Fantasy Football Strategy: The Swift Formula (2021)
A couple of years ago, I was on a mission to identify potential breakout running backs. After considerable research, I created a list of criteria to find underrated players with RB1 fantasy upside each season. I publicly published this formula for the first time in 2019 under the name “The Mixon Formula,” and many of the players who made the list ended up having a successful 2019 season. I dropped the same formula in 2020, and while it wasn’t quite as helpful due to so many players who met the criteria going in the first couple of rounds anyway, I still found some good values. With Joe Mixon no longer meeting the criteria of the list, I’ve decided to rebrand it and change the name to “The Swift Formula.” Without any further ado, let’s dive in and look at the criteria and the candidates for 2021.
Criteria For “The Swift Formula”
- The running back must have had 30 or more receptions last year.
- The running back must be 26 or younger by the start of the upcoming fantasy year.
- The running back must have had 65 or more rushing attempts last year.
- The running back must have had over 200 rushing yards last year.
- The running back has played three seasons or fewer prior to the start of the upcoming fantasy year.
- The running back can’t be on a team that drafted another running back in the first round of the most recent NFL draft.
- The running back must have only played for one NFL team.
- The running back averaged at least 5.5 yards per reception last year.
- The running back averaged more than 3 yards per carry last year.
Reasoning Behind Criteria
The running back must have had 30 or more receptions last year.
The NFL has evolved into a more pass-heavy game. That requires top running backs to contribute in the passing game. I’ve set 30 receptions as the baseline because it means that the featured running back averaged at least two receptions (or more) a game. Note: With the NFL schedule shifting to 17 games (instead of 16) in 2021, this baseline will be 32 next year.
The running back must be 26 or younger by the start of the upcoming fantasy year.
You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Running backs have a shorter shelf life than most other positions, so you need to get a player in their physical prime.
The running back must have had 65+ rushing attempts last year.
This part of the criteria eliminates a few of the third-down backs who don’t really have a role in the rushing game and therefore cannot reach the same ceiling as other backs. Sixty-five rushing attempts are set as the baseline because this means that in the previous year, the running back got around four carries per game. Note: With the NFL schedule shifting to 17 games (instead of 16) in 2021, this baseline will be 68 carries next year.
The running back must have had over 200 rushing yards last year.
This is to make sure they have at least some talent. It’s pretty difficult to not get 200 yards on 65-plus carries regardless of offensive line play. Note: With the NFL schedule shifting to 17 games in 2021, this baseline will be set at 215 rushing yards next year.
The running back has played three seasons or less prior to the start of the upcoming fantasy year.
A player’s potential can only bring them so far. If they’ve already played four seasons, they are officially a proven commodity and are unlikely to break out any further.
The running back can’t be on a team that drafted an RB in the 1st round of the most recent NFL draft.
If a team takes another running back in the first round, that means that they believe that they really need an upgrade at the position, and they will typically get their shiny new toy involved in the offense. The opportunity simply won’t be there for another player on the roster to finish as an RB1 if a first-round back is in the fold. This has eliminated guys like Benny Cunningham (the Rams drafted Todd Gurley in the first round in 2015), Branden Oliver (the Chargers drafted Melvin Gordon in Round 1 of 2015), etc. in previous years.
The running back must have only played for one NFL team.
When a player gets cut or traded that early in their career, it means that an NFL team doesn’t believe that they’re missing out on a game-changing talent. While some players do break out after getting cut early in their careers, like Mike Davis or Raheem Mostert, they are exceptions to the rule.
The running back averaged at least 5.5 yards per reception last year.
I include this metric to make sure that the running back is effective in open space and can actually doing something with their targets. A player needs talent to break out, after all.
The running back averaged more than 3 yards per carry last year.
Similar to the above metric, this is to make sure the running back isn’t completely terrible. I use three yards per carry as the baseline because many of the major game-changing candidates that eventually broke out (Le’Veon Bell in 2014, Devonta Freeman in 2015, Melvin Gordon III in 2016, Todd Gurley II in 2017, Joe Mixon in 2018, etc.) struggled initially and averaged under four YPC. But if a player can’t get three yards per carry, they aren’t worth your time.
The 2021 Candidates
ECRs are for Half PPR scoring leagues.
This will be the biggest test of this formula in years, as the talented 2017 class will graduate from the list (Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, etc.) and a few injuries last year to players that likely would have qualified (Saquon Barkley, Miles Sanders, etc.). Without further ado, let’s see the candidates!
Who are the ’Swift Formula’ candidates for 2021?
Nyheim Hines pic.twitter.com/Ady75NQyyz
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) September 3, 2021
Jonathan Taylor had a great rookie year last year. He recorded a statline of 232 carries, 1,169 rushing yards, 11 rushing touchdowns, 36 receptions, 39 targets, 299 receiving yards, and one receiving touchdown over 15 games. He finished as the RB4 in standard (14.5 fantasy PPG), RB6 in Half PPR (15.7 fantasy PPG), and RB6 in PPR (16.9 fantasy PPG) in total fantasy points last year. He will have one of the best offensive lines in the league blocking for him again this year. Even with Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack in the mix, he appears to be undervalued at his current ADP and should be going off the board as a top-five running back.
