The Most Reliable Fantasy Football Running Backs

August 29, 2015

After posting the Most Reliable Fantasy Football Quarterback list, I thought the rest of the players would be fairly easy to rank using the same format.  I sure was wrong.  When it comes to running backs, reliability is a whole different beast.  The biggest issue is that the running backs who are most reliable are the ones that do not get the ball much, which in the case of fantasy football would make this information practically useless.  Another issue is that there are so many running backs to consider as each team runs at least two backs and most have a 3rd down back, which can be of interest in PPR leagues.

So when I sat down and thought about how to present this data, I realized a more broad point when it comes to fantasy football running backs….DO NOT CENTER YOUR FANTASY TEAM AROUND A RUNNING BACK, NO MATTER WHO HE IS!  When you really think about it, running backs have it the absolute worst when it comes to their risk of being hurt.  For instance, the quarterbacks take the snap and usually have 4 defenders coming for them if they drop back to pass.  If it is a blitz they may have 5, 6, or maybe even 7 defenders coming for them.  Even with that many defenders, when they arrive at the quarterback they are only allowed to hit the QB in his belly button; anywhere else is a personal foul these days.  You can look at a wide receiver or tight end as well and note that in most cases when they catch the ball they will have a relatively small cornerback or safety coming to tackle them and in some cases maybe a linebacker.  On most plays the highest number of defenders looking to tackle the receiver is three.  When we analyze the running back position, it is very simple.  When the running back touches the ball, all eleven defenders are pursuing him with about 6 or 7 defenders having a running start.  The running back position is simply destined to get hurt or injured based on the design of the game.  If I went deeper and talked about the change of direction and the acceleration/deceleration that a running back puts their body through, the injury risk would tilt even more to the running back position.

I don’t know about you, but when I started playing fantasy the running back was like platinum.  To some extent it still is, as many people will draft Adrian Peterson or LeVeon Bell number one this year and build their team around them.  Many will win with this strategy, but from an objective standpoint it simply is not smart.  My SEP Ratings are adapted to each position and therefore a running back with a rating of 80 is not necessarily more reliable than a quarterback with a rating of 70, so be sure to not cross reference these list to decide which player to take.  As you consider these ratings, know that I can conclusively say that the running back position is the least reliable position.  Even if your running back doesn’t get injured, you can bet that he will at least get hurt a few times during the season.

With all that said I will highlight many of the running backs who are on most of our radars to hopefully save you from hitting those waiver wires every week.  Running back is simple in the sense that age dominates the level of reliability more than any other position.  If you look at the full list of SEP Reliability Ratings-Running Backs at, you will notice that the highest rated running backs will be rookies and young backs and many of the less reliable will be veterans, but the interesting data lies in between.  I will highlight those that I feel some of you may get burned on, and hopefully some running back sleepers that you can get late that you can depend on all season.  So without further ado, here are your 2015 SEP Running Back Reliability ratings!

I used weight, speed, experience, football IQ, injury history, position norms, and other factors to create a rating system that predicts which fantasy football players are the most reliable.  I call this my SEP Rating as it primarily consist of SCIENCE, EVIDENCE, and PERFORMANCE. I put just a pinch of subjective into these ratings as I believe there are simply some things that you have to assess with your eyes and not through data.  

For the running backs the most reliable running backs scored a rating of 115, while the least reliable back scored a rating of 77.  We ranked 64 running backs for now, but if we missed someone you are interested in email me at


63. DeMarco Murray: SEP Rating – 83


How could I not talk about DeMarco Murray.  As a die-hard Eagles fan, Murray is the classic example of someone who I was completely against and wrote post after post of how he would not make it through last season due to his injury history.  But now that he is in an Philadelphia Eagles uniform, I love him like a play cousin!  I am trying to convince myself that this data is wrong and that Chip Kelly’s Sports Science will turn his career around.  I won’t repeat many of the facts that I wrote about last season in regard to running backs who are used, or shall I say abused like the Dallas Cowboys did him last year; but you can click here to read all about it.  Unfortunately for me and Eagles fans everywhere the data supports the likelihood that DeMarco Murray will either not make it through this season or will need to significantly decrease his workload.  The fact that I know this probably means that Chip Kelly knows this as well, hence the fact that  Kelly did not even hesitate to go ahead with signing Ryan Matthews after the Murray signing snuck up on him.  I expect the Eagles to carry 4 running backs this year and even though Murray is the absolute perfect back for this system I would not depend on him to be my fantasy back in any format.

