Meet This Year’s Chris Ivory: Chris Ivory
Pat Thorman examines one of 2014's under-the-radar fantasy bargains and his chances at a repeat in 2015.
Meet This Year’s Chris Ivory: Chris Ivory
What if I said that you could have drafted someone 163rd overall and 51st at his position, then reaped the rewards of him finishing as the 19th-highest scoring fantasy running back? Is that something you might have been interested in? When it comes to Chris Ivory of the New York Jets, most people missed the boat in 2014. Luckily for us, it appears we will get another shot.
According to MyFantasyLeague redraft league ADP data, Ivory is once again the 51st running back off the board—this time half a round later than last year (169th). Over the last two weeks in MFL10s, he’s the 42nd back chosen on average according to the RotoViz Best Ball App. While his ADP has crept up into the 10th round, he is still available a round later in some drafts.
The App also details the standard deviation of a player’s ADP—a measure of draft slot range that a player is falling into—and Ivory has one of the widest in his draft neighborhood. As recently as six days ago, he was picked in the middle of the 12th round, and two days ago, he went in the middle of the seventh—a yawning gap through which even Chris Johnson could gain four yards.
Johnson’s presence in New York’s backfield helps to explain why Ivory’s ADP was depressed throughout last fantasy draft season. Despite what most efficiency metrics made clear—not to mention the eye test—Johnson was getting picked in the sixth round as the 26th running back. Ivory had just two fewer runs of 15-plus yards (12) than Johnson on 97 fewer rushing attempts in 2013, and that was just the tip of a fantasy iceberg that drafters should have better navigated around.
As wrongheaded as it was at the time, Johnson’s name value made Ivory a bargain. Who is it this time? Stevan Ridley had major knee surgery six months ago, is not sure if he will be ready for training camp, and would cost peanuts to cut. Bilal Powell will be in roughly the same third-down role he had last year when Ivory did well. Zac Stacy and Daryl Richardson are St. Louis Rams castoffs—never a good sign.
New offensive coordinator Chan Gailey favors a spread offense, and after years of Rex Ryan’s ground-and-pound philosophy, rushing volume concerns exist. It is a fair point, especially since Ivory accrued the 19th-most standard fantasy points on the 18th-most carries. Yet Gailey has proved flexible in the past, from his 2012 Bills ranking as the 23rd-most pass-heavy to his 1996 Steelers rolling up the second-most rushes and 30th-most pass attempts.
Like the late-90’s Steelers, the Jets are built around a strong defense, and—at least until Geno Smith makes significant strides—their well-stocked passing attack will only get enough rope to not hang the entire team with. It’s probably safe to assume that they will not be salting away whatever late leads they earn by having Smith throw the ball very often.
When the Jets are in spread formations—and Gailey’s 2012 Bills employed a third wideout on 85 percent of snaps—it should only help Ivory. Mike Clay’s study on the impact of defensive packages revealed that Ivory ranked just 43rd in yards per carry against base defenses. It was a departure from the previous season, when he outperformed his yards per carry expectation based on the defensive fronts he faced.
Despite averaging half a yard per carry less than in 2013, Ivory still had strong season. He tied Jonathan Stewart for PFF’s 10th-highest rushing grade—a cumulative metric—despite playing 104 fewer snaps. He had the seventh-highest grade on a per-snap basis (+0.013) of any runner with at least 200 snaps.
During the 12 weeks in which he had double-digit carries, Ivory was the 13th-highest scoring fantasy running back despite less than 14 carries and barely more than a catch per game.
Of all running backs who saw 25 percent of their teams’ snaps, Ivory trailed only Marshawn Lynch, Stewart, and C.J. Anderson in missed tackles forced per touch. That helped him to the fifth-best Elusive Rating, and—although it dipped in 2014 despite a 71-yard run—Ivory ranked third in Breakaway Percent the previous season. When he breaks tackles with his violent running style, Ivory can break long runs.
Will he reach that level again? Even if he doesn’t, Ivory could sleepwalk his way to out-earning his cost. At the same time, it’s not outlandish to expect him to exceed his 2014 production. With a firm grip on the early-down and goal-line carries heading into training camp, the chief worry is Powell limits his receiving stats. But with just 18 catches on 24 targets for 123 yards and a touchdown, Ivory barely had receiving stats to begin with.
In the apparently unlikely event that Ridley beats his injury timetable, he will begin the season as Ivory’s backup. Ridley has seen his yards per carry decline steadily from his rookie season (5.1) to prior to his injury last year (3.6). Ivory has sported a better rate in each of the last three seasons. Although Ridley is a solid backfield option when healthy, Ivory is the superior back.
Health aside, Stacy is less of a threat to Ivory. Even during his rookie season, when he grinded 976 rushing yards 3.9 at a time, Stacy only ranked 31st-best in PFF’s rushing grades (+0.9). Ivory posted a +2.3 despite 68 fewer carries. Again, those grades are cumulative. Stacy is little more than a well-known insurance policy, purchased for the 224th pick in this year’s draft.
Chris Ivory’s name doesn’t spring to mind when we think back to the best fantasy bargains of 2014. Yet, for a mid-14th round pick, his owners got three top-12, five additional top-24, and three bonus top-36 running back weeks. He was at least Flex-worthy for 69 percent of the season, and was an RB1 or RB2 for half of it.
Ivory is available in the same range as last year because the Jets backfield is filled with recognizable, if ultimately inconsequential, names. You might want to dig deep and spend at least a 10th-rounder on him this time around.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman