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Running Back ADP Differential: 2015 Insights

I recently took a look at the difference in ADP between a team’s running backs and concluded that there are some actionable takeaways for fantasy drafters. In brief, the ADP gap between the top two RBs on a given team is either bigger than average or smaller than average.

Looking at ADP Gaps is a way of screening RBs in a way that illuminates potential value traps or value opportunities. A player’s ADP Gap tells us which of the four cohorts the player belongs to. Once we know that, we can evaluate the player individually to see if they have the potential to outperform their cohort (value) or appear likely to under-perform their cohort (trap)…

So how do we apply this to our fantasy drafts? We use it as a filter, or screener, to identify:

  • Cheap B1 RBs to target
  • Discounted S1 and S2 RBs to target
  • Over-valued B2 RBs to avoid

Let’s take a look at 2015 RB ADP Gaps.

RB TypeRBTeamADP
B1Le'Veon BellPIT2.77
B1Eddie LacyGBP6.56
B1Adrian PetersonMIN6.73
B1Jamaal CharlesKCC7.48
B1Marshawn LynchSEA15.73
B1C AndersonDEN17.47
B1Matt ForteCHI18.2
B1DeMarco MurrayPHI19.22
B1LeSean McCoyBUF19.66
S1Jeremy HillCIN21.09
B1Justin ForsettBAL31.42
B1Melvin GordonSDC32.86
B1Lamar MillerMIA37.81
S1Todd GurleySTL41.69
S1Mark IngramNOS43.22
B1Frank GoreIND44.33
B1Carlos HydeSFO44.47
B1Alfred MorrisWAS48.27
S2C SpillerNOS49.26
B1Latavius MurrayOAK49.49
S1Joseph RandleDAL50.5
S1Andre EllingtonARI52.99
B1T YeldonJAC53.3
S1Arian FosterHOU59.05
S1Ameer AbdullahDET59.66
B1Jonathan StewartCAR62.5
S2Giovani BernardCIN64.63
S1Tevin ColemanATL78.95
S1Doug MartinTBB81.04
S1Isaiah CrowellCLE85.38
S1Shane VereenNYG87.84
S2Joique BellDET87.99
S1LeGarrette BlountNEP95.3
S2Rashad JenningsNYG98.38
S2Tre MasonSTL98.44
S2Duke JohnsonCLE107.73
S2Devonta FreemanATL108.12
B1Chris IvoryNYJ108.4
S1Bishop SankeyTEN108.74
B2Ryan MathewsPHI118.72
S2Alfred BlueHOU121.55
S2David JohnsonARI122.75
B2Knile DavisKCC126.48
S2Darren McFaddenDAL132.75
B2Jay AjayiMIA135.38
S2David CobbTEN138.65
S2Charles SimsTBB139.27
B2Danny WoodheadSDC142.22
B2Reggie BushSFO149.21
B2Montee BallDEN149.98
B2Jerick McKinnonMIN154.5
B2Roy HeluOAK157.85
B2Javorius AllenBAL165.81
B2DeAngelo WilliamsPIT168.34
B2Matt JonesWAS168.7
B2Cameron Artis-PayneCAR171.27
B2Christine MichaelSEA173.47
B2Fred JacksonBUF179.6
S2James WhiteNEP181.07
B2Jeremy LangfordCHI186.49
B2Dan HerronIND187.53
B2Denard RobinsonJAC198.9
B2James StarksGBP200.89
B2Stevan RidleyNYJ215.53

B1 RBs

These are the guys drafters expect to dominate their team’s workloads. There are 19 of them this year, and the two least expensive are Jonathan Stewart (ADP 62 overall) and Chris Ivory (108). 

Anthony Amico explains why Stewart is a mid-round value, and Ryan Gilmore urges you to strongly consider Ivory. If that’s not enough, Mike Braude identifies Ivory as an undervalued bargain. For me, the argument is simple. Drafters are expecting both backs to get RB1 type workloads…and you can get them in the fifth and ninth round, respectively.

B2 Backs

These backs are selected so far after the lead back on their team, that drafters are saying they don’t expect them to have any value except as an injury handcuff. The three highest drafted B2 backs are Ryan Mathews (119), Knile Davis, (126), and Jay Ajayi (135).

I think there’s good reason to expect Chip Kelly to use Mathews more often than is typical for a handcuff to a bellcow back. And the Chiefs have mentioned wanting to use Davis more often. Just know that if you draft them, you’re bucking the crowd, which doesn’t expect meaningful use for these two. Ajayi hasn’t been able to stay healthy so far in camp, and seems to have already been passed by Damien Williams. At this point it would be a long shot for him to have any value this season.

