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7 Takeaways for Week 9 – the RB Opportunity Report

Welcome to the RB 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.

See the first article in the series for an explanation of terms and methology.

TOP 7 TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 8

*Note: Before we get to the takeaways, I just wanted to acknowledge the fact that I’m filling in for my brother Pat as he’s away on business this week. He’s done a great job this season, but you’ve had a chance to see what he can do and now maybe you’ll like what I do better. It worked for my parents, so maybe it’ll work for you too!

1- Nooooooooo! Not Le’Veon!!!!!!!!!

The RB position is an absolute wasteland. It feels like we say this every year, but it also feels like this year has been especially brutal. And that was true before we lost Le’Veon Bell, one of the most fun RBs in the league and certainly the most stable.1 Post-suspension and prior to Week 8, Bell was third in rushing EP and eighth in receiving EP among RBs, a feat rivaled only by Devonta Freeman. Meanwhile Bell’s season average receiving efficiency of 0.05 FPOE per target was well below his career average of 0.23, meaning there was ample room for positive regression in his performance. But alas. Now we’re left with a gutted RB position, and those who invested in RB in the first round of their redraft leagues essentially played Russian roulette with five bullets in the chamber. There are a lot of great stats about this, but this tweet from Fantasy Douche is my favorite:

2 – The Ascension of DeAngelo

The fallout from the Bell injury is clear, in that DeAngelo Williams assumes the primary RB role in Pittsburgh. But exactly how valuable is he going forward? Looking at his two game sample from the beginning of the season, it looks like he will be in the weekly top ten conversation. After two weeks, Williams led the entire NFL in rushing EP and accounted for 73 percent of the Steelers market share of rushing EP and 100 percent (!) of their receiving EP among RBs. He was also hyper efficient, recording the fourth highest rushing  FPOE in the league over those two games. I think it’s fair to wonder if that efficiency will regress some as the season wears on, especially as Williams is 32 years old. However, Williams per carry FPOE of 0.29 in those game is not much higher than his career average of 0.24.

He may be on the older side, but this is an established, efficient player in a very valuable role. And I think we can expect him to maintain that role; no other Steelers RB received a carry after Bell went down on Sunday. The team signed Isaiah Pead this week, but he has 19 career carries and produced a -1.43 FPOE with that opportunity, so we can probably ignore that. I like Williams quite a bit as a trade deadline buy for contenders needing to strengthen their RB position.

3- Ronnie Hillman the Starter? Eh…

Coming out of their Week 7 bye, the Broncos indicated that Ronnie Hillman would start against the Packers. He did, and Hillman outrushed C.J. Anderson 19-14. And though his market share of rushing attempts actually decreased from their last game in Week 6 (61 to 56 percent), Hillman’s market share of EP rose from 61 percent to 66 percent. Naturally, in an effort to prevent us from ever having clarity in this situation, Anderson had his most efficient rushing performance of the season, nearly doubling Hillman’s per touch FPOE.2  A lot of Anderson’s performance could be attributed to game script, as Hillman dominated the touches early but the Broncos got up big and ran the ball over 30 times. That won’t happen every week, but as the organization has been desperately wanting someone to emerge at the RB position, I doubt they’ll just ignore Anderson’s success, particularly as it came in a game where Peyton Manning is widely perceived to have turned a corner (FWIW, Sunday was Manning’s third most efficient passing performance of the season).

Overall this looks like it will continue to be a gross timeshare. It’s worth noting that neither back distinguished themselves in the receiving game on Sunday; they combined for three targets and were both inefficient with their minimal workloads. Hillman is still probablyyyyyy the back I’d rather own, but neither is particularly appealing as each continues to cap the other’s upside. However, both could be sneakily useful over the next three weeks as the Broncos face the 28th and 29th ranked rush defenses in terms of yards allowed per game.3.

4- Hue Jackson Hates Fantasy Owners 

Heading into Week 8, Giovani Bernard had been a nice surprise for those that drafted him in the middle rounds. He had out touched Jeremy Hill, due not just to his dominating the passing game workload, but on the season he had received three more carries. So before Sunday’s game when Hue Jackson said the Bengals were “committed” to Hill, it was easy to ignore. Hadn’t the Bengals been committed to Hill going into the season? And Bernard had also been the more efficient back on the ground, further ensuring that he had carved out a stable role in the offense. Welp, Sunday was a lot of fun for Bernard owners. Bernard had a whopping three touches, as Hill accounted for 94 percent of the Bengals rushing EP. Regarding Hill, Hue Jackson’s most recent quote was something to the effect of “it’s time.” Well then.

