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Quality Starts: Running Back (PPR Scoring)

Quality Starts for 2016 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 2016 season, I decided to take the #12 RB for the year (Frank Gore, 216.2 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 10.1
Quality Start 10.2 to 16.8
Excellent Start 16.9+

Table 1: 2016 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 Excellent Quality Bad Total
Le'Veon Bell PIT 10 2 0 12
David Johnson ARI 12 3 1 16
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 10 4 1 15
LeSean McCoy BUF 8 5 2 15
Melvin Gordon SDC 6 5 2 13
DeMarco Murray TEN 9 5 2 16
Devonta Freeman ATL 7 4 5 16
Theo Riddick DET 3 3 4 10
Jordan Howard CHI 4 7 4 15
Mark Ingram NOS 6 1 9 16
Carlos Hyde SFO 5 3 5 13
Latavius Murray OAK 4 5 5 14
Tevin Coleman ATL 4 4 5 13
LeGarrette Blount NEP 3 7 6 16
C.J. Anderson DEN 1 3 3 7
Jay Ajayi MIA 4 3 8 15
Spencer Ware KCC 4 3 7 14
Lamar Miller HOU 3 6 5 14
Frank Gore IND 3 8 5 16
Matt Forte NYJ 4 2 8 14
Isaiah Crowell CLE 4 5 7 16
Todd Gurley RAM 2 9 5 16
DeAngelo Williams PIT 3 0 4 7
Bilal Powell NYJ 4 3 9 16
Giovani Bernard CIN 1 4 5 10
Jeremy Hill CIN 3 4 8 15
Jonathan Stewart CAR 3 3 7 13
Ryan Mathews PHI 2 3 7 12
Darren Sproles PHI 1 5 9 15
Terrance West BAL 2 4 10 16
Rashad Jennings NYG 1 4 8 13
James White NEP 1 4 11 16
Jerick McKinnon MIN 1 5 9 15
Ty Montgomery GBP 3 2 7 12
Rob Kelley WAS 1 3 10 14
Chris Thompson WAS 0 4 12 16
T.J. Yeldon JAC 0 5 10 15
Devontae Booker DEN 2 2 12 16
Christine Michael GBP 3 1 11 15
Duke Johnson CLE 0 5 11 16
Chris Ivory JAC 1 4 6 11
Kenneth Dixon BAL 1 4 7 12
Matt Asiata MIN 1 3 12 16
Mike Gillislee BUF 0 5 10 15
Tim Hightower NOS 2 2 11 15
Jalen Richard OAK 0 4 12 16
Robert Turbin IND 1 1 13 15
Derrick Henry TEN 1 3 10 14
Shaun Draughn SFO 1 4 8 13
Damien Williams MIA 0 2 11 13
    155 190 359  

Table 2: 2016 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 (155) as Quality Starts (190), but given some injuries and more committee backfields it does make sense that there would be fewer elite performances. In comparison to the last several seasons, the numbers are not too far apart with ranges from 146 to 193 Excellent Starts since 2009 and between 190 and 229 Quality Starts over the same period. There were a lot of Bad Starts in 2016 (359), 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 has been between 16 and 18 points every season but 2010.  Table 3 summarizes a few of these trends: 

Year Excellent Starts Quality Starts Excellent Starts Threshold
2016 155 190 16.9
2015 184 198 16.1
2014 193 196 16.1
2013 172 206 17.8
2012 170 218 17.2
2011 183 199 17.6
2010 146 218 19.2
2009 183 229 17.5

Table 3: Excellent and Quality Starts - 2009 to 2016 - PPR Scoring

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
David Johnson ARI 12 3 1 16 11
Le'Veon Bell PIT 10 2 0 12 10
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 10 4 1 15 9
DeMarco Murray TEN 9 5 2 16 7
LeSean McCoy BUF 8 5 2 15 6
Melvin Gordon SDC 6 5 2 13 4
Devonta Freeman ATL 7 4 5 16 2
Jordan Howard CHI 4 7 4 15 0
Carlos Hyde SFO 5 3 5 13 0
Theo Riddick DET 3 3 4 10 -1
Latavius Murray OAK 4 5 5 14 -1
Tevin Coleman ATL 4 4 5 13 -1
DeAngelo Williams PIT 3 0 4 7 -1
C.J. Anderson DEN 1 3 3 7 -2
Lamar Miller HOU 3 6 5 14 -2
Frank Gore IND 3 8 5 16 -2
Mark Ingram NOS 6 1 9 16 -3
LeGarrette Blount NEP 3 7 6 16 -3
Spencer Ware KCC 4 3 7 14 -3
Isaiah Crowell CLE 4 5 7 16 -3
Todd Gurley RAM 2 9 5 16 -3
Jay Ajayi MIA 4 3 8 15 -4
Matt Forte NYJ 4 2 8 14 -4
Giovani Bernard CIN 1 4 5 10 -4
Jonathan Stewart CAR 3 3 7 13 -4
Ty Montgomery GBP 3 2 7 12 -4
Bilal Powell NYJ 4 3 9 16 -5
Jeremy Hill CIN 3 4 8 15 -5
Ryan Mathews PHI 2 3 7 12 -5
Chris Ivory JAC 1 4 6 11 -5
Kenneth Dixon BAL 1 4 7 12 -6
Rashad Jennings NYG 1 4 8 13 -7
Shaun Draughn SFO 1 4 8 13 -7
Darren Sproles PHI 1 5 9 15 -8
Terrance West BAL 2 4 10 16 -8
Jerick McKinnon MIN 1 5 9 15 -8
Christine Michael GBP 3 1 11 15 -8
Rob Kelley WAS 1 3 10 14 -9
Tim Hightower NOS 2 2 11 15 -9
Derrick Henry TEN 1 3 10 14 -9
James White NEP 1 4 11 16 -10
T.J. Yeldon JAC 0 5 10 15 -10
Devontae Booker DEN 2 2 12 16 -10
Mike Gillislee BUF 0 5 10 15 -10
Duke Johnson CLE 0 5 11 16 -11
Matt Asiata MIN 1 3 12 16 -11
Damien Williams MIA 0 2 11 13 -11
Chris Thompson WAS 0 4 12 16 -12
Jalen Richard OAK 0 4 12 16 -12
Robert Turbin IND 1 1 13 15 -12

