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Knowing Where to Look: A Dive into Running Back STOC
Knowing Where to Look: A Dive into Running Back STOC

By Luke Blascovich

Published: 7/13/2018

Struggle to find talent at RB? Want to beat your peers to the next big-name rusher? Reading just because you have nothing else better to do? Well I'm here to help. Today I will be sharing with you the same strategy that has allowed me to guided me to drafting the likes of Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt before others caught on.

When looking at RBs, it's important to keep in mind 4 simple factors. They are...

  • Staff
  • Talent
  • Opportunity
  • Career

Most of you now realize what STOC is. It is an acronym of these 4 factors. Bu understanding STOC you too will be able to find talent before your peers. At a position where the top scorers fluctuate more than Doug Martin's career production, this is an incredibly useful advantage. Thank me for it later.

Note: Most big name RBs like Le'Veon Bell will only be used for comparison and not as examples of those who excel at each level of STOC.

1. Staff

The NFL used to be a land dominated by workhorse RBs. Many of the great legends of old are prime examples including Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Earl Campbell, etc. Around 2011, a major shift occurred in the league's playcalling. % of Passing plays were being called at a significantly higher rate than running plays. For example, 15 years ago the average NFL team passed 53.3 percent of the time to 46.7 percent rushing (Schalter 2013). Last season the pass percentage shot up to 57.9 percent ("NFL Team Passing"). Good for a difference of 4.6 percent. Although that may seem small, each percentage is worth hundreds of attempts. In other words, hundreds of potential rushing attempts are being lost as the NFL continues to shift into a more pass dominant league.

Less rushing attempts means less rushing yards means less points for RBs, right? Yes and no. Yeah they have less points from rushing but thanks to innovative coaches and coordinators like Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan we've found a way around that. Short RBs with soft hands and super speed once deemed as undraftable trash are now being taken in as Swiss Army knife players. These multifaceted players are being used as audible-machines ready to counter any play at any time.

Take Devonta Freeman for example. Prior to Kyle Shanahan coming to Atlanta he was a bench player. Since then he has been a top 13 RB in PPR for three years in a row. All because Shan the Man put his small stature (59) aside, recognized talent, and engineered plays fit for Freemans skill set. The Falcons themselves profited too as their offense soared to new heights and even leading them to a Super Bowl trip (RIP) in 2016. Bill Belichick and Sean Payton have been using similar tactics for years. During that time they and their RBs have been very successful both in fake football and on the field. Hence is why all 3 of them are some of the most respected coaches today. They build their offensives around the skill sets of their players, allowing for both realms to thrive.

Others have tendencies to use bell cow RBs like Joe Philbin, the offensive coordinator for the Packers. Back when he was the head coach of the Dolphins, Lamar Miller hogged the majority of the touches. Enough to grant him borderline RB1 status during his time there. Hence it's no surprise why many analyst like myself look to Packers backfield for late round RBs since we expect this committee to filter out quickly.

Whether its designed plays or tendencies, coaches greatly impact RB value. Therefore don't be surprised to see these coaches teams on my list of favorable staff for RB. All of whom can be found below.

Favorable staffs: Pats, Saints, 49ers, Rams, Packers, Bears, Seahawks, Jaguars, Vikings, Cowboys, Giants, Dolphins, Bills, Falcons, Kansas City, Titans, and the Texans.

2. Talent

Simply put, talent sets the ceiling. Regardless of how many touches a player gets their ceiling will always be capped by their individual talent. Todd Gurley flashed his ceiling in college and his rookie year. Those who took notice and drafted him last year probably won their league.

How do we measure such an opinionated characteristic? Metrics. The good 'ol eye test just isn't enough anymore. Just ask those who believed in Trent Richardson. By using advanced analytics we can observe patterns only visible through numbers, allowing the elite to separate from the pack.

For example the numbers indicate Alex Collins has elite upside this year. Last year with his first chance as a starting running back, he excelled in several metrics. One that particularly stands out was the number of breakaway runs he had (16). Per Pro Football Focus this was tied for second most in the league with Lesean McCoy who is well known for his home-run ability. What's crazy about this is that the rest of the top 5 all had 60+ more carries than Collins. Currently he is falling to the end of round 3/ early round 4.

