100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 55: The Ideal RB and How to Deal with Suspended Players
I recently posted two articles over at RotoWorld. The first is a look at my ideal running back. You need to buy the RotoWorld Draft Guide to read the whole thing (and future posts of mine), but here’s a snippet:
A Hefty Workload
Workload matters for all positions, but it is absolutely the most vital at running back. The league average for YPC is around 4.2, and the best backs in the NFL this year (with a decent number of carries) might be around just 5.5 YPC or so. To say there’s a larger deviation in workload than efficiency is an understatement.
Here’s how running back carries have aligned with fantasy rank over the past four seasons.
That outlier at the bottom is Darren Sproles, who basically works as a receiver (although it’s important to keep in mind that targets are just as important—probably more so—than carries). Now compare that graph to this one showing YPC versus fantasy rank.
This is a far less linear distribution and a much weaker relationship. Yes, you want your running backs to be efficient, but efficiency is volatile from year to year. You can actually often find value by targeting backs who were inefficient in the prior season, but will still see a hefty workload, because their YPC is likely to regress near the league mean (as we’ve seen with Lynch in recent seasons).
Fountain of Youth
There are times when it’s okay to be bullish on aging backs—specifically when they’re set to see heavy usage—but the best ones are generally the youngest. In terms of fantasy points per touch, running back efficiency peaks basically from the moment a back enters the league, and it’s a steady decline from there.
This is the perfect example of when to emphasize long-term trends over year-to-year stats. There’s so much variance from year to year that we can generally be a lot more accurate by simply understanding where a running back falls on his career trajectory and working from there. If a specific 30-year old running back has a 10 percent chance of rushing for over 1,000 yards and just so happens to do it, that doesn’t really change much in the subsequent season. Now he’s just a 31-year old back.
And here’s my article on how to deal with suspended/injured players:
The Math on Players Missing Games
Ray Rice and Josh Gordon (maybe) are the two big-name players who are going to miss time in 2014. We can’t use Gordon as an example because we don’t know how long he’ll be suspended, if at all, following his appeal. Rice is in a bit of a unique situation since everyone kind of thought he’d be suspended for more than two games; when that ruling was handed down, Rice’s ADP actually jumped nearly a full round.
However, we can use Gordon’s 2013 situation to show why we should generally be bullish on suspended players. Last year, Gordon was ranked as the WR29 in terms of ADP before news broke that he’d be suspended for the first two weeks of the season. At that spot, Gordon could be expected to score 7.4 PPG in standard leagues if he perfectly lived up to his ADP. That’s just based on historical data, which doesn’t change all that much from year to year.
After the suspension, Gordon’s ADP promptly dropped to WR38. That decline was in line with what we’d expect if owners are viewing players in terms of an entire season of expected production. In approaching fantasy football from a week-to-week angle, however, we realize that the real “cost” of drafting Gordon wasn’t solely the points we’d miss while he was out, but rather those points minus the points from a replacement receiver; it’s not like you couldn’t start anyone in place of Gordon.
Working through the numbers, here’s how we should have been calculating Gordon’s season-long value to help us figure out how far to drop him:
(Projected PPG * Expected Games) + (Replacement Player Projected PPG * Expected Games Missed)
Again, based on his ADP, Gordon’s projected PPG was 7.4 before the suspension. As far as a replacement player, even if we waited multiple rounds to draft another receiver after selecting Gordon last year—ending up with the WR48—we’d still expect him to score around 6.0 PPG based on historical trends at the position.
That means that the calculation for Gordon in 2013 was (7.4*14) + (6.0*2), or 115.6 points. That’s barely less than the 118.4 points we should have expected from Gordon (based on his ADP) if he played all 16 games. And based on those numbers, Gordon should have dropped three spots among all receivers, down to WR32. Gordon (and Justin Blackmon) fell way too far, even though we could have mathematically calculated how far they should have dropped if their pre-suspension ADP was accurate. You might argue that you need to factor in extra risk for players like Gordon, who could realistically get suspended for the year at any point, but that risk should already be priced into his ADP.
On top of that, don’t forget that you know which games a suspended player will be missing. You can potentially soften the blow of his absence by targeting players with quality matchups in the short time that he’s out.