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 6
1 – LeSean McCoy is Primed for a Big Game in London
After finally playing a game in which he actually looked healthy, LeSean McCoy looks poised to pick up where he left last week in a juicy match-up with the Jaguars.
Last week, McCoy returned to action and saw 87 percent of the Bills’ workload for 16.6 combined rushing/receiving Expected Points, the eighth highest total of the week. McCoy also looked healthy and like his old self, recording rushing efficiency just above his career average. With Karlos Williams not traveling with the team to London, and with Anthony Dixon still banged up, McCoy should once again have the Bills backfield all to himself, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have been the second easiest match-up for RBs according to the Buy Low Machine. And with the Bills as four point favorites, there should be plenty of rushing opportunity for the man who handled 100 percent of the Bills’ Week 6 attempts. Even if game script doesn’t go the Bills’ way, the Jaguars defense has actually been more exploitable for pass catching RBs than rushers, allowing the third most receiving FPOE to RBs. McCoy saw 67 percent of the Bills RB receiving EP last week, so he should be heavily involved no matter how the game plays out.
2 – Todd Gurley’s Imminent Breakout
Todd Gurley will likely be one of the highest owned players on DraftKings this week, with a $5000 salary after averaging 17 Fantasy Points over the last two weeks. This week Gurley faces the Cleveland Browns, who are the third most favorable match-up for RBs, and a particularly good match-up for RBs on the ground.
Since taking over as the lead RB in Week 4, Gurley has been one of the most efficient RBs in the league, despite the fact he’s yet to score a TD. This week, with St. Louis a 6.5 point favorite with an implied point total of 24 points, Gurley is in a great position for a massive fantasy day.
One word of caution on Gurley however: over his last two games, he’s only seen 10.6 EP per game, which is exactly what Giovani Bernard is averaging this season, and just slightly more than what Joseph Randle is averaging. Gurley’s opportunity could grow considerably as the Rams face some fairly weak defenses (and teams as a whole) over the rest of the season. But Gurley’s lack of high leverage touches could also be a function of the Rams offense, which is 30th in time of possession, operating at a deathly slow pace of -9.4 plays per game vs. expected and last in the NFL in offensive plays per game.
If Gurley sees a significant uptick in opportunity in Week 7, it could be a sign that the Rams will be able to put him in good positions when in favorable match-ups. But if Gurley simply exploits the Browns’ porous run defense with a high efficiency outing on a Gio Bernard sized workload, I’d recommend cashing out on Gurley at what will likely be high-end RB1 value.
3 – Alfred Morris and Empty Touches
We spend a lot of time talking about which RBs have valuable workloads, but lets spend some time on one who doesn’t: Alfred Morris. So far this season, 35 RBs have accounted for at least 70 opportunities (carries + targets). The RB with the least Expected Points per opportunity? Alfred Morris, who is 43rd in EP per game, despite seeing the 17th most opportunities from scrimmage.
As a two-down RB who has been losing goal-line touches to Matt Jones, Morris is basically the worst case scenario for a “high volume” RB–lots of low leverage carries and few targets.
If you own Morris I’d be hoping for solid performance in a good match-up with Tampa Bay and then looking to flip him for a whatever I can get.
But more than anything Morris is a cautionary tale of what empty touches yield once a RB’s efficiency is gone. This season, Gurley, Jeremy Hill and Doug Martin are all receiving Morris-like low leverage workloads, but covering for it with great efficiency. We’ve covered why I’m riding with Gurley through at least Week 7, but I’m cutting bait on the other two before their efficiency comes back down to earth.
4 – Lamar Miller Still Limited
Speaking of efficient RBs with small workloads, Lamar Miller finally had his breakout game of 2015 with 21 touches for 118 yards and a TD. Unfortunately for Miller owners, he finished with just the 16th most combined rushing/receiving EP for the week. In other words, Miller’s breakout was the result of efficiency, not opportunity. After Week 3 I wrote:
The way I see it is if Miller’s performance rebounds in the next few weeks through high efficiency, I think he’s a sell; if it’s the result of an increasing workload I believe he’s a hold or even a buy. We know Miller is a good back when healthy, the question is whether he’ll get a workload we can count on.
Well the rebound happened a little later than I thought, but here it is, as the result of efficiency. And to be clear, unsustainable efficiency. Miller has always been a efficient rusher, but his Week 6 FPOE per carry of 0.54 was over three times his career average.
