Last week I looked at the value of QB play in the NFL and this week I turned my attention to running backs. My valuation process was pretty similar. Players are awarded salary values are based on total net output both rushing and receiving, how that output compared to the average output, snaps played, and team record. Values are essentially based on the current market prices and what teams are willing to pay for the position. By value again I am talking APY as that is the easiest and most sticky way of dealing with an accepted value for a player. If you don’t play or have minimal impact the value for that player is about $580,000, which is slightly above the salary of a second year player. So let’s see how things shake out.
The Big Five
Kareem Hunt- $10.6 Million
Hunt has had a fantastic rookie season. He leads the league with about 380 more net yards than expected and is 1 of only 10 running backs to actually log more than 68% of the team’s offensive snaps. It is a small sample of just 5 games, but he is basically this year’s David Johnson in terms of effectiveness. I have him worth around $3 million more than any other back this year and because his rookie contract is so cheap ($821K a year) he is bringing KC nearly $9.75 million in surplus value. Nobody else in the NFL is even close to that number. He is a major reason why the KC offense has looked impressive this year.
Todd Gurley- $7.6 Million
Gurley looks rejuvenated with the new coaching staff. He is one of the few workhorse backs out there, playing in over 80% of the Rams offensive plays. I’d think the biggest surprise with Gurley is that he has been pretty effective out of the backfield on passing plays with 245 yards on 30 targets after just 6 games. He is still a bit of a volume rusher and not dominant compared to others, but is able to shoulder a much bigger load than other players which has to count for something.
Le’Veon Bell- $7.2 Million
There is no back in the NFL who is on the field more than Bell when Bell is healthy. He is a throwback player that is one body filling two spots. Bell hasn’t been as efficient as in the past- his running efficiency is just slightly above average and as a receiver he’s been a disappointment this year- but last weeks explosion in Kansas City may be a sign of things to come. Bell held out all of camp and may just be getting his legs going. Right now, among full time players, he is the worst value in the league because his tag number is so high and honestly there is almost no way for a running back to meet that number. If Bell is back to himself now he’ll get pretty close by the end of the year but it will be difficult to meet it.
Leonard Fournette- $6.9 Million
Fournette came into the NFL with a lot of hype and is living up to it so far. As a runner the only more productive player has been Hunt in the entire NFL. Fournette doesn’t dominate on a per play basis the way some of the others do, but he is the only one that is playing in an offense with zero pass threat. Because Fournette was drafted so high he is only producing slightly over his salary, but I think most people would be happy with that since the running back is the only expensive draft choice. What would boost his value in the future is more playing time (hes at 58%) and a little more consistency, the latter of which might not come until next year when they get a new QB.
Ezekiel Elliot- $6.3 Million
This year Elliot’s value comes simply from his ability to be used at a high level, similar to Bell. The difference is that while Bell has been slightly above average as a runner, Elliot has actually been slightly below average. Elliot has had an odd season where he has been told multiple times he was suspended only to see his motions in court keep him on the field, so it may be hard for him to get the kind of focus needed until that situation sorts itself out.
The Bottom Five
Setting a filter to 35% of the snaps, two of the least valuable players were teammates Charles Sims and Jacquizz Rodgers. My guess is that says a lot about the Buccaneers offensive line and scheme as much as it does the runners. They are worth around $2 and $2.5 million. Luckily for the Bucs those players both earn less so its not that expectations should have been high…Theo Riddick of the Lions simply has no value as a runner and has not been that productive as a receiver to balance that out. He’s underperforming the contract by about $1.4 million….Isaiah Crowell is one of the least efficient players at the position despite big things that were expected in his free agent year. The only thing keeping his value above water is 50% playtime and I would expect that to fall…Jonathan Stewart is basically stuck in the mud, some of which is probably due to how he is used, but some of which is just attributed to him as well. Christian McCaffery has also performed poorly so like with the Bucs, scheme and personnel are likely also a culprit.
Here are the top 50 players and their values.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.