About this time every year, I like to shine a light on each position
and focus on how they fared among their peers on a weekly basis.
While I am very much a believer that fantasy football is a weekly
game and play the matchups as much as anything when it comes to
fringe players, knowing how each player ranked among his position
group each week is a handy little tool - whether you want a quick
reference guide in your redraft leagues to help set expectations
for a certain player or need an idea on the range of a player's
performances to help break a tie between two or three options in
your DFS lineups.
For the sake of time and space (not to mention my sanity), not
every player that has scored a point appears below. My qualifications
at running back: at least five games played and one top-30 finish.
(I kept a non-qualifier such as Christian McCaffrey on the table
below for the sake of reference.) "Best" refers to the
player's highest weekly fantasy finish, while "worst"
obviously refers to his lowest. "Aver" is the player's
average weekly finish. Squares were left blank when the player
was active but failed to register a fantasy point. Got it? Good.
Stating the obvious, there's a reason why teams with Alvin Kamara,
Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones are probably among the best in your
league(s). Among that group, Cook's 17th place finish in Week 2
is the worst weekly finish by any member of that trio. Of the 21
games that threesome has totaled this season, they have posted an
RB1 finish (inside the top 12 backs for the week) 17 times.
Just over a month ago, it would have seemed ridiculous to think
Ezekiel Elliott could be considered an RB2. He hasn't even come
all that close to being more than a mid-level flex play recently
though. After finishing inside the top 18 in each of the first
six games, he has placed no better than RB30 since. Even though
the overwhelming percentage of fantasy owners understand why it
is happening, it is still a shock to the system. Zeke has scored
fewer than nine PPR points in three straight weeks after failing
to reach double digits only once in each of the previous two seasons.
How ironic is it that two Wisconsin running backs by themselves
next to each other on this list? (And no, I'm not trying to poke
fun at the former Badgers.) Melvin Gordon entered the season was
expected to be part of a committee - even though his ADP largely
reflected an expectation he would eventually push Phillip Lindsay
into more of a true backup role. In the four games the two have
played together, Gordon has generally been a low-end RB2 (average
finish of 18.7, not including Week 9). In three games without
Lindsay around, his average weekly finish was 19.7.
Jonathan Taylor was also expected to enter the season in a committee,
although it was considered a given he would eventually beat out
Marlon Mack. His timetable was sped up exponentially when Mack
was lost for the season in Week 1. While his fantasy efforts were
generally slightly disappointing for a player many expected to
be an RB1 as soon as he was named the starter, his average weekly
finish was still a respectable 19.2 through six games. The Colts'
response since their Week 7 bye: feed him less and resort to a
system in which running backs coach Tom Rathman determines which
running back plays after head coach Frank Reich makes the call
on personnel on his first 15 scripted plays. The last time Rathman
spoke to the media (sometime around the bye week), he said Taylor
had done everything the team has asked him to do and the only
thing he needed was a little more experience. So the response
is giving him less opportunity to gain experience now? His snaps
have dropped from roughly 50 percent before the bye to 32.4 percent
in the two games since. The result: a back-end RB4 finish followed
by a high-end RB3 finish since the bye. It appears Taylor's path
to fantasy relevancy at the moment depends on his ability to make
a big play while Reich is working off his script.
It took nearly half of the season for Zack Moss to reward the
patience of his fantasy owners after suffering a toe injury in
Week 2, but he's starting to justify the faith many in the industry
had in him (myself included). Just as most of us expected, he's
getting the money touches (near the goal line) and mostly sharing
the work with Devin Singletary everywhere else. The result has
been top-30 finishes in each of the last three weeks, including
two inside the top 15. Meanwhile, Singletary has posted an RB3
finish or worst in five straight.
J.D. McKissic was generally considered a nuisance for fantasy
owners in September - one more hurdle (albeit an easy one) to
keep rookie Antonio Gibson from reaching his fantasy ceiling.
While Gibson continues to hang around low-end RB2/high-end flex
territory, McKissic has emerged as something of a poor man's James
White. A negative game script running back for a team that is
unlikely to win more than one or two more times this year and
now operating with a quarterback known for checking down, McKissic
is a viable flex starter moving forward with decent upside. While
he may not see 14 targets in a game ever again, we need to ask
ourselves how many running backs not named Christian McCaffrey
or Alvin Kamara have that kind of opportunity in the passing game
to begin with. McKissic's snaps have held steady all season long,
so playing time should not be an issue. It's a real possibility
Washington finds itself in negative game scripts in each of its
games from now until Week 16. If we need a reminder of what that
means for McKissic, he has totaled eight fantasy points in Washington's
two wins. In the WFT's other six games, he is averaging 10.9 points
(with two RB1 efforts over his last three games).
Of note: In three games with Leonard
Fournette sidelined, Ronald
Jones' average weekly rank was 11.7 and his worst finish was
RB17. In five games with Fournette around, Jones' average weekly
rank is 34.3 and his best finish is RB23 (with five finishes of
RB30 or worse). … Fantasy owners can make whatever excuse they
want about Sean McVay's running back usage, but Darrell
Henderson has finished inside RB1 range (the top 12) three
times and outside flex range (RB25 or lower) in his other five
games. … As hard as it may be to believe, the lead back for the
Bengals (Joe Mixon
in Weeks 4-6 and Giovani
Bernard in Weeks 7-8) has finished as an RB1 in four of the
team's last five contests.
Doug Orth has written for FF
Today since 2006 and been featured in USA Today’s Fantasy
Football Preview magazine since 2010. He hosted USA Today’s
hour-long, pre-kickoff fantasy football internet chat every Sunday
in 2012-13 and appears as a guest analyst on a number of national
sports radio shows, including Sirius XM’s “Fantasy Drive”.
Doug is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.