“There are more and more running backs in running back-by-committee systems. That’s why the position becoming less relevant in fantasy football.”

We’re hearing this logic everywhere. With the increase in passing attempts in the NFL, as well as the increasing use of multiple running backs in the backfield during a game, we’re set to assume that the running back position – especially in fantasy football – is becoming insignificant.

I mentioned it in my Debunking of Matthew Berry’s Draft Day Manifesto, but the judgment used here is flat out incorrect. And there’s reasoning that shows us why.

But first, a story:

Let’s pretend that it’s a Wednesday night, and you decide to set your alarm for an earlier wake up because Allen, your work buddy, has a birthday the next day. When there’s a birthday, the office always brings in bagels for everyone at the company. It’s a smaller business (about 20 employees) and you know that the number of everything bagels available will be limited. You get to work the next day a few minutes early and are able to snag the high-in-demand everything bagel.

An hour later, Carl walks in the office looking like a disheveled mess. He must’ve gone out for Wednesday Night trivia at Bar Louie. He needs a bagel to cure his hangover, but is disappointed to see that none are left. Saddened, he walks to his desk and settles for an expired Banana Yogurt.

You’ve got the bagel that mattered. Carl thought he could get away with coming in late and getting one, but failed to do so. Nobody’s ever been to work that late and gotten a bagel…what was Carl thinking?

Don’t be the Carl of your fantasy football league. While it may seem like you can come in the mid or late rounds of your fantasy draft and get a high-upside running back, numbers tell a different story.

Running back-by-committee systems are becoming widespread in an ever changing NFL. In fact, if we look at the number of carries that individual running backs are receiving since 2000, we can see that this is the case:

 

Year 300+ Carries 250-299 Carries 200-249 Carries Total Instances
2000 8 10 5 23
2001 10 5 7 22
2002 9 10 9 28
2003 13 3 7 23
2004 9 8 7 24
2005 10 7 7 24
2006 10 7 10 27
2007 6 6 10 22
2008 5 8 11 24
2009 6 3 13 22
2010 7 4 11 22
2011 2 10 7 19

As the table shows, the number of 200-plus rushing attempt seasons have decreased as a whole over the last 11 seasons. And furthermore, having a 300-plus carry season has become significantly less common.

It’s pretty clear that this is the impact we should expect to see with more running back-by-committee systems in place. Additional teams are splitting rushing attempts between players, and hence, the backs that used to get a ton of carries per season are getting them stolen by their teammates.

Now, go back to the bagel situation. Imagine that you knew there would only be one everything bagel, and that you really loved bagels.  Wouldn’t that make you want to go to work as early as possible in order to get that one, unique rounded piece of bread?

There’s a decline in the number of running backs who are getting quality rushing attempts. You need to get one of the backs that are getting these carries because they’re the guys separating themselves as the best in the league.

Don’t believe me? Since 2006, there have been just two running backs who have received less than 200 carries in a season and finished in the fantasy football top 10 the same year: Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren Sproles.

Now, if we take a look at the ESPN projected carries for running backs this season, we can see that 22 running backs are projected to rush 200 or more times in 2012. And moreover, if we match these running backs to the expected round they are to be drafted, we can also recognize that the mid and late rounds are not feasible areas of the draft for obtaining most starting running backs unless an immense risk is taken. Just take a look:

Player Projected Number of Carries Projected Round Drafted (12-team league)
Foster 310 1
Rice 282 1
McCoy 269 1
Jones-Drew 298 1
Johnson 300 1
Matthews 257 1
Lynch 266 2
Forte 257 2
Murray 203 2
Charles 241 2
Peterson 248 2
McFadden 206 1
S. Jackson 284 2
F. Jackson 238 3
Richardson 286 2
Turner 273 3
Gore 254 4
Bradshaw 224 3
McGahee 203 6
Green-Ellis 217 5
Greene 237 5
Wells 228 6

Why take a risk on plenty of non-200-plus carry running backs as starters, and not take a risk on a guy at the quarterback position? Think about it – we can get Peyton Manning or Phillip Rivers anywhere from the 6th to 10th round in fantasy this year. Wouldn’t you think that these quarterbacks have a higher likelihood of finishing in the top half of their position when compared to someone like CJ Spiller? After all, in leagues with 10 teams, the “top 10” is the top 50% of starting running backs.

If just 3% (2/60) of top 10 fantasy running backs since 2006 have received less than 200 carries, then why would we take such a gamble with a starting running back in round 4 or 5? Why not take risks where the players we’re choosing are proven?

Remember, Matthew Berry wants us to draft a quarterback, tight end, running back, and wide receiver with our first four picks. Many other fantasy experts say the same. But you’re leaving an awfully large risk at running back, especially when other teams can easily mitigate that risk with a late round quarterback.

Don’t wait for your everything bagel. Get it right away, and watch your fantasy leagues’ Carl get stuck with the leftovers.