Why Eddie Lacy Is the Obvious Top Pick in Fantasy Football This Year
I try to keep my fantasy football anecdotes to a minimum. I know that nobody really cares how my teams did last year or last week. But in each of my handful of leagues last year, I wound up with the fifth or sixth pick without fail.
Without fail again, I went with Lacy every time.
Boy, the first three weeks of the season were unkind to me.
But, of course, he did wind up as the sixth-best running back in standard scoring. And if we exclude Weeks 1 through 3, he was the third-best fantasy back in football, so things worked out all right.
So is it really worthwhile to beat the drum that he should go one pick higher?
Probably not, but we all know that training camp stories will change things and that if you are gifted the first overall pick, you're going to over-analyze.
Let me help.
Lacy Isn't Even Efficient
Here's the thing. If you want an efficient runner, Lacy isn't your guy. That much is certain.
At numberFire, we have a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP), which tracks how many points above or below expectation-level a player adds to his team's anticipated point total. A two-yard carry is a killer for a yards-per-carry average, but if it's on 3rd-and-1 at the 10-yard line, then it's incredibly helpful, and NEP accounts for that.
So, last year, Lacy tallied a Rushing NEP of -7.76, which ranked 14th among the 22 rushers with at least 175 carries last season. On a per-carry basis, his -0.03 Rushing NEP was also 14th.
What about moving the ball forward? Well, his Success Rate, the percentage of carries that added positively to the Packers' expected point total, of 42.48% ranked, again, 14th.
Lacy wasn't efficient as a rusher, but here's the other thing: it doesn't matter.
Opportunity Is Endless
For Lacy, the key variable is opportunity. So, he wasn't a super efficient runner, but he did score 0.336 fantasy points per snap last year -- or 33.6 per 100 snaps. That ranked him eighth at the position -- so that's fairly efficient from a fantasy perspective. And he played 687 snaps last year, seventh-most at the position. Even on a per-game basis, his 42.9 snaps ranked 10th.
He's going to be on the field, and he's going to get the ball. The Packers were the most efficient offense in the league last year (according to our schedule-adjusted NEP per play metrics) and the most efficient passing offense, too (per Adjusted Passing NEP per play). Efficient passing offenses are good news bears for running backs in fantasy football.
That efficient offense is going to get him into position to score touchdowns, too.
Red Zone Potential
Yeah, but Randall Cobb scored like 100 touchdowns in the red zone last year, so Lacy won't score that many, right?
Well, it's true that the Packers aren't super run heavy in the red zone. They ran the ball on 39.23% of their red zone plays from scrimmage, just 19th in the NFL. But that's not really the full story. They still ran the ball 82 times in the red zone last year, seventh most in the league. Sure, they throw it a lot inside the 20, but they're in good position often enough for, again, volume to be the key for Lacy.
I'll be honest, though, the Packers ran it on 34.62% of their scrimmage plays from inside the five, ranking 27th in the league. Still, they had 18 rushes from inside the five -- tied for 13th in the NFL with four teams (including run-heavy squads Seattle and Houston). They don't run it frequently near the goal line, but because they're so good, they still get to run it a lot.
Lacy saw 10 of those 18 carries (and 40 of the team's 82 red zone carries). He's not really even a red zone stalwart, seeing just 51.9% of Green Bay's red zone carries last year, but no team ran more red zone plays than Green Bay last season (209).
In the grand scheme of things, Lacy just doesn't have much of a threat to his job (or more accurately his workload), and that matters a lot. Sure, Starks is still around, but the 29-year-old amassed a Rushing NEP of -7.70 last year on just 85 carries. That ranked 22nd among the 30 backs with between 50 and 100 carries.
Per carry, he also ranked 22nd (-0.09), but his Success Rate of 32.94% ranked just 26th. Starks managed a positive Rushing NEP just once in his five-year career (an impressive 17.20 mark on 89 carries in 2013), but has seen more than 100 carries just once in that span and never more than 133 carries in a single season.
Lacy can survive that.
A Floor With a Ceiling
That's a funny image, but it does describe Lacy's outlook in 2015. He's one of the five backs our algorithm expects to have a floor of 200 fantasy points.
Still, none of them play on the league's best offense (according to 2014 metrics) or have less tread on their NFL tires. Given the bust rates of fantasy backs, safety should definitely be factored into a first-round pick, and given the value of a top running back in fantasy football, Lacy makes sense as the first pick.
It's not foolproof, but it is a sensible, safe option, one that likely won't ruin your season.
And who knows? By August, some combination of Charles, Foster, Lynch, Peterson, Le'Veon Bell, Forte, DeMarco Murray, McCoy, and C.J. Anderson could shake Lacy down toward the bottom of the first round as opposed to the top of it.
If so, you could be getting one of the biggest values in all of fantasy football.