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2013 Consistency Breakdown: Running backs

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Consistency Breakdowns: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs

There probably aren't many running backs that come to mind when you think about consistent Fantasy players. Longevity isn't a common thread among rushers and when they do go down they're easy to replace (right, Tampa Bay?).

While this is the case, Fantasy owners have long believed that great running backs are a huge key to winning league titles. It's not necessarily true but it's still important to have strong running backs as part of the Fantasy game. Finding the right one, even in Round 1, is not a sure thing. Take note: Over the last seven seasons, there have been no fewer than four and no more than six running backs who finished as Top 12 options in consecutive years. The turnover is more than 50 percent year-over-year. That's not good -- and maybe enough reason to take another position in Round 1.

Now, while there's a perception that running back production took a major dip in Fantasy last year, the reality is that it didn't. Not unless you consider one-tenth of a Fantasy point a major dip. In 2012 the Top 12 running backs averaged 13.4 Fantasy points per game. That number was 13.3 in 2013, essentially remaining the same. There were 334 times a running back had 10-plus Fantasy points in 2012 -- and in 2013 there were 338. In business that's called "flat growth."

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We're going to have a lot of time to determine the best plan of attack for running backs this season. For now, let's focus on those that hit the 10-point barrier. The equivalent of 100 rush yards or a touchdown and 40 yards, 10 Fantasy points is a positive result for a Fantasy rusher. It's a number Jamaal Charles exceeded in 13 of 15 games this season. It doesn't get any better than that, and unfortunately it's pretty rare.

Finding players who had sneaky-good consistency versus those who posted a lot of Fantasy points but weren't reliable from week to week is an important exercise. If anything, it helps paint a picture of who to go after and who to pass on in drafts next summer. But it also shows the backs that were good enough to rely on week after week alongside those who weren't as good.

Consistent: Knowshon Moreno

Fantasy point average: 13.8 over 16 games / 10+ points: 11 of 16 games (68.8 pct.)
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 TOTAL
FPTS 5 22 3 14 20 28 10 18 0 10 7 28 14 16 4 9 12 220

Moreno continued a trend that Fantasy owners have long recognized: The main running back behind Peyton Manning has a great chance at putting up numbers. Moreno accomplished just that, finishing as not only the fifth-best running back in Fantasy in 2013, but also the fifth-most consistent. It's easily his best season as a pro, salvaging his career just in time to get a new contract. Moreno's the kind of back most will look at as "old" (he'll be 27 next summer) and unlikely to repeat his big numbers in 2014. But if the Broncos give him a financial commitment this offseason then he'll absolutely be a part of that offense -- and that could mean more steady statistics.

Consistent: Le'Veon Bell

Fantasy point average: 12.3 over 13 games / 10+ points: 8 of 13 games (61.5 pct.)
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 TOTAL
FPTS 0 0 0 19 0 5 9 10 13 14 8 9 19 7 16 16 15 160

Would you believe that Bell's 11 games with 10-plus Fantasy points could have been so much more? Not only did Bell miss three games with an injury, but he also had two games with nine points, missing out on double digits by seven rush yards and two receiving yards in Weeks 7 and 12! Bell proved to be a solid lead back with good receiving skills (45 catches as a rookie). Between that and his impressive 96.8 total yards per game average, Bell is ticketed for a first-round pick in drafts next summer with the hope he can become more consistent than he was as a rookie.

Consistent: Frank Gore

Fantasy point average: 10.4 over 16 games / 10+ points: 10 of 16 games (62.5 pct.)
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 TOTAL
FPTS 12 2 10 19 14 10 22 17 0 10 4 3 8 11 8 15 1 166

Gore finished tied for 10th in consistency while falling just eight points shy of being a Top 12 running back. Not bad for a 30-year-old with over 2,200 career carries. While Gore was consistent, he also wasn't an overachiever. Of all the backs with at least 10 games with 10-plus points, Gore averaged the fewest amount of Fantasy points per game with 10.4. He also averaged 4.1 yards per carry -- his lowest rushing average in his career believe it or not -- while catching just 16 passes, second-lowest in his career. As he gets older and the 49ers become even more versatile, it's going to be tough to expect another solid season from Gore.

Consistent: Ryan Mathews

Fantasy point average: 10.9 over 15 games / 10+ points: 11 of 15 games (73.3 pct.)
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 TOTAL
FPTS 11 5 5 10 0 10 17 0 3 11 13 12 9 19 18 17 15 175

A lot of people will point to Mathews and say he "finally broke out." Not true. Mathews finished as a Top 12 rusher in 2011 and actually had as many total touchdowns as a rookie as he had in 2013. Mathews just got a lot of opportunities -- 285 carries is far and away a career high. The 11 games with 10-plus points is also a career-high -- he had just one last year and nine in his 2011 season. Kudos to Mike McCoy and the Chargers, who found a way to use him very effectively. It figures to be another good year in 2014, if he re-signs with the Bolts.