61. Jonathan Stewart: SEP Rating – 83

Although we have a log jam here at the rating of 83, each back is separated by fractions of a point that show who is slightly more reliable.  So when you look below you will see that the 2 former Panther teammates are both lumped in the 83 pile.  The interesting part about this is that DeAngelo Williams is 4 years older than Jonathan Stewart, but barely edges him out in regard to reliability.  Many will flock to Stewart in various formats as he is now the undisputed number 1 back with Williams now in Pittsburgh.  I would definitely pump the brakes on this as Stewart has missed the most games over the past 3 years out of any of these running backs and that was in a back up or shared backfield role.  Stewart shows no evidence of being able to stay on the field and play at a high level.  When you add in the recent ACL injury to Kelvin Benjamin which means stacked boxes for Stewart, it becomes a no brainer that Jonathan Stewart can not be trusted.  With multiple ankle injuries as well as multiple surgeries to both ankles, my guess is that Stewart is carrying a little too much weight for his 5′ 10″ frame.  The average back weighs in at 215 lbs, which is likely closer to where Stewart needs to be.  The running back game can be tricky as that extra weight can help you take the contact but it can hurt you in the non contact areas.  Stewart is a game to game decision and may serve a purpose in some daily fantasy options IF he is healthy and has a good matchup, but otherwise I would stay clear.

59. Arian Foster: SEP Rating – 84

He tried to beat me to it!  But that is the beauty of the internet.  While I did not get to publish my SEP Reliability rating on Arian Foster before he got hurt, I wrote back in 2014 why Arian Foster could not be trusted.  He has proven me right down to the exact injury.  The most unfortunate part is that I think I know why he is unable to stay healthy now.  I was watching Hard Knocks the other night and noticed that Arian Foster is using his brother to train him.  Now to be fair I know nothing about his brother or his qualifications so this is just speculation on my part; but I have learned the hard way that working with family and friends is usually a good way to get burned in the end.  They showed a snippet of what Foster was doing for his training and while I can not surmise his entire regimen from the 30 seconds they showed, it is far different from what I would do with him.  I do not proclaim to be an athlete guru but with Foster’s history, I would put him in Pilates and Yoga 3-5 times per week and throw in a couple of days of weights and plyometrics and that would be it.  He shows natural talent from a physique and a performance standpoint and sometimes you have to know when to be like Elsa and “Let it Go” (that one is for my daughter and the million times I have watched Frozen).  The snippet of his work out looked like he was working his muscles to failure with fast power motions.  That type of technique helps build power and size, but at 227 lbs this is not what Arian Foster needs.  This may be the right regimen for many, but I am convinced that all that Arian Foster should be focused on in his training is eccentric contractions (slowly lengthening his muscles) and stretching.  I know that Arian has recently made public his feeling about God, but my feelings are that God has created the perfect machinery for him to be one of the best running backs on the planet and he is simply messing it up with his training.  Arian Foster is definitely the headliner on my “NEVER DRAFT” list, at least until I see a Pilates guru heading up his offseason work outs.

56. Matt Forte : SEP Rating – 85

Matt Forte has not missed many games but he seems to always be nicked up. Two things: Later this season Forte will hit the “fall off the cliff” age for running backs when he turns 30 years old in December; the second is that Jay Cutler is his quarterback.  That may not be enough for you, but it is for me.  I expect Forte to have a bad year on a bad team.  He may pay off now and then as he may be the only weapon on the field some games and is a great receiving back, but John Fox may be the end of those lofty reception numbers he has put up in the past.  I expect the fall to come very fast and it would not be wise to make any long-term commitments to him.

55. Justin Forsett: SEP Rating – 85

Justin Forsett is a sneaky one as most people probably don’t realize he is 29 years old as last year was his first year to really make any noise on the fantasy scene.  Although Forsett will hit 30 years old even sooner than Forte, I believe he may have just a little more time as he has not been a number 1 back for long.  I would be careful though as Forsett will enter this season as the 4th smallest running back and ninth oldest.  Now I love my seniors, but in a way he is a little old man coming out of the backfield.  You will see as this list goes on that the younger and bigger backs bring a lot more reliability to the table in comparison.  I also would not discount the role that Gary Kubiak’s system played in his success last year.  I would put him in the mix if it were me because I think he has one of the best offensive lines and has one last RB1 year in him.


52. Adrian Peterson: SEP Rating – 89

Now I know Adrian Peterson is at the top of many people’s draft boards, especially in standard leagues.  I look at him the same way I would look at you or me.  If you took a year off from your job, do you think you would come right back and be as good or better as when you left?  I know the answer for me is no.  The difference is that if Adrian Peterson is a little rusty it may mean he makes a cut that his body isn’t ready for and pulls a hamstring or even worst tears a ligament.  Vacations are great to rest your mind and even your body, but when it comes to being the best at your craft most of us depend on repetition.  Many are using the argument that taking a year off gives Peterson an extra year on his legs and that his running back life has now been extended.  I’m not sure I buy that.  The last time I checked there was no pause button on the hands of time. In any case, I think Peterson’s immense talent may be enough to over ride his moderate rating for reliability.  It may seem as if he is low on this rating, but when you consider that the highest rated full-time starting running back (from last year) on this list rated as a 98, it really is not that low of a rating.  Overall I have mixed feelings on Adrian Peterson.  I know for sure I would not draft him in the first round of a league, but I am sure I will use him in daily fantasy when the match up is right.  In the end he has only one real injury in his entire career and when he came back he was definitely a beast.  Maybe he will come out the gates with a little of that built up aggression, but my guess is that it will level out and we will mostly see the old Peterson at a slightly lower level.

50. Marshawn Lynch: SEP Rating – 90

democraticunderground .com
democraticunderground .com

Beast mode!  For some reason I always feel that Marshawn Lynch is older than he is, but at 28 years old he should still have a little time left to continue being an elite back.  Another deceiving factor with Lynch is that I alway envision him as being a big running back when in fact he is right about average for a running back weighing in at 215 lbs.  In many ways Marshawn Lynch is a model running back as he has the speed to break away and the power to break tons of tackles.  Despite earning the name Beast mode with physical play after physical play, he manages to suit up every week.  Lynch seems to be very smart when it comes to his career despite what he may portray to the media.  You will notice that he misses many practices and in general seems to take his breaks as he sees fit.  This is one of the smartest things you can do as a running back–make sure that when you run that you are truly on the offensive.  In a lot of ways Marshawn is my favorite back on this list so far and had he not been 5th in total touches for running backs last year, I think he would be higher on this list.  If the Seattle Seahawks can monitor Lynch’s volume (but not at the goal line in the Superbowl), I think he will continue to be a productive back.  Many of us get caught up in targets and touches and in the passing game for PPR leagues that is important, but when it comes to your running backs you want to get quality over quantity.  A perfectly managed Beast mode gets you touchdowns every week, but an overworked Beast mode may lead to him missing his first games in years.

48. LeSean McCoy: SEP Rating – 91

I have a soft spot for Shady as an Eagles fan, but Buffalo and Rex Ryan will prove to be the worst thing to ever happen to him.  Many people blame Chip Kelly but I blame Shady for running like Barry Sanders when we needed him to run like Jim Brown.  I think the biggest problem with his new system will be volume combined with free will.  For those who don’t know, Chip Kelly has all his players with ankle bracelets, monitors, and body guards.  He knows how much they drink, how much they pea, how many sneezes they average per day, etc.  I say this in jest, but when you leave that type of structured system and go to “let’s have a beer” Rex Ryan it is night and day.  I think we may already be seeing the effects of “free will” with the strained hamstring that LeSean McCoy has suffered already.  When your body comes off a 2 year regimen that is designed and dictated by Science and you stop that system cold turkey and put it in the hands of a young 26-year-old running back with a new contract, you are asking for disaster.  It’s not that Shady can not handle volume, because with the Philadelphia Eagles last year, he had the 4th most touches out of any running back.  The difference will be that the Bills offensive line is not even close to the Eagles line and I expect that LeSean McCoy’s conditioning and physique won’t be close to what it was last year.  Not to mention, no quarterback and only one other weapon in Sammy Watkins.  It is a shame to see a young running back crash and burn like this but I think that is what we are in store for.

46. Jamaal Charles: SEP Rating – 91

I have never used Jamaal Charles in fantasy football for some reason.  I know he is always near the top of draft boards but I can never get over how little he is.  Charles weighs in as the 6th smallest running back in the league.  What I did not realize until I compiled this data is that Andy Reid must realize this, and keeps his touches right in the middle of the pack.  Furthermore, many of his touches are receptions or toss sweep type plays.  All touches are not created equal, as in many instances Charles is headed toward the sideline or catching the ball downfield, which both lessen the likelihood of getting hit by multiple defenders.  Despite his size, Jamaal Charles has managed to stay on the field for all but 2 games over the past few years.  If he continues this style of play I may need to reconsider my stance on him, especially in PPR leagues.

