Quantifying the Kubiak Effect

Mike Brusko researches the impact Gary Kubiak's offenses have had on running back production and why C.J. Anderson stands to be the next beneficiary.

| 2 years ago

Quantifying the Kubiak Effect

1128_C.J.-Anderson_insideThe success running backs have had in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme is no secret. Unfortunately this success is often not quantified to the extent it should be.

I set out to change this by researching the fantasy performances of running backs who have played in Kubiak’s offensive scheme, with the goal of projecting fantasy production for the starting running back in Denver this season.

Because PFF’s data goes back to 2007 it seemed like a logical place to start my research. Since 2007 Kubiak has been the head coach in Houston (2006 – 2013) and the offensive coordinator in Baltimore (2014). When examining how Kubiak’s running backs fared over this period, I found PFF’s snap percentage data, which is the percentage of offensive snaps that the player was on the field, to be very insightful. The snap percentage data showed that Kubiak’s running backs who have participated in at least 67 percent of their team’s offensive snaps have averaged 252 points in standard leagues and 300 points in point per reception (PPR) leagues.

These are big numbers. In fact, the average fantasy point total of these players would be good for top five running back production in all but one of the past 10 fantasy football seasons in both standard scoring and PPR formats. The performance data of the players is below:

Year Player % Snaps Std. Pts PPR Pts PFF Grade
2008 Steve Slaton 70.80% 222 272 0.7
2010 Arian Foster 79.10% 326 392 8.4
2011 Arian Foster 74.50% 250 303 8.0
2012 Arian Foster 75.60% 262 302 -2.3
2014 Justin Forsett 67.20% 201 245 11.5
Kubiak AVG RB 252 303

It’s interesting to see the low correlation between a strong PFF grade and fantasy production. This is specifically the case in Arian Foster’s 2011 and 2012 seasons where his fantasy points and snap percentage data were very similar and his PFF grades were far apart. This suggests that for running backs who play in Kubiak’s offensive scheme, the more a running back is on the field is more important than the talent of the player.

While they were not researched in this article due to PFF’s data beginning in 2007, the significant production of no name running backs Olandis Gary and Mike Anderson during Kubiak’s tenure as the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos (1995 – 2005) would further validate the claim that scheme trumps skill in Kubiak led offenses.

As I look forward to 2015 this research leads me to ask a few questions. First, who will be the starting running back in Denver this year with the opportunity to take advantage of playing in Kubiak’s running back friendly system? Second, with the positive correlation between a high percentage of offensive snaps and fantasy production in Kubiak led offenses, does that player have a complete enough set of tools to play all three downs to reach their highest snap percentage potential?

While C.J. Anderson ended 2014 as the starter, the confidence in his foothold on the position is viewed as shaky by some, stemming in part from Montee Ball’s recent comments on winning the job back. For what it’s worth, Kubiak did express commitment to Anderson being the starter heading into the offseason program.

When sorting through a roster competition for a starting role, PFF’s grades are extremely valuable, because they provide an unbiased performance based analysis for all the players involved. While the overall grade is important, what’s just as valuable is the grade for position specific criteria (pass catching and blocking) to provide visibility into the running back’s likelihood of being on the field when it’s third down. The 2014 grades for the Denver backfield are below:

Name Overall Pass Rush Pass Block
C.J. Anderson 19.8 2.3 15.3 1.3
Montee Ball -1.8 -1.0 -1.0 -0.9
Ronnie Hillman -7.5 -3.7 -2.7 -2.1

Assuming he performs to his potential, the 2014 grades paint a picture that it will be very difficult for Anderson to lose control of the starting job. His overall grade was much higher than Ball’s and Hillman’s. This was led primarily by the wide spread when comparing their rushing grades.

Although it was by a much smaller margin, I am also very encouraged by Anderson’s higher receiving and blocking grades. Pass protection is of the utmost importance to the Broncos, with the last thing they want being their Super Bowl hopes put in jeopardy, because  a 39-year-old Peyton Manning was injured.

Last year neither Hillman or Ball showed enough in pass protection or as receivers, to lead one to think the third down role will be theirs in 2015. The implications of this are huge for Anderson, because of the massive amount of fantasy upside for running backs playing under Kubiak who combine a high snap percentage number with a high PFF grade.

This dynamic duo was demonstrated perfectly by Arian Foster in 2010. Foster’s 2010 season is the best fantasy season by a running back over the past five years and he combined a  79.1 percent offensive snap percentage with a 8.4 PFF grade. A grade that I should add, was quite a bit less than Anderson’s 19.8 grade last season.

Summary and Action Plan
If Anderson maintains his grip on the starting role and his offensive snaps are above 67 percent this season, his owners should be rewarded with top five production. In fact, don’t be surprised if he ends the year as the number one fantasy running back. The wind behind Anderson’s back is that strong.

When you have a player of his talent (validated by his 2014 PFF grade), plugged into a Kubiak led rushing attack, you have the perfect combination of skill and situation that can lead to a massive fantasy season. Of course, you only get value when you buy something for less than what it is worth, which is why with his current average draft position (ADP) at 18, I suggest locking in your value by selecting him in the late first or early second round.

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