Can Bryce Brown Save Your Fantasy Football Season?

With Thomas Rawls out for the season, Bryce Brown has an opportunity to play a big role for the Seahawks. Will he become a huge fantasy football asset?

There are very few things I’m more excited for right now than the opening of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

One of my earliest memories was the 20th anniversary screening of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope at the now-gone Uptown Theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, back in 1997. I was just seven years old, and I got to see this epic world of galactic mysticism, noble codes of honor, and the ever-present duel between good and evil unfold in front of my eyes.

I was hooked.

One of the things I loved the most about these movies was that a normal, unassuming young man from nowhere special realized his true potential and become the savior of existence as we know it. It was an inspiring story that gave many of us “a new hope” about ourselves.

If Bryce Brown -- the Seattle Seahawks running back -- has seen this movie series, he may be able to learn a lesson from it. Like Luke Skywalker, Brown has all of the promise in the world but has never tapped into it, he’s bounced around the galaxy -- or NFL -- looking for a place where he belongs, and he’s ignored chances to learn from his mistakes.

With Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls out of the starting picture, the Seahawks’ lead gig is Brown’s to seize. Can he return like a Jedi, or will he prove a phantom menace for our fantasy teams?

Han Shot First

For those unfamiliar with the lore of Bryce Brown’s career, he has had concerns about his character ever since high school. Was he a Sith Lord? No, but he certainly blew chances left and right, bumping his draft stock to the seventh round, where he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2012. For such a highly gifted player (he was a five-star college recruit), Brown was taken rather late.

Still, when Eagles starting running back LeSean McCoy went down with a concussion in November of 2012, Brown stepped right in. He’d go off for 347 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns on 43 carries in the two games following. After the brief audition, however, Brown was relegated to change-of-pace work for the remainder of the 2012 and 2013 seasons, before the Buffalo Bills traded for him. In 2014, he was active for just seven Bills’ games and never topped 35 yards rushing or 7 carries in any of them. This year, he was released in September and has spent the last month or so bouncing on and off the Seahawks’ roster.

Now, however, he steps into an utter void in the Seattle offense. The table below shows the Seahawks’ per-game rushing opportunities over the last month, as well as their ranks among the league in these categories. How much work will he get over the next two games?

Week Rushes per Game Pass-to-Run Ratio
11-14 35.8 (1st) 0.88 (32nd)

Sure enough, despite their offensive explosion recently -- where quarterback Russell Wilson has tossed an average of 292.75 passing yards and 4 touchdowns -- the ‘Hawks are still predicating their offense on the run, ranking the run-heaviest team both by ratio and total plays called.

It looks like they’re giving the running back a lot of work still, but how effective have they been doing so?

Less Than 12 Parsecs

We can measure football effectiveness with the traditional numbers – rushing attempts, yards, touchdowns, and so on – but these tend to leave something to be desired. When we want to dig into things more, instead of searching our feelings for the truth, we can use numberFire’s signature metric: Net Expected Points (NEP).

NEP helps us take the numbers we get from the box score and assign them contextual value so they relate even closer to the game on the field. By adding down-and-distance value, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary. In order to evaluate the Seahawks’ offensive fantasy potential, we need to slice up not only the actual production they’ve had on the ground, but also the expected production (think “potential”). We can use Rushing NEP to uncover this.

The table below shows the weekly production of the Seahawks’ lead backs both via rushing yards and Rushing NEP. How much value are the Seahawks presenting?

Week Player Rush Rush Yds. TD Rush NEP Per-Play Success %
11 Rawls 30 209 1 9.74 0.32 60.00%
12 Rawls 21 81 1 0.67 0.03 42.86%
13 Rawls 19 101 1 -1.94 -0.10 36.84%
14 Rawls/Harris 24 86 0 -5.01 -0.21 41.67%

We can see a different shade of the Force here. The team data before showed us that the Seahawks are still emphasizing the run well, but the value of the run game is clearly slipping without the dominant performances of Thomas Rawls toting the rock. DuJuan Harris accounted for most of the production in Week 14, and that was by far the worst showing in recent games for the Seahawks on the ground.

That said, when your lead back is getting the ball around 20-30 times consistently and turning in 80 yards on the ground at minimum, there’s fantasy value to be had.

Can Bryce Brown realize his destiny and join the ‘Hawks on their journey to rule the NFC?

These Are Not the Droids You’re Looking For

The last time that Bryce Brown touched a football in the National Football League was December of 2014, nearly 365 days ago. We’ve seen the opportunity that he could take a hold of, if he chooses the right path. Does he have the innate ability to do it?

The table below shows Brown’s production in terms of Rushing NEP and Total NEP throughout his career. Is he ready to stand at the right hand of our fantasy teams?

Year Rush Rush NEP Per-Play Opps. Total NEP Per-Play
2012 115 -16.76 -0.15 134 -17.35 -0.13
2013 75 -4.56 -0.06 88 -0.29 0.00
2014 36 -9.91 -0.28 61 2.12 0.03

One way to look at this data is to see his Total NEP (the combination of Rushing and Reception NEP) go up annually, as well as his per-play Total NEP, and assume that means that he progressed as an NFL player. Certainly his receiving value improved, as he converted just 46.15% of his receptions in his rookie year for positive NEP gains, and 93.75% of them in 2014, but his rushing ability nosedived, even in smaller sample sizes. With 115 rushing attempts, one can expect a fairly low Rushing NEP in 2012. In 2014, when he had just 36 attempts, he still accumulated a whopping -9.91 Rushing NEP. That means that on almost every 10 carries, he lost a field goal for the Bills in 2014.

It’s no shocker that Bryce Brown just can't convert his ridiculous physique and speed into rushing production; we’ve seen him struggle with this for years. Whether it’s a mental thing (such as poor lane vision as a runner), or a physical thing (such as not conditioning well enough) doesn’t matter: he has been one of the worst running backs in the league for the last few years.

With plenty of carries, Brown could be a fantasy contributor, but his inefficiency could prevent him from being a fantasy savior. Now that Christine Michael has been cut by Washington and re-signed by Seattle, too, there is competition for those opportunities. And remember, some of us here (me) really liked C-Mike.

Bryce Brown has all the talent in the world, but discipline behind his offensive line he does not. It doesn’t take Force sensitivity to see that.