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The V-Factor
Paul Sandy
August 18, 2005

In most fantasy leagues, running backs score points in three ways: rushing yardage, receiving yardage, and touchdowns. Generally, if a running back performs well in all three categories, that player will be heralded as a stud by fantasy owners. Consider the recent success of ball carriers like Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk, and Edgerrin James. During their hey-days, each of these players had the ability to score points on the ground, through the air, and in the endzone. They were versatile. And they were all consensus #1 overall picks.

Conversely, a player who only excels in one or two of these categories will have a more difficult time achieving super-stud status. In 2003, Jamal Lewis rushed for an incredible 2,000+ yards and scored 14 touchdowns. However, he ranked just fourth in total fantasy points that season among running backs (303) and fifth in fantasy points per game (18.94). The hole in Lewis’ production was his ineffectiveness as a receiver. He caught just 26 passes for 202 yards. Players like Holmes, Tomlinson, and Ahman Green doubled those numbers. If Lewis can rush for 2,000+ yards and barely crack the top five running backs, imagine the limitations of a player who rushes for a respectable 1,500 yards, but falls short in one or more of the other categories.

The point here is that in order to be considered an elite running back, a player must be an exceptional performer in at least two categories. And in order to be the “best of the best,” to achieve that special super-stud status, a running back typically (though not always) needs to achieve excellence in all three categories. The challenge becomes measuring and predicting which running backs have the versatility to climb into that elite class.

The Versatility Factor

The Versatility Factor, or V-Factor, is a way to gauge a running back’s ability and opportunity to score points in multiple ways. It takes into account the amount of rushing yardage, receiving yardage, and touchdowns a ball carrier accumulates on a per-game basis. Then, it compares these statistics to other top fantasy running backs.

The following chart lists 35 of the top-ranked running backs for the 2005 season. Players who didn’t suit up enough in 2004 (Travis Henry) and rookies (Cadillac Williams) have been omitted from the list. The column to the far right shows each player’s V-Factor, the sum of a player’s rankings for rushing yardage, receiving yardage, and touchdowns per game as compared to the other backs on the list. The lower the V-Factor, the greater the versatility.

Running Back Rushing Yards
per Game
Rank Receiving Yards
per Game
Rank Touchdowns
per Game
Rank V-Factor
Priest Holmes 111.5 1 23.4 11 1.875 1 13
Tiki Barber 94.9 8 36.1 3 .938 5 17
LaDainian Tomlinson 89.0 10 29.4 8 1.062 4 22
Domanick Davis 79.2 16 39.2 2 .933 6 24
Larry Johnson 72.6 22 34.5 4 1.125 3 29
Curtis Martin 106.1 3 15.3 20 .875 7 30
Edgerrin James 96.8 7 30.2 7 .562 18 32
Shaun Alexander 106.0 4 10.6 28 1.250 2 34
Julius Jones 102.4 5 13.6 23 .875 7 35
Michael Pittman 71.2 23 30.1 6 .769 12 41
Corey Dillon 109.0 2 6.9 32 .867 9 43
Brian Westbrook 62.5 28 54.1 1 .692 14 43
Chris Brown 97.0 6 13.4 25 .545 19 50
Deuce McAllister 76.7 18 16.3 18 .643 15 51
Thomas Jones 67.7 25 30.5 5 .500 21 51
Fred Taylor 87.4 12 24.6 9 .214 31 52
Ahman Green 77.5 17 18.3 16 .533 20 53
Clinton Portis 87.7 11 15.7 19 .467 24 54
Rudi Johnson 90.9 9 5.3 34 .750 13 56
Warrick Dunn 69.1 24 18.4 15 .563 17 56
Reuben Droughns 82.7 15 15.1 21 .500 21 57
Jamal Lewis 83.8 13 9.7 29 .583 16 58
Willis McGahee 75.2 20 11.2 27 .813 11 58
DeShaun Foster 63.8 26 19.0 13 .500 21 60
Lee Suggs 74.4 21 17.8 17 .300 28 66
Marshall Faulk 55.3 29 22.1 12 .286 29 70
Kevin Jones 75.5 19 12.0 26 .400 26 71
Jerome Bettis 62.7 27 3.1 35 .867 9 71
Kevan Barlow 54.8 30 14.1 22 .467 24 76
Mewelde Moore 54.1 31 23.8 10 .000 35 76
Michael Bennett 27.6 35 18.8 14 .182 32 81
Duce Staley 83.0 14 5.5 33 .100 34 81
Steven Jackson 48.1 32 13.5 24 .286 29 85
Tatum Bell 44.0 33 8.8 30 .333 27 90
LaMont Jordan 34.2 34 8.0 31 .143 33 98

