A Historically Bad Year For Fantasy Running Backs?

The running back carnage this year is bad. But how bad? Is this something we should plan for in the future?

Scanning the Twitterverse this last week, I was struck by this comment:

My first take was that this year's first-round running back busts are pretty typical of history. I was right .. and wrong. Let's look at the history of running backs taken in the first round of average draft position (ADP) since 1998 (data courtesy of

Rbs in top 15 Busts Outside top 50
2012 8 1 3
2011 10 2 2
2010 10 2 2
2009 10 1 4
2008 9 1 1
2007 12 4 4
2006 12 3 5
2005 11 2 3
2004 10 0 1
2003 10 0 0
2002 7 0 1
2001 8 1 2
2000 8 1 1
1999 7 2 2
1998 8 0 0

140 20 31
Avg 10 1.4 2.2

As of Week 13, this season is set to be historically bad for running backs. In the first 15 picks of drafts that took place after Aug. 15 (a good approximation for the first round to include most 12-14 team leagues), there were ten running backs. It looks like there will be five “busts” - Doug Martin, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, CJ Spiller and Trent Richardson.

However, the final numbers may not be so bad. Believe it or not, but Ray Rice and C.J. Spiller are just 5-10 fantasy points away from entering the top 24 at the running position. I know that doesn't seem like much, but that would give them positive VBD (value based drafting, which is fantasy points above replacement) as they'd finish the season as players you'd still start in a 12-man league, assuming you'd start at least 2 running backs. That's a low bar to clear, but if you want a higher bar check out the rankings in the above chart for running backs who were taken in the first round and failed to finish outside the top 50 in overall fantasy VBD. By those standards, this would also be an equally poor season if it ended today (and many fantasy leagues have their regular season end in Week 13), as there would also be five running backs who finish outside the top 50 in fantasy value. And Rice and Spiller appear to have little chance to rally and enter the top 50 in overall value as measured by VBD.

While 2013 has been a big year for first-round, running back busts, it's not that extreme. We've seen four or five running backs taken in the first round finish out side the top 50. It would be the highest percentage wise with almost 50 percent being busts. It's not crazy off the charts.

What is crazy off the charts is the number of first-round running back busts that are not due to injury. The last running back who was a first-round bust not due to injury was Cadillac Williams in 2006 (h/t to Michael Salfino. Check out his story on this subject at This year Richardson, Rice and Spiller (despite his ankle injury, he's missed just one game ... so this may qualify) may be busts without a major injury. So the extreme nature of this year's first-round running back busts may be a fluke from that factor.


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