Quality Starts - Running Backs (PPR)
By Jeff Pasquino
June 30th, 2011

There are some fantasy football players that believe that the lineup you pick can lose you a game just as much as it can win a contest. Having a player give you a consistent performance week after week can be considered more valuable than a player who goes off every third week and then takes two weeks off between those fantastic performances. Consistency has a value, and it does not take much of a leap to understand that players that you can rely on for solid games when you need them (such as in your postseason) are a huge advantage.

Baseball has a term called "Quality Starts" for pitchers, which is a statistic that represents how often a starting pitcher will put up a good (not great, just good) performance in a given game. The bar is set neither high nor low (six innings pitched, three earned runs or fewer) so as to gauge a decent performance. The theory behind it is that if your pitcher gives you a Quality Start, your team has a fighting chance to win a given game.

So now we need to translate this to football. What is "quality" for each position? How do we define a "Quality Start" for quarterbacks or running backs or any other position? Looking back at the 2010 season, I decided to take the #12 RB for the year (Steven Jackson, 245 fantasy points) and take that fantasy total and divide it by 16 for a per game average. Now a case can be made to argue against doing this. I did not account for missed games or a per-start performance metric, but I believe that the numbers will get averaged out by doing this method. Also, taking RB12 seems a bit arbitrary, but if you are looking for a bare minimum of quality, the 12th RB should be the "worst starter" in your fantasy league as a RB1 and a great RB2.

So now we move on to the next question - one of quantifying the quality. At what point do we decide whether or not a quarterback has given us a quality performance? Here is where it gets a bit murky, but looking at the distribution of RB performances by starters over the season and it becomes evident that the using the 12th RB average and adding or subtracting a percentage gives us a good range for a RB Quality Start.

Using the RB Quality Start range, we can also define a bad performance or an excellent performance as either falling below or exceeding the Quality Start range. Table 1 gives us the fantasy points that it takes to fall in each of the three areas:

RB Start Type
Fantasy Points
Bad Start
0 to 11.4
Quality Start
11.5 to 19.1
Excellent Start
19.2+

Table 1: 2010 RB Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges - PPR Scoring

Table 2 shows us the breakdown of all the Top 50 RBs and how many of each type of start resulted for each:

Running Back
Team
Type Of Start
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Arian Foster
HOU
10
5
1
16
Peyton Hillis
CLE
5
8
3
16
LeSean McCoy
PHI
8
6
1
15
Jamaal Charles
KCC
5
9
2
16
Adrian Peterson
MIN
7
5
3
15
Chris Johnson
TEN
9
1
6
16
Ray Rice
BAL
7
4
5
16
Darren McFadden
OAK
6
6
1
13
Matt Forte
CHI
4
6
6
16
Ahmad Bradshaw
NYG
6
6
4
16
Rashard Mendenhall
PIT
5
6
5
16
Steven Jackson
STL
2
11
3
16
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAC
6
3
5
14
Michael Turner
ATL
5
4
7
16
LaDainian Tomlinson
NYJ
2
8
5
15
Cedric Benson
CIN
5
2
9
16
Frank Gore
SFO
6
3
2
11
Knowshon Moreno
DEN
6
2
5
13
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
NEP
2
8
6
16
Jahvid Best
DET
2
6
7
15
Mike Tolbert
SDC
3
6
6
15
Fred Jackson
BUF
3
2
11
16
Felix Jones
DAL
2
6
8
16
Brandon Jackson
GBP
2
2
12
16
Danny Woodhead
NEP
1
5
8
14
Ronnie Brown
MIA
1
2
13
16
Thomas Jones
KCC
0
6
10
16
Michael Bush
OAK
2
5
7
14
Darren Sproles
SDC
0
6
10
16
Brandon Jacobs
NYG
1
4
11
16
Marshawn Lynch
SEA
1
4
11
16
Ryan Mathews
SDC
1
4
7
12
Cadillac Williams
TBB
0
5
11
16
LeGarrette Blount
TBB
1
4
8
13
Ryan Torain
WAS
3
4
3
10
Tim Hightower
ARI
3
2
10
15
Jason Snelling
ATL
1
2
11
14
Mike Goodson
CAR
2
2
12
16
Keiland Williams
WAS
1
3
12
16
Justin Forsett
SEA
0
3
13
16
Ricky Williams
MIA
1
2
13
16
Rashad Jennings
JAC
1
4
8
13
Shonn Greene
NYJ
0
4
11
15
Jonathan Stewart
CAR
0
4
10
14
Maurice Morris
DET
2
2
9
13
Joseph Addai
IND
1
5
2
8
Christopher Ivory
NOS
1
3
8
12
Donald Brown
IND
1
4
8
13
Willis McGahee
BAL
0
4
11
15
Brian Westbrook
SFO
3
0
12
15
 Totals
146
218
372