Observations

The Kansas City offense is a breeding ground for versatile running backs. Both Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson have V-Factors in the top five. If you can draft both ball carriers and get a monopoly on the Kansas City backfield, you will be a contender. Don’t be afraid to reach for Johnson early.

Domanick Davis is poised to become one the league’s elite fantasy running backs. Davis showed last year that he can score fantasy points on all fronts. With an injury-free season, his point total would likely vault above two-dimensional players like Corey Dillon and Jamal Lewis.

Fantasy owners may want to temper their expectations of Tampa rookie Cadillac Williams. The Buccaneers offense is wrought with running back specialists who will limit Williams’ V-Factor. Michael Pittman, who posted a solid V-Factor of 41 last season, is one of the league’s best receivers out of the backfield. Likewise, a healthy Mike Alstott could cut into Cadillac’s goal line carries. As a result, the Bucs rookie may have to get most of his fantasy production from a single category: rushing yardage. Not a favorable situation.

Lost in Shaun Alexander’s huge fantasy season last year were his mediocre receiving statistics. For the first time since becoming a starter, Alexander was not a major factor in his team’s passing game. He went from 42 receptions in 2003 to 23 last year. Alexander’s value last season was tied directly to his uncanny knack for scoring touchdowns. A repeat of his league-leading 20 scores last season is asking a lot, so if the Seahawks rusher is to maintain his lofty fantasy status, he’ll have to regain some production as a receiver.

After returning from an injury, Julius Jones was a workhorse in the final seven games of the season. During that stretch, he never carried the ball fewer than 22 times per game. Plus, he scored seven times—an average of once per game. As evidenced by his V-Factor, Jones’ only shortcoming was his low receiving yardage. With pass-catching specialist Richie Anderson now out of the mix, Jones could assume that role this year. It’s worth noting that he nabbed a season-high five receptions in the final game of 2004 with Anderson on the sideline. Don’t be surprised if Jones posts an even higher V-Factor in 2005 and ranks among the top five fantasy backs.

The V-Factor supports Tomlinson as the #1 overall pick. He ranked in the top 10 in all three categories despite battling through nagging injuries for part of the season. While not as potent as Priest Holmes, Tomlinson has youth on his side.

Deuce McAllister and Ahman Green had disappointing seasons in 2004. However, their versatility kept their respective fantasy values from completely disappearing. Neither player ranked lower than 20th in any one category, a feat only accomplished by six other running backs. Letting McAllister or Green slide too far in your draft might be a mistake.

Since leading all fantasy running backs in scoring six years ago (1999), Edgerrin James hasn’t been able to put together a season in which all facets of his game have been in top form. Mind you, James had a great season last year, but his touchdown stats suffered. He’s a good, safe pick in the middle part of the first round. However, with Manning playing the role of vulture at the goal line, James may never make his way back to the top of the fantasy world.

As usual, Tiki Barber is undervalued. He is a tremendously versatile running back. Some owners will argue that Barber’s stats plummeted once Eli Manning took over for Kurt Warner. Not so. In the seven games Manning started, Barber posted five games with 100+ all-purpose yards and found the endzone five times. It’s worth noting that three of those seven games game against some of the league’s top defenses— Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. Draft Barber with confidence because he’s a triple threat and rarely has a bad game.

Perhaps no running back has seen his value rise more this offseason than Kevin Jones. Lately, I’ve seen the Lions rusher being drafted as early as the middle part of the first round. If Jones is going to live up to the expectations, he’ll have to dramatically increase his production in either receiving yardage or touchdowns. Can it happen? Sure, but what concerns me about Jones is the competition he had his big performances against during the final seven games of the season: Minnesota, Indianapolis, Arizona, Green Bay, Minnesota, Chicago, and Tennessee. These were not great defenses by any stretch of the imagination. Beware the sophomore slump.