On the surface, though, we know what it takes to be successful in fantasy sports ... scoring points. It's that easy. And how do players score points? Simple. They're on the field and put in a position to produce. That's why looking at a statistic like snap count is so important, though it can be overlooked at times. In the second part of this three-part series (I looked at tight ends earlier in the week), let's move on to the most important position in fantasy football ... running back.
Our crack research team at NFL Digital Media came up with the top 20 players at the position based on the number of snaps played in 2014. Here are the most interesting nuggets from that list, which is included at the end of the article.
Matt Forte led all running backs in snap count in 2014. How's this for a stat? Forte was on the field for 92 percent of Chicago's offensive snaps. That is the definition of a featured runner. That number seems destined to decline, however, as he's unlikely to duplicate the 102 catches he had a year ago. Free agent signee Jacquizz Rodgers also rates as a much better pass blocker, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), and could steal some third-down work.
Le'Veon Bell was on the field more often on pass plays. Of his 895 offensive snaps (84 percent of total scrimmage plays), Bell was on the field more often when the Steelers threw the football (64 percent). As a result, it's no surprise that he finished second among running backs in receptions (83). The one thing that's holding his value hostage for next season is a three-game suspension, which he is in the process of appealing.
Jeremy Hill wasn't in the top 20 in snap counts in 2014. The 10th-ranked running back based on fantasy points, Hill didn't even lead his own team in backfield snaps ... that went to Giovani Bernard. Overall, the LSU product saw 249 touches (compared to Bernard's 211) and averaged a stout 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. Hill is a virtual lock to see his touches rise next season, so watch out.
Alfred Morris led all top-20 runners in rush percentage. You can't be surprised about this stat, as Morris had a mere 17 catches in 2014 ... and that was his career high. Out of his 573 snaps, 55.5 percent came when the Redskins ran the football. Morris was also on the field for just over 57 percent of his team's scrimmage plays, while ranking tied for seventh among backs in red-zone touches.
Arian Foster was 11th in snap count among running backs. This seems like a low total for a featured back, but remember that Foster missed three games last season. If we project his snaps over a full 16 contests, and he would have moved up to fifth at the position. His snaps between run plays (50.5 percent) and pass plays (49.5) were almost identical, which further proves his versatile skill set.
Shane Vereen led all top-20 runners in pass percentage. Vereen, who signed with the New York Giants this offseason, is going to give fantasy owners in standard leagues limited production. In his final season in New England, he saw 77.2 percent of his snaps on pass plays. No one else in the top 20 reached the 70-percent mark. This is further proof that Vereen is mostly a PPR option in 2015 drafts.
Eddie Lacy was on the field very often on passing plays: The Green Bay Packers ran 1,001 scrimmage plays last season, and Lacy was on the field for 65 percent of them. Here's the surprising stat ... of his 650 snaps, more than 55 percent of them came when the team threw the football. PFF also ranked Lacy as the second-best pass-blocking running back, so he's not going to come off the field a whole lot.
DeMarco Murray ranked third in snap count among runners. This shouldn't be a surprise, as Murray ran the football a ridiculous 392 times and saw 449 touches overall. Of course, that was with the Dallas Cowboys. Now in Philadelphia, where he will share the workload with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, Murray's arrow is pointing downward. After all, his snap count and touches are destined to decline.
Justin Forsett was a top-six running back based on snaps. Forsett, who re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens in the offseason, saw 672 snaps and was on the field for 66 percent of his team's scrimmage plays. He also saw 61 percent of his snaps when the Ravens threw the football, which equated to 59 targets and 44 catches. As long as he remains a featured back, Forsett will be on the RB2 radar.
Lamar Miller received more snaps than all but nine runners. Miller, a top-10 fantasy runner a season ago, was on the field for 58 percent of Miami's scrimmage plays. Proving that he can be a versatile asset, he saw more than 56 percent of his snaps when the team threw the football. Miller is also a virtual spring chicken at 24 and is entering a contract year, so there's quite a decent ceiling.
Most offensive plays on field, RBs, 2014
* denotes player who has changed teams in 2015