Antonio Gibson had a great rookie season. He finished as the RB14 in standard (11.9 fantasy PPG), RB12 in Half PPR (13.2 fantasy PPG), and RB13 in PPR (14.4 fantasy PPG) last year. Given his strong finish and his potential for growth (particularly in the passing game), Gibson has one of the highest ceilings in all of fantasy. Since you can get him in Round 2 of most drafts, he makes a great upside investment at his current ADP.
2021 Offensive-Minded #NFL Head Coaches/OC's whose offenses average the most HB targets per game (career)
1. Scott Turner (10.50) - WSH OC
2. Joe Lombardi (10.39) - LAC OC
3. Shane Steichen (10.17) - PHI OC
4. Pete Carmichael (9.56) - NO OC
5. Sean Payton (9.19) - NO HC
— Eli Grabanski (@3li_handles) April 28, 2021
Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a solid rookie year, but from a fantasy perspective, he ultimately disappointed those who took him at his first-round ADP. He recorded 181 carries, 803 rushing yards, 36 receptions, 54 targets, 297 receiving yards, and five touchdowns in 13 games. But this year, he doesn't cost nearly as much, as you can get him in the third round of most leagues. Considering he plays for the league's best offense and his role in the passing game is expected to expand, he could outperform his ADP this year.
David Montgomery balled out last year. He finished as the RB6 in standard (14.1 fantasy PPG), RB4 in Half PPR (15.9 fantasy PPG), and RB4 in PPR (17.7 fantasy PPG). Despite this, he is getting ranked as the RB16 in standard, RB16 in Half PPR, and RB17 in PPR. While he may not return the same value as last year with a tougher schedule and Tarik Cohen due to return at some point, his dual-threat ability and volume should make him a safe running back to invest in 2021. He is the "high floor" option from this list.
D'Andre Swift was the RB20 in standard, RB18 in Half PPR, and RB18 in PPR in total fantasy points last year. He was a legitimate dual-threat running back, taking 114 carries for 521 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns while catching 46 passes on 57 targets for 357 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. In 2021, he will find himself in a great spot to succeed, with an above-average offensive line and an offensive coordinator (Anthony Lynn) who has historically fed the position. Swift has massive upside in this offense, and he'll be a good value at his ADP if he can stay healthy.
Josh Jacobs could have Kenyan Drake siphon off passing-down work this year. But even with that, it's important to remember that Jacobs finished as the RB8 in standard (13.2 fantasy PPG), RB8 in Half PPR (14.3 fantasy PPG), and RB8 in PPR (15.4 fantasy PPG) last year. He earned 262 touches in 2019 (13 games) and 306 touches in 2020 (15 games). He may not have the top-five upside that the other backs on this list do, but his volume will make him a reliable option.
Myles Gaskin is one of the best gambles on this list for 2021. In just 10 games last year, Gaskin carried the ball 142 times for 584 rushing yards and caught 41 passes on 47 targets for 388 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. Also, his 9.5 yards per reception ranked first among running backs. Gaskin averaged 12.3 fantasy PPG in standard (RB14), 14.4 fantasy PPG in Half PPR (RB12), and 16.4 fantasy PPG in PPR (RB13). If you only include running backs that played more than eight games, he moves up to RB11 in standard, RB9 in Half PPR, and RB10 in PPR in fantasy points per game. His ADP is deflated right now because of the expected running back by committee system in Miami, but as long as he maintains the majority of the pass-catching work, he could be Austin Ekeler lite.
In 2020, Chase Edmonds carried the ball 97 times for 448 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown and caught 53 passes on 67 targets for 402 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. He finished as the RB30 in standard (7.2 fantasy PPG), RB28 in Half PPR (8.8 fantasy PPG), and RB25 in PPR (10.5 fantasy PPG). While he now must compete with James Conner for touches, the mid-round guys are usually where you can get the most value out of this formula, so he is worth a shot at his current ADP.
In 2020, Devin Singletary carried the ball 156 times for 687 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns and caught 38 passes on 50 targets for 269 receiving yards. He finished as the RB37 in standard (6.6 fantasy PPG), RB34 in Half PPR (7.8 fantasy PPG), and RB31 in PPR (9.0 fantasy PPG). However, he is one of the least likely to succeed from this formula because he ranks third on the totem pole in goal-line carries with Zack Moss and Josh Allen ahead of him in the pecking order. Also, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll doesn't utilize his running backs very much in the passing game.
Nyheim Hines qualifies for this list after his strong 2020 season. He finished as the RB24 in standard (8.1 fantasy PPG), RB20 in Half PPR (10.1 fantasy PPG), and RB15 in PPR (12.1 fantasy PPG). It's unlikely that he has a season better than that because of Jonathan Taylor's presence, but he is still a player to monitor this year.
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