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The Stud Running Back Theory…RIP?

We have seen running backs falling by the wayside all season long. Jamaal Charles is gone. DeMarco Murray, LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch and Arian Foster have been hurting. Eddie Lacy, C.J. Anderson and Alfred Morris are apparently playing in an alternate universe. As far as the young rookies go, mediocrity reigns. They have been slowed by injuries and none have taken the league by storm as yet.

Dion Lewis started out as New England’s main running back, but LeGarrette Blount is becoming the leader of that running back by committee. Andre Ellington got hurt and Chris Johnson returned from the scrap pile to replace him. Devonta Freeman is the surprise of the year at this point.

All of these facts beg a big question. Is the overall importance of the running back position declining? This has seemed to be the case year after year. Everybody alludes to it, but nobody seems to really want to talk about the elephant in the room. When you start running backs in October that nobody had heard of in August, why is that happening?

The obvious answer to me is that running back depth is a non-event. With the salary cap restrictions and the fact that the career playing time of running backs is by far the lowest of any of the glamorous skilled positions, NFL teams are using the running back by committee approach more and more. Look at DeMarco Murray for example. He was a stud for Dallas last year and a vital part of their success.

Dallas, in turn, rewarded him with a bus ticket out of town. Dallas was content to give the ball to a group of unproven wannabes — Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar – and threw in Darren McFadden to boot. Now the team is starting Seattle castoff Christine Michael.

I went back to the FanEx Experts League archives and compiled a chart showing the individual fantasy scoring by game by position and player for the first six weeks of 2015 and for the five years from 2010-15. These are the points per player and not the point per position, just to make that differential clear.

Week 6 Positional Points

We see that five of the six positions have remained within a relatively small range of change from year-to-year. Quarterback points have been within 1 percent, 28-28.9 percent of the six-player analysis for the entire study period. Wide receiver points have been trending up a tad over the last couple of years.

When we look at the running back position it hits us. Out of the positional points pool, the one position that shows a major change, from 19 percent down to 16.5 percent is the running backs. That amounts to a 13.2 percent decrease from 2010 until right now.

Another thing I have noticed this year is that fantasy teams built with the traditional studs, not only at running back, but also at quarterback and wide receiver have had really bad starts to the season. If you took top running backs with two of your first three picks, the odds are you are getting pounded week after week. The 2016 draft is going to be more confusing than ever.

There has been so much in contradictory results this year that as of now, no clear path to winning appears on the horizon. For example, if you took Andrew Luck early this year, you might have been pondering over Josh McCown and Brian Hoyer a couple of weeks ago. Wide receiver picks like Dez Bryant, Jordy Nelson, Alshon Jeffery, Kelvin Benjamin, Sammy Watkins, Calvin Johnson and even Antonio Brown of late have been duds to varying extents.

We have already detailed the calamitous running back choices above. What do we conclude? How do we fix this? I have a lot of knowledgeable friends who play this game and even some of them have been completely stymied by the hurdles we have faced thus far.

I am in a dynasty league where our perennial top team has Andrew Luck, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy, C.J. Anderson, Jordy Nelson and Mike Evans. At the moment his team is 3-3 because of his high quality depth, but he has worked hard to build this team and now he has a wasted season by his high standards.

As the season progresses, we need to see if this drop in running back points continues, or reverses a tad. If it is indeed verified that the downward trend is continuing, drafting running backs in the first couple of rounds could become a thing of the past. The run on wide receivers would start early and be relentless. I see 8-10 running backs going in the first couple rounds in this scenario.

Yet on the other hand, running backs remain few and far between. Will people be able to break an old habit and ignore say a Mark Ingram in the second round? I can see a lot of hand-wringing over what to do. As it stands right now, the few dependable running backs are joined in lineups by way too many “wish and a prayer” type of players. It is as though you roll a dice to see if you get big points, average points or any points at all in a given week. In such a confused scenario as we are playing in now the alternatives are limited.

Trading is next to impossible, but it is always worth a try. The worst you can get is turned down. Grab a hot wide receiver after a big game, not likely to be repeated, and offer him for a surplus running back if anyone has one. Stefon Diggs or Rishard Matthews are the types of players I mean here.

Hit the waiver wire with an acquisition plan and be ready for action at the precise minute that first-come, first-serve starts. Scoop up whoever you want before the others have access. Be careful in your lineup preparation. MyFantasyLeague.com shows us that our lineups are not even close to being 100-percent of their potential. We are leaving 15-20 percent of our potential points on our benches. We can draft, make waiver moves and trade like a carpetbagger, but if we just throw our lineups together we are just wasting our time.

Ok, here is the deal. We have six weeks in the books. For those doing well, keep working hard and go for that championship. For those having a bad start to the season, mentally eliminate the six-game records to date. Start over. Work on strategies – waiver moves, trading and lineup preparation. Use the next few weeks to learn and make your 2016 season better.

That leaves us with one big question? Is the stud running back theory dead? That question must be answered with a significant body of evidence. To my way of thinking, we certainly have a trend. But in deference to what has been a lengthy history of running back dominance, let us leave that question hanging for just a tad longer.

One thing I know, is that for 2016 I have to work harder to balance teams, not only by position, but by overall depth as well. I need to study player injury histories and make them a major rating factor. And as always is the case in this game we love, I need a little more luck.

How have your teams been impacted? How is the running back drought affecting you? Please email me at mnease23@yahoo.com. Also, if you have any lineup questions for me, give me your roster, what you think your lineup should be and any top players available on waivers. I will not just pick your lineup for you.

About Mike Nease

Mike Nease is a member of the FSWA and has been playing the game since 1985, while also writing about it since 2001. Over the years he has sampled about all the playing scenarios that fantasy football offers, including re-drafter, keeper, dynasty, auction, IDP and salary cap leagues. He and his wife Bonnie reside in West Chicago, IL You can contact Mike at mnease23@yahoo.com anytime and during the football season follow him @mikeinsights.