40. Mark Ingram: SEP Rating – 94

This may seem a little backwards to see a running back like Mark Ingram ahead of some of these other backs after watching him miss 8 games in his young career and seeming to always have a nagging injury lingering.  Despite a bumpy start to his career, it appears that he should be generally reliable going forward. At 215 lbs, Mark Ingram is the perfect weight for a running back.  His size matched with his less than blazing speed lends to a lower force measure as compared to some of these bigger and faster backs.  As I mentioned we are using science to calculate these ratings and one of the formulas we learn in physics is mass times velocity (speed) squared equals force.  In most cases we would look at speed or velocity to be a positive attribute, but when you look at the injury report it is often times those blazers who occupy it as they generate so much force with their speed.  I like Ingram as a reliable running back in an offense that all signs point to being more run centric.  It will be interesting to see if Mark Ingram can hold up if the Saints actually do favor the run more and increase his touches.  Ingram had the 12th most touches last year, but if he elevates in to that top 5 or 10, we may see his reliability dip a bit.  The greatest asset on Mark Ingram’s side is his age; at 25 years old he should have at least a few prime years ahead.

35. C.J. Anderson: SEP Rating – 95

C.J. Anderson burst onto the scene last year and catapulted to the top of the RB1 list.  I considered Anderson a smaller back with the eye-ball test but in reality he is over the league average weighing in at 224 lbs.  At 5′ 8″ tall that may be a little on the heavy side.  When I see extra weight combined with lots of cutting and change of direction on a small frame, I always think of the smallest weight-bearing joint–the ankle.  Any of you who go to the gym can attest to this–when you go to the gym and see those muscled up guys, you can always get a feel for what their frame should be by looking down at their calfs and ankles.  There are many gym rats out there with huge arms, back and chest but teeny tiny ankles.  From an anatomy standpoint it is an area that you really can not bulk up all that much.  When you think about it the ankle joint along with the wrist are the two major joints in our bodies with the smallest muscles to protect them.  The hips get those big old glute muscles, the knees get the 4 headed quadricep muscle and the infamous hamstring to protect it; while the ankle depends on muscles that are no bigger than thick noodles.  When you add in that the ankle is the first major joint to absorb the force made with the ground and your body weight, it somehow seems backwards.  I am in no way questioning God’s design, but it would be nice to have a little more help in those ankles.  As for C.J. Anderson and any other running back who is carrying a little extra weight on a small frame, I worry about relying on that player.  With that said, I think it will be hard to pass on a C.J. Anderson in a Gary Kubiak system.  For this case specifically, I would simply just take out a little insurance; meaning saving a spot for Ronnie Hillman or Montee Ball.

33. LeVeon Bell: SEP Rating – 96

LeVeon Bell is arguably the best fantasy back of 2015, and if you are in a PPR league there is no argument.    Although he is coming off a hyperextended knee from late last year, I would not hesitate to draft him.  He ranks on the complete list around middle of the pack, but when you look at the running backs that counts he is ranked 4th most reliable among the true number one backs on this list.  While Bell also comes in a little heavier for a running back at 225 lbs, I don’t have the same reservations as I have with C.J. Anderson as Bell’s 6′ 1″ frame can support that extra weight.  LeVeon Bell was second in touches last year to DeMarco Murray and he would have definitely led this list this year if not for the 3 game suspension.  At 23 years old, he should be ready to handle this amount of touches for years to come.

31. Eddie Lacy: SEP Rating – 98

Eddie Lacy basically comes in as the third most reliable back when it comes to undisputed starters.  Lacy is a what I consider a big back at 230 lbs and for my taste, I would prefer if he dropped 5 to 10 lbs.  Regardless of what I want; his age, his injury history, and Aaron Rodgers all point to the likelihood of him being one of the most reliable running backs in the league.  Age and injury history are self-explanatory, but the Aaron Rodgers effect helps Lacy on multiple levels.  A power back like Eddie Lacy in almost any other offense would be a work horse.  My guess is that on most other teams his carries would be higher and his frequency of tough runs that end in gang tackling would be much higher.  With Rodgers under center, Lacy will not face many stacked boxes and will rarely get over worked with 30 plus carries.  Additionally he seems to have a little Beast Mode in him as he tends to deliver and not receive the punishment at the end of runs.  If Eddie Lacy can trim down just a little bit I think he may become one of the best balances of reliability and quality in the running back category.

