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Jamaal Charles is a Best Ball Winner in 2016

Last year I was a bit of a Jamaal Charles hater, and that didn’t sit well with my friend and fellow writer 14TeamMocker. In fact, we got into a bit of a fight over Jamaal.

In that piece, Mocker took the faith-based approach and I, naturally, let the numbers do the talking. Fortunately, the two have aligned this year, and I’m putting my faith in Charles’ Best-Ball winning capabilities, and here’s why.

2015 Performance

Charles’ 2015 started off spectacularly before an ACL tear five minutes into the third quarter of the Chief’s fifth game ended his season. In those first 4.6 games, Charles racked up 364 yards rushing for a 79.1 yard per game clip.1 Compare that to his two prior seasons where he averaged 77.3 yards per game, and there really wasn’t much difference. What’s more, he maintained a 5.1 yards per carry, which was on par with his 5.0 YPC each of the two prior seasons.

With such similar yardage and efficiency numbers, it shouldn’t surprise us that Charles’ usage remained similar as well. His 71 carries in 4.6 games put him on a 16-game pace of 247 carries. His 2013-2014 16-game pace? 248.

On a per game basis, Charles averaged 20.2 PPR points per game, placing him second among RBs behind only Devonta Freeman. Naturally, one doesn’t expect a running back who will turn 30 before the end of the regular season to put up the same kind of numbers he did his prior year. So what can we expect in 2016 from Charles?

Sim Scores

I used the RB Similarity Scores App to get an idea of what to expect in 2016 for Charles based off a list of similar players with similar seasons to Charles’ brief 2015. I ran the numbers both with and without the game Charles injured his knee, and the numbers are pretty damn good.

On average, Charles’ comps were 27.5 years old in their comparable seasons to his 2015, meaning the comps for year N+1 are based off an average age of 28.5. Yes, that’s younger than Charles’ age going into 2016, but Charles also outperformed the average of those comps in year N, especially in the receiving game. If we include all five games, here are Charles’ projected low, medium, and high points per game:

JC5

His PPR floor of 13.9 would have made him the 2015 RB15 on a points per game basis. The median projection puts him at RB7, and his upside projection is even higher than Freeman’s league leading 21.1 PPR points per game.

If we remove that abbreviated fifth game against the Bears, the numbers jump up even more:

JC4

That 20.2 projection is right in line with his 2015 season average, but less than the average of his first four games, so there is some decline baked in, presumably due to his age. That median projection is RB2, while the floor is RB10. League winning upside is of course still there.

Strength of Schedule

There’s reason to believe that Charles’ 2015 numbers were even a bit muted compared to what he could have done had the full season played out. In the four full games he played, he faced (in order) the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, and Cincinnati Bengals. All four of those teams were playoff teams, and three of the four had above average rushing defenses. According to Football Outsiders the Texans, Broncos, and Bengals were all better than league average in their efficiency metric, DVOA. In raw yardage totals, those three teams were all inside the top 10 in fewest rushing yards allowed per game.

Fortunately for Charles, the Chiefs have a much easier schedule than what he faced in 2016 according to Pythagorean Expectation. The Chiefs project as an 11.7 win team in 2016 according to the Pythagorean method, and while that could be a bit optimistic, as evidenced by Vegas setting the Chiefs win total at nine,2 that’s still an upgrade from what Charles faced in the first four weeks of 2015.

Imagine if we were able to put even better inputs into RB Sim Scores App to calculate the projections above.

Projecting Charles’ 2016

The RB Sim Scores App already gave us a couple projections, but fortunately at RotoViz we also have The Projection Machine which lets us take a top-down approach to projecting player performance.3 I projected Charles’ 2016 numbers using his 2013-2014 stats, because he played full seasons, and they were consistent enough with his 2015 per game numbers as shown above. Then I changed Charcandrick West’s numbers to be on the high side for the Chiefs RB2 during the Andy Reid era, reflecting his solid production in 2015.

In doing so, I ended up with a projection for Charles that was a bit more bullish than my peers, but still conservative compared to his 2015 season’s per game numbers.

JCProj

Those PPR numbers put him right at 17 points per game, which would have landed him as the RB6 in 2016. I projected Charles for 233 rushing attempts, which is nearly one full attempt fewer per game than his 2015 season, so there is some decline built in.

My peers projected Charles for a more conservative 205 rushing attempts. That still translated to 15.1 PPR points per game, which would have put him at RB10 last year. We certainly used different assumptions,4 but we’re all in the same ballpark. Overall, my peers still have Charles projected as the RB6 for 2016 despite giving him a more conservative outlook than I.

Conclusion

According to the Best-Ball ADP App, Charles is being drafted on average at pick 21, as the eighth RB off the board. Rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott, who is priced at the historic ceiling for rookie RBs that was set by Adrian Peterson, is being drafted four slots higher. Speaking of Peterson, he’s going three places higher but is now 31 years old and hasn’t bested Charles in PPR points per game since Peterson’s historic 2012 season. I’ll get (even more?) controversial and say I’d rather have Charles than Todd Gurley, who was game script dependent last year5 and faces an abysmal schedule in 2016 on a team with a rookie QB.

I’d take Charles ahead of all three of those backs. If he avoids injury, Charles has RB1 upside at an RB8 valuation, which is enough to help you win your best-ball league.

  1. I’m counting it as 4.6 games to reflect the point in time during the fifth game in which he went down with his injury.  (back)
  2. Or 9.5 as it currently is at Bovada.  (back)
  3. Click here for a primer on how to use the Projection Machine.  (back)
  4. I was probably more optimistic on the Chiefs average margin, and I also included co-offensive coordinator Brad Childress’ 2012 season as the Cleveland Browns OC, which was a faster pace than the Chiefs had recently.  (back)
  5. more on that in my next article  (back)
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