Fantasy Football: 2013 Running Back Review – FPPRR

fantasy football Darren Sproles
New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles. Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

After perusing the list of running backs who were the best and worst performers on the ground earlier this week, we’re now focusing on the receiving side of the fantasy spectrum. 2013 was a year almost like no other in terms of backs catching the football out of the backfield. Twenty backs caught 40 or more passes, the highest total since 25 reached that mark in 2002 and five backs had 70 or more receptions this year. That was only the second time since 1970 that there were five or more backs with that many grabs (the other being 2000 when seven backs secured that many).

Read more about the 2013 Fantasy Season in Review

Wide Receiver Review – The Target Multiplier

Wide Receiver Review – The Red Zone

Wide Receiver Review – Hallow Routes

As the game becomes more and more about speed and spacing and teams are utilizing specific skill sets from plays for specific roles, that short passing game has really become an extension of a running game. That morsel of information also matches up with the diminishing amount of individuals amassing 300 or more carries in recent years.

By the powers of Pro Football Focus, we can bring back our old faithful friend in PPR receiving efficiency, Fantasy Points Per Route Run (FPPRR). If you’re not acclimated to the powers of the metric, check out the history here. FPPRR had more than a successful hit rate in the pieces on predicting the outcomes in the cases of Reggie Bush, Matt Forte, DeMarco Murray, and Jamaal Charles this season.

Instead of just providing a list of the best scores, we’re going to go a different route here (no poor pun intended). First, let’s take a peek at which backs benefited the most by the highest percentage of their fantasy output coming from the passing game and if their FPPRR coincided with that production.

Player

PPR PTS

PPR REC PTS

Rec. %

FPPRR

Darren Sproles

173.4

143.4

82.7%

.54

Chris Ogbonnaya

114.2

94.3

82.6%

.35

Shane Vereen

134.5

107.7

80.1%

.54

Danny Woodhead

223.4

172.5

77.2%

.57

Jacquizz Rodgers

141.4

98.1

69.4%

.41

Pierre Thomas

211.2

146.3

69.3%

.49

Marcel Reece

111.78

77.1

69.0%

.29

Giovani Bernard

222.9

125.4

56.3%

.42

Roy Helu

107.5

56.1

52.2%

.19

Reggie Bush

239.2

122.6

51.3%

.40

Ray Rice

178.1

90.1

50.6%

.27

Trent Richardson

144.9

72.6

50.1%

.30

*Players with 100+ fantasy points and 50 or more touches

Sproles is the cornerstone of FPPRR production, and his score remained completely level with 2011 (.56) and 2012 (.55) production. The thing that prevented him from hanging around the low end RB1 area we had been used to getting while he’s been in New Orleans is uneven usage. He played the fewest overall amount of snaps this season since his 2010 season in San Diego, even fewer than he played in 2012 when he missed three entire games.

Vereen is the new younger model of Sproles for the future of fantasy football. While it’s disappointing that he couldn’t find a way into more work on the ground, especially given the state of the Patriot backfield for a period, he made up for it by being reliable through the air. Vereen was the most frequently targeted player in the NFL season. Not running back, but player. He was targeted once every 2.9 routes run, slightly better than the 3.0 of Sproles and higher than the best receiver, Pierre Garcon (3.4) and tight end, Rob Gronkowski (3.3). In a backfield that will largely be avoided because of the Patriots approach, Vereen has the safest role going forward.

The only real dud here is Helu. He was beyond subpar in per route efficiency, nearly half as bad as he was in 2011 (.34 FPPRR). It’s important to note that in ’11 he played by far the most of all Washington running backs that year when accumulating those totals, something he surely will never see again going forward. In a time share at best; many will be looking to buy late in hopes of Gio Bernard usage with Jay Gruden in the fold. Combining the above with what will be limited snaps in at least some facet, I would let another owner make that play.

Not Involved

Player

PPR PTS

PPR REC PTS

Rec. %

FPPRR

Chris Ivory

104.3

3

2.9%

.04

LeGarrette Blount

121

5.8

4.8%

.09

BenJarvus Green-Ellis

119.8

6.2

5.2%

.04

Alfred Morris

178.3

16.8

9.4%

.10

Stevan Ridley

127.5

16.2

12.7%

.20

Frank Gore

190.9

30.1

15.8%

.12

Rashard Mendenhall

144.1

31.4

21.8%

.20

Adrian   Peterson

232.7

52.1

22.4%

.20

Bobby Rainey

110.2

25.6

23.2%

.24

Ryan Mathews

210.4

50.9

24.2%

.39

Eddie Lacy

242.5

60.7

25.0%

.25

Zac Stacy

183.4

46.1

25.1%

.21

 

These are the runners with the lowest percentage of their point total coming from receiving, most were more than warranted. You aren’t drafting players in this group for their involvement in the passing game, so anything extra is mostly a bonus. It still affects their PPR ceilings a great deal and the real stickler is when our old nemesis, Mr. Negative Game Flow makes an appearance, these guys will likely be a sinking stone in your lineup.