19. Jeremy Hill: SEP Rating – 103

Jeremy Hill popped up last season and is now one of the most coveted standard league running backs in the game.  He is like Eddie Lacy in regard to being in the big/power back category at 238 lbs, but at 6′ 2″, it suits him a little better.  He resembles Lacy in the speed category as well as they both ran their 40 yard dash in the 4.6 range.  I know these forty times only vary by tenths of a second, but I really value I slightly slower back, if you are going to be well over 215 lbs.  If Hill were to run a 4.4, I think he would be asking for ankle tweaks and hamstring pulls as a big body like that moving so fast is a recipe for disaster.  The example I usually give people is Bo Jackson who was 6′ 1″, 230 lbs, and ran a 4.12 forty yard dash.  That is absolutely crazy.  I like to put players in Supremely Skilled and Freaky Talented categories, and if there ever was a poster child for the Freaky Talented bunch it would be Bo Jackson.  Jackson ended up ending his football career due to a hip dislocation that evolved into a more serious hip issue, but the basis for his injury I believe can be found in his measurables.  With that type of mass and that type of speed, Bo Jackson would have easily topped this list in regard to force generated by a running back.  That is not only the force created between him and defenders at the point of contact, but also the force generated between his body and the ground as well as the internal force that he created within his own body.  Jackson states that he felt his hip partially dislocating prior to his injury, and I equate this to a race car that is showing signs of wear and then eventually blows a tire.  People and things that are really big and really fast are usually not going to last long.  This is a long way of saying that I think Jeremy Hill has the right stuff to stay on the field.  The fact that he has a quality backup in Giovanni Bernard to allow him to get the proper rest from his pounding style doesn’t hurt either.

14. Carlos Hyde: SEP Rating -106

Carlos Hyde is a little bit of a sleeper for this list as last year he was not a number one back.  Not being a number one last year is actually a lot of the reason he is topping this list.  Hyde is the undisputed number one this year, and fantasy owners should probably take advantage of him being one of the only running backs on this list with this advantage.  Carlos Hyde represents a player you’ve seen enough of to trust his quality, but know that he has not really been used enough to question his reliability.  He has age and size on his side at 235 lbs.  Being the number one man may be enough for him to shed a few pounds, but just like Hill and Lacy he comes in at that 4.6 range with his speed which makes it work for me.  Hyde has had a few minor injuries in his short career, but in essence he is like a demo car off the lot, while most of these running backs are used cars.  Carlos Hyde may prove to be a sneaky value you can get this year as a solid RB 2  who will stay on the field and produce.  When you add in that his quarterback is not likely to be very productive, it sounds like a good equation to me.

Click here to see the entire SEP rating rankings for running backs.  Look out for the Wide Receivers coming soon.


Dallas Cowboys Running Back DeMarco Murray Will End Up On The Bench!

DeMarco Murray
Cowboy fans close your eyes!…Im sure you don’t want to see this scene again.

October 16, 2014

Fantasy Stud DeMarco Murray is off to a fantastic start; but Fantasy Owners and Dallas Cowboy Fans should be ready for heart-break.

The Science

With Running Back DeMarco Murray on a record pace to have 424 rushing attempts, 56 receptions, and 2,093 yards; there are a lot of excited fans and fantasy owners giddy for more.  I caution you all to push the pause button and get your back ups ready.  By our SEP injury rating calculation, DeMarco Murray rates even lower than the injury poster child Steven Jackson; and we fully anticipate him to be on the sideline as a spectator this year.

Our SEP injury rating system is in the works. The unique injury rating system is currently being fine tuned for accuracy and tested against past evidence, however the rating system is functional enough to show the glaring probability that Murray will miss 3 or more games this year.  The SEP injury rating system combines Science, Evidence, and Performance to rank a players injury probability amongst their peers while also predicting how many games the player will miss due to injury.  Each player is rated on a 100 point scale with a multitude of factors assessed including their height, weight injury history, age, etc.  The end result for DeMarco Murray is an 83.5 rating, which indicates he will miss some time this year.  For comparison purposes, Steven Jackson who is 5 years Murray’s senior and a veteran to the injury report, is scored at an 88.5. Division mate and 2013 rushing title holder LeSean McCoy has a SEP rating of 90.0.  The SEP injury rating system will soon help you pick your fantasy player with your eyes wide open to how much you can depend on him.  We expect this comprehensive injury rating will be a valuable tool for fantasy owners, and all the way up to actual NFL franchise owners.  While we doubt that any system can predict each an every injury in a violent sport like football, there are many factors that allow a reasonable projection of injury probability.  With the skillful use of Science, Evidence and Performance; and our SEP injury rating system will take injury evaluation and outlook to the next level.

