Editor’s Note: This article is from a series of #FootClan guest posts highlighting what set Footballers rankings apart.
No position in fantasy football may be more beloved than the running back position. In fact, they often take up the majority of first-round fantasy draft boards. Yet, as quickly as you can fall in love with a running back, you can just as easily fall out of love with one.
The good news for us is The Fantasy Footballers and their award-winning rankings have our backs. Operating the running back position can be a tricky situation. The Footballers do everything they can to leave the fewest unanswered questions when setting their running back rankings. This puts you in the best position to succeed on a weekly basis. Below we examine what goes into building the Footballers’ top-notch running back rankings.
What Have You Done for Us Lately…Like Last Week Lately?
The long old mantra of the NFL standing for “Not for Long” is especially true when examining the running back position. Most running backs are on the street by the time they hit 30 and are usually pushed out of their role well before then in favor of a younger, cheaper option. There is certainly still the cream of the crop talents at the position who reigns supreme, such as Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley. However, the running back position is mostly a revolving door of names that are relevant one week and non-existent the next.
When compiling quarterback position rankings, one may look into a run of success spanning over a number of years. For the majority of running backs, a few games will subside. Take Gus Edwards from the 2018 season. The Baltimore running back was essentially non-existent in the Ravens backfield for the first two months of the season, only to explode on to the scene following a week ten bye.
Edwards would go on to average 20 touts a game for 116.5 ypg in his next two contests. That alone, production matched with opportunity, should be enough to buy into a running back, at least for the short term. Don’t wait too long to buy into a running back and find it’s too late. The Fantasy Footballers’ running back rankings are based on a plethora of things, including but not limited to success rate, matchups, team fit, and scoring formats.
Multifaceted Skill Set
Long gone are the three-yards and a cloud of dust runners. Instead, with the evolution of NFL offenses, a running back must be able to impact the game in a multitude of ways. At least, the elite ones do.
Players such as Saquon Barkley and Christian McCaffrey have helped revolutionize the running back position, essentially operating as their respective team’s go-to playmakers. In return, they have cemented themselves atop the Footballers’ and many other’s running back rankings.
When a running back owns a skill set capable of playing three-downs, their fantasy value increases tenfold. The more a back can do, the more they play. The less they leave the field, the more fantasy points they produce. The more fantasy points they produce on an extended basis, the higher they will rank amongst their peers in fantasy rankings.
Scheme & Opportunity
The league has thankfully gotten away from the mindset that the running back is a dime a dozen position. Players like Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley, and Ezekiel Elliott are all changing the trend in the value a singular running back can have in an offense. While the dime a dozen mentality may be becoming an outdated concept in NFL draft rooms, it is still existent when formulating fantasy rankings, as it should. That is because, for each of those players named above, there are players like C.J. Anderson. Anderson is not the most talented back by any means, but he fit in seamlessly to what Sean McVay needed in his backfield for the Rams run to the Super Bowl.
The players surrounding the running back, most notably the offensive line, are crucial to their success. For instance, the Dallas Cowboys offense runs through Ezekiel Elliott. So, when he was suspended for six weeks in 2017, you would expect a major dip in rushing production. Except for Dallas as a team would go on to average 4.2 ypc during the six-game span, and eclipse the 100-yard barrier in all but one game without Zeke at their disposal. How? Simple, the ‘Boys offensive line is nasty. You can plug in any capable runner behind that o-line and watch them churn out yards.
Players like Austin Ekeler show that talent doesn’t always beat fit. Not many people would argue that Ekeler is a better player than Melvin Gordon. Yet Ekeler may be a better fit for what the Bolts look for from their running back. After years of operating with the likes of Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead lined up beside him in shotgun, Philip Rivers seems to play at his best with a receiving, scat-back type of runner at his disposal. This is why when Gordon misses time with injury, or potentially a holdout in 2019, Ekeler will immediately climb running back player rankings.
Kenyan Drake may have been the most under-utilized skill player in all the NFL in 2018. Drake closed out his 2017 campaign averaging nearly 120 yards from scrimmage over the final five games. This produced some high hopes from fantasy owners for 2018. Unfortunately for those owners, Adam Gase treated Kenyan Drake as if he stole his high school sweetheart. He only sparingly used the explosive playmaker throughout the season. Drake still flashed his skillset when given the opportunity, but the limited opportunity given bumped him down from an RB2 with upside to a risky flex option.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how talented a player is. If he’s in the dog house, doesn’t fit the scheme, or is surrounded by players on par with his skill set, his production will suffer from it. The Fantasy Footballers get ahead of these outliers when constructing their player rankings to make sure you aren’t as puzzled as every Kenyan Drake owner was in 2018.
Find out how Kenyan Drake can be this year’s secret weapon.
Don’t expect the square peg in round hole approach that many other “experts” use when compiling rankings. As these rankings leave it up to you to predict how those rankings will carry over to your league’s format. The Fantasy Footballers take into consideration multiple scoring formats when setting their rankings. The Footballers offer ½ point PPR, full PPR, and standard scoring running back rankings.
Standard Vs. PPR
Christian McCaffrey has cemented himself as a bonafide star in Carolina’s backfield after eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards, and 100 receptions in his sophomore season for the Panthers. Yet prior to his 2018 breakout campaign, Run CMC was much less of a lock for lineups on a weekly basis, especially those operating on standard scoring settings. Though he remained a threat in the passing game, Carolina was hesitant to feature the then-rookie McCaffrey in the run game. This made McCaffrey’s usability amongst PPR leagues compared to standard scoring leagues night and day.
Other players like Theo Riddick essentially operated as wideouts that line up in the backfield for their respective teams. When scanning over standard league rankings you would be hard-pressed to see Riddick’s name pop up. Yet, for years Riddick has remained a viable flex option in PPR formats. Contrastingly, let’s examine running back Jordan Howard. Howard, who has averaged 1,100+ yards per season on the ground in his three-year career has operated as a reliable starter in most standard leagues during his stint in Chicago. Unfortunately, Howard offers very little in the passing game. When assembling PPR running back rankings, Howard’s name will be found below other players who may be less talented than him, but whose skillsets better suit the scoring format.
Want to find out where the targets are at the RB position? Find out in this vacated targets article.
Last but not least, we delve into the matchups. Unless you have the best of the best at your disposal at the running back position, play the matchup! The majority of running backs in the NFL are bunched together, with very little separating a top 15-play from a top 30-play for a given week. For the most part, the thing that gives these players the edge in rankings over someone so similar in talent and usage is the matchup.
Editor’s Note: Check out some late-round RBs worth targeting at the end of your drafts.
Matchup based rankings are built off not only which team a running back is facing, but how that team does defending the running back position in terms of fantasy. A team may boast a fierce defensive unit as a whole but have holes amongst their squad that make for a sneaky-good play for an opponent. The Jacksonville Jaguars, for instance, owned a top-5 total defense in 2018, yet ranked near the bottom in rushing yards allowed. So, while the matchup may seem like a tough one on the horizon, a closer look shows that there are yardage and success to be had. Other teams may shut down the run but struggle defending running backs in the passing game.
The Fantasy Footballers examine the ins and outs of every matchup on the docket, shuffling their player rankings to find who they project to have the most success.
However long “Not For Long” stands for when discussing the NFL, you can cut that time in half when talking about the running back position. No position is more grueling on the body to play than the running back position in the NFL. As a running back, you are readily taking a pounding, and there is rarely a snap that they aren’t hit. For this reason, no position is hit with the injury bug more than the running back.
The Fantasy Footballers stay up to date on all the injury updates. Players with questionable or unlikely availability for game time will see their running back rankings suffer.