Fantasy Breakdown: Why Size Matters At The RB Position
I know the title of this article has already grabbed your attention so let's start. Often times with the running back position we see them come out of college as dynamic runners but measure undersized. Then analysts and fans alike figure that they are prime candidates for regression because we assume that their small bodies will breakdown as they accumulate hits in the NFL. But is this really the situation? What inspired me on this topic was from recently finishing the book "Take Your Eye Off The Ball" by Pat Kirwan. In the book, Pat discusses, how the NFL has become a pass-happy league, and with that defenses are forced to put an emphasis on speed on defense to keep up with the freakishly athletic wide receivers/tight ends on offense. But, when a defense is forced to place smaller defenders on the field for speed purposes, it really exposes defenses to a power run game, behind a powerful running back. So what sizes have the best running backs measured at?
The top ten rushers of 2014 season all averaged out to approximately 5'11 (1/2)″ and 221 pounds outside of Justin Forsett (5'8″, 197 lbs). Those running backs in 2014 were the same size as the ones in 1974. Guys like Larry Csonka, Franco Harris, John Riggins, and Sam "Bam" Cunningham. Flash forward to 2018, and how big were the most productive rushers based on rushing totals?
- Ezekiel Elliott - 1435 rushing yards - Height 6′ 0″, Weight 225 lbs
- Saquon Barkley - 1307 rushing yards - Height 6′ 0″, Weight 234 lbs
- Todd Gurley - 1251 rushing yards - Height 6′ 1″, Weight 231 lbs
- Joe Mixon - 1168 rushing yards - Height 6′ 1″, Weight 218 lbs
- Chris Carson - 1151 rushing yards - Height 6′ 0″, Weight 223 lbs
- Chrisitan McCaffrey - 1098 rushing yards - Height 5′ 11″, Weight 205 lbs
- Derrick Henry - 1059 rushing yards - Height 6′ 3″, Weight 238 lbs
- Adrian Peterson - 1042 rushing yards - Height 6′ 1″, Weight 217 lbs
- Philip Lindsay - 1037 rushing yards - Height 5′ 8″, Weight 190 lbs
- Nick Chubb - 996 rushing yards - Height 5'10″, Weight 227 lbs
How about 2017?
- Kareem Hunt - 1327 rushing yards - Height 5'11″, Weight 201 lbs
- Todd Gurley - 1305 rushing yards - Height 6′ 1″, Weight 231 lbs
- Le'Veon Bell - 1291 rushing yards - Height 6′ 1″, Weight 225 lbs
- LeSean McCoy - 1138 rushing yards - Height 5'11″, Weight 207 lbs
- Mark Ingram - 1124 rushing yards - Height 5'10″, Weight 215 lbs
- Jordan Howard - 1122 rushing yards - Height 6′ 1″, Weight 225 lbs
- Melvin Gordon - 1105 rushing yards - Height 6′ 1″, Weight 215 lbs
- Leonard Fournette - 1040 rushing yards - Height 6′ 0″, Weight 228 lbs
- C.J. Anderson - 1007 rushing yards - Height 5′ 8″, Weight 225 lbs
- Ezekiel Elliott - 983 rushing yards - Height 6′ 0″, Weight 225 lbs
Just four running backs over the last two seasons that were under 5'11″ rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. Just one running back in the past two seasons did it while weighing under 200 pounds (Philip Lindsay). Just four running backs rushed for more than 1000 yards over the past two seasons weighed less than 215 pounds. So when you are looking for elite rushing production more often than not it is going to come from a running back that is around 6 feet tall and weighs anywhere between 215-225 pounds. That should be a sweet spot as another metric to track especially as we evaluate not only NFL running backs going into 2019, but evaluating rookie prospects heading into next season. We've looked at rushing totals from a size perspective, but how about just total fantasy points? Do we see a major difference? I would hypothesize that we would see a small dip in overall size, just because fantasy is so predicated on the passing game, obviously in PPR formats for sure.
The only major inclusions into the top ten in 2017 are Alvin Kamara and Carlos Hyde. For 2018, again Kamara along with James Conner, James White, and David Johnson. Here are there sizes:
- Alvin Kamara - Height 5′ 10″, Weight 215 lbs
- Carlos Hyde - Height 6′ 0″, Weight 236 lbs
- James Conner - Height 6′ 0″, Weight 236 lbs
- James White - Height 5′ 10″, Weight 194 lbs
- David Johnson - Height 6′ 1″, Weight 225 lbs
Again it's more of the same with James White really appearing as the only true outlier falling under in 6 feet and 215 pounds. But White is not a traditional running back as his role with the Patriots is dominated in the passing game.
2019 Draft Class Sizes
Now, how do these sizes compare to that of the running backs weighing in at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine? Here are the results at the running back position for notable running backs. These measurements come from Charles Robinson via Yahoo Sports on Twitter.
