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Rich Hribar

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The Running Back Worksheet

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


Throughout the summer, we’ve used this space to take a top-down view on scoring, plays and drives, sorting out what teams are due for some scoring recoil while finding a few others that should be due for a rebound in 2018. We also took a look at red zone performance on a league level while sorting out which players have relied on being fed scoring opportunities and those who have found a way to score without those chances.

 

After those two posts, we slid right into top-down outlooks on each position with a plethora of individual player nuggets tacked on. After touching on the tight end, quarterback and wide receiver positions, we’re bringing this summer series to a close with a look at the running back position.

 

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

TOP12 RBPPRStd PtsRuYdRuTDRec.ReYdsReTD
2017 3276.1 2594.1 11762 94 733 6329 33
2016 3312.1 2780.2 14582 123 532 4555 24
2015 2751.0 2236.6 11576 88 524 4574 20
2014 3261.7 2688.9 14166 106 576 4889 29
2013 3290.6 2697.3 13495 103 628 5311 33
2012 3177.6 2741.9 15576 107 500 3960 19
2011 3186.1 2623.2 13907 97 589 5214 22
2010 3364.3 2765.1 15197 107 607 5201 18
2009 3311.3 2781.5 15308 125 545 4366 13
2008 3259.6 2787.5 15427 133 484 3519 19

 

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

RB 13-24PPRStd PtsRuYdRuTDRec.ReYdsReTD
2017 2157.7 1767.7 10051 62 390 3026 17
2016 2270.0 1865.0 9713 73 433 3617 15
2015 2086.7 1675.7 8445 46 478 4122 19
2014 2102.8 1698.6 9344 58 417 3174 18
2013 2343.7 1832.1 9801 69 516 4053 10
2012 2234.4 1824.3 10862 76 378 3042 9
2011 2322.7 1927.8 10342 85 409 3325 9
2010 2391.7 1946.8 11080 75 426 3567 14
2009 2347.8 1920.4 11280 81 386 3087 11
2008 2435.9 2035.1 10744 87 425 3440 16

 

2017 has been referred to as the “return of the running back” in some circles and this summer’s ADP certainly reflects a resurgence in demand at the position. But as we’ve highlighted several times over the course of the series, the fact that the running back position as a whole was so critical for fantasy success a year ago had a lot to do with leaguewide passing production cratering than solely running backs returning to their dominance of yesteryear.

 

The very top of the position lost output from the 2016 season but managed to stay in line with scoring output that followed suit for the rest of the decade outside of the hideous 2015 campaign. The position itself got much worse the deeper we went on, with the RB2 group of fantasy producers posting their third-lowest scoring season over the past 10 years, with all three of those low-scoring seasons coming over the span of the past four seasons.

 

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Branching off for a moment, what makes the top of the position so valuable in terms of using up your highest draft capital in relation to a deeper and more linear position such as wide receiver is that the individual players making up the high-end fantasy running backs have a short supply and are in high demand. Over the past 10 seasons, the RB2 fantasy group on average has only produced 70.6 percent of the scoring output generated by the RB1 group. In each of the past two seasons, that number has been significantly lowered, with the secondary group producing just 65.9 percent of the RB1 scoring a year ago and 68.6 percent in 2016. Compare that to the wide receiver position, which has had the WR2 output average 77.7 percent of the WR1 output over that same timespan. Going even further, fantasy backs with an RB3 (RB25-36) seasonal finish have averaged just 54.5 percent of the RB1 output and 77.2 percent of the RB2 output while the WR3 grouping has averaged 63.9 percent of the WR1 output and 82.2 percent of the WR2 output over the past 10 years. These of course are arbitrary baseline cutoffs contingent on bulk numbers over weekly viability, but while there are individual conversations to be had for each player you’re considering selecting at a specific spot in your drafts, there are just more viable fantasy players in a given season at the wide receiver position than the running back one in relation to the performance of the top scorers of the position.

 

This is the lowest hanging branch of reasoning why the best running backs dominate early draft capital despite holding higher injury and flat-out bust rates than early round wide receivers. I'm on record saying we should expect passing games to rebound and wide receivers had 2015-running back like blip in production, but average play from wide receivers is more functional than average running back play for fantasy purposes from a seasonal level. That is also true on a weekly level if you recall the rates of weekly baseline scoring compared to the highest scoring player per position displayed in the quarterback portion of this series. In fact, even the weekly WR4 group is more viable in relation to the top of their respective position than the RB3 group. Those are the bodies who will be operating in your FLEX positions more often than not in leagues that have them.

 

 

Circling back to the open, one thing you’ll notice is that the top of the running back position did things in an entirely different way last season. The top-24 of the position posted their second-lowest amount of rushing yardage outside of that down 2015 season over the previous 10 seasons but negated that depressed rushing output with a monstrous season catching the ball out of the backfield. Top-12 backs caught over 200 more passes than the season prior, with the group averaging 61 receptions per player. 47.7 percent of the scoring output from the RB1 group came from the receiving game alone after averaging 35.8 percent for the previous portion of that table.  Lead fantasy backs averaged 51.1 percent of their team rushing attempts, the lowest rate of the past 10 years, with just one back (Le’Veon Bell) reaching 70 percent of his team’s rushing attempts.

 

A week ago, we mentioned that the wide receiver position had their lowest collective share of leaguewide targets (57.6 percent) in 017 over the past 10 seasons. Expanding the scope of running backs beyond just the players we cared about the most for fantasy purposes, we can easily spot where all those opportunities went.

 

 

Last season, the running back position established new highs across the board in terms of targets share, receptions, receiving yardage and touchdowns in relation to the leaguewide passing output.

 

The tricky part here is just how sticky can or will this be moving forward? Was the dependency on running back usage in the passing game a byproduct of the injuries at the quarterback position and subpar offensive play we discussed when hashing out the quarterback production from a year ago or will this be the beginning of a new trend in how team’s use the short passing game?

 

Warren Sharp has highlighted that teams throwing to running backs out of the backfield on early downs gain a significant advantage in terms of play success rate. If those numbers are coming to the forefront of team analysis, last season’s usage of backs out of the backfield may not just be a fluke. On the other end of the spectrum, in this thread of tweets, Josh Hermsmeyer has shown that teams gain a far greater overall advantage not only in upside, but also in terms of staying on schedule by throwing consistently pushing the ball downfield as often as possible. What wins out in the immediate future remains to be seen, but the top of the position for fantasy purposes will need their receiving usage to remain spiked if they are going to produce a similar output on the ground.


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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.
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