What Vonta Leach's Re-Signing Means for the Ravens Running Game
In 1981, the most popular boy baby names were Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Jason and David. I suppose Vonta Leach’s parents could’ve gone with one of those, but “David Leach” doesn’t exude much toughness (apologies to all you David Leaches out there). Considering the rumors that claim Vonta came out of the womb with triceps the size of my head, I’m willing to bet “David” wasn’t on the list of name choices. Vonta just made sense.
Go ahead and take a look at Vonta Leach’s Wikipedia page and tell me you’re not frightened. The fullback is fierce. He’s powerful. And you can tell just by looking at one picture of him standing on the sideline.
I’m sure he’s a great guy, but during a football game, Leach is anything but nice. He punishes defenders like no other fullback in the game, and has made an impact on every team he’s played on. More importantly to most of us, he’s helped running backs break into the fantasy football world. Take a look for yourself.
Vonta Leach’s Team ImpactLeach had a rough road at the beginning of his career. He went undrafted, got picked up by the Packers, was released by the Packers and then was claimed off waivers by the Saints before being released by them. Finally though, in 2007, Leach got a shot with Houston.
He never looked back.
Rather than showing you what the fullback did for his teams and running backs in terms of yardage, I went ahead and grabbed some numbers surrounding rushing efficiency. Just how much of an impact did Leach have in terms of points added to his team’s point total on the ground?
As usual, the efficiency metric I looked at was numberFire’s adjusted rushing net expected points per play. It’s not that difficult to comprehend, I promise. Essentially, the value tells us how many points were added to a team’s total point output via the ground on a per play basis. And to make things even easier on your mind, I’ve looked at rankings rather than the end values. That way, you’ll have a nice comparison to the rest of the league.
Below is a chart displaying the rushing efficiency per play ranks of the teams Leach played for since becoming a starter:
|Year||Team||Adj. RNEP/Play Ranking|
Generally speaking, Leach has been a part of some pretty high-quality running teams. He peaked in 2010 with Houston, which was Arian Foster’s breakout season. Many point to Leach as the reason for Foster’s stellar play, and as you’ll see later, that could most definitely be the case.
Looking at these numbers doesn’t tell us the entire story, though. Rather than analyzing how his team’s simply ranked, let’s take a look at how the Ravens and Texans ranked prior to his arrival, shall we?
|Year||Team||Adj. RNEP/Play Ranking|
Though Houston only got a little better in terms of Adj RNEP/Play ranking pre- to post-Leach (18th to 14th), Baltimore got significantly better, going from the 25th ranked rushing team to the 10th. Perhaps the slight jump in Houston was due to Leach’s lack of experience, too. In 2011, when Leach joined the Ravens, he was coming off a Pro Bowl season and was clearly one of the (if not the) best fullbacks in the league. It’s clear that he was an influence on the team.
Vonta Leach’s Running Back Impact
I’ll warn you before I get into these backs: You’re going to see names that may bring back bad memories. Steve Slaton in 2009? Ryan Moats in ever? Ron Dayne?
Take a look at the table below to see how the lead runners in both Houston and Baltimore performed while Leach was their fullback:
|Ron Dayne||Houston Texans||2007||194||25th|
|Steve Slaton||Houston Texans||2008||268||7th|
|Steve Slaton||Houston Texans||2009||131||49th|
|Ryan Moats||Houston Texans||2009||101||16th|
|Arian Foster||Houston Texans||2010||327||5th|
|Ray Rice||Baltimore Ravens||2011||291||27th|
|Ray Rice||Baltimore Ravens||2012||251||5th|
The rankings above reflect running backs with 100 or more carries throughout the league. Leach has been the fullback for two top-five runners and a top-10 one, and he’s helped all but one of his running backs finish in the top 30 in terms of rushing efficiency each season he’s been a starter. That’s stud-like.
You may be staring at that 2009 season thinking, “What’s so great about that?” Well, that’s exactly what we all were asking when we watched Steve Slaton play in 2009. Slaton was bad. Really bad. After a stellar rookie season - with Leach, mind you - Slaton ranked 49th out of 50 100-plus attempt runners (for those wondering, Darren McFadden was last) the following season and had a 3.3 yards per carry average. I’m pretty sure Curtis Enis could’ve done that.
But that’s why I included Ryan Moats in the chart. His 16th ranked season may shed light to just how bad Slaton played after his breakout 2008 rookie campaign. After all, it’s Ryan Moats. What has he done in the league since playing behind Leach? (Hint: Nothing)
An interesting thing to note, too, is that Arian Foster’s efficiency numbers have declined pretty dramatically since Leach left Houston. In 2011, the first season without Leach, Foster went from being the 5th most effective runner to the 25th. And last season Foster ranked 17th. His volume is there, making him incredibly fantasy-relevant, but his effectiveness is not what it was back in 2011.
How Leach Impacts Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce
If you had your doubts about the Ravens rushing attack entering 2013, take a breath of fresh air. The Ravens have one way of clearly winning football games next season: pounding the rock. Signing Vonta Leach simply enhanced that notion.
Both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce should be worthwhile in fantasy in some way next season. Rice is currently listed as our fifth-best running back in standard leagues, and Pierce is in the team RB4 range. With Leach back in town, Pierce has an opportunity to outperform that projection.
Casual fantasy owners won’t realize what the resigning of Vonta Leach means. But you will. Use it to your advantage, and feel more confident than ever about drafting Ravens running backs in 2013.