2013 NFL: Peterson and Spiller’s regression to the mean


I hate to say I told you so.

Before the regular season started, I wrote a column discussing why it might be a good idea to avoid selecting C.J. Spiller midway through the first round of your fantasy football draft. His rising ADP at the time wasn’t surprising because the fantasy community loves when a player shows flashes of brilliance, but doesn’t receive a full workload. It gives people the ability to project what a player’s numbers would look like if they received a full season’s worth of touches.

In some cases it works (Kudos to Ryan Mathews not only staying healthy during the ENTIRE 16 weeks of the fantasy season, but also for overcoming the emergence of Danny Woodhead.) but in most cases it doesn’t quite play out the way we think it’s going to (Trent Richardson, Stevan Ridley, Lamar Miller, Darren McFadden for the fourth time).

Back in August when I wrote the column, I compiled a list of every running back who has rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season, while averaging over 6.0 yards per attempt. It’s a feat that has only been accomplished five times in the entire history of the NFL. Here is the list if you missed it the first time:

Year Player Attempts Yards YPA TDs
1973 OJ Simpson 335 2,004 6.0 12
1997 Barry Sanders 332 2,053 6.1 11
2010 Jamaal Charles 230 1,467 6.4 5
2012 Adrian Peterson 348 2,097 6.0 12
2012 C.J. Spiller 207 1,244 6.0 6

And here is the list of what the five running backs did the next season with Spiller and Peterson included because we’re past Week 16, which is when most fantasy leagues have their championship game.

1974 Simpson 270 1,125 4.2 3
1998 Sanders 343 1,491 4.3 4
2012 Charles 285 1,509 5.3 5
2013 Peterson 279 1,266 4.5 10
2013 Spiller 182 822 4.5 2

Just to put these numbers into a little bit of perspective: the highest YPA for a running back this season (with at least 100 attempts) is Andre Ellington (5.7, 622 yards). The highest YPA for a running back with at least 1,000 yards belongs to DeMarco Murray (5.4).

Simpson, Sanders and Charles all suffered their career low in YPA just a year after their career high. Spiller fell into this category this year as his 4.5 YPA is his lowest total since he became a full time RB two seasons ago. Peterson was actually able to avoid the curse as his career low in yards per attempt is 4.4 (2009), but the 4.5 total is a half yard under his career average.

In terms of fantasy, Peterson was still worthy of being selected in the top five. McCoy and Charles have been better than AD this season, but if you think back to draft day, there was no way you could have justified taking McCoy or Charles over Peterson. If you landed the first overall pick and decided to take Peterson, you were once again rewarded with at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, which is exactly the type of consistency you want with the number one overall pick.

I’m going to step away from the fantasy world for a paragraph to talk about Peterson’s future. With the Vikings current situation, it’s really easy to feel bad for All Day. It certainly looks like head coach Leslie Frazer will be let go after the team’s season finale against the Lions. Based on their current projected draft position, Minnesota is in prime territory to draft a franchise quarterback, but what happens if the front office whiffs on someone like Derek Carr? If that scenario plays out, Peterson would reach the running back road block of 30 years old without a competent quarterback. AP is the best running back in the air era of football, but his career path is eerily starting to be constructed parallel next to the road Barry Sanders laid 20 years ago.

What’s next for Spiller?

If you took a flier on Spiller with a pick in the middle of the first round, you better have taken Fred Jackson in the 12th or picked up Zac Stacy. Spiller had the type of fantasy season that so many people have experienced with someone like McFadden. All potential, mediocre results (with injuries).

Fred Jackson will still be around next season (it’s the final year of his three year deal) and based off of a few comments from Bills’ head coach Doug Marrone about multiple issues with Spiller this season, it will be interesting to see what type of role he puts Spiller in next season.

This much is certain, the idea of Spiller becoming a franchise back, while Jackson watches from the sidelines is nothing more than a pipedream. Jackson would have to suffer an injury or be completely ineffective during the first month of next season for Spiller to take over a full workload. Spiller might be worth a flier in the sixth round or so, but he might turn out to be the next Felix Jones.

Follow me on Twitter @Scottdargis.


2 thoughts on “2013 NFL: Peterson and Spiller’s regression to the mean”

    1. I could actually see it being after because you could take the viewpoint that this is Jackson’s last productive season due to age. Also, I think receivers are going to be a hotter commodity than running backs, so someone like Jackson could easily fall to the 11th round.

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