100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 7: Backup running backs aren’t much worse than starters.
Today’s tip comes from my new book Fantasy Football for Smart People: How Fantasy Football Pros Game Plan to Win. It’s from the chapter on handcuffing running backs.
Comparing starting running back bulk stats—yards, touchdowns, receptions, etc—with those for backups would be pretty useless since starters obviously get more opportunities. Thus, the best way to determine overall talent is probably just to look at their rushing efficiency.
From 2009 to 2013, backups were more efficient than starters in two seasons. Is that surprising? Not really, since we know running back is a very dependent position. You could argue that a running back’s production is more the result of factors outside of his control, like the strength of his offensive line, than his own talent.
Further, don’t forget that backup running backs get fewer carries and, often times, a higher quality of touches—both of which should allow them to maintain greater efficiency. Here’s the total difference for the entire five-year period studied.
You can barely make out a difference. Starting running backs have averaged 4.24 YPC, compared to 4.17 YPC for backups. Whether we’d expect greater efficiency from backups or not, that’s a very small difference.
I think this has very direct implications on running back strategy in both season-long and daily leagues following an injury to a starter.