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Quality Starts: Running Back

Quality starts for 2015 for Running Backs using standard scoring

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 2015 season, I decided to take the #12 RB for the year (Darren McFadden, 160.28 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 running back 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 7.5
Quality Start 7.6 to 12.5
Excellent Start 12.6+

Table 1: 2015 RB Quality Start and Fantasy Point Ranges - Standard 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 Excellent Quality Bad Total
Devonta Freeman ATL 10 2 3 15
Adrian Peterson MIN 9 3 4 16
Doug Martin TBB 6 6 4 16
David Johnson ARI 7 3 6 16
DeAngelo Williams PIT 8 1 6 15
Todd Gurley STL 9 1 3 13
Lamar Miller MIA 6 2 8 16
Chris Ivory NYJ 5 4 6 15
Matt Forte CHI 7 3 3 13
Danny Woodhead SDC 5 4 7 16
Latavius Murray OAK 5 6 5 16
Darren McFadden DAL 3 9 4 16
Frank Gore IND 5 3 8 16
Jeremy Hill CIN 7 1 7 15
Mark Ingram NOS 5 7 0 12
Jonathan Stewart CAR 5 4 4 13
LeSean McCoy BUF 5 6 1 12
Rashad Jennings NYG 5 3 8 16
DeMarco Murray PHI 4 3 8 15
Ronnie Hillman DEN 3 5 8 16
Giovani Bernard CIN 3 6 7 16
Darren Sproles PHI 4 2 10 16
Charles Sims TBB 4 3 9 16
Jeremy Langford CHI 2 5 8 15
James Starks GBP 3 3 9 15
Ameer Abdullah DET 2 3 11 16
T.J. Yeldon JAC 2 7 3 12
Eddie Lacy GBP 4 4 6 14
C.J. Anderson DEN 3 2 10 15
Isaiah Crowell CLE 4 1 10 15
Thomas Rawls SEA 4 1 7 12
LeGarrette Blount NEP 4 0 7 11
Charcandrick West KCC 4 0 11 15
Karlos Williams BUF 4 4 3 11
Shane Vereen NYG 3 3 10 16
Duke Johnson CLE 1 5 10 16
Theo Riddick DET 1 6 9 16
Ryan Mathews PHI 4 3 4 11
Javorius Allen BAL 3 2 10 15
Alfred Blue HOU 3 4 7 14
Chris Johnson ARI 2 2 7 11
Matt Jones WAS 2 2 8 12
Antonio Andrews TEN 1 6 6 13
Justin Forsett BAL 2 3 5 10
Bilal Powell NYJ 3 3 4 10
Le\'Veon Bell PIT 4 1 1 6
Alfred Morris WAS 0 6 9 15
Joique Bell DET 2 1 10 13
Dion Lewis NEP 4 1 2 7
James White NEP 3 2 6 11
    204 167 322  

Table 2: 2015 RB Start Types Sorted By Top 50 RBs - Standard Scoring

That's a lot of info to digest, so let me help. First, we see that there are more Excellent Starts (204) than Quality Starts (167), which speaks to several of the top backs playing for teams that preferred to use a feature back rather than a committee approach.  This trend built upon 2014 (178 Excellent Starts, 167 Quality Starts), whereas the numbers in prior years were nearly equal. Part of the reason that there are more Excellent Starts in recent seasons has been the lower standard of Excellence.  In 2015, an Excellent Start required 12.6 or more points, markedly lower than 2014's threshold of 13.4 points. Both 2014 (178) and 2013 (178) had over 11 Excellent Starts per week, far more than 2012 (153) and 2010 (154).  That points back to the higher thresholds in those respective seasons as it took over 15 points for an Excellent Start in 2012 and 15.3 in 2010.  While in the big picture it may not matter – we do want RB12s and higher, regardless – but it does show how much RB value has declined with the passing game taking off in today's NFL, and how important true feature tailbacks are.         

Now, to dig deeper, let's look at the numbers distributed in two different ways. First, I need to define a valuable starting running back 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 Excellent Quality Bad Total NetVal
Devonta Freeman ATL 10 2 3 15 7
Todd Gurley STL 9 1 3 13 6
Adrian Peterson MIN 9 3 4 16 5
Mark Ingram NOS 5 7 0 12 5
Matt Forte CHI 7 3 3 13 4
LeSean McCoy BUF 5 6 1 12 4
Le\'Veon Bell PIT 4 1 1 6 3
Doug Martin TBB 6 6 4 16 2
DeAngelo Williams PIT 8 1 6 15 2
Dion Lewis NEP 4 1 2 7 2
David Johnson ARI 7 3 6 16 1
Jonathan Stewart CAR 5 4 4 13 1
Karlos Williams BUF 4 4 3 11 1
Latavius Murray OAK 5 6 5 16 0
Jeremy Hill CIN 7 1 7 15 0
Ryan Mathews PHI 4 3 4 11 0
Chris Ivory NYJ 5 4 6 15 -1
Darren McFadden DAL 3 9 4 16 -1
T.J. Yeldon JAC 2 7 3 12 -1
Bilal Powell NYJ 3 3 4 10 -1
Lamar Miller MIA 6 2 8 16 -2
Danny Woodhead SDC 5 4 7 16 -2
Eddie Lacy GBP 4 4 6 14 -2
Frank Gore IND 5 3 8 16 -3
Rashad Jennings NYG 5 3 8 16 -3
Thomas Rawls SEA 4 1 7 12 -3
LeGarrette Blount NEP 4 0 7 11 -3
Justin Forsett BAL 2 3 5 10 -3
James White NEP 3 2 6 11 -3
DeMarco Murray PHI 4 3 8 15 -4
Giovani Bernard CIN 3 6 7 16 -4
Alfred Blue HOU 3 4 7 14 -4
Ronnie Hillman DEN 3 5 8 16 -5
Charles Sims TBB 4 3 9 16 -5
Chris Johnson ARI 2 2 7 11 -5
Antonio Andrews TEN 1 6 6 13 -5
Darren Sproles PHI 4 2 10 16 -6
Jeremy Langford CHI 2 5 8 15 -6
James Starks GBP 3 3 9 15 -6
Isaiah Crowell CLE 4 1 10 15 -6
Matt Jones WAS 2 2 8 12 -6
C.J. Anderson DEN 3 2 10 15 -7
Charcandrick West KCC 4 0 11 15 -7
Shane Vereen NYG 3 3 10 16 -7
Javorius Allen BAL 3 2 10 15 -7
Theo Riddick DET 1 6 9 16 -8
Joique Bell DET 2 1 10 13 -8
Ameer Abdullah DET 2 3 11 16 -9
Duke Johnson CLE 1 5 10 16 -9
Alfred Morris WAS 0 6 9 15 -9

