Welcome to the RB Opportunity Report. The goal of this series is to go beyond raw carries, targets and yardage stats to look at the true opportunity each running back had to score fantasy points each week, and what they did with it.
Methodology and Acronyms
The stats I use in this article come from the Fantasy Efficiency App. It’s an awesome app that allows you to look at the efficiency of every player from every week (including the playoffs) all the way back to 2000. It also provides a more nuanced look at player efficiency. Most efficiency metrics are per carry, target, snap, etc. These are helpful but treat all opportunities as equal. For example, Fantasy Points per Target thinks targeting a player at his own 10 yard line is the same as targeting him at his opponent’s 10 yard line, when anyone who’s watched a football game knows that’s not the case. The Fantasy Efficiency App corrects this by weighting each opportunity based on the average FP value of the line of scrimmage for that play. This gives us a better understanding of which players are receiving valuable workloads, and which players are capitalizing on their opportunities.
There are two acronyms you’ll need to know for this series: EP and FPOE.
EP = Expected Points. EP is the difference between getting a carry at the your own 10 versus your opponent’s 10. Your 10, low EP. Your opponents 10, high EP.
FPOE = Fantasy Points Over Expectation. This is a player’s performance against EP. A TD from your own 10 yard line is worth more FPOE than from your opponent’s 10 yard line–and not because of the associated yardage–the TD itself is more valuable because it was much less likely to occur from such a great distance.
One Final note is that the FPs listed in the App and in this article are in PPR scoring.
Top 7 Takeaways from Week 3
1 – Arian Foster is a Premium Trade Target
Arian Foster is a premium trade target in bright red flashing lights. Through three weeks the Texans have produced 74 Expected Points for RBs, fourth most in the NFL. And using the Buy Low Machine to measure the Texan’s Strength of Schedule for RBs, we can see that the Texans achieved this against the fourth most difficult RB SOS. This tells us that no matter the match-up, the Texans want to get their RBs involved. Better yet, the Texans’ match-ups are about to get a whole lot easier. The Texans face the easiest RB SOS over the remainder of the the season and the second easiest over the next four weeks.
Meanwhile Foster’s replacements have have not impressed, combining for -9.7 FPOE, third worst in the NFL. Foster would likely have taken much better advantage of this workload: assuming Foster’s market share and efficiency from last season Foster would be the current RB4 if he had been healthy to start the season.1
In short, Arian Foster is walking into one of the highest workloads in the NFL, faces little competition for touches and is facing the league’s easiest schedule for RBs upon his return. Foster is as clear cut a trade target as they come. I literally stopped writing this to send out offers.
2 – Additional Trade Targets
The St. Louis, Denver and Green Bay RBs also look like prime trade targets. But unlike the Texans, these teams have been very poor at generating RB opportunity thus far, and are in fact the worst three teams in the league in combined rushing/receiving EP. However, they’ve also faced the three most difficult schedules for RBs–and things get a whole lot easier from here one out. Denver, St. Louis and Green Bay have the first, second and fourth most positive shifts in their RB SOS over the next four weeks, and the second, third and fourth most positive shifts for the remainder of the season. All three of these teams are poised to run the ball considerably more in the weeks ahead, making each of their RBs interesting trade targets.
In the Rams backfield my target is Todd Gurley, and given the Rams’ offensive struggles, he should come fairly cheaply. The Rams have been very clear that they plan to work Gurley in slowly, so I see it as a good sign that he saw over a third of the Rams market share in his debut.
I’m still a believer in CJ Anderson but owning him this season has been one long shower cry, so his price tag should reflect that. Ronnie Hillman is a solid arbitrage play on the Broncos backfield, and if his owner’s first instinct is to hold, simply remind him of Hillman’s 3.1 YPC this season.
Eddie Lacy‘s owner will probably see your buy low offer coming from a mile away, but it never hurts to ask.
3 – Matt Forte Returns Home
I mentioned last week that Matt Forte would likely be a DFS target for me this week at home against Oakland. Well, he is. Oakland remains the best match-up for opposing RBs through three weeks, and despite playing for the underdog in this game, Forte’s all around skill set should allow him to take full advantage of this match-up. And as an added bonus, Forte’s salary dropped by $200 on Draft Kings after not having a good game against Seattle last week. Forte has not been particulary efficient this season (in truth he’s been downright inefficient) but opportunity trumps efficiency, and Forte has opportunity in spades. Through three weeks Forte is second in the league in Expected Points and first in market share of EP with 80 percent. There should be plenty of Expected Points this week against the Raiders and Forte will once again dominate the workload.
