A lot of fantasy football articles are written for shock value; they often have attention-grabbing titles and make outrageous claims for the sole purpose of getting clicks.
This isn’t one of them.
Tampa Bay Bucs running back Doug Martin truly deserves consideration as the top overall player on your board in 2013. Here’s why.
In 2012, Martin finished second among all running backs in fantasy points in both standard and PPR leagues. The rookie burst onto the scene with over 1,900 total yards, 49 receptions, and 12 total touchdowns.
As it stands right now, Martin is getting selected as the fifth running back off of the board in early drafts; his No. 5 overall ADP puts him behind Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, and Marshawn Lynch, in that order.
Since you’ll need to use an early first-round pick on Martin to acquire his services, your focus should be on how safe he is, i.e. how likely he is to be a bust in 2013. As I mentioned in my analysis of the ceilings and floors for the draft’s elite quarterbacks, owners have the most to gain by emphasizing safety early in drafts since players have comparably high ceilings. By searching for the highest floors, you can potentially acquire the most value.
To determine the ceilings and floors for the draft’s elite running backs, I used the RB Similarity Score app. If you recall, the similarity apps provide historical comps for players—a range of potential outcomes for the upcoming season. Those comparables are valuable because they address the uncertainty built into forecasting any given player.
It’s true that the similarity apps could have trouble projecting players coming off of outlying seasons; since there aren’t too many seasons like Peterson’s 2012 year, for example, the regression we see in his comps might be slightly overblown.
Having said that, I think there’s still a lot of value in assessing the extremes of the comps—the top and bottom 20 percent. The majority of evenly-priced players will have very similar projected points. In analyzing the extremes, though, we can get a sense of the deviation for historical comps, i.e. what’s the upside and the downside for any particular player?
Elite Running Back Comps
Below, I charted the ceilings for the top six backs in terms of current ADP—the five listed above and Trent Richardson.
Note that the chart ranged from 18 to 24 PPG, so the expected production for the top six backs is similar. Again, Peterson’s ceiling is likely higher than what’s listed here, but it’s still interesting to see how the backs’ upside coincides with age. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Lynch, coming off of a season with very similar numbers to Martin, possesses the lowest ceiling of the bunch heading into his age 27 season. In terms of upside alone, you have to wonder why Lynch is getting drafted ahead of Martin or Richardson.
That question intensifies when we examine the floors for the backs.
Here, the value of the young backs shines. Despite rushing for only 950 yards at 3.56 YPC in his rookie season, Richardson joins Martin as having the “safest” historical comps. That’s not surprising when you consider that running backs typically peak in efficiency right when they come into the league, and it’s a gradual decline from there. When you have young backs at the peak of their games and you put them in high-volume situations without much competition—as is the case with both Martin and Richardson—you have the makings of low-risk/high-reward players.
That idea is confirmed when we look at the plots for year-to-year change in fantasy points for the comparables of Martin and Lynch (contained within the similarity apps).
Doug Martin Plot
Marshawn Lynch Plot
The novelty of rotoViz is allowing for superior data visualization. There’s no better way to visualize the possible 2013 seasons for Martin and Lynch than the plots above. Could Lynch outperform Martin in 2013? Sure, but it’s not likely.
Think about this. Martin has five comps who posted a +25% change in fantasy points per game. Lynch has zero. Lynch has eight comps who recorded a -25% change in PPG and two that cut their PPG in half. Martin has four and zero, respectively. If that’s not evidence that Martin has a dramatically higher ceiling and floor than Lynch, I don’t know what is.
While the number of games played by the backs’ comps is susceptible to randomness, it’s still interesting to see that the projected health for Rice, Martin, and Richardson—the three youngest backs examined here—is remarkably better than that for Foster, Peterson, and Lynch (particularly the latter two). Take a look at the average games played for the runners’ four worst comps:
· Peterson: 4.8
· Foster: 8.8
· Rice: 10.3
· Lynch: 5.8
· Martin: 11.8
· Richardson: 10.0
The numbers are representative of each player’s probability of staying on the field in 2013. As you’d imagine, younger is better.
The Case for Martin
Martin is a young back at the peak of his game. Likely to see 350-plus touches in 2013, Martin is a good bet to again beat out fellow second-year back Richardson in terms of YPC. Martin’s ceiling is the second-highest of the top six backs—behind only Foster—and his floor is the greatest by a wide margin. The floor for Martin’s comps is actually nearly double that for those of Rice.
In terms of the top overall pick, Martin’s name should be in there with Peterson and Foster. The Texans running back will be 27 when the 2013 season begins, and is comparable to Lynch’s. It’s difficult to uncover seasons similar to Peterson’s 2012, but he’s about to turn 28. Although AP caught 40 passes last year, he’s not the same threat as Martin out of the backfield, and pass-catching backs have historically proven to be safer options at the position.
Martin is by no means the surefire top player on the board, but to dismiss him out of hand would be a mistake.