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Fantasy Forecast: Work Horses, Race Horses and Stock Horses

This is the final Fantasy Forecast of the 2015 preseason. Starting next week, I’ll be bringing you my in-season column, The Lowdown. Why the switch in column titles? Mainly because it fools the editors into thinking I’m doing twice the work I’m actually doing…

[Editor’s Note to Self:

This season, I’ll start publishing my own DFS rankings (courtesy of Mighty Max) around Week 3. Max needs data to make accurate projections, so I insist on a minimum of two weeks’ worth before I start recommending picks.

Now on with this Fantasy Forecast…

Every season, I try to identify NFL trends that will impact fantasy football strategy in the upcoming season. Mind you, this isn’t a case of “How many TD passes will Andrew Luck throw?— rather, I try to identify general shifts in direction in order to provide readers with strategies designed to enhance their overall chances of success.

One of the more interesting trends in recent seasons has been the decline of the dominant runner. Three years ago at this time, I declared the “Stud RB” to be an extinct animal, the result of years and years of neglect. As I prepared to undergo a similar analysis for this year’s article, I must confess that my hopes for a change in direction of the Stud RBs were indeed slim.

The first step was to identify those runners in 2014 who accounted for at least 75% of their teams’ rushing attempts (Workhorses) or those who accounted for at least 75% of their teams’ rush yards (Racehorses). The thinking here is that identifying such runners provides us with players that will likely be the focus of their teams’ offense in 2015.

At my request, Mighty Max, my trusty supercomputer, was quick to produce the lists of the NFL’s 2014 top Workhorses and Racehorses:

Workhorse-1

Looking at the results above, there are some facts that stand out:

  • Three runners qualified at the original 75% cut-off as either a workhorse or as a racehorse.
  • When lowering the threshold for inclusion to the top five in each category, the same five runners appeared in both lists.

Looking at these results, I see a glimmer of hope for fantasy owners. Grabbing one of the five “dual-threats” bodes well for your fantasy teams. In essence, these five runners—Matt Forte, Alfred Morris, DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy, and Le’Veon Bell— become potential studs. Interestingly, when I ran this analysis last pre-season, four of these five runners were accurately predicted (the fifth was Adrian Peterson).

Another Parameter

A couple of seasons ago we searched for runners who were responsible for at least 75% of their team’s rushing touchdowns; we coined these guys Stock Horses (heavily-muscled riding horses). The results were so well-received by readers that I’ve decided to include the analysis going forward:

Workhorse-2

This may be the most interesting of the three “hosses,” as the Stock Horses represent the oft-mentioned goal-line vultures that many fantasy owners covet (or are wary of, in some cases). Of course, use your judgment here—will Matt Asiata continue to get the goal line touches with Adrian Peterson back in the line up?

Looking at the three charts together, it’s obvious that McCoy, Forte, Bell, Morris and Murray are the real gems, qualifying in all three categories. But some other interesting observations to keep in mind:

  • Two RBs raise red flags based on their 2014 workload: Murray and Bell. Additionally, Bell faces a two-game suspension to start the season and Murray joins a crowded backfield on a new team.
  • McCoy figures to be the focus of a rush-oriented offense in Buffalo this season, but the offensive line is nowhere near a proven commodity.

Of course, this analysis looks at rushing only, not overall fantasy production, but it does give us an idea of how each RB is being used by his team.

About John Georgopoulos

John T. Georgopoulos is a 23-year veteran of fantasy sports journalism. John’s Fantasy Forecast series has won the prestigious Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) award for Best Series, and he’s been nominated as an FSWA Award finalist on nine occasions. You can also listen to his weekly, non-sports NSFW opinions at The Riot.