In Part I of this series I suggested that those who cannot select a top three running back should attack the wide receiver position. This strategy formed from the theory that wide receivers outscore running backs while being available for selection at a later draft position. Let’s take a look to see if the statistical evidence continues to back this up.
Using Historical Data
To test my theory, I took the top 12 running backs and wide receivers from the last two seasons and compared their points per game averages. We’ll start with last season.
Note: I included the average of each position without its top three players because typically the top three running backs are the top three players off the board in each draft. I believe those three running backs greatly impact the perceived value of the running back position. Once those players are removed, the gap between running back and wide receiver scoring broadens.
Here are the top 12 running backs from last season, sorted by their points per game:
|RK||Top 12 RBs PPG||PTS||PPG|
|1||Charles, Jamaal KCC||380||25.33|
|2||Forte, Matt CHI||339.3||21.21|
|3||McCoy, LeSean PHI||331.6||20.73|
|4||Moreno, Knowshon DEN||296.6||18.54|
|5||Murray, DeMarco DAL||259.4||18.53|
|6||Bush, Reggie DET||243.2||17.37|
|7||Lynch, Marshawn SEA||276.3||17.27|
|8||Peterson, Adrian MIN||235.7||16.84|
|9||Vereen, Shane NEP||134.5||16.81|
|10||Bell, Le'Veon PIT||217.9||16.76|
|11||Lacy, Eddie GBP||243.5||16.23|
|12||Johnson, Chris TEN||242.2||15.14|
|Average Without Top 3||17.05|
From this table we can gather that RB1s average 18.4 points per game. This average drops to 17.05 after removing the top 3 running backs – the ones who are likely to be selected with the first three picks in PPR fantasy drafts this August. Let’s see how they compare with the top 12 wide receivers.
|RK||Top 12 WRs PPG||PTS||PPG|
|1||Gordon, Josh CLE||314.4||22.46|
|2||Jones, Julio ATL||110.7||22.14|
|3||Johnson, Calvin DET||304.2||21.73|
|4||Thomas, Demaryius DEN||319||19.94|
|5||Brown, Antonio PIT||314.9||19.68|
|6||Green, A.J. CIN||306.6||19.16|
|7||Blackmon, Justin JAC||76.4||19.10|
|8||Marshall, Brandon CHI||305.5||19.09|
|9||Bryant, Dez DAL||293.4||18.34|
|10||Jeffery, Alshon CHI||284.6||17.79|
|11||Cobb, Randall GBP||106.1||17.68|
|12||Decker, Eric DEN||280.8||17.55|
|Average Without Top 3||18.70|
While Jamaal Charles led all non-quarterbacks in scoring, the top 12 wide receivers averaged 1.15 more points per game than the top 12 running backs. When removing the top 3 running backs, this gap grows to 1.65. But maybe this is a one-year phenomenon- let’s check 2012:
Here are the top 12 running backs from 2012, sorted by their points per game:
|RK||Top 12 RBs PPG||PTS||PG|
|1||Peterson, Adrian MIN||349.4||21.84|
|2||Martin, Doug TBB||312.6||19.54|
|3||Foster, Arian HOU||304.1||19.01|
|4||Rice, Ray BAL||283.1||17.69|
|5||Richardson, Trent CLE||254.7||16.98|
|6||Lynch, Marshawn SEA||271.6||16.98|
|7||McCoy, LeSean PHI||202.3||16.86|
|8||Sproles, Darren NOS||216.1||16.62|
|9||Spiller, C.J. BUF||258.3||16.14|
|10||Morris, Alfred WAS||254.7||15.92|
|11||Charles, Jamaal KCC||242.5||15.16|
|12||Murray, DeMarco DAL||148.4||14.84|
|Average Without Top 3||16.35|
Compared to 2013, the RB1s as a whole averaged 1.1 fewer points per game. When you remove the top 3 running backs, the running backs averaged 0.7 fewer points per game. Let’s see how they compare with the top 12 wide receivers from 2012:
|RK||Top 12 WRs PPG||PTS||PPG|
|1||Johnson, Calvin DET||345.4||21.59|
|2||Marshall, Brandon CHI||334.6||20.91|
|3||Bryant, Dez DAL||302.7||18.92|
|4||Green, A.J. CIN||300.8||18.80|
|5||Harvin, Percy MIN||168.3||18.70|
|6||Johnson, Andre HOU||295.8||18.49|
|7||Thomas, Demaryius DEN||294.4||18.40|
|8||Welker, Wes NEP||290.4||18.15|
|9||Wayne, Reggie IND||270||16.88|
|10||Decker, Eric DEN||269.4||16.84|
|11||White, Roddy ATL||269.1||16.82|
|12||Jones, Julio ATL||261.8||16.36|
|Average Without Top 3||17.71|
Compared to 2013, the WR1s as a whole scored 1.15 fewer points per game. When you remove the top 3 wide receivers, 2013 outscored 2012 by 1 point. Still, we see the same trend of wide receivers outscoring running backs. In 2012, WR1s outscored RB1s by 1.1 points per game. If you remove the top 3 players at each position, this gap broadens to 1.36 points per game.
Over the last two seasons, we can conclude that the top 12 wide receivers outscore the top 12 running backs. When averaging the last two years, we find that WR1s average 1.13 points per game more than RB1s. After removing the top three at each position, the gap broadens to 1.5 points. While there’s a big drop-off at running back, the drop-off isn’t quite as large at wide receiver.
|2012-2013 PPG||All||Without Top 3|
Now that we’ve concluded who scores more points, it’s easier to explain my draft strategy. Since most owners are drafting running backs early, the wide receivers are typically being drafted later than their lower-scoring counterparts. For instance, if you look at Apex’s ADP (Average Draft Position) from last season, only two wide receivers were being drafted in the 1st round (Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant) opposed to a staggering 10 running backs.
