Every year it happens. Every year a starting running back gets hurt and someone rides his backup to weekly victories. The owner of the injured back is left scratching their head, as they look at the gaping hole in their starting lineup. As I often say, handcuffs are only worth the production they can lead to. Stashing Isaac Redman doesn’t make much sense even if you are a Le'Veon Bell owner. The point of a handcuff isn’t to just throw a band-aid on the wound; it's to completely seal it up and win weekly contests.
When looking at roster stashes you need to consider things like talent, past production, efficiency, and opportunity. Unfortunately, the opportunity part of the equation is something we simply can’t predict when it comes to injury dependent situations. Luckily though, here at number fire, efficiency is our middle name. This week we look at 2013’s most efficient back up running back to date. Roy Helu
Helu was recruited out of high school to play ball at prestigious Nebraska. He ended up having a stellar college career, finishing fourth all time on Nebraska’s rushing list and setting the single-game rushing record of 307 yards when he embarrassed the Missouri Tigers. Roy finished up his career at Nebraska with 3,404 yards rushing and added 501 through the air. More impressively, he recorded career averages of 5.9 yards a carry and 9.3 yards per reception. He was a lean, mean, efficiently productive machine.
He showed it at the combine, too, when he ran a 4.40 forty at 6’0, 219 pounds. Added to his combine resume was a 36.5-inch vertical and 9-foot, 11-inch broad jump. Despite his “nagging” injury history, Mike Shanahan did something he very rarely does for running backs: He traded up in the fourth round to grab Helu with the105th overall pick. Noted as a ‘one-cut’ runner, Helu was deemed a perfect fit for Shanahan’s patented zone blocking scheme. He was seen as the running back of the future for the Redskins organization, especially considering Shanahan’s past success with middle round running backs.
In 2011, Helu split time with Ryan Torain, which led to many fantasy owners being “Shanahan’d.” (Sorry for bringing up bad memories) When Helu got his opportunities, though, he showed why he was highly thought of in college. He finished the season with 640 on 151 carries to boast a 4.2 yard per carry average. He added 379 yards on 49 receptions, too. He had three game where he finished with over 100 yards and added a 100-yard receiving game for good measure. Not bad for a rookie.
In 2012, the Washington runner was seen as the favorite to win the starting running back job against the likes of Tim Hightower
and Evan Royster
. Alfred Morris
came out of literally nowhere (actually it was Florida Atlantic University, but you get the point) to lead the Redskins backfield. Morris was incredibly impressive in the pistol set with RGIII handing him the rock. Despite being known as a slower running back, he finished his rookie season with 1,613 on 335 carries. Morris was largely inactive in the passing game with eleven receptions on the year. Helu wasn’t able to capitalize on that phase of the game as he was sent to the IR on September 26th with the ever-so-annoying turf toe. 2012 ended being a lost season for Helu as he was injured and leap frogged by the productive Morris. Even though he was only a second-year player, he essentially became an after thought in Washington.
Roy Helu looks like he's back to his 2011 form this year. He has totaled 137 yards on 21 total touches, capturing an impressive 6.5 yard per touch total. His rushing and receiving net expected points (NEP) per play numbers just add to the argument that Helu is one of the most efficient running backs in the league.
|Rush NEP/Play||- .04||24th|
As you can see Helu excels in the passing game, ranking 5th among all running backs in reception net expected points per play, ahead of the peers Lesean McCoy, Reggie Bush, Danny Woodhead, and Matt Forte. This metric looks at how a player turns targets into expected points - real ones, not fantasy ones - for their team. As our own JJ Zachariason wrote, pass-catching running backs can be worth their own weight in gold these days.
Helu is sure to see plenty of time playing catch-up in the gun with Mr. Bob Griffin the Third, too, so it's not as though his reception total will completely go away. Very few players in the league are better at turning receptions into points out of the back field; it’s a unique skill set that is at a premium this year. His ability to run the ball isn’t anything to scoff at either, where he ranks 24th among running backs in turning carries into points.
Even though Alfred Morris says he is going to play this weekend, he has even admitted to still feeling some pain in his ribs. As we learned last year from Trent Richardson
, rib injuries have the ability to linger around for multiple weeks.
Alfred Morris has caught three passes this year. Three. And he caught 11 passes all of last year. It's obvious that he doesn’t have the passing game skillset for the Shanahan’s to trust in Washington. Even with a healthy Morris, Helu will serve as the primary passing down back, bringing fantasy football relevance.
The Redskins currently rank 22nd in adjusted defensive net expected points per play, a measure that looks at home many points a team is allowing on a per play basis given strength of schedule. And from the traditional standpoint, the Redskins rank 31st in team D. To put it nicely, they're bad. They're often giving up yardage in huge chunks, and barely are giving the running game a chance to get going. This is going to lead to even more “come from behind” situations where it is clear Helu is the preferred option.
Should You Pick Him Up?
Everything points to Roy Helu being a priority stash, at least in points per reception leagues and as long as your league is deep enough. He has shown that he has the talent, has shown past production, and is one of the most efficient running backs in football according to our metrics on a per play basis. He is surprisingly owned in only 40 percent of ESPN leagues. Kyle Shanahan said today that he would “like to get him the ball more”, and coming out of a bye with a banged up Morris, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of a time share as soon as this week. If you’re in need of running back depth that can morph into RB1 production with an injury, you could do a lot worse than Helu. The trick is to get him before he breaks out.