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Thursday 21st Sep 2017

Now we’re into the meat of the Fantasy Baseball season, and with hoops and hockey in their respective league finals, much of the fantasy world is shifting focus to football. With the New England Patriots winning title after title without a star running back, and Drew Brees and the Saints throwing all over the field to receivers for years, many teams have gone with specialty backs, abandoning the stud three-down bulldozers, using the horrid “Running Back by Committee” (RBBC) as a more effective means of knocking defenses off kilter.

This is indeed an interesting and fairly well documented shift, but I wondered about the efficiency of using an RBBC over a “Bell Cow” Running Back with the uptick in passes thrown. So I broke the numbers down. The top chart shows the increase in Wide Receiver numbers, as more WR's gained 1000 yards and grabbed 100 receptions. 

# of Receptions 2015 2011 2006
100 7 2 2
90 2 7 3
80 9 18 10
1000 Rec Yds. 26 18 19

Clearly, the game has evolved into a passing game, and if teams do not have the “classic” three-down back, they improvise and go with a committee, and the numbers below correspond, showing us as the pass totals move up, the number of RB's with 300 or more carries has fallen.

# of Carries 2015 2011 2006
300 1 2 9
250 4 7 10
200 9 7 9
Bell Cows 8 16/18* 23

So, while looking at player rankings in preparation for drafts this year, I tried to identify if there were any Bell Cows—players with a minimum of 45 receptions and 250 carries—and determined there are only four such players who are worthy of building a fantasy roster around. 

1) LeVeon Bell - Pittsburgh
2) David Johnson - Arizona
3) Todd Gurley - Los Angeles
4) Adrian Peterson - Minnesota

Then there are five more possible Bell Cow candidates, though with question marks: 

5) Doug Martin – Tampa Bay
6) Jamaal Charles – Kansas City
7) Lamar Miller – Houston
8) Devonta Freeman – Atlanta
9) Ezekiel Elliott – Dallas

Though all of these players have a fine resume (or what looks to be one), it is tough to use a top selection on one of them due to injury, workload, and adjustments to either a new team or a rookie adjustment to the NFL. So, while just five short years ago, the NFL boasted 16-18 legit Bell Cow running backs, the numbers above indicate that there are now less than ten.

And, though there are a handful of up-and-comers--Melvin Gordon (Chargers), Karlos Williams (Bills), Thomas Rawls (Seahawks) and T.J. Yeldon (Jaguars)—many franchises are indeed playing tandems a la Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard with the Bengals, which might help the Cincinnati offense, but not anyone's fantasy team.

Ideally, I would still push towards grabbing one of those top four RBs--despite the pass happy NFL trends--as a top pick in serpentine drafts. In fact, I would use my #2 selection for another RB if a top flight wide receiver I covet gets sniped, trying to exploit a position in flux while my league mates look to Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins.

That is because though there are fewer good options at Running Back, there will still be a number of wide receivers, such as Julian Edelman, Golden Tate, and even Brandon Marshall, availabe in the third round while the number of legit running backs would likely be depleted.

But, though the days of Larry Johnson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Shaun Alexander and Emmitt Smith might be over, Todd Gurley, David Johnson and a healthy LeVeon Bell are so productive that they make up the next generation of running backs a team will plan an offense around.

If you draft Eddie Lacy early, be prepared to pay for James Starks, just not in the next round. But remember that should you pick someone like Lacy, subsequent selections will involve the RB handcuffs, and that could interfere with drafting a balanced roster.

It’s early, and there is still plenty of time to think and re-think and think again about your numerous draft strategies. Enjoy the summer, but don’t take too much time off like my brother Dan, who asks me to print cheat sheets for him at the last minute and bring them to the draft. There are those who earn, and those who donate. Try to avoid being the latter.

Comments   

0 #1 Polka 2016-06-10 15:43
* Houston had two running backs with over 925 yards that year with Arian Foster and Benjamin Tate
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