2015 Fantasy Retrospective: Running Backs

2015 Fantasy Retrospective: Running Backs

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last updated Jan 13, 2016

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

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Below is a table that provides a snapshot of the running back position in 2015.

Key columns to note…

FP: Fantasy Points (PPR)
PPG: Points Per Game
Playoffs: Total FP in Weeks 14-16
RV: Relative Value (difference between that player’s points and the positional baseline, or RB24)
ADP: Approximate round in which the player was drafted
Positional ADP Rank: Rank at his position on draft day (e.g. Matt Forte was the 7th RB off the board, on average)

 

2015 Actual Relative Value (PPR): Running Backs
# Player Team G FP (PPR) PPG Playoffs RV ADP Pos ADP Rank ADP Diff
1 Devonta Freeman ATL 15 317 21.1 48.3 154 10.7 39 38
2 Adrian Peterson MIN 16 261 16.3 38.8 98 1.3 2 0
3 Danny Woodhead SD 16 244 15.3 59.1 81 11.0 40 37
4 Doug Martin TB 16 232 14.5 34.8 70 6.3 25 21
5 Lamar Miller MIA 16 232 14.5 43.0 69 3.6 12 7
6 DeAngelo Williams PIT 16 231 14.5 73.0 69 13.8 51 45
7 Matt Forte CHI 13 213 16.4 45.4 50 2.3 7 0
8 David Johnson ARI 16 210 13.1 83.9 47 13.2 47 39
9 Todd Gurley STL 13 209 16.0 59.8 46 6.0 22 13
10 Latavius Murray OAK 16 203 12.7 34.4 40 4.7 16 6
11 Chris Ivory NYJ 15 203 13.5 25.1 40 7.5 28 17
12 Mark Ingram NO 12 201 16.8 0.0 39 4.1 14 2
13 Darren McFadden DAL 16 194 12.1 35.2 31 10.5 38 25
14 Frank Gore IND 16 193 12.1 37.3 31 3.9 13 -1
15 DeMarco Murray PHI 15 184 12.3 20.1 21 2.4 8 -7
16 Giovani Bernard CIN 16 181 11.3 27.1 18 7.7 29 13
17 Charles Sims TB 16 180 11.3 44.3 17 14.1 52 35
18 Theo Riddick DET 16 179 11.2 33.5 16 19.8 83 65
19 LeSean McCoy BUF 12 177 14.7 19.6 14 2.9 10 -9
20 Jeremy Hill CIN 16 168 10.5 25.6 6 2.6 9 -11
21 James Starks GB 16 166 10.4 30.0 4 16.0 62 41
22 Rashad Jennings NYG 16 165 10.3 43.5 2 9.1 33 11
23 Duke Johnson CLE 16 164 10.3 30.0 2 11.2 42 19
24 Jonathan Stewart CAR 13 163 12.5 15.9 0 6.2 23 -1
25 Ronnie Hillman DEN 16 161 10.1 27.1 -1 13.4 49 24
26 Shane Vereen NYG 16 159 9.9 27.6 -4 9.7 34 8
27 T.J. Yeldon JAX 12 156 13.0 7.3 -7 6.6 26 -1
28 Darren Sproles PHI 16 150 9.3 31.5 -13 12.2 44 16
29 Javorius Allen BAL 16 146 9.1 31.0 -17 17.1 67 38
30 Jeremy Langford CHI 16 146 9.1 24.4 -17 17.4 70 40
31 C.J. Anderson DEN 15 141 9.4 16.1 -22 2.2 6 -25
32 Eddie Lacy GB 15 141 9.4 39.9 -22 1.4 3 -29
33 Isaiah Crowell CLE 16 138 8.6 49.2 -25 9.7 35 2
34 Bilal Powell NYJ 11 135 12.3 54.1 -28 - - -
35 Charcandrick West KC 13 133 10.2 29.0 -30 - - -
36 Thomas Rawls SEA 13 128 9.8 4.4 -35 - - -
37 Ryan Mathews PHI 13 125 9.6 21.1 -38 10.1 37 0
38 Karlos Williams BUF 11 124 11.3 19.8 -39 17.7 72 34
39 LeGarrette Blount NE 12 123 10.2 5.3 -40 7.9 30 -9
40 James White NE 14 123 8.8 48.9 -40 17.9 74 34
41 Justin Forsett BAL 10 122 12.2 0.0 -40 3.1 11 -30
42 Dion Lewis NE 7 120 17.2 0.0 -43 17.6 71 29
43 Ameer Abdullah DET 16 117 7.3 30.1 -46 5.5 20 -23
44 Matt Jones WAS 13 114 8.8 15.2 -48 13.8 50 6
45 Antonio Andrews TEN 14 112 8.0 18.1 -51 - - -
46 Alfred Blue HOU 15 112 7.4 14.7 -51 9.8 36 -10
47 LeVeon Bell PIT 6 111 18.5 0.0 -52 1.3 1 -46
48 Melvin Gordon SD 14 108 7.7 16.0 -55 4.4 15 -33
49 Chris Johnson ARI 11 107 9.7 0.0 -56 17.2 68 19
50 Joique Bell DET 13 106 8.1 37.8 -57 8.6 31 -19
51 Jamaal Charles KC 5 101 20.2 0.0 -62 1.5 4 -47
52 Kyle Juszczyk BAL 16 97 6.1 24.1 -65 - - -
53 Alfred Morris WAS 16 97 6.0 21.7 -66 4.7 17 -36
54 Chris Thompson WAS 13 93 7.1 8.2 -70 - - -
55 Dexter McCluster TEN 11 90 8.2 9.0 -73 - - -
56 Tim Hightower NO 8 86 10.8 59.9 -76 - - -
57 Jonathan Grimes HOU 14 84 6.0 10.8 -79 - - -
58 Jerick McKinnon MIN 16 83 5.2 44.1 -79 15.7 60 2
59 Mike Tolbert CAR 16 83 5.2 10.9 -80 - - -
60 Spencer Ware KC 9 83 9.2 6.7 -80 - - -

