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 5
1 – Pour One Out for Jamaal Charles
The sight of Jamaal Charles going down with a torn ACL was a sad moment for anyone who loves watching great RBs, as we’ll be without one of the best and most underrated RB in the NFL for the rest of the season. Here’s hoping that Charles can return to form in 2016. For now though, let’s take a moment to reflect on the season he was putting together. Charles finishes 2015 with the second highest FPOE behind only Devonta Freeman. Based on last year’s results it’s likely that Charles will finish in the top 24 in FPOE for the 2015 season, despite playing less than five full games. In fact, Charles was on pace to finish with more FPOE than any RB in 2014, and more than every skill player except Dez Bryant. That type of efficiency simply can’t be replaced.
But now that Charles is out the question becomes, who will take his place and how much are they worth? Several RotoViz writers recently shared their thoughts on that subject, but I’ll add my two cents as well. In my opinion it comes down to the way the Chiefs score points from the RB position–low volume, high efficiency rushing and high volume, high efficiency receiving. With Charles out for the season the high efficiency part of that equation will likely change, so I recommend targeting the Chiefs third ranked receiving workload for RBs rather than their 29th ranked rushing workload.
As someone splitting carries and without a clear handle on the passing game work, Charcandrick West is not someone I’m interested in breaking the FAAB bank for. The obvious arbitrage seems like Knile Davis, but Davis will be fighting with West for a piece of a small pie. Instead, I’ll be looking to acquire DeAnthony Thomas on the cheap this week. Thomas leads all non-Charles Chiefs RBs in receiving EP per game and could develop into a valuable PPR RB1 down the stretch.
2 – Is Eddie Lacy a Week 6 Trap?
Eddie Lacy looks poised for a breakout game in Week 6 with the Packers at home as 10 point favorites against a porous Chargers defense. But the Packers will really need to pour it on for their committee RB to have a big game.
It’s time to face facts, Eddie Lacy is a committee RB. Despite Lacy’s lead dog status heading into the season he has accounted for just 48 percent of the Packers total RB workload in 2015, which is 28th in the NFL and worse than CJ Anderson and Danny Woodhead, among others. The obvious explanation for this is that Lacy has been limited with an ankle injury this season, yet that doesn’t explain why over the last two weeks a seemingly healthy Lacy has accounted for only 44 percent of the Packers total RB workload. The real culprit for Lacy’s limited 2015 workload has been James Starks, who has been heavily involved, accounting for 44 percent of the total RB workload. Starks has been particularly involved in the passing game, and is the lead RB in that facet of the offense, with a receiving EP market share of 50 percent.
Based on TD potential alone, Lacy has significant upside in Week 6. The Packers should be in scoring position quite a bit and could turn to the RBs to salt the game away. But if Lacy does have a big week I’d recommend selling high, unless we see a shift in the RB usage. And in DFS cash games I’ll be looking for safer options this week, despite the juicy match-up.
3 – Le’Veon Bell is Otherworldly
Speaking of safer options…
Everyone knows that Le’Veon Bell is an excellent RB, and the Fantasy Efficiency app agrees, scoring Bell as sixth in combined rushing/receiving FPOE per game. But what’s really making this season special for Bell is his efficiency combined with his workload. Since returning to the field in Week 3, Bell is first in the NFL with 19.8 combined rushing/receiving EP per game. So in other words, Bell is adding elite efficiency to a workload that is already setting him up for a ridiculous 19.8 PPR points per game.
What’s interesting about Bell’s workload is that it’s not the result of the Steelers creating elite opportunity for RBs. Pittsburgh is just 13th in RB EP this season, and 15th over the last three weeks. Instead, Bell’s league leading workload is the result of him absolutely dominating the opportunities in this backfield. Since Week 3 Bell is accounting for 91 percent of Steelers RB’s rushing EP and 100 percent of their RB receiving EP, for a total EP market share of 95 percent.
Bell’s market share may regress slightly as the season wears on, but it’s also likely that overall opportunity will increase once Ben Roethlisberger returns. In short, Bell may be in the midst of a career year, and remains one of the safest DFS plays in any given week.
4 – Arian Foster’s Return
Two weeks ago I recommended targeting Arian Foster everywhere. After his anticlimactic return in Week 4 the buy-low window remained open, but it slammed shut last Thursday when Foster posted 20.8 Fantasy Points on 29 opportunities.
Foster’s production was the result of his commanding role in the Texans’ run heavy offense. In Week 5, Foster posted 72 percent of the Texans’ 27.6 Expected Points to RBs, resulting in the fourth highest total EP of the week, 19.9. Foster was also heavily involved in the passing game, with the fifth highest receiving EP in Week 6. And Foster currently ranks second in receiving EP per game with 19.1 over his first two games.
