You couldn’t help yourself. The night was almost over and your beer goggles were in full effect. You had to pick someone up before the night ended. You knew you might regret it in the very near future, but it was getting late and you had to choose someone. No, I’m not describing one of your typical Saturday nights in college. I’m referring to when you drafted Isaac Redman late in your 2013 draft.
JJ Zachariason already explained why it’s a good idea to steer clear of the Steeler backfield during Le'Veon Bell's absence, and Redman’s usefulness on fantasy rosters may only last until Bell returns. With Bell possibly making a return as early as Week 2, the opening week may be the only time all season when Redman will contribute value to your squad. Despite his minimal season-long upside, our projection system has Redman slotted for 8.27 fantasy points in Week 1, which is higher than projections for other popular RB2/RB3/Flex options like DeAngelo Williams, Rashard Mendenhall, Ahmad Bradshaw, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Ryan Mathews, Lamar Miller, and Daryl Richardson. Despite being drafted a handful of rounds after the aforementioned backs (hopefully), Redman’s Week 1 projection at least merits a closer look at his prospects.
So is Redman a viable fantasy starter this Sunday? To answer, we’ll look at his efficiency, opponent, and opportunity.
Redman’s (Lack Of) Efficiency
Of all the running backs mentioned above, only the injury-marred Mendenhall has had a smaller net expected points (NEP for short) per rush total than Isaac Redman’s -0.11 in 2012. NEP/rush measures a team’s expected points gained or lost on each rushing play, taking yardage gained, field position, and down and distance into account. Put into simple terms, the Steelers were losing 0.11 real points every time they handed the ball to Redman. He ended up finishing 58th in this metric out of the 72 runners who tallied at least 50 carries in 2012.
His poor NEP/rush is corroborated by game tape, where Redman is clearly lacking in burst and elusiveness, and is only capable of getting whatever is blocked. He isn't a big play threat; he had a 4.76 40-yard dash time coming out of college, and has seen his yards per carry decline from 4.8 to 4.4 to 3.8 in his last three seasons in the NFL. To be a worthwhile fantasy asset, Redman would need a high volume of usage - something to keep in mind when we discuss his potential opportunity. But first, let’s take a look at his Week 1 matchup.
He is Playing the Titans, After All
Redman will square off against a Titans defense who, in 2012, ranked 30th in running back fantasy points allowed and ranked 27th in the defensive adjusted NEP/Rush. Simply put, the Titans run defense was terrible last season. While they did add safety Bernard Pollard, defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill, and linebacker Moise Fokou in free agency, the jury is still out on whether these acquisitions will lead to quick, drastic improvements. Our game projections don't think so - we have the Steelers projected to rush for 122 yards against the Titans. This explains the high-end of Redman’s Week 1 confidence interval (most likely range of projected outcomes) at 14.65 fantasy points. The Titans are vulnerable against the run and someone has to pick up that yardage on the ground for the Steelers.
The favorable matchup is tempting, but as we know, fantasy point production is also determined by another important factor: opportunity.
How Much Will Redman Actually Play?
We have Redman projected for 14.33 total touches, compared to 8.77 for LaRod Stephens-Howling and 2.70 for newly acquired Felix Jones. Coach Mike Tomlin indicated Redman would get the start, but would “obviously” be spelled by Stephens-Howling and Jones. And it should be noted that Jones did take some first team reps in practice this week.
This is where we run into the problem with starting Redman over the other running back options in his projection range. While we have Redman projected to lead the Steeler backfield in touches, it is far from a certainty. Redman may be splitting carries with not one, but two other running backs. Therefore, Redman may contain more usage risk than his projection lets on, and his lack of rushing efficiency limits his upside. Unlike say, Lamar Miller - who has the speed to break off a long TD on any play - Redman will need a lot of carries to put up a decent amount of fantasy points, and we can't be sure he'll receive them.
You May be Able to do Better
To me, Isaac Redman is a risky Week 1 start, unless you play in a deep league where you’re choosing between Redman and other players who also lack talent and aren’t guaranteed many touches. Keep in mind: If he does get 15 or so touches, he should be fantasy relevant given matchup. That's why he's our 25th-ranked running back this week.
However, I'm not completely sold on his usage. His matchup is fantastic, but his usage scares me. While some of the other running backs we have in Redman’s Week 1 projection range are facing a more difficult defense (Williams, Miller, Mathews, Richardson, Mendenhall), or may split carries (Bradshaw, Miller, Green-Ellis), Redman lacks both the efficiency and certainty of opportunity to merit a solid Week 1 start. Remember, you drafted your other players earlier for a reason, and while lineup management is crucial to fantasy success over the course of the season, Week 1 is not the time to get cute with your sit/start decisions.
We currently have Redman as a flex option, which makes sense if he does see significant volume. But to me, there are probably better options on your fantasy team.