Don't Sleep on Roy Helu in Fantasy Football This Year

While Alfred Morris is the lead back in Washington, will Helu have value in a Jay Gruden offense?

There was a fair amount of hype surrounding Roy Helu prior to the 2012 season. He was coming off of a strong rookie year where he turned 152 rushing attempts and 49 receptions into 1,019 total yards and three touchdowns. He was in a position to get the lion’s share of the carries in the Redskins’ backfield, leading to a late seventh to early eighth round average draft position in 12-team leagues (per

That may seem relatively low considering he was coming off of a solid rookie campaign and was considered the most talented back on the roster, but people were wary of the potential Shanahanigans that Washington head coach Mike Shanahan brings to the table. And, oh baby, did Shanahan surprise us all.

Alfred Morris, a rookie sixth rounder, received 28 carries in Redskins’ first game of 2012. Meanwhile, Evan Royster - who many thought was the biggest threat to Helu’s carries - had just two carries, as did Helu. The owners who scooped up Morris after his two-touchdown Week 1 performance were handsomely rewarded, as he went on to pile up 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns that season. Helu wouldn’t record another carry that year, as he placed on season-ending injured reserve in late September.

Now, Shanahan is gone and Jay Gruden steps into his first year as an NFL head coach. Gone, too, are the days of Helu costing you any sort of high draft pick. The question now: Is Helu ready to live up to his once reasonably high expectations?

Helu by the Numbers

Here at numberFire, we have a signature metric called Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP tells us how many expected points a player is adding to his team based on his on-field performance (find more on NEP in our glossary). For Helu, I’ll be looking at how his rushing and receiving numbers compare to running backs who've had a similar volume of touches to him in 2011 and 2013, throwing out 2012 since he barely played.


The table below is how Helu ranked in Rushing NEP, Rushing NEP per Rush, and Success Rate among the 13 backs with between 130 to 170 rushing attempts in 2011 (Helu had 152). Keep in mind that Success Rate measures the percentage of rushes that go for a positive NEP gain.

Rushing NEPRushing NEP per RushSuccess Rate

Here's how Helu ranked in terms of Reception NEP (points added on receptions) and Reception NEP per target among the 15 backs who had between 40 and 60 receptions in 2011 (Helu had 49):

Reception NEPReception NEP per Target


In 2013, here's how Helu ranked among the 13 backs who had between 50 and 75 carries in 2013 (Helu had 62):

Rushing NEPRushing NEP per RushSuccess Rate

And finally, here is how Helu ranked among the 27 backs who had between 20 and 40 receptions in 2013 (Helu had 31):

Reception NEPReception NEP per Target

As you may have noticed, Helu’s 2011 resulted in weak NEP figures. His 2011 rushing metrics were ranked towards the back end of the 13-man group, and his reception metrics fared even worse. To be fair, he was a rookie fourth-round pick that season, so it would've been unreasonable to expect him to step in and be an extremely efficient, effective running back right away. Still, it shows he wasn’t as strong on a per-play basis as his season-long totals may have suggested.

In 2013, things look a lot better. It’s important to remember that these numbers are in the context of a pretty small sample size, but it’s nice to see that his rushing metrics were strong relative to other backs who saw limited carries. His reception metrics were slightly better than middling within the context of similar-volume players, but he was significantly better on a per-target basis in 2013 than he was in 2011, posting a Reception NEP per target of 0.28 in 2013 compared to a 0.18 figure in 2011. This shows he was a more efficient receiver last year, which could play a key role in his value in 2014.

Gruden’s Ground Game

In Gruden’s three years as the offensive coordinator of the Bengals, he hasn’t always been given a ton of running back talent to work with. In 2011, he was working with a backfield led by Cedric Benson. In 2012, the mediocre BenJarvus Green-Ellis was his best option at tailback.

Naturally, it's hardly surprising the Bengals finished just 19th and 18th in rushing attempts in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Last season, however, the infusion of shifty rookie Giovani Bernard gave Gruden a true weapon at running back. As a result, the Bengals jumped to eighth in the league in rushing attempts, and of the teams ranked above them, the Seahawks, 49ers, and Panthers each had a quarterback accounting for at least 92 of their team rushing attempts. In fact, only the running back duos of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, and Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead combined for more than the 390 carries that were split between Green-Ellis and Bernard last season. When the talent is there, Gruden will run.

The Green-Ellis and Bernard numbers provide an interesting look at how Gruden can utilize two backs to a relatively high degree. Green-Ellis is more of a power back ala Morris, with Bernard’s pass-catching abilities making him a closer comparison to Helu. This comparison is far from perfect, as Morris is far more talented than Green-Ellis, and Helu isn't nearly as electric as Bernard. But still, the way Gruden worked with two running backs in 2013 is worth mentioning.

Bernard was the superior talent and better fit for Gruden’s system in 2013, yet Green-Ellis still had 220 carries. However, Bernard was utilized heavily in the passing game, seeing 71 targets (11th-most in the NFL at the position) despite sharing the backfield with another player. Gruden using Green-Ellis as much as he did last season despite his lack of ability as a receiver should help quell any fear from Alfred Morris owners that he’ll be shoved out of the way in favor of Helu. On the flip side, the number of looks Bernard saw (170 carries, 70 targets) despite being behind Green-Ellis on the depth chart for much of the year means Helu could have value beyond just being a handcuff to Morris.

Helu in 2014

While Helu’s metrics aren’t overwhelmingly strong, and while I totally disagree with the notion that Morris won’t work in Gruden’s offense, I’m a fan of Helu’s draft day value in 2014. He’ll be the third-down back from the get-go, giving him more value than other “handcuff” running backs, especially in PPR leagues.

Further, there’s little NFL-ready talent behind him on the depth chart as Lache Seastrunk, a rookie from Baylor, likely needs some seasoning before being a factor in an NFL backfield. This means, should Morris go down for any stretch of time, Helu is the one who would pick up mostly all of the touches in the backfield. And as any good fantasy player should know, opportunity and volume are arguably more important than talent when it comes to fantasy value. While the jury is still out on whether Helu is really anything special as a player, the situation with Morris out would give him so many opportunities for targets and rushing attempts that it almost doesn’t matter. And remember, Helu currently costs you just about nothing:

MyFantasyLeagueESPNFantasy Football Calculator
Overall ADP207.02146.2160.5

When the rounds turn to the teens, picks become little more than total crapshoots. Late in drafts, it's good to choose players based on situation. For Helu, his current situation involves some usage, but he's an injury away from being a high-volume player as well. Unlike in 2012, there’s almost nothing to lose by selecting Helu come draft day, and his combination of semi-fantasy usability in the present, combined with his upside as a handcuff makes him worth taking a flier on in 2014.