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.
- Devonta Freeman may be fading as a runner, but he still sports an elite ceiling.
This year’s breakout runner leads the league both in EP (182) and FPOE (77), even after posting a -1.07 ruFPOE number in Week 13. Freeman was so hot most of the season that some type of regression was probably inevitable. Although there are obviously extenuating circumstances in the form of his Week 11 concussion, Freeman has not crested 100 yards rushing since Week 7 or scored a rushing TD since Week 6. He’s now averaging 4.5 yards per carry, solid numbers but only a fraction better than Tevin Coleman (4.4) and certainly not in the Jamaal Charles echelon.
Part of Freeman’s decline can probably be blamed on the collapse of the Atlanta offense,1 but this also provides his salvation. Freeman saw 11 targets in Week 13 and finished with almost 14 EP purely of the receiving variety. He added an additional 1.63 reFPOE to his total and again finished as one of the week’s top PPR scorers. Freeman probably lacks the type of pure rushing ability to make him the long term No. 1 RB in fantasy, but I’d strongly prefer to roster an elite receiving back over an Adrian Peterson type. Freeman now has 95 expected points in the pass game, which means that more than half of his EP are from pass targets. Following the injury to Leonard Hankerson, the Falcons have absolutely nothing at WR after Julio Jones.2 On the season Freeman trails only Danny Woodhead and Theo Riddick in receiving EP among RBs, and he’s likely to easily eclipse them in this area during the fantasy playoffs.
- James White isn’t Dion Lewis, but he’s also not Shane Vereen.
Freeman had a huge receiving week against the Buccaneers, but three backs accumulated more than 15 reEP and Atlanta’s star wasn’t one of them. James White led the way with 13 targets and 18.2 reEP. He added 0.72 reFPOE per target as the Eagles largely neglected to cover him in their prevent defense. The Patriots have been somewhat reticent to use White in the aftermath of the Dion Lewis injury, and the explanation probably comes in the form of his underwhelming rushing ability. 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. Or perhaps, more accurately, the Patriots should feel comfortable playing him. It would be nice to know more about his likely workload before taking the fantasy playoff plunge. Unfortunately, owners desperate enough to consider him won’t have that luxury.
- Javorious Allen and why you don’t have to push the pile to pile up the points.
Allen was one of our favorite rookie values this summer as a potentially elite receiving back heading to a system that features the dump off. The concerns with “Buck” centered around his advanced age (RotoViz) and the belief that his pure rushing ability was pedestrian at best (scouts). Maybe everybody was right.
Following the Justin Forsett injury, Allen turned his first 51 carries into only 185 scoreless yards. Those touches weren’t exactly of the high value variety as the ruEP was only 24.2, but he underperformed even that with -0.11 ruFPOE per attempt. In that time span the only runners with at least 30 carries and worse rushing efficiency were Frank Gore (-0.19), Matt Jones (-0.15), DeMarco Murray (-0.14), and Tevin Coleman (-0.14). What makes all of this interesting is that Allen is the No. 2 PPR back over that time period.
Over the last three weeks, Allen is second to Bilal Powell in reEP (32 to 31) but crushes him in points over expectation at 19.3 to 5.3. During that same time period, Kamar Aiken leads the Ravens WRs with 42 reEP but has managed only 4.8 reFPOE. The rest of the Baltimore receivers combine for a negative reFPOE during that time. Allen will face more talented and interested defenses in Seattle and Kansas City the next two weeks, but his receiving volume should remain elite.
- At least Antonio Andrews and David Cobb know how to hit the right hole.
Antonio Andrews was second with 13.1 expected points last week and finished with a negative ruFPOEPA despite scoring a touchdown. If we go back to the beginning of last season, aka The Bishop Sankey Non-Era, here are the ruFPOEPA numbers for the Tennessee backs: Dexter McCluster 0.09, Shonn Greene 0.07, Bishop Sankey 0.04, Antonio Andrews 0.02, David Cobb -0.15, and Terrance West -0.49. Mike Mularkey’s tenure has been all about making Ken Whisenhunt sound like he knew what he was talking about when he said he needed to get McCluster and Greene some more carries.
- Eddie Lacy may look rejuvenated this week . . .
. . . but we now have a relatively large sample suggesting he has replacement player ability. In 2015 James Starks has the edge in ruFPOEPA at 0.10 to 0.07. Beginning with Lacy’s rookie season in 2013, Starks has the edge 0.18 to 0.16. Starks has also been the much better receiver this season (0.47 to 0.19 in reFPOEPT), although Lacy has the slight edge in this stat over the three-year span (0.30 to 0.27).
- Thomas Rawls and Better Beast Mode
Rawls is crushing Marshawn Lynch in fantasy efficiency this season (0.29 to 0.02 in ruFPOEPA), but he’s also outperforming Lynch’s best season of 2012 when Skittles managed a 0.28. During that season Lynch accumulated 39 EP in the pass game and another 9.6 points above expected on 30 targets. Rawls has only 13.9 reEP on 11 targets but has generated an extra 8.7 points already. Rawls’ gaudy efficiency numbers will probably fall as he gets further removed from his evisceration of the 49ers, but only Freeman, Peterson, and Todd Gurley have managed more points above expectation this season. That includes all runners, regardless of workload, and is obviously an impressive group in which to be included.
- T.J. Yeldon and the value of workload
Only seven healthy RBs are averaging more total EP per game than Yeldon and two of those players are DeMarco Murray and Frank Gore. Yeldon finished fourth in ruEP for Week 13 behind Jeremy Hill, Andrews, and Doug Martin. Like Andrews, he scored a TD and still managed a negative efficiency score. The rookie has been the definition of a plodder this season with ruFPOEPA numbers that slide in between Andrews and Murray on one side with Gore and Chris Johnson on the other. But he’s also played a stabilizing role for the Jaguars and offered the dual threat ability praised by his proponents before the draft.
Yeldon has 59 reEP on the season, numbers which place him just outside the tier of the passing down specialists but put him ahead of most full time backs. His per play receiving numbers are arguably even more impressive. At 0.21 reFPOEPT he ranks well ahead of backs like Peterson, Forte, Gore, Bell, and Charles. He created 6.7 reFPOE alone in Week 13 as he caught all four of his targets for 79 yards. As long as he continues to see an elite workload and perform admirably as a receiver, Yeldon will be a clear cut, perhaps even elite, RB1.