League Winning Upside Running Backs in 2020 Fantasy Football

by Nick Ercolano June 23, 2020 11 Comments

League Winning Upside Running Backs in 2020 Fantasy Football

So, I wanted to look at real, league-winning running backs. Not like, oh yeah if Kenyan Drake goes down Chase Edmonds, league-winner. Edmonds, good player, could be a good piece of your team that pushes you forward, but real, legitimate league-winning backs. Christian McCaffrey. Todd Gurley, 2017, 2018, the guys who if you have rostered give you a near 75% chance of being in the championship.

So, I decided that a league-winning RB is an RB that averages 20+ fantasy points in a season. That's legitimate league-winning, not a lot of those. They are truly elite. 

I used Rotoviz Screener App (paid) to narrow down all of the running backs over the last 12 years to identify all of the RBs that averaged over 20+ FPs/game (half ppr) in a season, minimum 12 games played - that narrowed it down to 20 running backs over the last 12 years - which sounds about right 1.66/year so 1 or 2 of them a year.

What I wanted to do, was look at similarities in these backs, from a lot of different angles - touches, touchdowns, receptions, targets, team OFF PPG, team o-line ranks to see if it were possible to identify who might be a possible league-winning back in 2020.

 So, let's take a look at this chart and what we can decipher from it.

One thing I noticed and particularly wanted to look at immediately was just the passing work.

17 of the 20 RBs on here had:

  • 65+ targets on the year
  • over 4.0 targets/game

Being involved in the receiving game, if you weren't sure, is uhh kind of important to hit any sort of ceiling.

So, those three that didn't hit 65 targets or average more than 4 targets/game - Zeke in 2016, actually his rookie year. DeMarco Murry two years prior also in Dallas that monster 450-touch workload and Adrian Peterson in 2012, where he fell 8 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's (2105) single-season rushing yard record.

What did these three have in common? Right side of the chart? No surprise, offensive line - that was peak Dallas bully dominant offensive line - Ranked #5 in 2016 for Zeke and #2 for DeMarco in 2014 in terms of run-blocking. The Vikings were #3 in RBing for AP in 2012. These numbers are per PFF and Football Outsiders.

So, we got a guy who isn't going to be very involved in pass-catching - that o-line better be bullying mfs.

What else I noticed, and loved - the 20+ carry/game narrative - even for a league-winning back is so far overblown. Look at the carry/game column with a lot of red in it. 12-of-20 (60%) of these backs averaged 18.6 carries/game or fewer, we had a 17.9, 16.3, 14.6, 13.7, 12.9, 17.3. As we know in fantasy, a target/reception is worth far more than a single carry.

Being on a good offense, obviously translates as well - more scoring opportunites. As we know targets/receptions are worth more than a single carry, well, a carry inside the 10-yard line is also worth far more than a carry outside of the 10-yard line. The better the offense is, the more you're staying on the field, the more overall opportunity you're getting, the more scoring chances you have.

Of the 20 RBs on this list

  • 19-of-20 (95%) were on an offense who were inside the top half of scoring offenses, top-16 in the league or better. Only Christian McCaffrey, last year, was on an offense who ranked outside of the top half of the league in PPG or worse (they were 20th in the league in scoring). As you can see there, CMac was just a flat out god, his 25.8 fppg last year were tops among all the RBs on this list. Don't expect more seasons like CMacs last year from anyone, for a long time.
  • 14-of-20 (70%) were on a team that was ranked top-12 in scoring.
  • 11-of-20 (55%) were on a team that was ranked top-10 in scoring.
  • 9-of-20 (45%) were on a team that was ranked top-6 in scoring. That's a pretty substantial percentage for a very narrow margin of where your team can land in scoring.

So, again, top-scoring offense obviously makes this a much easier feat to accomplish.

So, I wanted to make a very simplistic chart looking at the backs this year I think have somewhat of a possibility of making this happen, league-winning guys outside of the obvious - I took Cmac, Saquon and Zeke off because they've all already been on the list and are being drafted inside the top 5 if not are the top 3 picks off the board.