S1 RBs

These players generally have season-long utility, but there are doubts about workload and they may be out played by their backfield mates. Three stick out as potentially problematic. Jeremy Hill (21),  Todd Gurley (42), and Mark Ingram (43). These three have an ADP that suggests “workhorse,” but a second back on the same team is drafted close enough behind them that drafters are also suggesting some doubt about that status.

Hill is drafted in the second round, territory typically reserved for clear cut “bellcows.” I expect Hill to be Cincinnati’s lead back, but Giovani Bernard is still a capable player. Last year at this time, Bernard had an ADP of 18 overall; it wasn’t that long ago when we thought he had the makings of an RB1. So why do we now draft Hill as if Bernard is nothing more than an incidental handcuff? When Hill took over the bulk of rushing attempts in the second half of last season, Bernard’s production suffered, to the tune of about 4 points/game. But he still averaged over 12 points/game during that stretch, and we see Bernard as a top-24 back this year. That doesn’t mean Hill can’t have a great season, but it does mean there’s a fair chance that Bernard out scores him. At his ADP, Hill is going ahead of RBs like Justin Forsett and Lamar Miller, in whom drafters have expressed more workload confidence.

Todd Gurley has already received a lot of coverage here and elsewhere, but he’s being drafted as a workhorse, the team has steadfastly said they’d ease him in, there’s a decent chance he misses multiple games, and Tre Mason is a reasonably competent option. I’d rather have Alfred Morris a round later.

Mark Ingram finally broke out last season, sort of. I think it’s plausible to say that the Saints would like to run the ball more often this year, but then it’s also plausible to say that they might be deficient enough on defense that they’re forced to pass more. CJ Spiller is plenty good enough athletically, and profiles for a high value role in New Orleans’ offense. It really wouldn’t be a surprise for Spiller to out produce Ingram, at a cheaper ADP. Again, give me Morris a round later.

S2 Backs

This is my favorite cohort to attack in drafts. They have modest-to-cheap ADPs, some certainty of usable workload, and potential RB1 upside. Other than Darren McFadden,1 I’d welcome exposure to any of these backs at or below their current prices.

CJ Spiller and Giovani Bernard were covered above, and I like both a lot. I also like Joique Bell. Why not? Since he’s been in Detroit, he’s never been the team’s highest-drafted RB, but he’s finished as RB13, RB14, and RB23. Now he’s being drafted as RB34, behind a smallish rookie. I know, he’s 29, dinged up, blah blah blah. He was dinged up last year too. Could Ameer Abdullah outperform him? Absolutely. Is there a good chance that Bell returns value even if Abdullah has a good year? Yes. Is there a good chance Abdullah stumbles along the way and gives Bell extra opportunities? Yes. Is there a good chance that Bell outperforms Abdullah? Yes. Look, as a Lions fan, I’m as excited as anyone about Abdullah. But Bell has been a solid RB2 for three straight years, including with Reggie Bush, another accomplished back, in the same backfield. Drafters have never “believed” in Bell, but he’s still delivered.

In some ways, Rashad Jennings is similar. He’s generally been productive when he’s had opportunity. The NYG backfield is complicated this year, but Jennings is capable of filling in for either Shane Vereen or Andre Williams, whereas neither of them can replace each other, so I like him to have value all season.

I expect Alfred Blue’s ADP to rise, and I *think Chris Polk might be a better RB. But Blue already has the Arian Foster injury-replacement role, and until he loses it, we should expect him to be the lead back in Houston.

In Tampa Bay, Doug Martin is having a good training camp. But it hasn’t been that long since we all thought he was dead and done. Remember when Charles Sims was hand-picked and talked-up by the current regime? He should be fully healthy and have some sort of role to start the season, with upside if the 2013-14 version of Martin shows up.

Conclusion

Running back ADP can be considered, not just on a per-player basis, but on a team basis. When two RBs from the same team are drafted closer together than average, there’s a good chance (60 percent in 2014) that the lower-drafted back outperforms the higher. When the two RBs are separated by a larger than average ADP gap, the first-drafted presents a probable RB1 workload, and the second-drafted usually has little or no redraft value. Using this concept as a value screener, we can isolate RB opportunities that might be exploitable.

  1. Last year, his ADP was lower than the shadow of Maurice Jones-Drew’s rotten corpse.  (back)

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