Table 2: 2010 RB Start Types Sorted By Top 50 RBs - PPR Scoring

That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see that there are not quite as many Excellent Starts (146) as Quality Starts (218), but given some injuries and more committee backfields it does make sense that there would be fewer elite performances. In comparison to 2008 and 2009, the numbers are not too far apart (221 Excellent Starts in 2008 as compared to 210 Quality Starts, while 2009 was 183 and 229). There are a lot of Bad Starts (309), but we are only looking for the best here, plus a "start" is not as definitive for a positional player that may just see partial playing time. The interesting part in 2010 is that Excellent Starts really shrank to 146, or less than 10 per week. That seems to be related to the higher threshold for excellence, as it took over 19.2 points last year to qualify while it was just 17.5 or more in 2009.

Now, to dig deeper, let's look at the numbers distributed in two different ways. First, I need to define a valuable starting quarterback in this system. We want a RB that will win more fantasy games than lose them, so we want either "Quality" or "Excellent" starts. Using a simple formula of scoring each type of start, we can define the value of a given NFL running back. Here is the formula:

Starting Fantasy RB Value = Excellent Starts - Bad Starts

We neglect to look at Quality Starts because they neither win games nor lose them on average - they are just average RB performances. We only really care about how often he helps our team vs. how often he hurts it. Giving a "-1" value to bad starts and "+1" to excellent ones does this for us.

On with the results, sorted by value:

Running Back
Team
Type Of Start
Net Value
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Arian Foster
HOU
10
5
1
16
9
LeSean McCoy
PHI
8
6
1
15
7
Darren McFadden
OAK
6
6
1
13
5
Adrian Peterson
MIN
7
5
3
15
4
Frank Gore
SFO
6
3
2
11
4
Jamaal Charles
KCC
5
9
2
16
3
Chris Johnson
TEN
9
1
6
16
3
Peyton Hillis
CLE
5
8
3
16
2
Ray Rice
BAL
7
4
5
16
2
Ahmad Bradshaw
NYG
6
6
4
16
2
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAC
6
3
5
14
1
Knowshon Moreno
DEN
6
2
5
13
1
Rashard Mendenhall
PIT
5
6
5
16
0
Ryan Torain
WAS
3
4
3
10
0
Steven Jackson
STL
2
11
3
16
-1
Joseph Addai
IND
1
5
2
8
-1
Matt Forte
CHI
4
6
6
16
-2
Michael Turner
ATL
5
4
7
16
-2
LaDainian Tomlinson
NYJ
2
8
5
15
-3
Mike Tolbert
SDC
3
6
6
15
-3
Cedric Benson
CIN
5
2
9
16
-4
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
NEP
2
8
6
16
-4
Jahvid Best
DET
2
6
7
15
-5
Michael Bush
OAK
2
5
7
14
-5
Felix Jones
DAL
2
6
8
16
-6
Ryan Mathews
SDC
1
4
7
12
-6
Danny Woodhead
NEP
1
5
8
14
-7
LeGarrette Blount
TBB
1
4
8
13
-7
Tim Hightower
ARI
3
2
10
15
-7
Rashad Jennings
JAC
1
4
8
13
-7
Maurice Morris
DET
2
2
9
13
-7
Christopher Ivory
NOS
1
3
8
12
-7
Donald Brown
IND
1
4
8
13
-7
Fred Jackson
BUF
3
2
11
16
-8
Brian Westbrook
SFO
3
0
12
15
-9
Brandon Jackson
GBP
2
2
12
16
-10
Thomas Jones
KCC
0
6
10
16
-10
Darren Sproles
SDC
0
6
10
16
-10
Brandon Jacobs
NYG
1
4
11
16
-10
Marshawn Lynch
SEA
1
4
11
16
-10
Jason Snelling
ATL
1
2
11
14
-10
Mike Goodson
CAR
2
2
12
16
-10
Jonathan Stewart
CAR
0
4
10
14
-10
Cadillac Williams
TBB
0
5
11
16
-11
Keiland Williams
WAS
1
3
12
16
-11
Shonn Greene
NYJ
0
4
11
15
-11
Willis McGahee
BAL
0
4
11
15
-11
Ronnie Brown
MIA
1
2
13
16
-12
Ricky Williams
MIA
1
2
13
16
-12
Justin Forsett
SEA
0
3
13
16
-13
 Totals
146
218
372

Table 3: 2010 RB Start Types Sorted By Value - PPR Scoring

This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. For example, the Top 9-11 names should come as no surprise, but a non-PPR stud like Rashard Mendenhall is right there with some of the bigger names. If Pittsburgh does not add a third-down or goal-line specialist, Mendenhall could be a great value for 2011.

