2020 Fantasy Football Consistency: Running Backs
In the initial article this four-part series, I examined the top 12 quarterbacks being drafted in 2020, identifying players with diverse performance volatility and varying draft costs. In this article, I similarly analyze the data for the top 24 running backs with the four quadrants remaining: high risk, low reward (HRLR), high risk, high reward (HRHR), low risk, low reward (LRLR), and low risk, high reward (LRHR), which help illustrate players’ average performances. Observing running backs’ volatility should help you capitalize on upside and risk to construct your ideal team.
The visualization below shows FantasyPros’ top 24 running backs (excluding rookies Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jonathan Taylor) per average draft position (ADP) in half PPR leagues, as of July 5. According to PFF data, on average, these 24 RBs produced 15.0 fantasy points per game (PPG) – in which they had at least one opportunity, defined as targets plus rushes – with a standard deviation (SD) of 8.6 points, equaling a 57.4% coefficient of variation (CV). As noted in the QB edition of this series, the lower the CV, the less risky the player based on last year’s performance. These data suggest that a starting RB in 12-team leagues should score between 6.4 and 23.6 fantasy points, on average, in each week.
The below graph illustrates a condensed fantasy RB landscape, displaying foundational pieces and others to avoid. In a vacuum, drafting two RBs from the LRHR quadrant could prove to be a difficult-but-great strategy, as it’d provide a baseline at a volatile but critical position. For example, drafting Derrick Henry and Austin Ekeler in the fist two rounds may set your team up for weekly success so you can focus on other positions thereafter. The data also lends itself to alternative draft strategies, like zero-RB, as you may want to focus on premier QB, WR, or TE value early before selecting lower-risk RBs (e.g., Le’Veon Bell) throughout the middle rounds.
Players to Target
Austin Ekeler (RB – LAC): 16.7 PPG, 8.6 SD, 51.3% CV
Early in the offseason, I faded Ekeler in favor of players like Kenyan Drake, Miles Sanders, or even Clyde Edwards-Helaire; however, as ADPs stabilized and more content was produced, it became harder to ignore Ekeler’s value in the second (or even third) round. As the 12th RB drafted per FantasyPros ADP and 13th by Expert Concensus Rankings (ECR), Ekeler offers amazing versatility for your team as a high-upside RB2 to match with a Dalvin Cook or Ezekiel Elliott pick or a relatively safe RB1 if you take one of the premier WRs early.
Kenyan Drake (RB – ARI): 17.9 PPG, 12.3 SD, 69.1% CV; MIA: 7.6 PPG, 2.2 SD, 28.6% CV
Drake remains a hotly debated RB for the 2020 season, as you can imagine by his divergent performances between Miami and Arizona per the above graph. Proponents point to his immense upside, driven by anticipated workhorse duties on a rising offense with a dual-threat QB and a premier WR. Additionally, head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s utilization of 10 personnel (i.e., one RB, zero TEs, and four WRs) provides favorable opportunities for Drake. Opponents, however, are wary of Drake’s volatility and his inability to truly breakout in the past. Nonetheless, with a current ADP of 11th among RBs, Drake presents league-winning upside with a second-round draft price.
Players to Avoid
This one hurts to write, as I’ve had Mixon on many of my teams in the past two seasons; however, the cost is just too high. Despite performing well and maintaining a three-down skill set, Mixon is often relegated to splitting snaps with Giovani Bernard. Additionally, question marks surrounding the offense led by a rookie QB (albeit he should be better than Andy Dalton or Ryan Finley) and a potentially porous offensive line scares me too much to draft Mixon unless his ADP falls into the second round.
I eagerly drafted Singletary in many mocks early in the off-season when he was primed to be the lead back on a run-first offense with a dual-threat QB. Then the Bills selected Zack Moss in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft to seemingly fill into the Frank Gore role. Although Singletary performed well down the stretch, he remains an inefficient receiving back (44th out of 46 in yards per route run among RBs with at least 28 targets last year per PFF) in a presumed timeshare. With his current ADP residing in Rounds 4-5, I’d prefer selecting a WR like A.J. Brown, Robert Woods, or Calvin Ridley.
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