Joseph Randle by the Numbers
There’s been a lot of talk this offseason about the Dallas running back situation. With DeMarco Murray now in Philadelphia and the Cowboys not addressing the position in the Draft, it seemed like we’d have a two-horse battle between incumbent Joseph Randle and free-agent signee/perennial fantasy disappointment Darren McFadden.
The picture got a little clearer in OTAs last week when Dallas gave Joseph Randle a majority of the work with the ones. His ADP almost immediately spiked.
As of June 1st, Randle is coming off the board at pick 5.12 on FantasyFootballCalculator. That’s a significant jump from his ADP of 8.02 just one week prior. In fact, I was in an industry mock draft a few days ago where Randle we in the third round.
Now, unless you were under a rock last season, you’re well aware of the Cowboys’ prowess along the offensive line. Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary, and Travis Frederick were all among the top run-blocking offensive linemen in the league, and they anchored a unit that propelled Murray to 1,845 yards (17th highest single-season total in NFL history).
With Randle now sitting as the leader in the clubhouse, there seems to be a split in the fantasy community regarding his potential as the Cowboys’ lead back. The most prevalent narratives include: 1) Anyone can run behind that offense line, 2) Randle is better than you think, just look at his yards per carry, and 3) Randle’s numbers are largely the product of getting situational carries against subpackage defenses and/or in garbage time.
In order to get a better sense of how Randle actually performed last season, I took a close look at the numbers. Below you’ll see each of Randle’s 51 regular season carries by week with quarter, down, distance, and defense faced listed.
While this isn’t a huge sample size, viewing Randle’s performance under the microscope on a play-by-play basis yields some interesting insight. It’s certainly a lot to process all at once, but we can dissect this information bit-by-bit to get a better sense of how Randle actually performed.
Let’s start with the defensive packages he faced. In total, 37 of Randle’s 51 carries (72.5%) came against base defense. That’s not a huge surprise considering he had just four third-down carries. Now, it’s important to note that saying “base defense” is a huge generalization, as all base defenses are certainly not created equally. However, the argument that Randle got a bulk of his work against nickel simply doesn’t hold water.
In total, 114 of Randle’s 343 yards came against nickel defense. That’s an average of 8.1 yards per carry, which is nearly two yards more than the 6.2 he averaged against base defense. Neither of these numbers is revelatory, as you would expect a running back to fare better with an extra defensive back on the field.
The other argument detractors have leveled against Randle’s 2014 campaign is that a significant chunk of his yards came in garbage time. It’s difficult to precisely define garbage time, but at PFF we use the following guidelines: 1) 9-plus point lead inside of two minutes to play, 2) 17-plus point lead inside of five minutes to play, 3) 25-plus point lea inside of seven minutes to play.
Using these parameters, five of Randle’s carries came during garbage time – his last three in Week 10 and each of his final carries in Weeks 16 & 17. That last one was a big one – a 65-yard touchdown scamper against Washington. However, in total, Randle amassed 78 yards in garbage time. If we subtract this from his total, Randle’s yards per carry drops, but it’s still stands at a healthy 5.8 YPC. That would still tie Randle with Darren Sproles for the league lead among running backs with at least 50 carries.
Another interesting fact about Randle’s 51 carries last season is that only two of them came in the red zone, with neither occurring inside the 10-yard line. The first was from the 19 against the Rams in Week 3. On his only other red zone carry, he managed to score from the 17-yard line versus the Bears in Week 13 (incidentally, that was his only carry of the game).
While this exercise doesn’t provide a complete picture of Randle’s fantasy potential, the numbers certainly highlight flaws in the narrative that Randle faced mainly nickel and got a large chunk of his yardage in garbage time. That being said, the small sample size means the jury is still out on Randle. Still, the Cowboys’ run blocking proficiency along the offensive line bodes positively for Randle’s fantasy prospects if he does in fact secure the starting job. I suspect we’ve only seen the beginning of his rise in ADP.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven and DFS junkie of PFF Fantasy.