It’s always tough to lose a pet. You cry. You re-post old Instagram pictures of the pet with an “RIP” hash tag. You convince yourself that it went to animal heaven, a place about as real as the Cali Swag District. But eventually, you move on. In most cases, the final step is getting a new pet.
Over the weekend, fantasy owners lost The Muscle Hamster, Doug Martin, likely for the season. But there’s no time for grief, you have an RB1 to replace. You'll need to hit the pet store, otherwise known as the waiver wire and/or other teams’ rosters.
First, I’ll take a look at the impact Martin’s absence will have on the Bucs offense and assess the value of his backup, Mike James. Then I’ll suggest some possibly undervalued replacements for Martin that you can target in trades.
The Bucs Offense and Mike James
Martin has been very mediocre so far this season, averaging -0.10 net expected points per rush. If you need a reminder, net expected points (NEP) measures the impact each play has on a team's scoring potential. Martin ranks 22nd of 39 running backs with 50 or more carries within this metric.
James has fared a bit better than Martin this season in a limited sample, averaging -0.01 net expected points per rush on 17 attempts. If James had enough carries to qualify, he would rank 10th amongst running backs, smack-dab between Arian Foster and Adrian Peterson.
While he's nowhere close to being Foster or Peterson, James may have something in common with them as long as he starts: a heavy workload. In the five games that Martin finished, he averaged 25.4 touches per game. Since the Bucs are starting a rookie at quarterback (Mike Glennon) and have been committed to the run, James figures to get a lot of work.
James and Martin are both 223 pounds and both run 40-yard dash times in the 4.5s, so the Bucs should be able to call the same plays for James as they did for Martin. James seems to have Greg Schiano’s trust (for whatever that’s worth), as the Bucs handed it off to him four straight times inside the 12 yard-line on Sunday, including three times inside the four. Brian Leonard will get some passing down snaps, but doesn’t look to be much of a factor, especially since James has done a solid job in pass protection so far.
He's not a flashy runner, and is not as explosive as Martin, but James' volume of touches will put him on the RB2 radar as long as he starts. That being said, his next two games are against the stout defenses of Carolina and Seattle, so consider using him as trade bait and letting someone else deal with his tough upcoming matchups.
With Martin out, I expect defenses not to stack the box as much and instead play safeties over the top of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. However, I don’t see that having a significant impact on the Bucs passing game. Glennon has only thrown nine of his 130 attempts deep, and Jackson has still been producing. Treat the rest of the Bucs as you normally would.
Trading for a Running Back to Replace Martin
Here are three running backs you can target who each weren’t drafted as an RB1, but may produce like one for the rest of the season:
Because rushing plays tend to be shorter than passing plays, they add less expected points. In fact, only eight of 39 qualified running backs average positive net expected points per rush. Lacy is one of the eight. In his four full games, he's averaged 23 touches and 13.1 standard fantasy points. The Packers will have to lean on the run even more with their receiving core banged up, so Lacy may be in line for even more work. He’s already had his bye and is averaging RB1 numbers, so trade for him now because his value will only go up.
Bell is quietly another one of the eight qualified running backs who average positive net expected points per rush. He’s a three-down workhorse, and has produced 12.0 standard fantasy points on 19.7 touches per game this year. Since he’s a rookie and is a part of the previously maligned Pittsburgh ground game, he may still be undervalued. If he is, snatch him up because he has a good shot at RB1 production the rest of the way.
Moreno is probably the first player in fantasy history to score 18 less fantasy points than the week before and see his stock rise. When Ronnie Hillman fumbled near the goal line on Sunday night, it all but shut the door on any future timeshare in the Denver backfield. Moreno’s touchdown potential is astronomical as the lead back in Denver’s offense. And by the way, he still leads all running backs in net expected points. Some owners may still value him as an RB2, but he’s a clear-cut RB1. Swing a deal for him if you can.