3-Year RB Season Splits
The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense
of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check
is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s
a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information.
This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s
potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining
the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines
that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.
Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic,
he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and
help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep
a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This
way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider,
or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast
as you can!
Two popular methods of statistical analysis used to plan one’s
draft or lineup decisions are strength of schedule ratings and fantasy
points allowed per position. While they have their merits, The Gut
Check isn’t convinced these methods of analysis lead a fantasy
owner in the best direction. Turnover in player and coaching personnel
from year to year has a significant impact on both methods. Owners
then have to adjust at the mid-season point, which is too late when
using the information as basis for one’s drafting decisions.
San Diego was considered scheduling “cake” entering
the 2004 season—most predicted the Chargers to be drafting
from the first position for the second straight year. Tennessee
was certainly viewed as a better defense, but injuries and slowed
development in the secondary has many predicting the Titans to
once again be among the first teams to hear the words, “now
on the clock” in 2006. The point is strength
of schedule and fantasy
points allowed per position are best used around the halfway
point of the season—after there’s statistical proof
on the field for the current year.
Yours Truly likes to view players from the perspective of what
they can do against competition as opposed to what the competition
can do to stop them. The former is easier to measure, while the
latter is more problematic. One method of determining which players
might be the best “finishers” is to examine season
splits. There are many ways to structure the season splits.
This summer, The Gut Check will examine two methods: weeks 1-6
versus weeks 7-16 and weeks 1-6 versus 7-12 versus 13-16.
The Gut Check chose these splits over other options for specific
reasons. The 1-6 versus 7-16 split provides a broader perspective
of performance. The first six games are generally a feeling out
point for determining which direction NFL teams are heading, and
by this point opposing teams have enough information to update
game plans. In The Gut Check’s experience, this is often
the period where fantasy trades are occurring with the greatest
frequency and have the most potential for savvy owners to give
away less in exchange for significantly more. After week six,
most teams know what they have in a player and the deals that
owners strike are generally more even.
The 1-6 versus 7-12 versus 13-16 splits drill down to provide
comparative analysis for the initial weeks, stretch run, and playoff
weeks. It also serves as a model for the Fantasy Football Tournament
of Champions (FFTOC)
and The Gut Check will explore these statistical splits and provide
some strategies to help owners at least win their bracket (and
double their money), if not make a run at even greater winnings.
Yours Truly will discuss this split in a few weeks.
The Gut Check accumulated data from seasons 2002-2004 and separated
the results by position for the 1-6 versus 7-16 splits. Here is
the information provided for each table:
- Total games played from 2002-2004 for weeks 1-6
- Average fantasy points per game for weeks 1-6
- Total games played from 2002-2004 for weeks 7-16
- Average fantasy points per game for weeks 7-16
- The +/- difference in fantasy points from weeks 7-16
vs. weeks 1-6
The Gut Check narrowed the sample of players for position according
to specific criteria. First, Yours Truly only used active players
currently starting, or in contention for a starting role on an
NFL team. Second, The Gut Check eliminated 2004 rookies from the
sample. The statistical trend with rookies reflected common sense
about their inherent progress when starting for a team: first
year players get better as they gain greater comfort in the system
or they don’t even see significant time until the season
is well under way. The only exceptions appeared to be rookies
suffering injuries during weeks 7-16. Roy Williams’ (-)
6.29 fantasy points per game difference is a good example. The
Lions’ rookie was the only rookie starter at the receiver
position with a negative difference.
Running back may be the most interesting position to study splits
and is this week’s focus. Fantasy owners have a myriad of
reasons to justify why they select certain players over others.
Among the most prominent are running style, physical dimensions
of the runner, and carries—all factors of one central point:
Here are 32 active runners and their weeks 1-6 vs. 7-16 splits
|RB Splits 2002-2004: Weeks
One thing that stands out right away is the group of runners at
the bottom of this table. Jamal Lewis, Chris Brown, Ricky Williams,
and Mike Anderson gained significantly lower totals down the stretch.
Injury and splitting time with another back is a good explanation
for Anderson and Brown, but Lewis and Ricky Williams had enough
starts to indicate injury isn’t the sole explanation.
Williams and Lewis were both workhorses on offenses that lacked
a potent aerial attack. In addition, their styles are similar—large
backs capable of wearing out defenses but have the speed to break
a big play. What’s key here is the concept of wearing out
a defense. Some power runners achieve this through their ability
to punish defenders while avoiding big hits. Others endure punishment
and have the stamina to remain fresh in the fourth quarter.
The Gut Check believes Williams, Anderson, Brown, Lewis, Travis
Henry, and Stephen Davis all qualify as runners that fit the old
Timex slogan: “Take a licking, but keep on ticking.”
Unfortunately, just like the brand of timepieces, nothing lasts
forever. In fact, these are the runners most susceptible to wearing
down at season’s end. Defenders may get worn out in the
4th quarter after facing these runners all day, but the backs
wind up taking more punishment than they dish out. For discerning
fantasy owners, backs fitting Lewis’ and Williams style
are good players to trade prior to week seven because historically
their production dips rather than rises down the stretch. This
is additionally important to remember for contest leagues limiting
owners to start a player only once per season.
