Using Vacated Touches to Identify Opportunity (2021)

Apr 12, 2021
Using Vacated Touches to Identify Opportunity (2021)

Opportunity is one of the major factors I consider as I evaluate free agent signings and trades, and attempt to identify impact rookies in any given season. I used to gauge this opportunity holistically—e.g. Kenyan Drake signed with the Raiders, so look out for Chase Edmonds—but a couple of years ago I decided to go through the process of calculating vacated running back touches to see if it would identify opportunity that wasn’t readily apparent. A few surprise teams did pop up.

Be sure to check out the other part of John's series: Using Vacated Targets to Identify Opportunity

Below is a list of the teams ranked by the number of their vacated touches per game. The Falcons and Cardinals have a ton of touches up for grabs while there are four teams with no vacated touches at this point in the offseason. It’s good to keep these situations in mind when analyzing free agent and/or rookie value.

Vacated Touches (2021)
Team Vacated Touchs/G Vacated Touchs % Key Additions
ATL 21.6 77.7% Mike Davis
NYG 17.1 74.5% Devontae Booker
ARI 16.5 63.3% James Conner
NYJ 14.8 56.8% Tevin Coleman
CAR 14.7 60.6%
PIT 12.8 53.4% Kalen Ballage
GB 10.9 36.6%
CIN 10.7 41.1%
DET 10.5 41.6% Jamaal Williams
SF 9.1 30.0%
DEN 7.8 29.5% Mike Boone
LAR 7.8 28.6%
LVR 6.9 22.8% Kenyan Drake
LAC 6.8 20.8%
HOU 6.6 33.0% Phillip Lindsay, Mark Ingram
MIA 6.3 22.9% Malcolm Brown
SEA 6.1 24.4%
NE 5.8 21.1%
CHI 5.3 20.0% Damien Williams
KC 5.0 20.4%
BAL 4.9 19.0%
JAX 1.8 7.8% Carlos Hyde
PHI 1.6 7.7%
TB 1.6 6.1% Giovani Bernard
TEN 1.6 5.0%
MIN 0.8 2.6%
BUF 0.7 3.2% Matt Breida
NO 0.7 2.3%
WAS 0.0 0.0%
IND 0.0 0.0%
CLE 0.0 0.0%
DAL 0.0 0.0%

Here's a look at the same data visually, courtesy of Sam Hoppen (@SamHoppen).

Players/Situations to Consider

  • Mike Davis is currently going in the eighth round of early drafts, and that’s going to turn out to be a screaming value if the Falcons don’t draft a running back in the first few rounds. Todd Gurley and Brian Hill vacated 21.6 touches per game (Tchs/G) for the Falcons.

  • Don’t read too much into the Giants and their vacated touches. Saquon Barkley is going to soak them all up. The same goes for the Panthers and Christian McCaffrey.

  • Like Davis in Atlanta, Chase Edmonds could turn out to be a steal in the sixth round if the Cardinals don’t bring in another running back via the draft. Update (4/15): The Cardinals signed James Conner to a one-year deal, so he's likely to take over the Kenyan Drake role when healthy. It's a blow to Edmonds' upside.

  • Tevin Coleman currently sits atop the Jets’ depth chart, but we’ve seen this movie before. I’m not biting unless the Jets ignore the running back position in the draft.

  • James Conner is out in Pittsburgh, so the Steelers could turn to Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland or...Kalen Ballage? Pittsburgh might draft a running back in the early rounds.

  • Jamaal Williams and Tyler Ervin vacated 10.7 Tchs/G in Green Bay and I would expect nearly all of that work to go to A.J. Dillon. He'll be a sneaky middle-round pick with top 10 upside if anything were to happen to Aaron Jones.

  • Giovani Bernard was released by the Bengals, and #FantasyTwitter collectively freaked out about Joe Mixon. Bernard only saw 5.0 targets with a healthy Mixon last season, so I don’t think it’s a huge deal. Bernard did see 27 snaps per game in those games, so Mixon could assume some of that usage and perhaps see an uptick in targets. Samaje Perine is a factor as well.

  • D'Andre Swift should benefit from the absence of Adrian Peterson, but Jamaal Williams is going to be a problem since his skillset is similar to Swift’s. (Williams is sort of a poor man’s Swift.) If the Lions want to limit Swift’s work, Williams is more than capable of handling 10-12 touches per game.

  • With both Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon gone, the 49ers’ backfield could narrow to Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson. If they share the backfield, they’ll both be intriguing middle-round picks. Mostert is currently going in the seventh while Wilson is going off the board in the ninth.

  • Melvin Gordon’s ADP currently sits in the fifth round, which seems quite low now that Phillip Lindsay is out of the way. The Broncos signed Mike Boone, but Gordon should see 18-20 touches as the Broncos’ lead back.

  • With Malcolm Brown out of the way, the Rams will likely feed Cam Akers as the bell cow with Darrell Henderson giving him the occasional breather. Akers should be valued as an RB1 given the workload he saw down the stretch last season.

  • Duke Johnson vacated 6.6 Tchs/G in Houston, but the Texans added both Lindsay and Mark Ingram. David Johnson’s usage is under pressure.

  • Chris Carson is a nice value in the fourth round since he’s back in Seattle and Carlos Hyde (97 touches) is out of the way.

  • David Montgomery had a career season in 2020, but he benefited from the absence of Tarik Cohen, who should be a factor in 2021. The Bears also signed Damien Williams, so I’m expecting Monty’s workload to suffer.

  • Clyde Edwards-Helaire saw 16.7 Tchs/G as a rookie. It appears that Le'Veon Bell is moving on so CEH and Darrel Williams will likely divvy up his 5.0 Tchs/G.

  • With only 1.8 vacated Tchs/G in Jacksonville, the Hyde signing should raise some red flags for James Robinson’s workload, though an expected drop has already been baked into his third-round ADP. Draft him there with confidence.

  • Update (4/15): The Bucs signed Giovani Bernard reportedly due to drops in 2020 by the teams' running back corps. Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones combined for 12 drops. Bernard is going to soak up passing down snaps, and that's going to hurt both Fournette and Jones.

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