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Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity

Knocks

Every year a new crop of runningbacks join the NFL and another group plays musical stadiums, leaving fantasy owners guessing about what to expect. Most recently in the Shark Tank at FantasySharks.com, my friend, compatriot, and glutton for abuse DynastyForce wondered aloud about

Felix Jones’ likely impact on Cowboys’ incumbent

Marion Barber. Now we can’t just take

Felix Jones’ college stats or a veteran’s performance on their last team and figure they’ll do the same in their new roles, but we can look at their situations. Instead of past performances, we’re going to focus on opportunity – how much time we expect to see them on the field – as our predictor of success.

 

Backfield Touches

Rookies (p=323)

New Veterans (p=238)

On the bench

(under 5%)

58%

56%

Sniffing the field

(5 – 20%)

26%

31%

Sharing the load

(20%-40%)

11%

8%

Taking over

(over 40%)

5%

5%

Incumbent with 50%+ of carries the previous year, from 1998 – 2007

 

Rashard Mendenhall,

Felix Jones, and

Chris Johnson join the NFL in an uphill battle for opportunity. As shown in the table above, rookies and veterans on a new team are faced with overwhelming odds when competing with an established runningback. A few will steal touches regularly, but just 5% each of rookies and acquired veterans will threaten to take over the starting job when there’s a clear starting job to take. Most hardly make an immediate impact, but we’ll focus our attention to the guys who have.

 

Rookie Impacts

The rookies who immediately take over come in four distinct flavors:

  1. Hall of Fame candidates like

    Eddie George (1996) and

    Marshall Faulk (1994)

  2. Injury fill-ins like

    Domenic Rhodes (2001)

  3. “Step aside, gramps!” like

    Antowain Smith over

    Thurman Thomas (1997)

  4. “Can he be any worse?” like

    Willie Green over

    James Jackson (2002)

If your guy doesn’t fit these categories, he’s probably not going to get much of an opportunity.

The guys who come in to share the backfield also roughly match these categories, but with an emphasis on age. Once we eliminate the incumbents who missed half the season, over 75% of the established top backs were in their 5th or later season when the rookie stepped in, losing about 14% of their touches along the way. The rookies who were worked in include guys like

Lawrence Maroney,

Steven Jackson, and

Frank Gore, who we’ve watched take their place over the worn or the ineffective (yes, you,

Kevan Barlow), phasing the incumbent out.

 

Veteran Impacts

In the few cases a veteran has come in to take over there are two key features: Injury and underachievement. Their time on the field is much more straight-forward than with rookies, generally being directly proportional to the amount of injury and suckage on the team that nabbed them. More often, acquired vets fill out the bench and, even then, usually cede the top backup roles to the guys who were there before them.


Great Expectations

So far we’ve gotten a sense of the backfield competition in the NFL created by the draft and free agency. To put this to use, we’ll look at current draft trends, see what the average drafter seems to expect, and whether or not the value adds up.

 

Top rookie draft back

Darren McFadden has been going 19th among runningbacks in redraft leagues at MyFantasyLeague.com. To live up to this pick in your fantasy draft, recent history says he’ll have to see about 60% of the touches out of that shaky but crowded Oakland backfield.

Michael Turner (17th), on the other hand, has high expectations, but is competing against an inexperienced

Jerious Norwood who was still returning kicks last season.

 

Likewise, for

Rashard Mendenhall (25th) to give you the RB2/3 performance so many seem to expect, he’ll have to take a bit over half of the action at the expense of

Willie Parker. Meanwhile, 

Michael Pittman (#73) finds himself in 

Denver

in an unremarkable stable, but is on the bottom of the draft heap.

 

Given these examples and what we’ve seen about runningbacks on new teams, you have to ask how these guys fit in their new situations. Can McFadden be any worse than the others in

Oakland

? Is it time for Willie Parker to step aside, and give half the game to a rookie? Is Marion Barber an underachiever?

 

The Answer: 42

I’ve given you the questions. To help with the answer, you’ll find a table of 42 upstarts at the end of this article. I’ve included their current competition, current average draft positions, and about how much field time they’ll need to live up to that draft pick. I’ve also thrown in some historical examples to put things in perspective.

 

When you make a pick in a redraft league, you’re usually making a statement: I expect this guy to perform better than everyone else after him at this position. Think about where they’re being drafted, who they’re competing with, and whether or not they’re going to get the opportunity your draft pick demands.

