Tue. Aug 20th, 2019

The Fantasy Fanalysts

For the Love of the Game.

Extreme Running Back Fantasy Point Variances

10 min read

Aside from the fantasy playoffs, redraft and dynasty leagues can be viewed from a macro level where you can survive two or three bad weeks or roster decisions and succeed.  That’s quite the contrast from daily fantasy where every option on a slate is put under a microscope and one mistake can make or break your week. 

NFL players have their own tendencies where they perform better in various scenarios whether it be as a favorite or underdog, playing at home or in hostile territory, or when their respective team wins or loses a game.  We’re going to explore which players at each position performed at their best or worst in various situations from last season to try and help us discover ideal roster opportunities in daily lineups.  Note that these figures can vary from year to year when someone who performed better indoors the year before now suddenly performed better outside the following year.  Viewed in another light, these figures can be interpreted as an extension of consistency rankings.  

This piece isn’t just exclusive to DFS and has a place in non-DFS leagues where an available free agent may be in a better spot to perform than a rostered option that should be on the bench for a specific week.  This will be part two of a three-part series that continues with the running back position and only evaluates those that played a minimum of 12 games. 

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN A STRAIGHT-UP WIN

James White: 10.43: Dion Lewis heading to Tennessee and Rex Burkhead being injured for most of the season set James White for a career-high 87 receptions in 2018.  Considering his usage out of the backfield and the Patriots unusually lost five regular season games, you’d think this variance would be the inverse.  However, White averaged 5.9 receptions in wins vs 4.4 of them in losses.  

Marlon Mack: 9.25: When the Colts were victorious last season, Marlon Mack played an important role in those games.  He was rarely used out of the backfield which translated into horrible fantasy performances in games the Colts lost as Mack’s 10 carries and 0 touchdowns per game would indicate.  In games the Colts won, he saw 17.5 carries and averaged 1 touchdown per contest.

Philip Lindsay: 8.41: The undrafted rookie out of the University of Colorado turned heads when he averaged 6.14 yards per carry in the first two weeks against Seattle and Oakland.  Lindsay definitely turned heads in Bronco victories as he posted 102.33 rushing yards and 1.16 touchdowns compared to just 47 rushing yards and .22 touchdowns in Bronco losses

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN A STRAIGHT-UP LOSS

Tarik Cohen: 8.63: Matt Nagy utilized his talented pass catching back more than Dowell Loggains did in the Bears mundane offense in 2017.  Tarik Cohen had some solid games in those that the Bears won but he was much more impactful in ones that the Bears lost.  He saw more than double the receptions in Bears defeats at 7.5 per game compared to 3.42 of them in Bear victories.

Christian McCaffery: 7.81 (Excluding Week 17): It’s hard to believe that Carolina was 6-2 at one point before a tumultuous seven-game losing streak ruined the season.  At 30.79 FPPG in PPR scoring during that tailspin, Christian McCaffery was the #1 overall fantasy performer with 215.5 fantasy points, 27.9 points more than Ezekiel Elliott who was #2 in that seven-week span. 

Alvin Kamara: 6.54: Alvin Kamara didn’t suit up in Week 17 so he was only part of two of the three games the Saints lost in the regular season.  A large part of this variance is from Kamara’s season-best 43.1 fantasy point performance of 2018 in a Week 1 loss to the Buccaneers.  It will be interesting to see how he is utilized now that Mark Ingram has departed via free agency and replaced with Latavius Murray.

SMALLEST WIN/LOSS VARIANCE

Saquon Barkley: -.4: The rookie out of Penn State was a high floor, high ceiling option that was as reliable in five Giant wins as he was in 11 Giant defeats.  He surpassed double-digit fantasy points in PPR scoring in all but one game last year and exceeded 20 fantasy points a remarkable 12 times.  He is a true gamescript-independent back with a bright future at the pro level.  

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN HOME GAMES

Austin Ekeler: 8.46: Ekeler was nonexistent in games away from the StubHub Center.  In front of the home crowd, Ken Whisenhunt made sure to incorporate his pass catching back in the game plan.  69.2% of Ekeler’s receptions, 80.2% of his receiving yards, and 83% of his total touchdowns all occurred in home games last season.

Sony Michel: 7.35: The Patriots went undefeated at Gillette Stadium in 2018 which translated into an abundance of positive gamescript for Michel to operate.  He saw 19.5 carries for .83 touchdowns in home games compared to 13.29 carries for .14 touchdowns in hostile territory.

