Last summer’s deep dive into backfield stats focused on Top 10 PPR running back weeks produced by backfields, ranked by team. This made the Saints stand out, tied for third with only Pittsburgh (Le'Veon Bell) and Arizona (David Johnson) ahead of them despite not having a Bell/Johnson talent and an RBBC approach. While we may revisit that exercise this year, I decided to take a different angle this year, spurred by the realization that ranking running games by rushing statistics that include quarterbacks doesn’t give a clear picture of the potential of the backfield to produce fantasy points. So I stripped away quarterback statistics from aggregate running game totals and also totaled passing game statistics produced by running backs to give a clearer picture of how effective and efficient backfields were at producing fantasy points in 2017. What did this exercise reveal? I’ll share what I found division-by-division.
The Texans had a rough season, but really it was a tale of two seasons, one with Deshaun Watson starting and one without. Even while limping to one of the worst records in the league, they had 396 running back carries, good for seventh in the league. They averaged two more running back carries per game in Watson’s starts than in Savage/Yates starts, and 31 running back carries per game in Watson’s wins. The running back running game didn’t produce touchdowns at a greater rate (four in ten games vs. two in six) or have a higher yards per carry (3.8 vs. 3.72) with Watson in the lineup. The overall lack of efficiency in the running back running game meant that the Texans were only 15th in running back rushing yards, 24th in yards per carry, and 29th in fantasy points per running back carry in 2017. The offensive line is being overhauled, and Watson didn’t have an appreciable effect on their running game efficiency last year. The best hope for improvement comes in the form of D’Onta Foreman, who averaged 4.2 yards per carry and scored twice on only 78 carries, but he is coming back from an Achilles tear.
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