- Alabama RB Josh Jacobs
- Stanford RB Bryce Love
- Oklahoma RB Rodney Anderson
- Temple RB Ryquell Armstead
- Kansas State RB Alex Barnes
- LSU RB Nick Brossette
- Washington RB Myles Gaskin
- Alabama RB Damien Harris
- Memphis RB Darrell Henderson
- Michigan RB Karan Higdon
- Oklahoma State RB Justice Hill
- Georgia RB Elijah Holyfield
- Miami RB Travis Homer
- Boise State RB Alexander Mattison
- Iowa State RB David Montgomery
- Appalachian State RB Jalin Moore
- Pittsburgh RB Qadree Ollison
- Memphis RB Tony Pollard
- Penn State RB Miles Sanders
- Florida RB Jordan Scarlett
- Michigan State RB LJ Scott
- Florida Atlantic RB Devin Singletary
- Kentucky RB Benny Snell
- Ohio State RB Mike Weber
- Notre Dame RB Dexter Williams
- Washington State RB James Williams
- Texas A&M RB
Running backs from the 2019 Draft Class that best fit the 6 feet and 215-225 pound mold include LJ Scott, Qadree Ollison, Alex Barnes, Rodney Anderson, and Tony Pollard. Shoutout to Alex Barnes who repped out 34 bench presses, which was the highest of a running back since 2003. Barnes actually performed the best out of all the larger running backs.
- 40-yard dash: 4.59
- Bench Press: 34
- Vertical Jump: 38.5
- 3- Cone Drill: 6.95
- 20-yard shuttle: 4.1
His vertical jump ranked fourth highest, his broad jump fifth highest, 3- cone drill second lowest, and 20-yard shuttle the best.
From a size and height standpoint, Pittsburgh RB Qadree Ollison measured as the biggest back. Just some background on Ollison, the guy rushed for 1,121 yards as a true freshman with Nathan Peterman as his starting quarterback. Yes, the infamous Nathan Peterman. However, over the next two seasons, Ollison lost the job to James Conner his sophomore season. Darrin Hall took the starting role in 2017, and then Hall and Ollison split carries in 2018. They both ended up rushing for over 1,000 yards in 2018. Ollison finished his college career with 50 receptions for 375 receiving yards. With the favorable size profile, here is how Ollison performed at the NFL combine:
- 40-yard dash: 4.61
- Bench Press: 19
- Vertical Jump: 29.5
- Broad Jump: 114
- 3-Cone Drill: 7.53
Bad overall metrics across the board, but for a bigger running back, not necessarily a death sentence. Speed is not his game. However, along with all the big backs, there are also small running backs in this class.
Justice Hill and James Williams were the only two running backs to weigh under 200 pounds. Now in the case of Williams, it makes more sense as he was the ultimate pass-catching running back for Washington State. He caught 202 passes in three years at the college level. His senior year he had more total receiving yards (613), than rushing yards (560). But in the case of Hill, he just fits more of the narrative of just an undersized traditional running back. He impressed mightily at the NFL combine when he ran a 4.4 40-yard dash time.
Other smaller running backs that came in under six feet and just over 200 pounds include
Size at the running back position needs to be factored in terms of fantasy production projection. By just looking at the running backs that finish in the top in terms of fantasy production, they are more often than not on the plus side of 6 feet tall and north of 215 pounds. Keep in mind that size is not the be all end all, but it's definitely worth considering and educating yourself on when you evaluate the running back position and could be used as a tiebreaker between two-players. As much as we like to think that the NFL is all about passing, savvy coaches realize that with that increase the power-run game behind a large running back remains a critical part of any efficient offensive approach. Especially if have a large running back that also can be a weapon in the passing game; that's the recipe for fantasy success.
Consider it with any running back that you are trying to project dual-threat ability on. For example, James White is used a majority in the receiving game and Derrick Henry in the running game. But if you then add the other element (running for White or receiving for Henry) which one would you be more excited about?
I thought while we were on the topic of
Here is your list of 175 pound or lower wide receivers to enter the NFL since 2000.— Anthony Staggs (@PyroStag) February 28, 2019
DeSean Jackson is the for sure hit, who else? pic.twitter.com/lfKCWXU6fc
Notable wide receivers that weighed in less than 175 pounds at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine:
Oklahoma WR Marquise Brown
Height: 5-9 3/8
Wake Forest WR Greg Dortch
Height: 5-7 1/8
Florida Atlantic WR Jovon Durante
Height: 5-11 1/8
Andrew has come a long way as a fantasy football writer. After graduating from Roger Williams University where he received a degree in marketing he began to write his own fantasy blogs via WordPress.com. He used to call himself the Fantasy Football Master. Nowadays, he is slightly more humble. He has worked with Pro Football Focus as an base data analyst along with bringing head writing experience from Gridiron Experts. He is an absolute die hard Patriots fan (humble brag) and will never forget his first fantasy football team. In his first ever fantasy football league he drafted the Bears defense in the 1st round. He then proceeded to win the entire league. #DefenseWinsChampionships