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.
Also, a big thanks to my brother Mike for filling in for me last week.
Top 7 Takeaways from Week 9
1 – Buying Darren McFadden
Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a surprising addition to the workhorse ranks: Darren McFadden. McFadden is averaging 16.4 combined rushing/receiving Expected Points over the last three weeks, third in the NFL. He’s also first in market share of combined EP over that stretch, accounting for 84% of the Cowboy’s total RB workload.
The worry with McFadden is and always will be injury, but that also keeps his price low. And for what it’s worth, McFadden hasn’t been dinged up since training camp and is coming off one of his healthiest NFL seasons. He was also rated by Sports Injury Predictor as only a medium risk for injury before the season, which isn’t great, but he came in a 20th among RBs which is certainly lower than I would have predicted.
Personally I think the best course of action with McFadden is to swallow hard and acquire him for the playoffs. He’s probably the cheapest source of quality RB touches, and has a decent schedule down the stretch, so he could be the key addition that brings home a title this year.1
2 – Mark Ingram Carrying the Load
Remember that high pitched ringing you had in your right ear last Sunday afternoon, that you blamed on sitting too close to the TV on full volume and then briefly considered scheduling an appointment with an ear doctor before deciding to continue with your regularly scheduled life? Well that was the collective shriek of anyone who started CJ Spiller.
With Khiry Robinson out of the game, it was reasonable to expect that Spiller would pick up some of the slack, yet his role decreased. Mark Ingram meanwhile saw 86 percent of the total RB workload, more than 30 percentage points higher than his season average.
Going forward I wouldn’t overreact to this week’s usage in regards to Spiller. Through Week 8 Spiller was accounting for 23 percent of the total RB workload. The fact that his market share decreased to 14 percent with Robinson’s 28 percent market share up for grabs is likely an aberration. So I may be in the minority here, but I think Spiller is still worth hanging onto to on the assumption that he’ll be worked in more going forward.
However, this week’s usage was a great sign for Ingram. Ingram was already producing as a fantasy RB1 as the lead back in a high volume committee. He’s probably still a lead back in a committee of some kind, but with the upside of a true lead back in a high value backfield. Workload-wise you can think of him as Chris Ivory with Devonta Freeman upside. And on top of that, the Saints have the second easiest schedule for RBs the rest of the season. Ingram makes a great trade deadline investment for the playoffs.
3 – Frank Gore Gets no Luck
With Andrew Luck out for 2-6 weeks, lets take a look at what we can expect from Frank Gore.
With Luck under center Gore has averaged 15.6 carries and 3.3 targets for 11.9 combined rushing/receiving EP. In the two weeks that Luck was out though, Gore’s usage spiked to 19.5 carries, 3.5 targets and a combined EP of 15.7. And this pattern was also evident for the backfield as a whole. With Luck playing the backfield has averaged 19.9 carries, 5.2 targets and 16.6 combined EP. Without him the usage jumped to 18.5 EP on more carries (23.5) but slightly fewer targets (4.5).
The counter to this narrative is that the Colts faced their two easiest run defenses in when Luck was out in Weeks 4-5: Jacksonville and Houston. But the counter to the counter is that the Colts play both of those teams again in the fantasy playoffs and have the third easiest schedule down the stretch. There’s always the chance that the Colts offense will stall without Luck, but the slate is easy enough that I’m not overly concerned about it.
And if Ahmad Bradshaw has you nervous, bear in mind that Gore’s market share of EP has actually increased slightly since Bradshaw’s arrival in Week 6. In fact Gore’s market share of 75 percent is good for third in the NFL. He’s a true workhorse (or what counts for one in this day in age) and his workload may be on the rise. Gore is another RB I’d be happy to acquire as a playoff piece.
4 – Shaun Draughn, Start-able Option?
Shaun Draughn was surprisingly productive last week in his first game with the 49ers, who were more than a TD underdog and starting Blaine Gabbert at QB. But can Draughn be usable going forward if Carlos Hyde is out?
Taking a look at Draughn’s EP shows that what he did on Sunday may not be repeatable. Draughn accounted for 12.6 combined EP, while Hyde has averaged just 9.9 combined EP on the season. This would seems to point to a favorable match-up with Atlanta as the driving force behind Draughn’s production.
However, the 49ers’ team RB totals tell a different story. The San Francisco backfield as a whole has averaged 17.7 combined EP this season. Last week they averaged 17.4. So the difference last week wasn’t that the 49ers were leaning on their RBs more, it was that they leaning on Draughn more than they’d leaned on Hyde.
This is evident in the market share of last week’s workload, where Draughn saw 77 percent of combined EP–a higher percentage of the workload than Devonta Freeman has seen this season. Hyde meanwhile has averaged just 58 percent of the total workload, which is market share in line with Latavius Murray and Jonathan Stewart. Given the state of the 49ers backfield, I don’t see any reason why Draughn couldn’t continue to dominate touches while Hyde is out. Despite a tough schedule coming out of the bye, Draughn should be useful as a spot starter until Hyde returns.
