For the context of this article, it’s important to note that these efficiency stats are not 2015 rankings and should not serve as a review of 2014. Instead, we can use these metrics to provide an overall measurement for how effective a player is on the field and, in turn, how productive they can be for your fantasy football team.
Also, these metrics are not projections or a direct indication of how many raw fantasy points a player will or can score. These metrics can indicate how productive a player was in 2014 on a per-drop back, per-touch, or per-route-run basis.
Considering this is a forward-thinking piece, let’s say a running back saw a limited workload and is going to be in line for more touches. It may be useful to know how many fantasy points he averaged on every touch. Was he effective or was he inefficient with his touches? Was he more efficient on a per-touch basis than the other backs on his team? Using analysis like this could help substantiate how well a player could perform in a bigger role. Let’s get to it.
(Note: In this section the statistic used is fantasy points per drop back (FPs/DB) and all scoring is 4 points per passing touchdown.)
Efficient: Russell Wilson
Wilson scored 0.61 fantasy points per drop back (FPs/DB) in 2014, finishing second among qualified signal callers behind Aaron Rodgers (0.63). Wilson has easily been one of the most efficient quarterbacks on a per-drop back basis, finishing 4th, 4th and 2nd overall in FPs/DB since he entered the league in 2012. What makes Wilson’s 2014 efficiency different from the average fantasy quarterback is that 36.4% of his output came via rushing yards and rushing touchdowns while only 24% of his production came from passing touchdowns. This is a remarkable difference from his 2013 season, where 35.9% of his output came from passing touchdowns and he still managed to score 0.58 fantasy points per drop back.
Forward thinkers: Imagine the upside if Wilson has a season where he can combine his 2014 rushing efficiency with his 2013 passing output.
Inefficient: Drew Brees
Brees has been one of the most productive fantasy quarterbacks over the past six years, and that is always baked in to his average draft position. Fantasy drafting theology aside, Brees simply did not return value in 2014. He scored 0.46 FPs/DB, his lowest per-drop back efficiency since 2010. To put Brees’ 2014 inefficiency in perspective, he finished 15th among all quarterbacks in FPs/DB and he had previously finished no worse than 8th in his three prior seasons. The Saints' 2014 offense was still very effective, scoring the 5th most points per drive (2.35), but Brees’ fantasy production likely suffered due to a banged-up Jimmy Graham, the loss of Brandin Cooks to a mid-November wrist injury and an aging Marques Colston. Getting a healthy Graham and Cooks back could certainly be beneficial to a future Brees rebound.
Inefficient: Derek Carr
Rookie quarterbacks are tricky. This is certainly not the nail in the coffin for the Raiders' 23-year-old signal caller, but Carr was horribly inefficient on a per-drop back basis. His 0.33 FPs/DB ranked dead last among 39 qualified quarterbacks, managed to be worse than fellow rookie Blake Bortles (0.34 FPs/DB), and were well off of Teddy Bridgewater’s 0.40 mark. Some of Carr’s fantasy points-per-drop back comparisons include past seasons of Brandon Weeden, Blaine Gabbert and Matt Cassel, which is frightening company. One hopeful sign is that Carr did score a healthy 39.6% of his fantasy output via passing touchdowns, which was above the league average of 35.5%. Maybe with a more up-tempo offense installed by new OC Bill Musgrave, Carr’s per-drop back efficiency will improve. Of course, it can’t really get much worse.
(Note: In this section the statistic used is fantasy points per touch (FPs/touch). Running backs must have touched the ball 60 times to qualify and all scoring is point per reception.)
Inefficient: Bishop Sankey
The rookie from Washington did not really get a fair shake in 2014. The Titans' coaching staff inexplicably kept going back to Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster, even late in the year when the season was clearly lost. But Sankey did see more work than all of the Titans' running backs, touching the ball 170 times yet averaging a mere 0.59 fantasy points per touch (FPs/touch). That low per-touch efficiency mark ranked 59th out of 61 qualified running backs, pitting Sankey below some of the league’s least efficient backs like: Toby Gerhart (0.68 FPs/touch), Trent Richardson (0.64) and Chris Johnson (0.63). Perhaps with more positive game scripts and a healthier workload earlier in games Sankey can improve upon his rookie year, but his NFL career did not start exceptionally well.
