Fantasy Football: Should You Draft Chris Ivory or T.J. Yeldon?
Nailing your mid-round picks in fantasy football drafts is massively helpful.
That's especially true if you can beat the odds and find a useful running back in the middle of the draft.
Last year, fantasy football owners, overall, were optimistic about the chances that Jacksonville Jaguar T.J. Yeldon, taken around the end of the fifth round in 2015 according to Fantasy Football Calculator, could do just that.
Yeldon, the 27th running back off the board last year, finished as the 26th-best fantasy running back by season's end.
A similar story centered on Chris Ivory of the New York Jets. Ivory was drafted in the fourth round as the RB21 but finished the season as the RB8 on the strength of 247 carries.
Now, those two are in the same backfield in Jacksonville. Ivory is the favorite to go off the board first, taken 6.06 on average, and Yeldon, 8.08, has fallen.
Should we steer clear, or is one of these guys good enough to dominate the touches?
We know that Ivory had the better fantasy output last season, but was he actually a better rusher?
According to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics, not really. On his 247 carries, Ivory lost the Jets 18.07 points of expected scoring, giving him a mark of -0.07 on a per-carry basis. The league average for running backs in 2015 was -0.04.
Relative to his Jets teammates, however, Ivory was better. Jets running backs not named Chris Ivory earned a mark of -0.11 Rushing NEP per carry in 2015. This marked the fourth straight season that Ivory outpaced or equaled his teammates' Rushing NEP per carry. He was 0.07 points per carry better on 182 rushes in 2013 and even in 2014 on 247 carries.
Yeldon saw 182 carries of his own as a rookie and tallied a Rushing NEP of -10.18 -- so -0.06 per carry. That's on par with Ivory's but still behind the league average.
Comparatively, though, it dominated Ivory's metrics. Jaguars running backs aside from Yeldon lost 35.58 points on 144 carries (-0.25 per carry). Yeldon was 0.19 points per carry better than his teammates.
In the past four seasons, 126 running backs have seen at least 150 carries, and Yeldon's 0.19 Rushing NEP per play improvement compared to his teammates is the sixth-largest margin in the subset. The guys ahead of him? Adrian Peterson in 2012, Todd Gurley in 2015, C.J. Spiller in 2012, and Jamaal Charles in 2013 and 2014.
Of course, per-carry data can be skewed by some big plays, and Yeldon really had no capable teammates (which was part of the appeal entering 2015 to begin with). But even through the lens of Rushing Success Rate (the percentage of carries that led to NEP gains), Yeldon outclassed his teammates by maintaining a better mark (35.16%) than his teammates (33.33%).
To be clear, this was still significantly below the league average (about 39% and above 40% each year since 2000), but he played above the level of his teammates, so maybe we should view his below-average marks a little more promisingly.
Ivory (36.84%) did the same by a bigger margin, as his teammates maintained a mark of just 32.37%.
Yeldon and Ivory are listed as co-starters, which is code for "avoid this situation in fantasy football," but if we can put stock into a single season of data, Yeldon is a pretty capable runner when graded on the same scale as his teammates.
Ivory has been a useful asset when healthy, and that probably won't change even with Yeldon in the mix, though Yeldon, who likely won't see touchdown opportunities, is looking like a wasted eighth-round pick unless Ivory's injury history creeps up again in 2016.
It's certainly looking like a situation to avoid unless you have a crystal ball or play in a deep league where modest running back production is cherished, but if either back drops much further in your actual draft than their ADP suggests, taking a flier on above-average running backs isn't the worst way to play it on draft day.