RB Involvement In The Passing Game - NFC
One of my personal favorite things about writing for PFF Fantasy is that we have a bevy of statistics to work from thanks to the PFF game charters. We have fantasy-specific statistics to evaluate like points-per-opportunity, as Shawn Siegele touched on earlier, but some of my favorite statistics involve an individual player’s contributions not always related to fantasy football.
Recently, I was taking a look at yards-per-route-run by all running backs in 2013. After sifting through the data, I began to brainstorm different ways to explore a running back’s involvement in the passing game. After all, with more leagues moving to half and full point PPR leagues, I hope that this data can really help to pinpoint some ADP gems under these league settings.
So I decided to chart for several other metrics using PFF data like targets-per-route-run, yards-per-target, total target percentage, and missed tackle percentage. They join several other statistics in the charts that you will find below. I looked at total team involvement as well as individual player involvement. For the player charts, I used the top 36 most targeted backs in addition to a few other fantasy relevant ones. After the charts you will find my takeaways from the 2013 season and projections into 2014 based on coaching changes and player movement from the offseason.
For the sake of space, I will refer to each metric by its abbreviation throughout the piece. Please refer to the key that you will find just above the first chart until you get the abbreviations down, which won’t take long. There were a ton of takeaways for different players and teams, so I decided to break this up by conferences. Here, you will find notes on all NFC teams. The AFC analysis will come shortly after.
SIR: Snaps In Route = how many snaps a running back ran a route on
TPRR: Targets Per Route Run = total targets divided by total routes run
YPRR: Yards Per Route Run = total yards divided by total routes run
YPT: Yards Per Target = total yards divided by total targets
TTP: Total Target Percentage = player or group’s targets divided by the team’s total pass attempts
MT Rec: Missed Tackles On Receptions: how many missed tackles a player forced on all of his receptions combined
MTPR: Missed Tackles Per Reception: a player’s forced missed tackles divided by their total receptions
*Note: Both the team and individual player charts are sorted by TTP, as I found this to be the best indicator of how they were used in the passing game. You can sort by any statistic by clicking the toggle button at the top of the chart. You can also adjust how many rows you can view at one time.
Takeaways And Projections For 2014
Chip Kelly’s 2013 offense featured a lot of running and a primarily vertical passing game. Eagles backs received the seventh-least TPRR, the eighth-least targets overall, and the eighth-least TTP. However, Ron Jaworski believes the Eagles will replace DeSean Jackson by utilizing their running backs more in the passing game. That is great news for LeSean McCoy owners. Despite averaging the second-most YPT while forcing the fourth-most missed tackles on receptions, McCoy was only targeted 59 times and finished with the seventh-least TPRR. However, his second-best YPT (9.15) suggest he’ll thrive as a pass catcher. Expect a dip Darren Sproles’ targets (84), TTP (12.92), and potentially even his SIR (265). Even if Jaws is right about the offensive transition, the Eagles are still a run-first team. Sproles is on my players to avoid list.
There are a few reasons why Pat Thorman, Rich Hribar, and Shawn Siegele have also echoed support for Lance Dunbar this offseason, but none bigger than the change at offensive coordinator as the Cowboys welcome in Scott Linehan. The “Linehan effect”, as Thorman termed, should vault Demarco Murray into a mid-range PRR RB1 as well. Despite running only 48 more plays, the Linehan’s backs ran 234 more SIR, totaled 54 more targets, and had a much higher TTP than the Cowboys. Linehan is known for a two back system—last season Joique Bell received a TTP 10.09 percent and Reggie Bush received a TTP 11.99 percent. I expect him to continue to target his backs with Murray’s 10.41 TTP rising closer to 13-15 percent, and Dunbar finishing in the 6-9 percent range.
Those expecting Alfred Morris’ receptions to increase might want to think again. Cincinatti, where head coach Jay Gruden was formerly offensive coordinator, had a higher TTP than the Redskins 2013, but it’s fair to wonder if that had more to do with what Gio Bernard brings to the table. Jay Gruden’s offense ranked dead last in running back SIR with 370 compared to 524 from Washington in 2013. Roy Helu is a player to watch for. If Gruden sees him a dynamic talent similar to Bernard, Helu stands to see an increase in SIR, TPRR, and overall targets.
