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Rushing to the Fantasy Football Finish Line – A 2014 Team-by-Team Series

DougMartin

Do we have an Appointment?

One of the most arduous endeavors every off-season in the wonderfully wide world of fantasy football is predicting the success of running backs year-over-year.  We all know who the studs are – at least we think we do.  Well, we sure thought we did, didn’t we?  We know all too well what the turnover of top-flight running backs looks like from one year to the next.  With the exception of a few household names, the predictability of running backs is predictably unpredictable. It’s kind of like trying to predict the specific point in time the cable guy will arrive within a 4 hour window the company assigns you for a “scheduled appointment.” There have been times for me when he either came an hour early and left when I wasn’t home, or simply didn’t show up at all.

“…You know how to *take* the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation.  That’s really the most important part of the reservation – the holding.”

~Jerry Seinfeld

Much like the cable guy and much like Jerry awaiting reservations, running backs are certain to keep you on your toes.  All too often in the past we’ve been certain that we’ve pegged the right running back to bring us home The Shiva.  Too many fantasy owners learned the hard way in 2013 just how volatile the position can be as they spent early draft picks investing in names like Trent Richardson, CJ Spiller, and Arian Foster.  Some of it is injury – well, much of it is injury, but I’m not going to waste your time and mine attempting to predict the next big injury.  Instead, I want to stroke some keys while focusing on what we can control – performance trends.

The Benchmark

This article will serve as the prologue in a series that will take a close look into 2013 Team Rushing efficiency vs. 2013 Team Rushing defenses.  Specifically, we know at this point all of the opponents each team will face in 2014, so we’re going to look at how each rushing offense stacks up against their 2014 schedule.  In order to do this, I wanted to build a framework that I could use to compare how well NFL teams performed when plotted on the same table for both rushing offense and rushing defense.  We’ll then take a look at all the individual match-ups for 2014.

Suffice it to say that there is tremendous parity in the NFL as it relates to Team defense from one year to the next, but having a benchmark going into 2014 based on 2013 overall rushing and rushing defense effectiveness is a healthy exercise to help us identify which running backs might have it easy this upcoming year and which running backs were dealt a bad hand when the NFL generated the 2014 matchups.

In order to do this, I created a standard deviation table for all 32 teams’ rushing statistics by using team (Y/A) Yards per Attempt and team (Y/G) Yards per Games metrics.  For the sake of this exercise, I calculated the standard deviation for both metrics separately and then plotted all the teams’ Z Scores.  At that point I averaged each team’s individual Y/A and Y/G Z Scores to create an overall Rushing Effectiveness Z Score.  Below is a table showing how all 32 teams fared in 2013.  Below the table you’ll find the Team Rushing and Team Defense Rushing scores in the charts.

 

Team Rushing Z Scores 2013

Team RushingRush Z ScoreTeam DEF RushingRush Z Score
Baltimore Ravens-2.33Chicago Bears-2.92
Jacksonville Jaguars-2.21Atlanta Falcons-1.48
New York Giants-1.89Dallas Cowboys-1.13
Pittsburgh Steelers-1.81New England Patriots-1.05
Atlanta Falcons-1.58Green Bay Packers-0.89
Cleveland Browns-1.27Indianapolis Colts-0.76
Miami Dolphins-1.08Buffalo Bills-0.76
Arizona Cardinals-1.04Kansas City Chiefs-0.61
New Orleans Saints-0.92Jacksonville Jaguars-0.59
Cincinnati Bengals-0.72New Orleans Saints-0.47
Tampa Bay Buccaneers-0.72Houston Texans-0.42
Detroit Lions-0.24San Diego Chargers-0.35
St. Louis Rams-0.19Miami Dolphins-0.25
Dallas Cowboys-0.12Pittsburgh Steelers-0.21
Houston Texans-0.09Tennessee Titans0.28
Denver Broncos-0.01Minnesota Vikings0.33
Indianapolis Colts0.01Washington Redskins0.33
San Diego Chargers0.02Tampa Bay Buccaneers0.34
Tennessee Titans0.02Detroit Lions0.41
Carolina Panthers0.32Cleveland Browns0.43
Chicago Bears0.36Oakland Raiders0.54
New England Patriots0.6New York Giants0.64
Seattle Seahawks0.67Denver Broncos0.74
Oakland Raiders0.72Seattle Seahawks0.74
New York Jets0.73Baltimore Ravens0.75
Buffalo Bills0.74Cincinnati Bengals0.77
San Francisco 49ers0.8Philadelphia Eagles0.78
Kansas City Chiefs0.91San Francisco 49ers0.91
Green Bay Packers1.03St. Louis Rams0.95
Minnesota Vikings1.16Carolina Panthers1.07
Washington Redskins1.18Arizona Cardinals1.53
Philadelphia Eagles2.09New York Jets1.79

