New Reality No.122: Assessing the Running Back Landscape

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of dynasty fantasy football

One of the significant projects I embarked upon since the regular season began is exploring a better way to measure true fantasy impact. Part of the disconnect between looking at raw fantasy points or per-game production is the variable if the player was in or out of lineups that week. A player posting a big score on your bench is no impact to your team beyond a potential boost in market value for a trade. A player putting up a dud in your lineup is of high impact.

To this end, my study combines start rates (readily available on back a number of years) and production compared to a moving start-based positional baseline. Finally, the entire structure is based on Wins Over Replacement Player for a fantasy regular season. The result is aWORP or Adjusted Wins Over Replacement Player.

Stud Running Backs

Studs rule in fantasy football. The running back position in 2018 is as impactful as ever as five backs are adding 0.20 or more aWORP per game through Week 10. As a point of comparison, in the previous four seasons, there were only two such seasons TOTAL.

Even Kareem Hunt or Christian McCaffrey, both outside the top-5 in aWORP/G this season, would be the RB1 in 2017 over Todd Gurley.

Found Money

James Conner is the clear highlight of the position. Coming from the mid-to-late Round 2 rookie draft zone in 2017, Conner was a Day 2 talent but pushed down due to being blocked by Le'Veon Bell. However, Bell's holdout to begin the season continued by the week and turned into an entire year of missed time. Through nine games, Conner is RB5 in aWORP/G and he has produced nearly as much aWORP (1.83 wins over replacement) as Todd Gurley did all last fantasy regular season.

James White is the other found-money, long-term option at running back this season. After RB34 in aWORP/G in 2017, White is firmly in the top-10 in 2018 and his 0.14 aWORP/G would have been RB4 last season. Also, White has been predictable in his production with 22 PPG when in the auto-start zone of MFL start-rate and only 16 PPG when logging a 'bench' recommendation start rate.

Spot Start Mavens

Running backs make for ideal bench stashes as they are an injury away from potential auto-start status. A number of backs have offered one or more much weeks this season after beginning the year either as uncertain starters or clear backups.

Giovani Bernard, T.J. Yeldon, and Adrian Peterson are the highest impacts of this subset on a per-game basis. Peterson has been a starter the entire year with eight weeks as a graded auto-start or fringe-start status and 0.06 aWORP/G overall. Bernard and Yeldon both were clear primary backups to start the season but combined for eight weeks of quality starts with the missed time of Joe Mixon and Leonard Fournette.

Others include a month of viability from Latavius Murray, four solid start rates from Javorius Allen, Matt Breida benefitting from 49ers injuries, Aaron Jones, Austin Ekeler, Nyheim Hines, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Jalen Richard, Mike Davis, Alfred Blue, and Doug Martin.

Still Simmering

Not all primary backups work out when stashing them during the fantasy season. They are still a worthwhile endeavor as a single injury can turn them into an auto-start at optimal times late in the season. Here are a few who have not panned out yet but offer potential strong starts down the fantasy stretch with an injury in front of them:

As an action plan point, keeping an eye out for any of the above options hitting the waiver wire due to an impatient dynasty GM is a to-do list item in the closing weeks, especially for contending teams. Teams falling out of the playoff race may shift their roster spot focus to 2019, eschewing short-range options for the final month or so.


For teams looking past this season to the offseason, here are running backs to consider for final rosters:

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