I recommend selling on the narrative that the Dolphins offense is on the way up after shedding Joe Philbin. The fact that Miami generated just the 22nd most opportunity for RBs last week in a blow-out win should actually be cause for concern.
5 – Mark Ingram, the Rare Committee RB Target
Through six games Mark Ingram is averaging 54 percent of the Saint’s total RB EP, which is just 20th in the NFL. Yet, Ingram is eight in the NFL in EP per game, at 13.5. This discrepancy is the result of New Orlean’s overall opportunity for RBs, which is forth highest in the NFL.
Fortunately, the Saints high RB volume looks to be sustainable. First of all, the Saints haven’t been very good this season. With wins against only the Dallas Weedens and an out of sorts Falcons team, it’s safe to say that the Saints’ RBs haven’t been game script dependent. Instead, the RB workload has been benefiting from the Saints’ fast paced offense.
Fast paced offense is nothing new for the Saints, as they’ve been above the league median in pace every year since 2010, usually by a significant margin. This season they’re operating slighlty slower than last season with a pace of 4 plays over expected–good enough for the fifth in the NFL in plays per game.
Ingram hasn’t been quite as involved in the passing game since proving me wrong about his passing game chops, but he’s been more involved as a rusher. Overall he’s roughly where he’s been all season–accounting for just over fifty percent of one of the NFL’s highest volume backfields. I’d prefer if he had an even bigger share of the workload, but even as a committee RB, Ingram is a target.
6 – Frank Gore is Still Hanging On
Last week marked Ahmad Bradshaw‘s return as an Indianapolis Colt. Let’s take a look at how Frank Gore was affected.
In Week 6 Gore saw 77 percent of the Colts’ combined rushing/receiving workload, with Bradshaw accounting for 23 percent. In Weeks 1-5 Gore saw 74 percent of the combined rushing/receiving workload with Josh Robinson accounting for 20 percent. So basically, one week into Bradshaw’s Colts tenure he’s had zero affect on Gore.
Now, that could change going forward. Bradshaw saw just one target in Week 6, and it would be a surprise if Bradshaw doesn’t see more work in the passing game from here on out. But I’m not panicking on Gore by any means. He’s 14th on the season in combined EP per game and, while not playing with great efficiency, he’ll no doubt prove to be much tougher competition for Bradshaw than Trent Richardson. If you can get Gore for low-end RB2/high-end RB3 prices, I think he’s a strong buy.
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: James Starks
Last week I asked if Eddie Lacy was a trap, writing:
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.
It turns out that not only was Lacy a trap, but Starks wasn’t content with just being the lead receiving back. In Week 6 Starks took over the entire backfield, accounting for 61 percent of the rushing EP and 40 percent of the receving EP–while turning his 61 percent market share into a league leading 13.5 FPOE. Meanwhile Lacy saw just 39 MS of rushing EP and 24 percent MS of receiving EP.
At this point, Starks looks more valuable on paper but I doubt the Green Bay coaches commit to him over Lacy going forward. Instead we’re probably looking at a messy committee that I want no part of. In the latest RV mailbag with Matt Freedman, we covered several Lacy + Starks offers. If, like some of the listeners, you can package both with a WR for a stud RB, I would make that happen.
Receiving: Arian Foster
Arian Foster is really begin to reward owners patient and brave enough to draft him, and those that targeted him a few weeks ago. Foster is currently fifth in the NFL with 14.7 combined rushing/receiving EP. Last week he added league leading efficiency in the passing game with five receptions, 59 yards and a TD on six targets.
Going forward Foster is my number four overall RB, behind Le’Veon Bell, Devonta Freeman and Matt Forte.
Combined Efficiency: Devonta Freeman
Speaking of Devonta Freeman… what a run this has been. For the fourth straight week, Freeman finishes as one of the three most efficient RBs in the league. And for the third time in four weeks, he finishes as the most efficient overall RB. On top of his league leading efficiency this week, Freeman posted 17.8 EP, the fourth largest workload of the week, and a healthy 73 percent market share of EP. Freeman’s price is finally beginning to reflect his production, but that doesn’t mean he’s overpriced. Freeman’s per game workload is second only to Forte’s–his historic efficiency is just an added bonus.