This is the article wherein I explain how Ahmad Bradshaw could finish the season as a top 36 (or higher) PPR back. Yes, I know the Colts traded for Trent Richardson. The general consensus on Twitter is this move signals the end of Ahmad Bradshaw as a useful fantasy asset. Not so fast. I think Bradshaw could continue to be a relevant fantasy player for a few reasons.
The Case for Ahmad
In order for Bradshaw to be relevant, he’ll need to be in a decent timeshare situation with Richardson. In fact, the Colts may already be planning a timeshare. Pep Hamilton wants to have a run-heavy offense. Since most teams now use some form of committee, why shouldn’t the Colts?
In game one, when both RBs were healthy, Ballard saw 13 of 20 RB attempts and 1 of 3 pass targets, and Bradshaw 7 of 20 rushes and 2 of 3 targets. In other words, Ballard got 14 of 23 opportunities (61%) vs. 9 of 20 (39%) for Bradshaw. In game two, with Ballard out, Bradshaw saw 15 attempts to 7 for Donald Brown, and garnered 3 of 5 RB pass targets for a total of 66% of total opportunities. Notice the similar workload split despite the different personnel and opponents. Acquiring Richardson doesn’t mean the Colts don’t want a committee at all; it just means they don’t want a Bradshaw/Brown committee.
There are two reasons I think such a timeshare might happen. The first is that Bradshaw has already excelled on “complementary” or “part time touches”. Bradshaw shared the Giants backfield with Brandon Jacobs from 2007 to 2011. The data I’m sharing comes from 2009 to 2011 (Bradshaw had limited touches as a rookie in 2007 and also in 2008). Here’s how Bradshaw performed (PPR Scoring).
In only one of those seasons did Bradshaw get close to “full time starter” touches (276 attempts in 2010). But I think the key season is 2009. In that season, looking at total RB opportunities (rush attempts plus pass targets), there were 28 RB opportunities per game, 16 (57%) for Jacobs and 12 (43%) for Bradshaw. As you can see, Bradshaw was effective as a complementary back, and it’s similar to the ratio the Colts have used in their first two games. I do think they’ll eventually skew more heavily to Richardson. Something like a 65/35 or 70/30 split (Richardson had 71% of Cleveland’s RB opportunities last year) seems like it could be the sweet spot where both players’ health and effectiveness is maximized. The point is that Bradshaw doesn’t have to be an all or nothing back; he can be quite effective in a part time role.
The Case against Richardson
The other reason I think it’s likely the Colts use a timeshare in the backfield is that Richardson is really just a two down back:
Richardson is only a two down back, part one: Norv Turner loves throwing to RBs: in 2012, 31% of Chargers pass attempts were targeted to RBs. But despite having T-Rich, only 18% of Cleveland’s 2013 targets have gone to RBs (and only 12% to T-Rich).
Richardson is only a two down back, part two: In 2012, only 6.7% of Richardson’s rushing attempts, and 12% of his receptions, came on 3rd down. In 2013, despite Norv’s historical love of RBs, Richardson has received NO third down rushes or passes.
So we know that Richardson has so far not proven to be an every down back, and Bradshaw is an effective committee back. But could it work with Bradshaw and Richardson like it did with Bradshaw and Jacobs? Yes! This table compares how Richardson and Jacobs have been used, and how they produced, in various game situations over their careers.
How about that: Richardson has ALREADY been used in almost exactly the same way as Jacobs was in New York. I’m thinking that the Colts may not want to turn Richardson into something he so far hasn’t been (an every down RB). Instead, they may just be trying to use him for what he’s already been used for, and then plug Bradshaw into his once and familiar complementary role, in a reprise of the Giants old backfield.
So How Much Usage Will the Colts’ RBs Get?
Obviously Bradshaw’s not going to be putting up RB1 numbers, but I think he could still be a flex play or RB2. From 2009-2011, Bradshaw averaged 0.81 fantasy points (PPR) per opportunity. Through two games, the Colts have split their RB work 65% / 35%, and are averaging about 25 non-Andrew Luck RB opportunities/game. Last year they averaged about 26 non-Luck opportunities/game.
|RB Opportunities/ Game||Percent for Bradshaw||# for Bradshaw||PPR Points/Game (0.81 points/ opp)|
That’s not what you drafted Bradshaw for, but 7 points/game would be 112 points or about RB 36. That’s worth holding on to, given the downward overall trend of RB production and the meager replacement options.
Remember that Richardson has yet to learn the Colts offense, so Bradshaw may see higher usage in the short term. And like any RB, T-Rich could go down to injury, in which case Bradshaw would again assume the 65% portion of the RB workload, making him one of the better handcuffs in the league. I also think that the Colts will be gunning for more than 25 RB opportunities/game. Why? Well, they did sign Bradshaw as a free agent and then traded a 1st round pick for Richardson. They’re also on record as desiring to run more than last year. Finally, through two games the Colts are only averaging 62.5 plays/game. Last year they averaged over 69. If they get back to that pace, there should be a corresponding increase in RB opportunities (about 10%), which would push Bradshaw’s projection to about 8 PPR points/game, or RB 30 range.
I know there are several objections to this argument, so let’s address them here.
But, But, But T-RICH!
The first is that the Colts spent a 1st round pick to get Richardson, so they must plan to use him a lot. Fair enough. But what is “a lot”? Richardson himself only ranked 11th in individual RB attempts last year, good for only 71% of his own team’s rushing attempts. The perception that Richardson can pile up tons of attempts may be true, but it isn’t a sure thing. And even if he can, he won’t get ALL the work: even Adrian Peterson only captured 80% of the Vikings’ 2012 RB opportunities (rush attempts plus pass targets).
The second objection is that, given both his initial draft status and subsequent trade value, Richardson must be an “every down” RB. Why trade for a RB that’s not a true all-situation workhorse? The answer is that there really aren’t very many of those. Check this out: Here are the top 11 rushers from last season, and the percentage of their career runs and receptions that happened on 3rd or 4th down.
Pct Runs on 3rd/4th Down
Pct Rec on 3rd/4th Down
3rd/4th Down Rec/G
So how many of those look like true all-down bell cows? Foster and maybe Charles? The point is that even really good “Number One” RBs don’t get a ton of work on 3rd and 4th downs. So why expect Richardson to?
The third objection is that Bradshaw is “injury prone”: he mostly missed the preseason and didn’t play much in week one. His feet are actually just a bunch of screws held together with baling wire and shredded flesh. Actually, (a) he’s played in 85.7% of games during his career (that’s more than Foster and Charles, for example) and (b) the Colts knew that before they went out and signed him in the first place, so they must have an expectation of what he can do. It’s clear they don’t expect Bradshaw to be the every down RB; but that doesn’t mean they have no plan for Bradshaw.
I may of course be wrong. Richardson’s (and Bradshaw’s) usage and effectiveness to date suggests a timeshare could be best, but the Colts could force the ball to Richardson all game, every game. But if you own Bradshaw, and you hold on to him and it doesn’t work out, what did you miss out on? The current crop of waiver wire RBs is pretty thin. Conversely, if Bradshaw does end up in a reasonable timeshare and puts up top 36 RB numbers, you’ll be glad you held on to him.