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Home Stretch Rushing Leaderboards: NextGen Stats Analysis


Folks, it's time to put on your battle armor and get ready for war. We've completed 12 weeks and I can see the playoffs on the horizon already. And let me tell you something: Nobody is keeping me out of them. If you too have a chance at making the playoffs at this point in the season, that means you have been able to dominate for more than two-thirds of it. No team has been as good as yours. No fantasy GM has come close to you and your decision-making. Only one thing can beat you to the finish line: yourself. But hey, don't lose any bit of hope. I'm here for another week to show you how the league is looking entering the home stretch of the season, so you can make the final pinpoint decisions of the year and bring that championship home.

To gain the biggest edge in your fantasy football league, it's necessary to understand how to apply the advanced statistics being used in sports nowadays. Back in the day, it was all about wins and losses, passing yards, and touchdowns scored. It's not that those stats are now worthless, they just don't offer enough information to savvy analysts. While football is still in its infancy compared to baseball in terms of analytics, the evolution the sport has seen lately in those terms is notable.

Each week, I'll be tackling NFL's Next Gen Stats, bringing you data from the just-completed week's games with notable takeaways you should consider when assessing fantasy players for the upcoming week. In case you're new to the series, or Next Gen Stats altogether, I recommend you read our preseason primer. Now, let's get to the data!

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Rushing Through The Home Stretch - NextGenStats

So far we have studied which NFL NextGenStats metrics correlate best with each position and its fantasy production. We have also taken a look at other interesting tidbits of information with insights for each of the three positional groups (rushers, receivers, and quarterbacks). Now it is time to take a final look at the league before we reach the fantasy playoffs.

We're just past Week 12, which means there is only one more game on your schedule before we hit--at least in most of the leagues--Week 14 and the opening games of this year's fantasy playoffs. You don't want to mess too much with your team this late in the season, but you also never know what you can find digging a little deeper into the data.

This week I'll provide different updates on how the league's rushers are doing in the different metrics we've already tackled during the season. As I did the last time, I will only focus on fantasy production as pure rushers, eliminating the pass-catching element from their game. This will concentrate entirely on their total rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns in terms of the fantasy points per game numbers shown (labeled ruFP/G). Note: The cutoff is set at 60 rushing attempts.

 

Efficiency

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • All hail Kalen Ballage because he is making history. Not only is Ballage the least efficient rusher in the league but it's not even close. The difference between Ballage and second-worst Devonta Freeman (2.42 yards) is not repeated among qualified rushers, as the gap between Freeman and the most-efficient rusher (Gus Edwards) is of just 1.78 yards. Nobody is running more while doing less as Ballage's fantasy rushing production shows.
  • On the other hand, Gus Edwards is wasting no yards when (bull) rushing. He's got the best efficiency value by far (0.35 yards behind Devin Singletary), and the gap between him and the second-most efficient RB is similar to that between Singletary and No. 14 Derrick Henry.
  • There is a lot of variation in terms of the relationship between EFF and ruFP/G. The most efficient rushers tend to do better but that is not entirely the case. As always, looking at metrics in isolation can be deceiving, so keep an eye on other more important things such as opportunities (rushing attempts) first of all, and then focus in on metrics like this one.
  • Looking at fantasy points per carry, the EFF metric bumps up his correlation with fantasy scoring all the way to a negative 46%. That means that efficient rushers (those that waste the fewest yards and have more of a north-south approach) are the ones you should target for your teams.

