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Top Fantasy Football Running Backs: Finding RB1s

top fantasy football running backs

The running back craze is real for 2020 fantasy football drafts. According to June BestBall10 ADP over the past three days (June 19-21), ten of the first twelve picks are running backs! Pushing that out to the third round, there are 19 being selected in the top 36. Everyone is afraid to miss out on that top running back who can carry your fantasy team to championship glory. With that in mind, I’m taking a look at the top performers from 2019 to see what we should be looking for in the top fantasy football running backs. The goal is to be able to identify some cheaper options (if possible) who can fit the criteria or thresholds for high-end fantasy production.

Note: In the table below, the statistics represent Weeks 1-17 of the 2019 season. Their fantasy rank is from Weeks 1-16 in half-PPR scoring via FantasyPros. The rush percentages are based on the team’s running back totals. The receiving percentages are based on the entire team. “OPPG” represents opportunities per game (rush attempts and targets) based on their games played during Weeks 1-16.

RANK PLAYER RUSH ATT RUSH YDS RUSH TDS TGT REC REC YDS REC TD OPPG FPPG
1 Christian McCaffrey 287 (93.3%) 1387 (91.6%) 15  (93.8%) 142 (22.4%) 116 (30.4%) 1005 (24.3%) 4 (23.5%) 27.3 26.3
2 Aaron Jones 236 (66.5%) 1084 (68.7%) 16  (94.1%) 68 (11.9%) 49 (13.8%) 474 (11.8%) 3  (11.5%) 20.3 18.3
3 Dalvin Cook 250 (59.2%) 1135 (57.2%) 13  (76.5%) 63 (13.5%) 53 (16.6%) 519 (13.9%) 0 22.4 19
4 Ezekiel Elliott 301 (77.8%) 1357 (74.9%) 12  (85.7%) 71  (11.9%) 54 (13.9%) 420 (8.6%) 2   (6.7%) 23.3 17.3
5 Austin Ekeler 132 (39.6%) 557 (40.1%) 3    (37.5%) 108 (18.1%) 92 (23.4%) 993 (21.4%) 8 (33.3%) 16 16.6
6 Derrick Henry 303 (82.3%) 1540 (86.8%) 16   (100%) 24 (5.4%) 18 (6.1%) 206 (5.2%) 2   (6.9%) 23.4 17.6
7 Nick Chubb 298 (83.2%) 1494 (85.7%) 8   (66.7%) 49 (9.1%) 36 (11.3%) 278 (7.2%) 0 23.1 15.5
8 Mark Ingram II 202 (51.4%) 1018 (52.1%) 10  (71.4%) 29 (6.6%) 26    (9%) 247 (7.4%) 5 (13.5%) 14.1 15.3
9 Leonard Fournette 265 (85.8%) 1152 (89.5%) 3     (100%) 100 (17%) 76 (20.9%) 522 (13%) 0 24.3 14.8
10 Chris Carson 278 (70.2%) 1230 (67.6%) 7    (58.3%) 47 (9.1%) 37 (10.9%) 266 (6.5%) 2   (6.5%) 21.7 14.3
11 Saquon Barkley 217 (72.1%) 1003 (78.4%)   6    (6.7%) 73  (12%) 52 (13.8%) 438 (10.8%) 2   (6.7%) 24.2 16.6
12 Todd Gurley 223 (66.8%) 857 (67.6%) 12  (70.6%) 49 (7.8%) 31 (7.8%) 207 (4.4%) 2   (9.1%) 19.4 13.9

 

TAKEAWAYS

  • First thing’s first: Christian McCaffrey is a STUD. That’s in bold, underlined, and italicized for extreme emphasis. We all know had a historic season, but seeing his numbers in terms of share percentages really puts his dominance in perspective.
  • Only two of the top twelve running backs from 2019 had fewer than two-thirds of their team’s rush attempts: Mark Ingram and Austin Ekeler.
    • Dalvin Cook obviously falls into this group, but in games in which he played more than 50% of the snaps, he averaged 71% of the running back carries.
    • Only Ekeler had less than half of his team’s rushing yards
  • None of the top-5 running backs had a target share of less than 10%.
    • Three of the five backs who had less than 10% target share were in run-first/run-heavy offenses (Derrick Henry, Chris Carson, and Mark Ingram).
    • Nick Chubb was above this threshold up until Kareem Hunt entered the picture. From Weeks 1-9, Chubb held a 12% target share. From Weeks 10-17, his share dropped to 6.7%.
    • For Todd Gurley, I think we can all agree this was injury-related. In the previous two seasons under McVay, Gurley had target shares of 16% and 18%.
  • Derrick Henry’s 75-yard touchdown reception against Cleveland in week 1 accounted for nearly 34% of his fantasy production.
  • Just four running backs failed to reach double-digit touchdowns.
    • Only Fournette had fewer than 8.
  • Three running backs had fewer than 20 opportunities per game: Austin Ekeler, Mark Ingram, and Todd Gurley.
    • Ekeler was in a clear committee, Ingram had just 26 more carries than Lamar Jackson, and Gurley barely missed the mark.
  • Austin Ekeler by far had the lowest rushing share numbers but had McCaffrey-esque receiving involvement. Ekeler’s receiving production from Weeks 1-16 alone provided 184.5 half-PPR fantasy points. This would’ve landed him as WR14 last year, sandwiched between D.J. Moore and D.J. Chark.
  • Bonus stat: Only one of the running backs failed to account for at least 50% of their team’s rush attempts inside the five-yard line: Austin Ekeler (33.3%).

 

BOTTOM LINE

We want to search for running backs who will get the majority of carries (66%+), be involved in the passing game (10%+ target share and/or 30+ catches), and won’t be taken off the field inside the five-yard line. We’re also searching for a combination of rush attempts and targets that gets a player to 20 opportunities per game.

If you’re going to be basically a zero in the passing game, you better put up some monster rushing production (sup, Derrick Henry?). On the other side, if you’re betting on a player giving you an RB1 season with limited rushing production (a la Austin Ekeler), he has to put up near WR1 receiving production. Ekeler’s 69.1 points from his rushing production accounted for just 27.2% of his total fantasy points.

Guys who are currently being drafted outside of the top-12 running backs who I think could fit the above criteria? Melvin Gordon, James Conner (can he stay healthy?), David Johnson (gross, I know), David Montgomery, and Cam Akers.

 

Let me know if there’s anything you think I missed with what takeaways you have from this information. Keep tabs on our website as the written content is going to start picking up! If you prefer your content in video format, our YouTube channel is continually growing and we’ll be hitting you with weekly podcasts as well. If you want a place to talk shop, our Slack community is growing as well and is completely free. Just click here and join the #TFAFam!

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