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Fantasy Football: Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between (Running Backs)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 14, 2017

Le’Veon Bell is one of the most consistent fantasy players of all-time, regardless of position.

How many times have you clicked on a fantasy football article, started to read it, only to drift off into a daydream after about 200 words? Your intentions were good, but with how short our attention spans are nowadays, it’s hard to follow the entire process. For example, did you know the average song on the radio right now is just three minutes and 30 seconds long?

With that being the case, I wanted to put together an article that we could not only look at for hours, but one we could come back to at any time. One that took out process and anything that would lead to a difference in opinion because it was based on pure, untarnished numbers, and one that everyone could relate to. Whether you’re the type of person who just reads a few articles in August before your draft or if you’re the type who’s been plotting your fantasy championship since back in April, you’ll be able to put this research to use.

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How many times have you come across an article that stated “Player X had four WR1 performances?” What that particular writer did was go through the fantasy leaders from each week and looked up if that player was in the top-12 at their position. If they were in the top-12, they check off the box as a WR1 performance. But is that fair? My answer would be an emphatic “no.”

The average top-12 performance for wide receivers in 2016 was 19.1 fantasy points in PPR formats. Let’s pretend that Larry Fitzgerald scored 21.2 PPR points in Week 3, but there were 14 other wide receivers who scored more than him. Should Fitzgerald not be awarded a WR1 performance? What if that had been a top-12 performance in any other week? The player’s performance should not be graded on a curve, because we have no control on predicting what that curve is for any particular week. Our goal as analysts is to predict who will have a WR1 performance in any given week, and that performance stood at 19.1 points for wide receivers in 2016.

The numbers vary from year-to-year, but that’s where research comes in. Because while the top-12 number was 19.1 in 2016, it was 20.3 points for wide receivers in 2015. Every position is different, which meant there was a lot of work to do. I went through the tedious process of dissecting each player’s game logs, charting top-12, top-24, and top-36 performances. Not just that, but I also added boom and bust categories, as it represents their ceilings as well as their floors. It’s also important that I note this was done for PPR formats. While some may say that it’s “free points,” it’s also the format that showcases the most consistency, and what is arguably the most predictable.

The number to achieve boom or bust status varies per position, as some have it harder than others. With quarterback, the number to “boom” wound up on 26.0 because it would have amounted to roughly 350 passing yards and three touchdowns. That number can obviously be accomplished in a variety of different ways, but again, we just want them to reach that number. A “bust” on the other hand amounted to 13.9 fantasy points or less, which would mean they failed to throw for 250 yards and a touchdown, or somewhere in that region. Below, you can find the chart with the parameters for each position.

Position Boom Bust
QB 26.0 13.9
RB 25.0 6.9
WR 25.0 7.9
TE 20.0 6.9

 

Just to give you an idea as to one of the things that was found – Carson Palmer has had just two games over 26 fantasy points (boom) in the last six years. Tyrod Taylor has hit that number five times in the last two seasons. They are going almost right next to each other in early drafts.

So, ladies and gentleman, I present to you “Boom, Bust, and Everything in Between.”

We are going to start with the running backs, but you’ll be able to find the links to all other positions here when they go live.

Quarterbacks
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends

Running Backs

Top-10

Let’s start by taking a look at the top 10 running backs being drafted this year (based on current ADP). This sample below is from the 2016 season, and it’s important to note that for a player to accumulate a game played, they had to garner at least one touch. If a backup is on the sideline not getting a single touch, it shouldn’t count against his percentages.

Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
David Johnson 16 23.3 75.0% 93.8% 93.8% 62.5% 0.0%
Le’Veon Bell 12 28.0 91.7% 100.0% 100.0% 33.3% 0.0%
Ezekiel Elliott 15 22.1 73.3% 93.3% 100.0% 26.7% 0.0%
LeSean McCoy 15 19.0 60.0% 86.7% 86.7% 40.0% 13.3%
Melvin Gordon 13 22.7 69.2% 84.6% 92.3% 15.4% 7.7%
Devonta Freeman 16 17.6 43.8% 68.8% 93.8% 25.0% 6.3%
Jordan Howard 15 18.7 26.7% 73.3% 86.7% 20.0% 13.3%
DeMarco Murray 16 21.6 62.5% 87.5% 93.8% 18.8% 6.3%
Jay Ajayi 15 19.1 26.7% 40.0% 73.3% 20.0% 20.0%
Todd Gurley 16 20.1 18.8% 62.5% 81.3% 0.0% 18.8%

