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The Case for a One Running Back League in 2017 Fantasy Football

Michael Waterloo Staff Writer July 4, 2017 11:51AM EDT

Creatures of habit. That’s what, in general, Fantasy owners – in particularly Fantasy Baseball and Fantasy Football owners – are. We play Rotisserie-style baseball because that’s the way we learned. We stick with traditional football because that’s how it’s always been. Really, we are a bunch of old men and women yelling “get off my lawn.”

But strides have been made lately, especially in Fantasy Football. PPR leagues, Best-Ball leagues, IDP and superflex leagues have become more common, giving players more options when it comes to Fantasy Football. But still, we are resistant to change. Why?

Well, it’s what Fantasy players know, and there is pushback against anything that is different because of the unknown. Hell, most leagues still play with kickers, despite the fact that kicker scoring has been proven to be 100 percent random, eliminating skill from a game that is already 50 percent luck with normal positions. But more and more leagues are moving going away from having kickers in their leagues, and some are even eliminating team defenses.

So, what’s the next change that needs to take place? Well, it’s pretty obvious. With the NFL mainly being a passing league these days, it’s time to get away from the traditional roster requirement of one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end and one flex. Specifically, it’s time to remove one running back. Yes, I’m taking about a 1-RB league.

By removing a running back position and adding a FLEX spot, owners will then have their choice of player in that spot. So, if they wish to go with another running back, they can.
After testing this out in an auction league last year, it was discovered that teams spent up more for a top running back in the auction. More so, once the season began, teams were hesitant to trade a top running back, because the drop-off from the elite players at the position to the rest of the field was dramatic.

The teams that went with the strategy of drafting just one running back regretted it when their choice underperformed, went down due to injury and during bye weeks. The running backs that were available on the waiver wire were still second-hand garbage because of the multiple FLEX spots and the number of running backs on the rest of the league’s rosters.

Think about running backs like a tight end in a traditional league, or as an ace in Fantasy Baseball. There are only so many top options to go around. But, similar to aces in Fantasy Baseball, there is more inherent injury risk with running backs than there are with wide receivers, making them high-risk, high-reward players.

Numbers On The Decline

No matter the timeframe you use in research, there’s going to be an arbitrary end. To gather enough of a sample, I went with three years, which is typically enough time to find a trend with a player, a stadium or a league.

I took a look at rushing attempts across the league over the past three years, and the findings were exactly as I thought they would be; rushing attempts have decreased year after year:

2016 – 12,542
2015 – 13,488
2014 – 13,688

In back-to-back years, only one player had at least 300 rushing attempts, with

Adrian Peterson carried 327 times in 2015. (Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire)

Ezekiel Elliott and Adrian Peterson in 2016 and 2015, respectively. In 2014, DeMarco Murray and LeSean McCoy were the only two runners to eclipse the 300-carry mark. How much has that changed? Going back just 10 years ago, there were six running backs with at least 300 carries in 2007 and in 2009, and there were five who hit the mark in 2008.

Supply < Demand

Each year, in leagues with two running back spots, it’s a struggle for most teams to fill their second running back slot. Even with breakout players showing up on the wire, there are still a handful of teams each year starting a backup running back or someone on the wrong side of a timeshare because there just simply aren’t enough running backs to go around because of injuries and shared workloads.

Don’t look at this as making running backs worthless. It couldn’t be less true. Think of it as winning the lottery if you can get Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson or Elliott. There’s a huge drop-off from that tier to the second tier at the position, giving you a distinct advantage each week at RB. The tier is smaller than the top tier of elite options at wide receiver, and the drop-off between tiers at running back is steeper than that at wide receiver. It’s the same thinking behind those that draft Rob Gronkowski early in drafts. They want that week-to-week advantage at the position.

What’s the fun in forcing a team to start someone like Tim Hightower or Duke Johnson out of necessity to fill a roster spot? That spot, instead, could be left up to the owner to decide what they want to do with it, instead of having a better player at wide receiver or tight end sitting on their bench.

When you allow freedom to a Fantasy owner to construct their team the way they think is best inside the parameters of the league, there is more variance. Encouraging more strategy and effective team management is a good thing, not a bad thing, folks.

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