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Fantasy Football: Here’s why full workload RBs have all but vanished from the earth

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Back in 1977, the last year NFL teams played a 14-game schedule, seven different runners had at least 300 touches. Lidell Mitchell of the Baltimore Colts led the league with 372 points, averaging 26.6 per game.

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In 2021, the first year the teams have played 17 game in the regular season, only four running backs scored 300 touches, led by Naji Harris at 381 (22.4 per week).

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Over the years, we have collectively witnessed—and eventually developed fantasy strategies in response—something like the golden age of high-volume runners. Between 1994 and 2007, 10 or more NFL players made 300 touches per year, peaking at 19 in 2000. (Nineteen! There haven’t been 19 separate 300-touch seasons in the last three years.)

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Once upon a time when you and all your league mates opened your drafts with a couple of runners in the first two rounds and then another pair in rounds 3-5, you didn’t necessarily make some colossal mistake. Rather, you made a smart choice given the availability and importance of all defenders.

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And then, of course, our dissatisfaction with the RB-heavy draft led to the rise in popularity of PPR scoring and its various horrors, as we discussed earlier. It was unsuccessful. However, today’s goal is not to go back to the old arguments about ridiculous scoring schemes. On the contrary, our simple goal is to reach out to those of you who Still – despite all the available data and long-term trends – they are determined to accumulate RB in their drafts, regardless of the format. This has always been a poor approach to full PPR; in standard-scoring leagues, it became almost irrelevant.

Of the 51 players who eclipsed 1,000 yards in scrimmage last season, 26 weren’t actually running back. Jonathan Taylor he may have led the NFL in total yards (2,171), but the guys in second, third, fifth, seventh, and ninth were all wide receivers. Baltimore tight end Mark Andrews finished 12th.

Indianapolis Colts Running Back Jonathan Taylor (28) is a fantasy star.
Jonathan Taylor led the league in yards in 2021 and that made him a fantasy superstar. (Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

We just don’t manage our fantasy teams anymore at a time when RB dominate the leaderboard by footage.

Running spins no longer the end goal

If you’ve been a football fan since Lidell Mitchell’s heyday, then you’ve been in the game long enough to see the league’s pass rate drastically change. Back in 1977, the average team made just 25.0 passes per game and launched the ball 37.4 times. Last season, NFL teams tossed the ball into the air 34.4 times per game, averaging 26.6 rush attempts. The last year the league had fewer passes was 1983, when John Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly were drafted.

Last year, only three teams finished with more rushes than assists: Tennessee, Philadelphia and New Orleans.

Barring some unimaginable change in offensive philosophy in the league, we’ll never go back to attacking by a wide margin. In fact, we will probably never go back to what many people see as a balance between pass and pass. As Mike Leach once astutely remarked, “There is nothing balanced about 50 percent running and 50 percent passing because it is 50 percent stupid.“And obviously there is nothing particularly balanced in an attacking system designed to serve the ball to one player more than 300 times.

If absolutely everything went according to the pre-season scenario for every team in 2022—no injuries, suspensions, or disappointments—how many teams would be able to hit 300 touches? The full list probably looks something like this:

Indianapolis Colts, Jonathan Taylor

Minnesota Vikings, Dalvin Cook

Carolina Panthers, Christian McCaffrey

Tennessee Titans, Derrick Henry

Pittsburgh Steelers, Naji Harris

Cincinnati Bengals, Joe Mixon

New Orleans Saints, Alvin Camara

New York Giants, Saquon Barkley

Dallas Cowboys, Ezekiel Elliott

Chicago Bears, David Montgomery

Los Angeles Rams, Cam Akers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Leonard Furnett

We are also generous with some of these names.

Austin Ekeler just missed because last season he didn’t have enough pace when everything went as well as you could expect. Nick Chubb continues to have Karim Hunt problem. Josh Jacobs as well as Antonio Gibson They are expected to be on the logistics committees. If either Javonte Williams or Melvin Gordon was supposed to get injured in Denver, then the other guy would be a strong candidate for a huge load. But, again, we think of the best scenarios for each team.

Thus, we are considering no more than a dozen defenders who could have a chance at the full, recommended workload, provided there are no health or discipline problems. However, it goes without saying that there are definitely injuries and other problems are ahead for some of these players. Kamara could face a suspension following his arrest in February.. The only guys on the above list who didn’t miss a game last year were Taylor, Harris and Zeke (who many considered a disappointment, a player in decline). Three of the players listed above – Henry, McCaffrey and Akers – participated in less than half of their team’s games.

The most likely outcome, again, is that we will see no more than 4-6 runners reach workload levels that previously seemed completely unimpressive. Fred Taylor hit 300 or more touches in four of his first six pro seasons – with a high of 393 in 2003 – and people called him “Fragile Fred.” (Perhaps the most disrespectful and unfounded nickname of the era. Taylor was phenomenal.)

In this era, if you’re still chasing running backs with every early draft pick, you’re ignoring some very simple and obvious changes to the game.

Your chances of getting a big back with any pick in any round have never been better.

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