Roy Helu has always been an interesting name in fantasy football drafts due to his physical tools and fantastic rate stats, but he’s been mired in a secondary role behind Alfred Morris for the last few seasons. Heath Krueger makes a very compelling argument for why he’s preferable to Latavius Murray at their respective prices, and his piece is definitely worth a read. He has been exceptionally efficient, has great athletic tools, and showed an ability to carry a bigger load at the college level. I had some fun with Helu’s similarity scores, and found some interesting comps that suggest we could finally be in line for the Roy Helu breakout in 2015.
Career Thus Far
Before we dive into the sim scores, let’s look at how efficient Helu has been thus far in his career.
Though his YPC, YPT, and catch rate have all been exceptionally strong, Helu hasn’t seen more than 14 percent market share of rushes since his rookie season, thanks to the emergence of Alfred Morris in 2012. In his rookie season in 2011, he turned 40 percent share into a RB24 finish.
The thing about Helu’s efficiency is that it makes him pretty unique.1 While the RB Similarity Scores App is usually able to generate a very close approximation through historical comps, there isn’t a huge field of comps to look at when you’re talking about young, hyper-efficient backs that have been limited in terms of utilization.
Against the average of his comps, Helu averaged almost a full yard per carry more, had a higher touchdown rate, and had 83 percent more receiving yardage on only 26 percent more receptions. Based on this, the multiplier for Helu’s N+1 season projection is 1.42 (shown below along with his projection summary and the average N+1 season of his comps).
The average of the comps’ N+1 seasons offers an ominous result, but with the multiplier factored in, Helu’s projection summary still comes out favorably for a back with a current ADP of RB48.2 That said, I feel that as the multiplier drifts further away from 1, it’s a bit of a warning sign to dig deeper into the comps and the circumstances surrounding them. Let’s see if we can ascertain which offer the most predictive value.
Many of the names on Helu’s list were backups behind clear number ones (e.g. Kenneth Darby shows up twice for years spent spelling workhorse Steven Jackson in St. Louis), which explains some of the drop in production in their N+1 seasons. While we’re ostensibly looking at young, efficient backs with profiles similar to Helu, only 11 of these 25 backs saw more touches on a per game basis in their N+1 seasons. That doesn’t mean we throw those comps out, but it does speak to Helu’s relative inimitability. Operating under the assumption that the Raiders didn’t go out and get Helu to use him any less than Washington did, I want to highlight a couple specific comps on the positive side of the spectrum.
An Optimistic Comp
Joique Bell’s 2012 was the most similar comparable season of the whole group. Previously displaying similar utilization splits as Helu, in 2013 Bell’s carries more than doubled while he matched his previous receiving work.
Despite a sharp decline in YPC, Bell still finished as RB14 in 2013 (on just 166 total carries). His 38 percent rushing share resembles Helu’s own rookie season, and Bell eclipsed 50 catches in both of these seasons while Helu is coming off a 49-catch season of his own. It’s a positive sign that if Helu were to lose some of his impressive efficiency now that he’s in Oakland, he could still be a great fantasy player through volume.
The Starter Comp
But what happens if he becomes the outright starter? Murray is by no means entrenched as the starter yet, and there would seem to be some possibility Helu could earn a large share of the workload. Is there a player comp with a similar profile, changing teams at a young age, and earning the lion’s share of the work? There is.
Their circumstances are different, but I can’t tell you how much I like this comp. In 2005, Chester Taylor was to Baltimore what Roy Helu was to Washington, playing a similar role as a passing down back behind Jamal Lewis. In 2006, Taylor left Baltimore for Minnesota, and spent one season as their starter (before some guy named Adrian Peterson was drafted). On the strength of 1,504 total yards and 42 catches, Taylor finished 2006 as RB113 in PPR leagues, thanks mostly to a heavy increase of rushing market share.
It needs to be noted that Taylor was going into a better situation in Minnesota than Helu is in Oakland. The Vikings offered less backfield competition, a better offensive line, and a better offense overall. But Helu is currently being drafted as RB48 in MFL10 leagues, and is therefore one of my favorite Zero RB targets for the coming season. If he can carve out a significant role in the Oakland backfield, the necessary factors could emerge for him to be a difference maker in 2015.