Running Back Efficiency
Throughout the season, I’ll provide regular updates about the fantasy efficiency of running backs. Here’s the report for Week 7. For a full explanation of terms and methods, see here. Also be sure to check out the Efficiency App, which provides all of the numbers for this piece. In an effort to stay focused, I’m offering 10 takeaways that stood out to me. But there are more; the App is your key to unlocking them.
You may not be her first, her last, or her only. She loved before she may love again. But if she loves you now, what else matters?
— Bob Marley
As we head into the back half of the fantasy season, all that matters is the present.
Will the ultimate prize1 be yours? Which players to love–or at least love right now? Here are the top 10 takeaways from Week 7.
- In Arizona, Stepfan Taylor doubled the number of carries he received in Weeks 1 through 6 combined. His combined rushing and receiving workload had the 11th-highest expected point total for the week (PPR scoring), and he produced above expectations. Probably doesn’t matter. Andre Ellington’s workload (fourth-highest expected points) was still worth much more. I wouldn’t prioritize adding Taylor as a handcuff at all. In fact, a baller move might be to trade Ellington. Yes he’s had a top 10 season to date. But he’s still dealing with a foot issue, and got his ribs banged up this week. His fantasy schedule for the rest of the season is 25th (very hard), and he finishes the fantasy playoffs with dates against Kansas City, St. Louis, and Seattle. I’m not saying you should dump Ellington for pennies on the dollar. If your roster is in good shape, hold him. But if you’re dangerously weak elsewhere, or just in need of a roster shakeup to make the playoffs, you might be able to get a good value. Besides the nagging injuries and difficult schedule, his fantasy points/snap rate is just 23rd best. That’s good, but lower than expected based on his fantasy points to date.
- The Buffalo backfield is in flux. We’ll probably have more analysis later in the week, but it looks like Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown will divvy up Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller’s workload, at least for a few weeks. What happens here matters a lot: Jackson and Spiller’s combined rushing and receiving workload is worth an expected 15.2 points/game. To date, the two have roughly even market shares of rushing attempts and expected rushing point totals. But Jackson has seen a much larger market share of pass targets. So who to bid on, assuming they’re available on your waiver wire? Here are their career efficiency stats as rushers:
NAME ruATTS ruATTMS ruEP ruFPOE ruFPOEPA TRGS TRGMS reEP reFPOE reFPOEPT Bryce Brown 190 0.211 83.13 40.67 0.21 32 0.031 31.21 -6.71 -0.21 Anthony Dixon 175 0.14 106.68 -0.18 0 13 0.012 11.62 0.58 0.04
Maybe that doesn’t clear much up. Here’s what I see. Despite being under par, Brown has been targeted much more often than Dixon. Looking at just 2014 numbers, Dixon is below par as a receiver. And Brown is the clearly superior rusher. I believe Dixon will get an expanded role, but I also believe that Brown will get the bigger piece of the pie. Brown also appears to have the higher ceiling, which is what we should be looking for from a waiver pick up anyway. If and when Jackson returns, I’d expect Dixon to revert to his current role, with Brown getting at least Spiller’s market shares, and maybe more.
- The Cleveland backfield crapped the bed. And the floor. The carpet in the hallway. Missed the toilet, hit the tub. The only possible good thing to come out of last week is that it may have soured an owner on one of the Cleveland backs. Prior to this week all three were solidly above expectations on a per-attempt basis. If you’re willing to look ahead, you’ll see that Cleveland has the second-best RB schedule for the rest of the season, finishing the fantasy playoffs with potentially great matchups against Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Carolina. The only concern is that none of them figure in the passing game, which limits their upside a bit. Still, this has been an effective backfield but for one game. Hold, or buy if a reasonable opportunity presents itself to land either Ben Tate or Isaiah Crowell.
