Expected Fantasy Points: Which Running Backs Were Most Efficient With Opportunity?
Not every opportunity is created equal, and not every touch – reception, pass, or rush attempt – will generate the same amount of fantasy points. Therefore, a player’s involvement in their respective offense will ultimately dictate their upside for fantasy purposes. Are they involved in the receiving game? How often does a player touch the ball in the red-zone? By answering some of those questions, and leveraging four seasons worth of data, I calculated the expected fantasy points for every player based on their utilization on the field. Comparing that value against a player’s actual fantasy points will highlight those who were most and least efficient with their given opportunity.
Let’s dive into the data!
Expected Running Back Fantasy Points: The Process
As mentioned above, not every opportunity equates to the same number of expected fantasy points. To put that into perspective, I calculated the average number of fantasy points that a running back has gained for each rush attempt, target, and red-zone opportunity over the last four seasons. As we can see below, an average running back target is worth 2.52 times more for fantasy than a rush attempt. However, the most valuable touches are clearly found in the red-zone. We see that a rush attempt and target are worth more inside the 20, with running back targets being more valuable once again. Even if we remove the reception bonus (standard scoring format), an average target still generates more fantasy points than a rush attempt at 0.79 compared to 0.62.
- 1 Rush Attempt = 0.62 PPR points
- 1 Target = 1.56 PPR points
- 1 Red-Zone Rush Attempt = 1.31 PPR points
- 1 Red-Zone Target = 2.20 PPR points
Knowing this information, how do we translate this to an expected fantasy points metric? In short, I used four seasons worth of running back data (616 RB seasons from 2017 to 2020) to run a multiple regression analysis with the following metrics.
- Opportunity Share: The running back’s share of targets and rush attempts on their respective team. In other words, were they the focal point of their offense?
- Target Share: This metric is similar to opportunity share, highlighting a running back’s involvement in the receiving game.
- Red-Zone Touches per Game: These are the high-value touches that you want for your running backs. We generally expect more fantasy points from a player who is heavily involved in the red-zone.
- Evaded Tackles per Game: Making defenders miss gives a running back more opportunities to create yards beyond what the line has blocked (sourced from PlayerProfiler).
Using the results of the regression analysis, I calculated the expected fantasy points per game for each running back from this past season. The difference between that number and their seasonal PPR per game average is known as Fantasy Points Over (or Under) Expected, or FPOE. This metric can highlight a player’s efficiency relative to opportunity while identifying potential regression candidates for the following season.
For example, using his opportunity metrics in 2020, Jonathan Taylor was the RB13 in expected PPR fantasy points per game with 14.88. However, he finished the season with 16.99 PPR points per game, which means his FPOE was at +2.11. If we extrapolate that across the number of games he played (15), his total FPOE for 2020 was +31.58.
FPOE and Running Back Efficiency – 2020 Season
Before we dive into the results of my expected fantasy points analysis, keep in mind that this primarily focuses on the PPR scoring format. In addition, I reduced the sample size to highlight running backs who received a minimum of 10 touches a game, while playing a minimum of eight games. In doing so, I focus on players who had enough opportunities to potentially regress to the mean. This should hopefully eliminate players who had only one or two efficient games while highlighting the running backs who maintained their efficiency for the majority of the season.
FPOE: +47.3 (RB1) | FPOE/G: +3.2 (RB1)
Despite dealing with a quarterback change in 2020, Kamara remained the focal point of the Saints offense. He averaged an absurd 22% target share (RB1), while accounting for nearly 31% of the team’s opportunities (RB10) this past season. Where Kamara continues to shine is in the red-zone, ranking RB6 in red-zone opportunities per game (4.07) and scoring a touchdown on 31.5% of his opportunities inside the 20. For reference, the league average over the last four seasons in red-zone touchdown rate is 17.1%. And despite his sizable workload, Kamara still managed to outperform his expected fantasy points by 47.3. However, it is important to note that 39% of his FPOE came in week 16 where he scored 18.5 PPR points above his expected value against the Vikings. Even if we take out his week 16 performance, he would still rank RB9 in FPOE, proving that his efficiency was sustained for the entirety of the season. Entering 2021, it will be interesting to see if Kamara maintains this level of efficiency even with Jameis Winston or Taysom Hill at QB. I certainly expect him to remain heavily involved next season, but I would assume a slight regression in efficiency is bound to occur.
FPOE: +37.5 (RB3) | FPOE/G: +3.1 (RB2)
Nick Chubb was one of the most efficient running backs in 2020, finishing as the RB3 in my expected fantasy points metric at +37.5. What is even more impressive is that he finished that high in my model despite playing in only 12 games this past season. This is primarily due to his efficiency on a per-game basis, ranking as the RB2 in FPOE/game at +3.13. Unfortunately, the one glaring hole in Chubb’s game is his involvement in the receiving game, averaging a mere 5% target share. However, he made up for it with his efficiency on the ground – evading a tackle on nearly 37.9% of his touches (RB1) and running for 15+ yards on 7.9% of his carries (RB3). To put his production into perspective, Kareem Hunt was less efficient playing behind the same offensive line, finishing 20.5 PPR points below his expected value in 2020. Chubb should continue to lead this backfield and remain similarly efficient in 2021, playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.
