The receiving game in the Fantasy Football leagues everywhere took a hit this year and it left people wondering “Is this an anomaly?” or “Is this the new normal?” well I’m here to help out with this question. Or at least I hope to help shed some light on the subject and help make your draft strategy a little easier.
I’m usually an RB first kind of drafter except for in 2017. I went WR first followed by RB then WR, WR. I took Michael Thomas with the 9th pick in a 12 man redraft league followed by Jordan Howard and then a couple of WR 2 type guys. Honestly don’t remember exactly who they were and they didn’t finish the season on my roster anyways so it’s honestly irrelevant. That’s an indication of what I’m getting at. I was so high on wide receivers that I traded Kareem Hunt and Carlos Hyde for AJ Green and Ty Montgomery because I thought Montgomery had a higher receiving ceiling than Hyde or Hunt.
Clearly, I lost that trade. However, it did not cost me a chance at the title. But I did end up losing in the playoffs to the guy I traded Hunt and Hyde to ironically. So, after the season was over I looked at the stats for AJG because it seemed like a disappointing season for him. Turned out it wasn’t just him. Just like everybody else, I was left wondering what had happened to the wide receivers this year.
In the beginning of my research I found an article by Ty Schefter and I wondered was he right? Is the boom over? So, I started looking at why he might be right. Even though Ty provided some data in his article, I needed something more. So, I started doing my own research by pulling numbers from a variety of areas such as DB tackles, PBU’s, (pass break ups) tackles for loss, percentage of YAC yards from QBs vs. their air yards, ADOT, (average depth of target) and all kinds of crazy stats. And then it hit me.
It was essentially that simple. Running backs are so much more versatile. They’re catching out of backfield now and they have in some cases the same top end speed as route stretching receivers. For example, Derrick Henry posted a top end speed of 21 mph to tie the fifth fastest top end time this year. Tied with Tyreek Hill.
A 247-pound running back ran the same top end speed as a 185-pound wide receiver. So that’s kind of where things started to make sense for me. I started pulling the raw data for running backs and here’s what I found.
In 2015 the top 12 fantasy running backs accounted for a grand total of 698 receptions. 2016 that number 688. Stayed fairly consistent. So, when I pulled the numbers for 2017 and found that the reception count went up to 781 I couldn’t believe it. Then I thought to myself “David Johnson didn’t even play this year”. That would have been roughly another 75 considering he had 80 last year I was shooting for the under. It could have obviously been higher especially after Bruce Arians made the statement that he was going to try and get Johnson 1,000 receiving yards. Now also add to the fact that you have this new wave of guys like Kamara and Hunt and consider that Kamara didn’t start every game because Adrian Peterson was there to rob him of some snaps at the beginning of the season. This number could have been WAY higher.
In addition to the running backs stealing receptions they’re also able to get the ball in space and eat up more yardage. Basically, leading to a low risk throw that consumes a large chunk of the field as opposed to going down field with more high risk throws that would consume roughly the same yardage. In addition to that teams were getting closer to the end zone because of the short plays that were eating up so many yards. Then I wondered if the rushing touchdowns has increased. Keep in mind I’m only giving you numbers for the top 12 backs.
2015- 96 rushing td’s
2016-138 rushing td’s
2017- 98 rushing td’s
Obviously 2016 rushing td’s didn’t equate. It was an off number. A huge decrease followed and there was a return to “normal” if you will in 2017. But consider that LeGarrette Blount had 18 rushing td’s in 2016 and David Johnson had 16. Neither finished in the top 12 this year obviously because Blount moved on from New England and again Johnson missed the year. 34 less td’s and we’re back to what would be considered normal otherwise we’d see a closer to 110 roughly assuming Johnson had 12 td’s. However, td’s are hard to project.
And then the receiving touchdowns for running backs in the last 3 years breaks down as such.
An uptick. +3 from last year. It doesn’t seem that significant and it probably wasn’t because almost all of the damage was done in receptions.
2015- 698 receptions for 6,154 yards
2016- 688 receptions for 5,872 yards
2017- 722 receptions for 7,212 yards
So essentially what happened was an increase in running back receptions in the amount of +34 for +1,340 yards in 2017. And that’s only 12 running backs and that’s roughly 3 extra receptions per back for an extra 112 receiving yards per back. I fully expect this to continue as we’re seeing an influx of versatile backs coming out of college. This year it will be Rashaad Penny and Saquan Barkley leading the class of 2018.
The other thing we need to discuss is the RPO (run, pass, option) plays. There is a new version of Chip Kelly’s RPO coming in to the league and it’s very effective. If you think it’s not going to last, you may be right. But for now, it’s what’s effective in the NFL and now that the Chiefs, Eagles and Rams have had great success with it (and I’m sure you’ve heard before.) it’s a copycat league. And when things work for some you can fully expect others to follow suit.
I hope that I’ve been able to help you see things from a different perspective and hopefully you’ll find a draft strategy that works for you going in to 2018.