Yesterday, RotoViz released possibly my favorite app to date – the Running Back Sim Score Lab. This new app gives you the ability to create custom projections by simulating a hypothetical running back. It’s really impossible to overstate how awesome this is.
You can use this in a variety of ways, of course, but one of the most fun is allowing you to create every running back in exactly the light you want to see him. If you think Adrian Peterson is going to catch more passes, he can. If you expect Skittles to maintain his momentum and score 20 touchdowns, you can input such a version. If you’re worried Bernard Pierce will take a massive bite out of Ray Rice’s attempts, we can do that too.
ADP is a startlingly poor predictor of final point totals. I’m a strong believer that using Similarity Scores gives you a prohibitive advantage on other methods of projecting value. So here are my running back rankings generated with the app. I used the real age and weight for these players and then created a run/catch/injury profile that fit with my expectations.
1. Trent Richardson – ADP RB8
I’ve previously been a mild Trent Richardson skeptic, so you know I’m not skewing this projection to fit my preconceived notions. The biggest concern with Cerberus is obviously injuries, but his upside is astronomical even when you factor that in. Richardson is in the perfect offensive scheme for his abilities, and it creates a dream profile in fantasy: heavy usage, goal line touches, significant receptions. T-Rich also finishes No. 2 in James Goldstein’s RB Upside Ratio.
2. Doug Martin – ADP RB2
Martin has almost as much upside and probably represents less of an injury risk. He may not see quite the same volume as Richardson but could end up being more efficient. Excellent as a rookie, RotoViz expects him to take another jump.
3. Jamaal Charles – ADP RB4
I’ve done a lot of work on Charles for PFF and believe he’s the best running back in the NFL. I also strongly agree with Jacob Myers that Andy Reid’s offense is going to act as rocket fuel for his fantasy prospects. The mythical Charles sees a few touches shifted to the receiving column. It’s worth noting that I did not boost his touchdown rates, but the algorithm is very high on him anyway.
4. C.J. Spiller – ADP RB5
Even after Spiller exploded on the scene in 2012, significant skepticism remains. Many drafters are still undervaluing his near world class speed. Spiller ran a 4.27 at the Combine. Most of the trendy runners we’re talking about this year can barely break 4.5. Some of them can’t break 4.6.
If you told me Spiller was going to break the single-season yards from scrimmage record this year I’d be impressed but not particularly surprised. Despite a size/speed profile that suggests a satellite runner, Spiller led the NFL in PFF’s Elusive Rating last year, a category which is deceptively named since it tracks tackle-breaking ability (or, more precisely, missed-tackle-forcing ability).
5. Adrian Peterson – ADP RB1
Yesterday, I put together a comprehensive look at Adrian Peterson and tried to explain why his poor RotoViz projection is probably justified. Hopefully this squelches any sentiment that I’m anti-Peterson. As you can see, when I put together my hypothetical Peterson, his ranking and projection improves over what the unbiased algorithm suggested. Frequent readers will note that I originally said Peterson should not go in the first five picks. I do have Calvin Johnson ahead of Peterson on my personal board, so that contention is still technically accurate, but I’m willing to remain fluid on Peterson’s value. Of course, for the question to really matter to you personally, you’ll have to have the No. 1 pick.
6. Arian Foster – ADP RB3
Foster is another player I’m much lower on than the general consensus. But he’s also another guy for whom my hypothetical version does better than the algorithm’s version. I think there’s a very real chance Foster falls into a 50-50 timeshare with Ben Tate this season, but his upside remains at least as high as Peterson’s. The Texans should be more explosive on offense this time around, and Foster is probably the one running back who could go off for 25 touchdowns.
7. Ray Rice – ADP RB7
I tried to manipulate the app to see how Pierce would dampen Rice’s upside, but the Lab wasn’t having any of it. He finishes with virtually no gap from Peterson and Foster, which means Rice is primed to be an incredible value in auction leagues and many snake formats. He scored more fantasy points in 2011 than Adrian Peterson did in 2012. Even if Pierce saps some of that value, he’s going to remain a very solid RB1.
8. Alfred Morris – ADP RB10
Morris is one of my favorite guys this season. I’ve suggested he’s going to emerge as the Next Terrell Davis, that he’s prepping for a Secondary Breakout, and listed him as the key acquisition in How To Lose a Draft in 10 Picks. He’s the star of my 10 Most Undervalued Players.
Morris gets the nod over Forte and McCoy due to his strong median projection in standard and half-ppr settings. I didn’t include any additional receptions in creating my hypothetical Morris or his projection would have shot through the roof. The second year back seems to lack explosive upside, but he actually finishes No. 5 in Upside Ratio.
9. Matt Forte – ADP RB11
Charles Kleinheksel has been all over the Forte Fenomenon from the beginning. If you shift Forte’s profile around to reflect his probable usage in the Marc Trestman offense, his projection jumps dramatically. Keep in mind that I went out of my way to emphasize his faults by making him injury-prone and touchdown deficient when I created hypothetical Forte. If anything, this projection might still understate his value.
