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.
Top 7 Takeaways from Week 11
1 – Big Opportunity for Buck Allen
The onslaught of RB injuries continued in Week 11 with Justin Forsett ending his season with a broken forearm. With Lorenzo Taliafero also out for the season, the Ravens RB workload now falls squarely on the shoulders of Javorius Allen.
Unfortunately, Allen wasn’t impressive with his opportunity on Sunday. And life’s about to get harder with Joe Flacco out for season with a torn ACL and Matt Schaub taking over. And of course Forsett had been a fantasy disappointment leading the same backfield. So how much production can we really expect from Allen?
Well, keep in mind that Forsett has been a disappointment due to inefficiency, not opportunity. Prior to last week, Forsett was 10th in combined EP per game, with 6.9 rushing EP and 6.1 receiving EP per game. And consider that when Allen took over on Sunday he was also used heavily, finishing third on the week with 17.7 combined EP. True enough, Allen didn’t take full advantage of that workload, posting -1.2 FPOE, but for fantasy purposes his inefficiency was far outweighed by the large workload he received.
With Baltimore’s upcoming schedule, Allen may be in a favorable position in the coming weeks. Baltimore faces the easiest schedule from Weeks 12-13 according to the Buy Low Machine, although things do get considerably more difficult afterwards, with the most difficult schedule in the league from Weeks 14-16. Personally I think if you can get RB2 prices for Allen, he’s a sell. But if I can’t get that type of value I’m also fine holding onto him as a rotational starter for the playoff run.
2- Jeremy Langford’s Last Game as the Starter?
As a Matt Forte owner, Denver’s shut down performance against Jeremy Langford in Week 11 was a bit of a relief. After producing the second most FPOE from Weeks 9-10, Langford was the fourth least efficient RB in Week 11 with -4.5 FPOE. In retrospect it’s possible to paint Langford’s breakout as schedule dependent, as the Bears has the second easiest RB schedule during Langford’s two week breakout. As the lead back against more difficult opponents in Weeks 8 & 11, he averaged -3.12 FPOE per game.
However, if you were the Chicago Bears, wouldn’t getting a clear cut answer to the question–how good is Jeremy Langford–be at the very top of your priority list right now? At 4-6, the Bears have no realistic shot a the playoffs, and have absolutely no reason to turn back to Forte as a workhorse back. Forte has been less efficient than Langford on the season and is an unrestricted free agent after the season. In other words, starting Langford is the win now move, and is the better move for the future of the franchise. But as I said last week, the Bears are coached by Jon Fox; so Forte’s job is probably safe.
Where I own Forte the trade deadline has already passed, but in leagues with late deadlines, I’d be paying very close attention to the workload split on Thursday. Anything less than true lead back market share for Forte, especially if it’s combined with a Bears loss, would be enough reason for me to sell on Forte while it’s still possible.
3 – LeSean McCoy Returning to Form
I’ve come full circle with LeaSean McCoy this season. After being fairly high on him in the pre-season, I was down on him early in the season as he struggled through a hamstring injury and ceded touches to his highly efficient back-up, Karlos Williams. But I’ve come around on McCoy again after both his efficiency and workload have bounced back over the last few weeks.
McCoy’s efficiency rebounded in Week 9, with 11.3 FPOE on 16 attempts and two targets. Since then he’s fifth in the NFL in FPOE and sixth in FPOE per game. But just as importantly (or more so), McCoy’s workload market share has rebounded as well. From Weeks 1-3 when McCoy and Williams were both active, McCoy averaged just 57 percent of the Bill’s workload and produced just 9.8 combined EP. But in Weeks 9-11 when both RB were again active, McCoy averaged 82 percent of the workload and 14.1 combined EP.
Going forward Buffalo has one of the harder schedules for RBs, so it’s worth shopping McCoy around. But I’m encouraged by his increased usage of late and he should remain a solid option down the stretch despite his schedule.
4 – Shaun Draughn Fantasy Starter?
After Week 9 I was mildly interested in Shaun Draughn, picking him up in several leagues (including #SFB360), and writing this in that week’s RB report:
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… 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.
Well he was certainly useful on Sunday, producing 15.7 PPR Fantasy Points on 12 attempts and 11 targets in a tough match-up against the Seahawks. Despite being inefficient–his -4.4 FPOE was fifth worst on the week–I’m starting to buy in on Draughn. Not as a player. He’s still bad. But his opportunity is too good to ignore. Over the last three weeks Draughn is third in the NFL in combined EP per game and has accounted for 87 percent of SF’s backfield market share, also third in the NFL. Ignore that type of workload at your own peril.