 

To join the discussion on any runningback with a pulse, dip into the Shark Tank at FantasySharks.com, send me any feedback in the Article Discussion forum, and if you happen to be Kevan Barlow, I know, it wasn’t all your fault.

Average Draft Position vs. Opportunity

Here’s an example of how to read the table below:

To be the 17th RB overall, Michael Turner must get around 62% of touches out of the backfield.

Team

Year

ADP

RB Draft Rank

New Runningback

Touches %

Incumbent / Competition

as of June 15, 2008

ARI

2006

 

 

James, Edgerrin

 84%

Shipp, Marcel

IND

1994

 

 

Faulk, Marshall (R)

 72%

Potts, Roosevelt

HOU

2003

 

 

Davis, Domanick (R)

 65%

Wells, Jonathan

ATL

2008

 33.45

 17

Turner, Michael

 62%

Norwood, Jerious

OAK

2008

 37.46

 19

McFadden, Darren

 61%

Fargas / Bush / Jordan

TB

2005

 

 

Williams, Cadillac (R)

 61%

Pittman, Michael

CLE

2002

 

 

Green, William (R)

 58%

Jackson, James

CAR

2008

 57.92

 23

Stewart, Jonathan

 56%

Williams, DeAngelo

PIT

2008

 61.8

 25

Mendenhall, Rashard

 51%

Parker, Willie

BUF

1997

 

 

Smith, Antowain (R)

 50%

Thomas, Thurman

SEA

2008

 62.6

 27

Jones, Julius

 49%

Morris / Duckett

CAR

2001

 

 

Huntley, Richard

 47%

Biakabutuka, Tim

DET

2008

 72.96

 29

Smith, Kevin

 46%

Bell / Calhoun

CHI

2008

 73.75

 30

Forte, Matt

 41%

Peterson / Wolfe

NE

2006

 

 

Maroney, Laurence (R)

 38%

Dillon, Corey

DAL

2008

 92.88

 33

Jones, Felix

 37%

Barber, Marion III

STL

2004

 

 

Jackson, Steven (R)

 35%

Faulk, Marshall

TEN

2008

 101.61

 36

Johnson, Chris

 33%

White, LenDale

SF

2005

 

 

Gore, Frank (R)

 32%

Barlow, Kevan

GB

2005

 

 

Gado, Samkon (R)

 32%

Green, Ahman

F/A

2008

 113.11

 39

Henry, Travis

 29%

TBD

BAL

2008

 120.47

 40

Rice, Ray

 29%

McGahee, Willis

IND

2007

 

 

Keith, Kenton (R)

 28%

Addai, Joseph

DEN

2008

 137.37

 44

Torain, Ryan

 26%

Young / Pittman / Hall

KC

2008

 152.59

 46

Charles, Jamaal

 22%

Johnson, Larry

F/A

2008

 166.09

 49

Alexander, Shaun

 21%

TBD

HOU

2008

 180.59

 52

Brown, Chris

 20%

Green, Ahman

HOU

2008

 187.69

 55

Slaton, Steve

 19%

Green / Brown

TB

2008

 196.58

 60

Dunn, Warrick

 18%

Graham, Ernest

F/A

2008

 217

 66

Jones, Kevin

 18%

TBD

SFO

2008

 223.66

 68

Foster, DeShaun

 18%

Gore, Frank

DEN

2008

 238.95

 73

Pittman, Michael

 17%

Young / Hall

SD

2008

 240.31

 76

Hester, Jacob

 17%

Tomlinson, LaDainian

ARI

2008

 245

 77

Hightower, Tim

 14%

James, Edgerrin

IND

2008

 247.63

 79

Hart, Mike

 12%

Addai, Joseph

DAL

2008

 257.06

 80

Choice, Tashard

 10%

Barber, Marion III

MIA

2008

 267.52

 82

Parmele, Jalen

 8%

Brown, Ronnie

SEA

2008

 269.03

 84

Duckett, T.J.

 7%

Jones, Julius

BUF

2008

 273.87

 85

Omon, Xavier

 7%

Lynch, Marshawn

SD

2008

 283.86

 90

Thomas, Marcus

 6%

Tomlinson, LaDainian

SEA

2008

 301.75

 97

Forsett, Justin

 5%

Jones, Julius

TB

2008

 311.17

 99

Boyd, Cory

 4%

Graham, Earnest

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