Dynasty League Football


Does Early Success Matter for Dynasty Running Backs?

How important is it for a running back to have fantasy success early in their career?

Javonte Williams

There is a common take throughout the fantasy football industry promoting the idea that running backs ‘get it done’ for fantasy early in their careers. The fantasy industry also gets very impatient with their running backs. It is commonly said that if they do not start producing within two years, it is time to give up.

It is evident that the running back position is an easier position to learn when switching from college to the NFL compared to others. Time after time, we see rookie running backs succeed in the league and get acclimated to their offenses very quickly. Therefore, the idea that the great fantasy running backs are the ones starting it early makes a lot of sense logically. However, do the numbers actually back that up?

My Process

I took some time to research the last decade of top-tier fantasy running backs to see when they actually get their production going. My end goal is to determine if running backs can have a rough start to their career and still finish strong or if the top-tier running backs are the ones kicking off their careers with a bang.

Here was my full process with all of this. The first step was to find out the average points per game for a top-12 running back among players who played at least six games since 2013. I made that six-game mark to eliminate any fluky players and did this in points per game to ensure that mid-season injuries did not exclude players from the sample.

The average points per game for the RB12 over the past ten years is 15.1 in FantasyPros PPR scoring. I took that number and looked at every running back over the past ten years who played six or more games that hit that mark. I looked at all of their careers and looked at their points per game mark every year of their career. I eliminated any one-hit wonders who only hit the top that 15.1 points per game, and was left with 33 running backs who have hit the points-per-game mark at least twice in their career while playing six or more games since 2013. This is a sample of a lot of great fantasy running backs.

Here is the link to the spreadsheet of all the players and their statistics: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1tZUE50Dfd70zFVK9X6fbQcNWebkHg-Iw/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=105358807529606683484&rtpof=true&sd=true

Trends I Found

Only seven of those 33 running backs had neither of their first two seasons hit 15.1 PPG. That is a rate of about 21%, which means that about 79% of running backs who achieve greatness in fantasy with multiple top-twelve finishes have had at least one of them within their first two seasons. This displays a clear trend that running backs who crush it in fantasy tend to do it early.

You may ask: what about rookies? If you see the success as early as the rookie outing, that player is slightly more likely to have a greater amount of top-12 finishes in the future. Out of the 12 running backs who have had 15.1 PPG in their rookie season since 2013, their average number of years of hitting that mark over their career is sitting at just over 3.9. For the 21 players who did not hit that mark as a rookie, those players sit at just under 3.1 seasons of hitting 15.1 PPG over their career. Crushing it right off the gate in your rookie season shows clear signs of fantasy greatness awaiting.

I put together a graph for the rookie seasons so you can visualize it, the green line is the 15.1 points per game mark, each dot representing a player from the sample. The blue and red spotted lines demonstrate the average number of 15.1 points-per-game seasons as I mentioned earlier. Here is the graph:

What can we Take Away?

From those numbers, there are a couple of important things to keep note of.

The first trend to take away is that true top-tier running backs tend to get it done for fantasy early in their careers. Just under 80% of top-tier running backs within the last decade have had an extremely productive 15.1 points per game season within their first two years.

Also, the earlier they get it done, the better. Players who hit the 15.1 points per game mark as rookies tended to be more productive throughout their careers than the ones who did not get it done as rookies.

As a result, managers should be very thrilled if they see their fantasy running back have a top-12-level season within their first two seasons, and even more excited if it is as a rookie. Based on the numbers, that kind of production shows signs of a bright future ahead.

On the other hand, dynasty players should be quick to move on from running backs if they have not had fantasy football success in a major way after two seasons. The numbers show a clear trend that the ones who have a big impact down the line are usually the ones who start off strong.

Who are the Current Examples to watch?

There are multiple backs in dynasty right now that we can talk about and evaluate based on these numbers. Here are a few:

JK Dobbins is entering his fourth season this year. He did show a fantasy football flash toward the end of his rookie campaign, but that was primarily him scoring a ton of touchdowns. While his injuries have really set him back so far, he has never been given the role to be a superb fantasy asset. If it has not happened yet, it seems unlikely that it will ever happen. Dobbins is an extremely talented runner, but in fantasy football, it just doesn’t add up. I would be attempting to get him off your dynasty rosters.

The next one would be Javonte Williams who also has dealt with injuries. Like Dobbins, he has also never gotten the workload we wanted for fantasy unless an injury happened to other backs in the backfield. Even at the beginning of last year, his workload was not what we had hoped. After two years, still not being given that opportunity to take over the backfield is a major red flag. Looking towards this year, it is not looking good due to his knee problems. Williams is someone I am rooting for a lot, but there are major concerns to be had. I would be selling him aggressively in dynasty to managers who may still believe.

Breece Hall is set up to have a very successful career as a New York Jet. In his first season, he only played seven contests but averaged just over 16 fantasy points per game. While his recovery from his ACL injury may potentially impact his production this coming season, since he showed talent right off the bat as a rookie, I would expect a bright future from the 21-year-old. Given that some people may have concerns about this season and his injury status, I’d be willing to pay up and trade for him in my dynasty leagues.

Khalil Herbert over the last two seasons has shown small flashes behind David Montgomery but has not been able to truly make a difference in fantasy. Since the Bears’ depth chart at running back consists of him, D’Onta Foreman, and fourth-round pick Roschon Johnson, some managers believe a big breakout is coming. I would be very hesitant because since getting rid of Montgomery, all the Bears have done is add running backs to the team. If Herbert was never able to get the workload we want for him without an injury after two years in the league, I would doubt it happens ever. Herbert is someone to sell off the hype surrounding his name.

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Does Early Success Matter for Dynasty Running Backs?
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