 

If you haven’t noticed yet, one of these things doesn’t look like the others, and no, I’m not even talking about Todd Gurley. Some have said that Jay Ajayi is moving up their rankings, but as you can see, he wasn’t close to worthy in 2016. He totaled top-24 performances just 40 percent of the time, which ranked 31st, tied with Darren Sproles and Jerick McKinnon. You can make the argument that he didn’t start right away, but his numbers aren’t close to those in his range, despite the touches being similar.

One of the most fascinating stats I’ve come away from this series is that Le’Veon Bell has yet to “bust” in any of his 47 NFL games (we only do regular season), including those he was injured in. There have actually been just three times in which he failed to record at least 10.9 PPR points.

Looking at Devonta Freeman‘s totals, it’s easy to see why I view him as a second-round pick more than anything. His low RB1 percentage likely comes from the fact that he and Tevin Coleman shared the workload last year, but his RB3 floor in 93.8 percent of games was fifth-best in the NFL. Coleman isn’t going away and Kyle Shanahan did, making Freeman riskier than he’s ever been despite his talent.

If there’s one thing that’s clear about getting into the top-10, it’s that you want to see volume, and these guys are going to get plenty of it. That’s why they’re being drafted where they are, after all. When looking at running backs to take in the top 10, search for those who have practically zero competition on the roster. From there, decide on which player comes with the least amount of risk. With the Elliott news of a six-game suspension, you should take a look at his RB2 percentage, which shows 93.3 percent. That means he’s likely produce eight or nine top-24 performances in the nine (subtract Week 17) fantasy games he’ll play. That’s the same amount of RB2 performances Crowell had in all of 2016.

Top-20

Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Leonard Fournette 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Lamar Miller 14 21.4 21.4% 64.3% 85.7% 7.1% 14.3%
Christian McCaffrey 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Marshawn Lynch 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Isaiah Crowell 16 14.9 25.0% 56.3% 75.0% 0.0% 18.8%
Joe Mixon 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Ty Montgomery 13 8.1 30.8% 38.5% 61.5% 7.7% 30.8%
Carlos Hyde 13 18.8 38.5% 61.5% 69.2% 15.4% 30.8%
Dalvin Cook 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Spencer Ware 14 17.6 28.6% 42.9% 78.6% 7.1% 7.1%

 

Things get much dicier outside the top-10, as you can see that there are four rookies and a veteran who played just zero games in 2016. But reading in between all of that, you should see why Carlos Hyde is on my priority list of running backs this year. Despite playing on arguably the worst team in the NFL, he was able to post top-24 numbers 61.5 percent of the time, which ranked 14th last year. The arrival of Kyle Shanahan as his head coach should help clear up some of the “busts” on his resume.

Most fantasy players looked at Spencer Ware‘s 2016 as a bad season, but what happens when you compare him to Ajayi?

Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Jay Ajayi 15 19.1 26.7% 40.0% 73.3% 20.0% 20.0%
Spencer Ware 14 17.6 28.6% 42.9% 78.6% 7.1% 7.1%

 

While I’m not saying I’d take Ware over Ajayi, but the fact that they’re being drafted a few rounds apart, it doesn’t make too much sense. Ajayi offered more upside, but also came with his fair share of downside. His offensive line also took a hit this offseason, while Ware’s is going to be healthy. I suppose the arrival of rookie Kareem Hunt is to blame, but the point here is that Ajayi’s and Ware’s seasons were looked at differently, despite being very similar.

When comparing Isaiah Crowell‘s touches per game to those in his territory, it’s quite impressive that he finished with the amount of solid performances he did. Head coach Hue Jackson wants to run the ball more often in 2017 and he’s built the offensive line to do just that. If their defense can improve to at least keep them in games, Crowell’s touches per game should rise. Marshawn Lynch has slowly been sliding down draft boards, as we don’t know how his 31-year-old body will hold up after being out of the NFL for a year and a half. The departed Latavius Murray averaged 16.3 in his role for the Raiders last year.

