Why Is a Backup RB a Fantasy Star?

Jason Lisk of Big Lead Sports, and longtime friend of ANS, investigated which players tended to show up on the rosters of winning fantasy teams. For whatever reason, I think that's pretty interesting.

Jason recently theorized why David Wilson, a backup RB for the Giants, is on rosters of winning fantasy teams. (His teams have the 6th best winning percentage of all NFL players.) His theories were:

1) Smart fantasy players overlook previous outcomes and understood his ability to have a high payoff as a RB on a team that can move the ball.

2) Wilson was a scrub who was stuck as a backup behind teams who already had a very healthy RB situation with little reason to go digging for better options.

3) Wilson got his opportunity very late in the season after losing fantasy owners had long since given up prowling the waiver wire. Fantasy teams in the playoffs, which already solidified winning records, would tend to be the ones looking to plug holes in week 15.

All excellent theories, but I'd like to add 1,387 more to that list. Those are the number of return yards Wilson has accumulated this season. How does your league score return yardage? I bet you don't even know. The last time I won my fantasy league it was party because of Percy Harvin's massive return yardage. Return yardage is probably only part of the answer, but in many leagues it can be overlooked.

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6 Responses to “Why Is a Backup RB a Fantasy Star?”

  1. Jared Doom says:

    I've never had return yards count in a league I've been in (though there's only been 3).

    The reason David Wilson is on good teams is RB scarcity. Any young backup RB who shows some potential is worth taking a chance when the starter goes down.

    (1) Jamaal Charles - Backup RB turned starter 2009, wk 14
    (2) Arian Foster - 2010 Season Week 1 - Backup RB turned starter
    (3) CJ Spiller - Backup RB turned starter - 2012

    Not as many examples as I thought I'd think of, but, the idea is that, once any replacement RB has a good game, you can kiss your chance at picking him up goodbye unless you have the highest waiver claim (at least in a league with skilled opponents). If you speculate a backup RB will do well and you're correct (happens often), you've just saved an extremely valuable waiver claim, and possibly struck gold, for the small risk of dumping some mediocre player you're not starting anyway.

    Bad fantasy football players leave mediocre players with no upside on their bench. Good fantasy football players do things like proactively pickup David Wilson because of the very favorable risk/reward mix.

  2. Jared Doom says:

    Wow, I guess it's not a snapshot, but instead a season average.

    If it's a season average, I would attach no significance to it. It's common to own backup RBs, especially if you owned Ahmad Bradshaw, who is made of glass. But it makes no sense that Ahmad Bradshaw owners who insured against his inevitable injury would have a disproportionate amount of skill.

    You're bound to see some head-scratchers at the top of that list, even though it should be mostly deterministic. I'm guessing coincidence.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Backup RBs are lottery tickets. In the case of David Wilson, he was playing behind a starter who was already battling numerous injuries, so he seemed like a good bet to get the job at some point.

    However, Wilson is also an RB who didn't help very many fantasy teams this year. In standard scoring, where return yards don't count, Wilson was a handcuff to Ahmad Bradshaw or a speculative lottery ticket at best. He wasn't getting the goal line work that Andre Brown had earlier in the season, so very few people were starting him in that game against the Saints where he went crazy. When he finally got a chance to start a game and people knew ahead of time that he would get the majority of the carries, the Giants got behind early and he did very little.

    Now, I was lucky enough to be playing in one league where return yards DO count, and I started Wilson in that game against the Saints. He put up even bigger numbers than he did in standard leagues thanks to his 227 kick return yards. In standard leagues, though, the most common scenario was someone picked him up after his game against the Saints, played him the next week against the Falcons, and got a paltry 6.6 points from him, possibly costing them a place in their fantasy championship.

    Similar thing happened with Bryce Brown. When LeSean McCoy went down with a concussion, Brown had two huge games in a row, propelling the teams that picked him up into the fantasy playoffs. Once there, he stunk it up, again likely costing those very teams a win.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Oh and I think explanation 3 is the correct one. At this point in the season, people with losing teams just don't care anymore. Wilson's one big game was in week 14, which in most leagues is either the last week of the regular season or the first week of the playoffs. He was owned in a very small percentage of leagues before then, so most of his ownership now was a reaction to that one game. I'd guess that the vast majority of teams that own him are (or were) in the fantasy playoffs, so naturally they'll have good records.

  5. Eric Moore says:

    I agree with Anonymous that backup RBs are like lottery tickets. Fantasy teams with strong starters get to buy more lottery tickets than teams that have to play matchups and skim marginal starters off of the waiver wire.

  6. Yo says:

    This ones easy.its likely that Wilson wasn't on too many rosters until Bradshaw went down as he's been unproductive all season. The only teams that would pick him up this late into the season wee 14 or 15) are those still left in the playoffs. This elimantes the chances of him being on the bottom 50 percent of fantasy leagues. Wilson is ow spread out among the top 50 percent.

    Wilson had a very strong week 14, and a decent week 15 and 16. A team that picked up Wilson at this point of the season is reliant on him as their main star, they have an entire team already built that got them this far. Wilson likely replaced a fringe flex player in these vital playoff weeks. Getting production from your lower level players in the fantasy playoffs usually leads to winning the league.

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