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 12
1 – David Johnson’s Time to Shine
Another week, another RB on IR, with Chris Johnson now out for the season with a fractured tibia. And with Andre Ellington suffering a turf toe injury in the same game, David Johnson in now the next man up in Arizona.
Kyle Pollock has already highlighted Johnson’s athleticism, production and efficiency but let’s dive a little deeper into his opportunity. This season the Cardinals are 14th in Expected Points per game for RBs, but are just one of ten teams to not have a RB with more than 50 percent market share of EP.
With both Ellington and Chris Johnson unavailable in Week 13, it seems likely that David Johnson will operate as the undisputed lead back. So he could be the first RB to fully take advantage of an above average situation in Arizona. And if Johnson receives Jonathan Stewart type market share of 64 percent–in other words, a clear starter workload but not true workhorse market share–Johnson could be in line for over 15 PPR points just by showing up on Sunday.
At just $3,400 on Draft Kings, Johnson is sure to be one of the most popular plays of the week, and for good reason. He should have a floor of double digit PPR points until Ellington can return to full health.
2 – Shaun Draughn is a Sneaky Good Play
While Shaun Draughn is a much less exciting name that David Johnson, he’s nearly as good a play in Week 13 at his $4,000 salary, and will certainly be less owned. What makes him such a good play is, as unlikely as it may seem, Draughn is currently one the few clear-cut workhorses in the NFL.
Over the last four weeks, Draughn is fourth in EP per game at 14.9 and second in the league in market share of EP at 90 percent. To put Draughn’s 14.9 EP in perspective, that’s roughly the workload that we can expect for Johnson this week based on our best assumptions about how Bruce Arians will deploy his RBs. But unlike Johnson, we’ve actually seen Draughn used heavily for three straight games.
At his $4,000 DraftKings salary, Draughn makes a great GPP play this week. But he’s especially enticing as a contrarian play to Johnson. In our Play of the Week contest (where I’m middle of the pack and need to make up ground), he’ll be my play of the week in a decent match-up against the Bears.
3 – The Bears Committee
Speaking of the Bears, last week was a nightmare scenario for Matt Forte owners. He returned from injury not as a true starter, but as the lead back in a committee. And just as troubling, Forte was far less effective than Jeremy Langford with his touches.
After averaging 79 percent market share of EP through Week 8, Forte saw just 54 percent of the Bear’s RB EP in his return from injury last week. Langford meanwhile accounted for the remaining 46 percent of EP and was far more efficient, producing 1.2 FPOE compared to Forte’s -6.5.
Going forward, it’s possible that Forte will be worked in more as he progresses from his injury. But as I covered last week, it’s hard to see the Bears having strong motivation to play Forte (an impending free agent) over Langford, whom they presumably want to evaluate as their future starter at RB.
4 – A Clear Starter in Cleveland?
Through the first three weeks of 2015, Isaiah Crowell accounted for 47 percent of the Browns’ RB EP, compared to 38 percent for Duke Johnson. From Weeks 4-9 that flipped, with Johnson receiving 53 percent and Crowell’s market share dropping to 34 percent. This isn’t exactly news, but Johnson has clearly been the (only) back to own for some time now. What might be news however, is a recent trend indicating that Johnson is taking full control of the starting job.
Over the last two games Johnson has averaged 69 percent of the Brown’s EP, while Crowell’s market share has dropped to just 27 percent. Of particular importance, Johnson appears to be eating into Crowell’s rushing workload, not just benefiting from additional passing game work. Through Weeks 4-9 Johnson averaged 35 percent of the Browns’ rushing EP; that’s climbed to 46 percent since Week 10. As already the clear cut receiving RB, Johnson should be somewhat immune to poor match-ups (like this week against Cincinnati), and offers big upside in plus match-ups (like Week 14 against San Francisco).
5 – Eddie Lacy Looking Spry
It seems like we touch on the Packers backfield every week in this space, but it’s been one hell of an interesting season for Green Bay, so let’s check in once more on Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
Lacy had a resurgent performance in Week 12, producing 4.1 rushing FPOE and 7.1 reciving FPOE on 6.4 rushing EP and 6.3 receiving EP. Overall Lacy was the fifth most efficient RB of the week and did so on a healthy workload of 12.7 EP, the 12th highest of the week.
