In working on my article on 2016 Strength of Schedule Adjusted RB Scores, I noticed something that took me back to a short piece I wrote in June last year. I'm going to update that article, which I've quoted in its entirety (in italics) below, and add a couple of more charts.

We all know last year was a bit of a down year for fantasy RB scoring. The top fantasy back in PPR systems, Devonta Freeman posted 21.4 fantasy points per game (FP/G). That was well below the previous season and the worst year for the overall RB1 since 2008. This continues a long-term trend.

But that doesn’t mean that overall RB fantasy scoring is necessarily down, nor that RB1 numbers will go down again.

Look at this chart:

The overall RB1 trend is shown by the dotted blue line and we can all see that it is going down. After every few years a bottom is hit and there is a bounce back season. We could be a year away from that; it’s been about every 4th or 5th year and we’re just in the 4th year of this cycle. But there will be one and you shouldn’t be certain that this is not the year.

And the RB12 numbers have been pretty steady. While they are down since 2002, almost all of the decline took place by 2009. Since then the RB12 has been pretty consistent.

This graph, same data as above but drawn differently, shows what I mean:

I don’t think we’re going back to 2002 in terms of fantasy RBs. But I’m not all doom-and-gloom about the 2016 fantasy points we can expect from our top backs, from RB1 to RB12.

OK, let's start by updating the first chart:

The trendlines (dotted lines) based on the data up to 2015 are extended into 2016. If RB1 and RB12 scoring had been exactly in line with the pre-existing trends, their scores would have matched the points outlined by the empty blue triangle and black square. The actual 2016 data is shown in red.

The actual RB1 point for 2016 was both substantially higher than the 2015 result and the trend expected for 2016. The actual RB12 FP/G was very close to the existing trend (15.0 vs. 14.7). I'll come back to how 2016 affected the long-term trend in a minute.

For now, here's the second chart, also updated:

As I suggested in the original article, a rebound in fantasy RB1 scoring was coming in either 2016 or 2017, based on previous cycles. Since I carefully hedged my bets on the year, I can't say I was completely right. But you shouldn't have been surprised by this result, either, despite the long-term trend. Meanwhile, RB12 scoring continued to hold steady around 15 PPG. I'll come back to these cycles.

Next, here's how 2016 affected the long-term trends:

Start with the two blue lines. The dotted line is the trend in RB1 scoring from 2002 to 2015. The solid line is the trend now that we have an additional year of data. There is not a lot of change, but the decline is not quite as rapid as it looked to be a year ago.

The RB12 trendline hardly changed with one more year of data.

Here's a new chart, showing RB fantasy scoring from the cycle that ended in 2012 to 2016:

I've plotted what the RB1, RB2, RB3, etc. scored in total points in each of the five years. 2015 is in red to make it stand out, because it was an unusual season. 2016, on the other hand, pretty much looks like 2012-2014.

In 2015, RB1 through RB20 had lower scores than their counterparts in the other four seasons. And RB41+ had higher scores. For the most part, the overall total scoring by the top 75 fantasy RBs was about the same across all five seasons - about 10,300 points +/- 300. In 2015, though, the points shifted from the Top 20 RBs to those outside the Top 40.

Here's another way of looking at the fantasy RB scoring over the past five years:

Each bar represents how many backs exceeded a certain threshold of fantasy points. The first cluster of bar on the left shows how many RBs had more than 300 FP in each season from 2012 on. The next set of bars is how many backs topped 275, etc.

Again, I've put 2015 in red to make it obvious how much different it was from the other four years. It's not until the threshold is at 200 FP that 2015 is at all close to the other years in RB scoring. Again, 2016 was pretty consistent with 2012-2014.

There are two key points I want to emphasize here:

  • 2015 was an anomaly in RB total scoring over a five-year period.
  • 2015 was consistent with long-term trends in RB1 and RB12 FP/G scoring.

The reason these points appear contradictory is because I've shifted three things: the time periods (15 years vs. 5), the metrics of the analysis (total points vs. FP/G), and what RBs are considered (Top 75 vs. just RB1 and RB12).

In part, this is a caution to you to carefully read what analysts like me are saying. By selectively presenting the data, I can make 2015 look either in line with a trend or an exception.

The same is true of 2016. RB1 scoring was above the long-term trend. Does that mean the trend ended? Probably not. The point of showing the cycles in the graphs was to show that the short-term and the long-term are different things and that after a few down-years it should not be a surprise to see a year above the long-term trend.

In either case, be careful what all the analysts tell you about 2015, 2016, and RB fantasy scoring.

Of course, 2016 could be the year it all changes and RB1 scoring starts going back up. I don't think it is, I just see that as how data jumps around when dealing with humans playing a violent sport. You will have to make your own predictions.

Here's mine:

  • I believe 2016 was the start of a new cycle in RB1 scoring AND a continuation of the long-term trend. Both point to a decline in 2017; I think the RB1's points per game will drop from what we saw in 2016 (26.5 FP/G) by 3 to 4.5 FP/G. The smaller number is the average drop in RB1 FP/G in the second year of a cycle. The larger number is what the long-term trend indicates (20.5) – and in the 2nd year of the cycles the RB1's scoring is usually very close to the long-term trend.
  • 2017's RB12 FP/G will be just under 15 FP/G. So the gap between RB1 and RB12 will be much smaller than in 2016, which may affect your draft strategy.
  • About 3 RBs will top 300 total points; 6 or 7 will score 250+, and about 14 will be over 200 FP. If your 2017 projections are much off from that, you should re-consider.