If 2013 taught fantasy football owners anything, it’s that running backs are no sure bet. Anytime we invest an early pick on a player, it’s going to be hard for that player to actually meet their draft day value. This is why, early in a draft, owners are drafting for safety just as much as they are for upside. By exploring a range of outcomes, rather than median season long projections, we can get an idea of how safe a player actually is.

When it comes to seasoned veterans, most fantasy owners have a decent sense of of a player’s floor and ceiling. For players with a small sample size of NFL games, looking at historical player comps can guide fake footballers on what to expect in the future. In this study I’ll explore projection ranges for second year running backs that had at least 200 carries in 2013.

Methodology Revisited

The process for uncovering a range of fantasy outcomes is the same one that I used for wide receivers, with the only difference being that running backs fantasy points are explained on a per touch basis.

Player comps were pulled from the RotoViz RB Similiarity Score App. The average season long fantasy points and total touches were extrapolated from the set of player comps and adjusted by RotoViz’s suggested multiplier. The standard deviation within the set of comps produced a range of expected fantasy points and touches, which allowed us to calculate expected fantasy points per touch.

In order to determine if a player is a good value or not, we can look at current MFL ADP, and compare a player’s draft position to where different end of season point totals should rank that player. For projected end of season ranks, I averaged PPR point totals for the top 48 fantasy running backs from 2011-2013.

Eddie Lacy (ADP: RB5)

Below are the adjusted averages and PPR fantasy points per touch based on Eddie Lacy’s closest comps:

TouchesPPR FP/Touch
Adjusted Averages305.80.75
Standard Deviation104.30.14

The following matrix shows various outcomes for Lacy based on his likely end of season point totals and average PPR running back ranks from the last 3 seasons:

FP/Touch201.5 T0uches253.6 Touches305.8 Touches358.0 Touches410.1 Touches
0.89179.6 (RB21)226.1 (RB11)272.7 (RB5)319.2 (RB3)365.7 (RB1)
0.75151.2 (RB28)190.4 (RB18)229.5 (RB10)268.7 (RB6)307.8 (RB4)
0.61122.8 (RB36)154.6 (RB27)186.4 (RB19)218.2 (RB13)250.0 (RB7)

For a featured back in an offense as good as Green Bay’s, a 300+ touch mean is well within reason and there should be enough scoring opportunities that Lacy could easily finish near the top of the spectrum in terms of fantasy efficiency. It would likely take a significant injury for Eddie Lacy to finish with just 200 touches, but even if we do consider the entire given range of outcomes, history suggests that a sophomore back coming off of a rookie campaign similar to Lacy’s should finish as a RB1 over half the time. Investing in Lacy could be pricey, but he does have an overall RB1 finish in his range and with no health concerns, the Packers’ back may be worth the investment.

Zac Stacy (ADP: RB14)

See below for Zac Stacy’s total touch and fantasy point adjusted averages:

TouchesPPR FP/Touch
Adjusted Averages296.80.71
Standard Deviation90.10.12

Stacy’s range of outcomes, based on his player comps:

FP/Touch206.7 Touches251.8 Touches296.8 Touches341.9 Touches386.9 Touches
0.83171.7 (RB23)209.2 (RB15)246.6 (RB7)284.0 (RB5)321.5 (RB3)
0.71146.7 (RB30)178.7 (RB22)210.7 (RB15)242.7 (RB8)274.7 (RB5)
0.59121.7 (RB36)148.3 (RB29)174.8 (RB23)201.3 (RB17)227.9 (RB10)

Of all the second year backs expected to start in 2014, Zac Stacy is the least proficient pass catcher, so there are some concerns that his workload could be affected by game flow. This may explain why his average touches falls below 300 and why he doesn’t have the rare 400 touch season in his range. Despite any concerns about his pass catching ability or touches that he may lose to Tre Mason, Stacy appears to be a bargain if his ADP holds. 40% of Stacy’s projected range has him as an RB1, but the value shows up in his RB24 or better projections, which makes up 80% of his likely outcomes. When we consider bust rates of running backs drafted outside of the top 12, Stacy’s RB14 ADP looks even more like a steal.

Le’Veon Bell (ADP: RB10)

Adjusted averages and standard deviation found from Le’Veon Bell’s player comps:

TouchesPPR FP/Touch
Adjusted Averages329.00.77
Standard Deviation95.50.15

Bell’s range of outcome matrix:

FP/Touch233.5 Touches281.3 Touches329.0 Touches376.7 Touches424.5 Touches
0.92214.9 (RB14)258.9 (RB6)302.8 (RB4)346.7 (RB2)390.6 (RB1)
0.77179.6 (RB21)216.3 (RB14)253.0 (RB6)289.7 (RB5)326.5 (RB2)
0.62144.3 (RB30)173.8 (RB23)203.3 (RB17)232.8 (RB10)262.3 (RB6)

No rookie in 2013 saw more touches on a per game basis than Le’Veon Bell, and the projections reflect that. Pittsburgh brought in LeGarrette Blount to help with the backfield duties, but Bell is fantastic in the passing game and will be on the field regardless of the game situation. A 400 touch season is unlikely for any back, but it falls within Bell’s range of outcomes because the Steelers have already shown that they are willing to lean heavily on their feature back. After Antonio Brown, there are no dominant play  makers on the Steelers offense, so even if Blount does steal goal line touches, Bell has a legitimate shot to outperform his RB10 ADP.

What This Means for 2014

2013 produced a crop of promising young running backs, but with youth comes question marks for fantasy owners. With just one season of data, it can be difficult to know what to expect out of players in their sophomore campaign, even if they are going to be the featured back in their offense. Historical evidence suggests that fantasy owners should be confident investing in second year backs that were already featured as rookies.