Have We Dropped the Ball on Chris Ivory This Summer?
For a moment, imagine a running back who always gets at least four yards when he carries the football. In fact, his career yards per attempt average currently sits at 4.9 yards. This same back has only fumbled six times on 438 career attempts while scoring 11 touchdowns. You can get him late in your 2014 fantasy draft. Sounds pretty sweet, right?
Now imagine a back who has played only 39 games in four seasons, 25 shy of a full-time slate. This back played on one of the most prolific passing offenses in NFL history, yet only caught the ball three times, and has only five total receptions for his career. This guy is being drafted in fantasy drafts in 2014. What a joke, eh?
The astute among you will observe that these "two backs" are the same person. The rest of you now know that both of these descriptions are of New York Jets running back Chris Ivory. Are we forgetting about Ivory too quickly with the arrival of Chris Johnson in New York? Or does he deserve his current level of disrespect?
A Note About Chris Johnson
You may remember fondly the one year of Chris Johnson's career when he earned his CJ2K moniker. I would ask that you set that memory aside and consider these facts, as laid out by our own JJ Zachariason.
Chris Johnson isn't very good. He's capable of breaking a big play because he's very, very fast, but he's a much better athlete than he is a football player.
But the Jets aren't exactly known for their decision-making when it comes to offensive football, so don't be surprised to see Chris Johnson playing the role of Mark Sanchez as the "player we thought was good but isn't, but let's keep him out there just in case he remembers how to be good" guy for New York this season.
Yet, even if Johnson is handed the starting job and gets a majority of the carries, there's still room left on offense for Ivory. The Jets had the fourth-most run-heavy offense in the league last year, calling 1.04 passing plays for every one rushing play. Most NFL teams finished with a pass-to-run ratio around 1.40 or higher, leaving the Jets well above average in rushing plays called.
Last season, Chris Ivory saw a career high in carries, but also saw a drop in overall production according to our Net Expected Points data. This is to be expected, going from New Orleans to the New York Jets, but did Ivory's value fall through the floor in his new home?
Not at all. Even after falling short of his previously established averages, he still finished ninth among the 25 backs with 100 to 200 rushing attempts last year, ending up ahead of Joique Bell and Gio Bernard, among others.
Ivory is still useless as a receiver, but he kept up his pace as one of the better change-of-pace backs in the NFL, seeing a medium level of volume and producing at a better-than-average rate.
Let's compare him against his teammate last season, Bilal Powell, and his new competition, Chris Johnson, using our data.
|Name||Rushes||Rushing NEP||Rush NEP per Attempt|
It's difficult for running backs to see positive numbers using our data, because the amount of times they're able to break off a big chunk of yardage is much smaller than the amount of times when they'll be buried for a short gain or a loss and set their team behind the ideal down-and-distance progression.
And that's what makes Ivory's performance stand out, because on a bad team, he was almost able to positively contribute to an offense led by an awful quarterback with lacking targets and fellow running backs who couldn't succeed on the ground as well as he did.
But Ivory's Achilles Heel reveals itself once again when we consider receiving impact of the Jets' backs.
Ivory is never going to be an every-down back in the NFL. He's just not capable of producing in the passing game, and needs to be subbed off of the field to give his offense a fighting chance in obvious passing situations.
But on a run-heavy offense, there's still plenty of chances to be the change of pace and do what he did best in New Orleans.
Back Where He Belongs
Chris Johnson has a ton of carries under his belt, and might be on the verge of a breakdown. Even if he's not, he's below-average as a runner, and Rex Ryan can't afford to let a veteran back with big-play potential run his offense into the ground after years of failures on that side of the ball sinking his excellent defenses.
Bilal Powell is one of my personal favorite players, and while he's versatile enough to play in passing and rushing situations, he's not that great, either. But he'll get his chances to play, because he can be kept on the field in a variety of situations.
That leaves Ivory in the situation where he's the best fit. He's the change-of-pace. He's the spark plug. He's the battering ram that breaks a defenses' back at a crucial moment and helps the Jets extend a drive and keep the defense off the field.
And with that comes fantasy relevance. He's in a role that suited him very well in New Orleans, and is on an offense that will run the ball over and over in an attempt to keep their quarterbacks from throwing away their chance at a victory.
The opportunity is there, and the proven production is there. So once your fantasy draft hits the double-digit rounds and you need a backup running back, Ivory may be your best bet. Just hope he stays healthy.