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 1
1 – The Power of Game Script
The two most valuable rushing workloads this week went to Chris Ivory and Jeremy Hill. Both of their teams were favored heading into the week and maintained control of the game. This is important because teams run far more from ahead than from behind. It’s also particularly important for these two RBs, neither of which saw a single target in Week 1.
Next week Hill is set up for success again, at home and favored against San Diego. Ivory on the other hand is a TD underdog on the road against the Colts. These two should be moving in opposite directions in Week 2.
2 – Better Days Ahead for Lamar Miller
Another way to look at workload is the percentage of EP that a RB has compared to the rest of his backfield. Take Lamar Miller for example. Miller had an underwhelming Week 1, finishing with 54 yards on 14 touches. But much of that was due to Miami’s offense as a whole, which produced a league low 7.9 EP for RBs in Week 1. But Miller dominated this small workload, accounting for 78 percent of the available EP. And Miller performed well, playing just above his career efficiency level on a per touch basis. In games where Miami is able to run the ball more, look for Miller to produce far better days than we saw on Sunday.
3 – Matt Forte still a workhorse
Matt Forte was another (somewhat) unexpected Week 1 workhorse. I say somewhat because while he’s been a workhorse for years, age, declining performance and the loss of Marc Trestman pointed towards a down year for Forte. For those reasons, Matthew Freedman recently recommended that Forte owners consider selling if he has a good Week 1. Well they certainly got that.
Forte was the Week 1 leader in rushing/receiving workload with a ridiculous 27.7 combined EP. To Matt’s point though, he was slightly inefficient with those opportunities. Forte will need to be far more efficient to remain a top level RB this season: the Bears were second in the NFL in RB workload on Sunday and that won’t always be the case. That said, Forte also accounted for 90% of the Bears total RB workload. With that type of market share he should be a high floor option at the position even if his best days are behind him. So if you can get top 5 RB value for him, sell. But otherwise I’d be happy to hang onto a player that should settle into a low end RB1 for the remainder of the season.
4 – Bishop Sankey’s Big Day
Bishop Sankey had a career day on Sunday, posting 6.2 YPC and two TDs, including one from the goal line. Sankey was highly efficient in terms of FPOE as well, finishing sixth in rushing, seventh in receiving and third in combined FPOE.
Sankey’s EP workload doesn’t look great on paper, but he actually had a workhorse day that was masked by the Titans blowout win. Excluding the fourth quarter (which neither he nor Marcus Mariota played), Sankey accounted for 64 percent of the Titans RB opportunities, including all four passing attempts to RBs.
The only real negative for Sankey was that was that Terrance West saw an entire series at the goal line before Sankey left the game. Although there’s a silver silver lining there: West was the worst RB in the NFL in combined FPOE for Week 1, leaving nearly eight fantasy points on the table, while also losing a fumble.
One would think that Sankey’s performance combined with West’s poor showing should lock Sankey in as the lead back for now. However, I’m still approaching this situation with caution given that Ken Whisenhunt has shown a strong preference for mediocre RBBC over a productive lead RB. Still, as someone who owns many shares of Sankey in dynasty, this was a good start to the season.
5 – Good News, Bad News for LeSean McCoy
Week 1 had some ups and downs for LeSean McCoy owners. On the bright side Tyrod Taylor looked fairly competent at QB and involved McCoy in the passing game. Taylor targeted McCoy four times, which was good for 21 percent of the Bills low volume passing attack. But there were also some worrisome signs for McCoy’s fantasy value going forward. For starters his rushing workload wasn’t all that valuable. McCoy saw just 6.5 EP on 16 rushes, 18th on the week. That was partly due to a Bills Offense that ranked 21st in EP for RBs, but it was also due to McCoy’s role within the offense. McCoy saw just 52% of Bill’s RB Expected Points, ceding valuable touches to both Karlos Williams and Anthony Dixon.
Probably the worst news for McCoy is how good Williams was with his touches. Williams was the most efficient Week 1 RB on a per carry basis, and second only to Carlos Hyde in rushing FPOE. Unless McCoy–who was the third least efficient rusher of the week–bounces back quickly, he’s at real risk of losing additional touches to Williams.
6 – Mark Ingram, Pass Catching Specialist?
Mark Ingram showed a new side to his game on Sunday, accounting for 9 targets, 11.5 receiving EP and 6.3 receiving FPOE. As a rusher he was damn near Darren Sproles-ian with just nine attempts, 3.3 EP and -0.9 FPOE. So what does this mean for Ingram going forward?
All in all, despite the solid day for Ingram, I don’t see this as good news for his 2015 fantasy outlook. First, he’s not going to dominate targets when CJ Spiller is healthy. More importantly, Ingram’s receiving output masked signs that his rushing workload may be threatened. Ingram had only one more carry than Khiry Robinson, and Robinson’s workload was just as valuable on an EP per carry basis. Furthermore the Saints as a whole struggled to run the ball or control the game against the Cardinals.
Next week Ingram is at home as a heavy favorite against the Buccaneers. I’d bank on a good game there and then look to sell before New Orleans travels to Carolina, with a healthy CJ Spiller along for the ride.
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: Carlos Hyde
Carlos Hyde posed a ridiculous 19.2 FPOE on Monday night. To put that in perspective, that’s more than the next two highest RBs (Karlos Williams and Danny Woodhead) produced combined. Hyde is certainly a high ceiling option going forward, as the 49ers fed him the ball late in the game and he was highly efficient with his touches. But Hyde is also a beneficiary of good game script, as the 49ers controlled their game with the Vikings from start to finish. Hyde will likely have a harder time putting up points when the 49ers travel to Pittsburgh as an underdog next week.
Receiving: Marcel Reece
Marcel Reece led all RB in receiving FPOE in Week 1 with 11.46 on just 4 targets. We’ve given a lot of love to Roy Helu this off-season, but our love affair with Reece has cooled off a bit lately. Perhaps this is that spark we’ve been yearning for.
Combined Efficiency: Ameer Abdullah
Carlos Hyde was technically the most efficient RB in combined rushing and receiving FPOE, but he did almost all his damage on the ground, so lets highlight this week’s runner up, Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah was one of my favorite targets this off-season, and he certainly showed well in his NFL debut, posting 11.7 total FPOE on 11 Opportunities. Abdullah has more has upside from here as he saw just under 50% of Detroit’s total RB workload in Week 1. Though it may take a few weeks to realize, as reports are that Detroit is sticking with their committee approach for now.