Steal of the Draft: T.J. Yeldon
This article will be a bit different from what you normally see from me. Typically, I’m using statistical trends, from both team and player, as well as percentages and formulas to predict stat lines for players to determine if they’re worth their ADP or not.
However, this time I’m here to shed some light on a running back that needs to be owned in every redraft fantasy football league.
T.J. Yeldon signed with the Buffalo Bills this off-season to a two year deal worth $3.2 million. The 25-year-old back comes over after spending the last four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Yeldon’s main role with the Jaguars during his time there was a compliment back, who does his best work while catching balls out of the backfield. Yeldon got his chance at starting running back touches during times of injuries as well with the Jaguars, where he put up decent stats.
Now, let’s take a quick glance at the Bill’s backfield, and we’ll quickly realize why the 25-year-old back is a must own.
Ahead of Yeldon on the Bills depth chart, or what many assume to be, are 31-year-old LeSeasn McCoy and 36-year-old Frank Gore. Historically when running backs eclipse 30-year-old, unless they’re Adrian Peterson, John Riggins or even Frank Gore, they begin to trend down.
Let’s first take a look at the favored starter, LeSeasn McCoy, who played his first season in the NFL as a 30-plus-year-old last season. Shady averaged 11.5 carries, 36.7 yards-per-game, 3.2 yards-per-carry, 2.4 receptions-per-game and 17-receiving-yards-per-game. All of which were career lows.
Comparing his last year stats, where he played 14 games, to his career averages, McCoy posted 16% less carries, 52% less rushing-yards-per-game, 30% less yards-per-carry, 26% less receptions and 32% less receiving-yards.
Going off the difference from his 2018 season to his 2017 season, McCoy posted 36% less carries-per-game, 48% less rushing-yards-per-game, 20% less yards-per-carry, 35% less receptions and 39% less receiving-yards-per-game.
It’s safe to assume that McCoy is not rebounding and his production could even get worse, despite him claiming that he will return to a work-horse type back in 2019.
The Bills also went out and brought in Frank Gore on a 1 year deal worth $2 million. Gore’s roll with the Bills will be limited, despite having a decent year where he posted 11.1 carries, 51.6 rushing yards, 4.6 yards-per-carry, 0.9 receptions and 8.9 receiving-yards-per-game last season with the Miami Dolphins.
Gore is a locker room guy. A veteran presence to come in and help guide the next generation of Bills’ backs. He is not much of a threat to take a steady workload away from McCoy or Yeldon.
Last season, the Buffalo Bills posted 29.2 rushing attempts per game, which positioned them in the top ten of the most run-heavy offenses across the league.
During his 11 games, rookie quarterback Josh Allen averaged 6.5 rushing attempts per game. Let’s assume that he’s more familiar with the offense and with the Bills using a second round selection on Cody Ford, an improved offensive line, Allen gets closer to 5 rushing attempts per game.
This leaves around 24 carries left up for grabs. McCoy comes in and grabs 11, leaving 13 carries. Say Frank Gore steals a handful and Yeldon averages 8-to-10 carries per game.
Furthermore, Yeldon does most of his damage in the passing game. Last year alone, Yeldon received 78 targets where he hauled in 55 receptions for 487 yards and four touchdowns.
If Yeldon were strictly a receiver, he would have put up 72.7 standard scoring, 100.2 half point PPR points and 127.7 full point PPR points last season. That would have put him at WR57 in full point PPR leagues.
Even though the Bills backfield averaged just 4.7 receptions per game with Allen at quarterback, which was one less than the team’s average across the season, we can assume that Yeldon will be a staple in the passing game.
McCoy averaged 2.4 receptions per game last season. With a true pass catching receiver in the mix, his reception total will decrease. Yeldon hauled in 3.9 receptions per game last season. With Frank Gore being essentially non existent in the passing game, we can estimate that the five passes to running backs Josh Allen completes each game could be split as 3.5 to Yeldon and 1.5 to McCoy.
If Yeldon brings in 3.5 receptions-per-game, that would be approximately 10% less than he did a year ago with Jacksonville. If we run his 2018 receiving numbers and decrease them by 10%, we get 50 receptions, 438 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns (if we round up.)
Yeldon also has a career average of four-rushing-yards-per-carry. Let’s put him at the low end and assume he gets eight carries per game. That gives him 512 rushing yards, bringing his total yards-from-scrimmage to just shy of 1,000. Let’s say he adds two rushing touchdowns as well.
Running these numbers, this would put Yeldon at 131 standard scoring points, 156 half point PPR points and 181 PPR scoring points. These numbers would have been good enough for RB26, RB24 and RB20 in stand scoring, half point PPR and full point PPR formats respectively last season.
To put this into perspective, LeSeason McCoy finished RB40, RB38 and RB31 over the same formats and Frank Gore finished RB41, RB44 and RB46.
Remember, the numbers I ran and came up with for Yeldon were with McCoy as the lead back and Gore getting a handful of touches. Let’s remember that McCoy has played all 16 games in just one of his four seasons in Buffalo. And again, McCoy is 31-years-old and Gore is 36-years-old. They’re both destined to miss time across the season, giving Yeldon the opportunity to have even more touches and receptions than those we used in this article.
As you can tell by this point of the article, I’m all in on T.J. Yeldon. He is currently going off draft boards at 200th overall (RB66) in ESPN and 161st (RB55) in Yahoo leagues. That puts him into the 13th-to-16th round range in 12 man leagues. He is borderline undrafted in 10 man leagues.
McCoy is currently going 107th (RB40) in ESPN and 92nd (RB37) in Yahoo leagues. Gore is going 315th (RB95) in ESPN and 232nd (RB72) in Yahoo leagues.
Yeldon is officially a draft steal.