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By The Numbers: Running Back Edition

by Eric Moody | @EricNMoody | Featured Writer
Aug 19, 2016

Doug Martin

Doug Martin’s 2015 production was inflated by volume that may not be there in 2016

Eric Moody analyzes the top 20 running backs based on ADP to help you prepare for the 2016 fantasy football season.

Fantasy football is a game of numbers. The goal is to outscore your opponent every week. The game film tells one story, but innovative statistics and analytics tell another.

The only running back with 300 carries or more was Adrian Peterson. Peterson, Doug Martin, Todd Gurley, Darren McFadden, Chris Ivory, Latavius Murray, and Devonta Freeman were the only running backs to gain 1,000 or more rushing yards in 2015. Danny Woodhead was the only running back with 100 or more targets. Freeman and Peterson were the only running backs in standard scoring to produce 200 or more fantasy points.

The fantasy football draft season continues to be a rollercoaster filled with numerous twists and turns. The goal of this article is to share stats, provide clarity, and to help you understand the productivity of the top 20 running backs according to FantasyPros ADP (average draft position) consensus rankings.

With that in mind, it’s time to dive into the statistical analysis of these running backs.

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1. Todd Gurley owned 73.2 percent of the Rams’ red-zone carries

Gurley finished as a top three fantasy running back despite missing the first three games of the season. He produced 0.75 fantasy points per touch last season and had the ninth highest rushing DVOA (10%) or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average according to Football Outsiders. DVOA boils down to a running back with more value per play. 45.9 percent of Gurley’s rushing yards came on runs of 15 yards or more according to Pro Football Focus, the highest rate in the NFL. An area of opportunity for him is to become more effective as a receiver out of the backfield. Defensive coordinators have nearly a full season of film on Gurley and the Rams’ offense. He will garner a great deal of defensive attention. How effective will Gurley be in 2016?

Player Team Inside 20 Inside 10 Inside 5 Team %
Todd Gurley Rams 30 14 8 73.2
Matt Jones Redskins 27 11 5 73
DeAngelo Williams Steelers 47 28 16 72.3
Devonta Freeman Falcons 49 24 11 71

 

2. Adrian Peterson now has 2,636 career touches in his NFL career

Only Frank Gore (3,078) and Steven Jackson (3,229) have more career touches than Peterson. He is still performing at a high level for the Vikings and fantasy owners. The elephant in the room regarding Peterson in 2016 is the Vikings’ plan to run more offensive plays out of the Shotgun formation. Peterson only has 61 receptions in his last 31 games, and he has not had a great deal of success running out of the Shotgun. He only has 122 career rushing attempts for 468 yards and three touchdowns. The team drafted Laquon Treadwell in the 2016 NFL Draft and Stefon Diggs in 2015 for a reason. Could this be the season Peterson does not get the workload fantasy owners anticipate?

Season Team Gms GS Att Yds Yds/Att TD Targets Rec Yds TD Fum Lost FPs
2015 Vikings 16 16 327 1485 4.5 11 36 30 222 0 7 3 230.7
2014 Vikings 1 1 21 75 3.6 0 3 2 18 0 0 0 9.3
2013 Vikings 14 14 279 1266 4.5 10 40 29 171 1 5 3 203.7
2012 Vikings 16 16 348 2097 6 12 51 40 217 1 4 2 307.4
2011 Vikings 12 12 209 973 4.7 12 23 18 139 1 1 0 189.2
2010 Vikings 15 15 283 1298 4.6 12 50 36 341 1 1 1 239.9
2009 Vikings 16 15 314 1383 4.4 18 57 43 436 0 7 6 277.9
2008 Vikings 16 15 363 1760 4.8 10 0 21 125 0 9 4 240.5
2007 Vikings 14 9 238 1341 5.6 12 0 19 268 1 4 3 232.9

 

3. David Johnson had the fourth highest rushing DVOA (15.7%) among all running backs. 

Johnson helped owners win fantasy championships last season if they patiently held him all of last year or picked him up on the waiver wire. He generated 479 total yards and scored four touchdowns from Week 14 to 16. Does Johnson’s limited track record justify his first-round ADP (average draft position)? The range of possible outcomes must be considered. Johnson could go boom and finish as a top four fantasy running back or could go bust like Montee Ball from a few seasons ago.

4. Ezekiel Elliott received over 600 touches during his last two seasons at Ohio State.

If you view Elliott’s college game film he took a lot of punishment. He welcomes contact as opposed to trying to avoid it. The appeal of Elliott in 2016 is centered on DeMarco Murray’s marvelous 2014 season with the Cowboys. A quote from an NFL Network Draft Analyst sums it up perfectly:

A couple years ago DeMarco Murray carried the football 449 times, had 2,200 yards, and I think Elliott is a better football player. You plug him in there behind an offensive line that’s in their prime, and you take a ton of pressure off a 36-year-old Tony Romo.

