DFS NFL Strategy for How to Pick Running Backs for Cash Games

Posted on September 5, 2016

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NFL season is right around the corner, and that means Daily Fantasy Football is back. Saahil Sud, formerly Maxdalury, has created a strategy on how to approach selecting each position for your lineups, in both cash games and tournaments. Over the next few weeks, we will be going over these strategies in detail. Next up we will discuss Saahil’s strategy from his NFL cash game RB strategy video.

Key Stats

Running backs tend to get the most touches of any of the position players (not counting quarterbacks). Before selecting the running backs for your lineups, you want to make sure that the backs receive a lot of touches every game (both carries and receptions). Unless their team is down by a large margin early in the game, a starting running back should get a good amount of touches per game. Another important stat that is connected to number of touches is YpC (yards per carry / catch). YpC serves as a great indicator of a player’s performance and his perceived ownership. A player with a good YpC is going to be a higher upside and generally more talented player. While those are two stats you definitely want to look into, players with a lot of touches and a good YpC will normally come with a higher price tag.

Many teams are known to be either run-heavy or pass-heavy offenses. That is why it is essential that you look at a team’s playcall distribution before finalizing your running backs. If a team runs the ball significantly more than they pass, then that team’s running back might be a player you want to target. A team like the Dallas Cowboys, who boasts one of (if not the best) offensive lines in the NFL, is known to love the run game. On the other hand, the Indianapolis Colts feature a very pass-heavy offense, so their running backs might be ones to avoid. If a team has a better offense, they are likely to have more opportunities to run the ball, especially late in the game.

DvP matchups are another stat that one should look at before picking their running backs. Weak rushing defenses are obviously going to present good opportunities and lead to some chalk plays. When it comes to salary, we discussed previously that players don’t generally pay up for high-priced QBs. With running backs, you want to somewhat follow a similar strategy, especially later on in the season where you have a lot of injured running backs, which leads to many backup running backs starting games and receiving a higher amount of touches. Those types of players are considered great value plays and the type of player you want to home in on. You won’t see that as much towards the beginning of the season with teams having less injuries.

Vegas and Advanced Stats

Game flow is very important when creating your strategy for how to pick running backs for cash games. You want to target games where there is a big favorite. They will lead to a lot of rushing attempts, which results in more opportunities for a running back to score more fantasy points. Games with higher over/under’s are also important when choosing your lineup. You want to look for players on teams that are favored and in games that are expected to have a high score, as this will lead to more rushing attempts in the fourth quarter, which can really boost your team’s fantasy output. In relation to over/under is a team’s projected points, which tells you how many points Vegas thinks a team’s offense is going to score. This can help you predict the game flow.

A player’s snap count is another thing to look at, as it indicates how many plays a player is on the field for, thus giving you an idea of the amount of opportunities he gets in a game. You want to make sure the player is on the field for a large portion of the game. Finally there is red zone attempts, which is the number of touches a player gets inside the opposing team’s 20-yard line. A player with more red zone attempts obviously receives more opportunities to score touchdowns, which leads to higher fantasy points. These are all factors that you must evaluate to determine if someone is a good play or not, but you really want to make sure a player is going to be on the field a lot and also get carries in the red zone. We will discuss in more detail later, but touchdowns are going to be a very big factor in a running back’s score, so the more opportunities to score those easy touchdowns, the better.

Looking at the chart in Saahil’s NFL cash game RB strategy video, we can see that teams that are the favorites and are leading in the game are going to get a lot more running back points, as they have the ability to run the ball and let the clock run down. In games that have an over/under of 39 or less, the running back on the favorite averages 20.9 points, while the underdog RB averages 14.3. As the over/under increases, the difference between the running back fantasy points for the favorites vs. underdogs decreases. In games with an over/under of 51 or higher, the running back on the favorite averages 19.5 points while the underdog RB averages 17.7. This is a very small difference between the two, especially compared to the same stat with the other positional players.

Effect TDs Have

For this section we are going to focus on targeting running backs that will score you 15-20 points on a consistent basis. The way that is going to happen generally is by picking a RB that is going to score a touchdown. It is very difficult for a running back to put up a 15-20 point performance without scoring a touchdown. Looking at the chart of DraftKings scoring, we can see that in games that running backs scored between 15 and 20 points, in 60% of those games, the RB scored a touchdown. Meanwhile in under 40% of those games, the running back did not score a touchdown. That is a significant difference. Targeting running backs that receive a lot of goal line carries will increase your likelihood of your RB scoring a touchdown and thus awarding you more fantasy points.

