A better way to measure running back performance

Kevin Cole uses his adjusted VORP calculation to identify running backs who performed better than we thought in 2015, and those who are likely overvalued.

| 9 months ago
(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

(AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

A better way to measure running back performance

Football fans have a collective bye week with no football on Sunday in advance of next week’s Super Bowl. Now is as good of a time as any to look back at the 2015 fantasy season and take that knowledge into our offseason analysis. This piece will focus on the running back position.

Before figuring out where you’re going, you have to reflect and understand where you’ve been. There are plenty of sites that provide season-long finishes for all the fantasy-relevant positions, but are those the best way to judge player effectiveness?

A few weeks ago we dissected the usually poor early round running back results. In that analysis, we argued that looking at season-long numbers doesn’t give you an accurate view of how players’ performances actually affected real fantasy leagues. The reason is that fantasy football is a weekly game, and season-long numbers can mask the effectiveness of injured players or those who emerge later in the season. It also gives more credit to inefficient players who happened to stay healthy, but weren’t really helping their teams win weeks.

We tackled the the faults of traditional seasonal rankings based on total fantasy points, and devised a new way of quantifying 2015 performance. The system I’m calling adjusted value over replacement (VORP). VORP has been a concept in fantasy circles for years now, which in its simplest form takes total fantasy points and subtracts out a proxy for replacement-level production — usually one more than the amount of necessary starters in a 12-team league.

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  • Mike B

    Hey Kevin,

    Great work! A few questions though I would be interested to hear your thoughts on. First, how do you reconcile your “buyer beware” comments on Doug Martin and Lamar Miller with PFF ranking them the 2nd and 4th best RB’s in 2015? Both are free agents and combining their ability (demonstrated by their strong grade) with a likely change of scenery, isn’t there some potential unrealized upside making them undervalued? I think this may be true based on Martin’s ability to be a 3 down back somewhere else & Lamar Miller’s usage going up.

    Also, how do you feel about Freeman next season? Clearly off the charts based on metrics this year, but I lack confidence in him scoring 14 TD’s next season. That production normalizes around 7 or 8 and Coleman can actually hold onto the rock, i think there is a very good chance he disappoints owners in 2016.

    Love your idea of targeting players with high per game VORP, but will personally add a career touch overlap, which will specifically lead me to avoid Foster. Pushing 1,800 total career touches and 14 injuries dating back to his college career I think it’s delusional to expect him to make it through more than half of a season.

    Thanks again!!


    • Kevin Cole

      Thanks, Mike!

      Clearly there is upside for Miller and Martin if either gets an uptick of usage through a change of scenery. I’m only stating that both were healthy at a position that saw very few full seasons last year. I agree that both played well, which is reflected in their PFF grades.

      I think Freeman is probably undervalued. I wasn’t a huge fan going into 2015, but you can’t deny the results. The important thing that gives Freeman protection is his ability in the passing. There really isn’t a reason to take him out, so I don’t see why they would want to use Coleman as more than a change-of-pace option. Freeman will still be productive (especially in PPR scoring) even if his touchdowns decrease.

  • Mark Erickson

    Interesting analysis, I see a bit of a trend with rookies or RBs just getting their foot in the door (i.e. Dion Lewis) with the VORP per game, it’ll be interesting to see if any progress in 2016 to the levels of Charles, Bell, and Foster, or even that of Freeman (who I have my doubts about concerning the likelihood of recreating his stupendous 2015 performance).

    It raises an eyebrow seeing Adrian Peterson’s metrics, who definitely owed his production to volume this year. It makes one wonder if that’s a result of another anemic Viking passing attack or if AP’s age is starting to temper his physical abilities….perhaps both were factors.