Fantasy Football: DeMarco Murray, Montee Ball, And Running Back Equity Scores

DeMarco Murray
DeMarco Murray
Tim Heitman USA TODAY Sports

It won’t be a textbook contrarian move to draft running backs with your first couple picks in 2014 fantasy football drafts, but with elite wide receivers inching up draft boards, there will be a good amount of value for a handful of top-end runners.

Last season saw running backs selected with an astounding nine of the first 10 picks in re-draft leagues, and 12 of the first 20 picks overall. The fear of missing out on workhorse runners was palpable, and as we know, it’s fear that creates markets begging to be exploited.

Those sought-after backs included the unmitigated disasters known as Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, and C.J. Spiller, along with the crumbling workhorse Arian Foster. Fantasy owners are now as afraid of wasting another high pick on a runner as they were of failing to secure one last summer.

Hence, the rise of reliably great wide receivers.

Read more about 2014 fantasy equity scores…
Tony Romo, Alex Smith, and late-round quarterback equity scores
Fantasy equity scores: Antonio Gates edition
Wide receiver equity score all-stars

A measly four of the first 10 players off the board are running backs, according to MyFantasyLeague average draft position (ADP) data. Fully 11 of the first 20 players off the draft board are wide receivers — an unthinkable percentage just one year ago.

Fear has flipped the fantasy football market on its head for 2014.

It’s when we cut against the grain of conventional thought that we’re able to best exploit market inefficiencies. Those who secured 2013 discounts on the game’s most dominant wide receivers would agree.

We still have to know which running backs provide the most fantasy equity — the gap between where they’re being valued and how they might finish among runners in 2014. Equity scores measure that gap. If a runner, for example, is drafted as the seventh back off the draft board with a projection that would put him at RB12 come season’s end, he would achieve a -5 equity score.

As per usual, I’ve created two projections for each of the top-12 runners. The median projection has turned out to be pretty conservative, as you’ll see, while the high projections aren’t unrealistically rosy by any stretch. I’ve once again used the rotoViz similarity score app as a baseline for each projection, with necessary tweaks to players with small sample sizes or changing circumstances.

Player Current ADP Median equity score High equity score
Jamaal Charles RB1 -2 (RB3) 0 (RB1)
LeSean McCoy RB2 -2 (RB4) 0 (RB2)
Adrian Peterson RB3 -8 (RB11) -1 (RB4)
Eddie Lacy RB4 -9 (RB13) -1 (RB5)
Matt Forte RB5 0 (RB5) 3 (RB2)
Doug Martin RB6 -8 (RB14) -1 (RB7)
Le’Veon Bell RB7 -1 (RB8) 3 (RB4)
Gio Bernard RB8 -4 (RB12) 3 (RB5)
Marshawn Lynch RB9 0 (RB9) 2 (RB7)
DeMarco Murray RB10 4 (RB6) 7 (RB3)
Zac Stacy RB11 -1 (RB12) 3 (RB8)
Montee Ball RB12 2 (RB10) 7 (RB5)

 

  • Maybe it’s the spotty injury history, maybe it’s the Cowboys’ inexplicable refusal to use him for large swaths of games, but Murray’s ADP should be a polite slap in your degenerate face. Murray, who finished sixth among backs in 2013 despite missing two games, notched .49 fantasy points per opportunity — higher than guys like Forte, McCoy, and Lacy. He’s a force in the passing game; a fact that won’t escape new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who pledges some sort of commitment to the running game in 2014. “Things that were done last year in the running game with DeMarco, the running style that was created here is really a good fit,” Linehan said recently on 105.3 The Fan. “That’s going to be our strength, being able to lean on that running game a little bit more than they have in the past.” I’d happily pass on the first nine runners to land Murray at his current ADP.
  • I’ve said that it would be an upset for Ball to finish outside of the top-6 running backs in 2014, even if his post-Peyton prospects are murky at best. Manning’s workhorse running backs have averaged 1,518 total yards and 10.4 touchdowns over the past decade and a half. There’s no reason to believe Ball can’t exceed his ADP by a good margin. Those fixated on talent will likely pass on Ball because he’s not particularly shifty and lacks breakaway speed. Don’t let that deter you. Remember that Knowshon Moreno isn’t very good, and he finished as fantasy’s No. 4 runner in Peyton’s backfield.
  • I anticipate a Neo-like rejection of reality when people take a gander at Peterson’s equity scores. No, you say, he’s not human. He’s a robot, AD, he’s All Day, he’s Purple Jesus. He has the knees of a newborn baby. Peterson’s efficiency took a nosedive last year, dropping from an average of .54 fantasy points per opportunity from 2010-2012 to .43 in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus’ metrics. Perhaps a spike in passing game involvement — as new offensive head man Norval Turner has promised — will make Peterson’s equity scores look foolish in 2014. Peterson would have to drop into the RB6/7 range before he landed on my re-draft squads, and that ain’t happening. I struggle to take a bullish stance on a 29-year-old back with more than 2,200 career touches.
  • Pumping the brakes on Stacy is hardly new in fantasy circles. I think his equity scores reinforce the hesitancy many have in burning an early round pick on the creature of massive volume.
  • Jamaal Charles’ high projections is almost literally off the charts. His best case scenario would put him at 399 PPR points — 20 points higher than his remarkable 2013 output, and 52 points better than Peterson’s 2012 total.
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C.D. Carter Fantasy Football Analyst
C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.

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