Game script may have accounted for some of the usage on Sunday, as it was neutral for the entire game. Meanwhile, Bernard’s best games this season have come in negative game script situations, like Cincy’s Week 5 tilt against the Seahawks in which Bernard accounted for 72 percent of total EP. But I think it may be time to listen to Hue Jackson. It looks like this may be turning into the situation we envisioned prior to Week 1, with Hill as the primary RB and Bernard as the change of pace/passing down back. Even in Week 8, Bernard accounted for the majority of receiving EP, so he may still be useful in PPR. But I don’t know how you can start him confidently, particularly with games against the Browns and Texans coming up, games that setup well for a battering ram RB. So as for Hill, full speed ahead. Hopefully you bought low.

5 – Checking in on the Packers

Pat has written about the Packers RB situation at length, but it’s a fascinating one, and we should check in with them coming off a bye. This is particularly a good idea as a common refrain from Eddie Lacy apologists is that he hasn’t been fully healthy. Maybe the bye did him good? As it so happens, Lacy accounted for 75 percent of the Packers rushing EP and 50 percent of their passing EP in Week 8, well above his season average of 50 percent and 38 percent, respectively. He also had his most efficient rushing performance since Week 1, averaging 0.17 FPOE per carry, lending credence to the idea that he’s healthier now than he has been in weeks. The Packers get a tough matchup next week at Carolina, but keep an eye on the workloads here because after that their next four games are against Detroit, at Minnesota, vs. Chicago, and at Detroit. If Lacy maintains the market shares that he held against the Broncos, then he could very well propel many teams into the playoffs.

6 – Here’s to you, Mr. Robinson

In a week where elite players like Le’Veon Bell and Keenan Allen went down, it’s easy to overlook the loss of Khiry Robinson. But Mark Ingram owners should certainly have taken notice. Robinson was quietly averaging over nine touches a game, and heading into Week 8 was accounting for 35 percent of the Saints’ market share of rushing EP.  In fact, while Ingram has been the primary RB in New Orleans and is widely considered to be having a good fantasy season, he was only receiving a slightly higher market share of rushing EP (57 percent) while accruing almost double the amount of touches. The reason? A much higher percentage of Robinson’s touches were high leverage red zone and goal line opportunities. Going forward, expect the vast majority of those touches to be transferred to Ingram, who is already eighth in rushing EP in the league.  The rich get richer. Ingram will now be in contention to be a top three RB weekly.

7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World 

Rushing: Todd Gurley 

What more can possibly be said about this guy? A week after Pat noted his impressive increase in receiving EP (which held steady in Week 8 by the way), meaning a stable, bankable overall workload, Todd Gurley threw silly questions like “workload” out the window by posting an absurd rushing FPOE of 11.78. He cares not for the importance of high leverage touches, as he scored untouched from 71 yards out this week. Gurley is now averaging 0.44 FPOE every time he carries the ball. He’s going to win a lot of people championships.

Receiving: Dion Lewis

Shoutout to Taiwan Jones, who earned a ridiculous 11.61 FPOE on one target thanks to some extra special tackling effort by the New York Jets. But Dion Lewis is the real winner here, thanks to a methodical all around effort that earned him 9.20 FPOE on nine targets. Post-injury, Lewis picked up right where he left off, and in a game that could have easily been a “Legarette Blount game” given the game script. Blount certainly got his (17 carries), but Lewis affirmed his important and productive role in the #1 scoring offense in the league. With his bye and injury (hopefully) behind him, Lewis should be locked and loaded in fantasy rosters down the stretch.

Combined Efficiency: Adrian Peterson 

You might think it’s weird to see Adrian Peterson’s name here, as he’s never been regarded as a particularly good pass catcher. And I agree…but this was a very strange week for combined efficiency. Among the top ten RBs in rushing FPOE, Peterson was the only back with a significant workload that did NOT post a negative receiving FPOE. Not much analysis here; Adrian Peterson is still good at football.

Thanks for letting me fill in Pat! Don’t worry everyone, he’ll be back next week.

  1. In terms of pure performance Devonta Freeman has been by far the most stable, but taking past performance into account (e.g. how sure are we that this guy is definitely good) I think it’s Bell in a landslide.  (back)
  2. Honestly, both backs were very efficient; for the week Anderson was third in rushing FPOE and Hillman was fifth.  (back)
  3. The Colts and Bears, respectively  (back)

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