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Game Script Impact on Fantasy Football Production: Running Backs

SI Fantasy analyst Michael Fabiano shares his discoveries on how game script affects running backs across fantasy football.

Game script. Positive. Negative. Neutral. We hear these terms more and more as folks discuss the advantages and disadvantages of players under different game scenarios.

To help fantasy managers use this data to help them in their upcoming drafts, I looked at how each of the four major offensive skill positions (QBs, RBs, WRs, TEs) did, based on fantasy points when their team won or lost. To spin that to the future, I also examined projected over/under totals for wins and losses for this season.

Let’s continue this research project with running backs. Players were required to play at least eight games, so a player like Joe Mixon (who started just five games) was not included. Since the Kansas City Chiefs lost just one game in the regular season, I put a minimum of 10 touches in either scenario (wins or losses). Ties were not considered in this exercise. Let’s find out how the information can help us for 2021 fantasy drafts!

Game Script: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide ReceiversTight Ends

Negative Win/Loss Point Differentials

Note: The total to the right of the player’s name is the decline in average fantasy points he experienced in losses compared to his average fantasy points in his wins. Derrick Henry, for example, averaged 12.8 more points in wins than in losses last season.

1. Derrick Henry, Titans (-12.8, O/U 9.5)

Henry had the biggest difference in points among running backs, averaging 24.8 in 11 wins but just 12 points in his five losses. His average in losses ranked outside of the top-20 fantasy backs, which is certainly notable. Henry also averaged nearly seven more carries a game in wins, which isn’t a surprise. The Titans have the 13th most difficult schedule based on 2020 winning percentages, so regression is likely for Henry in 2021.

2. Josh Jacobs, Raiders (-11, O/U 7.5)

Josh Jacobs, Raiders RB

Jacobs played in seven wins and eight losses last season, so we have an almost even split to evaluate. He was far better when the Raiders were victorious, averaging an impressive 21.3 points a game. That ranked in the top five among backs. His average of 10.3 points in losses, however, was barely in the top 35. Also, remember that Las Vegas has the eighth-hardest schedule in 2021, and Kenyan Drake is now in the mix.

3. Mike Davis, Falcons (-9.3, O/U 7.5)

Davis was tremendous in the stat sheets in five wins last season, averaging 20 fantasy points. That was good for fifth among victorious runners. However, he wasn't nearly as good in losses, averaging 10.7 points and barely ranking in the top 30. In Atlanta, Davis seems to have a featured role lined up on a team that should score some points. Atlanta also has the third-easiest schedule in the league, which should benefit him.

4. Leonard Fournette, Buccaneers (-7.6, O/U 12)

Based on what we saw from “Lombardi Lenny” in the postseason, it should come as a shock to no one that he was far better in wins (13.1 PPG) than losses (5.5 PPG) last year. The Buccaneers also have a high over/under total and the fourth-easiest slate of games, all of which make Fournette more attractive. However, keep in mind that he will share the workload with Ronald Jones and Giovani Bernard in the Bucs backfield.

5. James Conner, Cardinals (-7.3, O/U 8.5)

Conner was difficult to trust in fantasy land last season, but he was notably better when the Steelers were victorious. In 11 wins (where Conner was active), he averaged 13.8 points. That's a big swing from the 6.5 points he averaged in two losses (small sample size). With the Cardinals, Conner must contend with Chase Edmonds on a team that is projected to win around eight games and has the 13th-toughest slate of games.

Notables

  • Miles Sanders was decidedly better for fantasy fans in wins (19.6 PPG) than he was in losses (12.9 PPG) last season. Of course, he was part of just two Eagles wins and nine defeats, so it’s a slanted sample size. On a positive note, their schedule is considered the easiest in the league based on last season’s win percentages.
  • Myles Gaskin was nearly six points better in six Dolphins wins where he was active instead of four losses. In those victories, Gaskin averaged around 22 touches and 18.8 fantasy points. Those totals dropped to 12.5 touches and 12.9 fantasy points in games he was active where the Dolphins lost. Their over/under total is at nine this season, and they have the fifth-easiest schedule in the league for 2021.
  • Ezekiel Elliott experienced a near five-point decline in losses (13.3 PPG) vs. wins (18.2 PPG) last season. However, he played all but five games without Dak Prescott, and his offensive line was in shambles. The Cowboys are at 9.5 in terms of their over/under, and their schedule ranks as the second-easiest in the NFL.