It’s unclear when Carlos Hyde will return, but as long as he’s ruled out for Week 12, I like Draughn quite a bit as a cheap GPP option in a decent match-up against the Cardinals.
5 – Tevin Coleman Face Plants
This week on The RotoViz Report‘s recurring segment “No Shit or Shit… No I still Don’t Understand the Concept,” guest Matt Kelly lamented Tevin Coleman‘s face planting performance in relief of the concussed Devonta Freeman. Matt wasn’t kidding. Coleman was the least efficient RB in the league this week, producing -9.6 FPOE on 17 attempts and two targets.
But the bigger issue for Coleman, as it relates to his 2015 fantasy value, is how the opportunity was split after Freeman went down. Unlike some backup RBs we’ve seen–DeAngelo Williams, Charcandrick West, Jeremy Langford, etc.–Coleman didn’t step in as a workhorse when Freeman went down. Coleman saw just 50 percent of the backfield EP on Sunday, compared to the 75 percent Freeman has seen as the starter this season. The primary reason for this is Coleman’s limited role in the passing game, where he saw only two targets and ceded four targets to both Terron Ward and Patrick DiMarco.
Going forward I think Coleman’s value as a handcuff is less than we previously thought. Both because Coleman probably isn’t as good as most of us thought, but also because Freeman’s role may disintegrate without Freeman in the picture.
6 – Alfred Blue has Upside
Starting Alfred Blue in fantasy is about as underwhelming as it gets. It’s hard to imagine how the Houston Texans must feel doing it in real life every week. But if you’re going to start Blue, this is probably the week to do it. Over the last four weeks, Blue is producing 11.0 EP per game, 21st in the league–which while not fantastic, is a usable workload. This week Blue gets a weak New Orleans rush defense that’s rated fourth easiest for RBs by the Buy Low Machine. And if anything, the Saints have been under exploited on the ground. They’ve yielded the second most FPOE to RBs this season, but teams have produced only the ninth most Expected Points in those match-ups (probably because they were too busy taking advantage of their league worst pass defense).
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: Spencer Ware
The week’s most efficient rusher was actually Thomas Rawls, but lets highlight the week’s runner up, Spencer Ware. In relief of Charcandrick West, Ware ran produced 12.8 rushing FPOE with 96 yards and two TDs on 11 attempts.
In a week with several exciting waiver RB options, Ware is easy to forget about, but with West’s Week 12 status still uncertain, Ware is definitely worth an add. Not only are the Chiefs likely to use Ware in a workhorse role for as long as West is out, but they have easiest schedule for RB over the next three weeks and for the rest of the season.
Last week after West’s best game of the season, I wrote:
This efficiency is a great sign for West, because prior to Week 10, he’d really been a product of volume. While West leads all RBs in combined EP over the last four weeks, prior to Week 9 he’d produced negative FPOE on the season and was the sixth least efficient RB in the NFL with at least 50 opportunities.
To put West’s efficiency in perspective, even after his efficient Week 10, Ware still produced more FPOE in Week 11 than West has for the entire season. If West misses extended time and/or returns to action at less than full health, Ware could be an important late season add for contending teams.
Receiving: Ahmad Bradshaw
Rawls was also the week’s most efficient receiving RB, but let’s again highlight the runner up, Ahmad Bradshaw–who turned four targets into four receptions, 20 yards, two TDs and 6.3 FPOE. Bradshaw, of course, is no stranger to highly efficient receiving, as he was 2014’s fourth most efficient RB with 32.5 receiving FPOE in just 10 games. But workload may be an issue with Frank Gore likely to return in Week 12. However, if Gore’s not at full health right away, his iron grip on the backfield may loosen. Bradshaw isn’t one of my top pickups this week, but he could have some fantasy utility down the stretch depending on Gore’s health.
Combined Efficiency: Thomas Rawls
Rawls absolutely exploded in Week 11, finishing as the week’s most efficient rusher (30 attempts for 209 yards and one TD), most efficient receiver (three targets for three receptions, 54 yards and one TD) and most efficient RB overall with 23.1 FPOE on 33 opportunities. With Marshawn Lynch‘s status for the remainder of the season uncertain, those who picked up Rawls should be doing back-flips.
But for those whose trade deadline hasn’t passed yet, this may also be a great time to sell high. Seattle has produced just the 24th most Expected Points for RBs this season. And when operating as the lead RB this season Rawls has seen just 10.2 combined EP per game, which is RB3 territory and less than what Chris Johnson has averaged this season.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d need RB1 value for Rawls, but I’d rather bet on someone with a more reliable workload down the stretch.