The death of the fantasy running back has been overstated

Kevin Cole looks at the historical performances of early-round running backs to determine if this year's implosion was an aberration or trend.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

The death of the fantasy running back has been overstated

Anyone paying attention to the landscape of NFL backfields knows that this year hasn’t been kind to the starting running backs that were supposed to lead your fantasy teams to championships. Whether due to injury (Le’Veon Bell and Jamaal Charles) or subpar performance (Eddie Lacy, C.J. Anderson, and DeMarco Murray), most of the equity capital spent on running backs in the early rounds of fantasy drafts evaporated before the first half of the season was even in the books.

It was a collection of unproven or supposedly over-the-hill backup running backs most commonly rostered on this year’s championship squads. DeAngelo Williams started the season strong filling in for the suspended Bell, then finished even stronger. David Johnson went from an infrequently used, third-stringer behind Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington to the fantasy playoff MVP. Even Tim Hightower — re-signed by the Saints only within the last month and out of the league for multiple years — was more than just a respectable fill-in once he was elevated into a starting role; he was your RB9, RB23, and RB2 in PPR scoring weeks 14-16.

Is this the end of the presumed workhorse running back? In future years, should we fade running backs in the early rounds and profit from the wreckage? The answer isn’t simple, as we never know going into a season exactly how things will ultimately unfold. However, it’s generally a poor decision to adjust your strategy solely on the basis of one year’s results.

Before we draw any broad conclusions, let’s provide more context into where the early-round running back is headed by widening our historical lens.

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  • evo34

    Interesting. It feels like top ranked players at every position had an abnormally high bust rate this season. I think we’ll see people being stingier with the top players in next year’s auctions, and paying up for backup RBs.

  • Mike B

    Great article! Seems like mid 20’s is more likely this year for Top 10 ADP RB Top 5 performances. Jamaal Charles and LeVeon Bell both getting injured really threw this off. WRs do seem to hold their ADP better though, which is why I plan to pursue WR’s early (Rounds 1-3) and RBs in Rounds 4-8. Of course, once the draft starts my strategy is alwaus best available and if negatively is extreme as you predict on the RBs (which seems likely based on what I have been reading elsewhere) I could end up with 2 RBs much earlier than I expect! In PPR format the only backs I will draft in first 2 rounds are: Bell, Charles, Freeman, Gurley, David Johnson and Doug Martin if he lands in a place where he is a 3 down back.