 (13th)

Denver – 26.8 (14th)

The backs also had similar rushing efficiency:

Rush Yards per Attempt (among all players with at least 50 rushing att.)

Singletary – 4.63 (31st)

Williams – 4.45 (40th)

While Singletary was much more nimble (evading defenders entirely), Williams had the edge for breaking tackles. Combining both the missed tackles and broken tackles per rush percentages into an “Elusiveness Rate” metric shows another facet where these backs have nearly the same numbers.

Missed Tackles Per 100 Rush (among all players with at least 50 rushing att.)

Singletary – 10.1 (9th)

Williams – 4.4 (55th)

Broken Tackles Per 100 Rush (among all players with at least 50 rushing att.)

Singletary – 11.2 (13th)

Williams – 17.2 (2nd)

Elusive Moves Per 100 Rush (among all players with at least 50 rushing att.)

Singletary – 21.3% (7th) 

Williams – 21.7% (6th)

For reference, from Sports Information Solutions Glossary:

EPA: Expected Points Added; the total change in the offense’s Expected Points that came on run plays

Boom%: The percentage of rushes that resulted in an EPA of at least 1 (i.e., a very successful play for the offense)

Bust%: The percentage of rushes that resulted in an EPA of less than -1 (i.e., a very unsuccessful play for the offense)


Player Boom Bust Boom-Bust Differential
Singletary 7.4% 1.6% 5.8%
Williams 8.4% 8.9% -0.5%

We can see that Williams edges Singletary in Boom plays, but Singletary does vastly better than Williams in Bust plays. What about the receiving aspect of their games? Singletary may experience a partial phase-out for passing game work. Not only does Williams split carries and targets with Gordon, but passing to the RB is not a significant component of Wilson’s game. Many may find it hard to remember that they finished adjacent to each other in total fantasy points for running backs last season.

Passer Rating to RB position (2021, at least 100 total pass att.)

Allen – 93.6 (24th)

Wilson – 85.8 (37th)

Percent of targets intended for RB position (2021, at least 100 total pass att.)

Allen – 15.0% (38th)

Wilson – 14.0% (40th)

Thinking about players that can be drafted in place of Williams (around ADP 23), you could add Tyreek Hill, Leonard Fournette, Tee Higgins, AJ Brown, Mike Williams, or Michael Pittman. Singletary (around ADP 103) alternatives include the options of Tyler Lockett, Robert Woods, Dawson Knox, and Chase Claypool. These pivots present the drafter with an exciting decision.

In summation, we have two young, elusive RBs on potent offenses, projected to be the “1a” options in split backfields, with similar efficiency stats. The supposed decrease in Singletary’s receiving opportunities can be offset by his likely increase in rushing attempts and goal-line work. He is in an excellent position to outperform his ADP, while Williams is in a position to disappoint at his current ADP. Singletary outscoring Williams in fantasy points this season might not be the most likely result, but it is comfortably within his range of outcomes.

Other RBs to consider “buying generic” on:

Buy Chase Edmonds instead of Alvin Kamara (ADP 92 vs. 25).

Buy Rashaad Penny instead of Cam Akers (ADP 90 vs. 46).

Buy JK Dobbins instead of James Conner (ADP 61 vs. 34).

(Data courtesy of Sports Info Solutions and Trumedia Networks)

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