Pierre Thomas, Lord of Expected Points

If I Had the Ability to Photoshop a Crown and Scepter on Thomas, I Would

If only because he was part of this famous story in 2007, my all-time favorite NFL Pierre has to be Brian St. Pierre. The best Pierre for fantasy purposes is Pierre Garcon. And while he won’t help most fantasy teams, Jason Pierre-Paul is a pretty good pass rushing defensive end. As far as I know, none of these men are French. Or Canadian. Or French-Canadian.

Aside from potentially causing a U.S. Immigration and Customs investigation into the possible Frenchness of the aforementioned Pierre’s, my purpose today is to draw attention to the best/only Pierre in NFL history to start a game at running back. That (possibly French) man is none other than Pierre Thomas.

What If?

Fantasy owners have a habit of complaining when certain players don’t see the touches we think they deserve. Every year the story is the same, with only the names changing. This season it is David Wilson, Lamar Miller, and Stevan Ridley. While I agree those three should all be touching the ball more, I think fantasy complainers have long missed the boat on Thomas. Considering his production, we should have been screaming on his behalf for the better part of the last decade.

Career Averages Extrapolated for a Full Workload

CarriesRush YardsRush TDRecRec YardsRec TDFumblesFantasy Points

Before I move on, I’ll give you all a second to go to Twitter and complain about his use. In fact, to make it easier you can just cut and paste this:

Pierre Thomas may possibly be a French spy, but the Saints should give him the ball more. 4.6 career yards per carry! #LessBreesMorePierre

Lord of Expected Points

Now that I got you good and fired up, let’s talk NEP. (Net Expected Points, or NEP for short, is a measure of a player’s contribution to his team’s actual score. The higher the number, the more they add to the bottom line.) Thomas is a very special case NEP-wise. I was actually astounded by how consistently high he has ranked. Throwing out 2010 because he only played in six games due to injury, Thomas’ average rank in NEP per rush is 5.8. For comparison’s sake, Adrian Peterson’s average rank for his career is 20.7. This is not to say Thomas is a better player, but he is clearly more efficient with his limited touches.

NEP Rank Among Running Backs With at Least 50 Carries

YearRankQualifying RB’s

As you can see, it has been a down year in terms of NEP for Thomas (also please note that the qualifier for 2013 is 25 carries, not 50 as it is for the other seasons). But based on his extensive history of incredible results, there is every reason to think he will things to turn around.

What to Expect

So we know the 300 touch thing is never going to happen. And we know Thomas is super efficient when he gets the ball. But with Drew Brees in town, the Saints are never going to be a running team and Thomas is never going to have significant fantasy value. Right?

Not so fast.

With Mark Ingram and Chris Ivory out of the picture and Sean Payton saying over and over that he wants to run the ball, what if Pierre set a career high in touches? Currently, Thomas is on pace to do just that. If he keeps going at this rate, Thomas will finish with just under 250 touches. Using his career average of .73 fantasy points per touch, we are looking at a possible 180-point season. That would have made him the number 12 running back in 2012.

While we don’t expect that to ultimately take place, it is not unreasonable to expect Thomas to have a legitimate shot at a career year. numberFire’s season-long projection of him finishing as the number 32 running back is very conservative by my estimation. His rank in our purely mathematical algorithm is held back by his poor NEP, which in itself is largely a result of a career-low 2.9 yards per carry average. Assuming he brings that average up closer to his career mark of 4.6, that rank will only rise. But you don’t have to wait for that to happen to make your move. Coming into this week’s waiver period, Thomas was owned in only 15.5% of ESPN leagues. That is about 84.5% too few.