Fantasy Football: Tevin Coleman's Average Draft Position Is a Trap

The Falcons running back is due for a regression in 2017, which makes it hard to justify how high he's going in fantasy drafts.

Earlier this week, we wrote about how Matt Ryan is being drafted too early in fantasy drafts this summer. His average draft position (ADP) currently reflects an upper range of outcomes based on last year's results without taking inevitable regression into account.

Drafters are doing the same with Tevin Coleman -- and Coleman's ADP is even more concerning.

Unsustainable Production

To understand why I'm advocating to pass on Coleman where he's being drafted, let's look at his statistics from last season.

Player Year G Carries Rush Yds Rush TD YPC Rush NEP/P League Average Success Rate
Devonta Freeman 2015 15 265 1056 11 3.99 0.03 -0.04 41.67%
Tevin Coleman 2015 12 87 392 1 4.51 -0.12 -0.04 36.78%
Devonta Freeman 2016 16 227 1079 11 4.75 0.10 -0.02 46.26%
Tevin Coleman 2016 13 118 520 8 4.41 0.06 -0.02 38.14%

Net Expected Points (NEP) is a metric that describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to a team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to the box score, we can see just how much each play (NEP/P) and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. (For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.)

As the table above shows, Coleman made tremendous improvements from his rookie season across the board. He was more efficient on a larger share of the workload, rushing for more yards and touchdowns on 31 more carries. He also improved according to our advanced metrics. After a disappointing rookie season, he improved in both Rushing NEP and Success Rate in his sophomore campaign.

Coleman was above average in Rushing NEP per play in the 2016 season (as was Devonta Freeman) but his Success Rate trailed Freeman's by a wide margin. Success Rate is the percentage of carries that a runner gains positive NEP, and Coleman was below the 2016 average mark of 40.28 percent.

Essentially, this tells us that either a large percentage of Coleman's touches were going for long gains hence skewing this rate, or he was scoring touchdowns at an unsustainable rate.

In Coleman's case, we have a little of both.

Touchdown Machine

Sometimes, looking at the simplest stats have the biggest impact.

The information in Mike's tweet is useful, but glancing at Coleman's usage in 140 characters shows precisely why he can't be expected to score 11 times again. Freeman dominates the running back touches in the red zone.

Out of all players with at least as many carries as Coleman, not one had a touchdown rate as high as Coleman's 6.8 percent -- not even last year's prolific scorers LeGarrette Blount and Latavius Murray.

To really drive the point home, here's one more data point for good measure.

Coleman can't sustain this. Perhaps in an effort to maintain his success, Coleman bulked up 15 pounds this offseason to become a stronger, more balanced runner. You could argue that weight gain among running backs might not be as optimal as intuition would suggest, because added weight could sap a back's explosion and agility -- two areas where Coleman stands out.

Falcons Passing Regression

Matt Ryan's touchdown rate of 7.1 percent last season was much, much higher than his career rate of 4.5 percent. Atlanta’s offensive efficiency enabled more rushing attempts later in games (except in the second half of the Super Bowl, apparently), benefiting Freeman and Coleman tremendously.

We can expect the Falcons offense to regress from one of the best ever. Their 540-point output exceeded their previous high this century by 121 points.

Plus, the Falcons lost their offensive mastermind this offseason, watching Kyle Shanahan jet off to the Bay Area. Shanny, well known for maximizing the skill sets of his running backs, brilliantly rotated his two star backs. It's no certainty that incoming offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will retain the same philosophy.

As mentioned in our earlier article on Matty Ice, the Falcons are projected to win just 9.5 games in 2017 by online bookmaker Pinnacle after winning 11 games last season. We have them projected for 9.2 wins. A step back in the win column might lead the Falcons to throw the ball more, and while Coleman is a capable pass-catcher, he still doesn't see the field much. Coleman played just 34 percent of Atlanta's 2016 offensive snaps, and didn't clear 50 percent in a single game.

Let's take a look at Coleman's involvement in the pass game.

Player Year G Targets Rec Rec Yds Rec TD
Devonta Freeman 2015 15 97 73 578 3
Tevin Coleman 2015 12 11 2 14 0
Devonta Freeman 2016 16 65 54 462 2
Tevin Coleman 2016 13 40 31 421 3

This output is more sustainable than his rushing touchdown rate. But looking at the season statistics is slightly misleading in this situation. 227 of Coleman's 421 receiving yards (54 percent) came in a total of two games.

In the other 11 games, he averaged just two receptions and 17.6 receiving yards per game. What's more, Coleman averaged an obscene 13.6 yards per reception last season -- first among all running backs in the NFL, and a higher mark than Odell Beckham -- which is equally as unsustainable as his touchdown output.

What is encouraging, though, is the huge uptick in usage in the air attack from 2015 to 2016.

Chase Predictability

Even in the shallowest of leagues, players selected in the sixth round are starters for fantasy teams.

But Coleman averaged just 7.8 PPR points in games where he didn’t score a touchdown last year, which would have ranked 58th among running backs on a per-game basis in this format. When coupled with a situation where the Falcons offense is due for regression, he’ll probably be one of the more frustrating players currently being selected in the middle of drafts.

With an ADP of 6.05 (RB28, 67th overall) in PPR leagues according to Fantasy Football Calculator, owners are selecting Coleman to potentially be their RB2 or a flex play when the more likely outcome is a valuable backup role on an explosive offense. As our own JJ Zachariason outlined, selecting handcuffs in fantasy is not an optimal strategy. In this situation, we do know who the backup is, but the only way Coleman will be consistently reliable week-to-week is an injury to Freeman, who has been remarkably durable throughout the first three years of his career.

To summarize: Tevin Coleman is a very talented player coming off an incredible season on a historically efficient 2016 Falcons offense, but probably won’t come close to repeating his success again in 2017.

His upside (in the event of a Freeman injury) far surpasses that of other players being selected in his range, but his floor is scary. He’s a fantastic best ball selection, but a risky proposition for those without stability and consistency already on their rosters at the running back position. Draft with caution.