The Gut Check No.511: RB Film and Spreadsheet Studs

Matt Waldman looks at the film and the metrics and shares the backs whose skills intersect best for 2020 fantasy drafts. 

When I began playing fantasy football, I used to be all about the spreadsheets. So much so, that a data head like Davis Mattek once credited me as one of his inspirations for getting into the fantasy industry.

However, I was always drawn to the film. I've spent the past 16 years studying offensive skill players at the most granular level that you'll encounter. What I haven't done is combine my film observations with advanced performance data for your fantasy benefit.

Until now.

I'm marrying my knowledge of players with Pro Football Reference's Advanced Rushing Data to give you runners who should help you win in 2020.

The Metrics Behind the Most Promising Running Backs

Based on years of film study, the ideal backs make the best decisions (vision), can work through contact (balance and power) for positive yards, create or access creases (footwork/agility and acceleration), and actually have offensive lines that do their jobs well.

There are advanced rushing stats that often reflect these behaviors:

  • Yards before Contact Average (YBC): This can be a reflection of a well-functioning offensive line and/or a runner with excellent acceleration who may also earn a lot of perimeter runs or run plays on passing downs (draws) where their quicks are helpful.
  • Yards after Contact Average (YAC): Runners with a high average in this category possess some combination of contact balance, acceleration that generates momentum-based power where defenders have to grab and hold on while taken for a ride, and/or sheer size and strength to lean through contact and fall forward for significant yardage.
  • Rushing Attempts per Tackles Broken (BTs/Att): Some backs break tackles with sheer power. Others have the agility to avoid direct contact and reduce the angle of the tackle or force of the blow. This stat includes both ranges of the spectrum.
  • Line Dependency Percentage (Line Dep%): This is the percentage of Yards per Carry that is Yards Before Contact per Attempt (YBC/Att). While this isn't a tried-and-true metric (as few are), it often shows how dependent player was on his offensive line for yardage on a per-carry basis.

Based on this data, my film observations, and personnel changes, which running backs matter in 2020 and why?

One-Man Gangs

Based on the metrics above and how they perform on the field, these backs are less dependent on their offensive lines (45% of the time or less) than the rest of the league. If they get improved line play, it will be a bonus for their production, but you won't need it for fantasy value.

Player
Atts
Yards
YBC
YBC/Att
YAC
YAC/Att
BrkTkls
Att/Br
YPC
LineDep%
303
1540
572
1.9
968
3.2
29
10.4
5.1
37%
298
1494
612
2.1
882
3.0
32
9.3
5.1
41%
242
1150
467
1.9
683
2.8
26
9.3
4.7
40%
217
1003
398
1.8
605
2.8
16
13.6
4.6
39%
265
1152
360
1.4
792
3.0
16
16.6
4.4
32%
278
1230
496
1.8
734
2.6
28
9.9
4.4
41%
211
898
374
1.8
524
2.5
7
30.1
4.3
42%
132
557
233
1.8
324
2.5
12
11.0
4.3
42%
172
724
309
1.8
415
2.4
23
7.5
4.2
43%
278
1137
492
1.8
645
2.3
24
11.6
4.1
44%
116
464
199
1.7
265
2.3
5
23.2
4.0
43%

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