Starks however, did not go away, with 9.9 EP of his own, the 28th most on the week. He also performed efficiently, with a very respectable 0.17 FPOE per opportunity. He remains the more efficient RB on the season in terms of total FPOE and FPOE per opportunity.
For the season, Lacy and Starks have accounted for identical market share of EP, at 48 percent each. Going forward, it’s reasonable to expect Lacy’s share to increase but it’s worth noting that even in Week 12’s breakout performnace Lacy only outworked Starks in market share by a 56 to 44 percent margin. I’m still proceding cautiously in DFS with Lacy, particularly in games where the Packers may not lean on the running game like they did in a bad weather game last Thursday.
6 – Melvin Gordon is Getting his Shot
From Weeks 1-9 there was no doubt about who the Charger’s real lead back was: Danny Woodhead. Woodhead averaged 50 percent of the Charger’s EP, with 32 percent of the rushing EP and 62 percent of the receiving EP. I even used Woodhead as an example of why EP is so important, as Melvin Gordon was getting more raw opportunities, but Woodhead was the more valuable RB by EP as a result of his roles in the passing game and the red zone.
After the Chargers Week 10 bye though, things have changed. Over the last two games Gordon is averaging 50 percent of the RB EP, while Woodhead’s market share has fallen to just 39 percent. And Gordon’s role has increased in both the rushing game (51 percent up to 70 percent) and the passing game (24 percent up to 35 percent). It seems like the Chargers are using an otherwise lost season to see what they have in their first round rookie.
For Gordon, it’s hard to know what the long term implications of this increased role will be. On the one hand, it’s certainly not a bad sign to see him getting more work. But on the other hand he’s been exactly as efficient (an inefficient -0.02 FPOE per opportunity), as he’s been all season. If that doesn’t improve he’ll likely revert back to his early season role next year, as Danny Woodhead is under contract through 2016.
For the short term however, Gordon’s upside increases. He makes a decent cheap play at RB this week in an above average match-up, and definitely keep him in mind for plus match-ups against Dolphins in Week 15 and the Raiders in Week 16.
7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World
Rushing: Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson continued his excellent 2015 with 158 yards and two TDs on 29 carries, for 14.3 rushing FPOE, the second most of the week. Peterson also lead the week in workload, with 18.7 combined EP, including 5.2 receiving EP, his second highest receiving total of the season.
Peterson’s efficiency may regress over the next four weeks, as the Vikings have the fifth most difficult schedule for RBs over that span. But he’s obviously one of the safest RB plays in the league based on workload and track record.
Receiving: Brandon Bolden
Despite being one of the 20 least efficient RBs in the NFL through Week 11, Brandon Bolden finished as Week 12’s most efficient receiving RB with 4 receptions, 84 yards and a TD on 4 targets for 13.3 receiving FPOE.
The Patriots’ backfield is anyone’s guess going forward, but at the very least it looks doubtful that James White will emerge as a reliable fantasy option in Dion Lewis‘ absence, with Bolden’s presence, and White’s own inefficiency, to contend with.
Combined Efficiency: CJ Anderson
CJ Anderson emerged from the ashes in Week 12 to lead the NFL in rushing FPOE and combined rushing/receiving FPOE with 153 total yards and 2 TDs for 20.9 FPOE.
Anderson’s Week 12 performance was so good that actually it flips the narrative of the Broncos backfield. Prior to Week 12, Ronnie Hillman had been three times more efficient than Anderson on a per touch basis–2015 was the story of an efficient Hillman being capped by an inefficient Anderson. But after Week 12, Anderson has been nearly twice as efficient as Hillman in 2015, which just goes to show what racking up 20 plus FPOE on less than 20 touches can do for your efficiency.
I’ve leaned Anderson in the Hillman/Anderson debate, though my preference has been to avoid both. And that’s still my preference. Despite a great match-up with the Chargers this week I’ll be avoiding both Hillman and Anderson, as reports indicate that Hillman will remain the starter but Anderson will see plenty of work. Despite both players being productive in spurts this season, this situation is still one to avoid unless the team fully commits to a RB for more than half a game.