Much more can be learned by looking at the players in the negative value range. Cedric Benson and Ronnie Brown are clearly wearing down as they are closer to the end of their careers than the beginning. LeGarrette Blount and Jonathan Stewart were solid fantasy backs, but they could not crack into the Top 12 due to their lack of involvement in their respective passing games. Other lead backs like Fred Jackson and Felix Jones were too entrenched in timeshares to get enough touches to present value.

One back that is a hidden gem is Marshawn Lynch, who closed out the regular season with two Quality Starts in December as he finally settled in with the Seahawks after a trade from Buffalo mid-year. Lynch really broke out with national exposure with a very memorable playoff game as the Seahawks upset New Orleans in the Wild Card Round. If Seattle does not add another running back, Lynch could be a great dark horse pickup for sharp fantasy team owners.

Lastly I will sift through it for you and get right to the heart of the matter with our final table. Here we have the results sorted by value for the Top 36 RBs on the 2011 ADP list.

Running Back
Team
Type Of Start
Net Value
ADP
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Arian Foster
HOU
10
5
1
16
9
1
LeSean McCoy
PHI
8
6
1
15
7
6
Darren McFadden
OAK
6
6
1
13
5
13
Adrian Peterson
MIN
7
5
3
15
4
3
Frank Gore
SFO
6
3
2
11
4
11
Jamaal Charles
KCC
5
9
2
16
3
4
Chris Johnson
TEN
9
1
6
16
3
2
Peyton Hillis
CLE
5
8
3
16
2
23
Ray Rice
BAL
7
4
5
16
2
5
Ahmad Bradshaw
NYG
6
6
4
16
2
33
Maurice Jones-Drew
JAC
6
3
5
14
1
8
Knowshon Moreno
DEN
6
2
5
13
1
43
Rashard Mendenhall
PIT
5
6
5
16
0
14
Ryan Torain
WAS
3
4
3
10
0
86
Steven Jackson
STL
2
11
3
16
-1
19
Joseph Addai
IND
1
5
2
8
-1
72
Matt Forte
CHI
4
6
6
16
-2
17
Michael Turner
ATL
5
4
7
16
-2
21
Mike Tolbert
SDC
3
6
6
15
-3
95
Cedric Benson
CIN
5
2
9
16
-4
64
BenJarvus Green-Ellis
NEP
2
8
6
16
-4
78
Jahvid Best
DET
2
6
7
15
-5
32
Felix Jones
DAL
2
6
8
16
-6
62
Ryan Mathews
SDC
1
4
7
12
-6
30
LeGarrette Blount
TBB
1
4
8
13
-7
42
Fred Jackson
BUF
3
2
11
16
-8
71
Marshawn Lynch
SEA
1
4
11
16
-10
74
Jonathan Stewart
CAR
0
4
10
14
-10
47
Shonn Greene
NYJ
0
4
11
15
-11
53

Table 4: 2011 Top Drafted RBs Sorted By 2010 Value - PPR Scoring

Note that several rookies in the Top 36 ADP list (Mark Ingram, Daniel Thomas, Mikel Leshoure) are absent for the simple reason that they did not start any games last year, while Ryan Grant, DeAngelo Williams and Pierre Thomas are missing due to injuries last season. CJ Spiller is currently in the Top 36 but he finished outside of the Top 50 RBs last year (RB59).

Judging from 2010, it seems that Ryan Torain and Knowshon Moreno would appear be great values, but odds are that they will lose their lead back jobs for this coming season. If Darren McFadden can keep up his pace from last year, he could be a great choice for those with a later first round pick. Frank Gore also looks pretty good assuming he comes back strong from his hip injury. Ahmad Bradshaw also could be a steal if he matches his numbers from 2010. That brings up an important point, which is that this is based solely on last year's results. There is no reason to believe in these numbers as indications of 2011 performance, but having this information available should give you more to think about when deciding who you will have leading your fantasy team this year.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.

© 2011 Footballguys - All Rights Reserved