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T.J. Yeldon Is On The Verge of Stardom and Chris Ivory Is His Overpaid Backup

The Jacksonville Jaguars have acquired former Jets running back Chris Ivory in free agency, and it has created a fantastic opportunity… for fantasy players to acquire T.J. Yeldon at an even more reasonable price.

In January, I wrote about why I was desperately trying to sell Ivory in Dynasty leagues:

Stevan RidleyIvory, and (Bilal) Powell are all free agents, and I see no reason why the Jets would bring Ivory back, or not bring back Powell. Bilal is definitely the one to own headed into free agency, and my skepticism that Ivory gets another starting opportunity makes me want to bail wherever I can.

I firmly believe that has come to fruition, with the Jets re-signing Powell, and Ivory not getting another starter opportunity. In that article, I included this image which shows what Ivory did after Powell returned to the lineup healthy in Week 11:

2015 Jets RBs

Yikes.

If you take the 16 game pace from the In Split games, Ivory would have finished the season as the overall RB28, instead of where he actually finished, as the overall RB12. That would put him one spot below the overall RB27, who amassed slightly more fantasy points in only twelve games, instead of 16.

That man’s last name — is Yeldon.

Using our Fantasy Points Over Expectation App, Ivory appears to have been a slightly better rusher and receiver over the course of the entire season. However, when you parse out the split from after Powell returned, it paints a completely different picture:

PlayerCriteriaAttempts Per GameTargets Per GameScrimmage Yds Per GameruFPOEpareFPOEptPPR FPS/Touch
Chris Ivory2015 ALL16.472.4785.800.08100.23780.7462
Chris Ivory2015 Weeks 11 - 1713.002.2969.710.0892(0.0131)0.6479
TJ Yeldon2015 ALL15.173.8384.920.02870.20070.7151

The rushing efficiency is largely dependent on touchdowns. The Jets scored 44 offensive touchdowns as a team, eleven of which were rushing touchdowns (25.0 percent), which is in line with the league average of 30.2 percent. Jacksonville had 40 offensive team touchdowns, yet only five were rushing, which is a bizarrely low 12.5 percent, a number extremely likely to rise next season.

The difference in receiving numbers in the bottom two lines is striking, yet they make complete sense when you realize that prior to last season, Ivory had 38 targets in his entire five year career, for negative 0.24 reFPOEPT. To put that in perspective, there was only one running back in all of football last year that posted a worse number than that per target, and had at least 25 targets.1 Yeldon has already had more targets than that in his first twelve games, and done far, far better with them.

The Jaguars would be shooting themselves in the foot to leave Ivory on the field, in an abundance of game situations, where Yeldon’s receiving ability makes him a far more valuable asset. It may go without saying, but teams can not tip their hand by having a particular running back on the field in situations where they will only run the ball. I believe this will severely limit Ivory’s snaps, particularly the snaps in situations where there are more expected fantasy points.

As ProFootballFocus’ Scott Barrett has pointed out, in 2015, snaps had a higher correlation to fantasy points for running backs than carries, rushing yards, targets, receiving yards, or touchdowns:

Additionally, the only running back to see more snaps per game last season than Yeldon was Jamaal Charles:2

RB SNAPS

If we are trying to project workload for this season, we can see from the chart above that somewhere around 60 percent of team snaps is a fairly conservative primary back’s workload. Jacksonville ran 1,012 offensive plays last season, below the league average of 1,030; however, they passed on 60 percent of their plays, well above the 55 percent league average. If Yeldon is the clearly better option in passing situations, he will get a long way towards a workhorse’s snap share, just on passing plays. Ivory is thought to possibly be coming in to serve as the short yardage back, but when we look at their game splits from last season, Yeldon was far better at that, too.

On all third down rushes, Ivory had 17 carries for 15 yards, or 0.88 yards per carry; meanwhile, Yeldon had six rushes for 30 yards, for 5.00 YPC. On all third and fourth downs with fewer than four yards to go, Ivory had 16 rushes for what seems like an impossible six yards, or 0.38 YPC. Yeldon had five rushes for 27 yards in the same situations, for 5.40 YPC. Similarly, in the opponent’s red zone, Ivory had 38 rushes for 93 yards, for 2.48 YPC, while Yeldon had 22 carries for 63 yards in the opponent’s red zone, for 2.86 YPC.

If Yeldon maintained his 7.4 percent target share and 65.7 percent rush share that he had in the twelve games he played, over the course of a full season with the same play distribution as the Jaguars had last year, he should be expected to yield roughly 233 rushes and 45 targets. At his fantasy point/touch rate from last season, which can reasonably be expected to increase after his rookie year, that would be 209 fantasy points, which would have been the overall RB9 last year.

Now, let’s more carefully consider Yeldon’s 2015 season as a 22 year old rookie, and Ivory’s as a 27 year old, six-year-vet.

This image, from Rich Hribar’s masterpiece on the relevance of age in skill positions, shows how unlikely it is for a 22 year old to be a fantasy relevant RB, while it’s by far most likely in the age range of 23 to 27 years old:

RBSCORING

Yeldon is entering his age 23 season, when RBs can be expected to begin to plateau and enter their prime. Ivory is entering his age 28 season, when they can be expected to dramatically begin the age cliff decline. When putting Yeldon’s season into the context of being a 22 year old rookie, it becomes far more promising. Here’s a list of running backs from this century who accomplished what Yeldon did in his rookie season:

Yeldon Rookie Seasons

I know, I see him too, but calm down; Trent Richardson‘s yards per attempt and yards per target are abysmal compared to Yeldon’s. You could also raise the rushing yard threshold to 696 and eliminate the non-workhorse, more WR-archetypes Giovani Bernard, Jahvid Best, and Reggie Bush.

Unsurprisingly, our Sim Scores App agrees that Yeldon’s rookie season should be expected to provide a higher floor and a higher ceiling the following year than Ivory’s seventh season:

IvorySims

YeldonSims

The fact the Sim Scores say Matt Forte from three years ago is the best possible outcome for Ivory is so perfectly topical. What that plot essentially shows is that unless Ivory is similar to Forte in 2013, it’s incredibly unlikely for him to improve or match last season’s output, and it’s very likely that he regresses remarkably.

If you think Ivory can be like 2013 Forte, consider that the Jets just let Ivory walk out the door, and rolled out a welcome mat for an ancient, worn down version of Forte to take his place.

  1. Ronnie Hillman, by the way, for another bullet in your C.J. Anderson truther clip.  (back)
  2. courtesy of FantasyData.com  (back)

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