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Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between – Running Backs (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Aug 4, 2020

Alvin Kamara is consistently one of the best running backs in all of fantasy football

Boom, bust, and everything in between. What does that mean, exactly? If this is your first time reading this piece, you might be wondering that.

When someone mentions that “Player X recorded five RB1 performances last year,” it irks me a bit. It’s like saying something to the effect of “Miles Sanders was the RB15 last year, so he was a high-end RB2.” Ask anyone who owned him in fantasy last year if he was the 15th best running back. He scored less than 11.0 PPR points in 9-of-16 games. Stating where someone finished for a particular week doesn’t do us any good, either, because variance is a real thing.

To better help you understand what I’m talking about, the average top-12 running back performance in 2019 was 17.2 PPR points. What you don’t know is that Chris Carson scored 18.5 PPR points in Week 4 but wasn’t awarded a RB1 performance because it just happened to be a high-scoring week for running backs. On the flip side, Kareem Hunt scored 14.4 PPR points in Week 10 and was awarded with a RB1 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 17.2 PPR points in 2019.

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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 went up to 12.5 PPR points in 2018, then back to 11.5 PPR points in 2019. 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 Conner performed as an RB2 or better in 60.0 percent of his games in 2019 and is going as the RB20 in drafts, while Miles Sanders hit that mark in just 43.8 percent of his games, but is going inside the top-12 running backs.

For the fourth time, welcome to Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between. Here are the running backs, 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 workhorse running backs being taken inside the top-10, highlighting which ones stand out, as well as which look like they don’t belong. It’s important to note that for a player to accumulate a game played in this study, they had to garner at least one target or carry. If he was on the sideline starting the year and not getting any targets, it shouldn’t affect his percentages.

ADP Player Car+Tgt/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
1 Christian McCaffrey 26.8 93.8% 93.8% 93.8% 68.8% 0.0%
2 Saquon Barkley 22.3 46.2% 69.2% 92.3% 23.1% 0.0%
3 Ezekiel Elliott 23.3 50.0% 93.8% 100.0% 25.0% 0.0%
4 Alvin Kamara 19.1 42.9% 85.7% 85.7% 14.3% 7.1%
5 Dalvin Cook 22.4 57.1% 92.9% 92.9% 42.9% 0.0%
6 Derrick Henry 21.8 60.0% 80.0% 86.7% 26.7% 6.7%
7 Joe Mixon 20.2 37.5% 56.3% 68.8% 12.5% 18.8%
8 Nick Chubb 21.7 31.3% 62.5% 87.5% 18.8% 12.5%
9 Josh Jacobs 20.7 30.8% 61.5% 84.6% 7.7% 15.4%
10 Aaron Jones 19.0 50.0% 68.8% 87.5% 37.5% 18.8%

 

One thing that stands out in this chart of the elites is that it’s hard to find a running back who posts RB1-type numbers in 50-plus percent of his games. Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, and Dalvin Cook were the only ones who hit over 50 percent in 2019. Everyone knows McCaffrey’s season was bananas, and to highlight that, I’ll show the only players who’ve topped 75 percent since 2007 (when I started the yearly charts).

YEAR Player RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
2016 Le’Veon Bell 91.7% 100.0% 100.0% 33.3% 0.0%
2013 Jamaal Charles 86.7% 93.3% 100.0% 40.0% 0.0%
2018 Todd Gurley 85.7% 85.7% 100.0% 64.3% 0.0%
2014 DeMarco Murray 81.3% 100.0% 100.0% 18.8% 0.0%
2017 Todd Gurley 80.0% 93.3% 93.3% 46.7% 6.7%
2011 Arian Foster 76.9% 84.6% 92.3% 46.2% 7.7%

 

The carries and targets for each of the running backs are listed, and you can see that both Alvin Kamara and Aaron Jones are at 19 combined carries/targets per game. It’s widely accepted that Kamara is hyper-efficient and that will make up for his lack of truly elite touches. While I agree with that, why can’t the same be said about Jones, who has been the No. 4 running back back-to-back years in fantasy points over expectations (if you’d like to read about that, here’s the article). He’s falling into the third round at times.

The three who look a bit left out on this list are Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb, and Josh Jacobs. To be fair, there is a clear tier break between the elite bunch and these guys, but they’re still going in the first round, or at the worst late-second round. Their touches were right there with the elite tier, but their efficiency wasn’t. Mixon’s offense should provide more scoring opportunities, Chubb’s play-calling should get better, and Jacobs should be used in the passing game more, but all of those things are out of your control and have risk attached to them. There should be more of a discount on all of them if I’m being honest, and it’s why you should be leaning Michael Thomas or Davante Adams over them (you’ll see the wide receiver percentages tomorrow).