Inconsistent: Chris Johnson

Fantasy point average: 11.8 over 16 games / 10+ points: 7 of 16 games (43.8 pct.)
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 TOTAL
FPTS 7 9 9 3 13 5 16 0 29 5 20 7 15 8 15 9 19 189

Here's the three-year trend with Johnson: He's struggles in his first six games before playing better in his final 10. From 2011-13, he's averaged 6.8 Fantasy points per game in his first six, 12.4 in his last 10. That formula has helped him put up just enough stats to finish as a Top 20 Fantasy running back in each of his last three seasons, and a Top 12 guy each of his last two. In 2013, he finished three games with nine Fantasy points, the most of any running back. So if he had posted four more rush yards in Week 2, 10 more in Week 3 and another 10 in Week 16, he would have had 10 games with 10-plus, making him far more consistent. By now you'll know what you're getting with him, making him a decent No. 2 option, depending on where he plays and what his role winds up being.

Inconsistent: Maurice Jones-Drew

Fantasy point average: 8.9 over 15 games / 10+ points: 7 of 15 games (46.7 pct.)
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 TOTAL
FPTS 4 2 11 2 8 13 4 11 0 13 9 20 13 12 0 6 6 134

On average, MJD was the 16th running back taken on Draft Day and he finished as the 19th. That's not too horrible. Seven games with eight Fantasy points or less? That's kind of horrible. But it was also somewhat expected after Jones-Drew hurt his foot last season and played with a drab Jacksonville offense this year. He had seven games with 10-plus Fantasy points but just one with more than 13 -- that's as many as he had last season when he played only five games. No doubt the arrow is pointing down on Jones-Drew, particularly since his future is very much in flux this offseason.

Inconsistent: Alfred Morris

Fantasy point average: 10.0 over 16 games / 10+ points: 8 of 16 games (50.0 pct.)
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 TOTAL
FPTS 8 11 13 7 0 14 9 15 18 13 9 5 10 3 5 14 6 160

Last year, Alf was good for a 10-point game 75 percent of the time. This year he did it half the time, a disappointing drop-off for one of the league's young runners. Some obvious factors: Morris had 59 fewer carries and six fewer touchdowns in 2013. Considering that his rushing average was still a very strong 4.6 yards per game, that left about 300 yards on the sideline. That could have come in handy. The good news is that if new Redskins coach Jay Gruden sticks with his philosophies from his days with the Bengals, then Morris should have a stranglehold on the goal-line job.

Inconsistent: Pierre Thomas

Fantasy point average: 7.4 over 16 games / 10+ points: 3 of 16 games (18.8 pct.)
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 TOTAL
FPTS 5 3 5 3 20 5 0 8 8 22 7 12 2 2 8 0 8 118

Thomas might have been the best Saints running back, but he still left his Fantasy owners wanting more. Thomas had three games with 10-plus Fantasy points and seven with five points or less. Worse yet, the downturn in Thomas' numbers came with a big improvement in touches -- Thomas led all running backs with 77 catches while getting a career-tying 147 carries. Despite the career-high 224 touches, he averaged a weak 3.7 yards per carry (second-worst of his career) and 6.7 yards per catch (a career-low). He didn't have a single run of over 20 yards and only five receptions good for 20-plus yards. Is Thomas' ability fleeting as he turns 30 next December? If so, then the Saints could balk at paying him over $2.5 million for next season.

Consistency Rankings
Rank Player GP FPTS/gm 10+ Consistency Rank Player GP FPTS/gm 10+ Consistency
1 Jamaal Charles 15 19.67 13 86.7% 14 Adrian Peterson 14 13.86 8 57.1%
2 Matt Forte 16 15.69 13 81.3% 14 Reggie Bush 14 12.43 8 57.1%
3 Eddie Lacy 14 14.14 11 78.6% 16 Alfred Morris 16 10.00 8 50.0%
4 LeSean McCoy 16 16.38 12 75.0% 16 Shane Vereen 8 10.00 4 50.0%
5 Ryan Mathews 15 11.67 11 73.3% 16 Doug Martin 6 8.50 3 50.0%
6 Marshawn Lynch 16 14.00 11 68.8% 19 Maurice Jones-Drew 15 8.93 7 46.7%
6 Knowshon Moreno 16 13.75 11 68.8% 20 Steven Jackson 11 9.55 5 45.5%
8 DeMarco Murray 15 12.67 10 66.7% 21 Chris Johnson 16 11.81 7 43.8%
8 Arian Foster 6 13.50 4 66.7% 21 Joique Bell 16 9.44 7 43.8%
10 Fred Jackson 16 10.94 10 62.5% 21 Giovani Bernard 16 9.31 7 43.8%
10 Frank Gore 16 10.38 10 62.5% 24 Rashad Jennings 15 8.47 6 40.0%
12 Le'Veon Bell 13 12.31 8 61.5% 24 Darren McFadden 10 7.30 4 40.0%
13 Zac Stacy 12 12.50 7 58.3%

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard .

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