FPOE: +36.8 (RB4) | FPOE/G: +2.8 (RB4)
The 2020 running back class was truly special, with four rookies ranking in the top 10 in fantasy points over expected this past season. One of those players was D’Andre Swift, who became more and more involved in the Lions offense as the season went on. What makes Swift such a dynamic fantasy player is his involvement in the receiving game. He averaged a 13% target share when healthy, while finishing with at least 5 targets in 61.5% of his games. And despite only averaging 23% of the team’s total opportunities and a below-average 2.15 red-zone opportunities per game, Swift still finished as an RB2 or better in 8 of his 13 games. As a result, he ranked RB4 in my FPOE per game metric at +2.83, proving just how efficient he was when given the opportunity. Fortunately, we could be looking at an uptick in volume for Swift this upcoming season with the additions to the offensive line and a new coaching staff set to implement a run-heavy scheme. Keep an eye on Swift’s efficiency as I expect him to regress with Jared Goff presenting as a downgrade to Matthew Stafford. However, an increase in volume could offset any form of regression, making Swift a reliable RB2 at the very worst.
FPOE: +30.5 (RB7) | FPOE/G: +2.2 (RB8)
Despite operating as one of the most productive and efficient running backs, fantasy managers were left clamoring for more as Antonio Gibson shared the backfield with the likes of J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber last season. Gibson averaged a 25% opportunity share when healthy, which is a travesty considering both Damien Harris and the Infinity Stone – Frank Gore – were similarly involved (though far less efficient) for their respective offenses. In addition, Gibson’s red-zone opportunities left much to be desired at only 2.29 per game, significantly hindering his upside. Part of this is due to the inefficiencies of the Washington offense as a whole, ranking only 27th in red-zone opportunities last season. Nevertheless, Gibson made the most of his touches, averaging 2.18 PPR points above expected on a per-game basis. And while remaining that efficient might seem unsustainable, there is a lot to like about Gibson’s situation heading into 2021. The offense as a whole should improve drastically with the additions of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Curtis Samuel, potentially leading to more high-value touches for Gibson next season. The hope is that Washington fully commits to their most talented running back, as he clearly proved last year that he was one of the most efficient players when healthy.
FPOE: -37.9 (RB41) | FPOE/G: -2.5 (RB41)
Josh Jacobs finished as the RB14 in PPR points per game last season, so why is he grading out as the 2nd most inefficient running back in this sample size? For one, he handled a sizable workload for the Raiders ranking as the RB6 in opportunity share (35%). Furthermore, Jacobs was one of the most heavily utilized red-zone RBs in the league, receiving 4.47 red-zone opportunities per game. As someone who finished in the top five in several opportunity metrics, Jacobs set the bar fairly high with 18.2 expected PPR points last season (RB5 in 2020). However, Jacobs was one of the least efficient running backs in my FPOE metric, finishing as the RB41 with a -2.52 FPOE per game. This is partially due to his pedestrian 16.4% red-zone touchdown rate, which falls slightly below the league average rate of 17.1%. And while he did rank RB7 in total breakaway runs with nine, due to his massive volume, it only equated to a 3.3% breakaway run rate on the season. Unfortunately, we might see these inefficiencies continue as the Raiders’ offensive line took a significant hit this off-season, losing Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson, and Trent Brown. And with Kenyan Drake likely to steal a few opportunities, Jacobs is a running back that I will likely fade heading into the 2021 season.
FPOE: -22.3 (RB39) | FPOE/G: -1.5 (RB37)
If you are looking for a regression candidate who should improve in efficiency this upcoming season, look no further than Ezekiel Elliott. He was once again the focal point of the Cowboys offense, especially after Dak Prescott went down with an ankle injury in week 5. In 16 games, Elliott dominated with a 32% opportunity share, accounting for 60% of the team’s running back carries last season. In addition, he was also the RB2 in routes run (362) and T-RB6 in target share at 13%. But despite the ample volume, Elliott finished with a career-low yards per touch (4.5) while finishing RB30 in the league in yards per route run (0.93). As a result, he ranked as the RB37 in my expected fantasy points metric at -1.49 FPOE per game.
So why is Elliott a potential regression candidate? Simply put, Dak Prescott. In the first four games prior to Prescott’s injury, Zeke exceeded his expected fantasy points at +0.65 FPOE per game. And while that number might seem minor, his 16-game pace would place him at RB14 with a +16.7 total FPOE for the season. With Dak set to return in 2021, I fully expect Elliott to resume his efficient production while remaining the centerpiece of the Cowboys running game.
FPOE: -17.3 (RB33) | FPOE/G: -1.7 (RB38)
Myles Gaskin emerged from a crowded backfield that initially started the season with Jordan Howard and Matt Breida as the primary options. And to close out the season, he finished with six straight top-15 performances that likely helped several fantasy managers win their playoff matchups. Gaskin concluded the season as the RB12 in PPR points per game (16.8), accounting for 31% of the team’s total opportunities when he was healthy. He impressively also finished as the RB4 in red-zone opportunities per game, ranking behind only Josh Jacobs, Dalvin Cook, and Christian McCaffrey. Because Gaskin was so heavily involved for his team his expected PPR points per game was at 18.6, ranking RB4 in my sample size. However, he fell short of meeting that number (-1.73 FPOE per game), mainly due to his inefficiencies on the ground. He was only the RB20 in yards per touch at 5.30, while running for 15 yards or more on only 2.2% of his carries (RB55). Heading into 2021, there is some room for optimism as Gaskin should remain the lead RB after the Dolphins did not draft a top running back in this class. Furthermore, they added two explosive weapons in Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller, which should lead to a more efficient and explosive offense as a whole. Volume remains king for running backs, and I expect Myles Gaskin to be heavily involved once again despite his inefficiencies.
Expected Fantasy Points and FPOE – Full Results
Below are the results for all 42 running backs that qualified for my FPOE analysis. If you have any specific questions, do not hesitate to reach out on Twitter @FF_MarvinE.