Re-defining fantasy running back success

A big debate around the NFL Fantasy Live newsroom the last couple of days has been about running backs, and how their grand fantasy era is coming to an end.  So today and tomorrow we’ll examine how you can make sense of your team’s RB situation. Because if you’re like me, you’ve been looking at your RBs and saying “Geez, my guys stink.” Maybe not as much as you thought. Why?

The question really is just what is a good fantasy season by a RB in 2011? Through three weeks, running backs’ values are at an all-time low. If you think your high draft picks aren’t performing, you’re not alone. There’s only five players with more than 300 yards on the ground so far (Darren McFadden, LeSean McCoy, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ben Tate and Fred Jackson).  And only five RB’s have more than 2 TDs total (McCoy, Jackson, Adrian Peterson, McFadden and Ryan Mathews).

The top 10 running backs in fantasy have an average of 53 points per person for the season. The next 10 running backs?  They’re averaging just 33 points per person. To put that in perspective, wide receivers with more than 33 fantasy points (NFL.com standard scoring applying) include Torrey Smith, Denarius Moore and Devery Henderson.

So what does it mean?

It means that judging success is much different than it used to be.  The era of the 100-yard-a-game-with-a-TD back is receding.  So while it looks like players like LeGarrette Blount and Ahmad Bradshaw aren’t performing up to standard, it’s to the contrary.  They’re still doing well, but the barometer has changed.  Now, a “good week” for a running back is 75 yards on the ground, maybe 20-30 receiving and possibly a TD.  If these are the stats you’re getting?  Then you’re OK, keep plugging forward.

However, it’s not like you can make an excuse for every running back.  Shonn Greene, Frank Gore and Rashard Mendenhall, for example, are all hovering around the 50-yards-per-game mark and not catching balls out of the backfield (though Greene did have a good day that way Sunday), that is time for concern.  Getting limited production is okay and expected, but getting nothing is still getting nothing.

So, here are the guys to not worry about outside the elite running backs for now: Michael Turner, Matt Forte, Jahvid Best, Bradshaw, Blount and Peyton Hillis.

And the ones to worry about for now: Tim Hightower, Greene, Gore, Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  And worry as in “I should pick up Kendall Hunter or Roy Helu just in case.”

Tomorrow: How this new strategy will affect trades in 2011 and the 2012 draft.

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