Can We Trust Chris Ivory in Fantasy Football?

On pace to shatter career highs across the board, can Chris Ivory finish the season as an elite running back?


It’s the backbone of every good relationship. Whether it’s with a spouse, a business partner, or a roommate, unyielding trust almost always ensures success.

The same can be said for fantasy football. As owners, we are constantly looking for players we can trust.

If you are willing to start a player regardless of matchup, trends, projections, weather, or any other narrative, that’s trust.

In recent years, it has become increasingly more difficult to trust running backs in the NFL. From 2000 to 2004, there were 50 running backs who logged over 300 carries in a season, an average of 10 per year.

From 2010 2014, only 18 running backs were handed the rock over 300 times, an average of 3.6 per year. A drastic dropoff, to say the least.

The 2015 season is no different. Entering week 7, only 4 running backs are on pace to carry the ball 300 times.

Of those four, Chris Ivory (6’0”, 220 pounds) is the only one who has never logged a 300-carry season. In fact, Ivory’s career high for carries came last season with the Jets, when he was handed the ball only 198 times.

There just aren't as many trustworthy running backs from a volume standpoint as there were 15 years ago. When we find one, we hold on for dear life. Try asking your league’s Le’Veon Bell owner about a trade; I can hear them laughing from here.

In fantasy football, there is nothing more valuable than a trusted commodity. Has Chris Ivory done enough to earn our trust?

Season in Review

New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall recently announced that Chris Ivory is the best running back in the NFL.

While I am not in agreement with Marshall, Chris Ivory has definitely impressed through the first third of the season. Despite playing in only four games, his raw rushing numbers and associated ranks among 28 backs with at least 60 carries jump off the screen.

Ivory Value Rank
Carries 83 12
Rushing Yards 460 3
Yards per Carry 5.5 t-1*
Yards per Game 115 1
Touchdowns 4 3

His Net Expected Points (NEP) ranks are equally impressive.

NEP is our signature metric at numberFire. Using NFL data dating back to 2000, we are able to quantify a player’s ability to add or subtract from his team’s expectation to score points. NEP allows us to consider a wide variety of variables to determine a player’s true production and efficiency. More information about NEP can be found in our glossary.

Among the 28 running backs with at least 60 carries, Ivory still stacks up in terms of advanced numbers.

Ivory Value Rank
Total NEP 12.81 4
Rushing NEP 10.45 3
Rushing NEP per play 0.13 3
Rushing Success Rate 47% 5

To exemplify Ivory’s early-season dominance further, Ivory leads the league with 15 carries of 10 or more yards, per Rotoworld. Per Pro Football Focus, Ivory has gained 174 yards after first contact in the last two weeks. He’s broken 20 tackles on 89 total touches, good for a broken tackle percentage of 22.5%. For comparison, last year’s leader in broken tackle percentage was Marshawn Lynch, who averaged 27.8%, per Football Outsiders.

Let that all sink in for a moment.

This season, Ivory’s average draft position was 67, per Fantasy Pros. That was good for low-end RB2 status. By NEP, Ivory has outperformed a laundry list of running backs drafted before him including, Adrian Peterson, Lynch, Eddie Lacy, Bell, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Jeremy Hill, C.J. Anderson, and DeMarco Murray.

What we need to know is if Ivory can keep up this torrid pace over the next 11 weeks.

Blast from the Past

An undrafted free agent from Division II Tiffin University, Ivory was signed by the New Orleans Saints shortly after the 2010 NFL Draft.

Ivory’s three-year tenure with the Saints was an up-and-down proposition. He flashed brightly in his rookie season, gaining 716 yards on 137 carries, good for an impressive 5.2 yards per carry. He also scored five touchdowns.

Of the 39 running backs with at least 125 carries that year, Ivory ranked sixth in Rushing NEP, Rushing NEP per play, and Rushing Success Rate.

His 2011 and 2012 seasons were marred by a variety of leg injuries, and Ivory combined to play in only 12 games those two seasons. He was still able to show off his ability as he averaged nearly five yards per carry across that span.

In the 2013 offseason, Ivory was traded to the Jets for a fourth-round pick -- solid compensation for a player who had never carried the ball more than 137 times -- was a perennial non-factor in the passing game, and was coming off back-to-back injury marred seasons.

In 2013, Ivory joined Bilal Powell to form a running-back-by-committee. While Powell outplayed Ivory as a receiver, Ivory was the better runner. He logged a career high 182 rushing attempts and ranked 11th in Rushing NEP and Rushing NEP per play among the 28 running backs with at least 175 carries.

In 2014, the Jets signed veteran Chris Johnson to bolster the running back corps. Despite this addition, Ivory again logged a career high in carries with 198. He also played in all 16 games for the first time in his career.

But as his workload increased, his effectiveness decreased.

Logging a career-low 4.1 yards per carry, Ivory ranked 16th in Rushing NEP and Rushing NEP per play among the 22 running backs with at least 175 carries.

Also, the Jets were terrible. Their 4-12 record led to the firing of head coach Rex Ryan. While it’s hard to tell if Ivory’s production was one of the reasons for the Jets' disastrous season, or the other way around, Ivory was clearly trending in the wrong direction.

New York State of Mind

In 2015, the Jets have a completely different look. Rookie head coach Todd Bowles and first-year offensive coordinator Chan Gailey have this team at 4-1 heading for a showdown with the undefeated Patriots in Week 7.

New offensive additions Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brandon Marshall have helped supplement one of the NFL’s best defenses.

The running back position was overhauled as well. While Ivory and Powell remained, Chris Johnson was released. Zac Stacy and Stevan Ridley were brought in to provide additional depth.

Our metrics show that the Jets have been successful this year because of two components: their defense and their running game. The Jets rank within the top four in all team Adjusted Defensive NEP categories. Per ESPN, their defense leads the league in yards per game (269.2) and points per game (15).

Offensively, the Jets rank seventh in Adjusted Rushing NEP and schedule-adjusted Rushing NEP per play. They rank 25th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play.

Per Football Outsiders, the Jets' offensive line ranks ninth in run blocking.

It makes sense then, that the Jets are 31st in the league in pass to run ratio (1.06). Their defense is keeping games close, allowing the game script to favor Ivory’s role and skill set.

The Jets are 4-0 this season in games Ivory has played. Missing week 3 with a quad injury, Ivory’s first four opponents have been less than stellar. To date, none of his opponents rank higher than 13th in Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP.

Back to the Future

Going forward, the Jets' schedule remains favorable for the running game. By our metrics, only one opponent (Oakland in Week 8) ranks in the top 10 in schedule-adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP. In Weeks 13 through 16, fantasy playoffs in most leagues, New York faces Tennessee (31st), Dallas (21st), and New England (28th).

These juicy matchups will likely get Ivory owners all giddy. But it’s fair to ask if a physical runner, keen on inviting contact and punishing defenders, is capable of holding up with a 300 carry workload. He’s already missed one game this season with a quad injury.

It’s clear that New York is committed to the running game. A new offensive coordinator, new supporting cast, and excellent offensive line have allowed Ivory to thrive in his current role as feature back.

Plus, the Jets are a good team. Our power rankings tab them as fifth in the league, and they have a 77.9% chance to make the playoffs, according to our projections.

We also peg Ivory to play as the sixth best running back for the rest of the season.

While we are heading into uncharted territory with Ivory’s workload, he’s playing like one of the best running backs in the league.

In a game where the running back position is more volatile than ever, we have no choice but to get behind Ivory.

He’s earned our trust.