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.
And a big thanks to Shawn Siegele for filling in last week!
Top 7 Takeaways from Week 14
1 – Devonta Freeman: 2015’s Last Workhorse
2015 has seen five RBs average at least 14 combined rushing/receiving EP: Devonta Freeman, Arian Foster, Matt Forte, Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles. Of those, three have obviously suffered season ending injuries, while Forte’s workload has dropped by more than 5.0 EP since Jeremy Langford’s emergence.
Not only is Freeman the last remaining of these workhorses, he remains the season leader in combined EP per game, despite playing Week 1 as a backup and a 1.0 EP performance on six snaps in Week 11. Excluding those two weeks, Freeman has averaged 18.4 EP per game, which is more opportunity than the total output of 10 different NFL backfields.1
This week Freeman faces his best match-up since Week 11 and should be in position for an excellent day. As Shawn Siegele outlined last week, the collapsing Atlanta offense does not necessarily doom Freeman, and in fact could add to his PPR upside.
2 – The Resurrection of DeAngelo Williams
Freeman may be 2015’s premiere workhorse, but if you’re looking for the biggest workhorse over recent weeks it’s actually DeAngelo Williams. Since Week 8 Williams has led the NFL in EP per game at 15.7 and has posted back to back weeks of 19 EP or more. Williams also leads the NFL in market share of EP since Week 8 with 86 percent.
Williams faces the Broncos in Week 15, a somewhat difficult matchup for RBs. But he just saw 22.6 EP against Cincinnati, a more difficult match-up on paper, and performed slightly above expectations. Even if Williams’ workload regresses this week (which it will) his total domination of a productive backfield gives him one of the highest floors of any RB in the league.
3 – David Johnson’s Dynasty Outlook
One last workhorse I want to highlight is the newest addition to the 14 plus EP club–David Johnson, who’s averaged 8.7 rushing EP and 6.5 receiving EP over the last three weeks. His combined EP of 15.2 is fourth in the NFL over that span.
Johnson is also playing efficiently. His 0.37 FPOE per opportunity is second only to Lamar Miller among RBs with at least 100 opportunities. And Johnson is ninth in the NFL in FPOE despite accounting for just 35 percent of Cardinals RB Expected Points this season. One red flag however, is that Johnson’s efficiency has tailed off to an unimpressive 0.05 over the last three weeks on his increased workload.
When Johnson was drafted he appeared to be a larger version of what the Cardinals already had in Andre Ellington. And it’s worth pointing out that Ellington has actually been more efficient than Johnson this season on a per touch basis. So while Johnson appears to Arizona’s workhorse of the future with Ellington injured, make sure to keep an eye on his efficiency and his workload once Ellington returns. In dynasty Johnson may become a sell high if his price reflects the assumption that he’ll be the clear cut starter in 2016. His recent decrease in efficiency on a larger workload and Ellington’s efficiency in a part time role point to the possibility of a 2016 committee.
4 – James White’s Emergence
Last week Shawn had an insightful take on James White, writing:
White has a negative ruFPOE on a per play basis at -0.06, numbers which stand in stark contrast to Lewis at 0.29. But sometimes changing the perspective slightly creates an entirely different picture.
Shane Vereen posted a -0.03 ruFPOEPA in 2014, and unlike White, he wasn’t a good receiver either. His 0.04 reFPOEPT pales in comparison to that of White (0.34) or Lewis (0.43). Of course, there are sample size issues at play, but the idea that White isn’t the same talent as Vereen is probably narrative. If you felt comfortable playing Vereen last season – despite the extremely unpredictable nature of his workload – you should probably feel comfortable playing White in the fantasy playoffs.
White was again efficient in Week 14, hitting expectations on his 7.6 receiving EP and converting an unexpected carry from the two yard line for an additional 2.5 EP and 3.7 FPOE.
Since Dion Lewis was lost for the season in Week 9, White has averaged a healthy 9.4 EP per game and has produced the 11th most FPOE (18.3) at the second highest rate.2 Predicting the New England backfield is always difficult, but with LeGarrette Blount now out for the season and White performing well, we could see more opportunity for White down the stretch.
