Identifying Player Groupings: Running Backs

Identifying Player Groupings: Running Backs

First off, I would like to say I am extremely excited to join DFF and the #DFFArmy. I am thankful for the opportunity to voice my opinions to more than just my friends and league mates. I hope I can bring some insight into the dynasty community and help a few people win championships.

This article is the first of two pieces that will look at how and where players produce their fantasy points. I have broken down player production into three main categories: PPR Machines, Yard Monsters, and Touchdown Dependents. I compiled stats for the top 40 running backs from 2015 and 2016 and found what percentage of their fantasy production came from receptions, rushing yards, and touchdowns. From there, I ran the data through a statistical software called JMP and created what is called a Tree of Partitions. Basically, the software splits the data into significant groups or branches in the tree. The highest branch is a group of players that the software found to be significantly higher than the rest of the data and can then be considered extremists in that respective production category. All stats are courtesy of Fantasydata.com.

PPR Machines

2016

Standard Rank PPR Rank Player Fantasy Points Targets Receptions FP from Rec.
30 24 Darren Sproles 162.5 71 52 32.00%
31 25 Theo Riddick 161.8 67 53 32.76%
35 26 James White 161.7 86 60 37.11%
37 28 Chris Thompson 147.5 62 49 33.22%
39 30 Duke Johnson 145 72 53 36.55%
40 34 TJ Yeldon 137.7 68 50 36.31%
43 40 Giovani Bernard 122.3 51 39 31.89%

2015

Standard Rank PPR Rank Player Fantasy Points Targets Receptions FP from Rec.
11 3 Danny Woodhead 243.1 106 80 32.91%
38 18 Theo Riddick 179 99 80 44.69%
34 23 Duke Johnson 164.3 74 61 37.13%
37 26 Shane Vereen 158.4 81 59 37.25%
41 28 Darren Sproles 149.5 83 55 36.79%
45 34 Bilal Powell 135.1 63 47 34.79%
50 40 James White 122.6 54 40 32.63%

Above are the seven players from the last two years who are categorized as PPR Machines. That is, these players gain significantly more value in PPR leagues than standard leagues, since they serve vital roles in their offenses as pass-catchers out of the backfield. The names above probably do not come as much of a surprise, as these are well-known names that fantasy players target in PPR leagues. The baseline from 2015 and 2016 to be considered a PPR Machines is at least 32% of fantasy production comes from receptions, and some of these players do it consistently. Looking at just the last two years, Riddick, Johnson, Sproles, and White were PPR Machines in each year (Woodhead probably would have been as well had he been healthy).

Fantasy Points PPR Rank Standard Rank Receptions
Player 2016 2015 2016 2015 2016 2015 2016 2015
Riddick 161.8 179 25 18 31 38 53 80
Johnson 145 164.3 30 23 39 34 53 61
Sproles 162.5 149.5 24 28 30 41 52 55
White 161.7 122.6 26 40 35 50 60 40

What does this tell us about these players? Their roles are well-defined in their offenses and they gain considerable value in PPR formats. In standard leagues, these players are low-end RB3s – or worse. In PPR leagues, their pass-catching abilities elevate them to RB2s or high-end RB3s.

Advice:

If you play in a standard league, you probably have these players sitting on your bench in the hopes the starter above them gets hurt. If you play in a PPR league, these players should be on your radar. Riddick is by and large the best pure PPR back to own. His role in Detroit’s offense will not be affected by the return of Ameer Abdullah, the recent emergence of Zach Zenner, or any incoming rookie the Lions draft this year. He is a favorite target of Stafford as a check down or in designed plays on third down. Riddick was hampered by injuries last year, mostly due to him taking on more of a role as a rusher after Abdullah’s injury. Look for a nice bounce back as a mid to low-end RB2 with a nice floor and decent upside should he find the endzone.

I believe Duke Johnson is a nice buy-low. With the emergence of Crowell as a solid runner, Johnson has been utilized as the third down back in the Cleveland offense. Hue Jackson seems to like Johnson in that role and intends to keep using him as such. He is a solid option for anyone looking for running back depth and can be a bye week fill-in or even a decent flex option some weeks. He also has upside should Crowell ever get injured for an extended period of time, leaving Johnson to shoulder a workhorse load.