This week Foster gets a Jaguars defense ranked last in the NFL against RBs. The Jaguars are also particularly vulnerable to pass-catching RBs, allowing the third most FPOE to RBs through the air this season. Foster is a safe high volume play this week with plenty of upside in a good match-up.
5 – Dion Lewis, Unconventional Workhorse
Dion Lewis leads the NFL with 9.6 receiving EP per game, and is third in the NFL in market share of receiving EP at 77 percent. But unlike some of the other pass catching specialists we’ve seen this season (Theo Riddick, Lance Dunabar, Shane Vereen, Chris Thompson), Lewis is seeing significant work on the ground as well. Through four games Lewis is accounting for an additional 4.2 rushing EP per game, bringing him to a combined EP per game of 13.8, 6th in the NFL.
Lewis does have some flaws as a fantasy RB. The presence of LeGarrette Blount will limit Lewis’ goal line touches–as evidenced by Lewis’ 33 percent market share of rushing EP despite accounting for 47 percent of the Patriots rushing attempts. And there’s always the threat that the Patriots will build up a lead large enough to pull Lewis from the game. But Lewis should remain a top 10 fantasy RB for the remainder of the season based on his high volume role in the Patriots’ high powered offense.
6 – Darren McFadden, Pass Catching Specialist?
After the Cowboys lost Lance Dunbar for the season most believed that Darren McFadden would take over as the pass catching specialist. That certainly seems to be the case. In his four games in 2015, Dunbar averaged 7.4 receiving EP and 70 percent of receiving EP. Last Sunday, McFadden saw 13.9 receiving EP and 73 percent of receiving EP. The raw EP is more exiciting, but it’s probably the market share that matters more. The Cowboys won’t always be playing catch-up to the Patriots every week, but they’ve regularly involved a pass catching RB, so it’s important to note how fully McFadden appears taken over Dunbar’s role.
Dunbar averaged 12 PPR points per game this season and is currently RB25 in points per game. Assuming McFadden maintains control of the Dunbar role, and assuming he maintains the solid efficiency he’s shown thus far in the passing game, McFadden looks like a viable RB3 for as long as he’s healthy.
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: Devonta Freeman
Last week was Tevin Coleman‘s returned to action, but you’d be forgiven for not noticing. Devonta Freeman certainly didn’t. Freeman finished with 87 percent of Atlanta’s total RB workload, and as the most efficient rusher of the week with 15.2 FPOE on 27 attempts. Coleman had three percent of of the team’s total EP and finished with negative FPOE.
We’re getting to a weird point with Freeman where he’s nearly certain to regress just because he’s been so outlandishly efficient, but he’ also about as rock solid as they come from a workload and usage perspective. I’d recommend using any under-performance by Freeman as a buying opportunity, provided he stays above 70 percent or so in EP market share. In other words, disregard natural fluctuations in his efficiency, while closely monitoring his grip on arguably the most valuable starting RB role in the league.
Receiving: Shane Vereen
Shane Vereen was Week 5’s most efficient receiving RB with 10.3 FPOE on eight targets. More importantly Vereen also had 12.4 receiving EP, which was sixth highest on the week. This receiving workload was Vereen’s highest to date and ends a two week stretch where he saw a total of 3.8 receiving EP.
Vereen’s high usage in this game was likely match-up based as opposed to an indication of a larger role going forward, but it does demonstrate his upside when the right match-up comes along. Something to keep in mind when the Giants face the Cowboys in Week 7, as the Cowboys have allowed fifth most receiving EP to RBs and the most receiving FPOE to RBs in the NFL.
Combined Efficiency: Doug Martin
Doug Martin put up 16.4 FPOE on the back of three total TDs this week, barely edging out Freeman (16.2 FPOE) as the week’s most efficient overall RB. Freeman has obviously been a whirlwind of efficiency this season, but Martin has quietly been having a very efficient year as well; after Sunday’s performance, Martin is now eighth in the NFL in combined rushing/receiving FPOE per game.
So what should we do with Martin? Well, unfortunately Martin shares the backfield with 2015’s second most efficient pass catching RB, Charles Sims. So it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Martin takes over as a three-down back, particularly since Tampa Bay’s plan entering the season was to use Sims as the primary pass catcher.
As for Martin’s efficiency, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect top 10 RB efficiency from Jameis Winston’s lead RB. Even if Winston doesn’t scare you, consider that Buy Low Machine ranks Tampa Bay’s schedule to date as the sixth easiest for RBs, but the 11th most difficult going forward. As a Doug Martin owner, I’m fairly disappointed Week 6 is his bye, because it may make it more difficult to sell high on Week 5’s production.
- assuming he has RB eligibility in your league (back)