PPO Rushing Stars and Slugs

Pat Thorman gives the low down on how to use PPO to identify breakout running backs for 2013.

| 4 years ago

PPO Rushing Stars and Slugs

One of the ways that the PPO metric (Points Per Opportunity) can aid in the construction of fantasy squads is to help predict scoring output when combined with accurate workload forecasts. Not only does the metric provide clues as to which players are about to break out, but just as importantly, it warns owners against likely decliners.

PFF Fantasy Gold provides subscribers with exclusive access to players’ PPO scores, both as the season goes along and for each year since 2008. It also offers intuitive features, such as statistics that are sortable by week. Using this function in conjunction with PPO gives insight into which players ended the previous season with a flourish, and who crawled to the finish.

For instance, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller were typically being selected as the 16th and 31st ballcarriers, respectively, during last season’s drafts (according to the myfantasyleague.com post-July 1st ADP data) – something that seems crazy in hindsight. Yet there were definite hints that this misevaluated each ballcarrier’s 2012 prospects.

By referring to their 2011 PPO scores from Week 9 through Week 16, drafters would have seen that Jackson finished the season as the 52nd rusher in PPO (0.26), and Spiller registered a 0.36 – good for 26th at his position. A full season snapshot would have shown that it was Jackson as the better back on a PPO basis (0.42 vs 0.34), and misled drafters in the process.

While not an eye-popping difference, it was enough to give fantasy owners a clue about what Spiller would provide with an increased workload, and how a more volume reliant runner like Jackson would suffer if his share of touches decreased. Perhaps Chan Gailey could have taken a hint, given Spiller’s still-too-light 2012 workload.

It was no great leap to forecast that a rusher with a profile like Jackson’s, who was 31 years old and had seen his share of injuries, would lose playing time to a young first round pick. However the Buffalo backfield still offers a practical illustration of PPO’s utility as an opportunity extrapolator, which makes it an invaluable weapon for fantasy owners to wield.

Before we look at several running backs’ 2012 late season PPO scores to project what they mean for 2013, it would be helpful to determine some general baseline values for each position.

Considering the ever-evolving nature of the NFL, a three year sample was chosen to provide a significant amount of PPO data without it being too dated. In 2008, the earliest season that PFF has PPO scores available, there were 1,262 fewer passes thrown than in 2012 – which is nearly two and a half less per team, per game.

Rushers and receivers were separated into four tiers of 12 players each, while tight ends were broken up into three tiers of the same size. The resulting bolded numbers (below) are what we are interested in. Each consists of the average PPO score posted by the 12 players within that tier from the previous three years. In other words, the 0.42 figure in the top right of the first table is the average of the top 12 fantasy running back PPO scores over the last three seasons.

These figures consist of standard scoring league PPO averages. The baseline number for each tier has been rounded to match up with the listed data on PFF, and for quick reference purposes – which is the main point of this exercise.

Running Backs

Tier (12 players)




Avg PPO Score






















Wide Receivers

Tier (12 players)




Avg PPO Score






















Tight Ends

Tier (12 players)




Avg PPO Score

















It is interesting to note that the second and third tier running backs posted identical PPO scores over the last three seasons when rounded to two decimal places (tier two was 0.374 and tier three was 0.368). So in essence, a player should be posting close to a 0.37 PPO to be considered as producing at a RB3/FLEX level, on an opportunity basis.

To get an idea of who to monitor as the season approaches, we have listed a few rushers who ended last season playing at a tier one PPO level, and a few that finished shy of tier four. The games played, Opportunity, and PPO columns all include Week 9 through Week 16 data (Week 17 data has been omitted, as usual), and all rankings are based on players being on the field for at least 25 percent of their offense’s snaps. Each player appeared in a minimum of seven games and saw at least 100 “opportunities” when establishing their listed PPO score.

Running Back

Wk 9–Wk 16 Gms


2nd ½ PPO (RB Rank)

2013 ADP (overall)

M. Ingram


99 car + 43 routes

0.50 (3rd)

33rd RB (96)

B. Pierce


63 car + 27 routes

0.45 (6th)

41st RB (119)

F. Jones


57 car + 76 routes

0.43 (9th)

96th RB (344)

V. Ballard


123 car +124 route

0.26 (48th)

27th RB (78)

R. Mathews


102 car +105 route

0.23 (52nd)

23rd RB (54)

D. Richardson


34 car + 67 routes

0.19 (54th)

38th RB (104)


Mark Ingram has been an annual disappointment for fantasy owners, but the tide may have begun to turn in 2012. While he was putting up the third best PPO mark for rushers during the second half, he received nearly three times the handoffs and pass routes that Chris Ivory did. For those folks who reside under a rock, Ivory is no longer a factor in the New Orleans backfield. Ingram was also the 22nd highest scoring fantasy running back during that span, and is not far away from gaining a significant opportunity share in a high-powered offense.

The Baltimore Ravens played their best ball of the 2012 season when Bernard Pierce was on the field more often. He received 13 percent of snaps during the first eight weeks, and 20 percent during the eight game snapshot from the chart above. Starter Ray Rice saw his snap percentage drop by the same seven percent that Pierce’s rose. His 40.8 standard league points were only good enough to rank him as the 39th best fantasy rusher over the second half of the year – but Pierce’s opportunity share is likely to grow even without an injury to Rice, and his ADP is already lower than it should be.

Felix Jones will not get a second thought in drafts, but deserves a second look in deeper leagues. Third on the depth chart, Jones will still see plenty of snaps by the end of the season – and his PPO numbers show how he will do when called upon. In fact, he never posted a lower PPO score than 0.44, while operating behind brutal offensive lines in Dallas. Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense was the impetus behind a Patriots hurry up that saw them get off the second most rushes in the league last year. Jones will be a sneaky asset this year.

Ahmad Bradshaw’s arrival in Indianapolis has put a damper on Vick Ballard’s rising expectations for 2013. While Bradshaw has never been the picture of health, and Ballard is nearly assured of eventually getting touches, he remains too expensive in fantasy leagues. As his middling PPO shows, Ballard is the very definition of a volume runner, and without a heavy workload he will be little more than a low upside bench clogger. Attempting to predict injury is a quick way to get in trouble and spending a sixth rounder on bet like that is not a sound strategy.

Perhaps enough virtual ink has already been spilled to disparage Ryan Mathews. Then again, judging by his mid-fourth round ADP, more needs to be said. Averaging 3.5 yards per carry over the second half of the 2012 season, Mathews ended another wasted season with a whimper. The importing of Danny Woodhead and continued presence of the ghost of Ronnie Brown will drain touches from San Diego’s nominal starting runner. If his 0.23 stretch run PPO holds, and a 46th ranked Breakaway Percentage (6.9%) illustrates just how plodding he has been, Mathews will need every opportunity he can get to produce for fantasy owners.

Trying to make heads or tails out of the St. Louis offense at this point is like herding cats. However, the Rams’ media guide recently listed Daryl Richardson as a starter, and his ADP will resultantly rise. Buying the flavor of the moment at an ascending price is risky, both due to the crowded offense in which he will operate and his late season PPO score. Richardson did receive solid full-season Elusive Rating and Breakaway Percentage scores, although he was one of the worst pass blocking backs in the league and had the fifth highest rADEZ rating last year (58.2). Murky playing time and scoring opportunity projections translate into a low ceiling lottery ticket, with a risking price tag.

Pat Thorman is a lead writer for PFF Fantasy and a Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner.

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