New York Giants
I tried to gauge what new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo’s offense will look here based on OTAs. As. If his offense mirrors the Packer scheme he came from, don’t expect the Giants to feature their backs. The Packers had the fifth-least TTP of any team and were also only six teams who totaled less SIR for their backs.Beat writers have observed that the offense had utilized the running backs on screens and swing passes during OTAs, so maybe McAdoo will change course, but I don’t see it. Although Rashad Jennings was able to put together the fifth-best YPT (7.49) in the NFL in 2013, I don’t expect his involvement in the passing game to spike enough to make a difference in PPR leagues.
Green Bay Packers
2013 was not the only time the Packers chart looked like it does above. They haven’t targeted their backs heavily during Mike McCarthy’s tenure, and with the added talent at wide receiver, I don’t expect that to change much.
How can things get better for the running backs on a team that targeted them the third-most times in the league (147) on the third-most SIR, with the fourth-highest TTP (23.19 percent)? New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, formerly of the Saints, is starting his playbook from the one he learned with the Saints. This means that the Lions backs could see even more targets, SIR, and TTP than in 2013. Both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are safe options in PPR leagues, and they have a chance to mimic Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas in targets. I don’t buy the Theo Riddick hype because and his potential to fill a Sproles-like role in Lombardi’s new offense. Personally, I’m not buying the hype. Bush offers the offense everything that Riddick can in the passing game, but he’s also sounder in pass protection and allows the offense to be more multiple.
The Vikings hired Norv Turner as offensive coordinator. Last season, the Turner-coordinated Browns finished with the fourth-highest TTP, and in the top 10 in overall targets, SIR, and TPRR to their backs. This was no fluke either, as Turner’s Chargers teams targeted their backs 142 and 151 times in 2012 and 2011, respectively. Despite running the sixth-most SIR, Viking backs had just the 23-highest TTP in the NFL. Adrian Peterson was targeted 37 times for a TTP of just 6.78 percent. I expect him to see a major increase in targets, and that’s why Peterson is slotted as my No. 2 overall player, ahead of Jamaal Charles.
In year one of the Marc Trestman offense, we learned that he likes to use Matt Forte in the passing game. Forte was targeted on 86 of the team’s 98 total pass attempts to their running backs and he ran more SIR (433) than any other back in 2013. He also had the third-highest individual TTP. Charles and Danny Woodhead were the only two running backs with a higher individual TTP in the entire NFL. Forte finished in the top 10 in YPT, making good on the high volume of targets and finishing as PPR’s No. 2 overall back. He shouldn’t make it out of the top four picks in a PPR league. As Rich Hribar illustrated here, Trestman has been creating PPR studs for years. He makes the case for Kadeem Carey, and I suggest you read it. Carey racked up 62 catches over his last two college seasons, and he offers Trestman a real threat in the passing game that he didn’t have last season with Michael Bush.
New Orleans Saints
Nobody utilizes running backs in the passing game quite like Sean Payton. Last season, 30 percent of the team’s targets were directed at their running backs. The backs lapped the field in total targets, SIR, yards, TPRR, and YPRR, and TTP. Out of the team’s 195 total RB targets, Darren Sproles received 84 of them and now he is gone. I expect Pierre Thomas to pick up some of the slack, which is one of the reasons I mentioned him as a player to target. He should see an increase on his SIR from the 302 he ran last year, which should also lead to an increase in targets. Last season, only three running backs had a higher TPRR than Thomas and he finished with the sixth-best in YPRR. Khiry Robinson has caught the attention of Payton for his improvements in pass protection and he could get involved as well. As a senior West Texas A&M, he racked up 430 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 38 receptions. You can keep an eye on Travis Cadet who profiles a lot like Sproles, but ultimately I expect Thomas and Robinson to see the biggest boost in the passing game.
