Welcome to the Running Back 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
Check out the introductory article for a full breakdown.
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 7
1 – Charcandrick West Emerges
I’ve not been a big supporter of Charcandrick West thus far, but the Charc-nado certainly proved me wrong in Week 7, turning 22 touches into 129 yards and two TDs. In my defense, West was the third least efficient RB this week, ahead of only Darren Sproles and Toby Gerhart. But as a counter to my own defense, my gripe with West was never about efficiency at all. Instead my concerns were that the Chiefs’ RB workload wasn’t particularly big (17th in EP per game through Week 6) and was heavily weighted toward the pass, where it seemed unclear if West or De’Anthony Thomas would be the lead option.
One week later those concerns seem overly pessimistic. West led the NFL this week in combined rushing/receiving Expected Points and was fourth in market share of EP, with 82 percent of Kansas City’s overall RB workload. Most surpirsingly, two-thirds of West’s opportunity came as a rusher, as the Cheifs (who were 29th in rushing EP heading into the week), posted the sixth highest rushing EP total of the week.
The most important takeaway from this game for for me is West’s market share of EP. The Chiefs will likely revert back to a fairly low volume rushing attack when not playing Landry Jones, but West’s 72 percent market share over the last two weeks is true lead back territory, on par with Devonta Freeman and Matt Forte over the same time frame.
Going forward, West looks like a clear buy. The Chiefs have the easiest schedule for RBs through Week 16 (and 17), starting with a nice match-up this week against Detroit. Like Devonta Freeman after Week 3, West is probably worth “buying high” given the hold he’s established on the Chiefs backfield.
2 – The Darren McFadden Takeover
Speaking of establishing a hold on a backfield, Darren McFadden ruined Christine Michael breakout parties everywhere1 with 31 touches for 162 yards and one TD. Most importantly McFadden had the third highest percentage of combined EP this week, accounting for 83 percent of the Cowboys total RB workload.
With Joseph Randle not practicing all week – and skipping treatment – McFadden could be in for another workload dominating performance in Week 8, albeit in a bad match-up with the Seahawks. If McFadden does continue to see elite market share in this offense, I would consider buying. There are certainly plenty of red flags. Dallas has the second hardest remaining schedule for RBs, Matt Cassel is currently at QB, and he’s still Darren McFadden. But all of that should keep his price low, and McFadden provides plenty of upside in the right match-ups. Make sure to keep an eye on his workload over the next few weeks.
3 – Is Beast Mode Back?
Through Week 6 Marshawn Lynch was averaging 11.9 combined rushing/receiving Expected Points per game, the 15th highest workload in the league. Last Thursday night however, Lynch’s opportunity nearly doubled his season average with 20.5 EP, and all of it coming as a rusher.
Lynch, as has been the case all season, was not efficient with his workload, producing -2.3 FPOE. Only Alfred Morris, Charcandrick West, Toby Gerhart and Mike Davis have left more on the table this year.
I supposed you could view Lynch as a sell high coming off this performance. The argument being: Lynch is under-performing, while Thomas Rawls has been impressive, so sell before the bottom drops out. However the counter-argument is that Seattle’s coaching staff continues to feed Lynch despite his inefficient play, and he seems to be recovering from early season injuries that were likely the cause of his inefficiency in the first place.
Personally I think this is a good time to sell Lynch in dynasty, but I’m riding him out in redraft. And in daily I’ll be targeting Lynch anytime Seattle is favored and likely to be in positive game script–starting with this week in Dallas.
4 – Pour One Out for Arian Foster
Two week after losing Jamaal Charles for the season, we’ve now lost Arian Foster to a torn Achilles tendon. It’s a huge loss for fantasy as Foster was averaging the fourth largest RB workload this season, and the third largest over the last three weeks. Now we’ll have to see how the backfield shakes out in Foster’s absence.
Prior to Foster’s return in Week 4, Jonathan Grimes was actually leading the Houston backfield with 8.3 EP per game to Alfred Blue‘s 7.5 and Chris Polk‘s 7.3. This was due primarily to Grimes’ large role in the passing game, accounting for 50 percent of the RB receiving EP. Since Foster’s return however, Grimes has been phased out of the offense. He missed Weeks 4-5 with an injury but was active for Weeks 6-7 and saw just one total target and zero carries.
With Grimes out Polk has taken over as the lead passing back, accounting for 27 percent market share of receiving EP in the four games Foster played. Polk seems like a good bet for for a Shane Vereen to Duke Johnson level receiving workload. Unfortunately, Polk has been less efficient than both players. He’ll need to step his game up to be fantasy viable going forward.
Blue meanwhile seems likely to return to where he was the first three weeks of the season: a low workload two-down RB. This week against Tennessee is the only week in the foreseeable future where Houston can be expected to have positive game script, so Blue could make for a decent GPP play and is a potential sell high candidate in waiting.