Elliott has the physical tools necessary to be a workhorse in the NFL. He landed with the perfect team to see this come to fruition. Here is a visual of similar prospects based on his collegiate body of work and combine metrics.

zeke box score scout

Elliott gained 2,039 yards after contact over his last two college seasons according to Pro Football Focus.

5. Le’Veon Bell is classified as a high injury risk (75%) according to Sports Injury Predictor.

It still baffles me that Bell continues to be drafted in the first or second round. The probability is high that even after Bell misses nearly a quarter of the fantasy football season he could suffer another injury. Sports Injury Predictor sums it up best when commenting on Bell:

Few players at any position are bigger injury risks when you consider Bell’s history and projected workload. That needs to be factored in when weighing his fantasy value.

Hope is not a winning fantasy football strategy. The risk is even higher when you add Bell’s propensity to get suspended by the league.

6. Lamar Miller produced 0.76 fantasy points per touch in 2015

The Texans signed Miller to a four-year, $26 million dollar contract. The team has the second most rushing attempts (1,023) in the NFL the last two seasons. Miller will be used as a three-down back for the first time in his career. His 2.76 yards after contact per attempt were 11th-best in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus. Miller has the opportunity in the Texans’ offense to become a top three fantasy running back in 2016.

7. Devonta Freeman had a rushing attempt or target on 47 percent of his offensive snaps

Freeman finished 2015 as the No. 1 fantasy running back. He was a middle-round draft selection last season which paid huge dividends for fantasy owners. Freeman played the highest number of offensive snaps (767) among all running backs in 2015 and touched the football or was targeted on 47 percent of them. Tevin Coleman will cut into his workload in 2016, but Freeman’s role as the receiving back and at the goal line (owned 71 percent of the Falcons’ red zone carries) are secure.

8. Jamaal Charles has averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the last four seasons.

Charles continues to be one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL. The question is if he is the same player he was before the knee injury. Charles has produced only 15 runs of 15 yards or more yards over the last two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus.

9. Doug Martin had fewer Effective Yards (1,137) than standard yards (1,402) according to Football Outsiders

Martin’s production in 2015 was inflated by his workload. Players with fewer Effective Yards than standard yards played worse than standard stats would otherwise indicate, according to Football Outsiders. Effective yards is the translation of DVOA into a yards per attempt figure. The comments from the Buccaneers’ coaching staff suggest they plan on getting Charles Sims more involved this season. The staff has also suggested they will add more onto second-year quarterback Jameis Winston’s plate in 2016. Martin had two or fewer receptions in 68.7 percent of his games last season. He is a prime sell-high candidate in keeper or dynasty formats.

10. Eddie Lacy’s elusive rating was 71.6 in 2014 and 36.7 in 2015 according to Pro Football Focus

I resisted plugging in a poor attempt at humor regarding Lacy’s weight. He is entering a contract year and should capitalize in a Packers’ offense that appears to be back on track with the return of wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Lacy has two elements that I prefer my fantasy running backs to have; being tied to a great quarterback and scoring opportunities.

Red Zone Opportunities for the Packers’ Offense

Season Rank Inside 20 Inside 10 Inside 5
2015 15 128 56 27
2014 1st 180 78 36
2013 3rd 153 72 30

Source: RotoWire

11. Mark Ingram set a career high in targets (60) last season.

Ingram also owned a 56 percent market share of the carries despite only playing 12 games last season. He is in a position to become a three-down back in a Saints’ offense that scored 2.13 points per drive in 2015. The Saints also scored a touchdown on 69 percent of their drives that made it to the red zone last season. Ingram was a top four PPR (points-per-reception) running back before his season ended with an injury.

12. LeSean McCoy has the seventh most touches (1,996) of active players. 

McCoy is entering his age-28 season after an injury-riddled 2015. The only other team with more rushing attempts than the Bills (509) were the Panthers (526). McCoy is a still in his physical prime and could lead the NFL in attempts this season. He is a value at his current ADP.

13. Thomas Rawls had the highest rushing DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) last season according to Football Outsiders.

Rawls had a limited sample size of 147 rushing attempt, but he was very productive as the Seahawks’ starting running back. The Seahawks scored points on 42 percent of their offensive drives in 2015. Rawls would benefit from the efficiency of the offensive scheme and should own the early-down and goal line carries. Success or failure comes down to how well he has recovered from his ankle injury.