Top-30

Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Mark Ingram 16 15.7 37.5% 43.8% 87.5% 25.0% 12.5%
C.J. Anderson 7 18.0 28.6% 57.1% 85.7% 14.3% 14.3%
Bilal Powell 16 11.8 25.0% 37.5% 62.5% 12.5% 37.5%
Tevin Coleman 13 11.6 30.8% 61.5% 76.9% 15.4% 23.1%
Ameer Abdullah 2 11.5 50.0% 50.0% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%
Mike Gillislee 15 7.3 6.7% 33.3% 53.3% 0.0% 40.0%
Danny Woodhead 2 12.5 50.0% 50.0% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%
Eddie Lacy 5 15.0 0.0% 20.0% 80.0% 0.0% 20.0%
Paul Perkins 13 9.8 0.0% 0.0% 30.8% 0.0% 69.2%
Adrian Peterson 3 13.3 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 100.0%

 

Some will look at the running backs in the 10-20 range and think to themselves, “This group doesn’t seem all that different.” As a matter of fact, Mark Ingram‘s numbers are better across the board than Jay Ajayi‘s. Granted, Adrian Peterson arriving in New Orleans didn’t help, but he essentially replaces the departed Tim Hightower. Peterson should be much more effective than Hightower, lowering Ingram’s ceiling, but expecting him to fall off completely would be foolish.

The other player on this list who seems to continue falling down draft boards is C.J. Anderson, who was a rock-solid RB2 before going down with his injury in 2016. His percentages over the last three years actually rivals those being drafted in the top-10, as he’s been an RB1 30.6 percent of the time and an RB2 44.4 percent of the time. Behind the same offensive line, Devontae Booker could only muster up one top-12 performance, despite totaling 10 or more touches in 11 games, including six games with 18 or more touches. The Broncos have built their offensive line this offseason to run the ball and Anderson is the guy they paid a lot of money to last offseason to do that.

The two who look the most out of place in this area are Eddie Lacy and Mike Gillislee, and it makes sense because they are both playing for new teams in 2017. Lacy will go to play behind the worst offensive line in all of football, while Gillislee will from the team that ranked 10th in points per game to the team that ranked third last year. Their starting running back also left via free agency, you know, the one who scored 18 touchdowns on this team last season.

Top-40

Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Theo Riddick 10 14.5 30.0% 60.0% 100.0% 30.0% 0.0%
Frank Gore 16 18.8 18.8% 68.8% 87.5% 0.0% 6.3%
Doug Martin 8 19.8 0.0% 62.5% 75.0% 0.0% 25.0%
LeGarrette Blount 16 19.1 25.0% 56.3% 93.8% 6.3% 6.3%
Derrick Henry 14 8.8 14.3% 28.6% 28.6% 0.0% 71.4%
Duke Johnson 16 7.9 6.3% 31.3% 50.0% 0.0% 37.5%
Kareem Hunt 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Robert Kelley 14 12.9 7.1% 28.6% 50.0% 7.1% 50.0%
James White 16 6.2 12.5% 25.0% 56.3% 6.3% 31.3%
C.J. Prosise 6 7.8 16.7% 50.0% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%

 

This is where it all gets interesting, because this is the area where Zero-RB drafters are looking to pounce. In this case, it looks pretty wise when you see there are five running backs who produced as an RB2 in nearly half their games. And then you have the upside picks in Derrick Henry, who showed glimpses of the player he could be at the end of 2016, and then Kareem Hunt, who some are expecting to unseat Spencer Ware for the starting job. C.J. Prosise had a small sample size, but he posted respectable numbers in his six games with limited touches

The most interesting player in this group is Theo Riddick, who played admirably in 2016, though Abdullah was there for just a small sample. The question is whether or not they can co-exist and still produce playing side-by-side in the offense. If you were to play either of them when the other was out, you would’ve been a happy camper with RB2 performances almost 60 percent of the time.

The odd ball of this group has to be Rob Kelley, who definitely had a massive game against the Packers in Week 11, but his bust percentage of 50 percent isn’t what you want in this area. It’s also odd to see that Derrick Henry actually had more RB1 performances than him, despite the fact that Kelley had at least 14 touches in eight different games, while Henry had that just twice. You’re likely to see Kelley continue falling down draft boards, as rookie Samaje Perine gains steam. Jonathan Stewart “busting” 46.2 percent of the time while seeing 17.4 touches per game is also not very good. He isn’t going to see close to that many touches in 2017.

