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Quality Starts - Running Back (PPR Scoring)

Quality Starts for 2012 for Running Backs Using PPR 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 2012 season, I decided to take the #12 RB for the year (Chris Johnson, 219.5 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 TypeFantasy Points
Bad Start 0 to 10.2
Quality Start 10.3 to 17.1
Excellent Start 17.2+

Table 1: 2012 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 BackExcellentQualityBadTotal
Adrian Peterson - MIN 11 4 1 16
Doug Martin - TBB 8 5 3 16
Arian Foster - HOU 10 5 1 16
Ray Rice - BAL 10 5 1 16
Marshawn Lynch - SEA 9 5 2 16
C.J. Spiller - BUF 5 8 3 16
Alfred Morris - WAS 6 6 4 16
Trent Richardson - CLE 10 2 4 16
Jamaal Charles - KCC 6 4 6 16
Frank Gore - SFO 5 6 5 16
Matt Forte - CHI 6 5 4 15
Chris Johnson - TEN 5 6 5 16
Darren Sproles - NOS 5 5 3 13
Reggie Bush - MIA 3 7 6 16
Stevan Ridley - NEP 4 6 6 16
LeSean McCoy - PHI 6 6 0 12
Steven Jackson - STL 2 9 5 16
Mikel Leshoure - DET 2 9 3 14
Shonn Greene - NYJ 3 5 8 16
Ahmad Bradshaw - NYG 4 4 6 14
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - CIN 3 7 6 16
Michael Turner - ATL 1 9 6 16
Joique Bell - DET 2 6 8 16
Danny Woodhead - NEP 2 5 8 15
Darren McFadden - OAK 5 3 4 12
DeMarco Murray - DAL 3 7 0 10
DeAngelo Williams - CAR 2 2 12 16
Willis McGahee - DEN 3 4 4 11
Jacquizz Rodgers - ATL 1 3 12 16
Ryan Mathews - SDC 1 7 5 13
Marcel Reece - OAK 3 3 9 15
Pierre Thomas - NOS 2 2 11 15
Vick Ballard - IND 0 6 10 16
Fred Jackson - BUF 3 3 5 11
Felix Jones - DAL 2 4 8 14
Knowshon Moreno - DEN 3 3 2 8
Mike Tolbert - CAR 1 1 14 16
Andre Brown - NYG 3 3 3 9
Ronnie Brown - SDC 1 2 11 14
Jonathan Dwyer - PIT 0 4 9 13
Mark Ingram - NOS 0 4 12 16
Bryce Brown - PHI 2 0 14 16
Bilal Powell - NYJ 1 2 11 14
Isaac Redman - PIT 1 2 10 13
Daryl Richardson - STL 0 3 13 16
LaRod Stephens-Howling - ARI 2 1 10 13
Michael Bush - CHI 1 2 11 14
Daniel Thomas - MIA 0 5 8 13
Jackie Battle - SDC 2 0 12 14
Jonathan Stewart - CAR 0 3 7 10
  170 218 331  

Table 2: 2012 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 (170) 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 the last four seasons, the numbers are not too far apart (221 Excellent Starts in 2008 as compared to 210 Quality Starts, while 2009 was 183 and 229, 2010 was 146 and 218, and 2011 was 183 and 199). 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 was the sharp dip in Excellent Starts with only 146 total, or less than 10 per week. That seems to be related to the higher threshold for excellence in 2010, as it took over 19.2 points that year to qualify while it was just 17.5 or more in 2009 and a similar total of 17.6 or more points in 2011 and 17.2 or more last season.

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 BackExcellentQualityBadTotalNetVal
Adrian Peterson - MIN 11 4 1 16 10
Arian Foster - HOU 10 5 1 16 9
Ray Rice - BAL 10 5 1 16 9
Marshawn Lynch - SEA 9 5 2 16 7
Trent Richardson - CLE 10 2 4 16 6
LeSean McCoy - PHI 6 6 0 12 6
Doug Martin - TBB 8 5 3 16 5
DeMarco Murray - DAL 3 7 0 10 3
C.J. Spiller - BUF 5 8 3 16 2
Alfred Morris - WAS 6 6 4 16 2
Matt Forte - CHI 6 5 4 15 2
Darren Sproles - NOS 5 5 3 13 2
Darren McFadden - OAK 5 3 4 12 1
Knowshon Moreno - DEN 3 3 2 8 1
Jamaal Charles - KCC 6 4 6 16 0
Frank Gore - SFO 5 6 5 16 0
Chris Johnson - TEN 5 6 5 16 0
Andre Brown - NYG 3 3 3 9 0
Mikel Leshoure - DET 2 9 3 14 -1
Willis McGahee - DEN 3 4 4 11 -1
Stevan Ridley - NEP 4 6 6 16 -2
Ahmad Bradshaw - NYG 4 4 6 14 -2
Fred Jackson - BUF 3 3 5 11 -2
Reggie Bush - MIA 3 7 6 16 -3
Steven Jackson - STL 2 9 5 16 -3
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - CIN 3 7 6 16 -3
Ryan Mathews - SDC 1 7 5 13 -4
Shonn Greene - NYJ 3 5 8 16 -5
Michael Turner - ATL 1 9 6 16 -5
Joique Bell - DET 2 6 8 16 -6
Danny Woodhead - NEP 2 5 8 15 -6
Marcel Reece - OAK 3 3 9 15 -6
Felix Jones - DAL 2 4 8 14 -6
Jonathan Stewart - CAR 0 3 7 10 -7
LaRod Stephens-Howling - ARI 2 1 10 13 -8
Daniel Thomas - MIA 0 5 8 13 -8
Pierre Thomas - NOS 2 2 11 15 -9
Jonathan Dwyer - PIT 0 4 9 13 -9
Isaac Redman - PIT 1 2 10 13 -9
DeAngelo Williams - CAR 2 2 12 16 -10
Vick Ballard - IND 0 6 10 16 -10
Ronnie Brown - SDC 1 2 11 14 -10
Bilal Powell - NYJ 1 2 11 14 -10
Michael Bush - CHI 1 2 11 14 -10
Jackie Battle - SDC 2 0 12 14 -10
Jacquizz Rodgers - ATL 1 3 12 16 -11
Mark Ingram - NOS 0 4 12 16 -12
Bryce Brown - PHI 2 0 14 16 -12
Mike Tolbert - CAR 1 1 14 16 -13
Daryl Richardson - STL 0 3 13 16 -13

