It's Still Time to Sell Eddie Lacy in Fantasy Football
About three weeks ago, I urged fantasy owners to sell Packers second-year running back, Eddie Lacy. Soon after making the call, Lacy went out and and rushed for 105 yards and a pair of scores against the Vikings.
RIP my mentions.
"Eddie Lacy is back," fantasy owners proclaimed on Twitter. "This is why we drafted him in the first round," said another.
Because there's such a small sample size in football, one game can drastically change the consensus perception on a player. At that moment, that's exactly what had happened with Lacy - starting the season off with tough opponents made people believe that his lack of production was the result of poor matchups. A game against Minnesota - a relatively easy one - created this sense that Eddie Lacy was "back".
Lacy went out in Week 5 and ran the ball 14 times for 40 yards against the Dolphins.
Yesterday's contest against Carolina was fine when you look at the number of fantasy points Lacy scored: 14.8 in half-point PPR leagues. But when you bring everything together and look at things at a higher level, you realize something very important: Eddie Lacy just isn't very good.
We Should Have Seen This Coming
I fell into the trap, just like you. I own a little bit of Lacy in fantasy football this year because, well, I'm not exactly sure why after looking at the facts.
His raw numbers from last season show why he was such a boost to fantasy football squads. He ended the year with 1,178 yards and 11 touchdowns on 284 attempts, and caught 35 passes for 257 more yards. In PPR formats, Lacy had 11 top-24 (start-worthy in 12-team leagues) weekly running back performances, which tied him for the fifth-most in the NFL at the position.
But according to our signature Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, things weren't as pretty. Among high-volume running backs - 47 of them with 100 or more attempts in 2013 - Lacy ranked 17th in Rushing NEP. He was above average, but behind every true stud at the position last year, despite the fact that he ranked amongst these players in fantasy points scored and overall production.
Lacy also ranked 19th among these runners in Success Rate, which measures the percentage of carries that end up contributing positively towards a player or team's NEP total. In other words, it's the percentage of positive plays by a player. Lacy's sat at 42.46%, which was similar to what we saw from Ryan Mathews and Daniel Thomas. Again, he wasn't poor within the metric, but he certainly wasn't great.
Something key within all of this, too, is the fact that backup running back James Starks actually outperformed Lacy last season from a NEP perspective. Starks only saw 89 carries to Lacy's 285, but he was able to compile a Rushing NEP of 17.20, which was 15 points better than Lacy's. Starks was the fourth-best running back in the entire NFL from a Rushing NEP standpoint. And his Success Rate, just to show that he didn't compile this total as a result of limited volume and a few big plays, was higher than Lacy's as well.
And now, in 2014, we're seeing why these numbers are such a big deal.
A Split Backfield
During their two games prior to yesterday's contest against Carolina, Lacy and Starks had played the same number of snaps in the Green Bay backfield. As a result, Starks saw 24 total touches (20 carries and 4 receptions), while Lacy saw 30 (27 carries and 3 receptions). Yesterday's game against Carolina was a bit different, as Starks left with an injury during the blowout. Starks still saw eight total touches prior to exiting the game in the third quarter though.
As noted above, last season, Lacy was mostly able to be a fantasy relevant runner due to volume - his effectiveness on the ground wasn't elite like we saw from LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray and so on. In 2014, Lacy isn't seeing that volume, and much of it has to do with the fact that James Starks continues to be better. Before yesterday's game, Lacy's per rush NEP was -0.13 on the season. Starks' was 0.00. For reference, through six weeks, only six running backs were worse than Eddie Lacy on a per touch basis.
This isn't to say that Starks should take over lead back duties in Green Bay. Rather, he's effective with a role there, and as long as he's healthy, he'll continue to get looks to spell the more traditional high-volume back.
That's awful, awful news for fantasy owners. Lacy's shown us that he needs volume to consistently succeed as a solid fantasy option, and that's not coming in 2014. In fact, he's averaging just a little over 13 carries per game thus far, extrapolating to 210 over the course of the season. Considering he's not a Le'Veon Bell-type back who can make up for lack of volume or scores with his pass-catching ability, this is a terrible rate for the Packers' runner.
Sell Now, Not Later
Before yesterday, it's no surprise to find that Eddie Lacy had just one performance this year where he finished within the top 20 among all PPR running backs. It's also not a shock that his big game came in a blowout against a rush defense that ranked 23rd entering Week 7. Carolina, for the record, ranked 24th according to our metrics.
It's because Eddie Lacy isn't an efficient back, and running backs who aren't efficient need volume. Because Lacy's not seeing significant volume, he's simply not producing.
And since Lacy had a solid enough Week 7, it's time to sell - use his Week 8 matchup against New Orleans as a selling point as well. Because at this rate, Lacy's going to continue to post mediocre numbers with his big weeks still not reaching high-end RB1 totals.