Yard Monsters

2016

Rank Player Fantasy Points Attempts Rush Yards FP from Rush Yards
2 Ezekiel Elliott 325.4 322 1631 50.12%
10 Jordan Howard 230.1 252 1313 57.06%
11 Jay Ajayi 215.3 260 1272 59.08%
18 Carlos Hyde 192.1 217 988 51.43%
20 Lamar Miller 191.1 268 1073 56.15%
29 Jonathan Stewart 146.4 218 824 56.28%
36 Robert Kelley 132.6 168 704 53.09%

2015

Rank Player Fantasy Points Attempts Rush Yards FP from Rush Yards
2 Adrian Peterson 260.7 327 1,485 56.96%
4 Doug Martin 232.3 288 1,402 60.35%
13 Darren McFadden 193.7 239 1,089 56.22%
24 Jonathan Stewart 162.8 242 989 60.75%
36 Thomas Rawls 127.6 147 830 65.05%
39 LeGarrette Blount 122.6 165 703 57.34%

The above players can be considered Yard Monsters, with over 50% of their fantasy production coming from rushing yards. Though these players do not fall in any one running back tier, they still have some things in common. For one, these players are not heavily involved in the passing game, if at all. The most prolific of these players in the passing game was Darren McFadden in 2015, who had almost 40% of his fantasy production from the receiving game alone (yards and receptions). As for the rest, the average percent of fantasy production from receptions was 11% and from receiving yards was 8%. Therefore, these players, take a slight hit in value in PPR formats.

Only one name appears on both lists from 2015 and 2016: Jonathan Stewart. There is not much to say about Stewart, outside of being a power rusher in a run-heavy offensive scheme. He loses goal-line touches to Cam Newton, which could explain why he is more of a Yard Monster than a Touchdown Dependent. In either case, Stewart is 30 years old with one year left on his contract. Recent mock drafts have seen LSU standout Leonard Fournette being selected by the Panthers with the eighth overall pick. If that were to happen, Stewart could see a significant decline in touches as part of a committee with Fournette or even as a backup. It remains to be seen how the draft unfolds, but Stewart is on the verge of dynasty extinction.

Advice:

Being categorized as a Yard Monster one year may actually be positive in some ways. Since over 50% of these players’ fantasy production came from rushing yards, that means other areas are lacking. One of which could be touchdowns, as is the case with Lamar Miller. If we consider 2016 his floor with the Texans, we can only project 2017 to be better, at least in the touchdown department. With positive touchdown regression, Miller could bounce back into being a top-end RB2 in 2017. In his last two years with the Dolphins, in which he averaged seven less carries per game, Miller found the endzone eight times each year. If Miller had scored eight times in 2016, it would have propelled him to RB13 on the year, instead of RB20, and that is after missing the last two games due to injury. If Miller had played his final two games and rushed for his season average of 76 yards per game, Miller would have finished RB11, back-end RB1. He may have disappointed many owners who were expecting him to be THE RB1, which may leave a sour taste in owners’ mouths, but I believe Miller will have as good if not a better year in 2017 and can be had for cheap currently. He is a solid RB2 with RB1 upside.

Touchdown Dependents

2016

Rank Player Fantasy Points Total TD FP from TD
9 LeGarrette Blount 232.9 18 46.37%
13 Latavius Murray 208.2 12 34.58%
19 Tevin Coleman 191.1 11 34.54%
29 Jonathan Stewart 146.4 9 36.89%
31 Ryan Mathews 144.6 9 37.34%
35 Christine Michael 137 8 35.04%
39 Mike Gillislee 125.6 9 42.99%

2015

Rank Player Fantasy Points Total TD FP from TDs
8 David Johnson 209.8 12 34.32%
20 Jeremy Hill 170.3 12 42.28%
37 Ryan Mathews 124.5 7 33.73%
38 Karlos Williams 124.3 9 43.44%
39 LeGarrette Blount 122.6 7 34.26%

Finally, the above 12 players over the last two years have been found to be Touchdown Dependents. The biggest issue with these players is the susceptibility to negative regression in the touchdown department, which leads to failure to meet expectations. Below is a chart of each player’s average touchdowns per year. Note, David Johnson has only been in the league for two years and has an outrageous number of touchdowns scored already, and I expect his numbers to decrease next year.

