Rich Hribar

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Running Back Notebook

Thursday, July 27, 2017


As July is ending and we reach the final leg of the fantasy offseason, the Notebook series rolls along. So far we’ve covered the fantasy impact from teams turning the reins over to rookie quarterbacks, game scripts and play calling, scoring and efficiency per offensive possession, production and usage in the red zone, and a top-down view of the tight end position. The positional outlook is where we’re staying today with a running back focus.

 

Revival or a Renaissance?


After a running trend of wide receiver production trumping running back production, fantasy backs turned the tides back into their favor in 2016 with their highest-scoring fantasy season collectively since 2009. In terms of PPR scoring, the position in bulk was neutral in relation to the season prior with backs scoring just 43.4 more points as a group than in 2015, but the major difference in fantasy circles was the output produced at the top of the position.

Editor's Note: The 2017 Draft Guide provides tiersprojectionsADP reports, mock drafts for many different types of leagues, Sleepers and Busts and much more. Get the NFL Draft Guide now.


Production from Top-12 Fantasy RBs Over the Past 10 Years


YearPPR PtsStd PtsRuAttRuYdsRuTDRec.ReYdsReTDTch
2016 3312.1 2780.2 3163 14582 123 532 4555 24 3695
2015 2751.0 2236.6 2623 11576 88 524 4574 20 3147
2014 3261.7 2688.9 3108 14166 106 576 4889 29 3684
2013 3290.6 2697.3 2998 13495 103 628 5311 33 3626
2012 3177.6 2741.9 3238 15576 107 500 3960 19 3738
2011 3186.1 2623.2 3060 13907 97 589 5214 22 3649
2010 3364.3 2765.1 3331 15197 107 607 5201 18 3938
2009 3311.3 2781.5 3312 15308 125 545 4366 13 3857
2008 3259.6 2787.5 3451 15427 133 484 3519 19 3935
2007 3147.2 2607.7 3176 13317 111 589 4612 20 3765

 

Production from Fantasy RB2s (RBs 13-24) Over the Past 10 Years

 

YearPPR PtsStd PtsRuAttRuYdsRuTDRec.ReYdsReTDTch
2016 2270.0 1865.0 2346 9713 73 433 3617 15 2779
2015 2086.7 1675.7 2111 8445 46 478 4122 19 2589
2014 2102.8 1698.6 2203 9344 58 417 3174 18 2620
2013 2343.7 1832.1 2478 9801 69 516 4053 10 2994
2012 2234.4 1824.3 2620 10862 76 378 3042 9 2998
2011 2322.7 1927.8 2298 10342 85 409 3325 9 2707
2010 2391.7 1946.8 2737 11080 75 426 3567 14 3163
2009 2347.8 1920.4 2602 11280 81 386 3087 11 2988
2008 2435.9 2035.04 2492 10744 87 425 3440 16 2917
2007 2204.6 1816.98 2684 12067 63 347 2705 5 3031

 

After a historically poor 2015, RB1s posted their best fantasy campaign in several years in PPR and non-PPR alike. Five different backs cleared 290 PPR points in 2016, and seven different backs posted at least 225 standard points, the most in a year since 2006 for either arbitrary watermark. Those trends carry over to RB2, which also suggests that the running back position had a very stable year in terms of injuries with more backs turning in complete seasons.

 

Regardless of health, where the top of the position really hammered their previous peers’ production was in the touchdown department. Touchdowns are the fantasy lifeblood and the most important thing in our game. You’re not going to win many fantasy games without outscoring your opponent in the touchdown department regardless of scoring format. In 2016, running backs as a whole scored 458 touchdowns -- their most in a season since 2009 -- after averaging 410 per year over the previous six seasons.  Fantasy RB1s averaged 10.3 rushing touchdowns with seven backs reaching pay dirt double-digit times on the ground, the most since 2012. In terms of overall touchdowns, RB1s averaged 12.3 touchdowns per player, the highest rate since 2008. Fantasy RB2s averaged 7.3 touchdowns per player, their highest total since 2011.

 

The real balance will be deciphering whether that touchdown spike was pure variance or natural recoil that should’ve been anticipated and something we can count on holding water going forward. In the Red Zone Notebook, we discussed how 2016 had an abnormal spike in terms of short yardage opportunities near the goal line and how that impacted rushing touchdown output and how that could have a fragile impact on projecting the position in 2017.

 

Relying on that touchdown production rolling over is flimsy when you check out the usage for the top backs. Opportunity is king in fantasy football and underneath the hood of the above breakdowns, you can spot that the usage of the best backs wasn’t any different than it had been for the handful of years prior to that outlier drop-off in 2015, when we were trending toward selecting wide receivers for stability over backs. 

