Quarter Season Review - Running Backs

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By: Ryan Hawks (@RyanWorldEater)
Running backs are like gold in fantasy football. Having a good stable of running backs can make or break a fantasy team’s season. There are so few of them, and they seem to be the most often injured, likely because they take more of a beating than any other position in football. Their short shelf-life, and the league’s overall movement towards emphasizing passing and big plays started to see running backs devalued. Then, a flush of fresh blood into the position put them right back to the top of fantasy drafts.

Quarter Season Review – Running Backs

In fact, of the top four scorers in both Standard and PPR scoring have not been in the league for more than three years. Kareem Hunt and Leonard Fournette are rookies. Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon are in their third year. Talented backs like these are killing the narrative that feature backs are dead, because these guys are dominating.

Here is a list of the top ten running backs in both Standard and PPR Leagues:


1        Kareem Hunt          KC     122.5 6          20.4

2        Leonard Fournette  JAC    115.2 6           19.2

3        Todd Gurley           LAR    114.6 6           19.1

4        Melvin Gordon        LAC    99.8   6          16.6

5        Le'Veon Bell           PIT     94.6   6         15.8

6        Jordan Howard       CHI    77.2   6          12.9

7        Carlos Hyde           SF      74.2   6          12.4

8        Chris Thompson     WAS   73.5   5          14.7

9        Devonta Freeman   ATL    73.4   5          14.7

10      Ezekiel Elliott         DAL    70.7   5          14.1


1        Kareem Hunt          KC      143.5 6          23.9

2        Todd Gurley            LAR    137.6 6        22.9

3        Leonard Fournette   JAC    130.2 6         21.7

4        Melvin Gordon        LAC    127.8 6         21.3

5        Le'Veon Bell           PIT     124.6 6        20.8

6        Carlos Hyde           SF      97.2   6        16.2

7        Chris Thompson     WAS   91.5   5          18.3

8        Jordan Howard       CHI    88.2   6          14.7

9        Ezekiel Elliott         DAL    87.7   5          17.5

10      Christian McCaffrey CAR    86.7   6          14.5

Quarter Season Eaters

Return of the Gurley-Man

Los Angeles Rams ball carrier Todd Gurley is the third highest scoring running back in standard leagues, and second highest in PPR leagues. There is a lot more surprise for this than there should be. Gurley saw his stock plummet before this year’s draft. This was because he was a humongous disappointment in his sophomore season.

This should also not be a surprise. Gurley was in about as bad of a position as a back can be in last year. With Mr. Mediocre, Jeff Fisher as head coach during the 2016 season, the Rams had zero offense other than Gurley. The Rams started the season with pedestrian signal caller Case Keenum, before switching over to number one overall pick Jared Goff, who was obviously not ready for the job quite yet.

Outside of that, the Rams best player was the highest paid gadget guy in history, Tavon Austin. He provided a less than complex array of jet sweeps and wide receiver screens that didn’t fool anyone. Basically, for their first year in tinsel town, the Rams were the Todd Gurley Show, and it was on air 24-7.

That’s a lot for a second year guy to take on. It’s not a lot for defenses to plan for. Gurley saw stacked boxes all year, and obviously tried to do too much and put the team on his back. He turned into one of the biggest non-injury fantasy busts of 2016.

This year is a different story. The Rams have a new, great offensive mastermind in Sean McVay. They also overhauled their receiver corps, putting robbing the Buffalo Bills of Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, and then drafting slot expert Cooper Kupp. Austin looks to be somehow relegated to backup running back duties.

The results have rejuvenated Gurley. In five out of six weeks this year, he’s scored double digit fantasy points. He’s even been catching a lot of passes, making him extra valuable in PPR leagues. Even though Watkins hasn’t done much statistically, there is no doubt he has helped Gurley, since defenses have respect the threat of the deep ball. Woods and Kupp also add extra dimensions in the pass game that free up Gurley for those short passes.

Expect the Gurley-Man to continue eating good all year!

So is He a Running Back or Receiver?

One of the most interesting names on this list has got to be Washington Redskins scat back, Chris Thompson. Pass catching backs like Danny Woodhead and Darren Sproles have been staples of PPR leagues for a long time. They catch a lot of short passes that pick up a first down on third and four or five, but get almost no yards in actual carries.

Chris Thompson fits this mold – for the most part. He only has a miniscule 179 yards rushing on the season. 61 yards of that came on one rush that went for a touchdown. That is over one third of his total. It’s obvious from those numbers that he is not a bell cow that we usually see in the top ten of standard league running backs. Still he’s number eight in standard, one spot lower than his seventh spot in PPR. This is because Thompson has been turning third and four runs into long gainers, averaging a crazy 18.9 yards per reception.

He is first in the league by a huge margin for yards per reception, with Oakland Raiders running back Jalen Richard averaging only 12.8. Overall, he is fifth in the entire league, sandwiched right in between home hitters T.Y. Hilton and Stefon Diggs.

The question about Thompson is if he is likely to keep it up. His numbers right now are pretty unsustainable. Although he is on pace for over 1,000 yards receiving, only four running backs have ever managed to accomplish that. The last one to do so was Marshall Faulk in 1999. Not even beast all-purpose backs like David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell have not been able to do it.

Thompson is not likely to do so either. Expect him to come back down to earth soon. The best to do with him could be to trade him away while he still has his fantasy spotlight.

The Bunks of the Fantasy World

A Shade of Himself

It’s tempting to mention David Johnson here in the fantasy busters section, but let’s give the guy a break. He got injured, and there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that he would be right up in the Eaters section if he were still here.

Instead, let’s first talk about Buffalo Bills back LeSean McCoy. Where is he in the top ten? Oh wait he’s not in there. Not even in PPR, where he has made a living on being an all-purpose back for a long time. He’s currently ranked 25th in standard leagues, and 15th in PPR scoring.

That might be it. He’s been in the league for a long time, at least by running standards. He’s been dominating the league since 2009, making him like 89 in running back years. He didn’t show signs of slowing down last year, but age usually catches running backs in one fell swoop rather than slowly and steadily.

Shady’s rushing yards per carry is at a horrible 3.2 going into Sunday, and week one was his only game where he went over 100 yards. Even adding in his receiving yards, he also hasn’t topped 100 all-purpose yards since week one.

The Bills are going to continue to feed McCoy, because they really don’t have anyone else, but it’s really not paying off. We may be seeing McCoy in his last days.

Was He Crowned Too Soon?

Another back who has bunked out this year is Miami Dolphins ball carrier Jay Ajayi. He set the fantasy world on fire last season when he had two straight games with 200 yards rushing, and then added a third one later in the season.

So far this season, he hasn’t even topped the yards he got in those two 200 yard games. Sitting at 391 yards, he is currently 32nd in standard scoring, and 35th in PPR. To his credit, he has played one less game than many backs, since he got his bye early in week one. He also had 130 yards on the ground last week.

Still, between weeks 3-5, he combined for only 139 yards rushing, and still hasn’t found the end zone yet this year. His average draft position was an early second round pick. Players who go that high are expected to be consistent performers who don’t have a lot of dud weeks.

His three weeks of subpar stats definitely didn’t cut it for teams, and made a lot of owners nervous. It might not have completely been Ajayi’s fault though. The Dolphins offense looked out of sync for the beginning part of the season, but seems to be getting on track the last few weeks.

Last week is probably more of what we should expect from Ajayi moving forward. The only worry will be if he can start finding the end zone. Owners should keep him around and not listen to any offers that try to buy him low.

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