Now lets take a look at the same chart but for FanDuel, where we see the same results. When a running back scored between 15 and 20 points in FanDuel, in around 75% of those games, the RB scored a touchdown. Running backs scored 15-20 points without scoring a touchdown in only about 25% of games on FanDuel. This is an even bigger statistical difference than on DraftKings! FanDuel is actually more dependent on touchdowns because of their scoring system, so you will not have the 3-point bonus for reaching 100-yards rushing. There is also no PPR on FanDuel. So on FanDuel, you don’t necessarily want to target running backs that get a lot of catches, but instead focus on backs that score a lot of touchdowns and receive a lot of red zone carries. A player like Adrian Peterson is going to be a much better player on FanDuel than he is on DraftKings, assuming the salary is around the same.

Key Elements

There are a few important elements you should take a look at before officially setting your lineups. Similar to the other positions, we want to take a look at the coefficient of variance for running backs. For those that don’t remember, CV is the standard deviation of a data set divided by its mean, and is used as a measure of consistency. As we discussed in the QB strategy videos, quarterbacks have the lowest CV of any position because they touch the ball on every play. Running backs touch the ball the second most, so they’ll have a slightly higher CV than QBs but lower than WRs and TEs. Generally running backs are going to get a similar amount of carries each game. Of course this will not always be the case, as some games feature a very heavy favorite in which the underdog is not likely to run the ball that much during the game. But besides for situations like that, a running back today will likely get between 15 and 20 carries a game. The thing that really sets them apart, as we discussed in the last section, is scoring touchdowns. That’s going to introduce a lot of the variance.

Plus/Minus by Days Rest

Unlike with other positions, running backs on four days rest actually tend to perform a little bit better. This can be attributed to the coach’s game plans. When they do not have as much time to prepare their passing attack, which will generally require more complicated routes, they are going to lean more on their running game. So you’re going to see a lot more running backs getting more touches and more carries, which will lead to more fantasy points. This is not a huge factor, but it is something you want to keep in mind. While you generally want to avoid other positions on four days rest, the same cannot be said about running backs. You also see a slight positive bump for running backs on eight days rest, but that could be because every team with eight days rest will tend to have a pretty good game plan. Eight days rest also gives the back more time to recover from his last game.

Rushing TD Success Rate by Yard Line

It should come as no surprise that running backs have the most success in scoring touchdowns when rushing the ball from the 1-yard line (54.6%). As you go further from the goal line, the success rate drops lower and lower. This is obvious. What you want to look at here is who is getting the carries inside the 3-yard line? Are the running backs getting the carries inside the 3-yard line also the running backs that are getting a lot of carries outside the red zone? You really want to avoid the situations where players do not get the goal line carries. Those situations are going to lead to likely low fantasy outputs and a low floor. A player may put up 80 rushing yards, but not get a touchdown, which almost always results in a bad fantasy performance.

NFL Cash Game Lineup Example

In this lineup example, the first running back selected was David Johnson, who, as you can see, was very highly owned (76.7%).  This made sense since he was playing against the Rams, he was a workhorse back getting all of the goal line carries and catching balls. Johnson ended the game with 99 rushing yards and two receptions for 21 yards and a touchdown. This is not a monster game by any stretch of the imagination, but scoring that touchdown put him at a very good fantasy score (20 fantasy points). The other running back in this lineup was LeSean McCoy, who had only a few less total yards than David Johnson, but did not put up as good of a fantasy performance (14.2 points) since he was held out of the end zone. McCoy also did not catch any passes, which would have scored him more fantasy points as well. This shows you why you should try to target running backs that will also be on the field for third down and in passing situations, and can score you more fantasy points in the passing game, especially on DraftKings. PPR makes those players incredibly valuable.

This lineup also featured a running back in the FLEX slot, with DeAngelo Williams finishing with 23.5 fantasy points. The Steelers were a big favorite in that game against the Colts, which made Williams a strong play. Williams ended the game with 134 rushing yards, along with five receptions for 31 yards. Those receiving stats added eight fantasy points to Williams total, which is huge for your fantasy output. He didn’t score a touchdown, but he still put up a very good score. As we’ve talked about in almost all faucets of DFS, we want to target players that are going to get a lot of opportunities in high scoring positions, which are receptions and touchdowns (which come from goal line carries for the most part).

More Daily Fantasy Research from RotoQL

RotoQL offers numerous different resources to help increase your chances at winning in Daily Fantasy Sports. You can check out our video tutorials on how to use RotoQL at the Zen Desk (rotoql.zendesk.com). If you have any specific questions, feel free to email us at support@rotoql.com. Finally if you are new to DFS or just need a refresher on some of the fundamentals, visit RotoU (/university). We hope you learned from Saahil’s strategy for how to pick running backs for cash games!

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