DFS Big Game Profiles: Running Back

DFS Big Game Profiles: Running Back

By TJ Hernandez (Director of DFS), last update Sep 7, 2017

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TJ is a former full-time poker player who has been playing fantasy football for more than a decade. After online poker was outlawed, TJ ended his poker career and dedicated himself to fantasy football. His background in poker statistics and analytics translates to success in both daily and season-long fantasy football.

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This is the second installment in my DFS Big Game Profiles series and will cover running backs. You can read the first installment about QBs here.

In my first DFS Big Game Profiles piece, an examination of the quarterback position highlighted the importance of pinpointing signal callers that were likely to be on the winning side of the ball with multiple scoring opportunities, often against a mediocre defense -- and now I will do the same exercise for running backs.

Defining a Top Daily Fantasy Running Back

Because you can only roster one quarterback on both FanDuel and DraftKings, the quarterback study used the average weekly top-four quarterback score as the point threshold for big game performances, since rostering a top-four quarterback often kept you in contention to take down almost any large field contest, but on FanDuel and DraftKings, two running backs are in play, and with the flex spot on DraftKings, a single lineup can have up to three running backs. This expands the threshold for big game performances compared to quarterbacks, and a roster with two to three running backs in the top-six is usually sufficient for a large score in a field of any size.

The average weekly top-six running back score for 2015 (24.2 FanDuel points and 27.8 DraftKings points) was calculated, and all backs to reach those point thresholds over the last three seasons were pulled for this study. This methodology offered a significant sample size and eliminated any running backs that might have finished a week as a top scorer by default in an unusually low-scoring week.

Average Stat Line of Top-Six FanDuel Running Back

Top FanDuel Running Back Averages, 2013-2015
RuAtt RuYds RuTD Rec RecYds RecTD Touches Total Yards Total TD Spread O/U Implied Pts
21.1 117.9 1.8 3.5 40.9 0.4 24.6 158.8 2.2 -2.6 46.4 24.5

Home Team: 65.9%                                  100+ Rush Or Rec. Yards: 69.2%
Winning Team: 80.2%                              2+ TD: 83.5%
Vegas Favorite: 61.5%                             20+ Carries: 61.5%
O/U 46+: 50.6%                                          4+ Receptions: 44%
Implied Total 24+: 56.0%                         20+ Touches: 79.1%
aFPA 17+: 62.6%

Average Stat Line of Top-Six DraftKings Running Back

Top DraftKings Running Back Averages, 2013-2015
RuAtt RuYds RuTD Rec RecYds RecTD Touches Total Yards Total TD Spread O/U Implied Pts
20.1 110.5 1.5 4.5 47.7 0.4 24.5 158.2 1.9 -2.4 46.8 24.6

Home Team: 64.9%                                 100+ Rush Or Rec. Yards: 69.5%
Winning Team: 69.5%                             2+ TD: 63.4%
Vegas Favorite: 63.4%                            20+ Carries: 58%
O/U 46+: 57.3%                                         4+ Receptions: 60.3%
Implied Total 24+: 59.5%                        20+ Touches: 80.2%
aFPA 17+: 71%

How to Choose a Running Back in DFS That Will Have a Big Game

More than any other position, being at home was a major factor for big game performances at running back. Being a favorite carried weight, but it was especially important to have the running back on the actual winning team, especially on FanDuel. This discrepancy in winning percentage can likely be explained by considering how the different scoring systems and game flow can affect the scoring outcomes. 

Because DraftKings awards a full point per reception, even running backs on teams that are losing can make up ground on the field by scoring fantasy points through the air. On FanDuel, where receptions are just 0.5 points, yardage gained, usually on the ground, when a team is ahead is much more valuable. 

Of the stats considered for this study, the Vegas totals were among the worst indicators of big games from running backs, especially on FanDuel. Again, this probably is best explained by the scoring systems -- more scoring usually means more passing and a greater opportunity to take advantage of the full PPR system for pass catching backs on DraftKings. Even in a low-scoring game, a running back can dominate touches and separate himself from the field on FanDuel if his team is running the ball late. All other things being equal, the data suggests that DFS owners should be nudged towards higher scoring games on DraftKings when searching for a running back. 

Pinpointing a good matchup for running backs was critical on both sites, but DraftKings saw almost 10 percent more top scorers come against defenses that finished the year in the bottom half of 4for4 schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed versus running backs than on FanDuel. 

Since game flow is seemingly more important on FanDuel, a running back on a team that is winning can offset a bad matchup with late-game volume, and possibly a late score. On DraftKings, where touchdowns aren’t weighted as heavily, a running back needs to be able to consistently pile up stats in all aspects of the game, which is much more difficult against a good defense, regardless of game script.

Touchdown scoring and receptions are the most obvious differences that we should be considering between FanDuel and DraftKings when looking for big games from running backs. These stats best highlight the scoring differences between FanDuel and DraftKings and illustrate why we should be approaching the position differently depending on which site we are playing on.

A two-touchdown game has been a virtual necessity when scouring the player pool for a top back on FanDuel, but backs with multiple scores accounted for less than two-thirds of running back big games on DraftKings. Again, a lucky couple of scores could mitigate matchup concerns on FanDuel, whereas a running back on DraftKings really has to have an all-around good game to separate himself from the field.

While the passing game is a major factor to consider when rostering running backs on DraftKings, it’s not as critical on FanDuel. Over 75 percent of running backs that turned in an average top-six game on DraftKings caught at least three balls, and 60 percent of that group came down with four or more catches -- the percentages suggest that catch volume is at least as -- if not more -- important than carry volume on DraftKings. Meanwhile, just two-thirds of the big game running backs on FanDuel caught three balls, and less than half of those backs hit the four-reception mark.

If a running back scores more than once, it will be nearly impossible for the field to catch him on FanDuel. When playing on DraftKings, pass catching backs can make up for a lack of goal-line opportunities and often finish among the top fantasy scorers with just a single visit to the end zone.

Recapping How to Identify Running Backs That Have Big Games in DFS

  • Being at home is more important for running backs than any other position in DFS.
  • We want running backs on winning teams, but this is especially important on FanDuel where game script comes into play more heavily.
  • Vegas totals (over/unders and implied point totals) are not as great of indicators of big games for running backs as they are for some of the other positions.
  • Multi-touchdown upside is a must for running backs on FanDuel.
  • Receptions and bonus points can make up for touchdowns on DraftKings, even in the largest fields.

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