Albeit metrics don't always correlate with future production, they certainly make it easier to predict. Hence, take notice when websites like ours provide you with them. They will prove useful when finding high ceiling talent at any position.

Based off metrics and backfield comparisons, here are some prime examples of talent at RB: Jerrick McKinnon, Royce Freeman, Ronald Jones II, Derrius Guice, Jay Ajayi, Alex Collins, Kerryon Johnson, Aaron Jones, Jordan Wilkins, Austin Ekeler.

3. Opportunity

Workhorse RBs are a dying breed. The number of runners who garner 20+ touches on the regular could be counted on one hand (maybe add stats of RBs who got 20+ touches average per game over 12 games past three seasons to show decline). Given that the average fantasy league is 12 teams and hands have 5 fingers, there isn't enough to go around.

A major problem considering opportunity = points. Without opportunity, a player has no chance to break a long run or score a TD nonetheless get you any points whatsoever. This trend is apparent year after year. Using data from Edraft, I was able to calculate the average amount of touches for a top 10 RB in PPR had last year: 241.8.

However, don't feel pressured to take a top tier RB at a price that doesn't feel right. Value can be found at that position everywhere in the draft. Per the Washington Post, the RB at the top of a teams depth chart accumulates an average of 252 touches/season. What does this mean? If a top 10 PPR RB last year averaged 248.1 touches and the average starting RB gets 252 then every teams #1 RB has the potential to finish as a top 10 RB.

Given the number of committees in the league this is a little bit harder than it may seem. You just gotta know where to look. Backfields such as Denver's change from committee to workhorse all the time. That's why Royce Freeman is a popular pick this year given his potential to hog touches in the Mile High City.

Players who will most likely be the #1 RB on their team include: Royce Freeman, Rashaad Penny, Ronald Jones II, Jay Ajayi, Joe Mixon, Alex Collins, Kenyan Drake, Jordan Howard, Derrius Guice, Lamar Miller, and Marshawn Lynch

Also consider situational opportunity. Strength of O-line and schedule can significantly raise the damage that can be done with touches.

Teams with favorable strength of schedule for RBs include (Richard, 2018): Vikings, Bills, Bengals, Packers, Texans, Jaguars, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Jets, Bears, Raiders, and the Titans.

4. Career

Trends are key to analyzing players. With RBs, the important trends to be based off age or production within their own career.

Lets first look at the age trends. Per Bleacher Report, RBs typically peak between 22 and 25. Well refer to this age range as prime-time. In addition, there is the well known age 30 wall at which the majority of RBs see a significant decline in production each year until they retire.

We can use this data to predict upside for RBs. For example, let's take a look at why rookie RBs are so popular. Thanks to the data from fivethirtyeight.com I was able to determine the average for a rookie is 22. Coincidentally right at the start of prime-time. By entering the league at that age RBs immediately have tremendous upside. Hopefully they don't peak their first year for their sake but the point is still there. These young RBs can produce. Last year alone 4 rookies (Kamara, Hunt, Fournette, and McCaffrey) were in the top 10 at RB in PPR. To maximize upside be sure to spend draft capital on younger RBs.

Notable RBs in prime-time (Fox Sports): Jay Ajayi, Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, Tevin Coleman, Alex Collins, Dalvin Cook, Isaiah Crowell, Kenyan Drake, Ezekiel Elliot, Leonard Fournette, Royce Freeman, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Derrick Henry, Kareem Hunt, Duke Johnson Jr., Alvin Kamara, Marlon Mack, Christian McCaffrey, Rashaad Penny, Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Jeremy Hill, Jordan Wilkins, Kalen Ballage.

Notable RBs age 30+ (Running Backs Age 29): Marshawn Lynch, Lesean McCoy, LeGarrette Blount, Frank Gore, Demarco Murray, Darren Sproles

Furthermore, its important to remember trends within a players career. These include previous production and injury history. Previous production can indicate if a player will thrive or not this year especially if they've been in a stagnant situation for years. By stagnant situation I mean no significant alterations of the O-line or QB.

