Just as we did yesterday with the quarterback position, we’re continuing to set a foundation of looking back on this past fantasy season as we move forward in preparing for the new year. Today, we’re looking at the totality of usage and production for the running back position.
League RB Usage Over the Past 10 Years
|YEAR||TOUCHES||RUATT||RuTD||TGT||REC||ReTD||ST. FF PTS||PPR PTS.||LG. TCH%|
After backs had their highest-scoring fantasy output of the past 10 years in 2018, there was some immediate recoil this past season but the position itself trailed only that 2018 campaign in terms of fantasy points in both standard and PPR formats.
Running backs received an uptick in overall touches and leaguewide share of touches in 2019 compared to the 2018 season, but still remain significantly lower from a decade ago. A strength in the elevation for fantasy scoring while touches have declined has been the increased receiving output for backs and how the league has improved at replacing rushing touches with more receiving opportunities.
Carries were on the decline while targets in the passing game were rising. This was a tide that raised all ships as a running back target is worth 2.5 times more fantasy value than rushing attempt in PPR formats while holding a 1.3 times edge in standard scoring. Backs caught at least 2,700 passes for the third straight season and receiving touchdowns remain high overall. Backs have now caught 95 or more touchdowns in each of the past six seasons after averaging 76 per season 2008-2013.
Receiving numbers remained considerably higher in 2019 compared to 10 years ago, but receiving output for backfields has appeared to level out a bit after reaching an apex in the 2017 season. Backs garnered 245 more rushing attempts this past season than 2018, which boosted their overall touches, while their leaguewide rates in the receiving game dipped a touch across the board in rate of overall targets, receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns and fantasy points for the second straight season compared to the year prior after their spike season in 2017.
RB Receiving Game Rates Compared to Leaguewide Usage and Production
|Year||TGT%||Rec%||ReYd%||ReTD%||RB FF RePt%|
Christian McCaffrey was the only back last season to have at least 20% of his team targets in the passing game after four backs reached that mark in 2018. Six backs held a 15% target share or higher after nine individual backs hit that mark the year prior. That still allowed fantasy scoring weight to those backs getting work in the receiving game. McCaffrey turned in the biggest seasonal advantage for any RB1 ever, while players like Austin Ekeler and Leonard Fournette leaned on career highs in the receiving game this season to RB1 fantasy seasons. But that dip in overall receiving output as a position held less overall weight among the highest scorers at the position in 2019 than previous seasons.
RB1 Receiving Production
|YEAR||PPR RB1 REC.||PPR REYD||PPR RETD||ST RB1 REC.||ST. REYD||ST. RETD||PPR Pts||St Pts|
Receiving production accounted for 41.8% of the fantasy points scored by RB1 performers in PPR formats and 26.0% in standard leagues. For comparison sake, those marks were 49.7% and 47.6% in PPR formats the previous two seasons while they were 35.4% and 32.1% in standard formats those seasons.
Even with the dip, receiving output for backs remains tangibly higher than in the NFL a decade ago and is elevated from a raw total stance by the overall inflation of the passing volume in today’s game compared to that time.
You still want a back that contributes in the receiving component of the offense given the weight those touches have over rushing usage, but if receiving use among backs is leveling out and truly reached its crescendo, then that keeps the door open for backs such as Derrick Henry (84.9% of his PPR fantasy points came via rushing), Nick Chubb (77.4%), Josh Jacobs (81.9%), and Marlon Mack (86.7%) to maintain a level of fantasy relevancy that was trending towards being incapable of producing higher-end fantasy output on par with elite pass catchers at the position that also contributed in the running game.