If there were one position in all of the fantasy football that many fantasy managers value the most, it would be the Running Back (RB) position. Why is this the case? The differential in points per game from running backs drops off heavily after the first 5-10 RBs. This makes elite running backs valuable, and without having one of these elite running backs could put you at a heavy disadvantage. This article will analyze the importance of drafting as many elite RBs in your dynasty fantasy football leagues.
What is considered a workhorse RB?
Many fantasy analysts separate the terms lead RBs and workhorse RBs because they are not the same. Just because an RB has the label “RB1” on the final depth chart does not mean they are a workhorse RB. What categorizes a workhorse RB is that these RBs command most of the snap share percentage and overall total opportunities. In history, workhorse RBs handled averaged almost 20-30 touches per game while also piling up over 350 total touches (meaning both rushing attempts and receptions).
Emphasis on drafting a workhorse RB
Drafting a workhorse RB gives you more security in terms of fantasy production at the RB position because of the overwhelming opportunities and high potential in elite production. This gives fantasy managers a significant advantage when playing against a team devoid of workhorse RBs. Drafting RBs that you can count on to produce at an elite level on the field is key in gaining an advantage at the RB position. This starts with opportunity and total usage. What is the difference? Opportunity is when a player is given a chance of being involved in the play (Snap count/percentage). Total usage is how much the player is involved in those plays (Total Overall Touches). Having a player that excels in either of these categories will produce as an elite fantasy RB. One example of a workhorse RB that everyone can think of is Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans.
According to profootballreference.com, Henry played 705 snaps out of a possible 1074 snaps the Titans played. This meant that Henry played 65% of all possible snaps the Titans played in the 2020 NFL season. The running back on the Titans roster closest to Henry’s snap percentage was the RB2 on the depth chart in Jeremy McNichols with 25%. Henry was clearly the featured RB on the Titans as he was given 378 rushing attempts and made 19 receptions (on 31 targets). Derrick Henry finished with 397 total touches in 2020. Henry led all RBs in rush attempts, rush yards, and rush TDs (2nd in total TDs). Henry finished as the RB3 in PPR (RB1 in standard leagues). This type of snap share and overall total touches dominance label Henry as one of the rare breeds of a workhorse RB.
An example of a running back that is the lead RB but not the workhorse is Aaron Jones of the Green Bay Packers.
Per profootballreference.com, Jones played 539 snaps in 2021. This was a snap share of 51.88% of the total snaps the Packers have played. The next RB that came close to this was Jamaal Williams with 418 snaps with a snap share of 40.23%. Though Aaron Jones commanded over 50% of the snaps, Jamaal Williams played about 40% of the snaps indicates that Williams split time with Jones. In addition, Jones finished with 201 rushing attempts with 63 receptions. This means Aaron Jones finished with 264 total touches in 2020. Aaron Jones finished as the RB5 in PPR (RB5 in standard). Jones did not dominate the snap share percentage and overall touches to be considered a workhorse RB.
Comparing both Derrick Henry and Aaron Jones should give you an insight into the difference between a lead RB and a workhorse RB. The difference in snap share percentage and total touches is a big difference when comparing a lead RB and a workhorse RB.
This does not mean that lead RBs cannot produce in fantasy at an elite level. RBs with elite efficiency, such as Alvin Kamara and Aaron Jones, use their talent to overcome the lack of opportunities and produce at a high level. Talent and situation also play major factors in workhorse RBs, so drafting one of these RBs is harder to come by after the first round of startup drafts.
Value of workhorse RBs
Workhorse RBs always have more value than other lead RBs in fantasy football. Having elite production at the RB position for multiple years is valuable in dynasty fantasy football. Workhorse RBs provide security in value and are valuable assets going forward. Though you may draft a workhorse RB that may end up being the RB3/4 on your fantasy team, you can always trade them to acquire the pieces for your team. This is because of the scarcity of workhorse RBs compared to WRs and QBs. In Standard scoring, workhorse RBs are even more valuable because productive RBs are even more scarce. The emphasis on the RB position by fantasy managers added by the scarcity of workhorse RBs makes these types of RBs most valuable in all scoring and league formats.
Workhorse RBs are hard to come by due to the evolution of game plans in football. NFL offenses are gearing towards working more in a committee rather than having that one RB take over the entire workload. As workhorse RBs become scarcer in the NFL, the number of elite weekly fantasy RBs dwindle as well. This increases the importance of drafting an elite fantasy-producing RBs have become more of an emphasis. Having better production at the RB slot is key in winning championships every year. This applies to all league formats, such as Superflex, because the number of elite producing RBs has become scarce. Don’t make the mistake of passing up on a workhorse RB because you may not get a good-looking QB or WR. It is harder to replace an elite RB than an elite QB, so make sure you emphasize drafting a workhorse RB.
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