Top-65 (The Rest)

Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Matt Forte 14 17.7 28.6% 42.9% 71.4% 14.3% 28.6%
Terrance West 16 14.2 12.5% 31.3% 56.3% 6.3% 37.5%
Samaje Perine 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Jonathan Stewart 13 17.4 23.1% 46.2% 53.8% 0.0% 46.2%
Jamaal Charles 3 4.7 0.0% 33.3% 33.3% 0.0% 66.7%
Darren Sproles 15 9.7 6.7% 40.0% 60.0% 0.0% 40.0%
Jacquizz Rodgers 10 14.2 10.0% 40.0% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%
Giovani Bernard 10 13.0 10.0% 50.0% 70.0% 0.0% 20.0%
Latavius Murray 14 16.3 35.7% 64.3% 78.6% 14.3% 14.3%
Chris Thompson 16 7.3 6.3% 25.0% 75.0% 0.0% 25.0%
Joe Williams 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Jamaal Williams 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Thomas Rawls 9 13.6 11.1% 22.2% 44.4% 0.0% 44.4%
Alvin Kamara 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Jeremy Hill 15 16.2 20.0% 46.7% 73.3% 6.7% 20.0%
Darren McFadden 3 9.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 100.0%
Marlon Mack 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Jonathan Williams 7 4.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 85.7%
Ryan Mathews 13 12.9 15.4% 38.5% 53.8% 7.7% 30.8%
Rex Burkhead 9 10.1 11.1% 11.1% 33.3% 11.1% 55.6%
Jalen Richard 16 7.0 6.3% 25.0% 37.5% 0.0% 62.5%
Dion Lewis 7 11.6 0.0% 14.3% 57.1% 0.0% 28.6%
James Conner 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
D’Onta Foreman 0 0.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Charles Sims 7 10.7 14.3% 28.6% 57.1% 0.0% 42.9%

 

Obviously the “handcuff” area of running backs, there is still value to be found here. Despite averaging just 9.7 touches per game, Darren Sproles finished as a top-24 option 40 percent of the time. Matt Forte is somehow going outside the top 40 running backs, despite the Jets repeating that he’ll be a vital part of the offense.

The combination of Bengals running backs proved why the team felt it necessary to draft Joe Mixon in the second round, as they combined for just one game with more than 25 points. Hill’s 16.2 touches per game ranked 19th among running backs who played more than half the season, but his RB1 performances ranked 23rd despite him scoring nine touchdowns. If Mixon does in fact earn the starting job, there is a lot of opportunity for him in that backfield.

One that surprised me was Charles Sims, who played a majority of the season hurt, yet still managed to finish as an RB3 almost 60 percent of the time. If you were to go back and look at his numbers from 2015, you might be even more optimistic in 2017.

Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Charles Sims 16 9.9 18.0% 43.8% 68.8% 0.0% 25.0%

 

Quite possibly the biggest disappointment from this area of the list would be Dion Lewis, who is looked at to be better in PPR formats, but his percentages pale in comparison to those around him. He ranked 35th in touches per game, yet finished with the 46th highest percentage of RB2 performances. His teammate James White totaled 5.4 fewer touches per game, but finished as an RB2 more often than Lewis.

Takeaways

There are a lot of things to be learned from the charts above. Summing everything up, I’d say that Jay Ajayi shouldn’t be in the discussion among the elite running backs, despite his three 200-yard games. He’d need to significantly improve in 2017. If not, he belongs in the conversation with guys like Carlos Hyde, Isaiah Crowell, and Spencer Ware. Once again, it seems that Mark Ingram is undervalued. Yes, Adrian Peterson is going to get some work, but not much more (if any) than Tim Hightower had last year. If the history of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard has told us anything, it’s that there can be two fantasy relevant running backs in Cincinnati, and it’s likely that Joe Mixon is one of them. We’ve seen all of last year’s statistics before, so we have already programmed our minds to what they believe. After looking at these charts, it should give you a good idea as to how much risk you’re taking on, as well as how much upside is possible when you select a certain player.

If there are any other running backs you’re wondering about who didn’t pop up on this list, feel free to reach out on Twitter @MikeTagliereNFL, and I’ll gladly share. We are also working on getting all of the data from each player’s career up on their player page.

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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