Feature running backs just aren’t around as much anymore. Running back committees are a safer gamble for teams in regards to the salary cap and season long workload. You have fresh running backs more often, and you can run the ball forty times a game, for sixteen games, and still have guys healthy enough to compete in the postseason. Teams today are also passing the ball more and more, and the more they air the ball, the more productive wideouts become and the less productive the backfield becomes. On top of all of this, quarterbacks are running the ball more and more, especially in the red zone, further vulturing yards and touchdowns from your top two fantasy RBs. A Single Running back, multi flex team setup is better suited for this New NFL.
Also, as the NFL changes, so does Fantasy Football. PPR has become incredibly popular over the last few years, and it’s becoming the norm amongst more hardcore fantasy fans. Originally it was designed to even out the fact that running backs were more consistent and higher scorers than wide receivers. Although feature backs are still the most consistent scorers, there just aren’t 24 in the league anymore. If you are looking at playable running backs and wideouts in a 12 team PPR league, running backs dominate the list for the first ten or fifteen point getters, but further down wideouts take over completely. Last year in standard leagues, Rashard Mendenhall was the 24th highest scoring running back, or the lowest scoring RB2 in fantasy, averaging 7.1 points per game. Marvin Jones, the WR24, scored 8 points per game. So in standard scoring, the WR2s are already outscoring the RB2s. Then if you switch to PPR scoring, Mendenhall’s score jumps to 9.6, an increase of 2.5 PPG, where Jones doubles this statistic, jumping up 12 PPG, and increase of 5 PPG. To put this in perspective, Rashard Mendenhall, RB24 in 2013, was outscored by Hakeem Nicks, ranked WR41, with 9.71 PPG. That means that in PPR leagues, the mid level WR4s are on par with the low end WR2s.
If a team manager has four wide receivers that are outscoring one of his starting running backs, they should be able to start more wideouts and only one RB. That’s the way it works in the NFL. The Seahawk’s and the 49er’s strategy was to score a lot of points by running the ball. The Packers and the Broncos strategy was to score a lot of points by passing the ball. You work with the team and the players that you have, and win by doing what works. Fantasy Football should be the same way. The more flexibility and strategy that you add to Fantasy, the better it gets.
One strategy NFL teams use to prevent injury is the running back by committee. You don’t wear your backs down as much over the course of the season, and if one RB gets injured, you haven’t put all of your eggs in that one basket. Fantasy should be the same. A season ending injury to a RB1 can tank and entire fantasy season, and nobody wants their playoff bound team to crash and burn because one player has a broken collarbone. It’s just a terrible way to lose. This is especially true during the postseason, when everyone’s banged up all to hell. How many of us have started some waiver wired no-named handcuff in the playoffs? I think I started Niles Davis in the Championship Game in one league last year. Unlike wide receivers, running backs are usually nowhere to be found on the waiver. There just aren’t very many of them because most of the time NFL managers are only playing one at a time. Why shouldn’t fantasy managers be doing the same?
The league has changed a great deal over time, and fantasy should follow suit. The Feature Back is becoming a thing of the past, and fantasy team setups should reflect this. It is my opinion that Single Running Back, Two Flex, PPR Leagues are more modern and better suited to the game today. Although it isn’t popular yet, fairly soon, it will be. Luckily, you are already ahead of the curve.
By Matt Haithcock