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Which Running Backs Fared the Best in Fantasy When Favored?

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Running backs are supposed to do better in fantasy football when favored, right?

Well — they are. And they do. I took a look at the last 10 years and found that RBs playing on the favored team score roughly 14% more fantasy points per game — or 1.4 points per game.

 

RBs: 2012-2021 (min. 8 touches in a game)

 

Fantasy PPG

Underdogs

9.9

Favorites

11.3

But it’s not because of opportunity. You’d think that RBs on the favored team would see significantly more touches as their offense tried to ice the game. But that just wasn’t the case. RBs on both underdogs and favorites averaged about 13 rush attempts per game and just over 3 targets per game.

The real difference in production came in the TD rate. RBs on the favored team scored TDs on 3.3% of their opportunity, compared to 2.6% for underdog RBs.

RBs: 2012-2021 (min. 8 touches in a game)

 

Fantasy PPG

Rush Atts. Per Game

Targets Per Game

TD % (Per Opportunity)

Underdogs

9.9

12.8

3.4

2.6%

Favorites

11.3

13.2

3.3

3.3%

The difference between 3.3% and 2.6% might not seem significant — but it is. It’s scoring a touchdown once every 30 opportunities compared to once every 38. Think of it this way: RBs on the favored team are 26% more likely to score a touchdown every time they touch the ball compared to RBs on the underdog.

So which RBs were best when favored last year? Note that this is an imperfect project because it essentially excludes RBs who were always favored (like Leonard Fournette) or rarely favored (like Saquon Barkley).

 

Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers

The RB3 in 2022 fantasy football drafts, Austin Ekeler played 11 games as a favorite and 5 as an underdog last year (min. 8 touches in a game for the game to count). He scored an incredible 24 fantasy PPG when favored, compared to 15 when an underdog.

Ekeler and the Chargers have an over/under win total of 10.5 this year. Buckle up, Ekeler stans.

Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

The biggest question mark at RB for 2022, Alvin Kamara managers should know that he’s significantly better when favored. In seven games as a favorite last year, Kamara scored 22 PPG. That dipped to 12 PPG in his six games as an underdog.

Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers

This one might not be a surprise given how the 49ers love to run when up (they ran the ball 64% of the time when leading by 8-plus last year, fourth-highest rate in the league). Elijah Mitchell went for 19 PPG when favored compared to 10 when an underdog. 

49ers run rate when ahead 2021

Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers

Aaron Jones scored 18 PPG when favored compared to 12 when an underdog last year. If AJ Dillon takes on a bigger rushing role and Jones becomes more of a receiver in 2022, this may switch. And despite losing Davante Adams, the Packers are still expected to be one of the best teams this year. Their win total sits at 10.5.

Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

Dalvin Cook 2021 Best RBs when Favored

Dalvin Cook went from 18 PPG when favored to 14 when an underdog last year. Interestingly, Alexander Mattison also was significantly better when favored, scoring 24 (favored) vs. 13 (underdog) PPG. Keep in mind we’re only using games in which the RB had eight-plus touches as the sample.

Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott scored 15 PPG when favored and 12 when an underdog last year. He’s a major question mark for fantasy this year (the FTN Data Cast agrees he’s probably a discount buy, though), but the Cowboys should be favored often. Early win totals have Dallas sitting at a 10.5 over/under — tied for the third-highest win total in the league.

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