11-20 Range

Now outside the elite tier, you want to find players who can potentially reach that top tier in 2020. These are the borderline RB1s and those who are being taken as the RB2 for most fantasy teams.

ADP Player Car+Tgt/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
11 Kenyan Drake 17.0 28.6% 42.9% 85.7% 21.4% 7.1%
12 Miles Sanders 15.1 31.3% 43.8% 68.8% 12.5% 25.0%
13 Austin Ekeler 15.0 50.0% 87.5% 93.8% 25.0% 6.3%
14 Leonard Fournette 24.3 40.0% 86.7% 100.0% 13.3% 0.0%
15 Clyde Edwards-Helaire DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
16 Chris Carson 21.7 46.7% 66.7% 86.7% 13.3% 6.7%
17 Melvin Gordon 18.1 41.7% 58.3% 75.0% 8.3% 0.0%
18 Todd Gurley 18.1 40.0% 60.0% 80.0% 6.7% 13.3%
19 Le’Veon Bell 21.5 26.7% 66.7% 93.3% 0.0% 6.7%
20 James Conner 15.4 30.0% 60.0% 70.0% 20.0% 20.0%

 

It’s weird to see a running back with 24.3 combined carries/targets this far down the list, especially when you see he posted RB2 or better numbers in 86.7 percent of his games. If we knew his workload would remain where it was last year, he’d be in the first-round conversation. But there’s been a new offense installed with Jay Gruden and he brought along Chris Thompson with him. Fun fact: The best a running back has finished under Gruden is RB13, and that’s back from 2013. There are concerns about Fournette, which makes his price reasonable.

It’s also rare to see a running back with a 50.0 percent RB1 rate in the second round, but that’s where Austin Ekeler finds himself. The worrisome part is his 15.0 touches per game, as that number needs to come up for him to finish in RB1 territory. He was the only player who averaged less than 18.0 carries/targets but finished with a higher than 33.3 percent RB1 rate (David Johnson‘s numbers are skewed). You essentially need your running back to get up into the 18-plus combined carry/target range for them to have a shot at RB1 numbers 50-plus percent of the time.

Kenyan Drake‘s numbers don’t look great for someone I’ve advocated as a first-round pick, but looking closer at the splits, you’ll understand why.

Team G RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
MIA 6 0.0% 16.7% 83.3% 0.0% 16.7%
ARI 8 50.0% 62.5% 87.5% 37.5% 12.5%

 

If he plays the same way he did over the second half of the season with the Cardinals, he’d be in the conversation for the No. 6 overall pick in drafts. The Cardinals also moved on from David Johnson and didn’t add a running back until the seventh round. Drake is likely going to be a top-12 back this year who comes with top-five upside based on what we saw last year.

Le’Veon Bell gets a lot of hate, but his 66.7 percent RB2 or better rate was 12th best among running backs while his 93.3 percent RB3 or better rate was the sixth best. He’s not going to win you a fantasy championship on his back, but he is perfectly fine to have as your RB2. Also, when James Conner is healthy, he’s right up there with Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon, and Josh Jacobs.

21-30 Range

We’ve now reached the territory of back-end RB2s and high-end RB3s/flex players. It’s rare to find workhorse running backs in this tier, as that’s typically what fantasy owners search for inside the first four rounds.

ADP Player Car+Tgt/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
21 Mark Ingram 15.4 33.3% 60.0% 93.3% 6.7% 6.7%
22 Devin Singletary 16.0 25.0% 58.3% 83.3% 0.0% 16.7%
23 David Johnson 10.8 41.7% 50.0% 58.3% 16.7% 41.7%
24 Jonathan Taylor DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
25 David Montgomery 17.3 18.8% 31.3% 50.0% 0.0% 50.0%
26 Raheem Mostert 9.9 26.7% 40.0% 53.3% 0.0% 46.7%
27 Derrius Guice 10.2 20.0% 40.0% 40.0% 20.0% 60.0%
28 Kareem Hunt 10.9 12.5% 75.0% 87.5% 0.0% 12.5%
29 D’Andre Swift DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
30 Cam Akers DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP

 

The numbers for David Johnson are quite skewed, as he was a workhorse who was posting RB1 and RB2 numbers, then saw his touches (and percentages) fall off while coming back from injury. Now with the Texans, he should be getting at least 16-18 combined carries/targets this year with a chance for 20-plus per game. David Montgomery also falls into that territory, though his touches didn’t amount to much last year. But know this: He was the only running back who averaged more than 17.0 carries/targets and didn’t finish with at least a 50.0 percent RB2 rate. You may not like him but with his touches, he’s an RB2.