- Ronnie Hillman had the eighth-most expected points this week. He’s definitely impressed in a large role. But Hillman has a three-week shelf life at most. Why three? Because Denver has a great schedule coming up: San Diego, New England, and Oakland. But starting in Week 11 and going through the end of the season, Denver has one of the toughest RB schedules in the league. Montee Ball also made an appearance at practice yesterday, and could return in Week 9. So Denver has three great pending matchups but Ball could be back for two of them, and then it’s downhill the rest of the way as far as the schedule goes. Interestingly all of Denver’s RBs have negative efficiency as receivers this season so I’m not sure we could expect a lot of value there. The rushing work is the only valuable work in Denver, and it’s only really good if one guy gets most of it and produces with it. Based on the schedule and the potential return of Ball, I’m not confident Hillman will do either. Of course Ball could stay out longer, or Hillman could simply keep the job going forward and produce despite the schedule. But I’m not going to find out if I can help. I’m selling Hillman high.2
- Joique Bell got a massive workload this week. His 18.1 combined expected points was second-highest of the week. In fact, over the past two weeks, only DeMarco Murray has a higher rushing expected points total. Of course, Bell’s per-opportunity efficiency (-1.88 per attempt) was one of the worst scores of Week 7. Reggie Bush was also negative, and also dinged up again. But here’s the thing. Despite being inefficient Bell has still posted 17.7 and 14.7 points in the last two games. Despite missing a game he’s still PPR RB 25, averaging over 11 points/game. He seems healthier than Bush, and he has the third-best RB schedule rest of season. He’s definitely a hold and probably a buy, in my opinion.
- Shot in the dark, part one: Darren McFadden. From an efficiency perspective, he’s no great shakes. For the season, he’s a neutral runner and a modestly negative receiver. Week 7 saw him post negative numbers across the board. But he also commanded 74 percent of Oakland’s rushing attempts and 29 percent of their pass targets. For the season, he’s seventh in rushing market share and 22nd in rushing expected points. He has similarly robust numbers as a receiver. In many leagues he’s still on waivers. The drawback: He has the second-toughest schedule rest of season, and the toughest in the fantasy playoffs. Still, if you’re desperate…he’s got volume in spades.
- Shot in the dark, part two: Bishop Sankey. No, the breakout hasn’t happened yet. And he doesn’t figure much in the pass game. But he’s had over 70 percent of Tennessee’s rushing attempts the past two weeks. His next three games rank as the third-toughest RB schedule. By that time, if he’s owned, his owner may very well be done with him. From Week 11 to 14 however, he has the fourth-best RB schedule. After a Week 15 date with the Jets, he finishes the fantasy season with a favorable match up against the Jaguars. As with McFadden, I hope I don’t need to pursue Sankey. But if you’re desperate at RB, Sankey may be (or become) cheaply available, with volume and a favorable schedule.
- Game script note: The four worst rushing FPOE performances of the week: Ben Tate (-3.63), Andre Williams (-2.54), Frank Gore (-2.26), and Mark Ingram (-2.16). All except Tate faced good run defenses. But none figure in the passing game either. Combined, the four had a receiving expected points total of just 8.1 points (they only produced 2.6 collectively). Compare that to Shane Vereen, who also had a negative rushing FPOE (-1.46), but had 9.6 receiving expected points all by himself. This is just an example, but the larger truth remains: backs who are involved in the passing game have greater immunity against poor rushing performances. The prime examples this year are Matt Forte and Le’Veon Bell. Both are average rushers (0.07 and 0.15 per attempt, respectively). But they’re excellent receivers (0.36 and 0.33 respectively) which bolsters their production, even in standard scoring leagues where they rank second and fourth in fantasy points. Think about it this way: Forte has the same market share of pass targets (23.5 percent) as Kelvin Benjamin. Plus he gets a bunch of rushing opportunities.
- In that vein, a back that has posted decent receiving market shares in the past two weeks is Travaris Cadet. With Pierre Thomas out for a few weeks, Cadet could be a valuable pass-catching back. Cadet had 20 percent of the pass targets against Detroit this week, and a full 14 percent over the past three weeks. Look to add him if he’s available, as he may make a viable flex play.
- San Francisco has a bye this week, but after that they have the fourth-toughest RB schedule from Week 9 to Week 14. Neither Frank Gore nor Carlos Hyde has had an impressive season to date. Both are basically league average rushers. In PPR leagues, Gore actually trails both Joique Bell and Darren McFadden. He’s also yet to get 60 percent of San Francisco’s attempts in any single game. Despite this, Hyde hasn’t overtaken him. If anybody in your league has interest in either of these players, I personally would try to move or package them for an upgrade elsewhere.