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7 Takeaways for Week 16 – The RB Opportunity Report

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 15

1 – Cameron Artis-Payne Providing Value

Last week with Jonathan Stewart injured there was some uncertainty about who would handle lead RB duties for the Panthers. Although it was a split workload, the answer turned out to be Cameron Artis-Payne, who saw 61 percent of the Panthers’ workload for 10.5 EP. This week with Stewart again ruled out, it sounds like it’ll be Artis-Payne leading the way against a very poor Falcons rush defense.

Artis-Payne isn’t a no-brainer on DraftKings at $4,300, given that he may lose goal line work to Mike Tolbert or Cam Newton. But he’s a good value play on the assumption that he can play efficiently against a poor run defense on what should be a double digit PPR workload.

Rolling with Frank Gore

Frank Gore has been very disappointing down the stretch this season, doing little with a solid workload. Over the last four weeks Gore is averaging 11.8 EP, 13th in the NFL, but his efficiency has been abysmal, producing -9.3 FPOE per game. As a result he’s been virtually unusable as a fantasy option.

Things could get better for Gore this week however, as the Colts face a very poor Dolphins run defense–last seen breathing life back into Danny Woodhead’s season. The last time the Colts faced a match-up this good their RBs saw 23.4 EP and produced 10.8 FPOE. Now, that EP was split evenly between Ahmad Bradshaw and Gore, and Bradshaw was responsible for 85 percent of the FPOE, so there’s no guarantee Gore will be in position to take advantage of this match-up or will capitalize even if he is. On the other hand, Gore accounted for 85 percent of the Colts workload last week. If he keeps up that market share he could be in line for as much as 20 EP this week, and in that scenario he won’t need to be highly efficient to have a big day.

Gore comes with plenty of risk, but he also comes with quite a bit of upside. I’ll be rolling with him in the RotoViz Dynasty League Championship Game this week where I need to make up somewhere between 65 and a thousand points on Charles Kleinheksel‘s super-team. If you’re also in an underdog situation, Gore could makes solid upside play.

Matt Forte Finally Playing Efficiently

Thorough the first eight weeks of the season Matt Forte produced 2.2 FPOE and 0.01 FPOE per opportunity. Over the last three weeks that’s changed considerably as Forte has produced 22.9 FPOE and 0.43 FPOE per opportunity.

Forte’s workload meanwhile has shrunk considerably. Having averaged 16.8 combined EP per game through Week 8, he’s now seeing just 12 EP per game since returning from injury in Week 12. The cultprit of course is Jeremy Langford, who’s up from 3.8 EP per game through Week 8 to 13.5 EP since Forte’s injury.

Forte’s production has been nice to see, but he’s considerably riskier as a fantasy option than he was earlier in the season. Because of his lighter workload he could easily disappoint if his efficiency regresses–just as we’ve seen with Langford over the last few weeks. If Forte ends up re-signing with the Bears in 2016, this situation could be a point of frustration for fantasy owners, with neither player receiving a heavy workload and both dependent on efficiency to produce on a week to week basis.

Trusting James White

The Patriots RB situation is notoriously difficult to trust, which is why I’m very nervous about the fact that James White will likely start for me this week in a different championship game. But White looks like a surprisingly safe play when looking at his recent usage.

Two weeks ago, White posted 6.3 FPOE on 21.7 combined EP. Last week, White posted 3.9 FPOE on 10.1 EP. This past week White posted 9.5 FPOE on 11.2 EP, which gives him three straight weeks of over 10.0 EP and brings him to sixth among RBs in combined EP over the last three weeks.

Against a tough Jets run defense, the Patriots could rely on White heavily as they’ve done in the past with Dion Lewis in similar match-ups. And White has been incredibly efficient, averaging an absolutely fantastic 0.64 FPOE per opportunity. If he keep up that level of play on what may be a heavy workload he could be looking at a great game in a critical week for fantasy owners.

Bilal Powell, Lead RB

It may be time to start considering Bilal Powell the Jets lead RB. Over the last five weeks Powell has averaged 11.3 EP per game to Chris Ivory‘s 9.9, and has led the team in EP in four of those five weeks.

