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BestBall Win Rates – Running Back Dead Zone Versus the Running Back Sweet Spot

Shawn Siegele examines the BestBall win rates for running backs in the Dead Zone and compares them to runners in the Sweet Spot, especially members of the 2019 Zero RB Candidates list.

Each week in my adventures down the rabbit hole of the Best Ball Win Rates tool, I like to choose a specific position or question for closer examination. This week’s prompt comes from the creator of the tool himself, Mike Beers.

These later round RBs that have people super disappointed so far (because, to be fair, most of them have done nothing), are all still hanging around average win rate in spite of their poor production.  They still have several weeks left to “hit,” and if they do, the impact will be meaningful. It’s a good illustration of the asymmetric risk in these best ball picks. The only really high impact pick you may have missed out on in this 140-200 ADP range by taking one of these guys is Darren Waller, who has a very nice 18% win rate right now.

This generated discussion from a number of my favorite writers and several of our best ball gurus in Hasan Rahim, Michael Dubner, Matt Jones, and Devin McIntyre. I’m going to leave this exact topic for some of the others who have expressed interest and cover an adjacent topic that I’ve also had queries about. How are the Dead Zone RBs doing when compared to our RB Sweet Spot players, Zero RB Candidates in particular?

We know that Dead Zone players are likely to score more total points, but that they don’t score enough to make up for points lost by missing out on wide receiver in those locations.

Is that still what’s happening in 2019?

Early-Round Running Backs

PlayerCountADPPtsW8W7W6W5W4W3W2W1
Saquon Barkley43811.393.40.0450.040.0330.0420.0560.0860.0780.06
Christian McCaffrey43812.4208.80.2530.2610.3470.3750.2770.2180.1520.255
Alvin Kamara43813.3110.550.0680.0790.090.1030.1370.170.0690.087
Ezekiel Elliott43813.6135.70.0860.0970.0750.0660.0720.080.0590.045
David Johnson43816.8121.50.0920.1050.1130.090.0970.0840.0890.1
Le'Veon Bell43819.897.60.0350.0430.0330.0350.0480.060.1080.091
James Conner438113124.60.070.0630.060.0330.0460.0340.0580.052
Todd Gurley438113.398.60.0420.0470.040.0450.0520.0310.0590.052
Joe Mixon438115.9800.0410.0380.0310.0320.0350.0420.0520.061
Melvin Gordon438116.335.90.030.0260.0240.0310.0310.0330.0490.054
Dalvin Cook438117.8192.60.1870.1930.1430.1620.150.1640.1910.159
Nick Chubb438118.5138.30.1020.1280.150.1170.1490.0830.0820.064
Damien Williams438127.354.50.0550.060.0680.0690.0710.0770.0890.111
Leonard Fournette438128.5144.40.1140.110.1070.110.1020.0740.0690.076
Aaron Jones438131.3180.10.1890.1410.1270.1390.0860.0730.0940.061
Kerryon Johnson438132.468.40.0520.0620.0630.060.0710.0720.090.073
Devonta Freeman438134109.50.070.0620.070.050.0520.0470.0610.055
Marlon Mack438134.596.80.0550.0510.050.0560.0610.0740.0970.106
Derrick Henry438136.7112.80.0680.0730.0560.060.0760.0880.1520.134
Josh Jacobs438140.7107.20.070.0750.0630.0670.060.0680.1130.117
Sony Michel438145.191.70.0620.0720.0540.0560.0520.060.0590.066
Mark Ingram438145.5110.60.0860.0970.1060.1080.1360.1840.0990.132
Chris Carson438148.9126.90.1110.110.1110.0870.0890.0910.1020.127
Phillip Lindsay438149.2114.20.0810.0850.0950.0970.0910.10.0570.061
James White438151.890.40.0760.0780.0810.0790.0830.0750.0720.086
David Montgomery438154.577.30.0660.0550.0580.0590.0630.0710.0810.069
Tarik Cohen438155.2620.0440.0450.0430.0520.0510.0540.0520.055
Kenyan Drake438158.354.80.050.0530.0540.0570.0590.070.0590.068

The First Two Rounds

Not surprisingly, we have many more losers than winners in this range, but the winners are of the monster variety. Win rates for non-McCaffrey backs are suppressed due to the fact that Christian McCaffrey has scored such an insane number of points. But they’re also low due to injuries and underperformance. Perhaps the most disappointing results come from the two other members of the Big 3.

We talk a lot about the higher injury rates for RBs in the early rounds, and Saquon Barkley will need many more 28-point games to overcome his three-week absence.

Many early-round backs are also suffering from pure underperformance. Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and Joe Mixon join holdout Melvin Gordon with win rates below 5.0%.

The second-round has been rescued by Dalvin Cook and Nick Chubb, two backs who continued to rise throughout the preseason and were often first-round picks in September redraft leagues. Chubb made a case as the best back in football through the first month, but has two mediocre performances and a bye over the last four weeks. As the wheels threaten to fall off the wagon in Cleveland, he’ll try to rectify a downward trajectory in this week’s tilt with the Broncos.

The Dead Zone

We have two backs doing well in the Dead Zone, Leonard Fournette and our recommended buy in this area, Aaron Jones.

I broke down Fournette in detail earlier in the week, diving into his fantastic opportunity profile and explaining why you might want to sell him in redraft.

Unfortunately, my other recommendation, Kerryon Johnson, struggled and then injured his knee. He’s joined by Devonta Freeman, Marlon Mack, Derrick Henry, Josh Jacobs, and Sony Michel with win rates at or below 7.0%. The frustrating element here, and one we focus on a lot every offseason, is that these backs have done what we could have realistically expected them to do, especially Henry and Jacobs.