 

 

 

NFL teams have steadily run the ball at a lower rate over the past eight seasons with the five lowest rushing rates in league history coming over the past five seasons and the past two seasons creating new record lows.  With that, running back rushing opportunity has progressively declined and backs aren’t circumventing that decline in rushing opportunity with newfound opportunities in the passing game as their overall touches have dwindled in line with the league turning to the passing game. The running back position had 299 fewer touches than they had collectively in 2015.

 

The TL; DR portion of this reads as this: should we have taken the heinous 2015 season from the running back position into more account for a bounce back in 2016? Without diving into the minutia of picking the right players, the short answer is yes. Will we in turn overvalue the running back production of 2016 because it didn’t stem from true opportunity and was carried by touchdown inflation that is combustible? I'm inclined to say yes.

 

That said, you’re going to select and need to select running backs to your fantasy rosters, and this notebook is here to diagnose things that matter at the position: most importantly, where your fantasy production is coming from through team outlook, touchdown ability and a look at which backs rely on rushing or receiving the most. 

 

Winning and Losing


We know how game script affects NFL play calling and the effect that it has on the running back position comes to fruition when looking at how good or poor teams correlate to aiding fantasy output.

 

Percentage of Top-12 and Top-24 Scorers Per Team Wins Since 1970

 

TmWinsTop-12 %Top-24 %
0 0.00% 0.09%
1 0.18% 0.44%
2 1.95% 2.39%
3 2.13% 3.19%
4 4.26% 5.94%
5 6.56% 6.74%
6 7.80% 8.69%
7 10.99% 11.61%
8 11.88% 12.06%
9 13.12% 11.79%
10 15.60% 13.39%
11 9.75% 9.49%
12 8.33% 7.89%
13 4.26% 3.55%
14 2.66% 2.13%
15 0.53% 0.62%
16 0.00% 0.00%

 

Since 1970, just 22.9 percent of all top-12 scoring running backs have come from teams with fewer than seven wins, and just 8.5 percent have come from teams with fewer than five wins. It hardly swells when expanding the field to RB2s or better, with 27.5 percent of those players coming on teams with six wins or less and just 6.1 percent with four or fewer wins. Just being an average team holds a significant advantage to output. Of course, there are no absolutes in fantasy football and this is no exception. Both Jordan Howard and Melvin Gordon were top-12 scorers last year if you’re looking to latch onto a ray of sunshine and a shred of recency bias over a larger picture, but it’s harder to consistently beat a poor situation for running backs. As it stands now, the Bills, Bears, Browns, Jaguars, Rams, Jets and 49ers all have over/under win totals set below seven wins and all those teams except for the Jets and 49ers have running backs currently being selected in the top-15 of the position.

 

In case you’re wondering what the sample size of the individual win buckets and the hit rate of producing a top-12 or top-24 scorers is, we’ve got you covered.

 

WinsTmsTop-12 %Top-24 %
0 3 0.00% 33.33%
1 14 7.14% 35.71%
2 48 22.92% 56.25%
3 56 21.43% 64.29%
4 119 20.17% 56.30%
5 118 31.36% 64.41%
6 127 34.65% 77.17%
7 154 40.26% 85.06%
8 161 41.61% 84.47%
9 148 50.00% 89.86%
10 161 54.66% 93.79%
11 112 49.11% 95.54%
12 89 52.81% 95.50%
13 43 55.81% 93.02%
14 21 71.43% 95.23%
15 6 50.00% 100.00%
16 1 0.00% 0.00%

 

As it reads, there have been 21 teams to win 14 games in an NFL season and 15 of those teams produced a top-12 scoring running back (71.4 percent) with 20 of those teams producing a top-24 scorer (95.2 percent). The hit rate for running back production per win level is a linear line until the sample size shrinks. Combining the two tables paints a clearer picture as 77 percent of the top-12 scoring backs over that span have come from teams with seven or more wins even though teams with seven or more wins make up only 65 percent of the total win output for the field.

 

Overall scoring is one thing, but opportunity is another. Of teams with seven or fewer wins since the NFL merger, just 19.9 percent have had an individual running back hit 300 touches in a season with 40.7 percent reaching 250 touches. Of the 13 teams to finish under .500 in 2016, just two had a 300-touch back with six having an individual back hit 250 touches. This makes it much harder to hang your hat on a massive touch projection for someone like Leonard Fournette, although initial projections will feature him dominating touches in the Jacksonville backfield. 

 


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Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.
Email :Rich Hribar



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