Fantasy Football: What History Tells Us About Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams for 2022
Despite the fact that running back committees are becoming more prevalent in the NFL, they don't exist in every backfield.
For fantasy football purposes, that's often what helps separate the featured backs with elite workloads from those in timeshares (but no, it's not helping us get better results from the waiver wire).
Setting the Framework
In FanDuel's best ball fantasy football formats, Williams has an average draft position (ADP) of RB15. Gordon is taken, on average, as the RB34.
Of course, the team now has Russell Wilson at quarterback, and he ranks -- over the past five seasons -- 12th in Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) among active quarterbacks. NEP is our expected points model at numberFire, by the way.
In addition to a top-12 caliber passer, the Broncos boast a league-average offensive line (ProFootballFocus has them ranked 16th in the NFL entering the season).
What's the precedent here then?
I'm going to start this section on history with numberFire's fantasy football projection for these guys because I'm trying to subvert expectations (not really -- just want to get a projected volume baseline).
Our model is projecting 252 carries and 64 targets for Williams, totaling 316 opportunities. Those numbers for Gordon, respectively, are 151, 22, and 173.
Since 2012, among 139 backs who played on a top-16 team in Adjusted NEP per play and FootballOutsiders' adjusted line yards and had at least 150 opportunities, 48.9% of them finished as top-12 fantasy backs. In total, 74.1% were top-24 performers.
Volume plus efficiency is a tried and true formula for fantasy backs.
And, of course, Williams is far above that 150-opportunity cutoff. If we look at backs with even 250 opportunities within these fruitful offenses, 88.7% (or 55 of 62) were top-12 backs. Let's ride.
There's enough volume, via our projections, for Williams to be in a bit of a timeshare and still have fantasy upside.
Let's take it a step further.
How, though, have teammates that were drafted at similar ADPs to Williams and Gordon fared over the past 10 seasons?
If we look at teammate pairings drafted within the top 40 at the position, it's definitely a mixed bag.
That said, of the 24 backs taken between RB11 and RB20 (a comparison for Williams here) while also having a teammate inside the top 40 (being Gordon), only 4 (16.7%) had top-12 seasons.
That's a small sample disrupted by a lot of injuries.
Only 13 of these backs played at least 13 games, and 10 of the 24 were already 27 years old or older. It's a weird sample.
The backs in the total sample (all running backs with a teammate inside the top 40 at the position in ADP) who did return top-12 seasons had an average age of 24.6 years and were also seeing at least 15.0 opportunities per game (which Williams is set to surpass pretty easily).
All of this suggests that Williams still has tangible upside within the Broncos' offense.
The Bottom Line
While it's never preferential to find players in a running back committee, it's not always the end of fantasy upside by any means.
In this instance, Williams checks the right boxes to be a strong fantasy performer. He's young (22 years old), he's in an efficient offense, he's behind a solid offensive line, and he's slated for enough work to do something with the touches he does generate.
As for Gordon, he's already 29 years old, and in the sample of teammates drafted inside the top 40, it's the older backs with younger counterparts that lack upside.
Half of the backs in the sample who are 29 or older with teammates 24 or younger did finish as top-36 performers half the time, but none reached the top 12, and only 28.6% were inside the top 24.
Don't gloss over Gordon later in the drafts for a floor-based play, but history suggests that this is a great situation for Williams -- and less so for Gordon.