We all have our ups and downs. Peaks and troughs. I can’t imagine anyone reading this hasn’t experienced some form of “bad spell” over the last few years, and similarly I’d presume at some point great things have led to times of happiness and peak performance.
Who you “really” are should not be simply defined by any spell you’re in (whether good or bad), the things you’ve done most recently or your last day. As a writer, I may have a period of pumping out content followed by tumbleweed. Yet, would I want someone to judge me purely on my last week? Or even the last year? How about the last three? Should your success be defined by focusing on a short, fixed period of time, or rather an accumulation of what you do regularly and consistently?
In fantasy football, we work in seasons. 16 games of fantasy goodness. Ultimately, the fate of your teams rest on what players can accomplish for you during a particular season, and a yearly finish is often (fairly) used as a measure of success. However, it can be deceiving:
For example, Melvin Gordon was the “RB7” last year (but only played in 13 games, and five of the six players above him played at least 15).
How about Theo Riddick? He finished outside the top 24 running backs, yet scored 16.7 points per game (putting him in the top eight), and placed in the top 24 six of the ten games he played.
It makes sense for a yearly finish to be a reference point – it’s fair to look back at previous seasons and say “here’s who scored the most points” as a big picture look. However, there’s so much more to it. Points per game might be a better way to evaluate performances by season, but what if a high PPG number was achieved in a small sample size? We might prefer the quantity of someone who has simply played more games.
There’s no perfect way to look at it, but I search for “consistent greatness”. In the games they’ve played, how often do players hit certain benchmarks? Not just last year, but in the last three years, have they been performing consistently? What can we glean from that, and how can we interpret the information moving forward? Fantasy production is a result of a ton of different things coming together, including natural talent, surrounding players, coaching, opposition, health, and a gazillion other factors, so there’s no way to say what has happened will happen again, but we have to break down the past to best understand the future. Here’s how I do it.
For a deeper breakdown, check back in on part one (the quarterbacks). Essentially, I create benchmarks for what it takes to be a top 12 (‘RB1’) or top 24 (‘RB2’) performer based on results from the last three years, and then find out how many times each player in the recent DLF ADP data hit those benchmarks in games they’ve played in the last three years. From there, I compile lists of the best and worst players in each category.
This year, the benchmarks for running backs were:
RB1 – 17.2
RB2 – 11.6
Unlike quarterbacks, the significance of a ‘game played’ for running backs can be very misleading. Runners tend to have a large variety of roles, so there had to be some form of cut-off point for the data. I used the first six rounds of runners in the February DLF ADP data, but also wanted to use a couple of production qualifiers.
In order for the ‘bad’ lists not to be filled with ‘zero per cent-ers’, players included had to have had at least two top 12 games, or three top 24 games. The players removed from the lists were: Tyler Ervin, Alex Collins, Paul Perkins, Daniel Lasco, Jonathan Williams, Wendell Smallwood, Rex Burkhead, Kenyan Drake and DeAndre Washington. However, these players do still appear in the full data set at the bottom of the page.
Similarly, there are also some players whom I charted, but weren’t in the first six rounds. The following players are also not included in our top or bottom lists, but are included in the full data set: Jacquizz Rodgers, Damien Williams, Alfred Morris, Christine Michael, Chris Ivory, Darren Sproles, Charcandrick West, Matt Jones, DeAngelo Williams, Rashad Jennings, Andre Ellington and Tim Hightower.
Let’s get to it.
- GP – Games played
- RB1/2 – Weeks the player scored 11.6 points or more
- RB1 – Weeks the player scored 17.2 points or more
- RB2 – Weeks the player scored between 11.6 and 17.1 points
- % – Percentage of weeks the player placed in each category versus games played
- I used PPR scoring from the FFToday stats page
- Playoff games are not included
- Le’Veon Bell tops the list for the second year running. He’s the most talented back in the league, in my mind.
- Since David Johnson took over the full bulk of the carries in week 13 of last season, he has scored at least 16.4 points in every single fantasy game (except week 17s).
- While the top two are in a league of their own, DeMarco Murray followed up his down year in Philly with 14 top 24 games out of 16 in Tennessee, adding to his full 16 in 2014. We could see a Marshawn Lynch/Christine Michael situation where everyone is excited about the up-and-comer (Derrick Henry) while owners of the veteran rejoice as he holds off the takeover. He’s a buy for anyone who wants fantasy points right now.
- Todd Gurley is in the top five, despite a lackluster year. He did finish in the top 24 regularly in 2016 (10 of 16 – 62.5%) despite the lack of upside (4 of 16 – 25%). Don’t be scared off – again, we all have ups and downs.
- While Jay Ajayi might not be a huge surprise inclusion on here because he was not a starter last year but still involved, he’s still very tough to figure out. He’s only gone over 79 yards four times in his 24-game career, and three of those were 200-yard games. In six of the 12 games he started, he couldn’t muster up more than a single digit PPR score. What do we do with him?
- Of all the players on here I’d expected to show improvement, Ameer Abdullah is by far by number one. I’ve written about him as a buy low recently, and will likely continue to emphasise his talent on Twitter over the coming months. He’s worth almost nothing at this point compared to the heights he can achieve, so buy now before it’s too late.
- Henry is up at RB15 in the March ADP, just above Murray and Mark Ingram. Are we jumping the gun? Jeff Miller and Dan Sainio have opposing views.