Efficient: Carlos Hyde
Frank Gore’s contract is up and if he’s not back in San Francisco this year, Hyde is in line to inherit a starting role. Hyde (0.80 FPs/touch) out-matched Gore (0.61 FPs/touch) in per-touch efficiency, which is ultimately a good sign. Although 57.8% of Hyde’s carries came on first down in a change-of-pace role, he probably should have touched the ball more in his rookie year based on sheer effectiveness. If Hyde gets more opportunity and the 49ers re-dedicate to running the football, Hyde checks the box of a potentially efficient fantasy back.
Efficient (but Unlucky): Jerick McKinnon
An athletic freak from Georgia Southern, McKinnon got unlucky in 2014. 44 running backs carried the ball 100+ times and McKinnon was the only back that failed to score a rushing touchdown. Even though he could not find the end zone, McKinnon still managed 0.67 FPs/touch, finishing 47th out of 61 qualified backs. McKinnon was not incredibly efficient but he was clearly the more talented RB in the Vikings' backfield over Matt Asiata, and McKinnon even looked like he was taking over the starting role before he was shut down with an early-December back injury. If the Vikings commit to McKinnon, he has a little more luck getting in the end zone, and Adrian Peterson forces his way out of Minnesota, McKinnon has the potential to be a very solid fantasy producer in a young, up-and-coming offense.
Efficient: Roy Helu
26-year-old Helu is an impending free agent and will likely not be re-signed in Washington. Keeping in mind that Helu saw a lot of his work last year in garbage time, in a change-of-pace role and in positive late-game scripts, he still led all running backs in fantasy points per touch (1.56). Helu’s uber efficiency won’t be repeated if his touch count rises from its 2014 level of 82, but it’s certainly a great sign for Helu’s potential if he lands in a favorable spot that utilizes his catching ability. Helu will be squarely on mid-to-late round fantasy radars if he winds up in a pass-heavy, up-tempo offense like Indianapolis and can use his efficiency in his favor.
Efficient: Devonta Freeman
Steven Jackson (0.67 FPs/touch) is likely to be released, leaving Freeman atop Atlanta's running back depth chart. Freeman was the most efficient Falcons back last year, scoring 0.94 FPs/touch, good for 14th out of 61 qualified backs. Unless the team adds a veteran free agent or another running back in the 2015 draft, Freeman’s overall efficiency could bode well in new OC Kyle Shanahan’s offense. However, Freeman is a bit undersized and lacks an ideal athletic profile, so perhaps his efficiency will decline when given more touches. But Freeman is an asset catching balls out of the backfield, so he may have low-RB2 viability in PPR even if the team adds a lead back.
(Note: In this section the statistic is fantasy points per route run (FPs/RR). Wide receivers must have ran at least 191 routes in 2014 to qualify and all scoring is points per reception.)
Efficient: Martavis Bryant
The 6-foot-4, 211-pound deep threat led all 90 qualified wide receivers in 2014 fantasy efficiency, scoring 0.64 points per route run (FPs/RR) in his rookie campaign. Bryant showed he could be a potentially dominant touchdown-maker in Pittsburgh, providing a red-zone and vertical threat opposite of Antonio Brown (0.59 FPs/RR). It’s worth noting that Bryant first saw real game action in early October and was only active for 10 regular season games, seeing a combined four targets in the last two weeks of the season. But if Bryant continues to improve and sees more than last year's 44.1% regular season snap share, he could be a valuable fantasy asset based on his insane efficiency numbers.
Efficient: Randall Cobb
Cobb is Aaron Rodgers' 1B to Jordy Nelson’s 1A, but the 24-year-old is an impending free agent and is currently looking for roughly $9 million per year. If Cobb is re-signed by the Packers it obviously bodes well for his fantasy stock, but regardless he was one of the most efficient wide receivers in 2014. He finished 9th in FPs/RR (0.51) and led all wide receivers in fantasy points per slot route run with a score of 0.51. A lot of Cobb’s success is due to Rodgers and the Packers’ overall offensive efficiency, but if he is not re-upped in Green Bay, it may not be completely detrimental to his fantasy future. Cobb is easily one of the most efficient wide receivers in the NFL, is quietly crafty in the red zone despite his small frame and is arguably the best slot receiver in the league.