In Mike Shula’s first season calling the plays, we saw much of the same. The Panthers attempted the sixth-lowest running back targets (71), one season after targeting them just 76 times. Only five teams used their backs for fewer SIP. Heading into 2014, I expect a similar approach. Despite playing all season long, Deangelo Williams was targeted on just 32 passes, ran just 159 SIR, and finished with a TTP of just 6.77 percent. This is what makes him a player to avoid in PPR leagues. Jonathan Stewart turned 57 targets into 47 receptions for 413 yards back in 2011, but since then, in 15 games combined through two seasons, he has been targeted just 29 times catching 24 passes for 201 yards.
Matt Ryan and the Dirk Koetter-called offense loves them some running back action in the passing game. Last season, the Falcons finished in the top five in targets, SIR, TPRR, and just outside the top five in YPRR and TTP. I think the trend will continue and Steven Jackson is the back with the best chance to benefit. If healthy, Jackson should resume his early-season role as lead back, which is something head coach Mike Smith is excited about. Jackson finished with TTP of just 6.76 percent, but forced 11 missed tackles on just 33 receptions. I expect his TTP to rise to around 10 percent in 2014, and that alone should increase his value in PPR leagues.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In 2013, the Bucs targeted their backs on almost 20 percent of their total passes despite finishing with the ninth-least SIR. They were dead last in YPT (4.06), which means that there were a lot of check downs. Jeff Tedford is installing a new system, but he’s been quiet and secretive about it. Looks like we will have to wait until the preseason on this one.
In 2013, the Seahawks attempted the second-least passes in the league with just 420 total. Their backs finished with the third-least targets while running the fewest SIR in the NFL. They were successful when they did target them and finishedwith the fourth-best YPT. Marshawn Lynch was the reason. He was targeted on 43 of the team’s 64 total RB targets and turned them into 316 yards on 32 receptions, finishing with the seventh-best YPT. Mike Clay recently pointed out, “After calling pass at a rate six percentage points below expected in 2012, Seattle was at three percent in 2013. This is a club that wants to lean on the run, but not as much as the raw numbers indicate.” If the Seahawks throw more in 2014, Lynch could see a target boost on a per-route basis. However, the emergence of Christine Michael echoed by several coaches this offseason could take away overall snaps from Lynch.
San Francisco 49ers
In 2013, the 49ers were the only team to attempt less passes than the Seahawks, and they finished with the third-least total running back targets and third-least TPRR. Frank Gore finished near the bottom in almost every category charted above despite running 242 SIR. His incredible low YPT and YPRR numbers legitimize his mere 6.24 percent TTP. Although there are whispers that the 49ers will open up their passing game in 2014, I don’t expect them to shift the focus of their targets after adding more talent at wide receiver.
In 2013, the Cardinals finished with the eighth-least SIR, but were right in the middle of the pack in targets and TTP, thus finishing with the ninth-highest TPRR. Cardinals play caller Bruce Arians is not known for targeting his backs, but Andre Ellington offers him a threat in the receiving game that he never had in his time with the Colts or Steelers. Despite the fact that 26 backs logged more SIR than Ellington, he finished with the 14th-most receiving yards and in the top 10 in both TPRR and YPRR. I expect that he will see an increase from his 9.97 percent TTP last season.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams finished near the middle of the pack in most metrics on the team chart above, aside from total yards, YPRR, and YPT where they finished closer to the bottom. They can thank Zac Stacy for that. For everything that Stacy provide in the running game, he equally lacked in the passing game. Stacy forced just one missed tackle on 26 receptions, and finished as one of the five worst backs I charted above in YPRR and YPT. It’s no wonder why he also finished near the bottom in TPRR. Rookie Tre Mason finished his collegiate career with just 19 receptions, and I don’t expect him to make a major impact in the passing game either.
If you want to know any of my other evaluations on skill position players, continue the conversation, or yell at me for something I missed, you can find me on Twitter @DanSchneier_NFL. You can also add me to your network on Google+ to find all of my past material.