Everyone who studies fantasy football knows these names and knows these will be the first names off the board, in some order, in nearly all fantasy drafts in 2018. Running backs have always been the backbone of fantasy. This is due to many factors, but the greatest of which is volume. Aside from the quarterback, the running back touches the ball more than any player on the field. Finding a player who can turn that volume into consistency is the trick here, and what we’re going to look at in this article.
As fantasy owners, we always love to see our players break loose for a 75-yard touchdown. Sounds great right? Sign me up for that every week! Unfortunately runs like that are few and far between.
Yards per carry (YPC) is the number most important for a running back over the course of their fantasy career. Long runs are nice, and to know a player has that potential is important but that’s not what’s going to be sustainable over the course of time, which is what we’re all about in dynasty. We want the player who can consistently grind out rushes of four, five, and six yards every time he touches the ball.
There are certain “magic” numbers in fantasy for all positions. For running backs, we’re looking for 20+ touches a game and 4.0 yards per carry. These are the numbers that lead to consistency, however, there is slightly more to it than that and this is where things get tricky to decipher.
Below are the pure numbers of two young running backs in the NFL right now. Which of these careers thus far sounds more appealing to you?
RB1 = 737 Attempts, 3,118 Yards, 4.2 YPC, 21 TD’s, 6 Fumbles
RB2 = 786 Attempts, 3,296 Yards, 4.2 YPC, 29 TD’s, 10 Fumbles
Strictly by rushing numbers, these backs look fairly similar. The first back has about 50 fewer carries and eight fewer touchdowns, but also four fewer fumbles. Consistency wise at a glance they appear to be in the same range and an argument could be made to draft either.
Here is where things get fun. RB1 is Isaiah Crowell, and RB2 is Todd Gurley.
As we know, Gurley is a top three running back in dynasty whereas Crowell is barely in the top thirty. No one in their right mind would ever tell you that these two have a similar value, yet that’s what their YPC would suggest.
Now I’m not here to convince you to draft Todd Gurley over Isaiah Crowell, if you’re reading this then that’s something you already know. Breaking down the WHY is what’s important here, and knowing how to apply that principle to other running backs will provide a very important lesson in player evaluation. Crowell has had these numbers boosted by fewer attempts and more “breakaway” runs.
In his best season (2016) Crowell had long runs of 85, 67 and 42-yards as well as games with six, eight, eight, nine, and nine rushing attempts.
Gurley in his best season (2017) had long runs of 57, 36, 34 and 34-yards, while his lowest attempts were 11, 13, 14, 15, and 16.
Here is where we find the numbers that truly show consistency. Gurley has significantly more volume per game and is able to boast a healthy 4.2 YPC without relying on the “breakaway” style of run. Furthermore, Crowell achieved his career totals in four seasons, while Gurley has achieved his in only three.
All of this is without even getting into receiving totals! Catches and receiving totals vary wildly among running backs. The top fantasy backs will usually be solid receivers as well, however, this is not a requirement and generally the exception to the norm.
Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson have been the biggest names in the receiving game among three-down backs. Backs such as Jordan Howard and Derrick Henry boast a high YPC without catching many passes. This does limit their upside, and they will likely never be top five at their position, however, their talent provides a level of consistency worthy of an every week start.
Here are a few running backs who have shown consistency thus far in their careers that can be acquired after the first round, yet have the potential to outperform their draft value and are every week starters. Each of these players has negatives associated with their names for various reasons, whether it be because they’re part of a committee, they have poor pass catching ability, high injury risk or they’re just on a bad team. Consistency tells us however that these are players who will be solid performers with the right volume.
A quick note on C.J. Anderson. His has been a career of complexity. When healthy, Anderson has been a competent running back, capable of working on all three downs. There have been multiple backs that were supposed to surpass him on the depth chart but have yet to truly do so. Unfortunately, only once has Anderson played a full season, this season was 2017 and showed that Anderson still has the capacity to rush for over 1,000 yards while averaging 4.1 YPC on 245 carries. He’s older for a dynasty running back at 27 and will likely not be a member of the Denver Broncos in 2018. He can certainly be acquired cheaply, but monitor his status closely.
Here are some running backs to avoid or to consider trading away for a high price if you already own them in dynasty. These are the players who have a hefty price tag, but after taking a closer look may not have the level of consistency needed to sustain their numbers and perform in accordance with their draft stock.
The issue in the case of Gordon and Fournette is that their YPC is too low and their final fantasy totals are reliant on touchdowns. In the case of Alvin Kamara, his YPC is unsustainably high with a low number of carries. This will eventually come down as he has only had one year in the league and we will have a better understanding of where his value should truly lie.
To be clear, each of these players has the capacity to perform as a top 10 running back and I would not be surprised if any of them do. It seems more likely however that they will underperform their current values, and should be avoided at their draft day cost. If you already own them, see how high a price they can fetch you!
In summary, what we want to see from a running back is a high number of attempts with a high YPC. Once those two requirements have been met, delve deeper into the plays that got him there. Is the guy you like being boosted by unsustainable long plays and higher than average touchdown totals? Or is the consistency there that will result in week in and week out production for years to come? Recognizing consistency in a young player is paramount in dynasty as the players on your team are yours forever, so look closely.