One of the most misleading pieces of information used by essentially everyone, including myself, in the fantasy football community is a player’s end of season ranking. Carson Palmer was the “fifth-best” quarterback. Todd Gurley was the “seventh-best” running back. Doug Baldwin was the “ninth-best” wide receiver. We use these designations because they are easily attained and understood, but in a weekly game like fantasy football, they are often misleading.
We can better understand how a player performed from week to week by looking at how often they posted starter-level games. Some analysts do this by looking at weekly finishes, which is a valuable method with plenty of strengths. I prefer to use statistical benchmarks to judge weekly performances because it helps remove variability from the equation.
A player may finish a given week inside the top 10 with an average score because it was a down week while another player may finish outside the top 10 in a higher-scoring week despite posting a good score. Does that mean the player who finished in the top 10 had a better game? I do not think so. The performance of a player as compared to others at the same position is important, which is why the weekly-finish method of analysis is valid and useful, but the benchmark method gives a better overview of week-to-week performance.
For running backs, the benchmarks based on a half-point per reception scoring format over the last three seasons are 21.1 points for an elite (top 5) performance, 16.6 points for an RB1 (top 10) performance, 11.5 points for an RB2 (top 20) performance, 8.25 points for a FLEX (top 30) performance and 5.75 points for a passable (top 40) performance.
See how the quarterbacks stacked up in 2015.
Doug Martin finished third in overall scoring, but the gap between the top two and Martin was significant. While Adrian Peterson and Devonta Freeman delivered RB1 performances at above a 40-percent clip, Martin was only able to offer top numbers in a quarter of his games. Martin can blame much of his inconsistency on a lack of volume. He saw 15 or fewer carries in six games, and unsurprisingly he failed to put up RB1 in each of those contests. Peterson had just three games with 15 or fewer carries and averaged over two carries more per contest than Martin, and Freeman’s involvement in the passing game meant he saw plenty of touches regardless of carry totals.
Martin’s inconsistent workload points both to potential growth and potential collapse next season. If he finds a more stable team in free agency or the Bucs find a way to improve, there is potential for him to become a weekly 20-carry back. If he sticks in Tampa Bay and the Bucs go the other way, there is potential his lack of passing-game involvement leads to an even more inconsistent season. Martin’s free-agency decision will go a long way in determining his valuation this summer.
The healthy return of Le’Veon Bell means it will not matter much moving forward, but it is important to note how impressive DeAngelo Williams was last season. In nine games as the primary back, Williams put up top-five numbers five times and RB1 numbers in six contests. Both percentages would easily be the best at the position. Bell was no slouch either, chipping in elite performances in one-third of his games. With Bell and Williams consistently ranking near the top of fantasy leaderboards, it is reasonable to say Pittsburgh had the best fantasy rushing attack in the league last season. Even with free agent questions on the offensive line, it is a trend which should continue in 2016.
One of the more interesting debates next season will center on Todd Gurley and David Johnson, who are both talented rookies who impressed in their first season in the league. While I view Gurley as the more talented back and the better option in Dynasty formats, I will likely fall on the Johnson side of the debate this summer. This consistency breakdown is part of the reason why.
Although Gurley fares better when looking at the raw numbers, Johnson spent most of the season as a seldom-used situational back. After Johnson finally took hold of the starting job Week 13, he had one elite performance, three RB1 performances and four RB2 performances over the final five games. Even if Gurley’s first game is removed, Johnson (60%) has a considerably higher RB1 percentage than Gurley (42%) as a starter.
The issue here is obviously sample size, but ultimately the numbers lay out what logic suggests should be true. Playing for a better offense, Johnson carries a similar ceiling and better weekly consistency than Gurley. It is possible the Rams offense improves enough to allow Gurley’s natural talent to win out, but when splitting hairs at the top of the draft, I will usually go with the better situation. In this case, that clearly belongs to Johnson.
Despite scoring just three total touchdowns, T.J. Yeldon was remarkably consistent as a rookie. He rarely posted RB1 numbers, but he was FLEX-worthy in 75 percent of his games and put up RB2 numbers over 40 percent of the time. Yeldon was not efficient with his red-zone opportunities last season, but much of the blame for his lack of touchdowns can be attributed to play calling. The Jaguars threw on 66 percent of their red-zone plays and 63 percent of their plays inside the 10-yard line. 87.5 percent of Jacksonville’s touchdowns came via the pass, which was the third-highest percentage in the league. With what looks like a solid touch floor and reason to expect some better touchdown luck next season, Yeldon should establish himself as a solid RB2.
Eddie Lacy’s 2015 felt like a disaster while it was happening, and these numbers do nothing to dispel that notion. Lacy was a passable starter in just over half of his games, and he managed RB2 numbers barely over a quarter of the time. That said, Lacy was not terrible when he actually was given work. In the five games he carried the ball at least 15 times, Lacy had two elite performances and three RB1 weeks. He averaged 16.2 points in those contests. If he can earn the coaching staff’s trust by getting and staying in shape this offseason, it is possible Lacy takes on a more prominent role in the offense next season, especially if James Starks leaves in free agency. If he does, Lacy has all the makings of a post-hype sleeper.
Thomas Rawls’ overall numbers do not look terribly impressive, but he was very consistent as the lead back. In the six games he saw at least 15 carries, Rawls posted elite numbers in two games, RB1 numbers in three and RB2 numbers in four. Those percentages would put him right up with the elite backs of 2015. As long as the Seahawks do not add any competition this offseason, Rawls should enter 2016 as an entrenched RB1.
Dion Lewis’ size and injury history raise serious questions about his ability to stay healthy through a big workload, but there is little question about his effectiveness when on the field. Lewis posted RB1 numbers in 42.86 percent of his games last season, which was the sixth-best rate among the top-55 backs. He was RB2 worthy in over 70 percent of his games. Coming off ACL surgery, there is a reasonable chance Lewis is severely undervalued this summer.