Now that we have gotten our SEP injury rating teaser out of the way, lets get back to DeMarco Murray.  The combination of Murray’s touches, his injury history, and even his speed works against him.  For those who payed attention in Physics class, you will remember that f= m x v2 (Force equals mass times velocity squared).  Murray is a not only a big running back at 227 lbs (the average NFL running back is about 215 lbs) but he is also one of the faster running backs with a reported 40 time of 4.41.  While Murray may not stand out as much as a Calvin Johnson or a Julio Jones, he would definitely fall into my category of being a “Freaky Talent”.  The verdict is still out on whether he is also “Supremely Skilled”.  As I have stated in the past, these “Freaky Talented” athletes are like race cars, they are pushing their bodies to the max and need frequent pit stops and repairs.  Now I am no racing expert (although after watching the movie “Rush”, I feel like I know a little bit….good movie!), but right now Murray is circling the track and skipping the pit stops to change his tires and whatever else they change at those stops.  The facts of the matter are that Murray generates a lot of force when he runs, considering his size and speed  (f = m x v2).  At this pace he will generate his force against an opposing defender who likely generates even more force, over and over again throughout the season.  He is on a pace for far greater than 500 episodes of impact with other players and the ground.  If these objective (factual) factors are not convincing enough, just simply watch him run.  Murray runs with the physicality of an Adrian Peterson, while also seeming to be taller than he is with a more upright style like the legendary Marcus Allen.  These are very flattering comparisons to two of the greatest running backs of all time, but in my opinion the mixture of the 2 styles is troublesome.  As you can see in the video below, Murray tends to have to get low to deliver his impact to a defender rather than staying low.  In my opinion, he would be better served to either stay lower with his same physical style or be more elusive with his more upright posture.  On the occasions in which he is getting hit, rather than delivering the punishment; he leaves the defender a wide area of impact based on his upright posture.  There are not many positions in football in which having less leverage is a good thing, and by having a more upright posture than the defender during impact; Murray is likely to lose the leverage battle often.  Despite Marcus Allen having a Hall of Fame career, his statistics tell the story that an upright runner in the NFL has their limitations.  If you look at his career, he failed to go over 1000 yards or get more than 225 carries for 13 out of his 16 seasons.  Thats right, I am telling you that the great Marcus Allen only had 3 – 1, 000 yard seasons and they were within his first 4 years in the league.  Some may look at this as surprising in a league that was more run centered during that time.  I look at it as a sign that a running back with this style and posture is not built to be a work horse, especially when they look for contact.



If your still not convinced, I would finally say that there is no better teacher than history itself.  Look no further than two letters–GP a.k.a. Games Played.  DeMarco Murray has NEVER completed a full professional season.  He has suffered all of the “usual suspect” injuries such as ankle sprains, hamstring pulls, sprained knees, etc.  The more disturbing piece of this is that he has not been a true RB 1 until last years 2013 season (Remember Felix Jones…what happen to him?) and still was unable to stay on the field.

I admit, it is possible that the Dallas Cowboys could adjust their game plan and cause a small improvement in Murray’s SEP injury rating over the course of the season, but that remains to be seen.  Many have applauded the Cowboys tactics of drafting Offensive Linemen and relying on their running game, but I think they are off base on this specific tactic with DeMarco Murray unless the objective is to get him injured.  In a league that has significantly leaned toward the passing game, top running backs are averaging about 225 carries and 45 catches per year.  Even those who hover near these averages are suffering injuries and most teams are well prepared with a 2, 3, or sometimes 4 back approach.  With Murray, on pace for almost double the average rushes, it appears that the Cowboys believe this is the 90’s and that Romo, Bryant and Murray are the new Big 3.  But even the great Emmit Smith never went over 400 carries in a season.  Only 2 running backs have crossed this threshold in the modern NFL and only 5 have gone over 400 carries in a season in NFL history  Maybe Murray is special and can join this group; and joining this group would most definitely mean playing all 16 games.  Those who have achieved this, have not faired well the following year as 3 out 5 did not play a complete season the following year.

Larry Johnson, who was the most recent back over 400 carries is also the all-time leader with 416 attempts during his  2006 campaign with the Kansas City Chiefs.  He never played another full season after his record setting season.  His following year was derailed by a foot injury that cost him 8 games and subsequent years were riddled with injuries and other miscellaneous issues.

Larry Johnson
Unfortunately Larry Johnson’s career dropped off a cliff after his record breaking season.

I think it is very clear that this pace is not sustainable when you study the Science, the Evidence, and the Performance related to this issue.  I would look for injuries and games missed for DeMarco Murray by week 13,  if not sooner.


