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The Importance of Running Backs in your Fantasy Football Draft Plans

The golden goose of fantasy football

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Updated: July 4, 2016
Original Release: June 28, 2004

There is one position in fantasy football that is coveted more than any other. You will see it reflected in mock drafts. You will see it reflected in fantasy football player rankings. You will see it in the nervous twitch each member in your league will give as players from this position are taken off the fantasy football draft board. In fact, we find ourselves discussing this position more than any other offensive skill position in fantasy football. What is this position? The position is running back. Is this some type of unhealthy obsession? Is there a method behind the running back madness? Well, here at FootballDocs, the answer to both of these questions is yes and yes. For now, we will save the obsession for therapy; however, in the spirit of objectivity, we will dish out some insight and hard numbers into the methodology behind the running back madness.

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Why is there so much fuss over running backs in fantasy football?
It's all about the numbers. From an economics standpoint, it's about supply and demand. For the sake of illustration, let's use a standard fantasy league as our reference: 10 fantasy teams - each needing 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, and 1 DEF. With 32 teams in the NFL, each NFL team has one quarterback (kicker and team defense) that will be getting to play every game and will almost never be splitting time with any other quarterback (kicker and team defense). Not a problem from a fantasy football perspective since there are only 10 needed starts at QB, K, and D for the aforementioned 10 team league, and 32 available gives a load to select from for the start without compromising significant quality. At TE, there is typically one tight end that will be the focus of each NFL offense; however, there are some NFL offenses that have TEs split time and/or touches with another tight end. Regardless, the TE position is in general a low scoring position (with a couple of exceptions), and again we need only 10 available for the start in the entire league with at least 32 to select from for the start. At WR, there are usually two or three wide receivers per NFL team that will get a respectable number of catches each game. Although we now need 20 WRs for the entire league for the start (two per fantasy team), we have a variety of options available that can still put decent numbers on the board.

Now let's take a look at RBs. When it comes to RBs, it is a different story. If you are lucky, your fantasy RB will be the primary, workhorse carrier of the ball in their respective NFL team offense. By being a workhorse, your running back will receive in the neighborhood of at least 20 carries per game, which increases their probability for a good statistical game, which in turn increases your fantasy points for your team (more touches equals more opportunities for fantasy points). However, many NFL teams use a Running-Back-By-Committee (RBBC), where the running backs split time and touches, drastically reducing their probability of posting a good game week to week. Needing 20 RBs for the start for the example league each week and knowing that there are not even 32 available as legitimate week-in/week-out options due to a RBBC and/or a poor offense, you can see it gets very nasty very quick at the RB position. Throw in the fact that RBs take arguably more abuse than any other position and have an increased likelihood of injury, and additional Maalox will be needed as RBs start flying off the board during your fantasy football draft. To help illustrate this point and put some hard numbers with the above discussion, let's assume there are roughly 20 primary RBs available for the start (RBs that carry the majority of the load in their respective offenses).

QBs: 10 starters needed - 32 available
Ks: 10 starters needed - 32 available
TEs: 10 starters needed - 32 available
DEFs: 10 starters needed - 32 available
WRs: 20 starters needed - ~ 64 available
RBs: 20 starters needed - ~ 48 available due to RBBC, however, only ~ 20 primary RBs

Expressed as a ratio indicating demand/supply (the larger the number the more valuable the position):

QBs: 0.3125
Ks: 0.3125
TEs: 0.3125
DEFs: 0.3125
WRs: 0.3125
RBs: 1.0000 (Primary RBs only); 0.4167 (All RBs including RBBC)

When expressed as a ratio of demand over supply, the importance of drafting RBs early and often jumps off the page for the standard fantasy football league. Even accounting for RBBCs, the ratio is still substantially higher than any other position. When considering only the primary RBs available relative to other positions, the ratio is just plan scary. It is important to note that quality does indeed vary within each of these positions; however, the above analysis and ratios were used as a general barometer to help illustrate the point. Naturally, the ratio also depends on the league setup; however, for the majority of the fantasy leagues out there based on a standard league setup, the above holds true. Other positions will become more valuable than illustrated in the above example in leagues that require drastically different setups and starting requirements. However, for most fantasy football scoring systems, running backs are key ingredients to a championship caliber, fantasy football team, and it is wise to keep them in mind when it comes to your fantasy football draft plans.

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