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Bell and Johnson’s Historic Years Will Likely Lead to Regression

In 2016, fantasy players who ignored the risks presented by Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson were rewarded with successful seasons. While they’ll likely remain good players in 2017, they’re due for a significant amount of regression.While some combination of Johnson, Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott will likely be the top three picks in all formats for 2017 redraft leagues, I’m suggesting that drafters look elsewhere. 1

How Good Were Their 2016 Seasons?

It’s not going out on a limb to say that Bell and Johnson had great seasons. What some may not realize is that they had historically great seasons on a points per game and targets per game basis.  Using the RotoViz Screener App, I compared Bell and Johnson’s seasons to all RBs since 2000.

 PPR Points Per GameRankTargets per GameRank
Le'Veon Bell26.487.89
David Johnson25.7107.512

Both Bell and Johnson ranked in the top ten for PPR points per game and top 12 in targets per game for RBs. That’s even more impressive when you consider that’s out of 2,787 total RB seasons.

PPR Regression

As you would likely expect, all of the other RBs in the top ten for PPR scoring saw significant dips in their production. In order to eliminate some aspects of that small sample size, I expanded my search to the top 50 RBs using the RotoViz Screener:2

PLAYERSEASPPR.Q1PPR.Q1.N1% Change
Marshall Faulk200032.530.3-6.77%
Priest Holmes200231.627.9-11.71%
Marshall Faulk200130.320.6-32.01%
LaDainian Tomlinson200630.223-23.84%
Priest Holmes200327.927.1-2.87%
LaDainian Tomlinson200327.822.7-18.35%
Priest Holmes200427.118.3-32.47%
Le'Veon Bell201626.40-100.00%
Steven Jackson200625.817.1-33.72%
David Johnson201625.70-100.00%
Jamaal Charles201325.517.1-32.94%
Edgerrin James200025.121.2-15.54%
Arian Foster201024.823.8-4.03%
Brian Westbrook200724.819.4-21.77%
Chris Johnson200924.817.3-30.24%
Ahman Green200324.715.8-36.03%
Joe McKnight201424.70-100.00%
LaDainian Tomlinson200224.327.814.40%
Ricky Williams200024.317.2-29.22%
Clinton Portis20032416.1-32.92%
Ronnie Brown20072413.5-43.75%
Arian Foster201123.819.1-19.75%
Shaun Alexander200523.714.8-37.55%
Ray Rice201123.617.7-25.00%
Larry Johnson200623.416.1-31.20%
Le'Veon Bell201423.218.5-20.26%
Ricky Williams200223.117.6-23.81%
Larry Johnson20052323.41.74%
LaDainian Tomlinson20052330.231.30%
LaDainian Tomlinson20072317.3-24.78%
LaDainian Tomlinson200422.7231.32%
DeMarco Murray201422.612.5-44.69%
Tiki Barber200522.418.8-16.07%
Brian Westbrook200622.324.811.21%
Domanick Davis20042218.8-14.55%
LeSean McCoy20112217.1-22.27%
Tiki Barber20042222.41.82%
Adrian Peterson201221.817.1-21.56%
Devonta Freeman201521.817.9-17.89%
Ezekiel Elliott201621.80-100.00%
Fred Taylor200021.77.4-65.90%
Larry Johnson200421.7235.99%
Matt Forte201421.716.5-23.96%
Charlie Garner200221.611.8-45.37%
Arian Foster201421.419.8-7.48%
Brian Westbrook200421.418.9-11.68%
Eddie George200021.411.7-45.33%
Jamal Lewis200321.413.7-35.98%
Fred Jackson201121.312.3-42.25%
Edgerrin James200121.215.2-28.30%

Of the top 50 RB PPR scorers since 2000, only seven increased their points per game scoring in the following season. This suggests that their high scoring rates were unsustainable.3

But what could surprise most drafters is the steep drop off in scoring on a per-game basis. If you remove the 2016 results due to a lack of N+1 data and remove the 100 percent drop offs,4 the top historical seasons saw an average change of -21 percent the following season. A 21 percent decrease in scoring would result in more than a five point per game reduction for both Bell and Johnson. While they’d still be good, it does takes some shine off their appeal as top draft selections.

Target Regression

A portion of Bell and Johnson’s success can be attributed to their significantly higher than normal usage in the passing game. Both RBs converted their targets into five plus receptions per game. And in a PPR format, that quickly adds up to points.