 

It was a rough year for early-round running backs. Of the 10 running backs drafted in the first two rounds, only two were able to finish in the top 12, while five finished in the top 24.

Two offseason studies – Are Early Round Receivers Safer Than Running Backs? and Should You Be Drafting More Wide Receivers in the First Round?  – convinced me that the risk associated with the running back position (i.e. injury) is too great to count on RBs in the first round, other than perhaps the top two players in any given year. (Read the studies for more detail.) Instead, I took receivers in the first round on draft day, so I mostly avoided the M.A.S.H. unit that was the RB position in 2015.

Once his suspension was reduced, I had LeVeon Bell ranked #1 in PPR, though I had Adrian Peterson as my #1 RB in standard formats. Peterson and Matt Forte were the only early-round running backs to return value, given their respective average draft positions. Injury wasn’t the only bugaboo for the position this year – DeMarco Murray, Eddie Lacy, C.J. Anderson and Jeremy Hill were all drafted in the first two rounds and played at least 15 games and they all finished #15 or lower.

The backs that went in the 3rd-5th rounds fared better, with five of the 12 selected in that range – Lamar Miller, Todd Gurley, Latavius Murray, Mark Ingram and Frank Gore – finishing in the top 15. Jonathan Stewart (#24), Doug Martin (#4), T.J. Yeldon (#27), Chris Ivory (#11) and Giovani Bernard (#16) were among the next seven backs off the board in the next two rounds, so owners who loaded up on receivers early and then drafted running backs in the 3rd-7th rounds fared pretty well, especially if we include Danny Woodhead (#3), whose ADP rose in PPR formats towards the end of August.

Like Woodhead, other pass-catching specialists like Charles Sims (#17) and Theo Riddick (#18), Duke Johnson (#23), Shane Vereen (#26), Darren Sproles (#28) and Bilal Powell (#34) offered up RB2- to flex-caliber numbers in PPR formats, but leaning on Johnson, Vereen and Sproles was a dicey proposition in any given week. All of these guys went in the 11th round or later.

Since it was such a tough year for early-round running backs from an injury standpoint, it means that other backs had an opportunity to step into much larger roles as the year wore on. Devonta Freeman (#1), DeAngelo Williams (#6), David Johnson (#8), Javorius Allen (#29), Charcandrick West (#35), Thomas Rawls (#36), James White (#40) and Tim Hightower (#56) all offered stretches of starter-caliber production (or much more in the case of Freeman, Williams and Johnson). Injury opportunity is one of the tenets of the Upside Down/Zero RB/Wait on RB strategies.

 

The Bottom Line

If anything, the 2015 season has only further convinced me to focus on the receiver position in the early rounds in PPR formats. I’m going to take a longer look at early-round RB/WR strategy in standard formats as well. Standard formats tend to favor the RB position, but there are so few workhorse running backs these days. Throw in a higher injury risk for the running back position and it makes more sense to draft a stud receiver early on, no matter the format.

Filed Under: w19, 2015

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