5 – Forecasting the Patriots’ Backfield
Last week delivered yet another blow to the RB position, as the Patriots lost Dion Lewis for the season with a torn ACL. Lewis was having a terrific season, producing the fifth most receiving FPOE per game this season, and the seventh most FPOE overall.
Lewis’ likely replacements, Brandon Bolden and/or James White are both producing negative FPOE on a per touch basis. So expect whichever back takes over for Lewis to be far less effective with his touches.
However, for fantasy purposes there may still be value in this role. The Patriots are averaging the 11th most receiving EP to RBs, with a total of 71 targets to RBs on the season. Legarrette Blount has seen exactly three of those, while a huge percentage were going to Lewis. Lewis finishes his season as fourth in the NFL in market share of receiving EP at 76 percent and first in the NFL in with 9.3 receiving EP per game.
If Bolden or White can take over Lewis’ role, they may be in line for double digit PPR points just by stepping on the field (provided that week’s game plan calls for passes to the RB). Though if they split up the workload, neither RB is good enough to be of much use. My bet would be that White gets the first crack at the job, but either player could be a value on workload alone.
As for Blount, I don’t think much changes for him. If you’ll recall, in Week 7 when Lewis was out Blount saw three carries and zero targets, while White saw 5 targets and a healthy 6.6 receiving EP. As always, expect the Patriots’ RB usage to be game plan specific. If owners in your league are more interested in Blount post-Lewis injury, I’d consider selling.
6 – Jay Ajayi’s Debut
As someone who was high on Jay Ajayi pre-NFL draft, it was great to see him come out and look good in his NFL debut last week. Ajayi rushed five times and produced a very good 0.37 FPOE per attempt, which is definitely a positive sign. As a Lamar Miller owner, I’m taking notice in the sense that I’ll be looking to roster Ajayi as a handcuff. I’m not however, all that concerned about Ajayi eating into Miller’s touches.
Ajayi saw just 10 percent of the RB workload last week, while Miller saw an impressive 90 percent. And Miller was far more efficient–nearly doubling Ajayi’s already impressive efficiency with 0.71 FPOE per opportunity. Miller is now third on the season in FPOE per opportunity among RBs.2
But Ajayi does make a great handcuff to Miller, for the same reason that Miller has been so productive as of late. The RB opportunity in Miami has increased dramatically under Dan Campbell. Through Weeks 1-4 the Dolphins were last in the NFL in RB workload per game, with just 12.1 combined EP to RBs. After their bye in Week 5, that number has jumped to 19.1. So basically, Miami’s backfield has been expected to score more than a TD’s worth of fantasy points under Campbell than under Joe Philbin.
Going forward, Miami has two very difficult match-ups in the next three Weeks, playing Philadelphia in Week 10 and the NY Jets in Week 12. But they have the second most favorable schedule for Weeks 15-16, so the Miami lead back could very well be a championship maker this season.
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: Karlos Williams
Karlos Williams continued his amazingly efficient season on Sunday with 19.7 FPOE on only 3.3 rushing EP. Williams FPOE per opportunity of 0.8 is now first in the NFL.3 Just to put that in perspective, the dude is tacking on nearly a fantasy point of efficiency every time the team looks his way.
Williams has been very exciting this season, but he’s tough to rely on based on his limited opportunities. And if you own him in dynasty I’d be shopping him. He’s behind a talented 27 year old RB on the depth chart, who’s playing well and can’t feasibly be cut until 2018. It’s hard to see how he’s anything more than an exciting change of pace back for the next few seasons.
Receiving: James Starks
James Starks continued his surprisingly excellent season with 10.1 receiving FPOE on 8 targets against the Panthers. Last week, substitute Kerrane speculated that Eddie Lacy could return to form after a slow start to the season. Unfortunately Lacy returned to form in much the same way a bowl of pudding returns to form after you take a bite.
Instead it was Starks who stepped his game up, delivering his second most efficient performance of the season, and earning the designation of lead RB heading into a great match-up with Detroit. It’s hard to recommend trading for Starks, as the Packers seem intent on working Lacy back in at some point. But if you have Starks I’d ride him till the wheels fall off, and Lacy remains a stay away for me this season.
Combined Efficiency: DeAngelo Williams
Deangelo Williams was actually second to Karlos Williams in combined EP this week, but as all of Karlos’ work came on the ground, we’ll give this one to DeAngelo.
Actually, probably the best news for Williams was that he wasn’t the leagues most efficient back this week, because it means that the majority of his 36.5 PPR fantasy points were the result of workload (21.6 EP) rather than efficiency (14.9 FPOE).
Last week Mike made a great call in identifying Williams as a trade deadline buy, and I hope you took advantage because the window has slammed shut. With a banged up QB, a solid schedule down the stretch and no real competition for touches, Williams could easily be the league leader in RB workload for the stretch run