Roy Helu Is the Raiders Running Back to Own in Fantasy Football
He looked impressive during his time as the lead back, which included a stretch of three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. In 2012, he lost his role as the top back to Alfred Morris and served as an effective change-of-pace back for three seasons.
Helu will dawn silver and black in 2015 as he joins Trent Richardson and Latavius Murray in the Oakland Raiders backfield. According to MyFantasyLeague.com's average draft position (ADP) data, Helu is going off the board in the 13th round right now. This is incredible value when we consider Helu's talent, and the chance that he becomes the top back in Oakland.
It's easy to see a change-of-pace player who relies on the passing game for a large share of his work and write him off as nothing more than a third-down back. Helu, though, is well-rounded.
In 2014, 29 running backs saw at least 40 targets and 40 carries. Helu ranked eighth among them in Rushing Net Expected Points (NEP) per carry, which measures how many points a player contributes to his team's expected score, and fifth in Reception NEP per target.
And it's not a case of Helu looking good by simply being adequate in multiple areas. He's one of the best receiving backs in the league.
In addition to his Reception NEP ranking, he finished second among qualifying backs in yards per route run in 2014 per ProFootballFocus.
Helu was also excellent on the ground in 2014, even if we remove the "for a receiving back" qualifier. His Rushing NEP per carry of 0.04 was good for 15th out of the 79 backs that carried the ball at least 40 times, a number very close to the 0.05 recorded by his new teammate Latavius Murray. In 2013, Helu had a Rushing NEP per carry of 0.03, which ranked 17th out of 83 qualifying backs. He has proven more than once to be a real threat on the ground and is very dangerous through the air.
Competition and Opportunity
Before I talk about his real competition, let's get Trent Richardson out of the way. If you're someone who reads July articles about the Oakland Raiders backfield, you're probably fully aware of just how awful Richardson is. But we can all use a little schadenfreude in our lives, so let's take a look at his career efficiency numbers.
|Year||Rushing NEP||Carries||Rushing NEP per Carry (Rank)|
Richardson's greatest achievement is being slightly above average in his rookie season. Nothing in his numbers since then inspires any confidence that he'll turn his career around, especially in Oakland of all places. He projects to be essentially a non-factor in the Raiders' backfield this year, and they will find themselves more successful the less they let Richardson touch the ball.
While Richardson is no threat, a lot of people seem ready to crown Latavius Murray as the definitive Oakland lead back and a fantasy football stud already. His ADP currently sits at 44.7, meaning he's coming off the board in the fourth round in 12-team leaguse, but there's just not enough there to justify using such an early draft pick. There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding both Murray and the backfield situation, and I'm not ready for his coronation quite yet.
Murray needs to prove himself over a bigger sample size before we can solidify him as the fantasy stud he's being drafted as. We only have 82 carries and about five full games to judge his performance by. His raw numbers are impressive enough -- he had 424 yards on those carries -- but they don't really tell the whole story.
Now, I don't always think it's a reasonable approach to discount a back's long runs when evaluating them. People do it too liberally, and you can't write off a running back because he's a boom-or-bust type. In Murray's case, however, the sample size makes this worth looking at. Last year, 21% of his yards came on a single 90-yard carry. It's not necessarily an issue that he may be dependent on long runs, but when removing a single snap from his body of work reduces his yardage by over 20%, these numbers aren't reliable enough to put a lot of weight behind.
Murray has certainly looked like a solid back, but doing so over only five or so games leaves a lot of room for uncertainty. Helu has proven himself over a longer stretch, and we know for sure that he can be a solid contributor both in the run and passing game.
The Better Buy
Murray and Helu's ADPs right now do not reflect the uncertainty that exists nearly well enough.
Helu has a very real shot at becoming the leading man in the Raiders' backfield if Murray's small-sample success doesn't extend to a bigger workload, and it would be no surprise if Helu finished the year ahead of Murray in fantasy scoring.
In drafting Murray, you're paying a premium for potential and a relatively brief flash of excellence. In Helu, you're getting a solid football player who may end up with a lot of opportunity, and you're getting him at a steep discount. Helu is by far the best fantasy football value in Oakland's backfield.