The 2013 Hillis Factor and Breakout Running Backs
Bryan Fontaine revisits the advanced stats to see if there's a way to identify the next breakout running back in 2013.
The 2013 Hillis Factor and Breakout Running Backs
Three seasons ago, I created the Hillis Factor to identify unheralded players that could be the next breakout running back using key metrics found only at Pro Football Focus.
The Hillis Factor namesake is attributed to Peyton Hillis – who in the 2010 season went from a backup running back to Madden cover athlete. His success led me to ask whether his breakout season could have been predicted using statistical indicators from his previous seasons.
Using Hillis’ limited production from his 2008 and 2009 seasons with the Broncos, a few key statistical metrics seemed to indicate that total fantasy points alone are not a good barometer to finding breakout players. What is more important is how efficient a running back is on a per play basis and if they can create positive plays on their own.
Although the standards have changed over the past three seasons, Hillis’ pre-breakout statistics were vital to determining the baselines for the Hillis Factor.
Here are current parameters for finding the next breakout running back:
- Less than 120 Fantasy Points (PPR Scoring)
- Greater than 0.3 fantasy points per snap
- Greater than 0.4 fantasy points per pass route and rushing attempt
- Greater than or equal to 2.5 rushing yards after contact per attempt (league average)
This metric is a great asset for your fantasy team in 2013, but works even better as a list of players to keep tabs on in your dynasty/keeper league.
Before we get into the 2013 candidates, here are some of the successes in 2011 and 2012:
Isaac Redman – PIT 110 attempts 479 yards 3 TD; 18 receptions 78 yards
Chris Ivory – NO 79 attempts 374 yards 1 TD
Marcel Reece – OAK 59 attempts 264 yards; 52 receptions 496 yards 1 TD
Isaac Redman – PIT 110 attempts 410 yards 2 TD; 18 receptions 225 yards
Shane Vereen – NE 62 attempts 251 yards 3 TD; 8 receptions 149 yards 1 TD
Kendall Hunter – SF 72 attempts 371 yards 2 TD; 9 receptions 60 yards
Chris Ivory – NO 40 attempts 217 yards 2 TD; 2 receptions 15 yards
Isaac Redman and Chris Ivory have made the cut the last two years and (spoiler alert) also qualified in 2013. Redman is trending in the wrong direction and faces uncertainty in 2013. Chris Ivory just needs a shot; he’s been productive when he has seen playing time. Ivory’s issues have been his health.
I wrote last year that Marcel Reece was the most likely to be the next Peyton Hillis, and was dead on with that statement. Reece, also miscast as a fullback, was a monster in PPR scoring formats despite scoring just one touchdown. Shane Vereen saw more playing time down the stretch and was a surprise goal line option for the Patriots. It is easy to forget with LaMichael James seeing plenty of action late in the season that Kendall Hunter kept James as a healthy scratch until his season ending injury. Hunter could easily reclaim his spot on the depth chart when healthy.
2013 Breakout Candidates
|Pos||Player||Team||Games||Snaps||FP||FP / SN||FP / Opp||Yco / Att.|
David Wilson – NYG
David Wilson is easily the most high-profile running back that qualifies this year – if you go by his average draft position in early mock drafts. The only issue with Wilson centers around his lack of pass protection success. Wilson only drew four pass blocking assignments all year – and none before Week 14. Unfortunately he let up a quarterback hit on one of those plays – one of the reasons Eli Manning threw an early interception at Atlanta. There is no question Wilson is an exciting fantasy option but his workload will depend on how much head coach Tom Coughlin trusts him with the release of Ahmad Bradshaw.
Andre Brown – NYG
Andre Brown was a surprise contributor to the Giants this year. After only playing two snaps in 2010, Brown finally caught on with New York after bouncing from team to team since then. His breakout came in a Week 3 start at Carolina when he totaled 130 yards and two touchdowns on 23 touches. Brown was lost for the season after suffering a broken leg against Green Bay in Week 12. He is expected to return to the Giants as a restricted free agent to compete for the vacant starting running back position with the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw. Based on a pure value proposition, Brown offers more upside than his teammate David Wilson at this early juncture in the offseason.
