2015 RB Production: Trend or Fluke?
One of the biggest storylines of the 2015 fantasy football season was the craptacular performance by RBs.
If you drafted a RB not named Adrian Peterson in the 1st round, you were disappointed. The next few rounds weren’t much better, with duds like C.J. Anderson, DeMarco Murray and Justin Forsett.
Now as we look ahead to 2016, the question becomes: Was 2015 the continuation of a trend that should change the way we value RBs, or was it a 1-year blip that shouldn’t impact our draft strategy going forward?
As with most things in fantasy football, the answer probably isn’t black and white. But let’s dig into that question together, see what we find, and start laying the groundwork for how we’ll treat RBs in 2016 drafts.
Total RB Rushing Production
And I mean TOTAL. Every player listed as a RB or FB on NFL.com. How did their total production in 2015 compare with the previous 5 years? This will give us an idea of whether teams are really running less and providing less rushing production.
A clear trend here. RB carries and rush yards were relatively flat from 2010 to 2012. But there’s been a steady decline in the 3 years since, with 2015 bringing 6-year lows in both stats.
RB TD production stayed on par with previous seasons for a year longer but has tanked the past 2 years.
Interestingly, RB efficiency has also waned over the past few seasons. Check out these yards-per-carry numbers:
Yards per carry and carries have declined at similar rates between 2010-2012 and 2013-2015 — 3.14% to 3.59%. So efficiency and volume have been almost equally problematic for RBs.
Total RB Receiving Production
So RB rushing production is down over the last 3 seasons — and seemingly continuing to trend down. But if teams are running less, it means they’re passing more. Are RBs benefitting with increased receiving numbers? Let’s take a look:
More targets. More receptions. More receiving yards. More receiving TDs. More everything!
And the increase in RB receiving production coincides perfectly with the decrease in rushing production. Both were relatively flat from 2010-2012 before changing significantly starting in 2013. Check out the percent increases in targets, receptions, receiving yards and receiving TDs from 2010-2012 to 2013-2015:
Receiving yards: 13.2%
Receiving TDs: 47%
The huge spike in TD production seems fluky, driven by a poor 2012 and big 2015. Then again, there’s a clear upward trend.
The increases in targets, receptions and receiving yards seem more predictive. And the gains there — about 10-13% — are much bigger than the losses we saw in rushing. Recall that carries dipped just 3.6% from 2010-2012 to 2013-2015. Rushing yards and TDs fell 6.6% and 5.6%, respectively.
Total RB Fantasy Production
Now the question is: Has the increase in receiving production made up for the decrease in rushing?
Fantasy points can answer that for us. (And fantasy production, after all, is what we’re really concerned with.)
Let’s start by looking at total PPR production by RBs over the last 6 seasons. The pop in receiving numbers should help RBs more in this scoring system.
RBs actually set a 6-year high in total PPR points in 2015. And that continued a general uptrend. Total PPR points in 2013-2015 were up 2.4% from 2010-2012. Not a major increase, but RB PPR production certainly doesn’t seem to be declining.
How about non-PPR?
No discernible trend there. In fact, RBs totaled 28,105 non-PPR points from 2013-2015 vs. 20,081.4 from 2010-2012 — a difference of less than a tenth of a percent.
So the RB position isn’t dying. Fantasy production from the position in non-PPR leagues has remained flat. It’s actually been growing in PPR.
Why, then, did 2015 feel so disgusting?
To answer that, we need to look at how all those fantasy points were dispersed.
Where did the points go?
There’s no perfect way to answer that question. Do we look at each individual RB slot (i.e. the 1st RB drafted in 2010 vs. the 1st drafted in 2015)? Do we look at production by round (i.e. 1st-round RBs in 2010 vs. 1st-round RBs in 2015)?
The most useful exercise, I think, is to group RBs into buckets based on final fantasy points. That’ll help determine whether elite RBs have become less elite and whether lesser RBs are producing more.
Let’s splice RBs into the following 5 groups:
Here’s the percentage of total PPR points each bucket of RBs accounted for in each of the past 6 seasons:
RB1s were abysmal in 2015. They scored 16.9% fewer PPR points than the average from 2010-2014.
But that wasn’t a continuation of any sort of trend. RB1 production was relatively flat in the previous 5 seasons, ranging from 26.9% to 29.3% of total PPR points. That points to 2015 being an outlier — and a type of season we shouldn’t be expecting to see again going forward.
There does appear to be trends among RB2s, 3s and 5+s, though. RB2 PPR production has been generally trending downward over the past 6 seasons, with a big dip over the last 2.
RB3 production has been declining ever-so slightly. RB5+ production, meanwhile, is on the rise.
This might be the most important finding of this exercise. If the top RBs are scoring fewer PPR points and the lower-end guys are scoring more, those top RBs become less valuable. In that case, it might make sense to pass on those early-round RBs and grab a bunch of middle and late-round guys whose PPR production is growing.
How about non-PPR? Check out the numbers:
Very similar to the PPR results. RB1 non-PPR production in 2015 still looks like an outlier — like it did in PPR. But RB2 non-PPR production has been in steady decline over the past 6 seasons. RB4 and especially RB5+ scoring is on the rise.
What did we learn?
- RB rushing production (carries, yards, TDs and even yards per carry) has been in decline over the past 3 seasons.
- RB receiving production (targets, catches, yards and TDs) has been on the rise over the same 6-year span.
- The net impact on RB fantasy production has been an increase in PPR points and essentially no change in non-PPR.
- RB1 PPR and non-PPR production was way down in 2015, but it looks more like a 1-year outlier than any sort of trend.
- RB2 and RB3 production appears to be declining, while RB4 and RB5+ production is increasing.
What does this all mean? We could gain an edge in the early rounds of both PPR and non-PPR drafts by leaning more toward high-end WRs and perhaps TEs — and then scooping up middle- and late-round RBs, whose production is on the rise.
Of course, successful fantasy drafting always comes down to picking the right players. We’ll spend the next 6 month figuring out who the right players are — at RB and every other position.