The backs with a minimal split differential (Ahman Green and
up) fall into three categories: Slashers, Eluders, and Time Sharers.
The Slashers are cut back runners
with size, burst, and a demonstrated talent for gaining yards
after contact by means of rarely taking a direct hit. These are
the patient runners in the mold of Corey Dillon, Curtis Martin,
Duce Staley, Edgerrin James, Ahman Green, Shaun Alexander, Deuce
McAllister, and Fred Taylor. All eight of these runners have a
small split differential—within +/- a fantasy point and
Dillon, James, Green, McAllister, and Alexander are among the
most fifteen consistent backs for this three-year period. The
elite backs of this style have the most productive careers—Emmitt
Smith, Walter Payton, and Eric Dickerson are prime examples. Williams
and Lewis are also highly consistent, but they have more extremes
in their performances, which is problematic in must-win situations
for fantasy owners.
The Eluders are the elite talents
at the position that display speed, patience, receiving skills,
and the ability to carry a heavy workload, or they are the backs
many owners cite as players that should wear down with heavy workloads
and more effectively serve as change of pace players. Tomlinson,
Holmes, Portis, and at one time Faulk, are the elite talents capable
of changing a contest with one big run or reception from anywhere
on the field. It’s no coincidence that 4 of the top 5 single
game fantasy performances over the last three years came from
these four backs. One could argue Fred Taylor and Edgerrin James
were once considered Eluders prior to injuries. James may be rounding
back to form, but Taylor has long-stated that he’s consciously
made adjustments to his running style to remain more durable.
The second type of Eluders—Tiki Barber, Domanick Davis,
Brian Westbrook, and Warrick Dunn—are possibly the most
misunderstood and undervalued group of backs in fantasy football.
These players are the best fit for leagues supporting a flex position,
but serve well as #2 RBs down the stretch.
While Davis’ differential tops the list, it’s likely
a bit inflated due to early season injuries in 2004 and his mid-season
insertion to the starting lineup his rookie year. This opens up
skepticism that Davis’ improvement as the season wore on
really isn’t the case, and a full season of play might demonstrate
a more realistic differential based on many owners contention
that he’ll wear down. This is a pivotal year for fantasy
owners of Domanick Davis—will the Texan starter prove he
belongs with the elite over the course of an entire season or
will he wear down and become a situational back as Houston may
have anticipated with the selection of Vernand Morency.
Unlike Davis’ questionable differential, Barber and Westbrook
saw a lot of opportunities in 2004 and the results have little
ambiguity. Although Barber’s numbers dipped, The Gut Check
contends the decrease has more to do with Barber playing with
a rookie quarterback for the last third of the season. Westbrook’s
numbers actually climbed as the season progressed. Eluders tend
to wear down differently than other backs—the injuries aren’t
the result of punishment from others as much as stress and wear
and tear to their joints, resulting in loss of speed, quickness,
Bettis and Duckett are the two Time
Sharers on this list. Both are power backs that have recently
performed better late in the season due to their team saving them
from every down punishment week after week. These two also appear
to be effective flex or #2 RB options down the stretch.
What is there to make of all this? The Gut Check feels this information
divulges some valuable points:
- Chris Brown’s durability is a valid concern until proven
- If the Titans acquire Travis Henry, they might be getting
the same problem as they have with Brown.
- When The Gut Check is drafting, he’ll want high point
per game producers with at least a minimal negative differential
if not a positive differential. Here’s Yours Truly’s
top eight RBs based on these two points of emphasis:
- Backs with a track record of being productive facets of the
passing offense have more potential to remain at least equally
productive down the stretch: 12 of the 17 backs with a positive
differential are good receivers. Curtis Martin and Kevan Barlow
could arguably increase that total.
- Michael Bennett, Thomas Jones, and Charlie Garner are three
runners The Gut Check has touted in the past, but has learned
not to rely on this fourth type of runner he didn’t mention—non-intuitive
runners. All three have excellent physical skills but lack the
essential vision to avoid the direct hit, vary their speed,
or consistently display patience with blockers. They are all
capable of having great years behind a solid offensive line
because they play extremely fast, can catch the football, and
have underrated power. Yet, that lack of vision and awareness
makes them injury-prone. These players in their prime are at
best solid flex options or bye week runners.
- If the recent history is any indication and you draft a back
like Lewis or Ricky Williams (the pre-195 lb. version), it might
be worthwhile to consider trading them after an early peak performance.
You could get a lot more value for the stretch run than what
you actually give up.
- Draft rookie backs with a reasonable chance to start. This
means they are slated to start entering camp, slated to at least
split time, or will serve as the primary back up. Although The
Gut Check eliminated rookies from the sample, almost all of
them had higher differentials—in many cases significantly
higher. Rookie backs that aren’t first round-franchise
picks are almost always excellent values capable of carrying
a team down the stretch. Clinton Portis, Julius Jones, Domanick
Davis, and even Dominic Rhodes were all examples of rookie bargains
carrying fantasy squads to championship glory.
- Big RBs that don’t share time—use early and trade
away if you can get a good deal. Big RBs that do share time—save
for the stretch run or a late bye week.
Next week, The Gut Check profiles stat splits for Quarterbacks
in the second part of this series.