It's time to say goodbye to the 300-carry fantasy running back
(Editor’s note: Every day, we’re offering our Crazy Fantasy Stat of the Day, something that catches our eye and helps us learn something for fantasy for 2016.)
Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson was the 2015 rushing leader by most definitions. Rushing yards. Rushing touchdowns (tied with three others). Most fumbles (okay, that one wasn’t great).
And, of course, rush attempts.
Peterson ran the ball 327 times last season, most in the league by 39 (over Doug Martin). Combine carries and receiving targets, and Peterson was given a shot at the ball 360 times, also most in the league (though Devonta Freeman, at 357, closed the gap). On the other hand, 327 carries is the third-lowest total for the league leader since 1990.
That brings us to the Fantasy Stat of the Day: 2015 was the first time since 1990 that the league has had only one running back with 300-plus carries. The mid-1990s through the mid-2000s were big for the “one dominant running back” strategy for teams. From 1995 to 2006, the league averaged 9.4 running backs over the threshold a season, with 10 or more in a season six different times. But in the five seasons since 2010, the league has seen only two running backs with 300-plus carries three times, and then Peterson alone last year (five guys had 300-plus carries in 2012).
For fantasy, this is a big part of the reason why single, bell-cow running backs have become so important in recent years. Targets for wide receivers are going up (three of the top four seasons in wide receiver targets in the last decade came in 2015), while carries for individual running backs are decreasing.
At the top of our RB rankings, there are guys who will dominate their teams’ usage. With the strong offensive line and expected improving record in Dallas, rookie Ezekiel Elliott is a candidate for a lot of carries (the team gave DeMarco Murray 393 carries in 2014). Todd Gurley of the Rams is the team’s best offensive weapon, and not by a little.
But in Pittsburgh, Le’Veon Bell has been injury-prone and is part of a prolific passing offense. Devonta Freeman in Atlanta, Jamaal Charles in Kansas City and Doug Martin in Tampa Bay have Tevin Coleman, Spencer Ware and Charles Sims, respectively, to spell them. Lamar Miller never topped 216 carries in Miami; he isn’t likely to jump almost 100 just by moving to Houston.
And Peterson? Well, Peterson is still his team’s No. 1 option. But with Teddy Bridgewater improving at quarterback, Jerick McKinnon developing as a second running back and the team adding wide receiver Laquon Treadwell in the draft, even Peterson isn’t a lock to reach 300 again.
The days of the 300-carry running back aren’t all the way behind us. But the league is heading that way. That’s why running backs who help in PPR are much more valuable, and why guys who don’t catch passes have that much more work to do.