Production is ultimately what should matter most in both real-life and fantasy football. This might seem obvious, but at times both teams and fantasy players alike possess a bias toward certain player archetypes, sometimes at the running back position. But should daily fantasy sports players be targeting specific types of running backs, and if so, which ones? This is Part 1 of a five-part series.

Using our NFL Trends tool, we’ll measure and compare the fantasy points per game, Plus/Minus (points above/below salary-based expectation), and Consistency (percentage of time meeting salary-based expectations) of each of the following running back archetypes:

  1. Featured backs: The three-down workhorse that possesses their team’s receiving and goal-line role remains the crown jewel of fantasy football. Our featured-back group consists of backs that averaged at least 20 opportunities (carries plus targets) per game (min. four games).
  2. Space backs: Not every back is built to handle double-digit carries into the middle of a defense, but receiving backs remain valuable — especially in point-per-reception formats — in a pass-first league. Our space back sample group consists of backs that averaged at least three targets but fewer than 10 carries per game (min. 4 games).
  3. Early-down backs: Early-down backs aren’t exactly blue-chip fantasy assets without a receiving or goal-line role, although there’s value in a back that has a consistent double-digit touch floor. Our early-down back sample group consists of backs that averaged over 10 carries but fewer than three targets per game (min. 4 games)

Running backs that didn’t meet the above criteria are almost exclusively either part of a committee backfield or buried on the depth chart. There isn’t anything wrong with committee backs who can do a little bit of everything — as has been proven by teams like the Falcons and Patriots — but predicting their usage and production can be especially difficult considering their touches aren’t always correlated with game flow.

Factors That Impact Each Archetype

Not every running back that happens to meet an archetype’s thresholds is created equal, of course. Backs are more reliant on their surrounding talent than any other position, and they’re accordingly paid less than any non-special-teams position. Factors such as agility, strength, and breakaway speed won’t help a running back with a bad offensive line against a stacked box that doesn’t need to respect the offense’s passing attack.

Analyzing the factors which certain types of running backs click isn’t a futile task; the NFL’s collective tendency to routinely shuffle backs on and off the field combined with the short lifespan of running backs in general mean we can gain an edge by knowing what to look for from some of the league’s backfield talents. We have to remember to always consider a running back’s supporting cast, potential game flow, and matchup in addition to their own respective talents.

In an attempt to better understand what makes the league’s different types of running backs tick, in future articles I will break down four factors for each of the three running back archetypes which impact their value and production:

  1. NFL Draft round
  2. Weight/height/age
  3. NFL Scouting Combine metrics
  4. Quarterback/offense ability

Check back here on FantasyLabs for articles on each factor and be sure to check out The Action Network for more in-depth NFL analysis.

More Fantasy-Friendly Running Back Archetype Coverage

Pictured: Le’Veon Bell
Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire – USA TODAY Sports