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Positive Win/Loss Point Differentials

1. David Johnson, Texans (+9.6, O/U 4)

david johnson

Johnson was a disappointment last season, finishing 21st in fantasy points among backs. However, he was better when the Texans lost (16.6 PPG) than when the team won (7.0 PPG). Over his last three games, all losses, Johnson had a 24.7 points-per-game average. The Texans will be awful, but D.J. will likely share touches with Mark Ingram, Phillip Lindsay, and Rex Burkhead. He's a flex play at best.

2. James Robinson, Jaguars (+8.5, O/U 6.5)

The Jaguars won just once last season, and Robinson scored 10 points in that contest. So, it’s no shock that the 2020 breakout running back was far more productive in losses. In fact, he averaged 18.5 points in his 13 active games that resulted in a loss. This team should be much better in '21, but the addition of rookie Travis Etienne could severely limit Robinson’s production. He’ll be tough to trust as anything but a flex starter.

3. Alvin Kamara, Saints (+7.9, O/U 9)

Kamara was a part of four Saints losses last season, during which time he averaged a bananas 31 fantasy points. He scored a combined 83.1 points in their first two losses to the Raiders and Packers, which skewed the final total. Kamara averaged more than 23 points in wins, so he was gold regardless of the outcome. New Orleans will look a lot different on the offensive side this season, but Kamara remains a top-5 overall pick.

4. J.D. McKissic, Washington Football Team (+6.3, O/U 9.5)

McKissic is coming off a career season that saw him receive 110 targets and finish as the RB17. It's no surprise that he was better in losses (14.7 PPG) due to his skills as a pass catcher. Washington should be better with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, and the over/under total is at 9.5 (tied with the Cowboys in the NFC East). With Antonio Gibson expected to see more work, McKissic could turn out to be a one-season wonder.

5. Austin Ekeler, Chargers (+1.8, O/U 9.5)

Ekeler was good regardless of the outcome, but he was almost two points better in Los Angeles losses. That has a lot to do with his pass-catching skills, which were on display more when the Chargers were playing from behind. In fact, his targets almost doubled in games the Bolts lost. Their schedule is middle of the pack in terms of strength, and their over/under is 9.5 for the season. In all, Ekeler is a surefire first-rounder in drafts.

Notables

  • Devin Singletary averaged close to two more fantasy points for the Bills in three losses than in the team's 13 wins. On the flip side, backfield mate Zack Moss was seven points per game better when Buffalo won. He did play in fewer games than Singletary, however. In the Bills' three losses, not one of their backs averaged more than 9.3 touches. In their 13 wins, Singletary led at 12.8 touches. Moss is the sleeper pick out of this duo, but I'd temper expectations for both runners.
  • Nyheim Hines finished an underrated 2020 season ranked 15th in fantasy points among backs. He was slightly better in Colts losses, however, averaging close to two more points a game. He also averaged 1.5 more targets in those games. The Colts over/under is at 8.5 with Carson Wentz (foot) out for several weeks, which could mean more love for Hines out of the backfield to start the season.
  • Jamaal Williams played in 11 wins for the Packers last season, averaging 8.8 fantasy points. That total rose to more than 10 points a game in losses, which Green Bay suffered just three in 2021. With the Lions, who have an over/under of 4.5, Williams could see more work as a pass catcher alongside D'Andre Swift. Detroit is going to stink out loud, but that might actually help Williams in the stat sheets.

Michael Fabiano's PPR Redraft Rankings

10-Team PPR Mock Draft

Training Camp Battles
Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers & Tight Ends

Fabiano's Top 10 Lists
Breakouts | Sleepers | Deep Sleepers | Busts | Rookies

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Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!