- Ezekiel Elliott was absurd. He didn’t score under 10.7 points all year, and had a spell of scoring 16.7 or more in 11 straight games. He’s going to be a star for years to come.
- Matt Forte sticks around in the top five, but in New York he had his lowest point average since 2009. It looks like he’s lost his appeal at RB49 in the March ADP.
- Adrian Peterson didn’t look good in Minnesota last year. Obviously, he’s aging and hasn’t even been signed yet. But, like Jamaal Charles, you’ll want to have him when a running back-needy team comes calling. The vets are so cheap, it might be worth taking a shot as some teams may could miss out in the draft.
- Ingram, despite his RB17 March ADP, has been a consistent producer. Our Jeff Miller is very high on him, and perhaps we should appreciate what he’s done a little more.
- Dion Lewis is likely our biggest surprise name on this list. It’s a very small sample size, but he did extremely well when first bursting onto the fantasy scene at the beginning of 2015. While Rex Burkhead is the hot name and James White could have been Super Bowl MVP, I’ll be buying Lewis if he’s the cheapest of the three.
- No major surprises here.
- Kenneth Dixon has the best top 24 percentage, but I’m not sure what to expect moving forward. He’s in the range of players who it might be worth targeting because if his team don’t draft a back, he’s going to be a huge beneficiary.
- Duke Johnson has been a major disappointment, especially for those who invested in him heavily (me). I still believe he can be a decent PPR back, but his backfield mate Isaiah Crowell has increased in rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns, as well as catches and receiving yards in each of this three years of the league and seems to be favoured heavily as the lead carrier.
- Who will be the starter in Tampa Bay? If they draft a bruiser, Charles Sims could be a nice third-down option. He’s another one to monitor who could be a nice PPR bye week fill in.
- Frank Gore is simply the best professional around. He just keeps on plugging, and has started all 16 games for six straight seasons (96 games).
- Jordan Howard shocked many with his RB10 finish, and was very consistent in how he did it. Where he might be held back from achieving more RB1 games is his pass-catching, having only hauled in 29 balls in his rookie campaign.
- Don’t forget about Giovani Bernard. We are playing the long game, and one injury shouldn’t steer us away from someone who’s been a very strong RB2 so far during his time in the NFL. Austan Kas makes a great case for buying Bernard as a bargain.
- Since Ty Montgomery has only been a running back since last year, I only used one season of data. However, in two of his RB1 games, he had ten receptions, and only had one week with more than 11 carries. I don’t see him as the answer in Green Bay, so get out if you can.
- CJ Anderson was never going to live up to the crazy breakout at the end of 2014 (averaging 24.5 points in the last eight games of the season), but he’s disappointed even more than expected. However, he looked good when healthy in 2016 and has scored in the top 24 in six of his last eight contests.
- I guess the Thomas Rawls era is over already in Seattle. Perhaps we should have known, since 31.25% of his 2015 fantasy points came in one game (a 40.5 point performance against San Francisco). With the team signing Eddie Lacy and drafting C.J. Prosise last year, Rawls has lost most of his fantasy appeal.
- We might have thought LeSean McCoy would “slow down” in his late twenties, but all five of his superstar weeks came in 2016 as he had his best campaign since 2013. It’s not over yet.
- Anderson, as mentioned above, had a nasty (in a good way) end to 2014, and those games are still reflected in his superstar percentage. I still believe in Anderson, and am actively pursuing him this off-season.
- As Ken Kelly reminded us, “it wasn’t long ago when Lacy was one of the most sought after running backs in dynasty leagues.” While his production has declined every single year, he’ll have goal-line opportunities in Seattle if he can find the field. I’d add him on the cheap, if I could.
What to Take From the Data
Like every piece of data, statistic or new piece of information, you can interpret this as you wish. I believe this series always favors players coming off injuries or “down years” who tend to be forgotten about, but that doesn’t mean we always target players who have been good in the past. Add it to what you know, and make decisions based on future expectations.
Last year, I identified “Charles (RB12), Anderson (RB13), McCoy (RB18), Duke Johnson (RB21), [Melvin] Gordon (RB23) and Abdullah (RB28)” as targets based on their ADP. Only two of them hit, but McCoy and Gordon had huge seasons and paid off in a big way. If we can scoop up a couple of RB1s for a price below their potential production, we have to explore it in the off-season.
This year, I feel a lot more comfortable with the top three backs, but after that might have to wait a bit before finding any targets worth pursuing. Both McCoy (RB12) and Murray (RB16) are veterans I’d be happy to acquire. Carlos Hyde (RB13) is undervalued considering I think he is more than capable of having RB1-type seasons in 2017 and beyond. If we were just drafting on talent, Tevin Coleman (RB18) should be higher, but he’s still capped by the presence of Devonta Freeman. Anderson (RB19) and Abdullah (RB24) are targets again, while Bernard (RB26) could be had for cheaper than he should be from impatient owners. While Charles and Peterson get the headlines, Doug Martin (RB41) and Ryan Mathews (RB71) are veterans talented enough to contribute with a few big games here and there and might end up in front of rookies. One player who doesn’t come up here or even appear in the March ADP data is Danny Woodhead, but don’t forget he was the RB3 overall in 2015. He’s going to be better than what he’s being given credit for.
I hope this has been helpful, and as promised, the full data set is below.
James can be found on Twitter at @JS_Football