Pointless Preseason IV: Running Backs

What was your best and worst Running Back call of the 2018 Season, Candy?

What was your best and worst Running Back call of the 2018 Season, Candy?

It’s the final countdown — less than 10 Sundays until the NFL 2019 Season. This is the time of year I start to reflect on the positives and negatives in my previous season. Did I pull the trigger too early on a QB? What research and statistics went into the better hypotheses? Why did I pass on Saquon Barkley and get cute with Leonard Fournette? 

Every year, I complete a simple investigation by taking a running back’s preseason positional rank and subtract their point per game rank from the previous season. I complete this for the top-60-or-so ranked running backs going into the current season (removing rookies/season-ending injuries). For example, two year’s back Doug Martin finished as RB31 on a point per game basis in 2016, but was ranked RB41 going into 2017 (41-31=+10). The ultimate cock-tease? Doug’s first game back — Thursday night home game against the Patriots — rips off 74 yards on 13 attempts and a touchdown. Felt like the steal of the year… he finished with 63 yards on 45 attempts the last four games… 

This is just one small piece of my overall analysis but it led to my best and worst calls from the previous year. 

Start with Shit

Duke Johnson’s Previous Year Outlook from June 2018:

2018 Rank (26), 2017 PPR PPG Finish (15)= +11

“Arguing RB3-floor-value. Finished as RB11 overall and RB15 on a PPG basis (PPR). Currently has an ADP of 90+ (at the time of this writing)… Did you know there have been five players in NFL history who had over 70 targets and 50 receptions in each of their first three NFL seasons? Reggie Bush, Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, Matt Forte and… Duke Johnson. Per ESPN, he is the first running back since Herschel Walker to record 500 receiving yards in each of his first three seasons. Cleveland offered Duke Johnson essentially the same three-year contract as Carlos Hyde this off-season. Don’t worry about how Chubb affects him — apply those notions to Hyde. Chubb had 31 catches in four years at Georgia. The bottom line? Duke can perform with limited touches and I think Tyrod/Baker will check-down to him often. Of running backs with less than 200 touches, Duke (159 touches) led in PPR scoring with 216 points last year. Tevin Coleman was in second place with nearly 50 less points on 24 more touches. Duke also had the lowest consistency ranking among all players with a positive difference at .373 on this list. Don’t be afraid to use a flyer on him for flex and bye-week support.”

20/20 Hindsight from 2019

Based on Duke’s top-20 finish in 2017, I didn’t think it was possible he’d regress to the point of extinction in Cleveland with Todd Haley taking the reins. Even with the caveat of arguing RB3-floor value to cover my ass- it wasn’t good enough. Duke finished as the 37th running back overall — 20 points away from Dalvin Cook at 30th overall (God, Dalvin is gonna be a steal this year). 31 less targets, 27 less catches, 42 less rushes and 411 less scrimmage yards. Laughably, he averaged a half yard more per touch last year vs. 2017. Cleveland even got rid of Carlos Hyde Week 7; which you’d think would create additional opportunities. Wrong. In the first six games, Duke had 19 attempts vs. 21 in the final 10 games without Carlos Hyde. For all you nerds, his approximate value dipped from 6 to 4 year-over-year. Last point, Baker was 8th and 28th in yards per pass attempt and 28th in play action pass completion percentage. These aren’t the ingredients for a successful pass-catching running back. This take can be summed up as, “Buzz, your girlfriend… WOOF!” 

Moving On 

James White’s Previous Year Outlook from June 2018:

2018 Rank (46), 2017 PPR PPG Finish (33)= +13

“Over the past two seasons, James White’s target share of Patriot passes is nearly 14percent (158 of the Patriots’ 1137 passing attempts in 30 games). They lost exactly 200 targets with Cooks and Amendola departing. Edelman’s back but obviously won’t see 150+ targets as he has in the past. Who the hell is going to catch the ball besides Gronk, Jules and Hogan? Jordan Matthews or Cordarrelle Patterson? I’m thinking the running backs. Hold off from taking Rex Burkehead at an ADP of 90 (RB35) and take White for an ADP of 120+ (RB46). Keep this in mind, Derrick Henry (ADP RB23) had 1 less fantasy point than James last year with 88 more touches. That’s the steal you want.”

20/20 Hindsight from 2019

This was a two-for-one special last year:

  1. James White finishing as the seventh overall running back in PPR leagues or 11th overall amongst receivers and running backs.
  2. Rex Burkhead not being worth the late-ADP of 90. 

Think about this, in 2016 and 2017 James White maxed out on an identical number of touches- 99 total. In 2018, this increased to 181, bolstered by 61 additional targets (career-high 123) and 51 rushing attempts (career-high 94) compared to 2017. His target share of Patriot passes increased to nearly 22 percent! Never had an opportunity to draft James but obviously my friends did. Who was your best call of 2018? 

(Per Pro Football Reference)

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