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Riding the Rookie Running Back to Glory!

How many times have you heard “Make the playoffs and then it’s all luck after that?” Well, what if I was to tell you that you can improve your odds, or “luck” if you must, with low risk and a little research?

Congratulations, it’s Week 14 and you’ve made your league’s playoffs. You rode LaDainian Tomlinson, Adrian Peterson or Marion Barber III all season long, and they have delivered you into the final stretch. Now you’re set to square off with the better teams in the league, including your personal arch rival, the
State to your
Michigan, the Duke to your

North Carolina
, and the mayonnaise to your Miracle Whip. Conventional wisdom says it’s all up to the fantasy gods now. Hopefully the Chargers don’t decide to cut Tomlinson’s carries and rest him in anticipation for the playoffs, or the Buffalo Bills decide to cut their workhorse back’s carries by 10 just to see what the backups can do on a lost season. Personally, I don’t like to leave these things to chance. Playoff games need to be your peak time, the culmination of a smart draft, savvy waiver pickups and favorable trades. Wouldn’t you feel better with an edge? And, no, I’m not talking about Edgerrin James. Gentlemen, I present to you the rookie running back.

Theoretical Approach

Please let me explain. We are going to try to prove this theory three ways. We’ll start with the theoretical approach and then mix in some statistics add a creamy layer of player gain and top it off with translation into fantasy glory. So let’s get deep – over the recent years there’s been a shift of running back by committee quickly enveloping the NFL. The reasons for this change starts with durability. The ever-increasing size, speed and veracity of the players has slowly lead to the disappearance of the workhorse back. As injuries began to rise, coaches realized that a second capable back to share the load with their lead back was beneficial not only for the longevity of the season but to keep their playmaker fresh for that break away play. Darren Sproles relieving Tomlinson or Chester Taylor giving Peterson a rest. And the reasoning behind the running-back-by-committee are not limited to that, as the change of pace (or third-down back) has blossomed from this approach. Earth, Wind and Fire saw the emergence of Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw; LenDale White scarfed up double-digit touchdowns from Chris Johnson in 2008, and just when defenses thought they had Barber right where they wanted him, Felix Jones would come racing out of the backfield to torch them for a score.

Not exactly something new? Well stay with me. Towards the end of the season, coaches tend to game plan with the real playoffs in mind. This tendency leads to an increase in carries for the secondary, change of pace and rookie running backs as the teams look to both rest their stars, concoct new packages to unleash in the playoffs or in the case of this article let loose the young stud running back. With almost a full season under their belt, the rookie running back has gained enough knowledge and experience of the offense and built enough trust with the coach that his playing time tends to see an increase, especially when their team’s season is either lost or fully secured into the playoffs. Steve Slaton, for instance, saw a 5-10 carry increase in the last six games of the 2008 season. Knowshon Moreno consistently averaged in the high-teens, low-20s in carries towards the end of the season as his knowledge of blitzes and blocking schemes improved. Increased carries result in more fantasy points. Now let’s see what some of these backs did with the opportunity.


Let’s go back three years and get statistical. For the purpose of this article we’ll look at the production over the course of the last four games of their rookie season to analyze. In 2007, Adrian Peterson took the NFL by storm so there isn’t much there in terms of hidden potential or increased carries. If you had him you started him all year but Ahmad Bradshaw went off for 151 yards and a score in Week 16, most leagues’ Super Bowl week. In 2008 the rookie running back class was unprecedented with the likes of Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Slaton, Jonathan Stewart and so on. Those lucky enough to have grabbed Stewart were treated to a final four-game blitz of double-digit carries, yielding 180 yards and four touchdowns. Whoever had the foresight to snatch up Slaton with a late-round flier enjoyed 20+ carries and 505 yards with one touchdown his last four games. We all know what Forte and Johnson did that year but I’ll bet you can’t remember that due to injuries Tashard Choice combined for 488 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns in his last four games. Twice is coincidence but three times in a row is a trend. In 2009,
Arizona let Beanie Wells loose for 338 yards and three touchdowns to close out the regular season and

countered with 290 yards and three touchdowns of his own. Doesn’t blow the doors off, but fantasy playoffs are won in the trenches, little trends, matchups and upsides that cash in for you at just the right time to edge out a usually equal opponent.

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