Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between (2018 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 6, 2018

According to Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between, Rex Burkhead is one of the most undervalued running backs in 2018

It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year since the original Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between has been published, but here we are, just about a month from the start of the regular season. When I started this series, it was intended to put completely untarnished numbers out there that every fantasy football enthusiast could understand and put to use.

You might be someone who has taken the summer months off to spend time with friends and family, or you might be the type of diehard who craves information all year-round. Whatever your cup of tea is, I promise that this will be of great use to you during your fantasy drafts.

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When I hear someone say, “Player X recorded five RB1 performances last year,” it kind of drives me nuts. Why? It’s almost as bad as drawing year-end totals as a reason to rank a player as high as you do. That doesn’t give you the actual picture of a player’s performance because things change from week-to-week and we cannot control that variance.

To put this on display, the average top-12 running back performance in 2017 was 11.5 PPR points. For example, Wayne Gallman scored 13.0 PPR points in Week 4, but was not awarded an RB2 performance because it just happened to be a higher-scoring week among fantasy running backs. Should Gallman not be awarded an RB2 performance? 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 RB2 performances in any given week, which stood at 11.5 PPR points in 2017. Meanwhile, there are situations like that of Kareem Hunt, who finished with just 10.1 PPR points in Week 9, but was awarded an RB2 performance by most standards. That should not happen.

The numbers vary from year-to-year, which is where the research comes into play. While the RB2 number was 11.5 PPR points in 2017, it was just 11.3 PPR points back in 2015. Every position is different, but know that I’ve gone through each year, each position, and each player, charting how many top-12, top-24, top-36 performances they’ve had according to that year’s stats. Not just that, though, as I’ve added boom and bust categories, which showcases their ceiling and floor on a week-to-week basis. This research is done on PPR leagues because it’s the format that presents the most consistently, which makes it 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 or less
RB 25.0 6.9 or less
WR 25.0 7.9 or less
TE 20.0 6.9 or less

Just to give you an idea as to some of the things you’ll find inside, here’s an example: Christian McCaffrey finished as an RB2 or better in 56.3 percent of his games and is being drafted as the No. 11 running back, while Duke Johnson finished as an RB2 or better in 62.5 percent of his games, but is being drafted as the No. 35 running back. Things change, sure, but did they change enough to make up for this gap? I’ll leave that up to you.

So, for the second time, welcome to Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between. We’ll be starting with running backs today, with the other positions being released throughout the rest of the week. You’ll be able to find the links below once 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 2017 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.

ADP Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
1 Todd Gurley 15 22.9 80.0% 93.3% 93.3% 46.7% 6.7%
2 Le’Veon Bell 15 27.1 73.3% 93.3% 93.3% 40.0% 0.0%
3 Ezekiel Elliott 10 26.8 60.0% 90.0% 90.0% 30.0% 10.0%
4 David Johnson 1 17.0 0.0% 100.0% 100.0% 0.0% 0.0%
5 Alvin Kamara 16 12.6 50.0% 81.3% 87.5% 31.3% 6.3%
6 Saquon Barkley DNP
7 Kareem Hunt 16 20.3 37.5% 62.5% 93.8% 25.0% 6.3%
8 Melvin Gordon 16 21.4 50.0% 81.3% 87.5% 18.8% 12.5%
9 Leonard Fournette 13 23.4 61.5% 84.6% 84.6% 7.7% 7.7%
10 Dalvin Cook 4 21.3 25.0% 75.0% 100.0% 25.0% 0.0%

It’s a different picture than the one we saw last year, as there was a clear outlier among the pack heading into 2017. Jay Ajayi was being drafted as a top-10 running back despite finishing as an RB2 just 40 percent of the time. As we head into 2018, the lowest number we see is that of Kareem Hunt, who hit 62.5 percent. It’s a very respectable number, but there is cause for concern. The Chiefs defense is not what it once was and most expect them to be much more pass-heavy. On top of that, they get Spencer Ware back from injury, and added both Sammy Watkins and third-down specialist Damien Williams in free agency. Here’s a fun stat on why you should expect Hunt’s touches to regress a bit: Even though Hunt tallied just one carry in Week 17, he finished with 90.7 percent of the team carries in 2017. There have been just four running backs have cracked the 79 percent mark over the last three years.

Of the top-10 drafted running backs who played more than four games, Le’Veon Bell is the only one who didn’t have a single “bust” game all season. In fact, this series has highlighted just how dominant and consistent Bell has been throughout his career, as he’s never “busted” in his 62 career regular season games. There’s only been four times where he’s scored fewer than 10.9 PPR points (only one of which has come in the last two years). You can absolutely make the argument for Bell to be the No. 1 overall pick.

All in all, it appears that fantasy players have learned their lesson on drafting “hopeful” breakouts inside the top-10, as guys like Jerick McKinnon, Joe Mixon, and others are going in the next tier. One area where we might see room for progression is with Leonard Fournette, who finished as an RB1 (which took 16.8 or more PPR points) 61.5 percent of the time, but didn’t hit the “boom” number very often. His RB1 performance number ranked third-best behind Todd Gurley and Bell, but there were 15 running backs who had more boom performances. If he ups that number, he could contend for a top-three spot in 2018. The player who was top-10 last year, but lacked boom performances was… Gurley, who had zero boom performances in 2016.

11-20 Range

ADP Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
11 Christian McCaffrey 16 12.3 31.3% 56.3% 93.8% 6.3% 0.0%
12 Devonta Freeman 14 16.6 28.6% 57.1% 78.6% 14.3% 14.3%
13 Jerick McKinnon 16 12.6 25.0% 31.3% 43.8% 12.5% 50.0%
14 Joe Mixon 14 14.9 7.1% 28.6% 64.3% 7.1% 35.7%
15 Jordan Howard 16 18.7 25.0% 50.0% 56.3% 12.5% 37.5%
16 LeSean McCoy 16 21.6 43.8% 75.0% 87.5% 25.0% 12.5%
17 Derrius Guice DNP
18 Derrick Henry 16 11.7 18.8% 31.3% 43.8% 0.0% 50.0%
19 Kenyan Drake 14 11.8 28.6% 50.0% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%
20 Rashaad Penny DNP

As you can see, this is a completely different tier of running backs, as none of them finished as an RB1 more than 43.8 percent of the time. In fact, just one of them finished with more than 31.3 percent of RB1 games, LeSean McCoy. He would likely be drafted as a top-10 running back if there weren’t so many questions off-the-field. Here’s a look at McCoy’s totals over the last few years:

Player YEAR RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
LeSean McCoy 2017 43.8% 75.0% 87.5% 25.0% 12.5%
LeSean McCoy 2016 60.0% 86.7% 86.7% 40.0% 13.3%
LeSean McCoy 2015 41.7% 75.0% 91.7% 0.0% 8.3%

If anyone tells you that McCoy has been a headache to own or that he’s been inconsistent… they need to take a look at the landscape of the running back position. With that, McCoy will be playing behind an offensive line that lost three starters this offseason, as well as a new quarterback under center. Don’t underestimate the value of a mobile quarterback like Tyrod Taylor and what he can do for the run-game.

There are definitely some interesting takeaways from the remaining running backs in this area, as Joe Mixon and Derrick Henry are the two who stand-out that some might think don’t belong. While Mixon is heading into the season as the clear starter after the Bengals let Jeremy Hill walk, Henry is now battling Dion Lewis instead of DeMarco Murray. The case can be made that neither of them have proven enough to be taken in this range, but knowing that Mixon started last year as third on the depth chart and how bad the offense (and offensive line), it’s pretty remarkable he hit RB3 or better numbers 64.3 percent of the time, which was higher than both Jordan Howard and Alex Collins. I’ll invest in him in this range, but if he moves into the top-10, I’m not paying for the potential breakout. As for Henry, I’d suggest moving him outside your top-20. He was drafted by the past regime, and one of the first moves the new coaching staff made was to bring in Dion Lewis on a four-year, $20 million deal. Henry has breakout potential, but I’d argue that it’d require a Lewis injury.

The last name that jumps off the page who may not belong there based on 2017 stats is Jerick McKinnon, though he’s on a brand new team, and one who’s paying him at least $12 million dollars this year. He’s another one who likely should be going in this territory due to a potential breakout, but if his price moves into the top-10, you should look elsewhere. Although Christian McCaffrey lacks upside, he was the only player who played at least five games and finished without a single “bust” performance. But again, comparing him to a few running backs who are being drafted much later, you’re betting on him to take a big leap forward in 2018.

Player Touch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % BOOM % BUST %
Christian McCaffrey 12.3 31.3% 56.3% 93.8% 6.3% 0.0%
Duke Johnson 9.8 31.3% 62.5% 81.3% 0.0% 18.8%
Rex Burkhead 9.4 20.0% 60.0% 70.0% 10.0% 20.0%

By spending a top-24 pick on McCaffrey, you are doing so to secure his safe floor, which might take a slight hit with Greg Olsen coming back healthy, and the addition of D.J. Moore to the offense. You’d likely be better off taking Rex Burkhead in the 8th/9th round, though I expect his cost to move up relatively soon.

21-30 Range

ADP Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
21 Alex Collins 15 15.7 26.7% 40.0% 60.0% 0.0% 33.3%
22 Jay Ajayi 14 16.6 0.0% 28.6% 71.4% 0.0% 21.4%
23 Sony Michel DNP
24 Ronald Jones DNP
25 Mark Ingram 16 18.0 43.8% 68.8% 93.8% 18.8% 6.3%
26 Lamar Miller 16 17.1 18.8% 50.0% 75.0% 6.3% 12.5%
27 Dion Lewis 16 13.3 18.8% 37.5% 75.0% 12.5% 18.8%
28 Tevin Coleman 15 12.2 13.3% 46.7% 80.0% 0.0% 20.0%
29 Royce Freeman DNP
30 Tarik Cohen 16 8.8 6.3% 25.0% 62.5% 6.3% 31.3%

This group doesn’t look all that different from the 11-20 group, right? You do see a lot of rookies going in this range, and you may see some of them move up/down based on their preseason usage. But let’s talk about the true standout of this group, Mark Ingram. Here’s the exact paragraph from Ingram in the Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between last year: 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.

He was one of my favorite picks with an ADP of RB21 last year and I’ve had a lot of people asking me how they should approach him in 2018. Knocking four games off due to his suspension, Ingram’s 68.8 percent RB2 rate would translate to just over eight RB2 performances, which is a 50 percent rate over a 16-game season, and that’s assuming you don’t have a replacement running back for those four games. You’ll have to go a bit RB-heavy at the top of your draft to cover those first four weeks, but Ingram should likely be drafted inside the top-20 running backs.

Again, this series did not look good for Jay Ajayi. Here are his numbers over the last two years:

Player YEAR Touch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Jay Ajayi 2017 16.6 0.0% 28.6% 71.4% 0.0% 21.4%
Jay Ajayi 2016 19.1 26.7% 40.0% 73.3% 20.0% 20.0%

Despite ranking among the league leaders in touches per game, Ajayi has finished as an RB2 or better in just 10-of-29 games (34.5 percent) over the last two years. Here’s a list of some players who were better despite seeing much fewer touches per game: Jamaal Williams, James White, Wayne Gallman, Andre Ellington. There are many more players, as 34.5 percent would have ranked 36th in 2017. I can see the appeal with him playing for one of the top offenses with one of the best offensive lines, but know that he’s been very underwhelming as a player over the last two years.

Even though Lamar Miller didn’t have a great season in 2017, his numbers look like they should belong inside the top-20, as his RB2 percentage ranked 19th last year. It appears that D’Onta Foreman is all but certain to land on the PUP list, which would leave him out of the lineup for a minimum of six weeks, making Miller a great pick at his current ADP. Alex Collins appears to be another value, though his bust rate was higher than most would like when drafting a running back inside the top-20. To know that he flashed some RB1 potential, he’s being drafted exactly where he should be, though I wouldn’t fault you for taking him inside the top-20 at running back.

31-40 Range

ADP Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
31 Kerryon Johnson DNP
32 Marshawn Lynch 15 15.1 20.0% 53.3% 73.3% 0.0% 26.7%
33 Marlon Mack 14 8.1 0.0% 21.4% 35.7% 0.0% 57.1%
34 Carlos Hyde 16 18.7 31.3% 75.0% 87.5% 0.0% 12.5%
35 Duke Johnson 16 9.8 31.3% 62.5% 81.3% 0.0% 18.8%
36 Chris Thompson 10 10.3 40.0% 60.0% 80.0% 20.0% 10.0%
37 Rex Burkhead 10 9.4 20.0% 60.0% 70.0% 10.0% 20.0%
38 Isaiah Crowell 16 14.6 6.3% 18.8% 56.3% 0.0% 37.5%
39 Jamaal Williams 14 12.7 21.4% 35.7% 50.0% 14.3% 50.0%
40 Nick Chubb DNP

In case you haven’t noticed yet, there are three Browns running backs being selected in this range, which tells you that nobody has a clue on how they will use the trio of Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, and Nick Chubb. With the way Hue Jackson has approached the “battle” (that doesn’t exist) between one-year rent-a-player Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield likely tells you what you need to know about Chubb’s chance to win the starting job. Meanwhile, we have to wonder if Jackson continues to limit Johnson’s touches like he did in 2017 despite an inefficient Isaiah Crowell. It’s a mess, but Johnson appears to be the best value.

Seeing Crowell here is puzzling, as he’s going from one bad offense to another, only the Jets don’t have one of the better interior offensive lines that the Browns did. Still, drafters are selecting Crowell in the area he finished last year. In fact, he was one of just three running backs since 2014 to see at least 200 carries and fail to finish inside the top-24 running backs. The others were Jay Ajayi (2017) and Alfred Morris (2015). For whatever reason, Hue Jackson wouldn’t play Duke Johnson over him. He’ll have to hope for the same with Todd Bowles, because Bilal Powell is the better running back. Even if he does exactly what he did last year, is that what you want filling your RB3/flex spot?

Chris Thompson‘s numbers stand out here and they kind of did in this same article last year, as he’s been one of the more underappreciated PPR running backs in fantasy. Over the last two seasons, he’s finished as an RB3 or better in 77 percent of his games. The addition of Derrius Guice is definitely a roadblock, as is him recovering from a broken fibula last November. But the one you should aim to get in this range is Rex Burkhead, who posted RB2 numbers in six of his 10 games (60 percent), which tied for the 14th best percentage among running backs. While yes, Sony Michel was drafted, Burkhead isn’t going away from the role he had last year, and it’s very possible that his role grows with his knowledge of the offense and Julian Edelman‘s suspension. If Burkhead performs exactly the way he did last year, he’ll be worthy of a pick in the top-25 running backs.

41-65 (The Rest)

ADP Player Games Tch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
41 C.J. Anderson 16 17.1 12.5% 37.5% 56.3% 12.5% 37.5%
42 Aaron Jones 10 9.0 20.0% 20.0% 40.0% 0.0% 60.0%
43 Ty Montgomery 8 11.8 25.0% 50.0% 50.0% 12.5% 50.0%
44 D’Onta Foreman 9 9.3 11.1% 11.1% 22.2% 0.0% 77.8%
45 Devontae Booker 13 8.4 0.0% 23.1% 30.8% 0.0% 69.2%
46 Corey Clement 14 6.0 7.1% 14.3% 28.6% 7.1% 71.4%
47 Giovani Bernard 16 9.3 18.8% 43.8% 56.3% 6.3% 43.8%
48 Nyheim Hines DNP
49 Chris Carson 4 14.0 0.0% 25.0% 75.0% 0.0% 25.0%
50 LeGarrette Blount 16 11.3 0.0% 18.8% 31.3% 0.0% 56.3%
51 Theo Riddick 16 8.6 12.5% 25.0% 43.8% 6.3% 43.8%
52 Frank Gore 16 18.1 0.0% 43.8% 75.0% 0.0% 18.8%
53 Latavius Murray 16 14.4 25.0% 43.8% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%
54 Doug Martin 11 13.4 0.0% 18.2% 45.5% 0.0% 54.5%
55 James White 14 7.1 7.1% 35.7% 71.4% 0.0% 28.6%
56 Matt Breida 16 7.9 0.0% 18.8% 31.3% 0.0% 68.8%
57 Bilal Powell 15 13.4 13.3% 20.0% 53.3% 6.7% 33.3%
58 Kalen Ballage DNP
59 T.J. Yeldon 10 7.9 20.0% 20.0% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%
60 Kenneth Dixon DNP
61 Austin Ekeler 13 5.7 7.7% 30.8% 38.5% 7.7% 61.5%
62 Chris Ivory 14 9.5 7.1% 14.3% 21.4% 0.0% 71.4%
63 Jordan Wilkins DNP
64 Peyton Barber 11 11.3 18.2% 27.3% 27.3% 0.0% 36.4%
65 Spencer Ware DNP

Can we agree that it’d be rare to find a consistent startable running back in the double-digit rounds? Well, it appears that you can in 2018. C.J. Anderson, Ty Montgomery, Giovani Bernard, Frank Gore, Latavius Murray, James White, Bilal Powell, and T.J. Yeldon all performed as RB3’s or better in at least 50 percent of their games. There have been some changing circumstances that will change some of their outlooks in 2018, but you can argue that things changed for the better with Montgomery, Bernard, Powell, and especially Yeldon.

Despite missing the first six games of the season, Yeldon finished with 41 targets on the year, and that was with Chris Ivory taking up space. Yeldon is one of the best values late in drafts as the primary passing-down back for the Jaguars, and he comes with RB1 upside should anything happen to Leonard Fournette.

This is the area of drafts where you’re likely looking at handcuffs, which can explain some of the spikes in RB1 numbers, like those of Latavius Murray and Peyton Barber. If you’re one of the fantasy owners who wants to find some production to replace Mark Ingram over the first four weeks, I’d suggest looking at players like James White, Yeldon, or Bilal Powell, as they should give you a solid floor in those weeks.

TAKEAWAYS

Some will look at these charts and wonder what to do with the information. Look, just because it happened in 2017 doesn’t mean it’ll happen again in 2018, but these charts show just how consistent each player was when you take a step back. Some of the biggest notes I took myself while going through this article is that Mark Ingram is once again being undervalued, but that Rex Burkhead might be the steal of the year at running back. Again, even if he performs exactly as he did last year over 16 games, he’d be worth a top-25 running back pick, and that doesn’t account for additional work he might find in 2018. I stand by my decision to say that both Burkhead and Sony Michel can have value. Heck, James White can fit in there as well. Take a look at the Patriots running backs in 2017:

Player Games Touch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % BOOM % BUST %
Dion Lewis 16 13.3 18.8% 37.5% 75.0% 12.5% 18.8%
Rex Burkhead 10 9.4 20.0% 60.0% 70.0% 10.0% 20.0%
James White 14 7.1 7.1% 35.7% 71.4% 0.0% 28.6%

As you can see, there’s plenty of room for multiple running backs to produce, and they only busted nine of a combined 40 games (less than 25 percent).

On the other side, it appears that drafters are overly optimistic about Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon, and Derrick Henry. The only one who saw his situation dramatically improve in 2018 is Mixon, who totaled 74 touches to Giovani Bernard‘s 34 touches (prior to suffering a high-ankle sprain) once Jeremy Hill went to Injured Reserve. In the end, this chart should help you understand just how consistent your fantasy players should be expected to perform.


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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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