Eddie Lacy's Fantasy Value: Don't Underestimate the Packers Rush Offense

Is Eddie Lacy a draft day value? Wasn't he really overweight like a day ago?

Eddie Lacy’s competition in Green Bay is about as cutthroat as a Mahjongg tournament at a retirement home.

We were expecting more entering the preseason; Johnathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris were supposed to be legitimate threats to Lacy’s usage. But after an underwhelming preseason by Franklin and a season-ending knee injury from Harris, the Packers running back duties look to be Eddie Lacy’s.

Here comes the hype train.

The uncertainty surrounding Eddie Lacy’s situation is fascinating. On one side, you have a Green Bay team that hasn’t produced a 1,000-yard running back since 2009. On the other, you’ve got a team that’s looking to be more balanced, and one that hasn’t exactly had top-tier talent toting the rock.

What do we make of this situation? Is there reason to believe Eddie Lacy can be a top fantasy back during his rookie campaign? Well, as usual, let’s see what the numbers say.

Green Bay Rushing With Aaron Rodgers

Since taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers hasn’t had the best running back help. Unless you really like Ryan Grant, you’d conclude that all of Rodgers backfield helpers have been mediocre at best. That’s just part of the reason why Rodgers is that good.

Take a look at how Green Bay running backs have performed since Rodgers became the starter:

YearNameAttemptsRush YardsRush TDsRush NEP/Attempt
2008Ryan Grant3121,2034-.10
2009Ryan Grant2821,25311.06
2010Brandon Jackson1907033-.04
2011Ryan Grant1345592-.05
2011James Starks1335781-.05
2012Alex Green1354640-.14

Four of the five seasons with Rodgers has resulted in very poor running efficiency, as shown by the rushing net expected points per rush metric. Essentially, this number tells us how well a player contributed towards his team’s total scoring. With each carry, only Ryan Grant in 2009 was actually contributing a positive value for the Packers.

Now, keep in mind that rushing NEP values are typically low, and a high volume can often result in a negative average. This advanced data looks at specific situations and each yard line on a football field and associates a calculated expected point value to that situation. In other words, it asks, “How many points would the average team score in this scenario?” If a player contributes positively – if he, say, moves the chains on a third down – towards that value, he gets a positive NEP score. It’s more difficult for a running back to score high because he’s often only contributing four yards at a time, whereas a receiver is moving the ball downfield in larger chunks.

Even so, when you compare the rushing NEP per attempt of the Packers running backs to the rest of the league, only Grant’s 2009 season ranked in the top half among 100-plus carry runners. Yikes.

Looking at raw numbers, too, shows us that no Packers back has been incredibly effective running the ball. Even with a low volume in a pass-friendly offense, James Starks and Alex Green couldn’t do any better than a 4.3 yards per carry average. And although Ryan Grant had a good 2009 season, his 2008 campaign resulted in a yards per carry average under four yards.

The lead runners in Green Bay offenses over the last five years have been nothing but ordinary. As a team, however, the Packers have been better than you’d expect:

YearTeam Rush NEP/Rush Rank

With Rodgers, the Pack have been above average in terms of adjusted rushing net expected points per play. This metric, like the one mentioned above, tells us how effective an entire team was running the football (adjusted for strength of schedule).

It’s interesting to see such good rushing efficiency numbers from the Packers when you consider how middling their starters have been. This simply tells us that the other guys getting touches on the ground – whether it be Cedric Benson or Aaron Rodgers himself – were actually performing quite well.

I have to wonder: Is the true reason Packer running backs haven’t been significant since the Ryan Grant days because they just haven’t been very good?

The numbers seem to point to yes.

Have We Forgotten About Cedric Benson?

Cedric Benson was in the NFL less than a year ago, and was actually getting lead-back carries in the Packers offense. Remember that? Well, it happened. And it wasn’t frightening.

He captured a -.06 rushing net expected points per play value on his 71 attempts last season. This number looks pretty horrendous at face value, but when you look at how it compares to the rest of Benson’s career, it’s actually not that bad. In fact, the efficiency score he had last season was the best he captured since 2006. Coincidence? I think not – he was in an offense that has potential to produce. If not for a season-ending injury, Benson may have easily finished as an RB2 in Green Bay last season.

Eddie Lacy in 2013

You could make the premature case and say that Eddie Lacy is better than any other Packer runner since 2008. Yes, I know he hasn’t played a single regular season snap, but it’s not as though he’s taking over for Barry Sanders. Let me reiterate: Ryan Grant’s 2009 season was the only one where an Aaron Rodgers lead runner was above average in efficiency. Yet, the team – the Packers – have consistently been a more-than-capable team on the ground, adjusted for strength of schedule.

We currently have Eddie Lacy listed as our 25th-ranked runner, and that’s with 174 touches on the ground. Because Green Bay has underrated rushing efficiency, and because there’s a decent chance his touches leap the 200 mark, Eddie Lacy could be a nice draft day value if his ADP holds.

In Ryan Grant’s two “big” seasons with Rodgers, he finished as the 22nd and 8th non-PPR ranked fantasy running back. Things are different, sure. And we shouldn’t expect a rookie running back to see upwards of 300 carries. But if Eddie Lacy gets close to 220 or 230, that should be good for RB2 numbers in standard-sized leagues.