Punch Drunk Wonderland

Week 1 Analysis: Running Backs are Dead. Long Live Running Backs.

Running-Backs-Down-Week1Week 1 is in the books and running backs are a scarcity on the fantasy football leader boards.  Of the Top 50 standard format scoring leaders, there are only 6 running backs (and two of those are on the same team!). Considering RBs are the hot commodity off the board early in most fantasy football drafts, this low level of production likely has fantasy owners pulling their hair out.

Based on Average Draft Position data there were typically 14 running backs selected in the first 24 picks (2 rounds in 12-team snake drafts) in 2013 fantasy leagues.  Of those 14 running backs, four made an appearance in the Top 50 fantasy scorers in Week 1. In fact, only three more of those top 14 running backs drafted appear in the Top 100.  That means seven of the 14 running backs typically selected in the first two rounds of fantasy drafts DID NOT land within the Top 100 of all fantasy scorers in Week 1 of 2013. Is this a sign of the death of the fantasy running back?

Week 1 of 2013 marked the first time in which the average of the Top 10 wide receiver fantasy scoring surpassed the average of the Top 10 running back scoring in standard formats. In fact, it wasn’t even close. On average, the Top 10 receivers scored roughly 4 points more than the Top 10 running backs. It’s just one week, but based on this one week it looks like the days of the fantasy stud running back are definitely waning.

It’s a very small sample size, so these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. However, what should be taken away is that the running-back-by-committee approach that many teams are taking is changing the face of the running back position in fantasy football. The passing game continues to become a more prominent part of the game, and the value of wide receivers in fantasy is ever growing. Perhaps the days of running backs dominating the early rounds of fantasy drafts could be coming to an end.

That said, I’m excited to see where this takes us. How will the running back committees be leveraged in fantasy football? Will franchise owners actually have the courage to start two backs from the same team with confidence? If you started Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in Week 1 you’d be happy. Further, this cranks up the value of the super elite and ever shrinking top tier running backs. Let’s see how 2013 plays out, and maybe in 2014 we’ll be rethinking our draft strategies.

Below is a look at the Top 10 fantasy scorers among running backs in Week 1 from 2008 to 2013.  Notice the marked decline this season.

2008 2009 2010
Michael Turner 34.6 Adrian Peterson 37.8 Arian Foster 41.8
Willie Parker 31.8 Thomas Jones 21.7 Matt Forte 31.3
Reggie Bush 22.3 Fred Jackson 19.7 Chris Johnson 27.0
Marion Barber III 22.1 Julius Jones 19.6 Darren McFadden 21.0
Brian Westbrook 20.7 Willis McGahee 19.5 Rashard Mendenhall 29.5
Frank Gore 20.6 Maurice Jones-Drew 18.3 Jamaal Charles 16.0
Matt Forte 20.1 Frank Gore 16.8 Jahvid Best 15.6
Chris Johnson 18.7 Cedric Benson 16.8 Pierre Thomas 14.6
Adrian Peterson 17.4 Cadillac Williams 15.7 Ronnie Brown 14.5
Thomas Jones 16.3 Derrick Ward 14.3 Ahmad Bradshaw 14.8
TOTAL 224.6 TOTAL 200.2 TOTAL 226.1


2011 2012 2013
Mike Tolbert 27.3 C.J. Spiller 24.9 Adrian Peterson 29.1
Ray Rice 26.9 Alfred Morris 21.6 Reggie Bush 25.1
LeSean McCoy 25.7 Ray Rice 21.3 LeSean McCoy 24.9
Matt Forte 21.8 Stevan Ridley 21.2 Joique Bell 21.2
Cedric Benson 18.3 Kevin Smith 21.1 Jamaal Charles 16.0
Ben Tate 17.8 Adrian Peterson 20.7 Shane Vereen 15.9
Maurice Jones-Drew 15.7 Arian Foster 19.5 Matt Forte 15.1
Tim Hightower 15.7 Matt Forte 18.0 Ray Rice 13.1
Beanie Wells 15.6 Frank Gore 17.3 Eddie Lacy 12.7
Darren McFadden 15.6 Michael Bush 16.2 Darren McFadden 12.6
TOTAL 200.4 TOTAL 201.8 TOTAL 185.7


Year WR Avg. RB Avg.
2008 15.63 22.46
2009 16.84 20.02
2010 18.3 22.61
2011 19.95 20.04
2012 18.16 20.18
2013 22.74 18.57


K. Smelser About K. Smelser
Kelly Smelser is Owner/Senior Writer for Punch Drunk Wonderland and PDFantasy Sports. Architect of the PDW fantasy football world and general spinster of NFL and Fantasy Football news and analysis. Long walks on the beach, sunsets, and other such niceties are also fine...