4- The Maddening Titans Backfield
The Titans are currently seventh in the league in total EP produced for RBs with 70.5, but Ken Whisenhunt doen’t appear to believe that any of his RBs are worthy of a job.2 Bishop Sankey is currently the backfield leader in market share of EP, but boast a measly 37 percent share, 39th in the league. Meanwhile, Antonio Andrews broke out this week–sort of… because Andrews posted just 38 percent market share of EP, 39th on the week. That said, Andrews is most definitely worth a pickup. He had an efficient game, and if the Titans were to commit to him as the lead rusher he could be looking at a top five rushing workload, and a top 10 workload overall. But I won’t be breaking the bank for him–partly because I’m a Sankey apologist, but also because I don’t trust the Titans to commit to a single back, which makes everyone in this backfield barely worth a roster spot.
5 – The Cleveland Wasteland
Speaking of uninspiring backfields, the Cleveland Browns have produced the fifth fewest Expected Points for RBs through three weeks, which is bad. They’ve also done so against the easiest schedule for RBs in the NFL, which is worse. Oh, and their SOS for RBs is the most difficult in the league for the remainder of the season, which is worse news than being the Cleveland Browns. So these aren’t guys you want to own right now. If you do own Isaiah Crowell or Duke Johnson try moving him in a package deal if possible, though you may need to hold Crowell until he scores a TD or two. His trade market isn’t exactly piping hot coming off a 10 for 36 performance at home against the league’s easiest defense for RBs.
6 – When Will it be Miller Time?
After Week 1 I wrote: In games where Miami is able to run the ball more, look for Lamar Miller to produce far better days than we saw on Sunday. The issue is that it’s not clear when those games will come. Miami has produced the fewest EP for RBs in the NFL with 41.2. This seems to be a feature of their offense rather than their schedule, as Miami’s schedule has been neutral for RBs and remains so for the rest of the season. I think this situation bodes poorly for Miller, and I may be looking for a sell high window in the next few weeks.
The way I see it is if Miller’s performance rebounds in the next few weeks through high efficiency, I think he’s a sell; if it’s the result of an increasing workload I believe he’s a hold or even a buy. We know Miller is a good back when healthy, the question is whether he’ll get a workload we can count on.
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: Jamaal Charles
What can I say about Jamaal Charles that @14teammocker hasn’t said already. Charles truly is Platinum Unicorn X-Man Jesus. Charles finished Week 3 with 16.6 rushing FPOE, second to only Carlos Hyde’s ridiculous Week 1 rushing performance. Charles is now the most efficient rusher in the NFL through three weeks, and the second most efficient RB overall (behind none other than Karlos Williams).
Receiving: Lance Dunbar
Technically Charles Sims produced the most receiving FPOE on the week, but did so with a TD on two targets, so I’m giving this one to Lance Dunbar who produced the 7.3 FPOE on 10 targets this week. Dunbar was my Play of the Week on Sunday and he paid off. Dunbar should remain a valuable commodity as the clear cut receiving back in an offense that has produced the third most receiving EP for RBs.
Combined Efficiency: Devonta Freeman and Joseph Randle
Here’s what I wrote about Devonta Freeman last week:
When measuring by combined rushing and receiving EP, the Falcons’ RBs have seen the fourth most opportunity in the NFL. Freeman, already the primary pass catching RB, is poised to step into a Matt Forte level workload while Coleman is out. That’s some serious opportunity.
Now, opportunity isn’t everything–Freeman has not been an effective player this season. In combined rushing and receiving FPOE Freeman is the ninth least efficient RB in the NFL through two weeks. He’ll have to step his game up to fully capitalize on this new opportunity, but the workload should be there.
Well, the workload was there, and let’s just say he stepped his game up. Freeman had the second biggest workload of the week with 24.8 Expected Points and led the NFL in FPOE with 17.6 combined rushing/receiving FPOE. Atlanta’s schedule actually gets easier for RBs over the rest of the season, so Freeman might be someone worth “buying high”. If he can fend off Tevin Coleman, Freeman has RB1 upside for the rest of the season based on workload alone.
Here’s what I wrote about Joseph Randle last week:
The Dallas committee is not working out so far, combining as the fourth worst backfield in the leauge in rushing FPOE.3 Dunbar is the only Dallas RB who’s scored positively as a rusher… with less than half a point in FPOE on his one and only carry this season.
With Tony Romo out until at least Week 11 the Cowboys will undoubtedly want to rely on the run.4 But if the Cowboys’ RBs can’t run effectively with efficient QB play, I highly doubt they turn it around when the defense stops respecting the pass. My guess is that Christine Michael gets a shot as a rusher soon.
Well apparently it took Atlanta until the second half to realize Romo wasn’t playing–allowing Randle to go for 110 yards and three TDs on 12 touches, before allowing negative five yards on four touches in the second half. My bet is that Randle sees defensive game plans closer to the Falcons’ second half than first going forward, but he acquitted himself nicely with 17.2 FPOE after a rough start to the season–and certainly threw some cold water on my Christine Michael dreams.