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Fantasy Football: Searching for Second Half Running Back Breakouts

If you want to win a title in fantasy football, it often revolves around getting lucky and being good at identifying guys who can boost you in the second half of a season at the running back position and carry you through a late run. In fact, most of the times I personally have won have been because I combined good quarterbacks and receivers with a boost at running back late. Last year, it was having Spiller and acquiring Lynch when he was outside the Top 20. In 2009, it was Jamaal Charles taking over for a dead Larry Johnson. In 2006, it was a trade where I got Ladell Betts thrown in the deal a week before Portis went out for the year.

So, given the importance of trying to nail these boom pickups for the second half of the season, I looked back at the last decade in fantasy football to see who made the leap. The conditions I set were all players who (a) scored at least 88 fantasy points in the last 8 games, non-PPR, and (b) scored at least 32 more points than they did in the first half of the season, and (c) were not in the Top 20 in running back points at the break. I excluded some established stud running backs who were on the list due to missing games in the first half of the season.

Fifty-four players show up on our second half breakout list from the last decade, so 5.4 per year. While some of the lines are blurred, I categorize 19 as coming from backups who emerged when the starter was hurt or ineffective, 15 as coming from platoon/committee situations either due to one emerging, or an injury, and 20 coming from backs who were the starters already, but had much better production in the second half of the year.

Today, we’ll focus on the first group, the unknowns who became fantasy stars for a two month stretch. Here they are:

While the top two, and three of the top four on the list turned into future stars, having long term starter level talent is not a pre-requisite to getting your name on here. It obviously helps if you want a really big breakout, but finding that quality RB2 for your stretch run may come from a future journeyman.

What’s the biggest factor here? Well, if I were to target one thing, after trying to guess on talent and who could emerge, it would be opportunity. Obviously, these guys needed an injury or ineffectiveness from the people in front of them to get a chance. You can take some educated guesses to try to increase your long shot odds here at who might develop an opportunity.

Over half of these 19 players were behind a guy aged 28 or older who was #1 on the depth chart at the start of the season. Six more were behind a young guy aged 24 or younger who was relatively unproven, even if highly drafted. Only three of them were behind running backs aged 25-27, peak age for the position.

It’s interesting that the productivity of the starter in front was not really a factor. Seven came from guys having great years getting injured, and the reserve stepping into that vacuum. Nine others came in situations where the running back situation looked bleak at mid-season, with the starter averaging less than 8 fantasy points a game in the first half.

Rashad Jennings may change that, and you don’t need me to tell you, I hope, that Jennings could very well be a name on here this season as we await word of Maurice Jones-Drew’s injury. Besides Jennings, though, who might fit the profile?

Well, there are four running backs who are age 28 or older who I would consider clear #1 running backs on their team (I’m excluding Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller here, as well as DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart). We’ve seen that just over half of our unexpected breakouts have come from these situations.

That gives us:

Daryl Richardson of St. Louis (behind 29 year old Steven Jackson)

Kendall Hunter of San Francisco (behind 29 year old Frank Gore)

Jacquizz Rodgers of Atlanta (behind 30 year old Michael Turner)

Ronnie Hillman of Denver (behind 30 year old Willis McGahee)

If you want to plan ahead, you can target taking a chance on one of these four in a trade where they are the throw-in, or in a free agent pickup in the next few weeks. My preference order would be Hunter, Richardson, Hillman and Rodgers. However, the first two are probably on rosters more than the last two. Hillman is available in most leagues.

The other factor is that team success is greater in the second half. Look for situations where a team’s record is not indicative of their true strength and they may have an easier schedule. Denver’s schedule eases up, and so I think Hillman is a good gamble on the cheap. Knowshon Moreno’s ship has sailed, and Hillman would be in a golden situation if an injury to McGahee occurred.

[photo via US Presswire]

 

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