News & Analysis

Midpoint lessons: Fantasy RB takeaways from the first half of the season

CHARLOTTE, NC - NOVEMBER 05: Christian McCaffrey #22 of the Carolina Panthers runs for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons in the second quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on November 5, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It's hard to believe we've already reached the half-season mark. There are some absolutely scorching running back production paces right now. It's dangerous to project from small samples, but the samples, and especially the usage behind the samples, can be helpful for knowing which players to target to win your leagues. Which players look like good candidates to maintain these paces, or, at minimum, their production rankings for the rest of the season? Let's review a few of the more unexpected statistical paces and see what usage trends tell us. There may be some league-winning bets ready for the making.

We also did this at the quarter-season mark, if you want to catch up.

(PPR projections exclude projected fumbles.)

Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

Gurley is the overall PPR RB1 in total points through nine weeks of the season even though he’s played one fewer game than some other RB1s who haven’t had their bye yet. He's a true bell cow in Sean McVay's system.

16-game pace:
2,048 yards from scrimmage
58 receptions
20 touchdowns

Although he’s cooled off a bit after his scorching quarter-season pace, Gurley is still on track for a health 372 PPR points at season's end. It would be the third-best fantasy running back season of the past five years, ranking only behind David Johnson’s 2016 and Jamaal Charles’ 2013. Gurley is only eight points shy of his full-season 2016 PPR output and we’re only halfway through 2017.

How is he doing it? Volume, and touchdown production. Gurley is ranked inside the top-five overall in Actual Opportunity. At this point it would be an upset if Gurley doesn’t finish as the overall RB1 in 2017.

Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

In our quarter-season check-in, I recommended moving Hunt for Le’Veon Bell because I had doubts about how Andy Reid would manage Hunt’s volume over the course of the season. If you made that move, I’m guessing you’re pretty happy with it. Hunt’s production has fallen off considerably after his record-setting debut and his snap share is a leading indicator of why.

16-game pace:
1,994 yards from scrimmage
57 receptions
11 touchdowns

Hunt’s yards-from-scrimmage pace has dropped by nearly 700 yards since Week 5, and his touchdown pace has diminished by 17 goal-line plunges. In fact, Hunt hasn’t scored a touchdown since our quarter-season review. My biggest concern with the rookie moving forward is his Actual Opportunity ranking outside the top 20 overall and outside the top 10 for running backs. Now facing a Week 10 bye, it’s a chance for Reid to analyze how to properly use Hunt moving forward, but for fantasy owners it’s a week without production during a crucial time of the year. Hunt is still a favorite to finish the season as a top-five fantasy RB, but he’ll be passed by Ezekiel Elliott (pending suspension) and Le’Veon Bell. If you can make a move for Bell, I still recommend it, even if you have to add an accessory piece to get it done. There are precious few weeks remaining.

Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers

Run CMC is having a better season that the prevailing narrative in the fantasy realm would lead one to believe. Although he’s struggling toting the rock, he’s producing low-end WR2 numbers in the receiving game.

16-game pace:
1047 yards from scrimmage
96 receptions
5 touchdowns

McCaffrey’s pace of 96 receptions would be the second-most in NFL history by a rookie at any position, ranking only behind Anquan Boldin’s amazing 101-catch campaign in 2003. It also looks Carolina is ready to commit to CMC as the lead back; his Week 9 playtime percentage was 82 percent, compared to Jonathan Stewart’s 32 percent. McCaffrey registered 21 opportunities in the game, compared with Stewart’s 11. The Panthers’ rookie has a bye week remaining, but his rest-of-season outlook appears sunnier than what we’ve seen to-date. The PPR RB10 through nine weeks, I believe he can climb as high as RB6 by the end of 2017 if his actual opportunity scores remain consistent.

Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers

Of all the notable running back stories this season, perhaps the most unsung is that of Hyde. Largely considered a disappointment to this point in his career, he’s an entirely new creation in Kyle Shanahan’s offense despite being the only real worry for opposing defenses each week.

16-game pace:
1,355 yards from scrimmage
71 receptions
7 touchdowns

Hyde’s full-season pace is 247 PPR points, which would obliterate his previous career high of 191 (2016). Like McCaffrey, he’s doing it on the strength of his receiving game usage. Hyde is on pace for 96 targets, which would be tied for the fourth-most by a running back in the past five seasons. Many were on Hyde as a potential breakout candidate this season because of Shanahan, but I’m not sure any analyst could truthfully reveal they foresaw six targets per game. He’s second in the NFL in running back targets, trailing only McCaffrey. Hyde’s actual opportunity is right in line with his current fantasy standing as PPR RB6 and I expect him to finish his 2017 season as a mid-low PPR RB1.

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