 

So I narrowed it down to three basic categories - I know this is very simplistic and much else needs to be taken into consideration, but I think it gives a very strong, birds-eye-view that will help you look at some players differently.

I looked at guys that would catch over 50+ passes, and tried to be completely objective about it. I looked at their respective offenses, what they ranked in PPG last year and their RBing offensive line.

Dalvin Cook, is almost a cheat given he averaged like 19/ppg last year so no surprise he's green in all three columns.

Miles Sanders checks the most boxes next up. And again, not surprised at all, I really believe he has league-winning upside. The question becomes, as his price continues to soar, are you okay with the downside he presents. As we saw in the previous chart, you don't need 20+ carries/game, most of them were at 18, or 17 which is right around Sanders' wheelhouse, assuming they don't bring anyone else in. 50 catches, for sure, he did that last year in limited time. Offense top-12, they finished 15th last year, without like 70% of their weapons on the field, I put them in blue because they're borderline and likely taking a step up this year - the last one gets tricky - given the injury to Brandon Brooks. Brooks was literally PFF's top-graded guard in the NFL last year, overall and #1 for RBing - that hurts. Howie better be on the phone lines getting Jason Peters byke in the building. This could be a big blow to them of course. They finished comfortably inside the top-12 last year at 7th overall, do they fade away into the middle-of-the-pack? I still believe they can be a decent run-blocking unit in 2020.

I won't go through all of the players here, but also no surprise Henry is atop the list there - as we said if you're not catching passes - the o-line better be damn good and they were - #5 overall in RBing last year, the offensive #8. The Roger Saffold signing was brilliant, finished as the #5 overall graded guard last year.  One thing to really note here though, the reason the Rams line started deteriorating is because of a move like that - letting Saffold walk - Jack Conkin, huge piece of this offense last year - number #6 overall graded RBing tackle in the NFL last year - he's on CLV now.

So, you can take a look at the rest of the list but I want to finish on the bottom. 

 

Pause.

 

The bottom of this chart.

 

Joe Mixon and Nick Chubb. I think people's imaginations are running wild on these two, and are not registering that these guys aren't ceiling plays - they're floor plays if we're being honest. Mixon, can he catch 50 passes - I wanted to put no, but I knew people would be mad and annoying if I did - so I left it at maybe for you. Is he capable of doing it, sure - but what over the first 3 years says he will? Gio is still there - His career-high in targets is 55, in receptions is 43 and he took a step back in the receiving game last year despite this team finishing 30th in scoring. Here's a big fact for ya 

That added with them not being a good offense and having a bad offensive line. Will they take a step up from last year? Of course, with Joe Burrow - Jonah Wiliams coming back, but even a MASSIVE step up would barely have them flirting with top half of the NFL numbers. I like Mixon this year, but I would be absolutely shocked if he was a league-winner.

Same goes with Chubb. I think we can safely say he ain't catching 50 passes with Hunt there, would be surprised to see him get 20 targets.

 

In the 8 games Hunt was on the field for, Chubb averaged 2.25 targets and 1.38 receptions (36 targets - 22 receptions over 16 games).

Chubb could definitely still see 300+ carries and he has the breakaway speed and elusiveness to make a big fantasy impact, but like the Bengals with Mixon, they're a team who we need an almost unpredictable offensive season for Chubb to fit the bill. Does their offense take a step forward, almost definitely, does their offensive line - yes and that's what makes me excited for Chubb as well - as I said, Henry loses Jack Conklin, the Browns get him, along with using their 1st round, 10th overall pick on Jedrick Wills who is a beast run-blocker. So it's possible the Browns take a huge leap in the blocking category which would put Chubb in that range of the Zeke's, Murrays, APs who are great runners behind great offensive lines - but the latter might be a reach for Cleveland this year - and none of them had Hunt, an all-pro back sharing the backfield. Lot of potentials and what-ifs for Chubb. Good 2nd round pick, but doesn't have the league-winning upside imo until probably next year.



Nick Ercolano
Nick Ercolano

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I get it. I like it. Can’t be burned like I did w/ Damien Williams last year. Just screams another potential RBBC.

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