Inefficient: Michael Crabtree
It seems unlikely that Crabtree is back in San Francisco and the 27-year-old could re-emerge as a viable wide receiver on the right team. But multiple injuries including an Achilles' tear may have zapped Crabtree’s downfield ability, as the 49ers turned him into more of a possession receiver in 2014. Crabtree scored 0.34 FPs/RR, just below the league average of 0.36, and he finished 45th out of 90 qualified WRs. Colin Kaepernick’s inability to come off of his first read and anticipate throws certainly hurt Crabtree’s production. Landing spot will be huge for Crabtree, but he was disappointing in 2014 on his own.
Inefficient: Sammy Watkins
Don’t get me wrong: this is not necessarily an indictment of Watkins’ talent. But he was pretty inefficient in 2014. Granted this was his first NFL season, but his score of 0.32 FPs/RR did not hold water in the 2014 rookie class. The aforementioned Bryant (0.64), Odell Beckham (0.62), Mike Evans (0.48), Kelvin Benjamin (0.42) and Jordan Matthews (0.41) were all more efficient than Watkins on a per-route basis. Watkins was barely the most efficient wide receiver on his own team as Chris Hogan scored 0.31 FPs/RR and Robert Woods scored 0.28 FPs/RR. Now that Kyle Orton is retired and the team is currently left with E.J. Manuel as its only viable quarterback, it may be time to re-think Watkins’ fantasy outlook.
(Note: In this section the statistic used is fantasy points per route run. Tight ends must have run 207 routes to qualify and all scoring is point per reception.)
Efficient: Travis Kelce
It would be remiss of me not to discuss how efficient Kelce was in 2014 and how dominant he could be if he is heavily targeted in 2015. Kelce finished third in FPs/RR (0.48), just fractionally behind Julius Thomas (0.48), and well off the golden boy of fantasy TEs, Rob Gronkowski (0.60). Kelce’s per-route efficiency was hard earned as he finished 10th among tight ends in targets per route run (21.2%) and was only targeted 5.06 times per game. For whatever reason, Kelce only averaged a 52.6% snap share in Weeks 1-10 until his snap percentage jumped to 86.9% in the final seven weeks. Kelce was hamstrung by a quarterback who finished with the lowest average depth of target among qualified QBs in Alex Smith, was just inside of the top 10 of TE target share and only saw a shade over 50% of snaps in the first nine weeks of the season. And yet, Kelce still finished as the third most efficient TE on a per-route basis. Imagine what he could do with a Gronk-level workload near 7 or 8 targets per game.
Efficient: Jordan Cameron
Cameron isn’t expected back in Cleveland in 2015 and will draw interest from TE-needy teams like Atlanta, Seattle, Green Bay and possibly Houston. Cameron missed seven games in 2014 due to myriad concussion problems, and despite Cleveland’s inept offense, he still posted a respectable 0.36 FPs/RR, finishing 15th out of 38 qualified tight ends. This goes without saying, but if Cameron can stay on the field at his next destination he could easily reenter the top-five tight end discussion. Granted -- he needs to land in the right spot as well - but given his injury issues and the Browns' poor offense overall, Cameron is a decently efficient player and that could certainly trend upward in the future.
Efficient (with a Peyton Asterisk): Julius Thomas
Thomas' production was certainly inflated by Peyton Manning. Couple this with the fact Thomas has had a litany of ankle injuries and other lower-extremity issues in the past, and you get a bit of a murky picture for his impending free agency. Thomas is a big threat in the red zone and that helped his efficiency last year, as he scored 0.48 FPs/RR. However, Julius gained just 1.44 yards/route run and has failed to have a season of 800+ yards. This makes Thomas a bit one-dimensional: He is very good in the red zone but doesn’t do much extremely well beyond that. He could certainly be back in Denver and continue to be very efficient in Gary Kubiak’s TE-friendly system, but smart teams outside of Colorado may seek to avoid Thomas in free agency.
Inefficient: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
New Bucs OC Dirk Koetter used his TEs a lot in Atlanta, but it also helped that he had an effective QB in Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez two out of his three years there. Even though Gonzalez retired and the team went to Levine Toilolo last year, Koetter’s TEs have averaged 545 routes run over the last three years, which is easily in the top 5 of NFL teams in sheer route quantity. This bodes well for Washington product Seferian-Jenkins as he comes off a disappointing, injury-riddled season finishing 32nd in FPs/RR (0.23). Rookie tight ends typically struggle, so some of Seferian-Jenkins' inefficiency can be excused. But there is no doubt the 6-foot-6, 262-pounder with 4.56 speed could see a major uptick in overall effectiveness and efficiency in a TE-friendly offense that will likely feature a new starting quarterback via the 2015 draft.