2015 Fantasy Retrospective: Running Backs
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)
|#||Player||Team||G||FP (PPR)||PPG||Playoffs||RV||ADP||Pos ADP Rank||ADP Diff|
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.