14. C.J. Anderson broke more tackles in 2014 (59) than he did in 2015 (31) according to Pro Football Focus

Anderson’s snap counts and usage were eerily similar in 2014 and 2015. He is in a position to be the lead running back in Kubiak’s offensive scheme. The elephant in the room is rookie Devontae Booker. It remains to be seen if Anderson can physically handle being used as a bell cow. How much risk are you comfortable taking at his current ADP?

Season Games Snaps Rush % Target %
2015 16 502 30 7
2014 15 526 34 8

Source: FantasyData

15. Carlos Hyde is classified as a high injury risk (67%) according to Sports Injury Predictor.

Hyde is running back that has generated a ton of sizzle in the offseason after Chip Kelly was hired as the 49ers head coach. Here is the take on him from Sports Injury Predictor:

It’s fair to question Hyde’s upside in an offense that’ll rely so much on Chip Kelly’s creativity. History suggests that Hyde will provide just spotty production as a receiver. And there simply aren’t a lot of playmakers to give this unit predictable scoring chances. Hyde will clearly need some help to reach his RB1 upside. But with an ADP sitting in Round 4, he’s not as pricey as most RBs with his talent and opportunity would be. Plus, at 24, there’s no doubt Hyde’s best football is ahead of him.

Hyde has never been active as a receiver out of the backfield. The 49ers’ defense could continue to be a liability in 2016 after giving up 2.04 points per drive (ranked 24th in the NFL) last season. Is this the kind of risk you want to take on in the fourth or fifth round of your fantasy football draft?

16. Matt Forte joins a Jets offense that targeted running backs 114 times

Forte has accumulated 2,522 touches in his career and produced 0.65 fantasy points per touch. He is a value at his current ADP in the late fourth to early fifth round. Forte’s value for fantasy owners will be defined by his specific role in Chan Gailey’s offense. He and Bilal Powell were signed to similar contracts. I would rather own Powell at his later ADP considering Forte’s age and injury history, especially in PPR formats.

Player Name Age Contract Signing Bonus Average Salary Guaranteed Free Agent
Matt Forte 30 3 yr (s) / $12,000,000 $1,000,000 $4,000,000 $9,000,000 2019 / UFA
Bilal Powell  27 3 yr (s) / $11,250,000 $2,650,000 $3,750,000 $6,000,000 2019 / UFA

Source: Spotrac

17. Latavius Murray had a rushing attempt or target on 47 percent of his 683 offensive snaps in 2015. 

Murray is currently one of my favorite values at the running back position. The threat of competition from rookie DeAndre Washington is overstated. Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, via Vic Tafur on Twitter, said that one of the team’s goals this season is for Murray to finish with even more carries than he had last year. He has the benefit of running behind what is expected to be one the NFL’s top offensive lines which should help improve Murray’s efficiency in 2016.

18. Jeremy Hill has averaged 46 percent of the running back carries and a touchdown rate of 4.5 percent in his two-year career.

Hill tied Adrian Peterson, DeAngelo Williams, and Devonta Freeman for the most touchdowns with 11 last season. He should continue to dominate the early-down and goal-line carries for the Bengals. Hill is entering his athletic prime, has a defined role in an excellent offensive scheme, and is currently undervalued at his current ADP. Upside picks like this are what fantasy championships are made of.

19. DeMarco Murray had 718 fewer yards after contact last season than in 2014

Murray has already accumulated 1,393 touches up to this point of his five-year career. The 2014 Associated Press NFL Offensive Player of the Year struggled mightily in 2015 with the Eagles. The one positive about 2015 is that Murray only had 237 touches. New Titans head coach Mike Mularkey’s running scheme may be a better fit for Murray in 2016, but the front office drafted Derrick Henry in the second round for a reason. Mularkey’s coaching tree and history suggests an “old school” mentality. A running game that revolves around having a big back bludgeon opposing defenses into submission. The training camp reports on Murray and Henry continue to be positive. This has the makings of a frustrating committee attack. How long can Murray hold off Henry from eating into his workload?

20. Jonathan Stewart broke a tackle every 4.9 carries

This stat was courtesy of Pro Football Focus. Stewart quietly finished the season as a top 20 fantasy running back. He benefited from the Panthers’ explosive offense that produced the league’s highest points per drive (2.4) last season. Stewart’s workload is secure, but he does not provide fantasy owners with fantasy league winning upside.

Conclusion

The running back positions continues to be devalued for fantasy football due to many teams incorporating a committee approach. Many owners search for a running back that has a secure workload. It also helps to find running backs who are efficient with their touches. I will provide insight into the wide receiver position in the next part of this series. By The Numbers will be a weekly column at FantasyPros starting in Week 1 of the regular season.

What statistics stood out to you? Please leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter. You can find me @EricNMoody and I am always open to answering questions or discussing football. Until next time!


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