Fantasy Football: Don't Ignore Chris Thompson This Year

A late-round fantasy pick, Thompson is likely to see significant work in the passing game this season. And that's important in PPR leagues.

Many consider the Washington Redskins' running back committee to be among the worst in the NFL. It's not difficult to understand why so many people think so -- the only member of the 2015 group with experience was Alfred Morris, who has since left for the Dallas Cowboys, leaving behind Matt Jones, Chris Thompson, Keith Marshall, and a few others.

Jones has the blessing of the front office but struggled with ball control, injury, and ineffectiveness in his first NFL season. Thompson has shown flashes as a third-down back, but he's struggled carrying the ball and staying healthy. Marshall, a seventh-round pick in this spring's draft, has fallen behind Rob Kelley on the depth chart and is a long shot to start if he makes the team.

For the purposes of this article, who rushes the ball for the Redskins is not important. It will probably be Jones, and he'll probably be more effective than last year.

What matters is which running back will catch the ball.

With a running game that is likely to struggle again, the Redskins are likely to rely upon the passing game more than they'd like, and the running back that secures that volume will be of value to fantasy football players.

A Bigger Role Than Expected?

Below are the 2015 receiving metrics for Thompson and Jones. Both played in 13 games, although they had different roles, so these numbers need to be compared with that in mind. Thompson usually played in obvious passing situations, while Jones was more of a "bruiser" who played on early downs.

NameRecReception NEPTargetsReception NEP/Target
Chris Thompson3517.66480.37
Matt Jones1921.35250.85

Looking at the aggregate receiving metrics, it looks like Jones is an elite pass-catcher while Thompson was merely solid with efficiency similar to Devonta Freeman, Darren Sproles, and Shane Vereen.

After all, of the 681 running back seasons since 2000 with 75-plus rushes and 15-plus targets, Jones’ 2015 Reception NEP per target of 0.85 ranked fourth.

However, due to low volume, Jones’ efficiency was made to look much better than it really was.

In Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints, Jones caught 3 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown on a 78-yard catch-and-run . That’s great, but the Saints finished 2015 as the worst defense in the numberFire database. You can read Jason Schandl’s season review of the team for more stats about the defense’s awfulness, but I’ll include one line:

“It really feels impossible to overstate just how bad the New Orleans defense was.”

Jones’ long touchdown was aided by a weak defense, and given the Saints don't appear on the Redskins’ 2016 schedule, it's tough to project the same exact event occurring again. If we remove Week 10 from Jones’ season stats, then Thompson and Jones seem much closer.

The first two rows below are the same as in the previous table, but the third row isolates the Saints game in Week 10 and the fourth row is Jones' season line without the Saints stats.

Name Rec Reception NEP Targets Reception NEP/Target
Chris Thompson 35 17.66 48 0.37
Matt Jones 19 21.35 25 0.85
Matt Jones against NO 3 10.98 3 3.66
Matt Jones without NO 16 10.37 22 0.47

Note that Jones’ Reception NEP was more than cut in half, and his per-target efficiency took a big hit. Jones still has the edge in Reception NEP per target, but Thompson had more than double the volume so a slight deficit in efficiency is alright.

Considering Thompson’s improvement in pass protection, having the most experience in the running back room, and Jones’ astoundingly bad rushing numbers last year, it's possible that Thompson could carve out a larger role and inherit some of the snaps Alfred Morris left behind. Or, should Redskins' coach Jay Gruden become disappointed in Jones, Thompson could see more playing time as the season goes on.

The Schedule

In the receiving back role last year, Thompson saw much of his playing time and opportunities come while his team was trailing. This season, the Redskins have a fairly easy first half with a bye in Week 9.

After that, it gets rough.

According to Warren Sharp on Rotoworld, the Redskins have the second-toughest season schedule and easily the worst second-half schedule. The first eight opponents have an average nERD (the number of points we'd expect a team to win by against an average squad on a neutral field) of -0.47, where the eight opponents after the bye have an average nERD of 0.63, for an increase of 1.10.

Below is the Redskins 2016 schedule along with each team's projected 2016 nERD, schedule-adjusted defense rank from 2015, and the running back receiving fantasy points allowed rank. Higher nERDs mean better teams, and for the ranks, first is the toughest defense and 32nd is the worst.

Week Opponent 2016 nERD 2015 Defense Rank 2015 Rec FP Allowed
1 Pittsburgh Steelers 5.92 9 16
2 Dallas Cowboys -1.83 20 23
3 New York Giants -2.4 25 20
4 Cleveland Browns -3.59 24 5
5 Baltimore Ravens -0.85 15 4
6 Philadelphia Eagles -2.82 14 29
7 Detroit Lions -2.41 26 2
8 Cincinnati Bengals 4.23 10 26
Average 1-8 -0.47 17.88 15.63
10 Minnesota Vikings 1.52 13 10
11 Green Bay Packers 2.34 11 3
12 Dallas Cowboys -1.83 20 23
13 Arizona Cardinals 6.27 7 19
14 Philadelphia Eagles -2.82 14 29
15 Carolina Panthers 5.56 2 25
16 Chicago Bears -3.57 31 22
17 New York Giants -2.4 25 20
Average 10-17 0.63 15.38 18.88

Given the tough schedule, which includes the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals, and Carolina Panthers as well as divisional matchups, it's likely the Redskins will trail often in the second half. While some of the defenses the Redskins play in the second half are among the league’s best, the last six opponents Thompson will face are actually easier than the first eight in terms of defending running back receiving. Fantasy football players aren't relying on rushing production from Thompson, so the schedule actually plays better to his strengths in the second half. Meanwhile, Jones is likely to disappoint in fantasy in the second half if the Redskins do end up playing from behind and he is a non-factor as a receiver.

Don't Ignore Thompson

With Jones out for the rest of the preseason, Rotoworld is reporting Kelley will get some first-team reps. It also remains likely the Redskins will sign a veteran, with Pierre Thomas being an obvious candidate after spending some time with the team last year. If Thomas were to sign in Washington, it would certainly damage Thompson's value, but other potential signees probably have the profile of a two-down back and not a third-down back given the team's current needs.

Barring any setbacks, Jones will regain the lion's share of the carries, but that shouldn't prevent Thompson from enjoying a fantasy-relevant receiving role. He's an easy target in PPR leagues, where he is being drafted as RB59 on and RB68 on