Offensive Lines Hidden Key To Fantasy Football Success?

Nowadays when everyone watches football games they want to know the players with the best stats. You see the numbers and kind of assume the individual player did that on their own. For Running Backs, without good blocking and holes for them to run through, their job is pretty much pointless. No running back can make 11 guys miss unless he is the Hulk or Adrian Peterson in a Pee Wee football game. Getting knowledge on the good and bad offensive lines in the NFL puts you one step ahead of the competition, who just assume the Running Backs are superheroes.

Your top 12 fantasy players for the 2016 position at RB were:

* Rankings provided by Pro Football Focus

* Rankings provided by Pro Football Focus

So why isn’t the number one offensive line producing the number one RB??

 There are still some other factors that go into each situation like the amount of touches the player gets. For example, Player A could be getting more receiving work than Player B or converting on Touchdown opportunities. Breaking down some of the top performers this season will help give a better look at how the Offensive Line play isn’t the end all, but helps the RBs produce big numbers.

293 carries 1,239 yards 16 TDs 80 receptions 879 yards 4 TDs

David Johnson

293 carries 1,239 yards 16 TDs

80 receptions 879 yards 4 TDs

As you can see by the numbers, offensive line play wasn’t the only reason David Johnson had a monster fantasy season. He was 3rd in red zone carries (53) and 2nd inside the 5 with 22. When opportunity knocked, David Johnson answered the door with 20 total touchdowns. He led the league in receptions and receiving yards from RBs factoring out the Offensive Line play as well. Johnson pretty much was used as a WR and RB for the Cardinals. It seemed like he ran on batteries this year because he rarely ever came out of the game. He was on the field for 79% of the snaps, which is extremely high for the RB position. With Johnson being the most effective part of their offense, the Cardinals had to revolve around him.


Ezekiel Elliott

322 carries 1,631 yards 15 TDs

32 receptions 363 yards 1 TD

Zeke is the perfect example of a good Offensive Line leading to fantasy success. No one could match the play from the Cowboy’s OL, and they consistently fed him as he was 1st in carries at 322. Zeke saved his appetite for the games and the Cowboys fed him like a king. He was tied for 5th in yards before contact at 2.2. The offensive line stumped the rookie curve by making holes the size of living rooms. If they keep their offensive line in place he should be a force in fantasy for a while.


DeMarco Murray 

293 carries 1,287 yards 9 TDs

53 receptions 377 yards 3 TDs

DeMarco certainly benefited from a change of scenery after having the worst year of his career with the Eagles. He went from 3.6 yards per carry in 2015, to 4.4 in 2016 with the Titans. He was a workhorse for them as well, tying for 3rd in carries at 293. The Titans focused on improving their Offensive Line to help take pressure off Mariota by drafting a Tackle with their 1st round pick last year and signing a center. It worked wonders for Murray. Like the movie, it would be a good idea to Remember The Titans because their young Offensive Line should be a force next year as well. 


Devonta Freeman

227 carries 1,079 yards 11 TDs

54 receptions 462 yards 2 TDs

Atlanta was another team that wanted to sure up their offensive line, and signing center Alex Mack turned out to be huge for them. Mack helped them rank #1 as a unit for run blocking. Freeman benefited from the amazing blocking to be even more effective as a rusher than he was last year (4.0 YPC in 2015, 4.8 YPC in 2016). His offensive line led him to the 2nd most yards before contact at 2.6, and was a major factor in his 2nd consecutive tremendous season. 

Based on the chart, some running backs can will themselves to a good year like Jay Ajayi. The “Jay Train”, was tough to take off the tracks, as he was #1 in yards after contact among running backs with more than 100 carries at 3.5 yards after contact. That’s better than each of Todd Gurley, Doug Martin, and Thomas Rawls’ yards per carry this year. The issue is it is tough to trust a Running Back to do it all by himself consistently. Would you rather have your fantasy running back having to break tackles every play or running through big holes?

Unfortunately, there can be some changes to offensive lines from season to season, and injuries are inevitable, but they remain fairly consistent from one year to another.

As you can see in the chart there were only 4 new teams in the top 10 ranks for run blocking in 2016. Those 4 teams were the Titans, Steelers, Redskins, and Bengals. The Bengals and Redskins were not that far out of the top 10 in 2015 either, ranking 13th and 14th respectively.

If you are aware of the success of the offensive line in run blocking, it will lead you to a clearer picture of who to draft at the running back position. Based on these trends, you can trust players like Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to continue to be great options in fantasy in the 2017 season. The running back for teams like the Cowboys, Raiders, Eagles, Bills, and Patriots should all have value if their offensive line remains intact and avoids major injuries. Next year when you are drafting consider the offensive lines and they could pave the way to success in your fantasy football season!