This shift has happened for a few reasons. The first is that Ivory has been losing market share while Powell’s role has been increasing. Through Week 10 Ivory saw 77 percent of the rushing EP and 44 percent of the receiving EP. That’s down to 67 percent and 22 percent over the last five weeks. Powell meanwhile, is up from 15 percent of rushing EP and 57 percent of receiving EP to 18 percent of rushing and 67 percent of receiving.

So clearly Powell has eaten into Ivory’s share of the workload, particularly in the passing game. And that loss of a passing game role has really hurt Ivory over the last five weeks, as the Jets have shifted to a more pass heavy approach in their backfield. Through Week 10 the Jets were averaging a backfield total of 13.2 rushing EP and 8.1 receiving EP per game. Their 13.2 rushing EP was second highest in the NFL over that span. But over the last five weeks the Jets backfield has seen 10.2 rushing EP and 14.2 receiving EP–the third most receiving EP in the NFL over that span.

With a tough tough match-up against the Patriots, where game script is unlikely to be in their favor, we could once again see a Powell type game in Week 16. Ivory should be avoided in championship games if possible, while Powell makes a decent RB2/FLEX play on what should be a double digit PPR workload.

Christine Michael Exists

Christine Michael finally had a productive NFL game last week with 2.5 FPOE on 5.9 EP. He led the backfield in EP1 and was the only Seahawks RB to post positive FPOE on Sunday.

It’s unclear what any of this means going forward though. Michael seems likely to share the backfield with Brown and Jackson until Marshawn Lynch returns, so his fantasy utility is limited for 2015. And then in 2016 he potentially has both Lynch and an emergent Thomas Rawls to compete with for touches.

With Rawls emerging and Lynch potentially back in 2016, Michael is unlikely to be a big part of Seattle’s 2016 plans. But RB is a volatile position. If the next few weeks show that Seattle is comfortable using Michael as a lead back and he does well with that opportunity, Michael could make a cheap offseason RB target–provided of course, that he’s actually cheap.

7 – The Most Efficient Men in the World

Rushing: Mike Gillislee

Mike Gillislee, a fifth round pick by Miami in 2013, had 12.6 rushing FPOE this week (second to David Johnson) with four attempts for 81 yards and a TD.

For what it’s worth Gillislee now has a career yards per attempt of 8.4 (on 20 carries), and could get some run this week with LeSean McCoy out for the season and Karlos Williams banged up. If Williams is unable to play or very limited, Gillislee becomes an interesting play in deep leagues in a good match-up against the Cowboys. He’d likely see a double digit PPR workload, and would have a reasonable likelihood of performing efficiently.

Receiving: Danny Woodhead

Danny Woodhead absolutely exploded in Week 15, with 50 yards and three TDs on 6 receptions, adding another TD on the ground. His 19.9 receiving FPOE was the highest of the week.

Woodhead had another solid outing last night against Oakland, so let’s focus on his 2016 outlook. Woodhead will be 31 in 2016 and under contract for $3MM. If the Chargers were to release him they would save just $1MM against the cap. So Woodhead should be back in 2016, and given Melvin Gordon‘s struggles this year, he’ll likely be in a very similar role to what he saw this year. Given his lack of a “lead role” (despite leading the Chargers in EP for the entire season) and age, Woodhead is likely to be one of the cheapest RB2-RB3s in fantasy. I suspect he’ll be a fixture of my teams again next season.

Combined Efficiency: David Johnson

Last week I pointed out David Johnson‘s recent inefficiency on a larger workload. This week he ripped off 187 yards and three TDs on 29 attempts and then added 42 yards on four reception. His 23.1 FPOE was the highest of the week.

Last week I recommended being cautious about assuming Johnson would be a clear cut lead back in 2016, and I still maintain some skepticism that will be the case. However, the presence of Andre Ellington may protect Johnson this off-season in the sense that the Cardinals are probably less likely to draft a RB. Johnson therefore has a fairly stable outlook in terms of his situation. That, along with his enormous workload and terrific efficiency over the last few weeks gives him an excellent combination of safety and upside in 2016, so he’s a clear cut hold for now.

  1. Bryce Brown was second with 4.5, Fred Jackson was third with 3.8.  (back)

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