Running Back Efficiency
Throughout the season, I’ll provide regular updates about the fantasy efficiency of running backs. Here’s the report for Week 6. 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.
I don’t know how to live good. I only know how to suffer.
Such is the case in fantasy football running back land. No matter what your draft strategy was (ah, the halcyon days of August), chances are you’ve got issues at the position. My thoughts about the most interesting situations:
- Ben Tate returned to action and promptly garnered over 65 percent of the rushing attempts. Not only did he dominate the market share of Browns’ runs, he posted the week’s most valuable workload, at 14.5 expected points. Tate added over five points of value above par, thus (re) cementing his status as lead back. Isaiah Crowell also performed well, posting one of the week’s most efficient per-attempt scores, at plus 0.64. Terrance West was a healthy scratch. I’ve got some contrarian thoughts about him, but for now Crowell is the backup to own.
- The Week 7 matchup isn’t great for RBs (San Francisco), but Ronnie Hillman ought to have earned another crack at lead back duties. Hillman commanded over 70 percent of Denver’s attempts in Week 6, which is a very high number. His workload was the fourth most valuable of the week, and he finished at par. Although he performed a bit under par in the receiving game, he also commanded a solid 15 percent market share of pass targets.
- Theo Riddick was covered in our weekly waiver wire article. He really performed way above par as a receiver, which probably isn’t sustainable even if he gets to play again. My takeaway though is that the one-week presence of Riddick in the lineup really clarifies the way Detroit plans to use their backs. For the season, Joique Bell (47 percent of attempts)has been the preferred runner, and Reggie Bush (16 percent of targets) the preferred receiver. With Bush out, Bell’s rushing market share jumped to 64 percent while his receiving market share stayed basically flat. Riddick got a few carries, but a full 18 percent of the team’s pass targets. My conclusion: these backs have roles that won’t change much based on the other players in the lineup. The bad news then is that the upside for Bell and Bush is capped, since it doesn’t look like either would get a big piece of the other’s workload. On the other hand, it may1 help a bit with sit/start decisions. If the game looks like one where Detroit could be favored or leading, Bell would be the back to start.
- Eddie Lacy managed to perform below par on a workload valued at just 5.2 expected points, that included no involvement in the pass game. For the season, Lacy is an above-par rusher, but almost all of that came in Week 5. He was below par in Weeks 1-3, and neutral in Week 4. Personally I’m not a fan of Lacy, but he has played against tough defenses in Seattle, the Jets, and Detroit. Over the rest of the season, Lacy has one of the most favorable RB schedules in the league. The only two schedules that are better: Cleveland, where you may or may not worry about a Ben Tate injury, and Carolina, where there may or may not actually be any RBs. In other words, Lacy’s situation is probably the most desirable for the rest of the season. Buy low? Give it a shot.
- Insert witty Storm Johnson joke here. He didn’t have a great game – just a 43 percent market share of attempts and a total workload valued under 8 points – but he did well with what he had to work with, turning in an above-par performance as a rusher. Toby Gerhart has been a negative runner every week he’s played. I’m not sure Jacksonville has much reason to go back to Gerhart full time. So probably nobody in this backfield is worth your fantasy time. But I’d rather take a chance on Johnson if I had to pick someone.
- Lamar Miller. On the one hand, there’s not much to say here. Knowshon Moreno is out for the year, Daniel Thomas is just a guy, and Damien Williams is the deep sleeper. Here’s what I got: Miller has been an above-par runner each week of the season. He’s also been serviceable (essentially neutral) in the pass game. There’s no reason he shouldn’t command the Miami backfield and get a more or less game-script immune workload. That said, it’s Miami, and they’ll probably find a way to use Thomas far too often2 If you can’t have Miller, I’d rather have Williams. At least he has potential upside.
- Jerick McKinnon got over 60 percent of Minnesota’s rush attempts, vs. just 11 percent for Matt Asiata. What does it mean? Asiata dominated the rushing market share in Weeks 2, 3, and 5. What about Week 4? That week McKinnon earned a split with Asiata (46 percent to 41 percent for Asiata). Then in Week 5 things tipped right back in Asiata’s favor. So I’m not reading too much into McKinnon’s domination of opportunity in Week 6. It could be just a case of realizing that a back like Asiata has virtually no chance against a defense like Detroit. Or it could be a harbinger of things to come, and this could be the moment we all look back on and say “that’s when McKinnon took the reins and never looked back. That James Todd guy is such an ass.” Whatever. With a poor offense all around and just a middling RB schedule over the rest of the season, I’ll wait to see what happens.
- Brandon Bolden is probably the only Patriots’ RB worth adding in lieu of the Stevan Ridley injury. He’s played in the offense before, and has a big fan in our own Matthew Freedman. In his career, he’s basically at-par both rushing and receiving, so while he doesn’t have “huge upside” he is competent and capable.
- Branden Oliver had another good game. He had the second-most valuable rushing workload of the week and the second most valuable receiving workload. His total expected points for the week were second only to Matt Forte. He performed at par for the week. Perhaps he should have been well over par against the cream puff Raiders? Maybe. But I think “performing as expected” is pretty good, all things considered. No reason to get off the Oliver Express now.
- Arguably the worst performance of the week goes to Carlos Hyde. In keeping with his every-other-week pattern to start the season, he followed up last week’s above-par outing with a real dud against the Rams. On a workload valued at 11.1 expected points, Hyde turned in a -9.7 performance. Woops. To be fair, Frank Gore also performed below par with his workload. I’m not real worried about it yet. For the season Hyde is an at-par rusher. The positive takeaway is that he earned the highest market share (37 percent) that he’s yet had.
- Bonus: Excluding Week 1, Doug Martin has been an above-average rusher each week he’s played. Despite the presence of Bobby Rainey, Martin has also been the clear lead back when he’s played. He’s been up and down as a receiver from an efficiency perspective, but is basically neutral for the season. In other words, he doesn’t totally stink. Tampa Bay has the sixth-best RB schedule for the rest of the season. Martin still has a chance to produce.