Fantasy Football: How Important Is a Win for a Running Back's Production?

Does running back scoring increase with victories?

Former Steelers coach and chin aficionado Bill Cowher used to punish opponents if they allowed the Steelers to carry a lead into the fourth quarter, as defenses were faced with having to try and slow down Jerome Bettis. While rushing is nowhere near as extreme as it was way back in the 90's, teams still tend to get conservative and run with a lead.

Earlier this week, I wrote about quarterbacks and how their fantasy points generally increased when their team won and decided to run the same experiment with numberFire's projected top-50 running backs for 2017. It would make sense to see a running back perform better when his team wins, so by using the Rotoviz Game Splits App, we came up with the following findings by looking at their career averages in both wins and losses.

Running Down a Dream

The blue bars in the graph below represent the average fantasy points per game scored by each running back in wins over their respective careers and the orange bars represent their fantasy output in losses. The scoring system is half-point per reception (PPR). You can also click on the graph to enlarge it.

Average FPPG in Wins and Losses

Next, we'll look at the raw data that was produced, which you can see in the below table.

Running Back Wins Losses
David Johnson 17.37 18.19
Le'Veon Bell 20.42 17.21
Ezekiel Elliott 22.24 11.20
Lesean McCoy 17.09 13.69
Devonta Freeman 16.46 9.65
DeMarco Murray 17.39 12.19
Melvin Gordon 15.17 10.97
Jordan Howard 24.20 12.09
Jay Ajayi 12.82 6.76
Todd Gurley 17.37 10.79
Lamar Miller 13.11 8.34
Leonard Fournette n/a n/a
Carlos Hyde 10.44 9.29
Mark Ingram 11.69 9.29
Christian McCaffrey n/a n/a
Spencer Ware 11.11 10.53
C.J. Anderson 12.61 7.23
Isaiah Crowell 13.07 8.32
Tevin Coleman 11.54 5.60
Frank Gore 15.13 11.37
Ty Montgomery 8.58 8.72
Ameer Abdullah 9.12 5.99
Bilal Powell 8.24 6.44
Joe Mixon n/a n/a
Marshawn Lynch 16.43 10.34
Eddie Lacy 13.10 12.54
Doug Martin 18.24 9.98
Rob Kelley 9.44 8.52
Matt Forte 17.23 13.82
Dalvin Cook n/a n/a
Paul Perkins 5.07 5.92
Latavius Murray 14.14 8.43
LeGarrette Blount 10.65 6.27
Theo Riddick 7.97 7.26
Mike Gillislee 7.02 9.42
Danny Woodhead 8.78 10.05
Adrian Peterson 19.49 14.46
Jonathan Stewart 12.14 7.94
Terrance West 8.16 7.21
Duke Johnson 7.45 8.04
Samaje Perine n/a n/a
Giovani Bernard 11.07 11.83
James White 7.72 8.16
Darren Sproles 9.7 7.82
Kenneth Dixon 8.42 6.47
Jeremy Hill 13.52 8.45
Charles Sims 8.84 8.63
Derrick Henry 9.29 3.12
Kareem Hunt n/a n/a
Jamaal Charles 19.09 11.57

Overall, our projected top-50 running backs averaged 12.91 fantasy points per game in wins and just 9.55 in losses, a difference of 3.36 points per game.

Some of these running backs have limited sample sizes, so the numbers can become a bit skewed, but filtered to just our top-20 projected running backs, the average fantasy points in wins grow to 15.51 per game and 10.71 in losses, a difference of 4.8 points per game.

For some running backs on this list -- David Johnson, Spencer Ware, and Eddie Lacy, among them -- their fantasy performances aren't drastically affected by wins or losses, while others have seen their scoring change dramatically.

Jordan Howard

Jordan Howard was off the charts during his rookie season when the Chicago Bears were victorious.

In 12 losses last season, Howard averaged 12.09 half-PPR points per game, but in Chicago's three victories, Howard more than doubled his fantasy production. Three games is certainly a small sample size, but the Bears really leaned on him. His rushing attempts basically doubled, his rushing yards increased by 50 yards, and he averaged more than a touchdown per game in those three wins.

The online sportsbook Pinnacle is projecting the Bears to win 5.5 games this season after they won just 3 in 2016. That bodes well for Howard.

Devonta Freeman

Like Howard, Devonta Freeman has excelled in victories but has been rather pedestrian in losses.

Freeman has averaged 16.46 half-PPR points per game in wins and 9.65 half-PPR points per game in losses during his career, a difference of 6.81 points. Freeman's running mate has seen a similar discrepancy. Tevin Coleman has averaged 5.94 more half-PPR points per game in wins.

The ATLiens won 11 games last season but Pinnacle is projecting them to win 9.5 games this season.

DeMarco Murray

DeMarco Murray has also performed much better for fantasy purposes when his team was won.

Murray had 392 rushing attempts in a season with the Dallas Cowboys in 2014 on their way to a 12-4 season, so it's not surprising to see him this high on the list. Like Freeman and Coleman, Murray's teammate Derrick Henry averaged 6.17 more half-PPR points per game in wins than in losses.

Per Pinnacle, the Tennessee Titans are projected to win 8.5 games after winning 9 last season.

What We Learned

Choosing your starting running back should be based on many variables, and the odds of their team winning should be included. The numbers suggest going with the running back whose team is more likely to win that week according to the Vegas odds.