PLAYERSEASreTRGS.Q1reTRGS.Q1.N1% ChangePPR.Q1PPR.Q1.N1% Change
LaDainian Tomlinson20038.64.4-48.84%27.822.7-18.35%
Shane Vereen20138.64.8-44.19%16.810.4-38.10%
Reggie Bush20078.27.3-10.98%17.417.2-1.15%
Marshall Faulk20008.17.4-8.64%32.530.3-6.77%
Matt Forte20148.14.5-44.44%21.716.5-23.96%
Brian Westbrook200587.3-8.75%18.922.317.99%
Brian Westbrook200785.2-35.00%24.819.4-21.77%
Darren Sproles201285.9-26.25%16.511.8-28.48%
Le'Veon Bell20167.80-100.00%26.40-100.00%
Richie Anderson20007.83.6-53.85%125.5-54.17%
Reggie Bush20067.68.27.89%16.517.45.45%
David Johnson20167.50-100.00%25.70-100.00%
Michael Pittman20037.55-33.33%13.917.928.78%
Warrick Dunn20017.54.4-41.33%15.715.6-0.64%
LaMont Jordan20057.41.8-75.68%21.18.1-61.61%
Marshall Faulk20017.47.3-1.35%30.320.6-32.01%
Brian Westbrook20067.389.59%22.324.811.21%
Marshall Faulk20027.35.5-24.66%20.620.2-1.94%
Reggie Bush20087.34.9-32.88%17.212-30.23%
Lorenzo Booker20077.21.1-84.72%12.81.4-89.06%
Dion Lewis20157.13.4-52.11%17.57.8-55.43%
Arian Foster201572.5-64.29%19.84.8-75.76%
Darren Sproles20117814.29%1716.5-2.94%
Duce Staley200174.3-38.57%16.216-1.23%
Joe McKnight201470-100.00%24.70-100.00%
Tiki Barber200175.9-15.71%17.220.921.51%
Charlie Garner20026.95-27.54%21.611.8-45.37%
Jamaal Charles20136.93.9-43.48%25.517.1-32.94%
Steven Jackson20066.94.3-37.68%25.817.1-33.72%
Brian Westbrook20046.7819.40%21.418.9-11.68%
Danny Woodhead20156.74-40.30%15.313.6-11.11%
Jahvid Best20116.70-100.00%18.80-100.00%
Theo Riddick20166.70-100.00%16.20-100.00%
Duce Staley20006.676.06%17.116.2-5.26%
Jermaine Wiggins20046.66.1-7.58%11.88.8-25.42%
Le'Veon Bell20146.64.3-34.85%23.218.5-20.26%
Larry Centers20016.63.9-40.91%11.46.2-45.61%
Ronnie Brown20076.62.7-59.09%2413.5-43.75%
Devonta Freeman20156.54.1-36.92%21.817.9-17.89%
Frank Gore20106.51.9-70.77%18.812.3-34.57%
Kevin Jones20066.53.4-47.69%19.212.1-36.98%
Ray Rice20116.55.2-20.00%23.617.7-25.00%
Fred Jackson20146.42.7-57.81%13.35.3-60.15%
Lamar Gordon20046.31.3-79.37%8.93.3-62.92%
LaDainian Tomlinson20026.38.636.51%24.327.814.40%
Matt Forte20116.34-36.51%18.714.9-20.32%
Ray Rice20096.35.2-17.46%20.617.3-16.02%
Ahman Green20006.25.1-17.74%20.320.40.49%
Larry Centers20006.26.66.45%11.211.41.79%
Theo Riddick20156.26.78.06%11.316.243.36%

Only eight of the top 50 RBs in targets per game since 2000 increased their targets the following season. Along with their decreased workloads largely came a decrease in scoring in PPR formats. Of the players who saw a reduction in their targets, only four saw an increase in their points per game. If you remove the 2016 results due to a lack of N+1 data and remove the 100 percent drop offs, the top historical seasons saw an average target decrease of 29.2 percent the following season. While there are always exceptions to every trend, this pattern points to a very likely dip in both workload and production for this year’s top picks.

Conclusion

There can be an argument about the level of usage Bell and Johnson will see in 2017, but historically their target numbers will likely see a significant decrease. And while their efficiency could increase, workload is much easier to project. So while they both will likely be top picks in all drafts, they’re not locks to produce as well as they did last season.

  1. Although it’s a riskier play in MFL10s, I still would recommend Elliott over Bell or Johnson  (back)
  2. If you haven’t used the Screener yet, you’re late to the party, but seriously – go check this amazing tool out.  (back)
  3. Super hot take, I know.  (back)
  4. That is, players that didn’t even accumulate stats in the following season. That’s another type of regression risk I’m not even considering here.  (back)

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