Nease’s Insights—2018: RBs Will Run Up the Receiving Yards

My love for fantasy sports goes back 60 years when I was about eight years old. Of course, fantasy sports did not come into vogue until many years after that. With the guidance of my buddy Jim’s dad, we devised a baseball game with three dice. If the term nerd had been invented in the late 1950’s, we would have fit that description perfectly. We took our game and made it a season-long adventure.

Back then, there were only eight teams in both the American and National leagues. We played a full 60-game schedule and setup scorecard sheets, as well as spreadsheets to maintain all the cumulative statistics. It was fun and our mathematical abilities were kicked up way above the level of most of our classmates. Looking back, it led both Jim and I to become CPAs. We remain life-long best friends to this day.

When we started playing fantasy football in 1985, I dove into it with an unbridled passion. All the players, statistics, strategies and opportunities to analyze everything to the nth degree were all attractions I just could not resist.

Naturally, I review stats all the time, year-round. I have always enjoyed studying pass catching RBs. Good 3rd down backs can catch 5-6 catches per game and garner 40-50 yards, with an occasional TD. As a RB4 or RB5, they can be an extremely valuable asset in a PPR league. Unfortunately, they pretty much are sporadic and you cannot always count on them on a week-to-week basis.

Over the years I have learned that there are around 15-20 RBs each year that catch 40 or more passes. That is certainly not a lot. With 12-teams in a league and several of the pass catching backs being starters who play all three downs, that leaves very few draft-worthy 3rd down RBs. You must target these versatile players and not let them linger to a point where you miss out on them entirely.

I sat down this morning and decided to check a premise that I had in my mind. It seemed logical that running backs were being utilized by QBs more in the passing game, but I had no proof.

I looked for the answer and searched for what I thought was a pretty basic stat, passing yards broken down by year, by team, by position. With that available, I could sort things out and get into the details of so many stats and be able to study and analyze trends. I consider myself to be pretty proficient with Google, but my search came up empty. If any of you have access to free use of such data, please send me a link via email.

After being foiled in those efforts, I headed in a different position. I went through standard reception stats and compiled totals of RBs who caught 40 or more passes per season over a 5-year period covering 2013-2015. The premise I wanted to prove was that QBs have been and will continue in 2018 to feature RBs more in the passing game than they have in recent years.

Upon reviewing the receiving stats from those years, my findings were inconclusive. For 2017, the number of RBs catching 40 or more passes was at its lowest point since 2014. Here is what I found:

  • 2013  21
  • 2014  16
  • 2015  20
  • 2016  20
  • 2017  17

I was surprised, to say the least. I felt certain that I was right, but the quantity indicator was telling me no. I went one step further and added all the catches that the 40+ catch RBs had made. Maybe they all had a higher number of passes caught than in the past. Eureka! That theory proved to be true. Indeed, in 2017 the 40+ RB pass receivers had average catches that were up about 15% over the prior three seasons. I felt vindicated. Here are the average catches per RB per year in the 40+ category.

  • 2013  21     56
  • 2014  16     52
  • 2015  20     52
  • 2016  20     52
  • 2017  17     60

Here are those 17 RBs from 2017 with over 40 receptions:

  1. Le’Veon Bell, PIT               85 Receptions
  2. Alvin Kamara, NO              81 Receptions
  3. Christian McCaffrey, CAR    80 Receptions
  4. Duke Johnson. CLE           74 Receptions
  5. Todd Gurley, LAR              64 Receptions
  6. Carlos Hyde, SF                59 Receptions (2018 CLE)
  7. LeSean McCoy, BUF          59 Receptions
  8. Melvin Gordon, LAC           58 Receptions
  9. Mark Ingram, NO              58 Receptions
  10. James White, NE               56 Receptions
  11. Tarik Cohen, CHI              53 Receptions
  12. Kareem Hunt, KC              53 Receptions
  13. Theo Riddick, DET             53 Receptions
  14. Jerick McKinnon, MIN        51 Receptions (2018 SF)
  15. Javorius Allen, BAL            48 Receptions
  16. Shane Vereen, NYG           43 Receptions (2018 NO)
  17. Giovanni Bernard, CIN       43 Receptions

Other players like Chris Thompson and Leonard Fournette missed making this list by a small margin because of injuries. Shane Vereen is probably over the hill productivity wise, but others will take his place in the 2018 40+ catch club. As is common in the overall NFL, old players go and new ones come in to replace them.

The key fantasy strategy on display here is we can see that these are special players to draft. Pass catching adds value to these players and they are worth more than many of their counterparts. Whether they are a RB1, or even a RB4, you should target as many of these versatile players in your draft.

Ask the Experts

When my friend Andy Richardson invited me to provide material for his weekly Fantasy Index Thursday morning "Ask the Experts" column, I was thrilled and honored. Here is the August 16 article from our friends at Fantasy Index. Check out all our comments to help you get some ideas of some solid late round draft picks.

The start of the 2018 season is almost upon us. Buckle up for the journey. My colleagues and I at Big Guy Fantasy Sports are intent on helping you become the champion you want to be. With our poignant articles and being the home base for the consistency theory, a sound, mathematically-based alternative to ADP, we will be with you for the 2018 season in its entirety. What happens then? That my friends, is easy. We start over and do it all again in 2019!

Over the years many readers have contacted me personally for fantasy football questions throughout the year. I look forward to helping you in your quest to win championships this year. You can contact me by email with any questions you may have on fantasy football generally, or on consistency specifically, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., follow me on Twitter @mikeinsights, or join me as a member of Couch Tomatoes, my fantasy football discussion group on Facebook.

Good luck! Have fun!

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