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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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Player News
C.J. Spiller could ride big plays to productive Week 1
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:39 am ET) Bills running back C.J. Spiller has feasted on big plays ever since emerging as a Fantasy weapon. In 2012, he was third in the league in breakaway percentage, a statistic tracked by Pro Football Focus that determines how much of a player's rushing yardage total is accrued on plays of at least 15 yards. Spiller topped the league in the category last season. Clearly, if he can find a seam, he has the ability to wrea havoc on a defense.

Spiller will be squaring off with the Bears on Sunday. Last season, the Bears turned in by far the worst run defense performance in the league. They surrendered 2,583 rushing yards and 5.3 yards per rush, both marks placing them last in the league. They overhauled the defensive line in the offseason as a result, drafting two rotational defensive tackles and signing three defensive ends.

But if those players can't keep Spiller bottled up at the line all game, he's a threat to break a long touchdown or two. While the Bears run defense was obviously porous as a unit, the back seven was particularly offensive, ranking last in Football Outsiders' second-level yardage and open-field yardage statistics. The Bears didn't do much to upgrade those two levels of the defense either, meaning plenty of broken tackles and long gains are there for the taking if Spiller can find a little daylight. He's a trustworthy RB2 in Week 1 and a must-use in any Flex conversations.


EJ Manuel will look to conquer road woes Sunday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:20 am ET) Bills quarterback EJ Manuel endured what could at best be described as an uneven rookie season last year. Going 4-6 as a starter, Manuel particularly struggled on the road, where he turned in poor performances against the Jets, Browns, Steelers and Buccaneers before turning in a quality performance against the Jaguars in Week 14, his last game of the season.

Manuel opens this season on the road as well, heading to Soldier Field to take on the Bears Sunday. He'll be facing a new-look Chicago defensive line, rebuilt after the Bears defense struggled to generate a pass rush last season. Whether that pass rush can be effective could be the key to Manuel's success; the quarterback averaged 6.9 yards per attempt when under no pressure last season, but just 5.0 yards per attempt when faced with pressure.

Is there a good reason to start Manuel in Week 1? Not really. Every Fantasy team should be looking at a healthy roster heading into the beginning of the season, and there are anywhere from 14 to 20 QBs worth using over Manuel no matter the matchup. But a good performance in an unfavorable environment against a potentially improved pass rush would go a long way towards making the second-year player Fantasy relevant in 2014.


Patriots claim Don Jones off waivers
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) The Patriots have been awarded safety Don Jones on waivers from the Dolphins and waived offensive lineman Chris Barker in a corresponding move.

The Patriots will likely be looking for some extra insight on their Week 1 opponent after bringing the former Dolphin into the fold. The move leaves the Patriots with six safeties on the roster.


Jets release Ellis Lankster, re-sign A.J. Edds
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) The Jets released cornerback Ellis Lankster and re-signed inside linebacker A.J. Edds Monday.

Report: Chris Conte to start if medically cleared
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Bears safety Chris Conte will be the team's starting free safety in Sunday's season opener against the Bills, provided he's medically cleared to play, ESPN reports.

Conte has been locked in a position battle with rookie Brock Vereen, and despite suffering a concussion during the team's third preseason game, he's done enough to be named the starter. It wouldn't be surprising to see Vereen overtake Conte in the starting lineup, with the latter grading out as a below-average starter, according to ProFootballFocus.com, who particularly struggles in run support.


Report: Raiders going with Derek Carr over Matt Schaub
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Raiders players have been told the team will start rookie Derek Carr over veteran Matt Schaub at quarterback, reports Fox Sports. Carr threw three touchdown passes in last Thursday's preseason finale while Schaub has battled elbow problems.

Oakland opens the season Sunday at the Jets.


Emmanuel Sanders a strong flex option Week 1
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Assuming Wes Welker returns from his concussion and plays Week 1, teammate Emmanuel Sanders still will be a strong flex option. Colts-Broncos is a guaranteed shootout -- the over/under is a whopping 55, highest on the board -- and Peyton Manning can support three productive Fantasy receivers with ease.

Plus, Manning has taken a liking to Sanders. When Sanders debuted in the third preseason game, the duo hooked up for 67- and 29-yard touchdowns in the first half.

"You just throw it as far as you can, and it's hard to outthrow that guy," Manning told the team's website.

Sanders finished with five catches for 128 yards on eight first-half targets, doing most of that before Welker got concussed. Sanders was not 100 percent for that game; he had just come back from a quad injury.

Now Sanders, who started building chemistry with Manning at informal Duke University workouts, "looks ready for the big stage," the website said.

"Peyton puts it on the money," Sanders said. "He takes pride in throwing the perfect football. He takes pride in being perfect all around, in general. He makes my job easy."

Manning is going to help Sanders reach a level he has not hit before, starting Sunday night.

Redskins complete practice squad
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) The Redskins filled out their 10-man practice squad by signing safety Akeem Davis and linebacker Chaz Sutton, reports the Washington Post.

Jets tweak roster
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) The Jets signed free agent cornerback Phillip Adams and claimed receiver Walt Powell off waivers from the Cardinals. New York also waived receiver Quincy Enunwa, who likely will be placed on the practice squad.

Tough matchup not a concern for Julius Thomas
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9/1/2014) Broncos tight end Julius Thomas opens the season with a difficult matchup: Indianapolis allowed the fewest Fantasy points to tight ends (5.33 per game) last year.

It's not a concern for Thomas, one of three tight ends to catch a touchdown against the Colts in 2013. In Week 7 at Indy, Thomas caught five of six targets for 41 yards and the score.

That was one of 12 touchdowns Thomas scored in his breakout season. The 26-year-old showed he's not satisfied by taking a diligent offseason approach, according to the Denver Post.

"He's going to be a very special player," former Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen said. "It was fun to watch him grow up last season. In this offseason, he really impressed me with his attitude and work ethic and how hungry he was."

Thomas drew 17 red-zone targets last year. With Eric Decker's departure, the 6-5, 250-pound Thomas should see a few more this season. He's a top-3 play Sunday night.


 
 
 
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