James White: 5.95: Gillette Stadium was where White excelled as he had a solid floor of 13.4 fantasy points along with eight of his 12 total touchdowns in 2018 occurring in Foxboro.  Those that rostered him in the divisional round weren’t the least bit surprised when he posted 15 catches against a Chargers defense susceptible to running backs out of the backfield.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN AWAY GAMES

Dion Lewis: 5.34: While Derrick Henry’s splits favored him playing at Nissan Stadium, the contrary applied to Dion Lewis who was more productive in enemy territory.  64.6% of his scrimmage yards along with all of his touchdowns took place outside of Nashville.  He certainly cashed in on his career year in New England in 2017 as he only hit double-digit fantasy points six times with the Titans after doing so eight times the year before.

Peyton Barber: 5.21: The Buccaneers rushing offense wasn’t anything to brag about in 2018 as Buccaneer running backs averaged 3.9 yards per carry, tied for the second-fewest with the Eagles.  Barber averaged 43.25 yards on the ground at Raymond James Stadium but was more useful in road games with 65.63 yards per game and four of his six touchdowns occurring in enemy territory.

Kenyan Drake: 4.33: Drake’s home/road rushing attempts and yards were all but identical but he was more involved out of the backfield in road games as the Dolphins went 1-7 away from Hard Rock Stadium.  Not to mention 67% of his touchdowns came in road affairs, a trend that carried over from 2017 as 75% of his touchdowns were road ones.

SMALLEST HOME/ROAD VARIANCE

Melvin Gordon: -.22: After nearly registering a double-digit variance that favored rostering him in road games, Gordon was the most consistent running back in this metric.  An MCL sprain in Week 12 put a damper on what was an incredible season for the fourth-year running back out of the University of Wisconsin.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN GAMES WHEN THE RESPECTIVE TEAM IS A FAVORITE

Joe Mixon: 11.58: 24.12 FPPG in PPR scoring as a favorite vs 12.54 FPPG as an underdog, no one saw a greater variance in this category than Joe Mixon as his Bengals went 4-1 in games they were favored.  He made his presence felt in those games as he converted 23 touches per game as a favorite into 1.4 touchdowns vs 18.33 touches per game as an underdog into .22 touchdowns.

Marlon Mack: 9.26: As indicated above, there was a strong positive correlation in Marlon Mack’s performance when the Colts won and that correlation is just as strong in games the Colts are favored.  9 of his 10 touchdowns took place with the Colts listed as a favorite along with a +6.67 touch differential for Mack in those games.  

Mark Ingram: 8.7: With the emergence of Alvin Kamara, 2018 was a disappointing season for Mark Ingram who went from 18 touches per game in 2017 to 13.25 touches last year.  Those who rostered him in matchups the Saints were underdogs were burned to the tune of a minuscule 4.9 FPPG when in that role compared to 13.6 FPPG when the Saints were favorites.  He’s bound for a rebound season in a Baltimore offense that should be rush-heavy with Lamar Jackson under center.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL IN GAMES WHEN THE RESPECTIVE TEAM IS AN UNDERDOG

Ezekiel Elliott: 9.73: Zeke possessed the highest variance as a favorite in 2017 with a +15.8 FPPG differential in games the Cowboys were favored.  He was on the opposite side of the spectrum last season as he posted the highest differential in games the Cowboys were getting points from their opponent.  Zeke averaged 131.75 scrimmage yards per game as an underdog with seven of nine touchdowns in that role.

Kenyan Drake: 6.95: In four games that the Dolphins were favorites, Kenyan Drake saw 7.75 touches for 35.75 scrimmage yards and .25 TDs.  He was much more productive when the Dolphins were underdogs as his 11.83 touches for 72.41 scrimmage yards and .66 TDs indicates.

Jordan Howard: 5.98: His yards per carry dropped from 4.06 in 2017 to 3.74 in 2018 and now finds himself as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.  Not known for his work out of the backfield, he was more efficient in games that Chicago was an underdog with a floor of 11.3 FPPG in PPR scoring.

SMALLEST FAVORITE/UNDERDOG VARIANCE

Christian McCaffery: +.03 (Excluding Week 17): For those running backs that don’t see work out of the backfield, glancing over weekly spreads can be an indicative measure on what to expect from a certain player.  When your running back leads the league in receptions and targets, Christian McCaffery’s has a role whether the Panthers are leading or trailing.  Only he and Zeke had a floor of double-digit fantasy points last season after McCaffery had the highest floor among qualified running backs in 2017.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL AGAINST TEAMS RANKED IN THE TOP HALF IN RUSH DVOA

Ezekiel Elliott: 5.35: Against top 10 defensive rush DVOA opponents in Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, New Orleans, and Philadelphia, Ezekiel Elliott plowed his way for a league-best 105.42 rushing yards per game against top-ranked rushing defenses.  Having one of the better offensive lines in the league was a big contributor as well as slaughtering the Eagles to the tune of 132 yards per matchup on the ground.  That line returns intact with the hopes of getting Travis Frederick back from Guillain-Barré syndrome, something that can only help Zeke heading into 2019.

