Can You Rely on T.J. Yeldon in Fantasy Football This Year?
Running backs with clear paths to a starter's workload are always a welcome commodity in fantasy football.
So knowing that rookie T.J. Yeldon is slated to be the lead back for the Jacksonville Jaguars -- yet is being drafted as the 28th running back in best-ball leagues -- should have some players excited at the thought of a potentially sneaky pick in the fifth round or so come August.
But given that he plays for the Jaguars, whose offense was the worst in the NFL last year according to our schedule-adjusted metrics, can he live up to even the modest cost, or is expecting to plug him in as a viable weekly option a bit too optimistic?
All About Yeldon
Yeldon, a 6'1", 226-pound runner from Alabama, was taken with the 36th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, so it's understandable that the Jaguars will give him plenty of opportunities to provide for them.
In his final collegiate year, Yeldon amassed 1,159 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns, giving him 39 total touchdowns in his three years at Alabama and his third consecutive season of at least a dozen scores. Yeldon also chipped in 10.7 yards per reception on 46 career grabs.
Fantasy gold, right?
Well, Yeldon averaged just 5.0 yards per carry in his third year with the Crimson Tide, down from 6.3 and 6.0 yards per clip in his freshman and sophomore years, respectively. It wasn't just a bigger workload as a junior, though, that diminished his efficiency. Yeldon saw 175 carries as a freshman, 207 as a sophomore, and 194 as a junior.
The yards per clip rate may have been down, but Yeldon was still a pretty efficient touchdown scorer. Of the 82 players to see at least 30 red zone carries in 2014 (Yeldon had 34), Yeldon's 3.09 carries per touchdown ranked 11th. Much of the credit might rightly go to Alabama's offensive line, but Yeldon's carries per score was on par with Melvin Gordon's (2.94) and Jay Ajayi's (3.20).
Will any of this translate at the NFL level with Jacksonville?
Filling the Void
According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies on-field production and compares it to league expectation levels, the Jaguars just weren't efficient last season.
Again, their schedule-adjusted NEP per play of -0.10 ranked last in the league, but much of that was because of Blake Bortles' horrific Passing NEP of -97.97. Still, their Adjusted Rushing NEP per play of -0.04 ranked 21st in the league.
Only one running back for the Jags maintained a Rushing NEP better than zero, which isn't necessarily as bad as it sounds. Of the 43 backs who ran the ball at least 100 times in 2014, only 11 maintained a positive Rushing NEP.
The back who was above zero for the Jags was Jordan Todman, who secured a score of 1.05 on 32 rushes.
But perhaps less promising yet was their Success Rate, the rate at which their carries added positively to Jacksonville's NEP. Robinson converted on 36.30% of his carries, ranking 21st among the 28 backs with between 75 and 150 carries. Gerhart (33.33%) ranked 24th.
It could be just the line, it could be just the running backs, but one thing is sure: things are pretty bleak.
So What About Yeldon?
The concerns about Yeldon are twofold. And they don't even necessarily have anything to do with him.
One problem is that touchdowns are vital to fantasy football success, and in order to score rushing touchdowns, passing efficiency is a key component. Of course, the Jaguars didn't have that last season, so Bortles will need to improve.
The second problem, though, is that Bortles' rookie season was so atrocious that it's really bad news for his future success. We shouldn't expect him to be worse (since 2000, there have only been five worse passing seasons via Passing NEP) in 2015, but he has a long way to go to approach anything resembling efficiency, and that factor could quell Yeldon's upside.
Based on his red zone productivity and his top-end comparables, the only things that could hold back Yeldon are opportunity and team situation. Opportunity shouldn't handcuff him, provided that he really does operate as the starting running back for the Jaguars.
Team situation, however, could restrict his upside. Last year, Jacksonville ran just 96 plays in the red zone, tied with the Raiders for fewest in the league. Their red zone scores (13) ranked last.
Odds are that Yeldon will go as the Jaguars go, and investing in him is likely contingent on believing in the Jaguars offense to put him in prime scoring position. That's probably not a safe bet.