Table 4: 2016 RB Start Types Sorted By Value - PPR Scoring

This is a lot of information once again, but there are some important things to note here.  Back in 2014, elite running backs dominated the list, while last year was completely scattered at the top due to injuries and surprises at the position.  While last year's chart above looks like the NFL has reverted back to a feature back league once again, there is still a high chance of a lot of uncertainty and surprises at the running back position for this season.  Doing your homework this summer to know who is the lead back (and also who is the clear backup, if there is one) 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 2017 ADP list.

Running Back Team Excellent Quality Bad Total NetVal ADP
David Johnson ARI 12 3 1 16 11 1
Le'Veon Bell PIT 10 2 0 12 10 2
Ezekiel Elliott DAL 10 4 1 15 9 3
DeMarco Murray TEN 9 5 2 16 7 21
LeSean McCoy BUF 8 5 2 15 6 10
Melvin Gordon SDC 6 5 2 13 4 9
Devonta Freeman ATL 7 4 5 16 2 11
Jordan Howard CHI 4 7 4 15 0 17
Carlos Hyde SFO 5 3 5 13 0 45
Tevin Coleman ATL 4 4 5 13 -1 53
Theo Riddick DET 3 3 4 10 -1 93
Lamar Miller HOU 3 6 5 14 -2 26
C.J. Anderson DEN 1 3 3 7 -2 59
Frank Gore IND 3 8 5 16 -2 96
Todd Gurley RAM 2 9 5 16 -3 22
Isaiah Crowell CLE 4 5 7 16 -3 35
Mark Ingram NOS 6 1 9 16 -3 58
Spencer Ware KCC 4 3 7 14 -3 99
LeGarrette Blount NEP 3 7 6 16 -3 100
Jay Ajayi MIA 4 3 8 15 -4 16
Ty Montgomery GBP 3 2 7 12 -4 50
Bilal Powell NYJ 4 3 9 16 -5 74
Derrick Henry TEN 1 3 10 14 -9 75
Mike Gillislee BUF 0 5 10 15 -10 82
Leonard Fournette JAX rookie 27
Christian McCaffrey CAR rookie 37
Marshawn Lynch OAK un-retired 41
Joe Mixon CIN rookie 46
Dalvin Cook MIN rookie 56
Ameer Abdullah DET injured 62
Eddie Lacy GBP injured 70
Paul Perkins NYG little usage as rookie 76
Doug Martin TB injured/suspended 77
Adrian Peterson NOS injured 81
Samaje Perine WAS rookie 88
Danny Woodhead PHI injured 91

Table 5: 2017 Top Drafted RBs Sorted By 2016 Value - PPR Scoring

Remember how I said that there could be some uncertainty at running back?  Table 5 sure points to that, with so many players making the list that were either injured, retired or on a different team (or that fit several of these descriptions) less than a year ago.  Throw in that we have five rookies in our Top 36 based on current ADP and only one thing seems certain - getting an elite option early in a draft may make your team a lot more stable this season.  That will likely remain a hot debate all summer, as your options are either to take a running back early and cobble together depth later on, or to lock up stud receivers (and a tight end) and let the chips fall where they may by snapping up a lot of options later.  With so many viable choices at this time and so much change at the running back position across the league, you really need to know who is playing where and what the various depth charts will look like heading into September.  Just as an example, Adrian Peterson's move to New Orleans impacts not just himself but Mark Ingram's value and also the depth chart that remains behind in Minnesota.  A similar story plays out in Oakland, where Marshawn Lynch has returned to the league and has a shot to lead a backfield that has seen Latavius Murray move to - wait for it - Minnesota, Peterson's former club.  Be sure to read up on your depth charts.  So while 2016 data is nice to have, it may not be the best indication for 2017 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 2017 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.

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