When so many running backs are selected in the 1st round, there’s no value there. This trend even continues into the 2nd round; when last season, on average, six running backs were selected, compared to five wide receivers and one tight end. This allows savvy owners to snatch two or three of the top 12 wide receivers – which ultimately gives those teams a high probability of leading their league in scoring.
Love the idea of removing top 3 RBs for this study
Under stand the premise but seems very short sited. You’re only looking at the top 12 for each position which consists of only 2 rounds of a draft. It might make sense with the small sample but what happens to the drop off in the next 12 and 24 spots of each position after that. I’m guessing the drop at RB is greater than WR and thus taking RBs early may put you in a minor 1.5pt disadvantage but that it can be made up 2 or 3 fold by taking WR later that outscores the same level of RB.
Certainly would like to see this theory expanded as it’s interesting but still have a hard time buying with such a small sample. Most starting rosters consists of 4 to 6 RBs and WRs, take this through at least 48 players at each position broken down into 12 player segments. Have a feeling RB-RB provides a better overall team.
This also assumes that you can accurately predict the order for the upcoming year. My assumption is that you have a better chance of hitting on a break out WR in later rounds than a RB just because there are more WR on every NFL team.
First off, thanks for reading the article. I certainly understand where you’re coming from with these concerns. Yes, I’m only looking at a very small percentage of the draft and yes, adding more players should give us a better idea (and it’s something I’m looking into doing soon). But either way, injuries can change the entire complexion of the season and therefore have huge implications on how we should draft going forward.
This article was intended to take a close look at last season specifically. Knowledge of the past can help us in the future, although by no means is this a non-contested issue – there are many different routes that you can go in 2014. Last season was interesting from the perspective that, in Apex leagues at least, six WRs went in the first 2 rounds – compared to 16 RBs.
Despite the amount of running back being taken early, the wide receivers were MUCH more effective per game. Those six WRs averaged 19.73 FP/game and the 16 RBs averaged 14.92 FP/game. Not to mention that they were more consistent, (none of those WRs averaged below 17.5 FP/game, a staggering 13 of the 16 RBs did) but they were also less injury-prone and came at a cheaper price.
While this may not be predictive of the future, it was extremely effective for teams to draft WRs in the early round last season. Going RB early, may possibly reward you but you’re not giving yourself a chance to get the WRs who are likely to score the most points. I’d much rather stack Demaryius, Dez, Jordy Nelson and then a like Victor Cruz. By pilling up these WRs, it’s a raise to the flex.
Players should be using the flex to their advantage because that’s where a big advantage can be gained. Some players will start a RB at their flex, which is last year’s NFL, was a huge mistake. If you can have WR 1 or 2 scoring lots of points at your flex, you have a significant point advantage over someone who is starting a RB or even a mediocre WR or will score 10 PPR fantasy points per week. I’ll start WR heavy and grab RBs who catch passes (Pierre Thomas, Danny Woodhead, Joique Bell, etc) late.
While I do love the idea of expanding this study, perhaps it wouldn’t mean much. Maybe grabbing more WRs to take them away from your opponents is a more advantageous? Maybe grabbing Gronk, Graham or Julius Thomas is a more viable strategy? I personally will grab at least 5 WRs in the first 10 rounds because they score the most points and I plan to start one at my flex. I will spend my blind bidding money on RBs, who there will be more of on the free agent wire because of frequent injuries.
I will continue to draft seeking value, wherever that may fall. It may not even be with WRs if players start drafting more WR-heavy. If every other pick is a WR, they’ll become significantly less valuable and each pick will have to be evaluated differently.
It’s very hard to quantify all of these variables and simplify to the point that taking RBs or WRs early is the clear dominant strategy. But considering that RBs hit rate is much lower in the early rounds, I’m not risking my early picks on RBs unless they’re guys who are capable of leading all running backs in scoring. For me this year, that’s just Charles, LeSean and Forte. I’m not betting on Peterson catching consistent enough passes.
Mike thanks for the feedback. I’ve been a RB-RB believer for some time but also haven’t done many PPR lgs so can see how that can change to benefitting WRs more. I am being persuaded off going RB in first 2 rounds but can’t see going WR heavy in the early rounds.
Though I do agree that I’m likely to have 5 WRs in the first 10 rounds with the other 5 probably RBs. QB is becoming more like K and D every year with the number of options out there, hell last year in a 16tm lg others were drafting there 2nd QB before I got my first (Vick, didn’t pay off but Foles worked nice off waivers).
TE I’d like 1 of the top 3 or 4 but just don’t see them being worth it when draft day finally rolls around. So my last 4 rounds will likely be QB TE D and K.
Look forward to reading more articles and best of luck this coming season. You do any DFS coverage? I’m leaning heavy that way this year.
Yeah, I used to ALWAYS draft at least 1 or 2 RBs in the first two rounds but I think things have changed with the NFL shifting to a very pass heavy league. Yeah, none of what I wrote applies to standard – this strategy is developed for PPR leagues.
Totally agree about QBs, there’s so many- I’m fine with whoever falls out of the Romo, Cutler, Brady, Kaepernick – doesn’t matter to me as long as I don’t have to spend a high pick on a QB.
Yeah I like the idea of taking a TE early if there’s a good opportunity but I’m also fine taking an Olsen late or streaming with a guy like Ertz.
Glad you liked the article, best of luck to you as well! I’m not as much of a seasoned vet in DFS – my perfect league is 12 team PPR – but we’ll release our favorite DFS plays each week once the season starts. I’m going to give it a chance this year as well because it’s a lot of fun but I wouldn’t consider myself as adept in that area.
Thanks for reading bud, and good luck this year!