Can Rashad Jennings Keep Up His Current Fantasy Football Pace?
Through three games, Rashad Jennings is more than paying back fantasy owners who spent a top-five round pick on him, as he's currently the fifth-best running back in standard scoring fantasy leagues. Using numberFire.com Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which helps determine how many points a player adds to his team’s overall score, Jennings has the eighth-best Rushing NEP and sixth-best Total NEP among backs with 30 or more touches, too. Here is Jennings’ progression from Weeks 1 through 3:
|Week||Rushes||Rushing NEP||Per Rush||Success Rate||Total NEP|
As you can see, his monster 176-yard, one touchdown performance in Week 3 against Houston improved his Rushing NEP from -1.35 to 4.50, and doubled his Total NEP score from Week 1. Jennings has been a revelation for the suddenly improving Giants offense, touching the ball 20 or more times in each of his first three games, providing useful touches as a receiver and stability to a backfield that sorely needed it.
By comparison, if Jennings didn’t take another snap in 2014, he, in three games, already has a higher Rushing and Total NEP score than any member of the 2013 Giants backfield. Fantasy experts were critical of Jennings’ expected contributions heading into 2014, as he's approaching the critical age of 30 and had never handled 200 or more touches in either of his two previous stops. But Jennings was actually really good last year, providing the 18th highest Total NEP among running backs with 90 or more touches and the 7th-highest Rushing NEP among running backs with 100 or more carries.
Simply put, the Giants went out and signed an efficient player and have trusted him with the backfield responsibilities, out-touching every other Giant running back 76 to 21.
Just How Impressive Has He Really Been?
Jennings is seeing a ton of work out of the backfield, and the defenses he has amassed his statistics against haven’t exactly been slouches. While the Giants defense have performed, on average, 6.36 points below expectation, opposing defenses have performed 1.01 points above expectation. Two of the Giants first three opponents (Detroit and Arizona) have turned in above expectation Defensive NEP performances so far this season, and are top-three teams in terms of rush defense.
Houston actually entered Week 3 with an improved overall Defensive NEP score, but suffered against the run from Week 1 to Week 2, so this sort of game by Jennings was something that could have been forecasted. But even against two of the best units in the NFL, Jennings combined for 24.5 standard fantasy points. Matchups haven't been a problem for him.
Does This Run Continue?
It’s not going to get any easier on Jennings, as two of his next three contests are against the number one and number six teams against the run in the NFL according to our metrics. The number one unit, Washington, has yet to allow a touchdown to an opposing running back and Philadelphia, the number six unit, has not yet allowed 100 yards of offense to an opposing back. Sandwiched in between those games is a matchup with the Atlanta Falcons, who rank 25th in Rushing NEP - expect a solid game from Jennings there.
One thing to note in these matchups, however, is that all three opponents are performing below expectation in pass defense. Eli Manning’s Passing NEP has improved in each of the last two weeks, and Victor Cruz finally came alive after a sluggish start. This equates to less eight man boxes and more running room.
With the volume of touches Jennings is receiving along with the overall volatility of the Giants passing offense, he makes for a high floor RB2 play every week. His worst fantasy game was against Arizona, where a lost fumble cost owners a 10-point game. Despite the negative play, he still managed 109 yards of total offense.
Jennings will likely be less efficient in these higher stress matchups, but he's among the safest players to have in your lineups every week. And the more settled Manning gets in the new offense, the more room Jennings will have to operate.