Blind Résumés: Using Our Data to Compare Fantasy Football Running Backs

Let's take a look behind the numbers at just how similar some fantasy football running backs are, and consider the value of each player.

Here at numberFire, we base most of what we do in regards to the NFL on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. Even our fantasy football projections and advice stem from this all-encompassing metric for players.

But NEP is ultimately a "real football" statistic, and requires context and logic to be useful in fantasy football. Unless you're in a point-per-NEP league (and if you are, contact me), you need more than just a measure of a player's efficiency and production to make fantasy football decisions.

But production and efficiency are two elements of a good football player, and good football players often see the field more often than bad ones (in most cases...). Being on the field more often leads to opportunity and reliability week-to-week, two other key elements of fantasy football success.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some blind resumes and consider if any players should be valued differently based on their statistical profile when considering their situation as a whole. All of the data in the tables in this article are based on 2013 performance.

We continue this series with a look at some similar running backs. Click here for the quarterback blind resumes.

Making The Leap?

NameRushesRush NEPRush NEP per RushRecRec NEP
RB A1012.920.032712.98
RB B1193.650.03205.76

According to average draft position (ADP) data, these very similar running backs (from a statistical standpoint) could not be any further apart in value at the moment.

Running back A is currently going undrafted (and probably by a wide margin), while running back B is going in the second round. Given what you know about Montee Ball, it may be apparent that he's the second player on the table above. So who's the first?

It's Carolina running back Mike Tolbert, who had nearly as much volume last year as Ball, and had similar numbers across the board when compared to the Denver back. Obviously situation and opportunity are the deciding factor here, as many believe Ball will see a breakout as the leading back for the Broncos, while Tolbert remains buried in a crowded backfield in Carolina.

This comparison might open your eyes to how good Tolbert was last year, but that's not really the main takeaway here. The Carolina runner is a waiver-wire guy at best in a standard league, and not worth a draft pick. The more important thing to note from this comparison is the relative lack of proof we have about Montee Ball's ability to succeed with a large amount of carries.

He's in a great situation in Denver, and should score a good amount of touchdowns in a high-powered offense. But nothing about his first season in the league stands out as special, with the exception of his Success Rate (a metric we use that determines how often a player gains positive Net Expected Points on a play). In other words, he proved to be consistent at getting just enough to help move the chains, but little more.

Old School Run-First Backs

NameRushesRush NEPRush NEP per RushRecRec NEP
RB A182-1.90-0.012-0.47
RB B276-4.15-0.0293.95

When comparing these two backs, the first thing that should pop out at you is the incredible lack of production in the passing game. The two players combined for only 11 catches (on 19 targets) despite seeing a good number of snaps on their respective offenses.

That's an obvious red flag for the "opportunity" portion of the fantasy football equation, as putting a player who can't catch on the field is a huge benefit to a defense, giving them one less player to worry about.

One of these backs is going in the 12th round, according to Fantasy Football Calculator, a fair price for an obviously limited back. The other is going in the second round, which should raise some eyebrows.

The first player, RB A, is Chris Ivory. The New York Jets' back was about as productive as expected (a Net Expected Points score near zero for a running back really isn't all that bad, as most high-volume starters end up with negative totals in the metric), contributing quite a bit for the Jets despite being literally useless in the passing game.

The second player is Alfred Morris, who burst onto the scene in 2012 but seemed to stumble a bit in 2013 as the Redskins collectively fell off of their pedestal while dealing with injuries to Robert Griffin III and a coach on his way out the door.

Morris is similarly limited in the passing game, something that new head coach Jay Gruden will likely take him off the field for in favor of the more capable Roy Helu. That doesn't mean he won't have chances to produce, but he's playing the "BenJarvus Green-Ellis" role of the Washington backfield, with Helu taking over the "Gio Bernard" one.

Morris is a better player than Green-Ellis, and he should still see his carries and yards, but you may not see significant improvement. Oh, and don't be afraid to take a chance on Chris Ivory, who has a similar role, a similar statistical profile, and is at a much reduced price.

Struggling Starters

NameRushesRush NEPRush NEP per RushRecRec NEP
RB A177-17.55-0.10261.47
RB B214-38.48-0.18583.01

One of the reasons why I advocate taking running backs early and often in fantasy football this year is because these two players are being selected in the fifth and sixth rounds of drafts, and neither is very good at all.

Running back A faces competition from multiple other backs, but appears to be the starter. Yet his numbers fail to inspire any confidence that he'll be a good real football player, but could still be a decent fantasy option. Running back B is in a similar situation but with worse numbers last season, and a suspension to start 2014 on top of all that.

The smart ones among you will pick out RB B as Ray Rice after that last comment, as the Ravens' back was among the worst running backs in the NFL last season according to our data, yet returns with a chance at starting for Baltimore in 2014. The line for the Ravens was poor last season, and it should be slightly improved, but Rice doesn't represent a very safe fifth-round pick (according to Fantasy Football Calculator) despite his apparent opportunity.

Running back A is Lamar Miller, being taken over a round after Rice, and representing the better value. Not only do you get a player who isn't suspended for two weeks with the Miami halfback, but you get one who did a better job as a runner than Rice and one who's playing for a team looking to mimic the Chip Kelly offense.

There are obvious talent differences between the Eagles and Dolphins, especially along the offensive line, but if the Fins can even come close to causing the havoc that Kelly did with Philly last season, Miller could be a somewhat decent surprise for a mid-round running back. Either way, there's no way that Rice should be going ahead of him, so take advantage of this disparity in value.

Starters for Bad Passing Offenses

NameRushesRush NEPRush NEP per RushRecRec NEP
RB A16411.800.073610.71
RB B2807.590.03298.43

The two players listed above are going to play for two of our bottom 10 passing offenses (according to Adjusted Offensive NEP, which takes into account strength of schedule) in 2014. They're both being drafted in the first few rounds of your draft this year. So which one stands out?

RB A was better on a per-rush basis and had more volume as a receiver, but didn't have as many carries. That's because he wasn't a starter last season, and was on a different offense where he didn't have the top spot on the depth chart all year long.

RB B had a solid season overall considering the increased volume, as being a running back in the NFL and seeing that much volume often leads to lower efficiency numbers due to the short-yardage nature of the job.

The second player is Adrian Peterson, who is currently being taken as high as first overall in drafts, and is almost always selected among the first five picks. The first player is Rashad Jennings, who is falling into the fourth or fifth round of many drafts, with an ADP at the tail end of the third round according to FFC.

Obviously part of Jennings' advantage in our metrics is the nature of his role. There's no running back who is schemed for more heavily than Peterson, and with no passing game to speak of in Minnesota, he faces the toughest challenge every week. That means the unavoidable lost-yardage plays will drag down is overall efficiency despite his ridiculous talent.

But it's still interesting to note that Jennings continues to be doubted in the fantasy community despite posting better-than-AP numbers, and playing in a similar offensive situation this season in New York with the Giants.

Jennings is a fine value right where he is, but allow this statistic to give you the bravery to pull the trigger with your third-round pick if you're on the fence about him. Oh, and that Peterson guy is good. Keep drafting him, too.