Rejoice #Footclan! Football is back! And with it, so returns the beautiful beast that is NFL DFS. Yes, I know it’s been a long offseason and rust has piled up that we must shake off. Let’s do just that by identifying some big-picture principles we’ll want to utilize as a foundation when rostering RBs in our DFS lineups.

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Opportunity Is King

One foundational rule still reigns supreme no matter what specific format of fantasy football we’re playing: Opportunity = fantasy points. And in DFS, where we’re rostering players to go bonkers for us in one specific game, the importance of this rule is heightened to extreme levels. This is true for all players to varying degrees but no position benefits from volume more than Running Back.

In order to fully understand why this is, we must first acknowledge the significant amount of variance in the game of football. In a sense, we are almost always working with small sample sizes of data because teams only play 16 regular season games a year in the NFL compared to 82 in the NBA and 162 in the MLB. NFL teams just don’t play enough games and that, combined with the inherent nature of the game itself, causes a significant variance from year-to-year and especially week-to-week.

This puts us in a tough position to predict what is going to happen in a given week and why we must follow opportunity. In general, Running Backs receive the most opportunity year-to-year and week-to-week in fantasy, giving them larger sample sizes than players at other positions. These larger sample sizes provide us with more reliable data and help us predict what is going to happen at a higher success rate.

Let’s look at the top five leaders in opportunities (carries + targets) per game at Running Back and targets per game at Wide Receiver (leaving carries out for WRs) last season in order to provide more context:

RB Opportunities Per Game WR Targets Per Game
Le'Veon Bell 28.5 Antonio Brown 11.6
Ezekiel Elliott 28.0 DeAndre Hopkins 11.6
Todd Gurley 24.4 Odell Beckham 10.3
Leonard Fournette 24.3 Jarvis Landry 10.1
Melvin Gordon 22.9 Larry Fitzgerald 10.1

Yes, WRs can receive carries but those opportunities are usually few and far between. For instance, Tyreek Hill led all WRs in carries last season with only 17. Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey led all RBs in targets with 113. There’s a bit of a difference there and the important takeaway is RBs, in general, are significantly more involved in the offense because they receive opportunities both on the ground and through the air, giving them more chances to accrue fantasy points. This is why we see that Le’Veon Bell held a 16.9 opportunity advantage over his teammate Antonio Brown even though they are both top talents in the league at their respective positions.

Take An Extremes Approach To Rostering RBs

Because of the significant advantage RBs can offer us, we’ll want to consistently roster the bell cow RBs unless injuries create opportunities for cheaper players (more on that in a bit). Especially in today’s NFL, where a running-back-by-committee approach is being utilized by many teams, there are only a select few bell cow RBs. Thus, this has actually increased the value of the few true workhorse RBs left in the league.

Harry How/Getty Images

Every week, Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott, etc. must be considered because of their reliable week-to-week projected workloads. Additionally, these bell cow RBs are generally involved in the passing game as well. This is important because when an RB is involved in both phases of the offense, it means they are not as dependent on a particular game script for success. They can produce regardless of whether their team is winning or losing, meaning there are more possibilities for them to blow up and make them worth rostering. These reasons make paying up for bell cow RBs a strong strategy.

However, doing so is not always necessary because injuries occur all the time in football, especially at the RB position. Injuries are a huge deal in DFS because they open up opportunities for other players that usually have a much cheaper salary until they start producing. On top of that, there is no easier one-to-one replacement in football than at the RB position. In fact, thanks to the increased opportunities RBs receive, talent doesn’t even necessarily matter. Therefore, in many cases, it makes sense to roster near minimum salary RBs that are going to start if we can realistically project them to see close to 15-20 opportunities.

This extremes approach to drafting RBs can be utilized in both cash games and GPPs. In cash games, the opportunity is everything. Because ownership percentages play a huge role, the RB position is not the place to get cute in tournaments. Lock in guaranteed heavy workloads and worry about getting contrarian with other roster spots and positions.

Utilize Matchup Data and Vegas Lines

In addition to the advanced statistics, we’ll be bringing you this season in articles and podcasts, a few other important factors to keep in mind are matchups and Vegas Lines. Favorable matchups are positive indicators for RB success, especially when an RB gets to face off against one of the worst run defenses in the league. As are favorable Vegas Lines, which provide added information and context to help us predict game outcomes and game flow. A few of these Vegas Lines are as follows:

  • Spreads – Who Vegas has pegged as the favorite and the underdog, and by how much
  • Over/Unders – How many total points Vegas expects to be scored in each contest
  • Implied Team Totals – How many points Vegas expects a specific team to score

This data is important to add to your portfolio because RBs on teams projected to win generally produce more fantasy points, especially if they’re on a team that is favored while playing at home. Similarly, we also see encouraging results with RBs playing in good fantasy games with lots of projected points.

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