News & Analysis

How hard is it to repeat as a top-12 fantasy RB?

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 13: Le'Veon Bell #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts after rushing for a first down in the first quarter during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Field on November 13, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The most obvious trend in early 2018 redraft and best-ball leagues has been the popularity of loading up on backfield stars. After being marked with a collective scarlet letter following the 2015 season, running backs have endeared themselves once again to the fantasy football community on the strength of some truly remarkable seasons by the position’s elite and tidal wave of new talent entering the league via the draft over the past two seasons.

Despite the resurgent confidence in drafting running backs early, I admittedly have my doubts as to whether this is the correct strategy for 2018. After years of being a card-carrying zero-RB apologist for redraft leagues, it’s hard to embrace this sentiment. I decided to research five years’ worth of top-12 PPR running back seasons to see what I could learn from the recent past as I seek to target the right players in 2018.

Here are 20 things I gleaned from my research regarding year-to-year consistency, rookie production, and the importance of rushing and receiving production to overall fantasy finishes:

  • An average of just 35 percent of running backs finish in the top-12 of RB positional scoring in back-to-back years (4.2 out of 12).
  • In the past five seasons, there have never been more than six running backs repeat in the top-12.
  • No running back has repeated as the overall RB1 in PPR scoring in consecutive seasons over the past five years.
  • Todd Gurley was PPR RB1 in 2017 and is currently the first player off the board in 2018 fantasy drafts, according to consensus ADP from multiple fantasy sites.
  • The value of owning the overall RB1 in fantasy can’t be understated. The average scoring gap between PPR RB1 and PPR RB2 over the past five seasons has been 47.6 PPR points.
  • Only one running back has managed to repeat in the top-three in consecutive seasons:
  • Only three running backs have been able to repeat as top-five PPR performers in back-to-back seasons over the past five years:
  • Over the past five years, only running back has managed to finish in the top-12 of PPR RB scoring in three consecutive seasons:
    • Forte (2013-2015)
  • Players entering 2018 with active two-season streaks are:

Rookies

Saquon Barkley is a popular pick to finish in the top-12 in 2018. How frequently have rookies been able to do this over the past five seasons?

  • Three rookies have finished as top-5 PPR RBs:
    • Elliott in 2016
    • Kamara and Hunt in 2017

Rushing

The position is called running back. How important has rushing production been to top-12 PPR RB finishes over the past five seasons?

  • 75 percent of top-12 PPR RBs over this period rushed for at least 1,000 yards.
  • There have been four instances of a running back rushing for fewer than 500 yards and finishing as a top-12 PPR RB over the past five seasons:
  • The fewest rushing yards by a top-12 PPR RB in the past five seasons is 348, by Duke Johnson in 2017.
  • 87 percent of top-12 PPR RBs scored at least six rushing touchdowns.

Pass-catching

Receiving has become such an integral part of running back fantasy scoring. Where is the receptions bar for finishing as a top-12 PPR RB?

  • 87 percent of top-12 PPR RBs in the past five seasons have recorded at least 30 receptions.
  • Only one player in the past five years has managed to finish as a Top-12 PPR RB without hauling in at least 20 receptions:
    • LeGarrette Blount was PPR RB9 in 2016 with just seven receptions. He led the league with 18 rushing touchdowns to offset his minimal passing-game usage.
  • 76 percent of top-5 PPR RBs over the past five seasons have recorded at least 50 receptions.
  • 80 percent of top-5 PPR RBs over the past five seasons have recorded at least 40 receptions.
  • The fewest receptions by a top-5 PPR RB over the past five seasons is 32, by Elliott in 2016.

Well, there you have it. I think the biggest takeaway from this research was how difficult it is to finish as a top-12 PPR running back in back-to-back seasons. Whether it’s avoiding injury, competition from other players, or unfriendly team game scripts, there are very big hurdles in the way of every backfield star when it comes to finishing as a RB1 in any given year.

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