Devin Singletary looks quite appealing with his 58.3 percent RB2 or better rate (and 83.3 percent RB3 rate), but you must know that the Bills spent the same amount of equity on Zack Moss as they did on Singletary just one year ago. Moss is a better player than Frank Gore at this stage of their careers, and Bills GM Brandon Beane has already said Moss will take over that role. Singletary won’t tear the roof off, but he should be a fine high-end RB3 with limited upside.

Looking at this you’d think Kareem Hunt will make for a great RB2/3 option, but those 10.9 touches per game aren’t enough for him to continually produce at that rate. It’s a new coaching staff in Cleveland, so we don’t know what the split will look like, but Hunt does come with the added benefit of being a top-three running back if Nick Chubb were to miss any time.

The oddest player on this part of the list is Raheem Mostert, who averaged a miniscule 9.9 carries/targets per game in 2019. To know that he produced RB2 or better numbers in 40 percent of his games is an accomplishment, though he offered no upside during the regular season. Does his re-worked contract signify a change to his workload? It should.

31-40 Range

This is where you’ll usually find pass-catching/satellite running backs, as they lack upside but can fill a role as a high-floor flex-type player. However, with the uncertainty of health around the league, we’re seeing more and more handcuffs/timeshare running backs move into this range.

ADP Player Car+Tgt/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
31 Sony Michel 16.7 12.5% 31.3% 50.0% 0.0% 37.5%
32 Marlon Mack 18.9 28.6% 50.0% 85.7% 7.1% 14.3%
33 Kerryon Johnson 16.0 0.0% 37.5% 75.0% 0.0% 25.0%
34 Ronald Jones 13.3 12.5% 43.8% 56.3% 0.0% 43.8%
35 James White 10.8 6.7% 73.3% 86.7% 6.7% 13.3%
36 Phillip Lindsay 17.0 18.8% 43.8% 68.8% 6.3% 18.8%
37 Matt Breida 11.2 7.7% 15.4% 38.5% 7.7% 61.5%
38 Jordan Howard 13.3 22.2% 44.4% 55.6% 11.1% 22.2%
39 Ke’Shawn Vaughn DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
40 Darrell Henderson 6.4 0.0% 0.0% 14.3% 0.0% 85.7%

 

The biggest numbers in this tier go to Marlon Mack, who almost certainly loses his job to second-round rookie Jonathan Taylor. Posting RB2 or better numbers in just 50.0 percent of your games behind a top-three offensive line while getting 18.9 carries/targets per game will do that. James White has been one of my favorite steals in this range for years, and even though he lacked upside in 2019, he produced RB2 or better numbers 73.3 percent of the time. Still, an offense moving to more of a run-first approach will lower his fantasy floor.

Is it crazy to see Ronald Jones posted RB2 or better numbers just as much as Miles Sanders did? Both should be moving to bigger roles in 2020, but the difference is that you don’t have to pay for Jones’ increase in workload.

41-60 Range

ADP Player Car+Tgt/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
41 JK Dobbins DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
42 Tevin Coleman 11.9 7.1% 28.6% 50.0% 7.1% 42.9%
43 Alexander Mattison 8.6 0.0% 7.7% 30.8% 0.0% 69.2%
44 Latavius Murray 11.8 12.5% 25.0% 43.8% 12.5% 56.3%
45 Tarik Cohen 10.5 6.3% 43.8% 62.5% 0.0% 25.0%
46 Tony Pollard 7.1 21.4% 21.4% 21.4% 0.0% 71.4%
47 Zack Moss DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
48 Duke Johnson 9.1 12.5% 37.5% 50.0% 0.0% 37.5%
49 Adrian Peterson 15.6 6.7% 46.7% 53.3% 0.0% 46.7%
50 Jamaal Williams 10.9 14.3% 42.9% 57.1% 0.0% 35.7%
51 Chase Edmonds 8.1 20.0% 30.0% 30.0% 10.0% 70.0%
52 Nyheim Hines 6.9 0.0% 12.5% 43.8% 0.0% 50.0%
53 Rashaad Penny 7.6 22.2% 33.3% 33.3% 11.1% 66.7%
54 Justin Jackson 5.7 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 57.1%
55 Boston Scott 7.9 25.0% 37.5% 37.5% 12.5% 50.0%
56 Antonio Gibson DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
57 A.J. Dillon DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
58 Justice Hill 4.6 0.0% 13.3% 13.3% 0.0% 86.7%
59 Jaylen Samuels 8.8 15.4% 23.1% 23.1% 0.0% 53.8%
60 Carlos Hyde 16.3 6.3% 31.3% 68.8% 0.0% 25.0%