 

2013 Team Rush Z Scores

As you can see above the chart is very reminiscent of what we remember happening on the field every week.  The Philadelphia Eagles ran away with the Rushing Effectiveness Award – pun intended.  The Washington Redskins, Minnesota Vikings, and Kansas City Chiefs all pretty much shared the Runner-Up award.  On the other side of the fence we find the Abysmals – the Baltimore Ravens win the We Couldn’t Run for @#%$ Award.  Stinking up the field with their deplorability right behind the sucky Ravens were the Atlanta Falcons,  Jacksonville Jaguars, and the New York Giants.  Depending on how deep fantasy football nerdness runs in you, you may be surprised to see how ineffective the Pittsburg Steelers actually were.

I also looked at all 32 teams from the other side of the line of scrimmage.  I built a table of Team Defense Y/A and Y/G metrics in order to get to the teams’ Z Scores.

 

2013 Team DEF Rush Z Scores

 

The New York Jets win the 2013 Just Stuff It Award as they were hand down the best  rush defense in 2013 when it came to limited yardage per carry and per game metrics.  Close behind them were the San Francisco 49ers, and Arizona Cardinals.  More to come on these teams in the next article in this series…Give a round of applause to your 2013 We Stunk the Night Award winners – the “Monsters of the Midway.” There has to be some kind of historical significance here; for another time maybe.  The Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys, and New England Patriots all have some major gaps to fill as the Runner Up “winners.”

Now that we have all of our teams plotted, we’re going to spend time delving into specific 2014 team schedules in upcoming pieces. We’ll look at this somewhat from a strength of schedule perspective, but also look into what impact this creates for Running Backs in 2014 so you can get a head start in determining which players have increased value and which players should be avoided in redraft or sold in dynasty.

Here’s a peek into how this series will play out.  Going forward, we’ll look into these matchups from a divisional perspective.

Arizona Cardinals

ARI Rush Vs. 2014

In order to keep things simple, once I figured out the Z Scores of the offense and the team defenses I put them up against each other to show how they’re going to match up. The Arizona Cardinals earned a Z score 1.04 points below the mean.  For the team defense overall 2014 score, I’m showing the median and not the mean in order to limit the effect of outliers (this chart would have looked even worse for the Cardinals at a high level had I not done so.) At this point I’m finding the distance between the offensive and defensive Z scores and showing which team is favored in the rushing match-up.

Taking a look above, it doesn’t look good on paper for the Arizona Cardinals run game in 2014-2015.  Now, it couldn’t have gone worse for the Cardinals last year as Jonathan Cooper went down in the preseason, and they sustained additional injuries throughout the year.  Cooper will be back, and the Cardinals signed Jared Veldheer from the Oakland Raiders to a 5 year deal.  Veldheer was average at best according to profootballfocus.com, but that’s better than what the Cardinals had.  You’d think that the Cardinals will draft another lineman early this year as well.  The Cardinals still have a lot of ground to cover, so it’s a difficult undertaking to become above average in just one offseason.

Andre Ellington has been quite the offseason hype hoarder, and it certainly seems like both camps got this one wrong last year (at least as far as how Ellington can be successful in the right system.)  Elllington should hold value as a PPR asset out of the backfield, but the Cardinals’ schedule isn’t going to do him any favors in 2014.  Based on 2013 data the Cardinals only have 4 plus matchups and another one against the Redskins that’s maybe neutral at best because you throw the ball against the Redskins.  No one is buying Ellington at a discount in dynasty, so I’d wait until the weekly schedule is released and see if the Cardinals are stuck with bad early season matchups and then buy after a couple mediocre games.

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