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 2
1 – Danny Woodhead: Case Study for Expected Points
Danny Woodhead is a great example of how Expected Points can provide insights not obvious through Market Share or other opportunity metrics. Woodhead has accounted for just 35 percent of San Diego’s rushing attack and 46 percent of the total RB touches, while Melvin Gordon leads the way with 55 percent of the carries and 49 percent of the total touches. But the Expected Points tell a different story. By EP Woodhead accounts for 44 percent of the Chargers’ rushing game and 59 percent of the overall opportunity, compared to 51 percent for Gordon as a rusher and just 36 percent overall.
EP is simply telling us that Woodhead is getting the high value touches while Gordon is getting the ball in less valuable situations. That’s why Woodhead has been a terrific play on Draft Kings in back to back weeks and Gordon hasn’t been a difference maker thus far. A lot of what we’re doing with EP and FPOE is trying to find more players like Woodhead, efficient players whose valuable workloads are under the radar.
2 – Matt Forte Leading the Way
Matt Forte dominated backfield touches once again in Week 2 and is now leading the NFL in combined rushing/receiving EP. He’s also the league leader in Market Share of combined EP. Like last week he wasn’t particularly efficient with this workload, but Forte is one of the safest bets for touches in this early part of the season. I’ll likely be skipping Forte in DFS this week, as he’s on the road in Seattle, but he’s already earmarked for my Week 4 cash games when he returns home to face Oakland.
3 – Devonta Freeman has a Big Opportunity
With reports that starter Tevin Coleman will be sidelined a few weeks with a broken rib, Devonta Freeman is primed for a bigger role in the Falcons offense. That’s no surprise, but you may be surprised by just how big that opportunity is. 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.
4 – LeSean McCoy, Committee Back
Last week I covered how Week 1 had some ominous signs for LeSean McCoy. Things didn’t get any less ominous in Week 2, though in fairness to McCoy, he did play much better. After finishing as the third least efficient rusher in Week 1, McCoy was 12th in Week 2 in rushing FPOE and 10th in combined rushing/receiving FPOE. However, Karlos Williams was once again the more efficient runner, finishing 10th on the week in rushing FPOE. More importantly Williams saw his role expand to the passing game this week. After not being targeted at all in Week 1, Williams had three targets in Week 2, the same number as Mccoy. As a result McCoy accounted for just 54 percent of the Bills RB opportunities, down from 61 percent last week.
Much of the appeal of LeSean McCoy this season was that it looked like he was going to dominate backfield touches. But through 2 weeks he’s just 19th in combined rushing/receiving EP–and is accounting for a lower Market Share of EP than Danny Woodhead or Devonta Freeman. McCoy, in other words, is a committee back.
5 – The Underwhelming Cowboys Committee
Speaking of committee backfields, the Dallas committee is not working out so far, combining as the fourth worst backfield in the leauge in rushing FPOE.1 Lance 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.2 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.
Whether or not Michael gets involved as a rusher, Dunbar should remain heavily involved as a pass catcher. And he’s done very will in that role, currently ninth in the NFL in receiving FPOE. For now Dunbar is the way to play the Cowboys backfield, and he has a nice matchup this week at home against Atlanta.
6 – Opportunity for the Eagles
The Eagles are another backfield that has underwhelmed in fantasy this season. But it’s not for lack of opportunity. The Eagles’ backfield leads the NFL is Expected Points through two weeks, with a massive 37.6 EP to RBs in the passing game. To put that in perspective, the Eagles RBs have seen more opportunity in the passing game than the total rushing/receiving opportunity seen by the Bills, Colts, Panthers, Cardinals, Rams, Broncos, Lions, Packers, Dolphins or Browns.
And the Eagles RBs have actually capitalized on much of their opportunity in the passing game. In fact, the Eagles backfield ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving FPOE, with both DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles playing very efficiently in that phase of the game.
The problem is that this success has not traslated to the running game. The Eagles, and specifically Murray, have been very poor when running the ball in 2015. As a team the Eagles rank 24th in rushing FPOE, and Murray is the fourth least efficient rusher in the league this season–ahead of only Brandon Bolden, Mike Davis and Terrance West. Thus far Murray has had a healthy lead in rushing EP over Ryan Mathews, but that could begin to change if Murray doesn’t start playing better soon.
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: Matt Jones
Matt Jones had a fantastic 14.4 FPOE in his Week 2 breakout performance that will make him one of the hottest waiver wire pickups of the week. What is perhaps more intriguing though is that Jones produced his breakout on a healthy rushing workload of 9.9 EP, the sixth highest rushing workload of the week. It’s been noted that Jones had more carries and targets than Alfred Morris this week, but the difference is even more stark when looking at EP, where Jones accounted for 50 percent of Washington’s RB opportunities, compared to just 35 percent for Morris.
I’ve been fading Morris all off-season, so I’m not going to stop now. If Jones is on your waiver wire I’m fully on board with spending big to get him–at this point he could be the starter by mid-season.
Receiving: Shane Vereen
Technically the leader in receiving FPOE for the week was Fred Jackson, but Jackson achieved his efficiency by catching a TD on 2 targets, while Shane Vereen totaled eight receptions and 76 yards on eight targets, so I think Vereen is the real winner here.
Vereen was an efficient pass catcher last week as well and is currently fourth is receiving FPOE among RBs. He making a strong case that he’s more than just a product of the Patriots system.
Combined Efficiency: Dion Lewis
Speaking of the Patriot’s system, Dion Lewis is thriving in it. Lewis posted the second highest combined FPOE of the week (behind Jones), with terrific efficiency as both a rusher and receiver. In fact, while generally considered a receiving threat, Lewis was more efficient on the ground than through the air. I’m a believer in Lewis in that I think the receiving role is his unless he suffers an injury or fumbles the job away. But I also think LeGarrette Blount will begin playing a much larger role soon, probably as early as this week.