Lamar Miller – MIA
Lamar Miller “fell” to the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft because of health concerns. The Dolphins may have lucked into finding a feature back with the impending departure of Reggie Bush. Miller saw offensive snaps in 10 games as a rookie, but only had more than 10 snaps in six contests. He is also a riser in early mock drafts because most fantasy football owners are expecting Miller to unseat the incumbent holdover in Daniel Thomas. The Dolphins trusted Miller in pass protection, with 17 opportunities out of his 134 snaps, which is a key component for any young player to see a significant increase in playing time. The opportunity to buy-in on Miller is closing fast.
Bernard Pierce – BLT
Bernard Pierce proved himself as a capable backup to Ray Rice this season – appearing in all 20 games in the Ravens’ march to their Super Bowl victory. Pierce capped off an impressive regular season with even better results in the playoffs, including 202 yards rushing on 39 carries. Rice’s workload, 410 (341 rush, 69 receptions) combined touches including the playoffs, makes Pierce a must-own handcuff and a high-upside draft selection in the mid to late rounds of your draft this year.
Mark Ingram – NO
Dynasty league owners are likely still stung by the selection of Mark Ingram at the top of their 2011 rookie drafts, especially if they took him over the likes of A.J. Green and Julio Jones. While Ingram has had his faults, he has been a serviceable fantasy option and appeared to turn the corner late in the season. He has held steady with five touchdowns and a 3.9 yards per carry mark in the last two years – though his yards after contact saw a dramatic improvement from 2.1 to 2.8 this year. Head coach Sean Payton’s offensive philosophy to have a running back by committee really dampens Ingram’s potential, but if Ingram continues his progression, he can be a worthwhile flex option in a plus matchup because of his red zone prowess.
Ben Tate – HST
Ben Tate has been a must-draft for Arian Foster owners the last two seasons and will be no different this year. In fact, it may be even more imperative that Tate be handcuffed to Foster. Foster has totaled 850 combined touches (including the playoffs) the last two years. It is not a given that he will have an off-year, but the odds aren’t in his favor to see a full 16 game season. Tate regressed this year as he struggled with injuries of his own, but when given the opportunity, he is at worst a strong RB2.
Worth a Gamble
Chris Ivory – NO
Chris Ivory makes his third appearance on the list. He has seen his snaps and opportunities decrease each year, but he remains one of the most efficient reserve running backs in the NFL. Ivory has been buried on the Saints’ depth chart and now faces restricted free agency and the team may just let him walk. His best bet is to start fresh with a new team and hope that his minor injuries are a thing of the past.
Kendall Hunter – SF
LaMichael James got the late-season buzz as the backup to Frank Gore, but it was Kendall Hunter who kept James as a healthy scratch until Week 14. Hunter improved on most of his rookie season metrics, kept occasional goal line duties and ran even tougher after contact. His value this year is predicated on his recovery from season ending surgery to repair his Achilles’ tendon. Hunter is a better stash in dynasty leagues.
DuJuan Harris – GB
DuJuan Harris was one of the last running backs standing at the end of the season for Green Bay. He saw limited duty in Weeks 14 through 16, but was the primary ball carrier from Week 17 through their playoff loss to San Francisco. He may not get another opportunity to reprise that role given his size (5’7”) and the coaching staff views him as a committee-type back at best.
Delone Carter – IND
Delone Carter was used primarily as a short-yardage back when he was healthy this season, but his path to additional carries is blocked by Vick Ballard at the moment. Carter scored three touchdowns on five red zone carries and ran tough after contact – though it didn’t show in his yards per carry (3.8).
Isaac Redman – PIT
Isaac Redman, like Chris Ivory, makes his third appearance on this list. The Pittsburgh running back has had exactly 110 carries and 18 receptions in the last two seasons as part of their committee approach. Unfortunately, his yards per carry dropped from 4.4 to 3.7 this year. He made up for it in the passing game with his yards per reception increasing from 4.3 to 12.5, with 190 after the catch.
Brandon Bolden – NE
Brandon Bolden was a surprise addition to the 53-man roster out of camp as an undrafted free agent from Mississippi. He earned a role early in the season behind starter Stevan Ridley and had a breakout game at Buffalo with 137 yards rushing and a touchdown. He was suspended four games this year and struggled to regain the trust of the coaching staff to see significant snaps. Bolden has flashed enough talent to merit monitoring in dynasty leagues.
Bryan Fontaine is the Dynasty Editor at Pro Football Focus Fantasy. He is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writer’s Association (FSWA) and a 2004 graduate from Southern New Hampshire University with a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management.