Player Average TD/Year
LeGarrette Blount 7.1
Latavius Murray 6.7
Tevin Coleman 6
Jonathan Stewart 5.7
Ryan Mathews 5.7
Christine Michael 2
Mike Gillislee 4
Karlos Williams 7
David Johnson 16
Jeremy Hill 10

As you can see from above, each player that was categorized as Touchdown Dependent performed above their expectation. This leads to the expectation that they will see regression the following year as they fall back to the mean. Though this was not the case with LeGarrette Blount or Ryan Mathews, who appears on both lists, both players actually became more touchdown dependent from 2015 to 2016. Because of this, I expect significant regression from both players in 2017, not to mention Mathews is likely to be cut by the Eagles and Blount, at the time this article was written, is still a free agent. This might serve as a good time to sell-high on both players.

Advice:

Sell-high: Blount, Murray, Hill

Whatever you can get: Mathews, Michael

Holds: DJ, Coleman

Buys: Gillislee

The only name I want to talk about is Mike Gillislee. In his last two years with the Bills, Gillislee has been extremely efficient when carrying the ball, averaging 5.7 YPC each year. I am buying him wherever I can. He has similar upside to Duke Johnson in that he is in line for a workhorse load should Shady get injured for any length of time. He is already starting to vulture touches and redzone opportunities from McCoy, which could make him a sneaky flex option in some weeks, though his production is unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. I believe he would be a great addition to any dynasty team looking for running back depth with high upside.

Conclusion

I believe this type of analysis of players can be very useful. It gives us insight as to where players are getting the majority of their fantasy production, which is helpful in identifying breakout players or potential busts in the coming years. This is by no means an end-all, be-all when it comes to drafting and trading, but it can be a helpful tool in player valuations. Players that are consistently labeled as PPR Machines can have high floors due to their weekly pass-catching abilities out of the backfield, but lose value in standard leagues. Yard Monsters could be great values for the coming year, since being a Yard Monster typically means the player is lacking in other areas, namely touchdowns. If a Yard Monster one year has positive regression in the touchdown department the following year, it could be a career season in the making. As for Touchdown Dependents, we can only expect negative regression the following year, which makes them potential sell-high candidates. Fantasy owners who have any of the above Touchdown Dependents should be wary of what the 2017 season might entail, but the production serves as a nice ceiling.

If my work has helped your research or if you simply enjoyed reading it, please consider donating. Thank you.

 

You can follow me on Twitter: @AmazeHayes_DFF

 

ahayes

Penn State college student and Steelers fan. Been playing fantasy football since 2009 and dynasty football since 2016. Numbers don't lie, people do. Co-Host of the Super Flexible Podcast. @Amazehayes_DFF on Twitter.

View all ahayes's Posts

6 Comments

    • Kevin

      April 15, 2017

      Great first article. Can you spare some advise? Looking to trade youth for my dynasty franchise.
      AJ Green & Miller -for- Gurley & Howard
      Your thoughts? Howard a one year wonder?

       
      Reply
      • Addison Hayes

        April 16, 2017

        Lamar Miller? That’s not a trade I would do. My next article highlights why I love AJ Green he’s an absolute stud and I love Lamar Miller too. Gurley is in a sticky situation and Howard could be where Gurley was last year.

         
        Reply
    • Kevin

      April 16, 2017

      Appreciate the insight and opinion. My keeper situation – Mariota, Evans, OBJ, Miller and AJ.
      In the back of my head I know AJ has 3 years left (elite status) and I wanted to get younger, plus add a RB. As you can see, I have the best WR crew in my league (12 team – 5 keeper – PPR)

      I just traded Brees & Dez for Mariota & Evans. Thoughts on Mariota?

      When is your next article?

       
      Reply
      • Addison Hayes

        April 16, 2017

        Next article is currently in the editing stage so sometime this week I’d say.

        I love the Brees trade I think the upgrade front Dez to Evans is great with a slight decrease from Brees to Mariota but Mariota is up and coming. He’ll be a solid mid QB1 for the rest of his career.

        I would not trade Green just yet I think right now owners view him as a dip in value because he didn’t play half the season last year so some people might be on the bandwagon that he is getting old and declining which is not true in my opinion. I would stick with your keeper situation unless something amazing pops up to upgrade Miller but I would not upgrade him at the expense of your receiving corps.

         
        Reply
  • Lamar Miller left dynasty owners disappointed in 2016

  • Lamar Miller left dynasty owners disappointed in 2016 • Pechatnica Culture Blog

Leave a Comment

(required)

(required)

%d bloggers like this: