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DFS: How Well Does Running Back Salary Predict Points? (Fantasy Football)

Jul 23, 2020

In the opening post to this mini-series, we took a look at the relationship between DraftKings salary and point production in the quarterback position, and we found some pretty interesting stuff. Check that post out here for a full explanation of what I’m doing with this analysis.

Today we will move on to the running back position to see what we can find.

For this analysis, I have collected all of the box scores from the last three seasons along with every player’s DraftKings salary and point total for each game. Having this much data will allow us to do all kinds of interesting statistical analysis.

Just for fun, let’s check out the top-10 running back performances of the last three seasons.

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Now let’s take a look at the big dump of all running back points and salaries over the last three years. I excluded any running back that did not eclipse 10 rushes and targets in an attempt to just limit the study to players who are actually a part of the offense. Here’s what that looks like:

These are too many data points to learn much from, but you can definitely see the upward trend as the dots thin out in the upper left and lower right of the plot.

Next, I took every individual price point from $3,500 to $10,500 and found the average DraftKings points output at each level. Here it is:

There are many fewer data points on the edges of that plot, which can make the data a little noisy. For example, there has only been one running back priced at exactly $10,300 in the last three years. That running back was Christian McCaffrey in Week 14 of the 2019 season. In that game, he scored 24.5 DraftKings points, which is where you see that dot line up on the plot. Ignoring the edges, you do see a pretty strong upward trend the whole way through the middle of the plot, suggesting that you should expect more production with every $100 you spend.

To look at it differently, I rounded every salary to the nearest $500 mark and grouped them together like that, and then did the same plot:

Here is that data in table format:

You can see that there is a big jump from the $7,000 range to the $7,500 mark. Your expected point total jumps up by 3.1 points, and no other gap even exceeds two points besides the $9,500 to $10,000 jump where we already know we have very little data to work with.

This jump is an interesting one. I was curious and decided to check the opportunity of each of these salary buckets as well. I found the average rush attempts and target totals for each salary, and here’s what that looks like:

Unsurprisingly, it looks pretty much the same as the points graph. There is a big jump between $7,000 and $7,500, as a running back in the latter salary group averages about three more touches per game. The opportunity between a $6,000 running back and a $7,000 running back looks roughly the same, as those points are connected by a nearly flat line. This relationship is interesting because that isn’t the case in the points graph above — there’s a definite progression. DraftKings does a good job at pricing running backs, as they can identify which ones will do more with the same opportunity (this may just be rushers on teams that score more points and have more touchdown opportunity).

Conclusion

Running backs are the easiest position to predict in NFL DFS. Opportunity means everything, and most of the time, you can get a pretty good feel for about how many touches a running back will see in a given game.

We see a big improvement in running backs once they push past the low $7,000 mark. You see an expensive running back bust nearly as often as you do in other positions. Over the last three years, when running backs have been priced at $7,300 or above — they have scored more than 10 DraftKings points 86% of the time. They have scored more than 20 DraftKings points 50% of the time, and have gone over 25 points 37% of the time. You do not see that same consistent production from high-priced players at quarterback or wide receiver.

All of this supports the belief that you should spend the big bucks at the running back position while letting other players chase the big scores from more volatile positions.

Check back soon, as we’ll be finishing up this post series with a look at wide receivers and tight ends.

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Jon Anderson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jon, check out his archive and follow him @JonPgh.

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