Peterson will be a guy to keep an eye on and I will delve further into why soon enough. He has only one season with an above average FPPRR score (.31 in 2009), but the arrival of Norv Turner could mean for a late career receiving boost if he maintains the high snap totals he’s always provided. Backs attached to Norval’s offense have always been strong PPR performers (see, Ogbonnaya above and Ronnie Brown in 2012) regardless of their true receiving prowess.

We could’ve Used More

Player

PPR REC PTS

Routes

FPPRR

Jason Snelling

68.6

117

.59

Fozzy Whittaker

48.5

113

.43

DeAngelo Williams

65.3

159

.41

Donald Brown

60.4

149

.41

Ryan
Mathews

50.9

130

.39

CJ Spiller

53.7

145

.37

 

These six players posted an above average score on fewer than 200 snaps in route. Whittaker is more proof of pedestrian talent elevated in the passing game by Norv Turner. The Browns were a disaster in the backfield this season, in terms of talent and rotation, so it’s no wonder that Fozzy really never was given a full chance to play. Mathews has always been a strong performer in FPPRR and is a really above average receiver, but has lost that role over the past two seasons due to his pass protection ability. The 26 receptions from DeAngelo were the most he’s had in a season since 2009, but he’s not a mainstay performer or really worth investing in going forward.

Another efficiency metric, another appearance for Donald Brown. He really was a jack of all trades this year and was the Colts player on offense this season from an efficiency standpoint. The Trent Richardson trade could’ve prevented us from seeing him become a great fantasy find this year, but it’s also arguably what gave him the career push he desperately needed. He will be an interesting name to follow this offseason since it’s doubtful Indy brings him back.

The big name here is Spiller. For the fourth consecutive season he posted a strong score, right in line with his career .39 mark. The issue was like Sproles, he received a crazy lower amount of usage than we ever envisioned happening. Spiller averaged only 9.7 routes per game after averaging 15.1 per game in 2012. Whether that was due to injuries or just gameplan by Doug Marrone, it’s hard to say. He still managed 33 receptions and his receptions per route (3.5) were tied for fifth best out of all running backs. If he gains that role back next season, he will make up for a lot his anticipated discount next year. He also could lose a grip on his involvement in a very similar fashion of Mathews, however. Spiller will never be an elite touchdown producer, so if that happens, a rebound to 2012 proportions will never happen.

Big Volume, Big Points

Player

PPR PTS

PPR REC PTS

Routes

FPPRR

Jamaal Charles

378

181.3

395

.46

Danny Woodhead

223.4

172.5

302

.57

Matt Forte

338.3

152.2

433

.35

Pierre Thomas

211.2

146.3

301

.49

Knowshon Moreno

296.6

132.8

342

.39

Giovani Bernard

222.9

125.4

302

.42

Reggie Bush

239.2

122.6

303

.40

LeSean McCoy

330.6

117.9

398

.30

Chris Johnson

240.2

100.5

379

.27

DeMarco Murray

258.4

94

304

.31

Ray Rice

178.1

90.1

330

.27

Le’Veon Bell

216.9

84.9

328

.26

 

It’s no secret that the running back position in fantasy football is weighted by volume more than anything else. This is the group that ran the most routes and turned those into the most receiving points. Only Bell, Rice and Johnson were significantly inflated by volume out of the best of this list. Johnson’s poor history also suggests that he’s not really suited to become an effective situational player out of the backfield if a team intends to sign him for that role this offseason when he’s inevitably released.

Charles would’ve been WR33 in PPR leagues just based on his receiving totals. He was pretty much an elite runner that came with Emmanuel Sanders receiving production. In a 2013 vacuum, that’s amazing and fantastic but his receiving output is also screaming regression. His seven receiving scores were the most by a running back not named Darren Sproles since 2001, four of which came in one game. His receptions per game also came back to earth a bit in the second half of the season, catching five or more passes in three games compared to the six games of those totals over the season’s first eight games. I don’t believe his fantasy stock takes a dive, but there are quite a few things that would make me wary of using my first pick on Charles next season. I’m sure that will be an unpopular opinion, so I’ll try to elaborate more on this over the summer.

Next week we will wrap up our running back review by looking at touchdown performance and non-touchdown performance before shifting gears to tight ends.

*Stats provide by ProFootball Reference.com, ProFootballFocus.com

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