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Next Gen Stats Season Review: Running Backs


Time's up! The 2019 fantasy season is done and gone for good. Whether you play in a redraft league or are part of a dynasty format, the days of sitting at the edge of your couch and biting your nails are over. We have a tough eight-month desert to walk through ahead of us, but hey, the real NFL players are this close to kick-off and we will still enjoy football for another month and change, so you better get to it while it lasts! With the numbers in place and the games finished, it's time to wrap up the series and take a final look at who was who during this 2019 season.

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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2019 Best and Worst Rushers - NextGenStats

The season, at least for us fantasy nuts, is finally over. That is nothing good for our enjoyment of the fantasy game, but it is a time of calm and peace to enjoy the real NFL playoffs that we're also invested in. With all of the regular season numbers now in place, it is time to wrap up the NextGenStats series position by position.

Today I will go through the running back position and will provide a final update on how the league's rushers have done in the different metrics we've already tackled during the season. I will only show a small number of names for each category, present the correlation with the fantasy points averaged by the player, skip the gory details, and instead provide a new "combined" leaderboard at the end of the column.

Keep in mind also that 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). I will also include an extra column this time, "ruFP/15At", which is accounts for the fantasy points a rusher is getting per 15 rushing attempts, which would be considered an RB1 workload on average and allows us to know how different players in different roles would be doing if given the same opportunities.

Note: The cutoff is set at 85 rushing attempts.

 

Efficiency

Correlation with Rushing Fantasy Points: negative-28%

Leaders and Trailers:

Percentage of Stacked Boxes Faced

Correlation with Rushing Fantasy Points: negative-2%

Leaders and Trailers:

Average Time Behind The Line Of Scrimmage

Correlation with Rushing Fantasy Points: 4%

Leaders and Trailers:

ATT & YDS & Y/A & TD

Correlation with Rushing Fantasy Points: 81% / 87% / 34% / 88%

Leaders and Trailers:

Combined NextGenStats Leaderboard

To build this leaderboard I used every metric that is part of the NGS site and put everything together in a combined score I labeled "NGS" in the following table. The calculation of each player's NGS score is simple. I calculated where each player ranked for each metric, and then multiplied that rank for the correlation between that metric and my ruFP/G metric. Players ranked higher (closer to one) in each category will have lower scores for those categories. At the end, I added up each player's scores from all of the categories getting a single NGS score.

The lower the NGS, the better the player for fantasy as each category was already weighted given its correlation with the ruFP/G metric. Here are the results:

NGS Leaderboard Notes:

  • All hail Derrick Henry, the true rushing champion of the 2019 season! When it comes to producing on the ground, there has been no one like Henry in all fantasy football. That's correct, not even Christian McCaffrey will finish the year even close to him, and Henry scored an NGS more than two times lower than CMC... and virtually seven times lower than sixth-best Josh Jacobs!
  • Although the race was close, Henry got the edge over the field mostly in usage (No. 1 in attempts; 303), total yardage on the ground (No. 1 in rushing yards; 1,540), and touchdowns (No. 1 tied with Aaron Jones; 16). The only metric in which he wasn't inside of the top-five was TLOS (21st). CMC made the top-five in four of the seven categories.
  • Dalvin Cook finished the year averaging the third-most ruFP/G with 13.7 but he dropped to eight in the NGS leaderboard. He only finished inside the top-five in TDs and inside the top-10 in ATT and YDS, but fell to 16th or worse in every other category, hurting his score.
  • With rushing attempts, yardage, and touchdowns being very important and direct influencers of fantasy scorers, it makes sense to find some top-tier names at the bottom of the NGS leaderboard. Kerryon Johnson, James Conner, and even Damien Williams are all good rushers but they've seen little opportunities due to one reason or another, and their touchdown tallies have not surpassed the five scores in the best of cases.
  • Raheem Mostert's NGS score is quite high considering his low number of rushing attempts, something he was able to make up for with very efficient rushing (772 YDS and a league-leading 5.6 Y/A). Mostert would have been the best rusher in the NFL had every running back averaged 15 attempts per game.
  • Le'Veon Bell, on the other hand, is the rusher with the lowest NGS score to have the greatest number of attempts (245). He and Moster posted virtually the same yardage but Bell needed more than an extra 100 carries, which finished with him averaging 3.2 Y/A (second-worst in the NFL only over Peyton Barber's 3.1).
  • It's been a year to forget for David Johnson. He fell out of the Cardinals' rotation, could only rush the ball 94 times, his efficiency numbers were all horrid, and he ranked bottom-five in three of the seven NGS categories. Only Bo Scarbrough ranked worse in more categories (four of seven) although he was much more efficient when on the field and his ruFP/G (7.3) more than double Johnson's (3.6).
  • The five players with the most attempts were also the five players with the highest yardage. Only three of those, though, finished top-five in touchdowns. That proves the volatility of scoring: The six 10-plus TD scorers this season (order from more to fewer TDs) have ranked first, 15th, fourth, eighth, second, and 17th in attempts.
  • Only eight rushers have finished the season averaging 5.0 Y/A or more. Of those, only Henry and Mostert ranked in the top half of the NGS leaderboard. Henry alone was the only rusher of that group to average more than 8.0 ruFP/G (16.7).

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