More Injury Prone: Running Backs or Wide Receivers?

By Mike Braude - @BraudeM
Darren McFadden

As Part III of my “Early Round Selections” series, I’m going to compare the “fragility” (how likely one is to get injured) of the running back and wide receiver positions. Most believe that running backs are more likely to get injured because of their volume of touches, however I have yet to see any studies that actually compare it.

In case you haven’t caught up on the previous parts of this series, I suggest you do that now:

Part I: A Tip on Early Round Selections

Part II: A Closer Look at Early Round Selections

To start, I found preseason projections from Football Guys for the last three seasons. Thus, the method for choosing which players are included in the study is completely unbiased. Three years should be enough data to draw a strong conclusion while examining “today’s” NFL. If we move too far back then I believe it’s likely we’ll see more injuries to running backs, as 300+ carry “workhorses” were more of a commonality.

I used the top 30 running backs and wide receivers from the projections to compare their games played. Obviously this isn’t an exact science as players miss games due to suspensions and many other reasons, however, these extenuating circumstances occur on both sides and shouldn’t reduce the validity of this study.

Games Played From 2011-2013

Running Backs12.9713.8313.17
Wide Receivers14.0014.5713.97

In 2011, a top 30 running back missed a game more per season than a top 30 receiver. So far, our theory stands strong. 2012 proved to be a year of health, as both running backs and wide receivers played in more games than the previous season. Despite running backs appearing, on average, in almost a whole game more in 2012, wide receivers were still less fragile. For the third straight season we see the same result. Before we draw our conclusions, let’s combine all of our data to find one average for each position.

Three Year Average

Running Backs13.32
Wide Receivers14.18

Our three-year average tells us that a top 30 running back is likely to miss 0.86 more games per season than a top 30 wide receiver. While this isn’t earth-shattering news, it provides us with evidence that running backs are more likely to get injured than wide receivers.


Considering wide receivers are scoring more points than running backs, come at a cheaper price, and are less likely to get injured, I think it’s a very good idea to take wide receivers early. This is the best way to give your fantasy football team a weekly advantage.

2 thoughts on “More Injury Prone: Running Backs or Wide Receivers?”

  1. I’m just playing devil’s advicate here and have seen Zero Rb at Rotoviz. Just looking at last year, the top three Rb’s were drafted after the top three picks. Based on ADP from fantasypros you could have gotten them at picks 4,9, and 11. So theoretically, you could have gotten McCoy and Forte in a 10 team league from the 9th spot. Then we’d need to look at the average scoring difference between these Rb’s and those selected in later rounds. Next we’d need to look at the drop off in rounds 3-5 when filling out WR slots compared to the stud early round WRs. I haven’t done the work, but im just throwing it out there. Statistically speaking I believe you are correct to go WR based in the percentages, but it’s not an exact science. Enjoyed reading the series. Keep up the great work!

  2. Thanks Jason, I appreciate the feedback. That’s an interesting suggestion that I may just have to research and write an article on. It’s difficult to quantify those late first round RBs who end up being so valuable (last year Forte and to a lesser extent LeSean and Charles) because there’s so many RBs that are taken in the 1st round that end up being unfavorable for owners (last year Spiller, Arian, and T-Rich). It seems to be very much a crapshoot while early WRs have a better “hit-rate” or return on investment (Calvin, Dez, Demaryius, & Marshall) as Julio was the only real “bust” but that’s more bad luck because of his injury.

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