10. LeSean McCoy – ADP RB9
The Philadelphia Eagles are easily the NFL’s most intriguing team as we enter training camp. I don’t know what to expect from their offense, and I certainly can’t tell you how they’ll use their running backs. That’s one of the reasons McCoy was the RB1 on my All-Trap Team. In creating hypothetical McCoy, I shifted a few of his touches from the receiving game to the rushing game. In my version, his overall touch count and TD percentage were both pretty favorable, so I doubt I’m underselling him badly unless the Eagles end up throwing to their RBs a ton.
11. Steven Jackson – ADP RB12
The Sim Scores didn’t love Jackson’s fit in St. Louis, but my Atlanta version looks like an undervalued guy to target. Matthew Freedman has convincingly argued that S-Jax will be the 2013 Fantasy MVP, and I think this projection adds further weight to that intuition. It’s not entirely clear how many catches or touchdowns we should expect for Jackson, but if he hits his high projection Jackson will be a steal at his mid-to-late second round ADP.
12. Reggie Bush – ADP RB18
Freedman has also been all over Reggie Bush, and the Detroit Lions version looks like a better deal than I originally thought. Since I’m a Lions fan, I tried to be very conservative in putting together his profile. I made him injury prone, relatively ineffective around the goal line, and minimized his non-receiving touches. I still finished with this optimistic projection. I recommend you play with the Lab yourself and see what you come up with for Bush.
13. Chris Johnson – ADP RB13
I’d prefer to see a higher projection for Johnson since he may end up being a guy I own on almost all of my teams. As Jon Krouner has argued, all of the trends for Johnson are very positive. I think we unnecessarily hold Johnson’s weaknesses against him – he’s small and that sometimes makes him look especially lazy – and forget to give him credit for his strengths. Did you know he repeatedly averages more yards before contact than Adrian Peterson despite receiving worse blocking? Did you know he averaged the same number of yards after contact per attempt from 2008 to 2011 as Marshawn Lynch?
I expect Johnson’s numbers to gravitate toward his high projection, but in the hypothetical I created I didn’t want my enthusiasm to get the best of me. His weaknesses are fully represented in the profile.
14. Maurice Jones-Drew – ADP RB14
I’m not going to be drafting MJD this season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up as the 2013 version of Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch. Those two players rode depressed ADPs onto a flurry of title teams last year. They received a big injury discount and turned out not to be hurt. I tried to wallop Jones-Drew for his 2012 injury in creating this projection, but the app was more interested in how prolific he’s been when healthy. Completely cleared by doctors when he reported to training camp, don’t be surprised if we see his ADP start to rise again.
15. Stevan Ridley – ADP RB16
In reality, Ridley benefits from the Patriots’ offense and his numerous goal line opportunities. The algorithm is enthusiastic for the same reasons. It’s important to note that Ridley’s youth is very important for a non-pass-catching running back. This will be clear when we finally get to Marshawn Lynch. You’ll notice that while Ridley’s median projection is solid, his low and high projections are both discouraging. The capped upside is one of the reasons he was my RB2 on the All-Trap Team.
16. David Wilson – ADP RB17
Including Wilson may be a stretch because we really haven’t seen him perform at the NFL level. Yesterday, I tried to look at Wilson from every possible angle, investigating the history of efficient but underused rookie 1st round picks, generating an exhaustive list of college comps, and probing the best advanced college stats we have available. As a result, I feel like I’ve got a good understanding of his possible risks and the theoretically huge rewards.
The RB Sim Scores don’t have as much insight into runners who project to seismic shifts in usage, so playing with the Sim Score Lab can be a lot of fun in exploring the potential results of these players.
17. DeMarco Murray – ADP RB15
Based on the actual Sim Scores, DeMarco Murray profiles as a post-hype superstar and one of the best values in the entire draft. However, when I created my hypothetical Murray, he looks fairly valued. I’m a little surprised by the change in fortunes, but I did emphasize his injury-prone nature. Drafting the Cowboys bellcow is going to be largely a matter of taste. With Bill Callahan calling plays, I still expect the No. 3 back in Upside Ratio to show up on a ton of championship teams this winter.
18. Marshawn Lynch – ADP RB6
I always try to underproject the guys I’m enthusiastic about and overproject the players I don’t really want. Usually that works to counterbalance obvious bias. Occasionally it may not. I’ve written at length on why I think drafting Lynch will be a disaster. These projections agree with me. It’s always hard to believe until it happens, but backs who do not catch many passes collapse much earlier than their pass-catching brethren.
If you’re considering Lynch as your RB1, I suggest playing with the Lab yourself. You’ll probably find something much more encouraging. (My projections are worse than what the regular Sim Scores spit out, but they too see Lynch as overvalued.)
19. Darren McFadden – ADP RB19
McFadden is plummeting in many drafts. Rumors of McFadden’s determination combined with a shift back to his preferred blocking scheme have managed to . . . well, not at all offset the concerns about his injuries, his possibly overrated talent level, and the atrocious nature of the Raiders in general.
20. Frank Gore – ADP RB20
Gore’s projection is slightly higher in my version than what the actual Sim Scores suggest, but either way he’s one of the most overvalued players in fantasy. Aging runners who no longer see a lot of touches or feature heavily in the passing game should be anathema to any winning strategy.
To truly develop a championship roster, it’s at least as important to dominate the RB3 and RB4 tiers. For the Part 2 of this article, check out Lamar Miller headlines a complete projection of RB21-50.