March 7, 2016
By: Johnny Slokes
So the 2015 season has came and passed, so I'm sure most of you guys have noticed the glaring fact that the running back position was pretty terrible this year. Granted it was an injury riddled season for the running back, so what I have decided to do was compare the numbers of all the RB1 this year and compare it to the years past, going back to 2012 to determine if the running backs are losing value in the early rounds to the wide receivers. For years the running back position was the prime position to be drafted in the first and second rounds, but now the modern trend ( especially after this past season) is to stray away from running backs in the first or second rounds of drafts. But is that always the right move? Could that end up hurting you in future drafts? That's what I'm writing this article for, to figure out if last year was an outlier from past seasons or if the running back position is truly getting less valueable in those early rounds. For the purposes of this research an RB1 will be the top 12 running backs and we will use the PPR scoring format. I will list off the major statistics for the running backs for each year, measure it out a graph, compare the different years and then do the same for wide receivers to see if running backs are losing value to wide receivers.
2621 carries 11,552 yards 91 TDs 526 catches 4479 yards 20 TDs
As you can see there was 6 running backs that had fewer than 1000 yards, which is by far the least amount in recent memory ( granted we're only going back to 2012). If you combine all their stats together of all the RB1 then it would equal to 2621 carries for 11,552 yards ( roughly 4.4 ypc) and 91 TDs. Adding in the receiving totals: 526 catches for 4479 yards and 20 TDs. The main purpose of knowing these totals is to figure out the usage of the top running backs. Almost immediately, the first thing that I noticed was that Adrian Peterson was the only back to carry the rock 300+ times. Futhermore only 3 other backs on this list had 300+ total touches if you include receptions. Also lets note that there was 6 backs that had double digit TDs.
Next we are going to go into the 2014 season. While there were some noteable injuries in this season, you will see the more traditional running backs on the leaderboards.
3106 carries 14,631 yards 104 TDs 572 catches 4722 yards 28 TDs
Wow, just one year ago and the numbers look completely different. Nearly 500 more carries collectively and more than 3000 yards collectively as well. There was even a small increase in receptions not to mention 13 more TDs. Most of the big name running backs stayed healthy on this year ( Bell, Lynch, Foster, Charles) with a couple of nice surprises ( Forsett, Hill, Anderson). There was still only 2 backs with at least 300+ carries ( DeMarco Murray and McCoy) 3 other backs ( Bell, Forte, Lynch) that had 300+ touches.
For 2013 what you'll notice is there won't be as many carries or rushing yards as 2014 but it is still more than 2015 by a decent margin. Another notable aspect is that there is a pretty big increase in the number of receptions, yards, and TDs out of the backfield.
2999 carries 13,504 yards 103 TDs 628 catches 5296 yards 33 TDs
Once again only 2 backs that had 300+ carries but this time there was 6 other backs that had at least 300+ touches due to the fact that there was a lot more catches this year from the backfield. This was the year of the prolific pass catchers like Woodhead, Fred Jackson, Reggie Bush, Moreno and of course the top three in McCoy, Forte and Charles. Out of the 4 years that I did research on this was the year with the most receptions and receiving yards and receiving TDs.
Looking at the graph you can start to see it tail off in 2015 by a decent amount after staying pretty stable the two years prior. Although there seems to be a tail off in 2015, the yards per carry amoung the RB1 remains stable for the most part (roughly 4.5, 4.71, 4.4 ypc).
3466 carries 16,557 yards 112 TDs 462 catches 3519 yards 12 TDs
2012 was the year of the rookies ( Martin, Morris, Richardson) and this season had the most carries by over 350 and you guessed it, also had the most yards by nearly 2000 yards. It could be an outlier for the fact that Adrian Peterson had nearly 2100 rushing yards, but there was 5 RB1 that had 300+ carries and 4 other backs that had 300+ touches. Another notable thing about 2012 was there was less receptions. That should be expected that if running backs carry the ball more then they won't catch the ball as often.
The Final graphs look like most of the stats are on a downward trend, but mostly because the actual amount of carries have gone down. Teams nowadays are more willing to pass the ball because of the recent success teams have been having. Also with the emergence of backs that specialize in catching the ball out of the backfield, we're seeing less and less every down backs. But the question still remains the same: are running backs losing first round value? It may just be my opinion but I feel like there are still some value in those early rounds for running backs but you will still see wide receivers start to go earlier and earlier. As a matter of fact Antonio Brown should be the #1 pick overall, but who could argue with taking Le'Veon Bell over him ( me that's who)? My opinion is that the RB1 are on a downward trend but its a very slow trend and last year was a bit of outlier due to some injuries and I think the running back position will bounce back in the 2016 season with a few of these up and coming running backs that may produce for some of the older aging backs (Freeman, David Johnson, Rawls, Langford, maybe even Ajayi and Elliot). So don't be afraid to take a running back early even with the risk that may be involved. With the scarcity of running backs that run and catch you should still consider taking a running back early, it will just be harder with all them nice wide receivers out there ( although many you can get value in the middle rounds). Hope you enjoyed this article enjoy!!