5 – C.J. Spiller Disappoints Again
In something that should no longer be news, C.J. Spiller disappointed fantasy owners in Week 14 with just six opportunities on 15 snaps compared to Tim Hightower‘s 29 opportunities on 58 snaps. The silver lining is that Spiller’s chances were more valuable. On average Spiller’s touches were over twice as valuable from an EP perspective, mainly because he got the majority of the passing game work. However, the giant storm cloud covering up that silver lining is that Spiller was less efficient last week than Hightower. The same Hightower that’s been out of the league since 2011 and just averaged 3.0 YPC? Yup, that Hightower.
So the outlook for Spiller doesn’t look good. The Saints clearly don’t trust him and given his efficiency on a limited workload, it’s probably unlikely they begin doing so. It’s been a lost season for Spiller and that won’t change in the last few weeks, even with Mark Ingram on IR.
6 – Denard Robinson’s Opportunity
Last week Denard Robinson accounted for 15.9 combined EP despite only playing 52 percent of the Jaguars snaps. This week with T.J. Yeldon likely to be out, Robinson looks poised for huge opportunity.
While the Jaguars have averaged just the 23rd most EP for RBs this season, they’ve shown a willingness to feed their lead back. Prior to Week 14, when he was knocked out with a knee injury, Yeldon accounted for 72 percent of the Jaguars RB EP, the fourth highest percentage in the NFL. Last week after Yeldon left the game, only Robinson saw action, so it seems likely that the Jaguars will feed Robinson just as they did Yeldon.
If that’s the case Robinson could be in for a huge day against a weak Falcons defense. At just $4,600 on DraftKings that’s a bet I’m willing to make. Robinson is my DraftKings Play of the Week.
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: Lamar Miller
This was an odd game for Lamar Miller that saw him rack up 69 yards and two TDs on seven carries in the the first half, but then received only five carries in the second half for an underwhelming 20 yards. Regardless, on the back of his first half performance Miller produced 16.5 rushing FPOE, good for the second highest total of the week.
Miller is quietly having a career year. He currently leads the entire NFL in FPOE, and is doing so at a Jamaal Charles-ian rate of 0.38 FPOE per opportunity. To put what he’s doing in perspective, Miller has been operating with a workload just above what Theo Riddick has seen this year, yet he’s produced more FPOE than every other RB in the league.
Miller’s dynasty stock is somewhat suppressed by his current role, his impending free agency, the presence of Jay Ajayi, and a flawed fantasy resume over the past few years. But Miller is just 24 years old and has consistently performed at an elite level this season. If he finds himself in a high volume situation in 2016 he could easily finish as the the overall RB1. Monitor Miller in dynasty for buy low opportunities in the coming weeks and months.
Receiving: Bilal Powell
Bilal Powell was the week’s most efficient receiving RB with 9.1 FPOE on five targets. Over the last four games Powell is also receiving a healthy workload of 9.7 receiving EP–second in the NFL over that span–and an additional 1.7 rushing EP. His combined EP of 11.4 is 15th in the NFL over the last four weeks.
Powell is never an exciting fantasy option but he offers flex-able PPR value down the stretch.
Combined Efficiency: Todd Gurley
Todd Gurley broke out of his multi-week slump in Week 14 with 17 touches for 147 yards and two TDs for 18.4 combined EP. As I’m writing this I’ve just seen Gurley stuffed on three straight carries from the two yard line, so it’s clear he won’t be repeating this kind of efficiency in Week 15. And as a Gurley owner in dynasty I’m beginning to resign myself to the fact that until the Rams get a decent QB, Gurley is likely to be inconsistent on a week to week basis.
Even while leading the league in FPOE in Week 14 Gurley had 11 of his carries go for just 21 yards, while the other 5 went for 119. Until he gets a QB who can consistently move the offense, or until he becomes more consistently involved in the passing game, Gurley’s inconsistency is going to be a fact of life. But given his ceiling in any given outing, I’m happy living with it for now.