Sometimes players tend to yo-yo in production where they go back and forth between great and horrible years. Doug Martin is an excellent example of this for he has a huge season every 3 years. This year marks 3 since his last big season and he's behind the best O-line of his career. Although Lynch will most likely get the starting nod it'd be wise to keep Martin on your radars this year.

Injury history can provide insight on a players floor. For example, Leonard Fournette has had a recurring ankle injury since college. Last year he re-aggravated it and subsequently his production fell down the stretch. Be sure to consider this before you spend a lofty pick on a player like him. Likewise, handcuffs like Corey Grant are particularly smart to pick up as lottery tickets if they are behind oft-injured players like Fournette.

Players with a concerning injury history include: Le'Veon Bell, Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, Dion Lewis, Mark Ingram, and Ty Montgomery

Sources:

  • Schalter, T. (2013, July 9). How NFL Offenses Have Transformed over the Past Decade. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1697407-how-nfl-offenses-have-transformed-over-the-past-decade
  • NFL Team Passing Play Percentage. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/passing-play-pct
  • Richard, D. (2018, June 13). 2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Ranking the best and worst schedules. Retrieved July 13, 2018, from https://www.cbssports.com/fantasy/football/news/2018-fantasy-football-draft-prep-ranking-the-best-and-worst-schedules/
  • Fein, Z. (2009, July 10). NFL Aging Curves by Position: Rookie QBs, Third-Year WRs, and Age-30 RBs. Retrieved July 13, 2018, from https://bleacherreport.com/articles/215283-nfl-aging-curves-by-position-rookie-qbs-third-year-wrs-and-age-30-rbs
  • Salfino, M. (2018, May 3). Age Played A Bigger Role In The NFL Draft. Its About Time. Retrieved July 13, 2018, from https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/age-played-a-bigger-role-in-the-nfl-draft-its-about-time/
  • Fox Sports. (2018). Retrieved July 13, 2018, from https://www.foxsports.com/nfl/players?teamId=0&season=2018&position=5&page=10&country=0&grouping=0&weightclass=0
  • Running Backs Age 29 or Older. (2018). Retrieved July 13, 2018, from https://fftoolbox.scoutfantasysports.com/football/2018/old-running-backs.cfm

Struggle to find talent at RB? Want to beat your peers to the next big-name rusher? Reading just because you have nothing else better to do? Well I'm here to help. Today I will be sharing with you the same strategy that has allowed me to guided me to drafting the likes of Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt before others caught on.

When looking at RBs, it's important to keep in mind 4 simple factors. They are...

  • Staff
  • Talent
  • Opportunity
  • Career

Most of you now realize what STOC is. It is an acronym of these 4 factors. Bu understanding STOC you too will be able to find talent before your peers. At a position where the top scorers fluctuate more than Doug Martin's career production, this is an incredibly useful advantage. Thank me for it later.

Note: Most big name RBs like Le'Veon Bell will only be used for comparison and not as examples of those who excel at each level of STOC.

1. Staff

The NFL used to be a land dominated by workhorse RBs. Many of the great legends of old are prime examples including Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Earl Campbell, etc. Around 2011, a major shift occurred in the league's playcalling. % of Passing plays were being called at a significantly higher rate than running plays. For example, 15 years ago the average NFL team passed 53.3 percent of the time to 46.7 percent rushing (Schalter 2013). Last season the pass percentage shot up to 57.9 percent ("NFL Team Passing"). Good for a difference of 4.6 percent. Although that may seem small, each percentage is worth hundreds of attempts. In other words, hundreds of potential rushing attempts are being lost as the NFL continues to shift into a more pass dominant league.

Less rushing attempts means less rushing yards means less points for RBs, right? Yes and no. Yeah they have less points from rushing but thanks to innovative coaches and coordinators like Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan we've found a way around that. Short RBs with soft hands and super speed once deemed as undraftable trash are now being taken in as Swiss Army knife players. These multifaceted players are being used as audible-machines ready to counter any play at any time.