For a back who was in a three-way timeshare last year at Alabama and then posted solid-but-not-spectacular workout numbers, Jacobs has been a revelation. He ranks No. 11 in attempts and sits in the top 20 in both expected points (EP) per game and fantasy points over expectation (FPOE). Despite that, he’s been unable to break even despite two games with 20-plus points.

There’s still plenty of time to make up ground, but he’ll need to add to a lackluster receiving profile. That receiving profile is what put so many of these backs into the Dead Zone in the first place and keeps them at lower win rates even while performing admirably as runners. Freeman is the exception, a clear reason to trade for him in redraft formats.

The RB Sweet Spot

We like to target backs in the ADP range between 80 and 150 because they historically come closer to matching WR scoring in this area, even flipping into the positive between 100 and 125. Let’s take a closer look at their results and win rates.

PlayerCountADPPtsW8W7W6W5W4W3W2W1
Latavius Murray438081104.20.1470.1070.0760.0760.0780.0810.0810.088
Miles Sanders435982.687.80.1030.0910.0960.080.0790.0840.0850.071
Darrell Henderson438185.519.60.0580.0630.0640.0690.0670.0720.0790.07
Royce Freeman438186.792.10.0770.0780.0690.0660.0650.0750.0850.066
Austin Ekeler438188.2170.80.2530.290.2580.2820.310.2670.3090.258
Jordan Howard438189.296.10.0840.0730.0780.0830.0980.0590.0610.062
Jaylen Samuels4381104.732.050.0710.0710.0760.0780.0860.0680.0660.066
LeSean McCoy4381107.182.10.0730.0690.0730.0770.0930.0970.060.065
Jerick McKinnon4247108.600.040.040.0440.0470.0440.0450.0460.057
Nyheim Hines4381111.243.20.070.0670.0680.0730.0660.0660.060.065
Matt Breida4381112.377.50.0990.10.1060.1040.0750.0760.0770.061
Damien Harris4381117.31.20.0570.0590.0570.0580.0580.060.0640.071
Dion Lewis4381121270.0670.0730.0690.0740.0720.0760.0710.077
Kareem Hunt4380122.800.0450.0440.0510.0510.0520.050.0510.053
Ronald Jones4365124.860.30.0620.0620.0660.070.0750.0740.0710.073
Duke Johnson4381127.372.40.0940.0870.0870.080.0790.080.0850.084
Devin Singletary4380131.5440.0650.0590.0610.0680.0660.0720.0760.074
Ito Smith4377134.136.30.0670.0640.0710.070.0650.0650.0580.06
Carlos Hyde4259137.678.60.0790.0820.0840.0770.0710.0750.0690.074
Justice Hill4349145.212.70.0750.0710.0810.0750.0720.0760.0730.074
Peyton Barber4275145.654.50.0920.0910.0870.090.0910.1020.0980.075
Kalen Ballage4342147.925.10.0720.0730.0750.0790.0760.0830.0750.076

This area gives us two clear winners in Austin Ekeler and Latavius Murray. Ekeler’s win rate is tied with McCaffrey for No. 1 overall, and Murray’s has almost doubled with his two epic performances.

Blair Andrews explains just how extraordinary those performances were in this week’s EP Report.

We also have one other back moving into double-figures. Miles Sanders broke a long TD for the second time in three weeks and now has two games with 10-plus FPOE in that time period. His win rate is climbing as a result.

Our No. 1 and No. 2 Zero RB Candidates are now above 10% in win rate, with Ekeler at the top of the entire league. Another of our priority targets, Matt Breida, slipped to 9.9% after suffering through another injury-marred performance in Week 8.1 Do we have any other players who might join them?

The counterintuitive element that Mike was addressing in his prompt is reflected in the win rates for Royce Freeman, Jaylen Samuels, Nyheim Hines, and Justice Hill. All have win rates at or above the 7.0% level that the solid dead-zoners are struggling to achieve.

Freeman has been the most impressive of the group, ranking No. 13 in targets and No. 20 in opportunities despite sharing the field with Phillip Lindsay. His string of solid performances has buoyed my MFL10 of Death squad, keeping it in third place despite prolonged absences from my Saints trio (Alvin Kamara, Jared Cook, Drew Brees).

Samuels is now primed to also make a run in the potential absences of James Conner and Benny Snell.

The biggest disappointment and weirdest win rate in the group come from Hill. His 7.5% win rate doesn’t appear to fit with the 12.7 total points he’s scored this season. The Baltimore rookie was virtually free for much of the offseason and may also benefit from some pairings with Mark Ingram.  The difference between Hill’s results and that of another favorite rookie, Darrell Henderson, underlines the ADP-based expectations.

Henderson was a ghost for the first month, but his Week 8 workload hints at a potential eruption, boosting rosters during a time period where rookie RBs have historically made big contributions.

Going Forward

At the halfway point of the season, we still have a lot of room for movement, with plenty of pressure on early-round picks to maintain their performance and opportunity for later-round picks to jump by improving theirs. The different scoring pressures ahead reflect Mike’s point about the asymmetric risks.

If you own D.J. Chark or Terry McLaurin to go with your Dead Zone runners, you can breathe easier and accept their performances at that cost. Those receivers rank No. 1 and No. 4 respectively in win rate and were very inexpensive. In their own way, they were too cheap, as each appears in less than 25% of leagues. Leagues that lack these late-round receiving stars are going to witness even more pressure on those early-round runners.

Look for more great content from our writers, and join in the discussion with them through the Patreon slack channel. Dive into the Best Ball Win Rates tool and share your finds and conclusions with the group.

Image Credit: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Derrick Henry.

  1. His workload popped again on Thursday night.  (back)

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