Table 3: 2012 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 10-12 names should come as no surprise except for perhaps the two newcomers, Doug Martin and Alfred Morris.  Those two names are important to note since there are a number of new names in the Top 36 ADP list for running backs this year.  Choosing the right one could get you quite the value. Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, and Ray Rice are atop the list in part because they had just one bad start each, but it is interesting to note that LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray had none – so both could represent great draft value for 2013.

Much more can be learned by looking at the players in the negative value range. Michael Turner was clearly wearing down as he moved closer to the end of his career.  Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis were solid fantasy backs, but they could not crack into the Top 12 due to their lack of involvement in their respective passing games. Steven Jackson was overall a negative player, but with 11 of 16 starts being of Quality or better and with his move to a better offense in Atlanta, he should be a valuable draft pick 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 2012 ADP list.

Running BackExcellentQualityBadTotalNetValADP
Adrian Peterson - MIN 11 4 1 16 10 1
Arian Foster - HOU 10 5 1 16 9 2
Ray Rice - BAL 10 5 1 16 9 6
Marshawn Lynch - SEA 9 5 2 16 7 11
Trent Richardson - CLE 10 2 4 16 6 7
LeSean McCoy - PHI 6 6 0 12 6 8
Doug Martin - TBB 8 5 3 16 5 3
DeMarco Murray - DAL 3 7 0 10 3 27
C.J. Spiller - BUF 5 8 3 16 2 9
Alfred Morris - WAS 6 6 4 16 2 16
Matt Forte - CHI 6 5 4 15 2 13
Darren Sproles - NOS 5 5 3 13 2 32
Darren McFadden - OAK 5 3 4 12 1 34
Jamaal Charles - KCC 6 4 6 16 0 5
Frank Gore - SFO 5 6 5 16 0 36
Chris Johnson - TEN 5 6 5 16 0 20
Andre Brown - NYG 3 3 3 9 0 85
Stevan Ridley - NEP 4 6 6 16 -2 33
Reggie Bush - MIA 3 7 6 16 -3 30
Steven Jackson - STL 2 9 5 16 -3 19
BenJarvus Green-Ellis - CIN 3 7 6 16 -3 77
Ryan Mathews - SDC 1 7 5 13 -4 52
Jonathan Stewart - CAR 0 3 7 10 -7 78
Vick Ballard - IND 0 6 10 16 -10 61
Mark Ingram - NOS 0 4 12 16 -12 92
Daryl Richardson - STL 0 3 13 16 -13 91
Maurice Jones-Drew - JAC
Injury
21
Giovani Bernard
Rookie
80
Shane Vereen - NE
Backup behind Danny Woodhead
88
Rashard Mendenhall - PIT
Injury, switched teams
73
Chris Ivory - NO
Backup, switched teams
67
Montee Ball
Rookie
65
Eddie Lacy
Rookie
63
Le'Veon Bell
Rookie
58
Lamar Miller - MIA
Backup behind Reggie Bush
49
David Wilson - NYG
Backup behind Ahmad Bradshaw
37

Table 4: 2012 Top Drafted RBs Sorted By 2011 Value - PPR Scoring

Note that a record number of players (10) are in the Top 36 this year that are not amongst the Top 50 RBs from 2012. First, there are four rookies in the Top 36 ADP list (Giovani Bernard, Eddie Lacy, LeVeon Bell and  Montee Ball), so they are absent from Table 4 for the simple reason that they did not start any games last year. Maurice Jones-Drew has a very high ADP (21) but missed most of last year with an injury, so he was just outside of the Top 50 (RB52).  Rashard Mendenhall (RB84) also missed significant time last season, but he also has changed teams (now in Arizona), adding to his uncertainty.  Chris Ivory has also switched teams (from New Orleans to the New York Jets), and he is not included because he finished well outside the Top 50 RBs last season (RB86).  Three other running backs have much higher expectations (Lamar Miller, RB81, expected to start for Miami, David Wilson, RB55, expected to compete with Andre Brown to start with the Giants, and Shane Vereen, RB57 but expected to improve on that with Danny Woodhead now in San Diego).

Judging from 2012, it seems that DeMarco Murray, Alfred Morris and Darren Sproles would appear be great values if they can repeat their performances.  All other running backs have ADPs in the Top 13, which reflects all of the uncertainty with the running back position for 2013.  You may have guessed that already with 10 new names in the Top 36 RB ADP list.  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 2013 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.


More from Jeff Pasquino:

Josh Gordon's Looming Suspension - Roundtable - July 29
Quality Starts: Wide Receiver - July 25
Quality Starts: Wide Receiver (PPR Scoring) - July 25
Quality Starts - Running Back - July 23
Quality Starts: Running Back (PPR Scoring) - July 23
NFC Running Back Handcuff Grades - July 22
AFC Running Back Handcuff Grades - July 18
Running Back Handcuff Grades - July 17
Quality Starts: Quarterbacks - July 15
Points Per Deception: A Look at PPR Scoring - June 26