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Daily Fantasy Football: Identifying Trends in Big Games From Running Backs

We've seen the value of matchups and using Vegas in our running back selection for daily fantasy football. Can we combine this and more to formulate a blueprint for predicting big days from running backs?

Not once in my fantasy-football-playing history have I ever predicted what Adrian Peterson will do in a given game.

Sometimes, he'll meet every criteria for which I look, making him an obvious back to roster, even in a tournament. These are the games in which he always has 23 carries for 67 yards. Without fail.

Then, he goes on the road to face a tough opponent. Instead of plodding his way to another dud, he busts off an 80-yard run in the fourth quarter and is the top play of the week.

No matter what I do, I can't figure this guy out. I want to get a piece of those high-upside days, but I don't want to also inherit the low floor a high-volatility runner like Peterson naturally has. What's a guy to do?

I'm hoping I'm not the only one who has experienced these same frustrations with pinning down when a running back is going to have a huge day. It's easier for guys who aren't as volatile as Peterson, but it's still most definitely not a simple task.

Because of this, I wanted to try to develop a blueprint for predicting when running backs will have huge games. By looking back at previous games that would fit this bill, maybe we could better pin when they'd happen in the future.

To do so, I went back through all games from 2013 to 2015 in which a running back had at least 25 half-PPR points. This is the scoring system that FanDuel uses, though the takeaways from it could -- at least in part -- translate to other sites, as well.

For each game, I jotted down whether the running back was at home, whether the game was in a dome, the temperature, the spread, the over/under, and the implied team total. I also noted the ranking of the running back's quarterback in terms of Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back and the opposing defense's rank against the rush, according to Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per play.

NEP is the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players, with the team totals being adjusted based on strength of schedule. If a quarterback is better able to get past the sticks on 3rd and 4, that would seemingly be advantageous for the running back. If a defense consistently allows opposing running backs to gain yards efficiently, you'd assume that would help that running back in the fantasy realm.

The quarterbacks were ranked among those who had at least 200 drop backs in that specific season. If the starting quarterback in that game didn't meet that qualification, then I used the team's Adjusted Passing NEP per play. Things were a straight up ranking from 1 to 32 on the defensive side, with first being the best and 32nd being the worst.

After parsing through this data, there were some important takeaways. Let's go through a few to see if we can better predict when running backs will have banner days.

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