Fantasy Implications

If you own DeMarco Murray, you should obviously play him.  My advice is to have a good stable of back ups and to keep an eye out for good running back pick ups as the season progresses.  Keep in mind that you not only are waiting for DeMarco to get injured but his offensive line showed its first chink in the armor this week with Right Tackle Doug Free going down for the next 3-4 weeks with a right foot injury.  You need to look no further than to LeSean McCoy’s numbers to find out what happens to backs when their offensive linemen get hurt.

Even beyond a serious injury, I think you see little injuries and a gradual decrease in touches to come first.  If the offensive line is mostly in tact, you can simply stash one of his back ups Lance Dunbar or Joseph Randle (if he can stay out of department stores).  The bottom line is you have to be ready.  Sure  Coach Garrett is talking about lightening Murray’s load, but talking and doing are two different things and my bet is they run him into the ground.

As for the indirect effect of a Murray’s decline or injury, you can count on Tony Romo looking like Tony Romo  by the end of this season.  I think Romo will remain a decent fantasy quarterback when Murray gets hurt but if the back up running backs can not get the job done like Murray, 3rd and longs likely means more sacks and interceptions for Romo.  Romo owners may need to think hard before thinking that Romo throwing more in Murray’s absence is a good thing.

Finally, for those who are submitting their ticket for the Cowboys to end their season in Arizona at the big game….you may want to sit tight.  Unless Dunbar or Randle are more talented than I believe, the decline of the running game will expose many of the deficiencies that the Dallas Cowboys still have.  In my opinion, none bigger than the defense who is helped by a ball control approach which keeps then fresh and aggressive when its their turn; and of course Tony Romo.  I don’t think the door is closed on Romo’s recent back injury and that door may be knocked of the hinges if he is forced to revert to his gun slinging self.

So in summary, keep an eye on any signs of Murray slowing down and any more injuries to the Cowboys offensive line.  Most importantly, PROCEED WITH CAUTION FOR ALL MOVES THAT INVOLVE DeMARCO MURRAY OR THE COWBOYS!  They are approaching the top of the roller coaster ride, and in the words of Isaac Newton- “What goes up must come down”

Week 6 Injuries: Why we don’t always “KNEED” an MRI

October 13, 2014

Week 6 yielded some big KNEE injuries to players that I’m sure are at least active in your fantasy league, if not starting.  Darren Sproles went down with a MCL sprain, Stevan Ridley has a ACL/MCL tear, and Victor Cruz suffered a patella tendon rupture.  

victor cruz modeling
Victor Cruz may have some more time to advance his modeling career while out with a torn patella tendon

The Science

Instead of going through each injury as per usual, I think this would be a good opportunity to show you how we can diagnose a knee injury in less than 5 minutes, and usually come to the same conclusion that the ever so expensive MRI will give a day or two later.

As you may have seen on Sunday, when these player go down the medical staff comes running out to tend to the player.  Typically with a knee injury, the diagnoses for the player is known within the time that the player goes down and the time that the game returns from commercial.  Here is generally what happens during a knee assessment:

Step 1: Ask  and Look.   (30 seconds)

Ask what happen, what did you feel, where does it hurt? Look at the area.  Hopefully the team Doctor or Trainer sees the injury, which can give good insight to what structures may be injured.  In the cases where the injury is not seen, knowing which direction the knee went, where it was hit, and where the pain is, can fill in the blanks.  While the player is talking, examining the knee with your eyes may show some obvious deformities that will guide or sometimes conclude the examination.

Step 2: Check Movements  and Palpate (Feel) for deformities (1 -2 minutes)

By the time you finish step 1, you may have some idea of what may be going on, and now its time to move the knee.  First. the player will move the knee and then you will move the knee for them.  Because the knee-joint is a simple hinge joint, there are 2 major movements to assess–flexion and extension (bending and straightening).  Although simple, there is valuable information in simply assessing whether a player can bend and straighten the knee, and where the pain is during these movements.  A third movement that the examiner may need to assess is patellar (knee cap) mobility, which can also provide valuable information.

