Let’s continue our By the Numbers overview of the fantasy football landscape by focusing on the ground with the running back position.
I decided against a zeroRB redux this year. The approach worked out well for many of you last year but that doesn’t mean it will work again. I’m still a big proponent of it, for the same reason we went over last August. And just like last year, in this column, we’ll review our favorite RB selections in each of the zero RB rounds, let’s call it rounds 6 through 14.
But the stat I’m highlighting this year and one that I really wish was publicly available in place of yards per rush, often a terrible benchmark, is the rate at which a backs runs are successful as it relates to down and distance. But how do we do this? Through my work with Massey-Peabody Analytics, I’ve settled on first-down success being defined as gaining 40% of yards needed to convert a first down or touchdown, second-down success is getting at least 50% of the remaining yards and third- and fourth-down success means converting the first-down or touchdown. Pretty simple and pretty fair.
So using play-by-play data, we came up with the list of the backs - from best to worst, with a of minimum 75 carries in 2014 - in play-success percentage. The league average was 47.9%. Here are all the backs last year over 50%:
Gray is definitely a zeroRB target for me and this is as good a reason to speculate on him as any.
Miller you can see is a great bargain. It’s very unlikely the Dolphins are unaware of his success in converting down and distance, which bodes well for his 2015 usage, health permitting.
Bradshaw is worth speculating on even while currently on the real-life waiver wire.
I mocked Asiata mercilessly last year, and apologize for that in retrospect. But he’s in no-man’s land, role wise.
Robinson is really good and available at a last-round pocket pick if you so desire. Note his performance relative to teammate Ingram (who is still good).
You can probably pluck Herron off the waiver-wire in season if Frank Gore collapses this year due to age (32); be aggressive though in light of Heron’s success in 2014.
I know that when guys like Greene show up on a list like this, you go into full mocking mode. Greene is too old and unemployed now for me to even think about defending.
Again, the argument for this stat is that yards per carry in a vacuum is meaningless because who cares if you gain nine yards on third and 14? This batting average for running backs is clearly more descriptive of at least consistency. Yards per rush is more like slugging average, which certainly has its place. But the difference here is that defenses in football will concede yards depending on down and distance and a pitcher never really concedes a bigger hit (slugging percentage). So while it’s similar, it’s not the same.
We’re not gong to publish the entire list. But I’ll highlight some others who caught my eye. Gore was next best at 49.2, very solid. But age collapses are not gradual for running backs so I consider this meaningless in predicting 2015.
Justin Forsett is like the homer hitter who hits .220. He led the league in yards per rush last year (5.4) but was 42nd out of 59 in this stat (43.4%). I feel about him like I felt last year about Andre Ellington — too many big plays in that yards per carry and that is just too volatile.
Speaking of Ellington, he ranked 55th last year with a pitiful 39.3%. I’m not buying the “he was hurt” excuse. Most guys are banged up in this league. He showed why the scouts were so unenthused when he was drafted. Low-drafted guys have never bounced back off an early-career yards per carry like Ellington’s in 2014. Don’t be the chump who pays up to bet against history.
Other backs getting some love for some reason who are terrible by this measure last year include Doug Martin (37.6% where Bobby Rainey was 44.7%), C.J. Spiller (41%), Gio Bernard (42.3%)
Quickly, some zeroRB PPR recommendations based on Fantasy Pros ADP. But note Scott Pianowski and I will talk about this at length next week on The Breakfast Table Podcast. Again, don’t expect results like last year’s recommendations produced as that was lucky.
Round 6: Bell (RB29, ADP 66); Rashad Jennings (RB30, ADP 69) who I hated last year but it’s never the player, it’s the price
Round 7: Chris Ivory (RB33, ADP 79)
Round 8: Bishop Sankey (RB38, ADP 95)
Round 10: Danny Woodhead (RB42, ADP 112)
Round 11: Charles Sims (RB46, ADP 125), David Johnson (RB47, ADP 127) - though with Johnson note that the signing of Chris Johnson will drop David to an even more attractive level going forward.
Round 12: Andre Williams (RB50, ADP 139) because Jennings is almost certain to get hurt again.
Round 13: Roy Helu (RB54, ADP 145) because if he ever gets a chance, and Latavius Murray is a big-time injury risk, look out. Helu would become a super-sized 2014 Forsett.
Round 14: Gray (RB53, ADP 170), enough said.