Fantasy Football: Updated Running Back Equity Scores

Bernard Pierce
Greg M Cooper USA TODAY Sports

Markets over-correct when enough people are stung by the failure of what was once consensus. It happens on Wall Street and in fantasy football.

That over-correction is quite a natural reaction: People invest in something that seems to be a hot commodity — a running back-running back start to a fantasy draft, say — and when that approach implodes, they run away, screaming and crying and seeking a new investment strategy.

The consensus, heading into 2013 fantasy drafts, was to secure two elite runners in the opening rounds and take advantage of what was deemed as never-before-seen receiver depth in rounds 3-6. Workhorse backs were a dying breed, the argument went, so get them while you can.

Read more about equity score analysis…
Updated wide receiver equity scores
Brandon Marshall and the all-equity score team
Randall Cobb and the all-red flag equity score team

Fantasy owners by mid-season were swearing off the running back-heavy approach as guys like Trent Richardson, Ray Rice, Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller, and Steven Jackson tanked in the early going and proved to be two-ton anchors around the necks of their investors.

The market over-correction was as predictable as a Darren McFadden injury. Fantasy owners have turned sharply against the once (mostly) unquestioned RB-RB approach and have begun investing their first few picks in the NFL’s elite receivers and tight ends. See below for proof.

Year RBs in Round 1 RBs in Round 2 RBs in Round 3 RBs in Round 4
2013 10 6 6 5
2014 6 5 5 5

 

That’s a pretty sharp change in consensus. There were 27 runners drafted in the first four rounds of 2013 drafts, while just 21 backs are going in the first four rounds this summer. The first round running back spread is particularly stark from year to year, as runners were the only game in First Round Town just one year ago.

It’s in this light of over-correction that we consider the relative value of running backs headed into the 2014 season. We know that fantasy owners, as a whole, have changed their early-round ways after their 2013 strategy ended with blood on the streets.

Which reminds me: “Buy when there’s blood in the streets, even if the blood is your own.

Those who wait until the fifth or sixth round to snag their first back would do well to remember that, historically, guys drafted in the RB31-36 range have a zero percent chance of notching top-12 numbers, and only a 20 percent chance of finishing inside the top-24 backs. That same group only has a one in four shot of posting top-36 fantasy numbers.

Below are updated equity scores for the first 50 running backs off the draft board. These could change as the preseason begins and injuries alter depth charts and player prospects. Many of these scores will remain static over the next month, however.

I’ve assigned two equity scores to each player (according to Fantasy Football Calculator average draft positions): the median score, indicating a very conservative projection, and the high score, reflecting a guy’s top-end prospects. I used the RotoViz similarity score app as a baseline for every median and high projection, with tweaks where needed.

I hope this helps as another tool that could help zero in on the best draft day values while avoiding players with little to no equity.

 

Player ADP Median equity score High equity score Target?
LeSean McCoy RB1 -2 (RB3) 0 (RB1) Yes
Jamaal Charles RB2 -2 (RB4) 1 (RB1) Yes
Adrian Peterson RB3 -7 (RB10) -3 (RB6)
Matt Forte RB4 -1 (RB5) 2 (RB2) Yes
Eddie Lacy RB5 -5 (RB10) -1 (RB6)
Marshawn Lynch RB6 -6 (RB12) -2 (RB8)
Montee Ball RB7 -1 (RB8) 2 (RB5) Yes
DeMarco Murray RB8 1 (RB7) 6 (RB2) Yes
Arian Foster RB9 -8 (RB17) -2 (RB11)
Le’Veon Bell RB10 -4 (RB14) 0 (RB10)

 

  • As XN Sports colleague Rich Hribar has said, Peterson’s price never changes and the rope gets shorter with every passing season. There’s not much reason to believe that Peterson will transform into a PPR cheat code, though an increased role in Minnesota’s passing attack — if you can call it that — keeps his floor pretty high.
  • Murray, who finished sixth among backs in 2013 despite missing two games, notched .49 fantasy points per opportunity — higher than guys like Forte, McCoy, and Lacy. He’s a force in the passing game; a fact that won’t escape new offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who pledges some sort of commitment to the running game in 2014. “Things that were done last year in the running game with DeMarco, the running style that was created here is really a good fit,” Linehan said recently on 105.3 The Fan. “That’s going to be our strength, being able to lean on that running game a little bit more than they have in the past.”

 

Player ADP Median equity score High equity score Target?
Giovani Bernard RB11 0 (RB11) 4 (RB7) Yes
Alfred Morris RB12 -6 (RB18) 2 (RB10)
Doug Martin RB13 -5 (RB18) 0 (RB13)
Zac Stacy RB14 0 (RB14) 4 (RB10)
Andre Ellington RB15 2 (RB13) 7 (RB8) Yes
Reggie Bush RB16 -6 (RB22) 2 (RB14)
C.J. Spiller RB17 -4 (RB21) 6 (RB11)
Toby Gerhart RB18 1 (RB17) 6 (RB12) Yes
Ryan Mathews RB19 3 (RB16) 8 (RB11) Yes
Frank Gore RB20 -5 (RB25) -2 (RB22)

 

  • I’m generally fading the above group, with players like Spiller, Martin, and Bush posting median scores far too low to target. It’s hardly revolutionary, but this early in a draft is no time to swing for the fences and assume a player’s best-case scenario.
  • Gerhart’s hip flexor issue, which will keep him out of the Jaguars’ first preseason game, is very much worth monitoring. Assuming health, I think Gerhart’s metrics, comparables, and situation are appealing enough to grab here. I’m certainly not the only one who believes Gerhart has top-12 running back potential.

