The Fantasy Mythbusters: Are Dual-Threat QBs a Problem for RBs?
We are smack dab in the middle of NFL draft season, and that means it is the time for unbridled optimism. Nowhere does hope spring quite as eternal as at the top of the draft board, where teams select (hopefully) the cornerstone of their dynasty: a future franchise quarterback. This year, we had three teams stepping up to the plate: the Carolina Panthers selecting Bryce Young first off the board, the Houston Texans picking CJ Stroud second and the Indianapolis Colts taking a shot on Anthony Richardson at the 1.04.
I groaned aloud at the fourth pick. That’s not because I’m a Colts fan: I like Richardson as a prospect, and think it’s worth a chance to try and develop his incredible skillset. No, my misery stems from the fact that Jonathan Taylor, esteemed Colts running back, is on my dynasty roster. Anthony Richardson is known for his rushing prowess: he put up 654 yards and nine touchdowns in his final year at Florida. Surely he will eat into JT’s workload, and I will be left without a stud running back.
After a few minutes of deep breathing, I picked myself up off the couch and gave myself a stern talking-to. Why would I assume this narrative — that mobile QBs can’t co-exist with elite RBs — when I could just look at the data? Moments later I was at my laptop, preparing the results that I will show you now. This analysis obviously has consequences beyond just Richardson-Taylor: backs on the Bills and Ravens, for example, could face the same problem (and even the 49ers RB platoon if Trey Lance takes the helm). The Saquon Barkley–Daniel Jones situation is another good comp and one we will reference again shortly.
I looked at data from nflfastR since the 2015 season and collected the highest-scoring QB and RB on each team for each year. Specifically, I looked at QB points from rushing only (yards plus touchdowns) compared to total half-PPR points from RBs. Here is the chart:
Houston, we have a problem. Perhaps that’s a bad choice of phrase: CJ Stroud, who is himself headed to Houston, doesn’t seem to pose a threat because he does not have elite rushing upside. Anyways…
While it’s hard to pick out a clear pattern in this chart, one thing is certain: the ceiling is much lower for RBs with elite rushing QBs. It’s easy to see visually: there are a ton of RBs who put 250+ points (and even 300+ points) with QBs that didn’t crack 100 fantasy points on the ground. And yet there’s only one who (just barely) breached 250 points with a QB scoring 100+ rushing points; that was Saquon Barkley this past year.
More generally, RBs with QBs that score <100 rushing points have a 31% chance of scoring 200+ points; that number drops to 21.4% when you consider RBs with QBs that score 100+ on the ground. Those numbers are 13.6% and 7%, respectively, for an RB reaching 250+ points, and 5.4% and 0% for 300+ RB points. There’s a big drop-off in average scoring, too: 183 points per season on average for RBs with non-mobile QBs, and 162 for RBs with mobile signal-callers.
Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. Jonathan Taylor is an elite running back, both in the NFL world and the fantasy landscape. This is purely correlational analysis, and we don’t even know if Anthony Richardson will start for the majority of the season! Don’t go trading JT in a panic.
And yet — there just aren’t many examples of RBs dominating with QBs who also dominate on the ground. This could be a result of play-calling (designed runs instead of hand-offs) or, more likely, QBs taking all of the goal line carries. As Jason often mentions on the show, it’s hard to trust in the Philadelphia Eagles backfield when Jalen Hurts has 23 rushing touchdowns over the past two years from one of the highest hit-rate QB sneaks in football!
So adjust your rankings appropriately. While talent usually wins out — we saw Saquon performing at an elite level for long stretches of the 2022 season — the upside is probably capped with a quarterback who can also do damage on the ground.
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*The lowest dot on the chart stood out to me, so I looked into it: turns out it’s the 2019 Miami Dolphins. Ryan Fitzpatrick was the leading rusher with 243 yards and four touchdowns; the highest-scoring running back was actually Patrick Laird, with 168 rushing yards and one touchdown. Other backs on that team included Kalen Ballage, Mark Walton, Kenyan Drake, and Myles Gaskin.