Table 3: 2015 RB Start Types Sorted By Value - Standard Scoring

This is a lot of information once again, but there are some important things to note here.  First, unlike last year where the top of the chart was dominated by the runningbacks considered to be the elite fantasy RBs heading into 2015, Table 3 has names that are all over the map.  We have a few studs like Adrian Peterson and Le'Veon Bell in the Top 10, but who would have put Dion Lewis in that same group?  This chart really hints that 2016 is going to be a very interesting season at the RB position, and doing your homework this summer to know who is the lead back for all 32 teams could mean all the difference for your team this year.       

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 2016 ADP list.

Running Back Team Excellent Quality Bad Total NetVal ADP
Devonta Freeman ATL 10 2 3 15 7 15
Todd Gurley STL 9 1 3 13 6 4
Adrian Peterson MIN 9 3 4 16 5 8
Mark Ingram NOS 5 7 0 12 5 23
Jamaal Charles KC 4 1 0 5 4 17
LeSean McCoy BUF 5 6 1 12 4 31
Matt Forte CHI 7 3 3 13 4 35
Le\'Veon Bell PIT 4 1 1 6 3 5
Doug Martin TBB 6 6 4 16 2 21
Dion Lewis NEP 4 1 2 7 2 48
David Johnson ARI 7 3 6 16 1 7
Jonathan Stewart CAR 5 4 4 13 1 63
Latavius Murray OAK 5 6 5 16 0 43
Jeremy Hill CIN 7 1 7 15 0 51
Ryan Mathews PHI 4 3 4 11 0 60
T.J. Yeldon JAC 2 7 3 12 -1 78
Chris Ivory NYJ 5 4 6 15 -1 83
Lamar Miller MIA 6 2 8 16 -2 14
Eddie Lacy GBP 4 4 6 14 -2 24
Danny Woodhead SDC 5 4 7 16 -2 75
Thomas Rawls SEA 4 1 7 12 -3 34
Carlos Hyde SF 2 0 5 7 -3 38
Frank Gore IND 5 3 8 16 -3 81
Justin Forsett BAL 2 3 5 10 -3 96
DeMarco Murray PHI 4 3 8 15 -4 50
Giovani Bernard CIN 3 6 7 16 -4 74
Charles Sims TBB 4 3 9 16 -5 90
Jeremy Langford CHI 2 5 8 15 -6 53
Matt Jones WAS 2 2 8 12 -6 58
Jay Ajayi MIA 0 1 8 9 -8 56
Duke Johnson CLE 1 5 10 16 -9 69
Ameer Abdullah DET 2 3 11 16 -9 76
Melvin Gordon SDC 0 3 11 14 -11 73
Ezekiel Elliott DAL Rookie 10
Derrick Henry TEN Rookie 97

Table 4: 2016 Top Drafted RBs Sorted By 2015 Value - Standard Scoring

Heading into last year, there were a lot of new names in the Top 50 RB Draft list, but 2016 looks quite a bit different.  First, only two rookies (Ezekiel Elliott, Derrick Henry) are listed - but Henry barely made the list at RB36 and Elliott is considered to be a RB1 heading into this season as the lead back for Dallas.  While you might think that this means that there is not a lot of change for 2016, you would be incorrect in that thinking.  Several tailbacks have switched teams since March, so as I stated earlier, you really need to know who is playing where and what the various depth charts look like heading into September.  Just as an example, Matt Forte's move to the Jets impacts Forte and Jeremy Langford (stock up in Chicago).  What about Chris Ivory? He's now in Jacksonville.  A similar story plays out in Miami, as Lamar Miller is now a Texan and Jay Ajayi is the projected starter.   Even a player such as David Johnson who finished the year strong in 2015 shows poorly on the charts since he was not the starter to begin last season in Arizona.  While 2015 data is nice to have, it may not be the best indication for 2016 value - preseason depth charts and following Footballguys news may be your best edge.   

With so much turmoil at tailback, it is important to point out that this value list is based solely on last year's results. There is no reason to believe in these numbers as indications of 2016 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.