 

Percentage of Stacked Boxes Faced

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • The percentage of crowded boxes rushers face during the season doesn't have a great impact on their fantasy rushing numbers. The correlation is low enough (14%) to not take it very seriously.
  • In fact, the 8+D% leaderboards show some sort of "bell curve" in ruFP/G when sorted in descending or ascending order. That means that the extremes (those players with really high or really low 8+D%) are comprised mostly of rushers with the lowest ruFP/G and the bulk of the fantasy producers see an average number of stacked boxes during the season.
  • As you can see in the table above, only two players (Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry) have an 8+D% greater than 30% are averaging 10 or more ruFP/G, and another two (Marlon Mack and Nick Chubb) are doing so with an 8+D% lower than 12%. All of the other eight players averaging 10-plus ruFP/G have values between 20% and 25%.
  • Defenses often use extreme approaches (packed or "empty" boxes) to defend average players, but not the best around the league. The top running backs, like Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, and Aaron Jonesare expected to see a more varied defensive scheme and not empty/crowded boxes every single snap they play.

Average Time Behind The Line Of Scrimmage

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • You might think that TLOS and EFF are related, as a north-south rusher should spend less time behind the line of scrimmage. The truth is that there is a 29% relationship between both metrics. Good, but not great as an indicator.
  • Even with that 29% relationship, TLOS only correlates to 11% with the actual ruFP/G a running back has on the season, rendering the TLOS metric useless for fantasy purposes.
  • Nobody would label Marlon Mack, Todd Gurley, and Nick Chubb as "bad" rushers because they have high TLOS. The same works the other way around, with players like Melvin Gordon and Josh Jacobs logging low TLOS marks.
  • As always with these "play style" metrics (those that are more representative of the style a player uses than what he actually produces) the best players tend to be, on average, in the middle positions of the leaderboard. There are outliers (players with very personal ways of approaching the rushing game) but overall most good RBs don't have an extreme profile (again CMC, Mark Ingram, Aaron Jones, or Derrick Henry, all of whom are not part of the table above due to their "average" marks).

ATT & YDS & Y/A & TD

Leaders and Trailers:

Leaderboard Notes:

  • With two-thirds of the season already gone and numbers almost stabilized, the cream of the crop is rising to the top. Only three players (Mark Ingram, Christian McCaffrey, and Nick Chubb) are averaging more than 5.0 Y/A while having 150 or more rush attempts.
  • At the other end, some busts can be found. All of Joe Mixon, Sony Michel, David Montgomery, and Le'Veon Bell have rushed the ball more than 150 times but none of them is averaging even 4.0 Y/A. Quite a disappointing season for all of them, although at least they have scored three or more touchdowns through Week 12.
  • Speaking of touchdowns, you already know how volatile those numbers are. Of course, a touchdown awards six fantasy points to a player, so touchdowns have an incredibly high correlation with ruFP/G. But you can't anticipate touchdowns at all. Aaron Jones (11), Mark Ingram (9), and Todd Gurley (9) have more touchdowns this season than Leonard Fournette (3), Le'Veon Bell (3), and Joe Mixon (1) while they have rushed the ball many fewer times.
  • While looking at fantasy points per game is okay, it's better to asses players by their opportunities. If we flip ruFP/G for ruFP/Att, things change a bit. For example, the two most productive players per attempt have been Mark Ingram (13.1 ruFP per 15 Attempts) and Aaron Jones (13.0), followed by Christian McCaffrey (12.5).
  • The only three players with 6.5 or fewer ruFP/15Att so far have been Le'Veon Bell (6.4), Joe Mixon (6.0) and Devonta Freeman (5.2).
  • No one wants it to happen, but Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette could be on the verge of suffering an injury. Both of them have or are approaching career-high marks in attempts and yardage, and their track records in terms of health aren't very good. If they fall to injury, their backups would be Alexander Mattison (8.3 ruFP/15Att) and Ryquell Armstead (4.64). You can pass on Armstead, but you should also keep an eye on Mattison or add him through waivers just in case. Mattison's 8.3 ruFP/15Att rank 27th among qualified rushers over some names like those of Fournette (8.2), Chris Carson (8.1), and Sony Michel (8.3).

That's it for today. Until we meet again next week, try to find the best free agents on your leagues' player pools, field the most productive teams you can, and win the weekend with all of your squads!

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