Kenyan Drake: 3.89: Consistency wasn’t Drake’s cup of tea last season as observed above by posting the second-highest variance in games the Dolphins were underdogs and having seven games where he didn’t reach double-digit fantasy points.  However, this variance is a compliment as he posted two of his three best performances against a Texans defense ranked 1st overall in rushing DVOA and a Colts defense ranked 4th.  The hope heading into 2019 is Brian Flores and Chad O’Shea utilizing him more than his 10.81 touches per game with Adam Gase in 2018.

Marlon Mack: 3.03: Used to seeing Mack’s name in this article yet?  He’s back for a third mention as his +3.03 FPPG differential against the better half in defensive rush DVOA last season was the third highest among qualified backs.  With the exception of two matchups against Jacksonville, Mack fared well against defenses that shut down the run, his primary means of producing on the field and in fantasy lineups.

LARGEST DIFFERENTIAL AGAINST TEAMS RANKED IN THE BOTTOM HALF IN RUSH DVOA 

Nick Chubb: 12.83: Stout rushing defenses were able to contain the rookie out of Georgia last season.  Inferior rushing defenses were subject to a thrashing as Nick Chubb scored all 10 of his touchdowns against defenses ranked in the bottom half in rush DVOA, something to keep in mind next season as eight matchups are against teams in the bottom half of this metric.  The eight doesn’t include two matchups against a Baltimore defense that suffered heavy losses in free agency.

Tarik Cohen: 8.04: He isn’t the primary rushing option in the Bears offense which means he needs to thrive in the passing game.  In six games against top-rated rushing defenses, they contained Cohen to 20 receiving yards and .17 receiving touchdowns per game out of the backfield.  Against the 10 other opponents ranked in the bottom half of defensive rush DVOA, Cohen tripled his receiving yard output and averaged .4 receiving touchdowns in those games.

James Conner: 7.79: Like Nick Chubb, James Conner pummeled those that were unable to shut down running backs.  With a +6.93 FPPG differential in games the Steelers were victorious and a +8.05 differential in games the Steelers covered the spread, it’s no surprise Conner was less impactful in games that featured defenses in the top half in rush DVOA as the Steelers went 2-3 against such opponents with Conner active (2-4 overall) vs 6-1-1 against the bottom half (7-2-1 overall)

SMALLEST RUSH DVOA VARIANCE

Todd Gurley: -.09: Not that you would have considered benching Gurley at any point but there’s a comfort in knowing you’re going to get a consistent level of fantasy production regardless of the opponent.  That’s what Gurley gave his fantasy owners last season with an average of 26.6 FPPG against defenses in both the top and bottom half in rush DVOA.  Now we await further clarification on whether arthritis in Gurley’s surgically repaired left knee will impact him moving forward.

WHO WERE THE MOST CONSISTENT RUNNING BACKS OF 2018?

Naturally, there is more of a positive correlation in running back production in games their respective teams win.  Those that see backfield involvement may see correlations that are stronger in losses, more specifically in PPR leagues than standard ones.  Thus, for determining who was most consistent, three of the other four metrics covered in this article will be used.  However, knowing how your running back is utilized in positive and negative gamescript is critical as you’re not going to roster one that sees no targets in games that you expect a certain team to lose and/or play catchup.

Two running backs stood out above their counterparts in 2018.  Todd Gurley may have burned some unlucky owners in the finals but he was certainly a key component in helping your fantasy team advance to that point.  He was also an automatic roster in the DFS landscape last season regardless of salaries creeping as high as 10K on DraftKings and 11K on FanDuel.  Undoubtedly, Gurley was the most consistent fantasy running back in 2018 as he didn’t possess a variance over one fantasy point in either of the evaluated home/road, favorite/underdog, or top/bottom rush DVOA metrics.  He is an important cog in Sean McVay’s high-octane offense that has the coaching staff and fans praying for a clean bill of health heading into 2019.

Seattle entered 2018 with a crowded backfield that eventually saw Chris Carson emerge as the #1 option.  He will enter training camp as that option but we’ll see how Pete Carroll better utilizes former 2018 first-round pick Rashaad Penny now that Mike Davis resides in Chicago.  Carson was important in Seattle’s push for a wild card as he had a floor of 13.3 fantasy points in Seattle’s final seven games in which they went 6-1.   In the three metrics being evaluated, Carson had a differential lower than 2.2 fantasy points in each.

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