Running Back (PPR Scoring)
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 2008 season, I decided to take the #12 RB for the year (Matt Forte, 223.7 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 10.4
Quality Start
10.5 to 17.4
Excellent Start
17.5+

Table 1: 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
Type Of Start
Excellent
Quality
Bad
Total
Chris Johnson - TEN
10
4
2
16
Adrian Peterson - MIN
11
5
0
16
Ray Rice - BAL
10
5
1
16
Maurice Jones-Drew - JAC
8
6
2
16
Frank Gore - SFO
9
3
2
14
Ricky Williams - MIA
5
7
4
16
Joseph Addai - IND
6
6
3
15
Steven Jackson - STL
6
6
3
15
Thomas Jones - NYJ
6
6
4
16
Ryan Grant - GBP
4
9
3
16
Jamaal Charles - KCC
5
5
5
15
Matt Forte - CHI
3
8
5
16
Fred Jackson - BUF
4
4
8
16
Tim Hightower - ARI
2
9
5
16
Jonathan Stewart - CAR
6
3
7
16
Rashard Mendenhall - PIT
3
7
5
15
DeAngelo Williams - CAR
5
4
4
13
Knowshon Moreno - DEN
3
9
4
16
Pierre Thomas - NOS
5
5
4
14
Cedric Benson - CIN
4
6
3
13
Kevin Smith - DET
4
6
3
13
Jerome Harrison - CLE
5
1
7
13
Marion Barber - DAL
3
6
6
15
LaDainian Tomlinson - SDC
3
7
4
14
Cadillac Williams - TBB
2
8
6
16
Steve Slaton - HOU
4
4
3
11
Darren Sproles - SDC
5
1
10
16
Justin Forsett - SEA
3
5
8
16
Reggie Bush - NOS
2
6
6
14
Willis McGahee - BAL
5
0
10
15
Ahmad Bradshaw - NYG
3
1
11
15
LeSean McCoy - PHI
0
7
9
16
Brandon Jacobs - NYG
1
5
9
15
Michael Turner - ATL
4
4
3
11
Laurence Maroney - NEP
3
4
8
15
Julius Jones - SEA
3
3
8
14
Chris Wells - ARI
2
4
9
15
Jason Snelling - ATL
4
1
9
14
Ronnie Brown - MIA
4
3
2
9
Chester Taylor - MIN
1
3
12
16
Correll Buckhalter - DEN
1
6
7
14
Kevin Faulk - NEP
0
4
11
15
Felix Jones - DAL
1
4
9
14
Michael Bush - OAK
1
3
11
15
Marshawn Lynch - BUF
1
3
9
13
Mike Bell - NOS
1
2
10
13
Maurice Morris - DET
1
3
10
14
Justin Fargas - OAK
0
3
9
12
Derrick Ward - TBB
0
3
11
14
Ryan Moats - HOU
1
2
5
8
Totals
183
229
309

