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Best Ball Win Rates – RB Superstars, Zero RB Interlopers, and First-Round Disasters

Shawn Siegele uses the Best Ball Win Rates tool to examine the best and worst best-ball performances at the RB position, including standout results from Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, and Leonard Fournette.

Over the past month we’ve detailed the running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends, while also evaluating our structural approach to the 2019 season.

Today we start over with the RB position and look at the key developments through the first 13 weeks.

The Superstar

There’s just no competing with McCaffrey. Even after a down performance with 17.2 points, McCaffrey leads the way with a 35% win rate. Only two other players in all of football are above 20%.

Despite his first week under 20 points since Week 2, McCaffrey enjoyed his second-highest workload by Expected Points. He’s now been above a 30% win rate for five consecutive weeks.

The Zero RB League Winner

Ekeler ranked No. 2 on my 2019 list of Zero RB candidates, and he matched McCaffrey blow-for-blow during the first month. That was shocking in itself, but the truly surprising element in Ekeler’s dream season came after Melvin Gordon ended his holdout. Eleker ranks as the overall RB3 on the year, but he’s maintained an RB11 presence on 16 PPG while sharing time with one of the best backs in the NFL.

The Second Coming of David Johnson

Fournette moved into rarefied air with his 11 targets on Sunday. He’s now averaging the superstar double-double with 10-plus EP as a runner …

… and as a receiver.

He’s underperforming this workload – only Kalen Ballage has accumulated more negative FPOE – but his usage makes him a candidate to be a top-five pick in 2020.

Fournette slid by Aaron Jones for fourth place among RBs in Week 12 and solidified his lead with 18 more points against the Bucs.

Ryan Tannehill’s New Best Friend

When a new quarterback comes in and reinvigorates an offense, we generally associate the bounce with improved scoring from the wide receiver position. Tannehill’s entrance has played a crucial role in Derrick Henry’s metamorphosis from risky RB2 to league-winning RB1.

Henry grabbed the lead in fantasy points over expectation (FPOE) in Week 13 and now averages 5.4 FPOE per game on the season.

After spending the end of the Marcus Mariota era with a below average win rate, Henry has been on a steady rise. Four consecutive games with 23-plus points move him into seventh place among RBs.

The Rookie Breaking Out at the Right Time

Miles Sanders has benefited from Jordan Howard’s injury to take control of the backfield in Philadelphia.

Sanders is the half-Fournette, averaging 5.0-plus EP as both a runner and a receiver. Now ninth at the position in receiving yards per game, his dual threat ability makes him a top breakout threat over the final month. He’s emerging just at the time rookie RBs often take control and offers yet more evidence that rookie RBs are the key to fantasy titles.

Sanders’ win rate has held above 10% for six of the last seven weeks. If he can hold on down the stretch, our No. 1 and No. 2 recommendations from the 2019 Zero RB Candidates list will finish with win rates above 10%.

What about one of our highest-profile Zero RB busts?

Better Late Than Never

Rashaad Penny was so buried behind Chris Carson that owners were begging for him to be moved at the trade deadline. Now with two monster games, Penny’s dynasty value has risen from the ashes. How has that translated into best ball win rates?

Penny was a disaster through 11 weeks, but scoring 47.6 points over the last two has lifted him a fraction above average.

Worst Case Scenarios – The Disasters

It’s been a nightmarish campaign for 2019’s No. 1 overall pick. Saquon Barkley missed a few weeks with a high-ankle sprain, but his scoring when “healthy” has been an unmitigated disaster.

Receiving the top fantasy pick is better than opening Christmas presents as a kid, but no lump of coal disappointed quite like Barkley. He owns the lowest win rate among all RBs. His volume is still elite – only the dominant quartet of McCaffrey, Fournette, Dalvin Cook, and Alvin Kamara average more Expected Points – but his decline from 21.6 to 17.7 EP makes the New York offense more of a factor.

Barkley averaged 2.5 FPOE in 2018 but has fallen to -2.2 in 2019. As a result, his decline has been approximately half volume (-3.9 EP) and half efficiency (-4.7 FPOE). That 8.6-point decline married with three missed games results in a 3.3% win rate.

The results haven’t been much better for Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, Joe Mixon, Melvin Gordon, and James Conner, all of whom were drafted in the first two rounds and have returned a win rate below 5.0%.

Worst Win RB Win Rates – 2019

Drafting an RB early is always fraught with risk. If you hit on McCaffrey, you’re well on your way to a title, but if you miss, your season can be over before it’s begun. Fortunately for RB drafters, the WR position has also taken plenty of early-round blows in 2019. Michael Thomas and Mike Evans are the only receivers with double-digit win rates from the first two rounds.

Next week we’ll take another look at the WR position, a position dominated, as usual, by second-year breakouts.

Make sure to check out the Best Ball Win Rates tool to analyze what worked and what didn’t for your roster, and try some of these great apps if you’re interested in more visualizations for the stats mentioned in this piece.

Image Credit: Tom Walko/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Austin Ekeler.

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