In the case of Victor Cruz of the New York Giants and fantasy teams everywhere, this was likely the end of the evaluation.  Most examiners would suspect a patella tendon rupture during step 1 as it was obvious where Cruz was grabbing and his reaction to the pain, indicated something serious.  The Patella tendon is directly below the knee cap and it connects the knee cap to the lower leg bone (tibia) which allows us to straighten our leg.  With a rupture, there is a good chance that with your eyes you can see that the knee cap is higher (closer to the hip) than usual which indicates that the tendon is torn.  If this is not visually evident, then feeling the patella tendon area and moving the knee cap should be the only additional info needed to diagnose this. Unfortunately, this injury means surgery and 4-6 months out for Cruz.  Although this is a serious injury, the return to full strength and speed is expected in most cases.

patella tendon rupture
This shows how far up the patella may rise after a patella tendon rupture

Step 3: Check ligaments and structures (1-2 min)

In many cases in which there is not an obvious injury, this is where players have to cross their fingers.  Sometimes players think they hear pops or feel their knee twisted or turned too much, and many fear the most notorious 3 letters in the alphabet for an athlete–A C L.  The Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) is known to take players out for at least a full season and most return from the injury needing some time to re-tune their bodies.  For most players, this injury means a full season of being out with additional time of  being less than their normal selves.

The ACL is only one of the ligaments we test during this step.  The examiner can use a variety of test but some of the more basic test are as follows:

Valgus stress test-checks for medial (inner) instability with a primary focus on the Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL)

Varus stress test-checks for lateral (outer) instability with a primary focus on the Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL)

Anterior Drawer Test-checks for anterior (forward) instability with a primary focus on the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)

Posterior Drawer Test-checks for posterior instability with a primary focus on the Posterior Cruciate Ligament (PCL)

In the case of both Darren Sproles and Stevan Ridley, the examination would stop here.  For Sproles, the examiner should have felt some extra motion during the valgus stress test described above.  The extra movement indicates that the ligament has been overstretched and possibly torn, although Sproles was able to walk off and state that he thought he was “ok”.  Ridley was not as lucky.  It is likely that Ridley’s description of the injury in step 1 clued the examiner into what may be wrong as tearing your ACL and MCL is painful, and there was likely and audible pop as it happened.  In his case both the Anterior Drawer and the Valgus stress test would be positive for excess movement.   Unfortunately, the ACL is the death sentence for his season.  With a minimum of 6 months to recover, the ACL tear has earned its reputation.  

The remaining two non ligamentous structures that are important to check, especially if the above test yield no apparent injuries are the medial and lateral meniscus.  Meniscus injuries can be conservatively diagnosed in a variety of ways with the simplest way being to feel the joint lines. Both meniscus lay on their respective sides at the joint line.  The examiner can simply put pressure on the area of the meniscus and if this elicits pain, it typically indicates injury.  In the case of the knee being hit during the injury, this may be more difficult to assess as the entire knee may hurt from the trauma of the hit.  In this case, the examiner can use a Mc Murray test which can be adapted to test both meniscus separately.

This may look like a lot of information, but in real life the examiner is talking, feeling, testing, assessing fluidly.  With an experienced examiner, you can expect an accurate diagnoses right there on the spot.  The MRI simply confirms this assessment in most cases.  This is why reporters can give you information on the injury almost immediately or at least the MRI results are publicized.  See how many test you can identify the next time someone hurts their knee and try to appreciate the skill that it requires to assess an injury that could end a players year in mere minutes.

WARNING: The video below may put you to sleep but it is very informative in regard to the information I just shared.  Please watch when you are wide awake!


Fantasy Implications

For those owner who have Sproles, keep him.  I believe there is a chance he may not miss a game.  WIth the Eagles on a bye this week and his general appearance after the injury, I could see him playing in Arizona in week 8.  If he does not play, hopefully he is not your starter and you can simply wait a week.  I doubt that he will miss week 9, unless more information shows the injury to be more serious.  Despite the outlook for this injury, remember that Sproles was listed as one of our Running Backs running out of time  and at best you can depend on him for spot duty for short periods of time.

As for those who have LeSean McCoy and believe this will boost his touches, I don’t think so.  Chip Kelly and his “Sports Science” approach controls a players touches to get optimal performance, and therefore Sproles being out likely means more touches for the next man up.  My guess is, you see Chris Polk and Josh Huff  take Sproles touches, but neither are viable fantasy options.

Victor Cruz owners may be able to snag Odell Beckham Jr., if available.  His stock should go way up with Cruz out and I think he has the chance to be a stud if his hamstring does not stand in the way.  As for Eli Manning, there may be a temporary adjustment period without his most consistent target; but if he can get comfortable with Beckham Jr. he may even see his numbers improve.

Stevan Ridley owners have probably been done a favor, as predicting what Belichick will do from game to game is nearly impossible.  Starting a New England Patriot player really does feel like playing roulette.  I guess this bumps Vereen’s value up a little, in theory.  Brandon Bolden is an option, but I would look elsewhere like in San Diego for Oliver or Tennessee for Sankey to find a new running back.