Table 2: 2009 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 (183) as Quality Starts (229), but given some injuries and more committee backfields it does make sense that there would be fewer elite performances. In comparison to 2008, the numbers are not too far apart (221 Excellent Starts in 2008 as compared to 210 Quality Starts). 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 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
11
5
0
16
11
Ray Rice - BAL
10
5
1
16
9
Chris Johnson - TEN
10
4
2
16
8
Frank Gore - SFO
9
3
2
14
7
Maurice Jones-Drew - JAC
8
6
2
16
6
Joseph Addai - IND
6
6
3
15
3
Steven Jackson - STL
6
6
3
15
3
Thomas Jones - NYJ
6
6
4
16
2
Ronnie Brown - MIA
4
3
2
9
2
Ricky Williams - MIA
5
7
4
16
1
Ryan Grant - GBP
4
9
3
16
1
DeAngelo Williams - CAR
5
4
4
13
1
Pierre Thomas - NOS
5
5
4
14
1
Cedric Benson - CIN
4
6
3
13
1
Kevin Smith - DET
4
6
3
13
1
Steve Slaton - HOU
4
4
3
11
1
Michael Turner - ATL
4
4
3
11
1
Jamaal Charles - KCC
5
5
5
15
0
Jonathan Stewart - CAR
6
3
7
16
-1
Knowshon Moreno - DEN
3
9
4
16
-1
LaDainian Tomlinson - SDC
3
7
4
14
-1
Matt Forte - CHI
3
8
5
16
-2
Rashard Mendenhall - PIT
3
7
5
15
-2
Jerome Harrison - CLE
5
1
7
13
-2
Tim Hightower - ARI
2
9
5
16
-3
Marion Barber - DAL
3
6
6
15
-3
Fred Jackson - BUF
4
4
8
16
-4
Cadillac Williams - TBB
2
8
6
16
-4
Reggie Bush - NOS
2
6
6
14
-4
Ryan Moats - HOU
1
2
5
8
-4
Darren Sproles - SDC
5
1
10
16
-5
Justin Forsett - SEA
3
5
8
16
-5
Willis McGahee - BAL
5
0
10
15
-5
Laurence Maroney - NEP
3
4
8
15
-5
Julius Jones - SEA
3
3
8
14
-5
Jason Snelling - ATL
4
1
9
14
-5
Correll Buckhalter - DEN
1
6
7
14
-6
Chris Wells - ARI
2
4
9
15
-7
Ahmad Bradshaw - NYG
3
1
11
15
-8
Brandon Jacobs - NYG
1
5
9
15
-8
Felix Jones - DAL
1
4
9
14
-8
Marshawn Lynch - BUF
1
3
9
13
-8
LeSean McCoy - PHI
0
7
9
16
-9
Mike Bell - NOS
1
2
10
13
-9
Maurice Morris - DET
1
3
10
14
-9
Justin Fargas - OAK
0
3
9
12
-9
Michael Bush - OAK
1
3
11
15
-10
Chester Taylor - MIN
1
3
12
16
-11
Kevin Faulk - NEP
0
4
11
15
-11
Derrick Ward - TBB
0
3
11
14
-11

Table 3: 2009 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 5 names should come as no surprise, but veterans like Thomas Jones and Ronnie Brown seem to be near the top of many lists like these. If they have enough left in the tank for one more big year they could be steals in 2010 drafts. On the contrary, Julius Jones and Jamal Lewis were the worst "starting" running backs in the NFL by a landslide, and not much should be expected to be different for either back 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
11
5
0
16
11
2
Ray Rice - BAL
10
5
1
16
9
3
Chris Johnson - TEN
10
4
2
16
8
1
Frank Gore - SFO
9
3
2
14
7
6
Maurice Jones-Drew - JAC
8
6
2
16
6
4
Steven Jackson - STL
6
6
3
15
3
7
Joseph Addai - IND
6
6
3
15
3
43
Ronnie Brown - MIA
4
3
2
9
2
51
Michael Turner - ATL
4
4
3
11
1
14
DeAngelo Williams - CAR
5
4
4
13
1
18
Ryan Grant - GBP
4
9
3
16
1
27
Pierre Thomas - NOS
5
5
4
14
1
32
Cedric Benson - CIN
4
6
3
13
1
40
Ricky Williams - MIA
5
7
4
16
1
79
Jamaal Charles - KCC
5
5
5
15
0
23
Knowshon Moreno - DEN
3
9
4
16
-1
29
Jonathan Stewart - CAR
6
3
7
16
-1
30
Rashard Mendenhall - PIT
3
7
5
15
-2
10
Matt Forte - CHI
3
8
5
16
-2
53
Jerome Harrison - CLE
5
1
7
13
-2
83
Marion Barber - DAL
3
6
6
15
-3
65
Reggie Bush - NOS
2
6
6
14
-4
63
Fred Jackson - BUF
4
4
8
16
-4
90
Cadillac Williams - TBB
2
8
6
16
-4
94
Justin Forsett - SEA
3
5
8
16
-5
77
Chris Wells - ARI
2
4
9
15
-7
31
Felix Jones - DAL
1
4
9
14
-8
49
Brandon Jacobs - NYG
1
5
9
15
-8
64
Ahmad Bradshaw - NYG
3
1
11
15
-8
87
LeSean McCoy - PHI
0
7
9
16
-9
41

Table 4: 2010 Top Drafted RBs Sorted By 2009 Value - PPR 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 Joseph Addai and Ronnie Brown are nice values if they can hold on to their jobs in the case of Addai and stay healthy in the case of Brown. Both Michael Turner and Cedric Benson take hits in PPR leagues, so do remember that for this scoring format. At the bottom of the list are some players that have much higher expectations like LeSean McCoy, who was just a backup last year. 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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