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7 Takeaways from Week 4 – the RB Opportunity Report

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

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 4

1 – TJ Yeldon is Poised to Explode

TJ Yeldon is someone who’s been on my radar for a weeks but haven’t written about. After Sunday, it’s time to get the word out. Yeldon was 13th in combined rushing/receiving Expected Points in Week 4, bringing him to ninth overall on the season. Yeldon has also received 72 percent of the Jaguars’ RB EP this season. That’s the fourth highest percentage in the NFL, behind only Le’Veon Bell, Matt Forte, and Frank Gore.

So here’s what we know about Yeldon: he’s a big, young, sufficiently athletic RB who’s receiving a top 10 NFL workload and who’s dominating his team’s RB touches at an elite level. Here’s something else we know about him: he’s averaging 3.7 YPC and has yet to score a TD. To many that would be a reason to stay away, but that inefficiency is what’s keeping his price low–and as Devonta Freeman is proving, efficiency is much less predicable than workload.

Even if Yeldon isn’t particularly talented, his stranglehold on the Jaguars backfield gives him huge upside when the Jaguars can stay in games. Speaking of which, Yeldon’s next two opponents may be the two worst quarterbacked teams in the league: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Texans. Yeldon figures to be a fixture of my DFS lineups over the next two weeks, and I’ll be throwing out offers in redraft as well.

2 – Frank Gore is Still Rolling

Gore’s name definitely jumped out to me when reviewing the market share leaders of EP. If you, like me, are surprised to learn that Gore is currently third in the NFL in market share of EP, and has had the ninth largest RB workload on a per game basis, it’s likely because he got off to a slow start. After accounting for just 57 percent of the Colts total RB workload over the first two weeks of the season, Gore has accounted for 91 percent of the Colts combined rushing/receiving EP over the last two weeks.

One concern for Gore is the possibility that the Colts sign Ahmad Bradshaw, who could eat into his receiving workload, in particular. But outside of the Colts bringing in another back, Gore looks poised for a very nice finish to the season as the Colts’ undisputed lead back.  He’s definitely worth inquiring about as age and primacy bias may be deflating his price.

3 – Duke Johnson’s Emergence

Last week I recommended selling the Browns RBs  due to their lack of volume and a difficult upcoming schedule. An astute reader pointed out in the comments that for Duke Johnson the difficult schedule might actually be a plus. Sure enough Johnson went off this week, with 26.6 PPR Fantasy Points on the week’s highest workload of 18.9 combined rushing/receiving EP.

This week though Johnson faces a both a difficult match-up for RBs (according to the Buy Low Machine), and a much tougher match-up for pass catching RBs in particular (according to Football Outsiders DVOA). In fact, Johnson’s next three match-ups aren’t particularly favorable for pass catching RBs. If there’s someone in your league who’s interested in Johnson, I’d have no problem selling.

4 – Mark Ingram Proving Doubters Wrong

Since Week 1 Mark Ingram has been surprisingly active in the passing game. My initial reaction was that I wasn’t buying it. In fact, I was down right pessimistic on Ingram, citing Khiry Robinson‘s involvement as a rusher as cause for concern. Well, on that point I right. Robinson hasn’t gone anywhere, accounting for over a third of the Saints rushing EP thus far–as a result, Ingram is just 31st in rushing EP on the season. But I was wrong about Ingram’s role in the passing game, which I thought would be negatively impacted by CJ Spiller‘s return–it hasn’t been.

Ingram has led the New Orleans backfield in receiving EP in all four games this season, and is currently fourth in receiving EP per game. As a result of his involvement in the passing game, Ingram is currently fifth in the NFL in combined rushing/receiving EP per game. Ingram doesn’t have a stranglehold on either facet of the offense, but because he’s the lead RB in both facets of the offense he’s receiving a highly valuable workload.

It’s important to note that Ingram has also been effective in the passing game. Ingram has produced 0.48 FPOE per target this season, which just below what Darren Sproles produced in his breakout 2011 campaign, and more efficient than Pierre Thomas has been since 2009.

