NFL's Best Fantasy RBs (2012 Edition): #10-6
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(This article was first posted on Bleacher Report by numberFire's Zach Warren. It's being posted here as well because, hey, we like our numbers.)
How many running backs does it take to make a successful team? If you’re Mike Shanahan, I'm not sure because I can't count that high. If you’re a fantasy owner, the answer’s usually about three solid backs. There are always injury concerns with every running back – as a Jamaal Charles owner last season, I gained 10 pounds between weeks two and five thanks to my Feel Better Friends Ben and Jerry. And in many systems, there are concerns about the dreaded “C Word”- Committee. Especially in rounds one, two, and early in round three, where all of the backs on this list should be drafted, the key then is to minimize that risk. Go ahead, take a chance on Matt Forte if he’s there in the late third round. But do you want to sacrifice your first or early second round pick for a guy you can’t trust? I’m not so sure.
What follows are the top ten fantasy backs this year according to numberFire’s draft kit. numberFire draws their numbers very heavily on the idea of Net Expected Points (NEP) and successes. The idea of NEP is simple – you want your back to help the team score points, right? The guys who put their team in a better position to score when compared to the average NFL back get bumps, while the guys who are only successful in leading to three-and-outs get knocked down. Often, this is measured in NEP per play; for instance, DeMarco Murray increased his team’s chance of scoring by 0.04 points per time he rushed the ball last season. Successes are similar - what percent of the time did your play increase your team's chance of scoring when compared to the average player? For Murray, that number was 44% of the time. Then with the players ranked from there, numberFire can predict how that will effect fantasy teams. So with that out of the way, let's start scoring fantasy points.
numberFire's Top Ten Fantasy Backs: #10-6
10. Jamaal Charles - Kansas City Chiefs
Projected Stats: 1118.9 rushing yards, 7.0 rushing TDs, 202.4 receiving yards, 0.4 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 171.33
Remember that beautiful time last year, when Jamaal Charles was a top five fantasy pick and the streets of Kansas City were flowing with happiness like a never-ending BBQ parade? That was a fun... game. Just because he got injured last season, though, I wouldn't go away from Charles right away. He was never a workhorse back during his two seasons of heavy play in Kansas City; at under 20 touches per game in his heaviest workload (2010), I'd trust his legs to still be fresh. His production in 2010 was undeniable as well. His 40.69 total NEP value was highest among all starting running backs that year, and an outrageous 47% of his touches were successful in increasing Kansas City's chance of scoring. He's also the undisputed number one back; don't expect Peyton Hillis to take too many carries. The injury issues should be the only thing keeping him out of the first round.
9. Michael Turner - Atlanta Falcons
Projected Stats: 1123.4 rushing yards, 9.3 rushing TDs, 100.1 receiving yards, 0.5 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 175.95
There's always been the myth of the "Curse of Age 30" for NFL backs, but I subscribe to the much more logical theory of "Why jump off a sinking ship when it's working?" Turner has reached 1300 yards in three of his past four seasons... and the one time he didn't (2010), he hit 871 in only 111 games played. Every single one of those seasons, he had over 10 touchdowns, and last year he hit 100 receiving yards as well, just because you didn't have enough reason to draft him already. He only was successful in raising the Falcons' scoring opportunity on 30% of his rushes, but that's offset by the sheer number of carries he gets. With over 300 attempts in three of the past four seasons, there may be some wear and tear, but not enough for the Falcons to go away from the rush. numberFire doesn't see as many TDs this year (only 9, run for the hills!) but thinks the yards (1123 projected rushing) will still be there.
8. Marshawn Lynch - Seattle Seahawks
Projected Stats: 1100.6 rushing yards, 7.9 rushing TDs, 181.5 receiving yards, 0.8 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 176.21
Marshawn Lynch represents one of the most risky fantasy plays at the top of draft boards. On one hand, he had 220 fantasy points last season on the back of an incredible 1204 rushing yards and 13 total TDs. On the other lime green-gloved hand, how easily do you forget those 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Bills and Seahawks where Lynch rushed for 1023 yards and 8 touchdowns combined in 29 games played? The numbers indicate that last season was an outlier: his NEP per play (-0.08) and his successful carries percentage (33%) were the best totals of his career by a good margin. Remember one thing about Lynch as well - he still has some legal trouble hanging over his head due to a July DUI charge. He isn't likely to be suspended during the NFL season, but the Seahawks could have him on a short leash if he does struggle. I'm not sure I trust him with a first or high second round pick.
7. Steven Jackson - St. Louis Rams
Projected Stats: 1264.7 rushing yards, 6.6 rushing TDs, 276.0 receiving yards, 0.7 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 192.87
"Hey smart one," I can hear you saying sarcastically through my magic Sports Writer powers. "ESPN has Jackson all the way down at #13 on their top 300? Do you think you know better than them?" Well, not saying that ESPN's wrong, but there's a good deal of stats to back me up. For instance, who's the only guy with over 1000 yards rushing every year since 2005? S-Jax. Who hasn't missed more than two games combined the past three seasons? S-Jax. Who is only actually 29 years old, despite everybody knocking him due to perceived "age issues"? S-Jax. Who has at least 300 receiving yards in each of his past four seasons as an extra bonus? I don't even think I have to say it at this point. The only possible argument for knocking down Jackson is that his team won't offer him much in the way of help (entirely true). But the fact that he's easily the best offensive player could help in this case - the Rams can't afford to not get the ball in his hands 20+ times a game.
6. Chris Johnson - Tennessee Titans
Projected Stats: 1246.7 rushing yards, 7.1 rushing TDs, 314.4 receiving yards, 1.0 receiving TDs
Projected Points: 199.51
There's a lot of breath wasted on whether Chris Johnson can get back to his "Old Form", as if his 2011 season consisted of him tripping over Matt Hasselbeck's feet every time he got the ball and rolling around helplessly on the ground. That gives off a sorely wrong impression of Johnson. In fact, here was his actual 2011 stats in a vacuum: 16 games started 1047 rushing yards, 418 receiving yards, 4 total touchdowns. Not bad for a potential number two back on your fantasy team, right? At the very least, he didn't fall flat on his face like some people think; he was still serviceable. But the numbers indicate that was an outlier: his -0.21 NEP per play and 29% success rate on increasing the Titans' scoring chances were easily the worst totals of his four year career. There's no reason to think that he won't get back to form - maybe not his 2000-yard form of 2009, but likely somewhere in a happy middle yardage-wise. Even the touchdown total seems to be a fluke. Before putting up eight rushing touchdowns last year, the Titans as a team hadn't had below 13 rushing scores since 2005, when Chris Brown (not that Chris Brown) was their starting RB.