Raymond Summerlin

By the Numbers

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Alternate History: RBs

Thursday, June 7, 2018


Opportunity is the most important element of fantasy success, but efficiency plays a big role as well. It also waxes and wanes from year to year even for the best players, and those deviations can lead to outlier seasons even when opportunity remains steady. With that in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at an alternate history in which the best fantasy scorers from last season performed at their career averages.

For running backs, that means adjusting yards per carry and yards per target. I also created an expected rushing and receiving touchdown number based on the percentage chance of each carry or target resulting in a score. For instance, a rushing attempt from the one-yard line has resulted in a touchdown 55 percent of the time over the last five seasons, so an attempt from the one is worth .55 expected touchdowns. Lost fumbles were left out of the equation because they are particularly fluky.

Expected RBs

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-LeSean McCoy is one of the most interesting running backs in fantasy this year because of what surrounds him. Playing in a terrible offense last season, he averaged .6 fewer yards per carry than his career average and 1.4 fewer than in 2016. He also finished with 4.14 fewer touchdowns than expected. Looking at those numbers, it would be easy to predict a bounce back, but McCoy faces two issues. One, he will turn 30 in July, an age which is notorious for running backs, suggesting it is unlikely he will return to even his career average much less his 2016 highs. That said, yards per carry is ridiculously volatile from year to year – that is basically the point of this series – so it would not be shocking for a player of McCoy’s caliber to have an outlier season in his early 30s. The second and more troubling concern is the state of the offense. While there was not a ton to like about McCoy’s surrounding talent last year, it is even worse this season. Even if Josh Allen develops into a quality player, it is difficult to argue they upgraded at quarterback, receiver remains a disaster zone, especially behind Kelvin Benjamin, and the offensive line looks much worse on paper. Add in injury concerns, and it seems wise to be wary of McCoy’s prospects this season despite what this table shows.

-Considering he has just one year of production, Alvin Kamara’s efficiency numbers are what they are, but his expected touchdown totals are worth a mention. Despite just 12 rushing attempts and zero targets inside the 10-yard line, Kamara was able to score 13 offensive touchdowns as a rookie with three of his rushing scores coming from 20 yards or more. Based on his usage, Kamara would have been expected to score 4.71 fewer touchdowns. He is obviously better than an average player and should see an opportunity increase this season – he already did down the stretch and in the playoffs – but some likely touchdown regression along with an almost assured decrease in per carry and per target production has to be baked into his projection.

-Chris Thompson falls into the same category as Kamara – he scored six touchdowns but his usage only created 3.51 expected scores – but with two added concerns. The first is his ridiculous efficiency as a receiver last season. On the back of 74- and 49-yard receptions, the longest and second-longest of his career, Thompson posted an elite 9.4 yards per target average in 2017, which is 4.2 yards more per target than he averaged in his career to that point. On top of that, Thompson now faces serious opportunity competition from second-rounder Derrius Guice, who has been drawing praise for his receiving ability so far in OTAs. Thompson will be involved assuming he is healthy, but he will likely be less efficient than last season in a role which could be smaller than expected.  

-Unlike the two above, Jerick McKinnon actually scored fewer touchdowns than his expected total last season, but he fell down the rankings because of a general lack of efficiency to this point in his career. His career four yards-per-carry mark is actually .2 higher than what he managed last season, but he was much more efficient as a receiver in 2017 than he has been in the past, averaging 1.6 more yards per target than he did in his first three seasons. His 6.2 yards-per-target average from last year is not anything special, however, and he has struggled mightily to produce on the ground over the last two seasons. Perhaps that changes under Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, but there is at least some reason for caution.

-Duke Johnson had one of the largest tumbles in this group, and, not unexpectedly, it had a lot to do with touchdowns – he scored 1.79 more than his expected total. It is worth noting, however, Johnson set a career high in targets last season with 93, 19 more than the 74 he recorded each of his first two seasons, and was slightly more efficient with the work than he has been in the past. Even with a new deal in hand, it is likely that usage comes down a bit with Jarvis Landry, Carlos Hyde, and Nick Chubb joining the team, making it unlikely Johnson is able to recreate his 2017 success. 

-Unlike his former teammate, Isaiah Crowell is a big climber in this exercise both because of expected touchdowns – he scored just twice last season despite 6.62 expected scores – and because he was much less efficient in the passing game than he had been earlier in his career. Despite not being thought of as a pass catcher, Crowell averaged a solid 6.6 yards per target his first three years in the league, but that number fell all the way to 4.3 last year. It might not matter considering he joined a team likely to lean on Bilal Powell in the passing game, but it is a small boost to his projection.

-Despite his touchdown totals, LeGarrette Blount has never been the most efficient short-yardage back. Still, his two rushing scores against 7.62 expected stands out. Unfortunately, he joined a team which has gone three seasons without a player topping four rushing scores and traded up to draft a running back in the second round. He should be projected for more than the two touchdowns he earned last season, but expectations need to be tempered. 



Raymond Summerlin is a football writer for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter at @RMSummerlin.
Email :Raymond Summerlin



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