Spiller has also been effective in the passing game as well, so Spiller’s usage is worth monitoring closely. For now though, I’m viewing Ingram a better version of Pierre Thomas in this offense. Like Thomas,1 Ingram’s seeing work in both dimensions of the offense, and at a high enough rate to sustain him as an RB1 .

5 – The Game Script Poster Boy

Chris Ivory leads all RBs with 11.2 rushing Expected Points per game. Think about that. Without even including his role in the passing game, Ivory is expected to score double digit PPR points just by showing up each week. On top of his league leading rushing workload Ivory has also been efficient, producing 15.8 rushing FPOE this season, seventh most in the NFL.

Much of this success is the result of positive game script. The Jets have won all three games in which Ivory has taken the field, and have done so by double digits. Ivory is a testament to the importance of game script is for RBs, particularly those of the two-down variety.

But what’s the plan going forward? Can we count on the Jets to continue putting Ivory in favorable situations? Well, for the most part, I think we can. The Jets play New England in Week 7. After that their next opponent with a winning record is… New England, in Week 16. It looks fairly likely that the Jets will keep most of their games close this year, which means I’m riding with Ivory where I have him.

If you don’t own Ivory, he could be in for a bit of a rough patch over the next three weeks (BYE, Washington’s surprisingly strong run defense, New England), which I would use as a buying window.

6 – Todd Gurley’s Arrival

Last week I recommended targeting Todd Gurley in trades. Well, his price just went up considerably after posting 161 total yards on 21 touches last week. The interesting thing is, while my optimism for Gurley stemmed from the likelihood of greater opportunity, Gurley did most of his damage through high efficiency. Gurley was the ninth most efficient RB this week, with a combined rushing/receiving FPOE of 8.3. But his workload wasn’t very big, coming in at just 21st on the week in combined EP.

Gurley’s limited workload was not the result of the coaching staff working him back slowly: Gurley finshed with 71 percent of Rams total RB EP, which was eighth highest on the week. Instead, his low EP was a function of the Rams offense, which also finished 21st in combined EP this week.

Going forward I’m still optimistic that Gurley’s role will increase, because the Rams schedule should lighten up against the run. But I’m cautious of relying on him this week with the Rams as nearly double digits underdogs in Green Bay. If you’re looking to acquire more shares of Gurley, I’d wait a week before making offers. At that point Gurley will likely be coming off a down game and headed into his bye week.

7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World

Rushing: Jeremy Hill

This week’s most efficient runner was actually Devonta Freeman, who we’ll get to shortly, but I wanted highlight Jeremy Hill here as he was a fairly close runner up. Hill had 14.8 rushing FPOE in Week 4 and is now sixth in the NFL this season with 16.2 rushing FPOE. Unfortunately Hill has three difficult match-ups and a bye over the next four weeks, so this may be a good time to see what you can get for him.

Receiving: CJ Spiller

I liked Spiller a lot headed into the season because I thought he was in line for a high volume passing role. That has not been the case thus far, but Spiller did manage to remind us of his explosion by taking one of his five receptions on Sunday for an 80 yard TD. As a result of that play, Spiller was the most efficient pass catching RB this week, with 14.6 receiving FPOE.

As of now Spiller’s not seeing enough work to be of much use in fantasy. But his usage in this week’s match-up with the Eagles could be telling. The Eagles are the toughest match-up for RBs according to the Buy Low Machine, but the Eagles have actually allowed the eighth most receiving EP to RBs and the 10th most receiving FPOE to RBs. So it could be a solid day for RBs in the passing game, and it’ll be interesting to see the split between Ingram and Spiller.

Combined Efficiency: Devonta Freeman

Freeman is the first RB this season to lead the league in efficiency in back to back weeks. We all know that Freeman is playing well above expectations, but just to underline it, through Week 2 Freeman produced a combined rushing/receiving FPOE of -6.2–but over the last two weeks Freeman’s combined FPOE is a ridiculous 42.

That efficiency isn’t something we can count on week-to-week, but it may have earned Freeman something we can count on: opportunity. Freeman still doesn’t have many believers but it seems clear that he’ll remain the starter even when Tevin Coleman returns–meaning Freeman is the lead rusher in the most valuable rushing attack in the NFL until further notice.

  1. prior to 2014  (back)

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