"Backfield" Fantasy Football Definition


A backfield in fantasy football is the same as the backfield in all American football: the quarterback and the running backs. Your fantasy football backfield will generally refer to all the quarterbacks and running backs in your weekly starting lineup. In most scoring formats, your fantasy football backfield will be the highest scorers and the heart of your fantasy football team.

Quarterbacks are the most important player on the field in NFL football, because the quarterback touches the ball on every play. It's natural to assume fantasy football quarterbacks are most important in fantasy football, too, especially since quarterbacks tend to score the most points in fantasy football. But that's generally not the case, because the fantasy football backfield tends to follow the same conventions as college and NFL backfields: 1 quarterback and 2 running backs.

Fantasy Football Backfield Analysis

This format makes the running back the most valuable commodity in fantasy football. Though there are usually two backs in an NFL backfield, one is the halfback and one is the fullback. Fullbacks rarely get enough NFL stat production to warrant a spot on a fantasy football roster. This means there really is only one back per NFL team worth starting on your fantasy football team every week. So there are 32 running backs to select from, while there are also 32 quarterbacks to start from. But from a similar pool of 32, you have to find 2 starting running backs to start every week and only 1 starting quarterback. Therefore, running backs become the most valuable commodity.

Wide receiver values are about the same as quarterback values. That's because there are two viable starting wide receivers on each NFL team, making for 64 possible starters every week on your fantasy football team. If you need two wide receivers to start every week, then there are 64 players from which to find 2 starters: the same ratio as 32 quarterbacks to find 1 starting quarterback in fantasy football. Once again, fantasy football running backs are in short supply.

Running Back By Committee

Recent changes over the past 10 years have seen more running-back-by-committee situations, or RBBC. Even when there's not a true committee in an NFL backfield, there's more often a 2-player platoon RB situation. This tends to make the running back who gets the bulk of his team's carries all the more valuable, because there are only a handful of them. These make up the bulk of the 1st and 2nd round picks in many fantasy football drafts, though a few primary ball carriers in high-powered platoon situations (Chris Johnson, Marion Barber) are also drafted here.

Do Fantasy Football Backfields Still Rule?

Changes in scoring formats and changes in NFL pass coverage rules have changed the equation in the past 5-10 years. Many leagues have an offensive flex position, who can be either a running back or wide receiver. In these leagues, you might only need to start 1 running back and 3 receivers, making the necessity for that second productive runner less of an issue. In some leagues, though, you'll have 2 RB, 2 WR and 1 flex position, meaning that getting a 3rd stud runner gives your team a huge advantage.

In another attempt to offset the predominance of running backs, many leagues have gone to the point-per-reception scoring system. This gives a point for every reception, which helps wide receivers and tight ends becoming more valuable relative to fantasy football backfield players. The NFL receivers who get 90-100 catches every year can be as valuable as the best NFL runners. The best 3-4 tight ends become as valuable as a 2nd or 3rd running back. An unintended side effect is that certain running backs, such as Brian Westbrook in years past or Matt Forte in 2008, get 50+ receptions and therefore move up the running back stats list.

Finally, NFL rules have made it in the last five years easier to throw in the NFL. Now, defensive backs can't touch a receiver more than 5 yards downfield, where before they could make incidental contact. This allows receivers to run free and has increased passing stats downfield. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have broken the single-season TD record since this rule has been passed, and Drew Brees came 15 yards short of breaking the single-season yardage record in 2008. This, too, has made wide receivers almost as valuable as running backs, though a handful of quarterbacks become worthy of drafting in the 1st and 2nd rounds - where in years past, this was fantasy football madness. As you see, even changes that seem to harm the dominance of the backfield in fantasy football actually reinforces their importance.

Despite all the changes and new trends, I've found that the best and most consistent teams in fantasy football remain the fantasy football backfield players - especially the running backs. Give me two of the top five runners and some indifferent receivers to start the season, and I'll find a way to get some receivers to compliment my running attack. If you have stud receivers and indifferent RBs, you'll still be hard-pressed to find a way to improve your situation. The fantasy football backfield still rules.

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