 

Player ADP Median equity score High equity score Target?
Rashad Jennings RB21 3 (RB18) 10 (RB11) Yes
Bishop Sankey RB22 -1 (RB23) 5 (RB17)
Shane Vereen RB23 7 (RB16) 12 (RB11) Yes
Trent Richardson RB24 -4 (RB28) 7 (RB17)
Chris Johnson RB25 -9 (RB34) 1 (RB24)
Ray Rice RB26 -6 (RB32) 5 (RB21)
Joique Bell RB27 2 (RB25) 9 (RB18) Yes
Ben Tate RB28 2 (RB26) 10 (RB18) Yes
Lamar Miller RB29 4 (RB25) 8 (RB21)  Yes
Stevan Ridley RB30 -6 (RB36) 3 (RB27)

 

  • Bernard Pierce, who was downright dominant in limited opportunity during his 2012 rookie campaign, has reportedly outplayed Rice so far in Baltimore’s training camp. ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley charged that Pierce “has had the best transition to Kubiak’s stretch, zone-blocking runs” — a run-blocking system that has birthed more than a few fantasy superstars, and one with which Pierce is deeply familiar from his college career.
  • Bell notched a solid 1.1 fantasy points per touch in 2013. That’s not good — it’s great. New Detroit offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has said Bell and Bush will assume “split roles” in 2014. Bell averaged 13.7 touches per game last season — a number I don’t expect to change a whole lot this year. His high score admittedly leaves something to be desired.
Player ADP Median equity score High equity score Target?
Steven Jackson RB31 4 (RB27) 9 (RB22) Yes
Pierre Thomas RB32 5 (RB27) 10 (RB22) Yes
Maurice Jones-Drew RB33 -2 (RB35) 9 (RB24)
Darren Sproles RB34 2 (RB32) 11 (RB23)
Terrance West RB35 -1 (RB36) 3 (RB32)
Bernard Pierce RB36 5 (RB31) 16 (RB20) Yes
Danny Woodhead RB37 6 (RB31) 13 (RB24)
Fred Jackson RB38 8 (RB30) 17 (RB21) Yes
Darren McFadden RB39 0 (RB39) 7 (RB32)
DeAngelo Williams RB40 4 (RB36) 10 (RB30)
  • He’s three years away from collecting Social Security, but Fred Jackson — fantasy’s No. 11 running back in 2013 — is once again terribly under-drafted. I’m surprised his median prospects aren’t better, and I think his high equity score is on the conservative side. Jackson gets (almost) all the red zone carries in a run-heavy offense. Yes, please.
  • SJax is already breaking down in Falcons’ training camp. These numbers are based on 16-game seasons, but I could hardly blame anyone who wants to bank on a runner with a million miles on his Nikes.
  • Before you draft Woodhead, remember that while he was a top-12 PPR option in 2013, he was RB20 in standard scoring. Like Julian Edelman, Woodhead is a PPR-dependent player.

 

Player ADP Median equity score High equity score Target?
Devonta Freeman RB41 -4 (RB45) 4 (RB37)
Khiry Robinson RB42 -14 (RB56) -3 (RB45)
Jeremy Hill RB43 10 (RB33) 17 (RB26) Yes
Knowshon Moreno RB44 -8 (RB52) 4 (RB40)
Carlos Hyde RB45 1 (RB44) 3 (RB42)
Andre Williams RB46 8 (RB38) 18 (RB28) Yes
Christine Michael RB47 -14 (RB61) -2 (RB49)
LeGarrette Blount RB48 7 (RB41) 15 (RB33)
Chris Ivory RB49 3 (RB46) 10 (RB39)
Ahmad Bradshaw RB50 3 (RB47) 12 (RB38)

 

  •  Williams is a fantastic value here, though it won’t last long. Within hours of Williams punching it in at the goal line in New York’s first preseason tilt, I saw Williams fly off the board in the eighth round. He was a final-round flier just hours earlier. He’s not going to catch passes, he’s going to score touchdowns, and he could see a reliable weekly workload in a Giants’ offense that is now without the retired David Wilson and the injured Peyton Hillis.
  • There’s no certainly at all that Michael would get a starter’s workload if Marshawn Lynch were to miss time. I see him as something close to a wasted pick, with fantasy owners letting their dynasty love spill over into re-draft leagues. I would draft Robert Turbin as a handcuff to Lynch, if you’re into that sort of thing.

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