5 – Opportunity in Philadelphia
If you’ve watched the Eagles recently, it’s hard not to wonder why Ryan Mathews isn’t getting more playing time. And if all you looked was the Fantasy Efficiecny App you’d be wondering the same thing. Through seven games DeMarco Murray is averaging 0.09 FPOE per opportunity. Mathews, meanwhile is averaging a ridiculous 0.45–first in the NFL among RBs with at least 50 opportunities from scrimmage. Mathews has been more efficient than Murray all season, but the gap widened noticeably in Week 7 when Mathews exploded for 121 yards and a TD on 9 touches, while Murray had 20 touches for 70 yards.
The thought of Mathews as the starter is exciting given his efficiency, but is even more so once you consider the size of the RB workload in Philadelphia. The Eagles currently lead the NFL in Expected Points per game for RBs with 26.8. Put another way, the Eagles RBs have more opportunity to divvy up than the combined workloads of Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram.2 If Mathews could get a sizable portion of that opportunity he could easily be a top 10 RB for the rest of the season.
One problem for Mathews is that Chip Kelly appears to be stubbornly sticking with Murray as his starter. But another problem is that 56 percent of the Eagles RB workload is coming via the receiving game, sixth highest in the NFL. As a RB that’s been historically limited in the passing game, it seems unlikely that Mathews would takeover Murray’s full receiving role, even if he passes him as a rusher. Therefore, even if Mathews becomes the lead rusher in the leading backfield for RBs, he might have trouble earning a top 20 PPR workload. It’s more likely that he’d see similar opportunity to what Carlos Hyde and Jonathan Stewart have seen thus far.
If Murray were to be lost to injury, things would be different. In that event Mathews would likely step into a top five overall workload. But that makes Mathews more of an elite handcuff than a breakout candidate. Which may make him a sell if any buzz begins to build about him earning a larger role coming out of the Eagles’ bye week.
6 – Learning to Spell Juszczyk
I was originally planning to write here how Justin Forsett should be in for a good game this week against a weak San Diego RB defense. And I think Forsett should have a good game. But he’s not quite as safe as I originally thought. Part of my argument for Forsett was going to be that he’s heavily involved in both the rushing and passing games, but that’s not been as true over recent weeks. In fact, over the last three weeks Kyle Juszczyk has been the lead receiving back in terms of EP per game, accounting for 45 percent of the workload to Forsett’s 44.
Juszczyk doesn’t have a ton of upside unless he begins to see work on the ground (he has zero carries on the season). But he could be a viable spot starter in deep leagues–particularly this week against a SD defense that has yielded the second most FPOE to receiving RBs. This could also be a game where the Ravens are forced to throw to keep up with NFL leader in passing yards.
As for Forsett, he has quite a bit of upside in this match-up if the game script favors a heavy rushing attack. Since Lorenzo Taliaferro went to IR, Forsett’s percentage of the rushing workload has risen from 65 to 72 percent. But he’s a riskier cash game play than he might first appear, as his role in the passing game has shrunk over the same period from 53 to 44 percent.
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: Todd Gurley
Lamar Miller was actually the week’s most efficient rusher, but we’ll get to him in a minute, so let’s cover the week’s runner-up: Todd Gurley. In a fairly predictable breakout game, Gurley exploded for 15 rushing FPOE with 128 rushing yards and 2 TDs on 19 carries. Gurley is now off to an incredibly impressive start to his career. Through four games he is currently second to only Devonta Freeman in FPOE per game.
More importantly though, Gurley has earned himself a workload we can count on. Last week against the Browns Gurley saw 16.1 combined EP, which was the seventh highest of the week and right in line with what Le’Veon Bell has seen for the season.
And perhaps most importantly, as of last week Gurley’s role in the offense includes the passing game. Prior to last week Gurley was averaging 1.3 receiving EP per game. Last week his role expanded in a big way, accouting for 6.3 receiving EP on the day. Think about it this way: 1.3 EP is less than what Isaiah Crowell averages as a receiver, but 6.3 is just below what Le’Veon Bell averages.
Receiving: Danny Woodhead
Danny Woodhead finished the week as the most efficient receiving RB with 12.4 receiving FPOE, turning 12 target into 11 catches for 75 yards and two TDs.
If you saw the second half of this game, you’ll know that Woodhead was literally uncovered for much of the fourth quarter. But that doesn’t change the fact that Woodhead has a huge receiving role in this offense. For the season Woodhead is tied with Dion Lewis for first in the NFL in receiving EP per game–and is tacking on a decent rushing workload as well. Woohead will certainly regress in the sense that he won’t be catching two garbage time TDs every week, but his PPR value is no fluke.
Combined Efficiency: Lamar Miller
Lamar Miller had the most impressive week in an impressive week for RBs with 29.6 combine FPOE, turning 17 opportunities into 236 yards and 2 TDs.
In addition to league leading efficiency, we finally got the workload we’ve been looking for with Miller. Miller only finished with 9.0 combined rushing/receiving EP, but that workload came in just a half of football. So basically in the first half of Sunday’s game Miller was given a league leading workload and responded by leading the league in efficiency.
I’ve been asking for weeks when we’d finally see a high leverage worload for Miller, and we’ve finally gotten it. Unfortunately, Miller’s schedule gets much tougher over the next few weeks. For that reason, it may be worth seeing if you can cash out at high end RB1 value. But if not, Week 7 provided plenty of reason to stick around and see if Miller maintains his workload over the next few weeks.