Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between – Running Backs (2019 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 5, 2019

James White is one of the most underrated fantasy assets right now

They say the third time is a charm, right? Wait, wouldn’t that make the first two less appealing? That definitely wasn’t the case, as the traction on this series has been greater than I could’ve ever hoped and that’s why we’re back with the third installment of “Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between.”

There are many articles out there that discuss situations changing, coaches changing, career arc, and everything else underneath the sun. What this series was meant to do is present pure, untainted, untarnished numbers that fantasy football players from every level could understand.

Check out all of our player profiles >>

When someone mentions to me that “Player X recorded five RB1 performances last year,” it kind of irks me. It’s close to the spectrum of saying that someone was a top-15 running back because that’s what the year-end totals say. Ask anyone who owned Kenyan Drake last year if he was the 14th best running back (where he finished). The answer would be an emphatic “no.” Stating where someone finished for a particular week doesn’t do us any good, either, because variance is a real thing.

To help you better understand what I’m talking about, the average top-12 running back performance in 2018 was 18.9 PPR points. What you don’t know is that Saquon Barkley scored 22.0 points in Week 4, yet wouldn’t have received a top-12 performance because it just happened to be a high-scoring week for running backs. On the flip-side, Nick Chubb scored 16.2 PPR points in Week 13 and received a top-12 performance because it was a low-scoring week for running backs. 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 RB1 performances in any given week, which stood at 18.9 PPR points in 2018.

The numbers vary from year-to-year, which is where the research comes into play. While the RB2 number was just 11.5 PPR points in 2017, it was up to 12.5 PPR points in 2018. 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 consistency, 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 running backs, the number to “boom” wound up on 25.0 PPR points because it would have amounted to 100 rushing yards, four catches for 50 yards, and a touchdown. 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 less than 7.0 PPR points. 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

 

To give you an idea as to something you may find below, here’s an example: James White performed like an RB2 or better 75 percent of the time, but is being drafted four full rounds after Marlon Mack, who performed as an RB2 or better just 41.7 percent of the time.

For the third time, welcome to Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between. We’ll start with running backs today, while the other positions will be 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 2018 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 Touch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
1 Saquon Barkley 22.0 75.0% 93.8% 100.0% 37.5% 0.0%
2 Ezekiel Elliott 25.4 53.3% 93.3% 93.3% 40.0% 6.7%
3 Christian McCaffrey 20.4 68.8% 93.8% 93.8% 50.0% 6.3%
4 Alvin Kamara 18.3 53.3% 86.7% 93.3% 46.7% 6.7%
5 David Johnson 19.3 18.8% 68.8% 93.8% 6.3% 6.3%
6 Le’Veon Bell DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
7 James Conner 20.8 53.8% 69.2% 100.0% 38.5% 0.0%
8 Melvin Gordon 18.8 75.0% 91.7% 100.0% 41.7% 0.0%
9 Todd Gurley 22.5 85.7% 85.7% 100.0% 64.3% 0.0%
10 Joe Mixon 20.0 42.9% 57.1% 100.0% 21.4% 0.0%

 

It’s pretty remarkable when you look at the RB2 or better hit-rates for the top four running backs, as they’re all above 86 percent, meaning they’re in your lineup no matter who they’re facing. The next thing you’ll notice is that both Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon belong in this list, but they’re falling into the second round. With Gordon, it’s a question of whether he gets a new deal, while Gurley’s dip is due to concerns about his knee.

The part that most don’t recognize with Gurley is that he scored 25-plus PPR points in 64.3 percent of his games, which was more often than Dalvin Cook was an RB2 or better. It was a similar story in 2017 when he posted a 46.7 percent ‘boom’ rate. He can afford to lose some of his upside and still be inside the top tier of running backs.

Many talk about how good Saquon Barkley‘s rookie season was, and it was special, but the reason Ezekiel Elliott should be considered at No. 1 is this… his career marks are just as good as Barkley’s on a much bigger sample size. Here are their marks side-by-side, though Elliott has 40 games played.

Player RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Saquon Barkley 75.0% 93.8% 100.0% 37.5% 0.0%
Ezekiel Elliott 62.5% 92.5% 95.0% 32.5% 5.0%

 

The one who looks out of place on this list is David Johnson, who played for a team that scored just 14.1 points per game in 2018 while running just 56.4 plays per game. The coaching change to Kliff Kingsbury is sure to produce plenty of plays and plenty more points per game. Knowing what Johnson has been able to do in the past, he gets the benefit of the doubt from fantasy owners. He was an RB1 75 percent of the time in 2016, hitting ‘boom’ numbers 62.5 percent of the time.

The other running back who doesn’t quite hit the numbers of the top-tier guys is Joe Mixon, who was an RB2 or better just 57.1 percent of the time. He’s another player who has a new offensive-minded head coach, though he just lost two starting linemen in the last month, which surely doesn’t help. We’ve also never seen him hit the marks that Johnson has, so he doesn’t get the same benefit of the doubt.

11-20 Range

ADP  Player Touch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
11 Nick Chubb 13.3 18.8% 50.0% 62.5% 12.5% 37.5%
12 Dalvin Cook 15.7 18.2% 63.6% 81.8% 9.1% 18.2%
13 Damien Williams 7.3 30.0% 40.0% 40.0% 20.0% 60.0%
14 Aaron Jones 13.3 25.0% 58.3% 75.0% 16.7% 25.0%
15 Leonard Fournette 19.4 37.5% 50.0% 75.0% 25.0% 25.0%
16 Marlon Mack 17.7 25.0% 41.7% 83.3% 25.0% 16.7%
17 Kerryon Johnson 15.0 20.0% 60.0% 80.0% 0.0% 10.0%
18 Derrick Henry 14.4 12.5% 37.5% 50.0% 12.5% 50.0%
19 Devonta Freeman 9.5 0.0% 0.0% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%
20 Josh Jacobs DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP

 

We see the tier drop way down in this area, as there’s not a single running back who posted RB2 or better numbers more than 63.6 percent of the time. There was just one running back who posted RB1 numbers more than 30 percent of the time, and that was Leonard Fournette, who has recently been dropping down draft boards. While he’s been unable to remain healthy, when on the field, Fournette compares to some of the best running backs in the game over the course of his career.

Player RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Leonard Fournette 52.4% 71.4% 81.0% 14.3% 14.3%
Ray Rice 49.5% 71.4% 89.0% 17.6% 11.0%
Melvin Gordon 47.3% 67.3% 81.8% 18.2% 18.2%
Matt Forte 45.2% 71.2% 87.7% 17.1% 13.0%
LeSean McCoy 44.9% 73.5% 85.0% 15.6% 15.0%
Kareem Hunt 44.4% 70.4% 92.6% 29.6% 7.4%
Adrian Peterson 43.6% 67.8% 81.9% 20.1% 18.8%
DeMarco Murray 43.4% 68.7% 81.8% 15.2% 17.2%
David Johnson 38.8% 71.4% 85.7% 24.5% 10.2%
Steven Jackson 34.4% 66.9% 85.0% 13.1% 18.1%
Dalvin Cook 20.0% 66.7% 86.7% 13.3% 13.3%

 

Those are the career numbers of some pretty remarkable running backs, including Cook, who is going three running back slots ahead of Fournette. While Cook plays for a much better offense, hasn’t he dealt with his fair share of injuries since joining the league? You should like both running backs at their current cost.

Since Nick Chubb didn’t get to start until Week 7, you’d probably like his numbers from the games he started, right? Here are his marks from the time he became a starter, which should let you know why I have him ranked inside the top-10 running backs this year:

Player RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Nick Chubb 20.0% 70.0% 90.0% 20.0% 10.0%

 

There’s a whole lot of similarities in this tier, though the player who stands out to me is Derrick Henry. Providing a ‘bust’ performance 50 percent of the time? Some players who busted less often than Henry last year: Gus Edwards, Dion Lewis, Peyton Barber, Isaiah Crowell, and Elijah McGuire. The Titans can say they’re going to lean on him, but we’ve still yet to see it in his career, as he has a 56.5 percent bust rate over his 46 career games.

Damien Williams and Devonta Freeman were ultra-small sample sizes, so we can’t quite lump them in with this group, but both are part of high-powered offenses. As long as they remain healthy, they belong in this tier. Can you see why I don’t view Marlon Mack as someone with RB1 upside? His lack of involvement in the passing game is what prevents him from reaching those heights, though he does present a rock-solid floor, performing as an RB2 or better 83.3 percent of the time.

21-30 Range

ADP Player Touch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
21 Phillip Lindsay 15.1 20.0% 60.0% 86.7% 13.3% 6.7%
22 David Montgomery DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
23 Mark Ingram 13.3 25.0% 25.0% 66.7% 8.3% 33.3%
24 Chris Carson 19.1 35.7% 64.3% 78.6% 7.1% 21.4%
25 Kenyan Drake 10.8 18.8% 43.8% 68.8% 6.3% 25.0%
26 Sony Michel 16.6 15.4% 38.5% 46.2% 0.0% 53.8%
27 Tarik Cohen 10.6 31.3% 56.3% 68.8% 12.5% 25.0%
28 James White 11.3 31.3% 75.0% 87.5% 25.0% 6.3%
29 Derrius Guice DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
30 Tevin Coleman 12.4 12.5% 31.3% 75.0% 6.3% 25.0%

 

Here’s the last of the running backs who are being drafted as starters for most fantasy teams, and truth be told, this tier doesn’t look all that much different than the 11-20 range of running backs. There are three players in particular who stand out head and shoulders above the rest, though. I’m talking about Phillip Lindsay, Chris Carson, and James White. You can also likely throw Tarik Cohen in the mix, though he’s a slight step below, especially when you consider the lack of touches.

When someone tells you that you can’t trust a Patriots running back, point them to this article. There were just four running backs who posted more RB2 or better performances than him: Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, and Alvin Kamara. As for Lindsay, there’s a new coaching staff in town that has fantasy owners spooked, but are we really going to pretend that Vance Joseph’s offense was special and “made” Lindsay a fantasy superstar? And then Carson is someone who won fantasy championships for owners last year, though many are projecting Rashaad Penny to carve out a much bigger role. While that may be the case, Mike Davis being gone clears out nearly 10 touches per game.

Oddly enough, the one who doesn’t seem to belong in this group is Sony Michel, who was an RB3 or better just 46.2 percent of the time last year, while busting in the other 53.8 percent of games. It’s essentially “score a touchdown or bust” with him, as his lack of involvement in the passing-game has hurt his weekly stability. There are rumors that they’re trying to get him more involved in the passing game, but with James White and Rex Burkhead there, there’s a cap on just how much he can contribute.

31-50 Range

ADP Player Touch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
31 Lamar Miller 16.8 14.3% 57.1% 78.6% 0.0% 21.4%
32 Rashaad Penny 6.7 0.0% 16.7% 33.3% 0.0% 66.7%
33 Jordan Howard 16.9 6.3% 43.8% 68.8% 0.0% 25.0%
34 Kareem Hunt 18.8 54.5% 81.8% 90.9% 36.4% 9.1%
35 Darrell Henderson DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
36 Latavius Murray 10.1 18.8% 25.0% 37.5% 0.0% 56.3%
37 Austin Ekeler 10.4 14.3% 42.9% 78.6% 7.1% 21.4%
38 Miles Sanders DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
39 Royce Freeman 10.3 0.0% 21.4% 42.9% 0.0% 42.9%
40 Jerick McKinnon DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
41 LeSean McCoy 13.9 7.1% 21.4% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%
42 Ronald Jones 5.0 0.0% 0.0% 16.7% 0.0% 83.3%
43 Damien Harris DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
44 D’Onta Foreman 9.0 0.0% 0.0% 100.0% 0.0% 0.0%
45 Adrian Peterson 16.9 18.8% 37.5% 68.8% 6.3% 31.3%
46 Carlos Hyde 13.0 7.1% 21.4% 35.7% 0.0% 64.3%
47 Peyton Barber 15.9 12.5% 31.3% 50.0% 0.0% 43.8%
48 Devin Singletary DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
49 Duke Johnson 5.4 6.3% 31.3% 37.5% 6.3% 62.5%
50 Ito Smith 9.0 0.0% 15.4% 38.5% 0.0% 61.5%

 

This is generally where you’ll see the high-end handcuffs and third-down specialists for those who go with the Zero RB strategy. Seeing Lamar Miller in this group should let you know why he’s among the best values in fantasy drafts right now. He’s not sexy, as he offered no ‘boom’ potential last year, but knowing he delivered RB3 or better numbers in 78.6 percent of his games is incredible stability for someone you’re getting in the seventh round. That percentage ranked 17th among running backs who played at least half the season.

Other interesting tidbits from this range include Austin Ekeler‘s high marks despite Melvin Gordon only missing a couple games last year. Ekeler has value even without a Gordon holdout, though it’s hard to see his role growing beyond 15 touches per game, even if Gordon does holdout. Even if LeSean McCoy starts over Frank Gore, Devin Singletary, and T.J. Yeldon, he lacks any sort of upside, making him a boring pick in this range. He won’t be the reason you win a fantasy championship, unless he gets traded.

51-80 Range

ADP Player Touch/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
51 Matt Breida 12.9 14.3% 42.9% 64.3% 7.1% 35.7%
52 Dion Lewis 13.4 18.8% 25.0% 43.8% 0.0% 43.8%
53 Jaylen Samuels 9.1 11.1% 33.3% 66.7% 0.0% 33.3%
54 Alexander Mattison DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
55 Nyheim Hines 9.3 6.3% 25.0% 50.0% 6.3% 37.5%
56 Justice Hill DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
57 Rex Burkhead 8.9 0.0% 0.0% 37.5% 0.0% 50.0%
58 Kalen Ballage 4.5 10.0% 10.0% 10.0% 0.0% 90.0%
59 Mike Davis 9.7 6.7% 40.0% 40.0% 6.7% 53.3%
60 T.J. Yeldon 11.4 14.3% 50.0% 71.4% 7.1% 28.6%
61 Justin Jackson 8.1 0.0% 25.0% 37.5% 0.0% 62.5%
62 Jamaal Williams 9.3 12.5% 12.5% 25.0% 6.3% 68.8%
63 Trayveon Williams DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
64 Darwin Thompson DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
65 Chase Edmonds 5.0 6.3% 6.3% 12.5% 0.0% 81.3%
66 Gus Edwards 12.6 9.1% 18.2% 45.5% 0.0% 45.5%
67 Chris Thompson 8.4 20.0% 20.0% 30.0% 0.0% 60.0%
68 Rodney Anderson DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
69 C.J. Anderson 8.0 22.2% 22.2% 33.3% 0.0% 66.7%
70 Jalen Richard 7.7 0.0% 25.0% 68.8% 0.0% 31.3%
71 Ryquell Armstead DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
72 Tony Pollard DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
73 Malcolm Brown 4.8 0.0% 0.0% 20.0% 0.0% 80.0%
74 Elijah Holyfield DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
75 Mike Weber DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
76 Dexter Williams DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
77 Bryce Love DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
78 Qadree Ollison DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
79 Gio Bernard 7.6 16.7% 16.7% 33.3% 8.3% 66.7%
80 Elijah McGuire 13.9 12.5% 37.5% 62.5% 0.0% 37.5%

 

It’s too bad T.J. Yeldon went to the Bills, as he was someone who was incredibly undervalued last year, though might be once again this year. He’s a former second-round pick who can play all three downs. Mike Davis proved he can do a lot with a little last year, posting RB2 or better numbers 40 percent of the time despite averaging just 9.7 touches per game. While Matt Breida‘s numbers look good on this chart, the additions of both Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon to the offense clouds the amount of touches he’ll get. We know it won’t be anywhere close to the 12.9 per game he got last year.

As for those who are going by the Zero RB strategy, there are a few running backs who should be able to produce RB2/3 numbers at times. They include Chris Thompson, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, C.J. Anderson, and even Giovani Bernard, who is going after some players who may never see the field. Jalen Richard looks like one of those players, too, but the addition of Josh Jacobs, Antonio Brown, and Tyrell Williams steal a whole lot of those checkdowns he got last year.

TAKEAWAYS

In case you didn’t understand why running backs were popular atop the draft, you do now. Getting your hands on a running back who posts RB2 or better numbers 70-plus percent is extremely rare, so get one while you can. After that, however, it’s a wide-open race in the 11-30 range, as you can find guys like James White and Lamar Miller in the late 20’s/early 30’s who’ll produce near the same as the guys being drafted in the early teens. Granted, they may not come with the top-five upside that some running backs do, but if you snag one of those elite running backs earlier, you don’t need them to.

If you can get past the whole “injury prone” label on Leonard Fournette and Chris Carson, they are some of the best values at running back right now. Realistically, you can snag one of the top-tier running backs, Fournette in the third or Carson in the fifth, then snag White in the sixth, and you have a rock-solid running back corps, while having three receivers drafted in the top four rounds. Outside of the top-tier running backs, don’t reach at the position.


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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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5David Johnson (ARI)RB
6Nick Chubb (CLE)RB
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