 

This is the territory where it’s hard to find players who get double digit carries/targets per game. It’s crazy to see Latavius Murray so low in ADP when we know what he’s capable of with Alvin Kamara out of the lineup (was the RB1 for those two weeks). Tarik Cohen had a horrendous season in 2019, but his numbers highlight that he should be going much earlier in drafts. Combining the last two years, he’s been an RB2 or better 50.0 percent of the time. If you get him as your RB3, you’re going to be fine.

Boston Scott is the clear No. 2 behind Miles Sanders, and he even showed he was capable of RB1 upside in a small sample size. The same can be said about Tony Pollard behind Ezekiel Elliott. Adrian Peterson‘s numbers look decent for a guy that’s going as the No. 49 running back, but it is a new coaching staff and Derrius Guice appears to be healthy.

61-80 Range

ADP Player Car+Tgt/gm RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
61 Ryquell Armstead 4.2 7.1% 21.4% 21.4% 0.0% 78.6%
62 Darwin Thompson 4.7 0.0% 0.0% 20.0% 0.0% 80.0%
63 Darrynton Evans DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
64 Gio Bernard 6.0 0.0% 0.0% 6.3% 0.0% 93.8%
65 Anthony McFarland DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
66 Royce Freeman 11.4 0.0% 31.3% 56.3% 0.0% 37.5%
67 Joshua Kelley DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
68 Devonta Freeman 18.1 35.7% 50.0% 71.4% 14.3% 14.3%
69 Patrick Laird 6.1 0.0% 37.5% 50.0% 0.0% 37.5%
70 Rex Burkhead 7.9 15.4% 30.8% 38.5% 0.0% 61.5%
71 LeSean McCoy 10.4 7.7% 30.8% 53.8% 0.0% 46.2%
72 Damien Harris 4.0 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 100.0%
73 DeAndre Washington 9.3 18.8% 25.0% 25.0% 0.0% 68.8%
74 Peyton Barber 11.1 6.3% 18.8% 31.3% 0.0% 50.0%
75 Chris Thompson 8.6 0.0% 18.2% 63.6% 0.0% 36.4%
76 Benny Snell 8.6 0.0% 18.2% 36.4% 0.0% 63.6%
77 Ito Smith 5.1 0.0% 14.3% 28.6% 0.0% 71.4%
78 Frank Gore 11.4 0.0% 13.3% 26.7% 0.0% 60.0%
79 Gus Edwards 8.8 6.3% 12.5% 31.3% 0.0% 68.8%
80 Ameer Abdullah 2.8 0.0% 10.0% 20.0% 0.0% 80.0%

 

It’s rare to find anything worth much in this range of the draft, and the percentages reflect that. Devonta Freeman certainly stands out but he’s without a team right now. One player who could surprise is Rex Burkhead, as Sony Michel has started training camp on the PUP list, and we don’t know if the Patriots believe Damien Harris is ready to step into that role.

What We Learned

It’s rare to find a running back who produces RB1-type numbers more than half the time. If you have a chance to get them, you really should. That’s a good template to use in general. You want your RB1 to produce those numbers about half the time. You want your RB2 to produce RB2 or better numbers about 60 percent of the time, ideally with RB1 upside 30-plus percent of the time to make up for when your top running back struggles. Consistency is the name of the game at running back.

Remember, you don’t always have to shoot for the ceiling. If you get Le’Veon Bell in the fifth round as your RB2 and Tarik Cohen in the 10th round as your RB3, you should be very happy about that because it means you’re stacked in other parts of your roster, and Bell/Cohen will hit the RB2/RB3 numbers well above 50 percent of the time. As is the case with most things in life – balance is not only recommended, but necessary.

If you’d like to check out the sortable charts for Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between, our amazing developers have put together the data for you based on any scoring setting (STD, Half PPR, Full PPR). You can check that out right here.

 


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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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