5 Running Backs Who Drastically Outperformed Their Teammates in 2017
So many elements of 2017 can go straight down the garbage receptacle and never return. We saw injuries to star players, mind-numbing suspension sagas, and Ben McAdoo's new haircut. Truly horrid stuff.
But at least it illustrated the value of a player's situation.
In 2016, Todd Gurley was a wreck. He finished with 885 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging just 3.2 yards per attempt. Fantasy football investors were looking to fight a guy who is paid millions of dollars because of how physically gifted he is. That's not a proposition you make with unclouded judgement.
This year, instead of trying to fight Gurley, they're donating to charities in his name. Sure, part of this is because the Los Angeles Rams finally decided to utilize Gurley in the passing game, but so much of his revival stems from a complete alteration of his surrounding circumstances.
It's difficult to evaluate a player simply by looking at his surface-level stats because of how many other factors will affect his output. A running back can't boast monster efficiency behind a poor offensive line, and if his team can't hold a lead, he'll be phased out of the gameplan while they're forced to pass. If we had used Gurley's 3.2 yards per attempt last year to say definitively that he's not good at football, we'd be drawing conclusions from fully incomplete data.
As such, when we start to prepare for 2018, we need to try to separate players from their situations. Doing so can at least point us in the right direction toward identifying talent and knowing which players could blow up next year, whether via improved circumstances within their own team or by earning additional touches through their efficiency. One way to do this is by comparing these players to their teammates, which allows us to account for things such as a player's offensive line and the tendencies of an opposing defense.
Today, we're going to take a look at some situations in 2017 in which one player drastically outperformed his teammates. In order to do so, we'll be turning to numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP), the metric we use to track the efficiency of teams and players. As opposed to a yards-per-attempt metric, NEP shows us the expected points added on each play, allowing us to see the cavernous difference between a two-yard rush in 3rd and 1 and that same rush on 1st and 10. We can also look at each player's Success Rate, which shows the percentage of carries that increase the team's expected points for the drive.
We need to identify players who performed well in these metrics without punishing them for the situations in which they played. Which guys stood out in 2017 when we attempt to do so? Let's check it out.