Are We Undervaluing Zack Moss' Fantasy Football Upside?

How much does athleticism matter in athletics? Well… a lot, obviously.

Zack Moss is one of the most athletic human beings on the planet, but by NFL standards, he’s not a great athlete, boasting just a 29th-percentile SPARQ-x score, according to PlayerProfiler.

The running back position rewards athleticism, especially speed score.

Yet, on occasion, less athletic running backs do find success in fantasy football, and there’s some reason to believe Moss can do just that. Let's take a look.

The Resume

Moss is a monster producer, and in addition to his Hollywood exploits, he was very good playing college football for the Utah Utes. Beyond the aforementioned speed score, college dominator and college target share are figures that predict NFL success, and Moss excelled in both, posting numbers that were in the 82nd and 68th percentile, respectively, per PlayerProfiler. Unfortunately, PlayerProfiler also compares Moss to Montee Ball. Not ideal.

Fortunately PFF is more bullish on Moss’s ability. To summarize, Moss excels in PFF metrics that have been found to be relatively stable: rushing grade, missed tackles forced per attempt, yards after contact per attempt, receiving grade, missed tackles forced per reception, and receiving yards per route run. This current rookie group was an exceptional running back class, but Moss still finished first or second among the class in all these metrics except yards after contact per attempt, where he finished fourth.

Graham Barfield’s yards created also looked favorably upon Moss.

The picture Moss’ supporters paint is that of a back who “gets it.” A Kareem Hunt, Arian Foster type who lacks athleticism but understands the nuances to the position at such a level as to overcome his athleticism deficit.

Is this an accurate portrayal? Maybe.

But I just don’t have the same confidence interval of Moss’ most ardent supporters. PFF judged Moss to be the top back of the 2020 class. I believe it’s ludicrous to put anyone but Jonathan Taylor atop the class. D'Andre Swift, Cam Akers, and even Ke'Shawn Vaughn check the same boxes as Moss, but with better athleticism.

So why am I hyping up Moss? On some level, it comes down to who he shares a backfield with.

The Competition

One example of a poor athlete having NFL success is Moss’ Buffalo Bills teammate, Devin Singletary. However, Singletary was successful in only one aspect of the game.

Yes, Singletary posted a James Bond-like 0.07 Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry in 2019, well above the -0.01 mark which was the league average. He was his decidedly worse as a pass-catcher, with his 0.17 Reception NEP per target coming in well below the league average of 0.34 among running backs. On top of that, Singletary’s uninspiring college receiving profile offers little hope for improvement. This lack of receiving ability is troubling for a small, slow back.

Moss appears to be the superior pass-catcher, but the Buffalo coaching staff also envisions "a role similar to Frank Gore's last season" for Moss, per reports. This presents a Phillip Lindsay-esque problem for Singletary -- where he is neither big nor an excellent receiver.

In the long run, this means the door is wide open for Moss. It also makes him someone with a defined role as a rookie and upside beyond that.

The Bills' Offense

Sorry Bills Mafia, but Josh Allen will likely continue to be the bottleneck for this offense. Even if he did improve last season, Allen was still below league average (0.10) with a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.03. Should Allen continues to get better, he’ll likely still fall below average.

However, things around Allen are progressing nicely. The arrival of Stefon Diggs improves the receiving corps and allows John Brown and Cole Beasley to return to their more natural roles. The offensive line will continue to gel, and right tackle Cody Ford will enter his all-important second year.

In the event that Allen remains bad as a passer, the pieces around him could elevate his play regardless. More on topic, should Moss become the primary back, the supporting cast can lift the rookie runner, as well.

The Importance of ADP

Moss is an okay running back in an okay situation.

If the hype had gotten out ahead of itself, there would be nothing to talk about. If Moss faced tougher competition in the backfield, there would be nothing to talk about. Sometimes context can save a player, and that’s the case for Moss this season.

For the current cost of the 103rd overall pick, according to Bestball10s August ADP, Moss is a worthwhile investment even if it may take him some time to make a big impact in 2020. Because he needs to be drafted only with an inconsequential pick and is facing competition from a back who has holes in his game, Moss is a value pick who has a path to upside.