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.