Expected Points Assessment: Running Backs

Justin Dunbar uses expected fantasy points to assess running back production ahead of this year's trade deadline.

What should we use to project future fantasy production? It’s one thing to create projections in the offseason, but to adjust in season is incredibly difficult. We wish we could just use previous fantasy production to guide us, but with how fluky touchdown production and other stats can be in such a small sample, it’s something we cannot afford to do.

That’s where expected points come into play. You’ve probably seen some form of expected points before, but the basis is that it judges players based on the opportunities they receive, in order to illustrate how many points they should score. Since it strips a lot of the “flukiness” that can come from individual games, it’s a terrific way to create the foundation for weekly projections.

Today, let’s utilize expected points to our advantage. However, I want to do it in a different way than you may be used to seeing. Rather, I want to utilize simple variables to create a very easy-to-use metric. Thus, for every position in this series, we will be using only one statistic that correlates strongly with fantasy football production to create this metric.

For running backs, as we discussed in the first expected points assessment, that variable is touches. Touchdowns and big plays ultimately move the needle, yet they’re quite unstable, while touches are a much more reliable metric from one game to the next. However, not all touches are created equal. Based on my research, each target was about twice as significant when it comes to fantasy production as every rush attempt.

Using weighted touches the coefficient of determination between expected fantasy points and actual points was 0.83. In other words, 83% of a running backs’ fantasy points per game could be explained by their weighted touches per game. That indicates a pretty strong relationship, and the type of reliability we’re looking for. There will be players that consistently score more or fewer touchdowns than others, which will allow them to overachieve or underachieve their expected fantasy output.

With that, let’s take a look at how every notable running back rates in terms of expected fantasy points:

 

Sadly, Derrick Henry is likely out for the season after undergoing foot surgery, which means that until Christian McCaffrey is fully healthy, Najee Harris is the “RB1” moving forward. We had an idea that the Steelers were going to use him as a bell-cow back this offseason, and it’s clear that he was a steal as a general second-round pick in fantasy drafts this past offseason. Meanwhile, keep an eye on Leonard Fournette and Elijah Mitchell, who each appear to be undervalued players that have more control over their backfield than they’re given credit for. If available via trade, they would make nice targets ahead of this year’s trading deadline.

Buy Low

 

By looking at players who are underachieving their expected points total, we can find some players to potentially buy-low on:

 

Sell High

 

Conversely, by looking at players who have overachieved their expected fantasy production, we can find players to sell high on:

 

Overview

 

There are a lot of flaws with using actual fantasy production to project future production, thanks to all the instabilities that can take place in any given game. That’s where expected points come into play. By utilizing this metric, we’ve been able to find players to buy low on, sell high on, as well as some waiver wire additions to help fill in for your starting running back. At the end of the day, it’s all a crapshoot, but it’s up to us to try our best to do the impossible, right? Hopefully, that’s what this version of expected points can do for us ahead of this year’s trading deadline.

 

(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

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