Fantasy impact of Chris Ivory signing for the Jaguars
This move comes as a surprise, less than a year removed from the 2015 NFL draft, where the Jaguars spent the overall No. 36 pick on Alabama running back, T.J. Yeldon. Although the Jaguars were expected to add a running back, it was not expected they would add someone who might supplant Yeldon for the starting role. Yeldon fared exceedingly well in 2015, grading out as our No. 9 runner despite playing in only 12 games.
Perhaps most perplexing is the magnitude of the deal. The Jaguars had the most cap space of any team heading into free agency, so although they could certainly afford to overspend, it does seem excessive considering the top free agent running backs, Lamar Miller and Doug Martin, are not expected to fetch as much as $7 million annually.
Although the move has come as a surprise, that does not mean Ivory’s hefty contract has come without merit. His 4.34 yards per attempt ranks sixth-best among the 16 running backs with at least 500 carries over the past three seasons. Last season, among all backs with at least 150 carries, Ivory finished fifth via our elusive rating. (Our elusive rating attempts to measure a runner’s success independent of the blocking in front of him. This metric is measured by a combination of missed tackles forced and yards after contact per attempt.) Yeldon ranked ninth by the same metric.
Although last season was only Ivory’s first 1,000 yard season, he’s never posted a season with a negative rushing grade. While he struggled in pass blocking in 2013 and 2014, he posted a top-seven grade in that department last season. Yeldon too was no slouch, however; although he suffered mightily in pass blocking, he received higher grades than Ivory as both a runner and passer.
While this move was surprising from an NFL standpoint, this move is fairly disappointing from a fantasy perspective. Per Dynasty League Football, Yeldon is ranked as a top-7 running back in dynasty leagues. Per Fantasy Football Calculator, Yeldon and Ivory are both being drafted as lead backs, in the early fourth and sixth rounds respectively, in early redraft leagues.
Yeldon averaged 13 fantasy points per game last season, but his stock plummets with this signing, as most of his value was due to being the workhorse on an ascending offense. Last season, Yeldon commanded, on average, 79 percent of the team’s snaps, 79 percent of the running back carries, and 80 percent of the team’s running back targets in games he played. Even then, he only finished as fantasy’s No. 18 running back on a points per game basis. Ivory will certainly eat into a large chuck of these percentages and may even command the majority share.
Although both will be moved far down in expert rankings due to the impending committee/timeshare, they’ll still retain some semblance of fantasy value. It’s hard at this moment to speculate which one now holds more value. Yeldon will likely retain almost all or most of the passing down work, as that has never been Ivory’s specialty, but Ivory will likely command the majority of the red zone work. Indeed, it seemed the Jaguars did not trust Yeldon in that department last season, as he was given just four attempts inside the five yard line, converting just one. Ivory meanwhile, has converted 10 carries inside the five on 30 attempts over the past two seasons. Due to the high likelihood of a committee backfield that renders both running backs to flex-value at best, both players should be downgraded significantly heading into 2016.