Take Devonta Freeman for example. Prior to Kyle Shanahan coming to Atlanta he was a bench player. Since then he has been a top 13 RB in PPR for three years in a row. All because Shan the Man put his small stature (59) aside, recognized talent, and engineered plays fit for Freemans skill set. The Falcons themselves profited too as their offense soared to new heights and even leading them to a Super Bowl trip (RIP) in 2016. Bill Belichick and Sean Payton have been using similar tactics for years. During that time they and their RBs have been very successful both in fake football and on the field. Hence is why all 3 of them are some of the most respected coaches today. They build their offensives around the skill sets of their players, allowing for both realms to thrive.

Others have tendencies to use bell cow RBs like Joe Philbin, the offensive coordinator for the Packers. Back when he was the head coach of the Dolphins, Lamar Miller hogged the majority of the touches. Enough to grant him borderline RB1 status during his time there. Hence it's no surprise why many analyst like myself look to Packers backfield for late round RBs since we expect this committee to filter out quickly.

Whether its designed plays or tendencies, coaches greatly impact RB value. Therefore don't be surprised to see these coaches teams on my list of favorable staff for RB. All of whom can be found below.

Favorable staffs: Pats, Saints, 49ers, Rams, Packers, Bears, Seahawks, Jaguars, Vikings, Cowboys, Giants, Dolphins, Bills, Falcons, Kansas City, Titans, and the Texans.

2. Talent

Simply put, talent sets the ceiling. Regardless of how many touches a player gets their ceiling will always be capped by their individual talent. Todd Gurley flashed his ceiling in college and his rookie year. Those who took notice and drafted him last year probably won their league.

How do we measure such an opinionated characteristic? Metrics. The good 'ol eye test just isn't enough anymore. Just ask those who believed in Trent Richardson. By using advanced analytics we can observe patterns only visible through numbers, allowing the elite to separate from the pack.

For example the numbers indicate Alex Collins has elite upside this year. Last year with his first chance as a starting running back, he excelled in several metrics. One that particularly stands out was the number of breakaway runs he had (16). Per Pro Football Focus this was tied for second most in the league with Lesean McCoy who is well known for his home-run ability. What's crazy about this is that the rest of the top 5 all had 60+ more carries than Collins. Currently he is falling to the end of round 3/ early round 4.

Albeit metrics don't always correlate with future production, they certainly make it easier to predict. Hence, take notice when websites like ours provide you with them. They will prove useful when finding high ceiling talent at any position.

Based off metrics and backfield comparisons, here are some prime examples of talent at RB: Jerrick McKinnon, Royce Freeman, Ronald Jones II, Derrius Guice, Jay Ajayi, Alex Collins, Kerryon Johnson, Aaron Jones, Jordan Wilkins, Austin Ekeler.

3. Opportunity

Workhorse RBs are a dying breed. The number of runners who garner 20+ touches on the regular could be counted on one hand (maybe add stats of RBs who got 20+ touches average per game over 12 games past three seasons to show decline). Given that the average fantasy league is 12 teams and hands have 5 fingers, there isn't enough to go around.

A major problem considering opportunity = points. Without opportunity, a player has no chance to break a long run or score a TD nonetheless get you any points whatsoever. This trend is apparent year after year. Using data from Edraft, I was able to calculate the average amount of touches for a top 10 RB in PPR had last year: 241.8.

However, don't feel pressured to take a top tier RB at a price that doesn't feel right. Value can be found at that position everywhere in the draft. Per the Washington Post, the RB at the top of a teams depth chart accumulates an average of 252 touches/season. What does this mean? If a top 10 PPR RB last year averaged 248.1 touches and the average starting RB gets 252 then every teams #1 RB has the potential to finish as a top 10 RB.

Given the number of committees in the league this is a little bit harder than it may seem. You just gotta know where to look. Backfields such as Denver's change from committee to workhorse all the time. That's why Royce Freeman is a popular pick this year given his potential to hog touches in the Mile High City.

Players who will most likely be the #1 RB on their team include: Royce Freeman, Rashaad Penny, Ronald Jones II, Jay Ajayi, Joe Mixon, Alex Collins, Kenyan Drake, Jordan Howard, Derrius Guice, Lamar Miller, and Marshawn Lynch

Also consider situational opportunity. Strength of O-line and schedule can significantly raise the damage that can be done with touches.

Teams with favorable strength of schedule for RBs include (Richard, 2018): Vikings, Bills, Bengals, Packers, Texans, Jaguars, Dolphins, Vikings, Patriots, Jets, Bears, Raiders, and the Titans.

4. Career

Trends are key to analyzing players. With RBs, the important trends to be based off age or production within their own career.

Lets first look at the age trends. Per Bleacher Report, RBs typically peak between 22 and 25. Well refer to this age range as prime-time. In addition, there is the well known age 30 wall at which the majority of RBs see a significant decline in production each year until they retire.

We can use this data to predict upside for RBs. For example, let's take a look at why rookie RBs are so popular. Thanks to the data from fivethirtyeight.com I was able to determine the average for a rookie is 22. Coincidentally right at the start of prime-time. By entering the league at that age RBs immediately have tremendous upside. Hopefully they don't peak their first year for their sake but the point is still there. These young RBs can produce. Last year alone 4 rookies (Kamara, Hunt, Fournette, and McCaffrey) were in the top 10 at RB in PPR. To maximize upside be sure to spend draft capital on younger RBs.

Notable RBs in prime-time (Fox Sports): Jay Ajayi, Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, Tevin Coleman, Alex Collins, Dalvin Cook, Isaiah Crowell, Kenyan Drake, Ezekiel Elliot, Leonard Fournette, Royce Freeman, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Derrick Henry, Kareem Hunt, Duke Johnson Jr., Alvin Kamara, Marlon Mack, Christian McCaffrey, Rashaad Penny, Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, Jeremy Hill, Jordan Wilkins, Kalen Ballage.

Notable RBs age 30+ (Running Backs Age 29): Marshawn Lynch, Lesean McCoy, LeGarrette Blount, Frank Gore, Demarco Murray, Darren Sproles

Furthermore, its important to remember trends within a players career. These include previous production and injury history. Previous production can indicate if a player will thrive or not this year especially if they've been in a stagnant situation for years. By stagnant situation I mean no significant alterations of the O-line or QB.

Sometimes players tend to yo-yo in production where they go back and forth between great and horrible years. Doug Martin is an excellent example of this for he has a huge season every 3 years. This year marks 3 since his last big season and he's behind the best O-line of his career. Although Lynch will most likely get the starting nod it'd be wise to keep Martin on your radars this year.

Injury history can provide insight on a players floor. For example, Leonard Fournette has had a recurring ankle injury since college. Last year he re-aggravated it and subsequently his production fell down the stretch. Be sure to consider this before you spend a lofty pick on a player like him. Likewise, handcuffs like Corey Grant are particularly smart to pick up as lottery tickets if they are behind oft-injured players like Fournette.

Players with a concerning injury history include: Le'Veon Bell, Leonard Fournette, Melvin Gordon, Dion Lewis, Mark Ingram, and Ty Montgomery

Sources:

  • Schalter, T. (2013, July 9). How NFL Offenses Have Transformed over the Past Decade. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1697407-how-nfl-offenses-have-transformed-over-the-past-decade
  • NFL Team Passing Play Percentage. (n.d.). Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/stat/passing-play-pct
  • Richard, D. (2018, June 13). 2018 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Ranking the best and worst schedules. Retrieved July 13, 2018, from https://www.cbssports.com/fantasy/football/news/2018-fantasy-football-draft-prep-ranking-the-best-and-worst-schedules/
  • Fein, Z. (2009, July 10). NFL Aging Curves by Position: Rookie QBs, Third-Year WRs, and Age-30 RBs. Retrieved July 13, 2018, from https://bleacherreport.com/articles/215283-nfl-aging-curves-by-position-rookie-qbs-third-year-wrs-and-age-30-rbs
  • Salfino, M. (2018, May 3). Age Played A Bigger Role In The NFL Draft. Its About Time. Retrieved July 13, 2018, from https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/age-played-a-bigger-role-in-the-nfl-draft-its-about-time/
  • Fox Sports. (2018). Retrieved July 13, 2018, from https://www.foxsports.com/nfl/players?teamId=0&season=2018&position=5&page=10&country=0&grouping=0&weightclass=0
  • Running Backs Age 29 or Older. (2018). Retrieved July 13, 2018, from https://fftoolbox.scoutfantasysports.com/football/2018/old-running-backs.cfm