DFS Big Game Profiles: Running Back

DFS Big Game Profiles: Running Back

By TJ Hernandez (Director of DFS), last update Aug 31, 2018

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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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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 and now I will do the same exercise for running backs.


Other Big Game Profiles: QB | WR | TE


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. On FanDuel and DraftKings, two running backs are in play, not including the flex, so 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 2017 (25.1 FanDuel points and 28.7 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, 2015–2017
RuAtt RuYds RuTD Rec RecYds RecTD Spread O/U Implied Pts
20.3 114.3 1.5 4.0 46.1 0.5 -1.4 45.8 23.6

Home Team: 57.0%                                  100+ Rush Or Rec. Yards: 71.1%
Winning Team: 80.7%                              2+ TD: 75.6%
Vegas Favorite: 56.3%                             20+ Carries: 56.3%
O/U 46+: 48.9%                                          4+ Receptions: 54.1%
Implied Total 24+: 49.6%                         20+ Touches: 72.6%

Average Stat Line of Top-Six DraftKings Running Back

Top DraftKings Running Back Averages, 2015–2017
RuAtt RuYds RuTD Rec RecYds RecTD Spread O/U Implied Pts
20.1 114.9 1.5 4.3 49.0 0.4 -1.4 45.9 23.6

Home Team: 57.4%                                 100+ Rush Or Rec. Yards: 76.7%
Winning Team: 79.8%                             2+ TD: 70.5%
Vegas Favorite: 55.0%                            20+ Carries: 56.6%
O/U 46+: 49.6%                                         4+ Receptions: 58.1%
Implied Total 24+: 48.1%                        20+ Touches: 73.6%

How to Choose a Big Game DFS Running Back

Being at home and being a favorite carried weight, but it was especially important to have the running back on the actual winning team when looking for big games. Many of these wins, though, came in upsets.

To that note, of the stats considered for this study, the Vegas totals were among the worst indicators of big games from running backs. Even in a low-scoring game, a running back can dominate touches and separate himself from the field if his team is running the ball late.

Since game flow is so important to running back success, a running back on a team that is winning can offset a bad matchup with late-game volume, and possibly a late score.

Touchdown scoring and receptions are often discussed as the most obvious differences that we should be considering between FanDuel and DraftKings when looking for big games from running backs but the numbers have converged in recent years. The best explanation for this is that more running backs are being implemented in the passing game and receptions numbers are up across the league. No matter the scoring system, big games are coming from running backs that are heavily involved in the passing game and can stay on the field. 

A two-touchdown game has been a virtual necessity when scouring the player pool for a top back on either site. This points back to game script—a team that can keep their running back involved throughout the game increases a running backs scoring opportunity.

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

  • We want running backs on winning teams, but many of those running backs are winning in upsets—look for teams that do well against the spread.
  • 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, regardless of the site.
  • Receptions and bonus points can sometimes make up for touchdowns on DraftKings, but more backs are being utilized in the passing game than in the past, closing the gap on the top pass-catching backs.

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