Running Back
By Jeff Pasquino
July 20th, 2010

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 2009 season, I decided to take the #12 RB for the year (Steven Jackson, 194.6 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:

QB Start Type
Fantasy Points
Bad Start
0 to 9.1
Quality Start
9.2 to 15.2
Excellent Start
15.3+

Table 1: 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
Type Of Start
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Chris Johnson - TEN
8
6
2
16
Maurice Jones-Drew - JAC
9
3
4
16
Adrian Peterson - MIN
10
5
1
16
Ray Rice - BAL
8
5
3
16
Thomas Jones - NYJ
7
6
3
16
Frank Gore - SFO
8
3
3
14
Jamaal Charles - KCC
6
2
7
15
Ricky Williams - MIA
5
6
5
16
Ryan Grant - GBP
5
8
3
16
Fred Jackson - BUF
5
4
7
16
Joseph Addai - IND
4
8
3
15
Steven Jackson - STL
4
6
5
15
Jonathan Stewart - CAR
6
2
8
16
Rashard Mendenhall - PIT
6
3
7
16
DeAngelo Williams - CAR
4
5
4
13
Cedric Benson - CIN
4
6
3
13
Darren Sproles - SDC
4
3
9
16
Matt Forte - CHI
3
4
9
16
Knowshon Moreno - DEN
3
6
7
16
Pierre Thomas - NOS
3
5
5
13
LaDainian Tomlinson - SDC
3
7
4
14
Marion Barber - DAL
3
5
7
15
Jerome Harrison - CLE
4
1
8
13
Kevin Smith - DET
3
4
6
13
Michael Turner - ATL
3
5
3
11
Carnell Williams - TBB
2
7
7
16
Tim Hightower - ARI
1
8
7
16
Willis McGahee - BAL
5
0
10
15
Justin Forsett - SEA
2
6
8
16
Laurence Maroney - NEP
3
4
8
15
Ahmad Bradshaw - NYG
3
2
10
15
Brandon Jacobs - NYG
2
5
8
15
Chris Wells - ARI
3
3
9
15
Ronnie Brown - MIA
3
4
2
9
Reggie Bush - NOS
2
2
10
14
LeSean McCoy - PHI
2
4
10
16
Steve Slaton - HOU
3
4
3
10
Jason Snelling - ATL
4
1
8
13
Julius Jones - SEA
3
0
11
14
Felix Jones - DAL
2
2
10
14
Mike Bell - NOS
2
2
9
13
Correll Buckhalter - DEN
1
2
11
14
Kevin Faulk - NEP
0
2
13
15
Chester Taylor - MIN
0
2
14
16
Michael Bush - OAK
1
3
10
14
Ryan Moats - HOU
1
1
10
12
Rock Cartwright - WAS
0
2
14
16
Justin Fargas - OAK
0
3
9
12
Mike Tolbert - SDC
0
2
13
15
Derrick Ward - TBB
0
3
11
14
Totals
173
192
361

Table 2: 2009 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 almost as many Excellent Starts (173) as Quality Starts (192), so that seems to make sense. It also closely matches last year’s performances (186 Excellent Starts, 184 Quality Starts). There are a lot of Bad Starts (361), 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 net results look like a good trend, which means that our distribution is close to normal and that our baseline point range does make sense.

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:

NFL 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
Type Of Start
Net Value
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Adrian Peterson - MIN
10
5
1
16
9
Chris Johnson - TEN
8
6
2
16
6
Maurice Jones-Drew - JAC
9
3
4
16
5
Ray Rice - BAL
8
5
3
16
5
Frank Gore - SFO
8
3
3
14
5
Thomas Jones - NYJ
7
6
3
16
4
Ryan Grant - GBP
5
8
3
16
2
Joseph Addai - IND
4
8
3
15
1
Cedric Benson - CIN
4
6
3
13
1
Ronnie Brown - MIA
3
4
2
9
1
Ricky Williams - MIA
5
6
5
16
0
DeAngelo Williams - CAR
4
5
4
13
0
Michael Turner - ATL
3
5
3
11
0
Steve Slaton - HOU
3
4
3
10
0
Jamaal Charles - KCC
6
2
7
15
-1
Steven Jackson - STL
4
6
5
15
-1
Rashard Mendenhall - PIT
6
3
7
16
-1
LaDainian Tomlinson - SDC
3
7
4
14
-1
Fred Jackson - BUF
5
4
7
16
-2
Jonathan Stewart - CAR
6
2
8
16
-2
Pierre Thomas - NOS
3
5
5
13
-2
Kevin Smith - DET
3
4
6
13
-3
Knowshon Moreno - DEN
3
6
7
16
-4
Marion Barber - DAL
3
5
7
15
-4
Jerome Harrison - CLE
4
1
8
13
-4
Jason Snelling - ATL
4
1
8
13
-4
Darren Sproles - SDC
4
3
9
16
-5
Carnell Williams - TBB
2
7
7
16
-5
Willis McGahee - BAL
5
0
10
15
-5
Laurence Maroney - NEP
3
4
8
15
-5
Matt Forte - CHI
3
4
9
16
-6
Tim Hightower - ARI
1
8
7
16
-6
Justin Forsett - SEA
2
6
8
16
-6
Brandon Jacobs - NYG
2
5
8
15
-6
Chris Wells - ARI
3
3
9
15
-6
Ahmad Bradshaw - NYG
3
2
10
15
-7
Mike Bell - NOS
2
2
9
13
-7
Reggie Bush - NOS
2
2
10
14
-8
LeSean McCoy - PHI
2
4
10
16
-8
Julius Jones - SEA
3
0
11
14
-8
Felix Jones - DAL
2
2
10
14
-8
Michael Bush - OAK
1
3
10
14
-9
Ryan Moats - HOU
1
1
10
12
-9
Justin Fargas - OAK
0
3
9
12
-9
Correll Buckhalter - DEN
1
2
11
14
-10
Derrick Ward - TBB
0
3
11
14
-11
Kevin Faulk - NEP
0
2
13
15
-13
Mike Tolbert - SDC
0
2
13
15
-13
Chester Taylor - MIN
0
2
14
16
-14
Rock Cartwright - WAS
0
2
14
16
-14

Table 3: 2009 RB Start Types Sorted By Value - Standard Scoring

This is a lot of information once again, but some names leap out at us. For example, the Top 5 RBs should surprise no one. Thomas Jones and Ryan Grant both appearing right after them is a bit unexpected. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams also made for a nice tandem last season. On the contrary, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw had rough seasons, which is one reason why Eli Manning had such a big year. Oakland, Seattle and Tampa Bay rushers are all near the bottom, and these clubs will definitely need someone to step up this season.

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 2010 ADP list.

Running Back
Type Of Start
Net Value
ADP
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Adrian Peterson - MIN
10
5
1
16
9
2
Chris Johnson - TEN
8
6
2
16
6
1
Maurice Jones-Drew - JAC
9
3
4
16
5
3
Ray Rice - BAL
8
5
3
16
5
4
Frank Gore - SFO
8
3
3
14
5
5
Ryan Grant - GBP
5
8
3
16
2
20
Cedric Benson - CIN
4
6
3
13
1
27
Joseph Addai - IND
4
8
3
15
1
41
Ronnie Brown - MIA
3
4
2
9
1
48
Michael Turner - ATL
3
5
3
11
0
7
DeAngelo Williams - CAR
4
5
4
13
0
11
Ricky Williams - MIA
5
6
5
16
0
64
Steven Jackson - STL
4
6
5
15
-1
8
Rashard Mendenhall - PIT
6
3
7
16
-1
16
Jamaal Charles - KCC
6
2
7
15
-1
30
Jonathan Stewart - CAR
6
2
8
16
-2
33
Pierre Thomas - NOS
3
5
5
13
-2
37
Fred Jackson - BUF
5
4
7
16
-2
78
Knowshon Moreno - DEN
3
6
7
16
-4
25
Marion Barber - DAL
3
5
7
15
-4
61
Jerome Harrison - CLE
4
1
8
13
-4
69
Carnell Williams - TBB
2
7
7
16
-5
76
Chris Wells - ARI
3
3
9
15
-6
28
Matt Forte - CHI
3
4
9
16
-6
49
Brandon Jacobs - NYG
2
5
8
15
-6
55
Justin Forsett - SEA
2
6
8
16
-6
71
Ahmad Bradshaw - NYG
3
2
10
15
-7
84
LeSean McCoy - PHI
2
4
10
16
-8
35
Felix Jones - DAL
2
2
10
14
-8
52
Reggie Bush - NOS
2
2
10
14
-8
66

Table 4: 2010 Top Drafted RBs Sorted By 2009 Value - Standard Scoring

Note that several rookies in the Top 36 ADP list are absent for the simple reason that they did not start any games last year, while Shonn Greene and Darren McFadden are also omitted due to low utilization last season. Judging from 2009, it would appear that Ryan Grant and Cedric Benson are nice values amongst the Top 15 RBs going off the draft board, while Joseph Addai may prove to be a steal again this year if he remains the top back in Indianapolis. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams both could be nice values in Miami if both are healthy and match 2009 numbers. 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 2010 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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