Back to The Future: Looking Back at RB1s

This is Back to the Future: Looking Back at Past RB1s! During the offseason, you will hear analysts touting the merits of one particular strategy. Zero RB this, Hero RB that, hit on TE1, etc. But the reality is, in fantasy football, any single strategy can work if you select the right players. Another hypothesis that is tried and true in this thing of ours is that if you choose The RB1 Overall, you will be in a position to win many fantasy games.

There is power in every position, but the RB1 Overall can be a weapon of mass destruction. Positional scoring changes the last two RB1 overalls, Austin Ekeler and Jonathan Taylor, put up 370 + PPR points each. When you go back in history, some gargantuan seasons like Priest Holmes (445 PPR Points in 2003) and Christian McCaffrey (471 PPR Points in 2019) can bring tears to the eye of nostalgic fantasy managers.

Nailing the RB1 can be even more impactful in modern fantasy football than in years past as we see more and more split backfields. This past season alone, there was a 79-point difference between RB1 Overall (Ekeler) and RB5 (Saquon Barkley). Two seasons ago was an even more significant gap: Taylor outscored RB5 Leonard Fournette by 105 Points!

Okay, this all sounds great. Let’s draft RB1 overall and celebrate our fantasy titles! If it were only that easy! My prediction for 2023 RB1 Overall is Christian McCaffrey, but I could be wrong, and mathematically, I am probably going to be wrong.

This article is about looking at the past and future of the position. Looking at the past ten seasons, where did the RB1 overall finish the year before, and how did they follow up their RB1 overall season? We also want to measure how the RB finished the season prior.


RB1 Overall: Jamaal Charles | Charles played with the Kansas City Chiefs and scored 378 fantasy points.
Previous Year’s Finish: Charles was RB9 Overall with 239.5 Points.
How did 2012’s RB1 Finish: Minnesota Viking RB Adrian Peterson dropped from 347 fantasy points and scored 232.7 fantasy points (14 games played).

Charles finished as the RB1 in his sixth year.


RB1 Overall: Le’Veon Bell played with the Pittsburgh Steelers and scored 370.5 fantasy points.
Previous Year’s Finish: Bell was RB14 with 216.9 points (13 games played).
How did 2013’s RB1 Finish: Charles finished RB7 with 250.4 fantasy points.

Bell finished as the RB1 in his second year.


RB1 Overall: Devonta Freeman played with the Atlanta Falcons and scored 316.4 fantasy points.
Previous Year’s Finish: Freeman was RB49 with 87.3 Points (NOTE: Freeman played behind Steven Jackson RB28 in 2014).
How did 2014’s RB1 Finish: Bell finished RB47 (six games played).

Freeman finished as the RB1 in his second year.


RB1 Overall: David Johnson played with the Arizona Cardinals and scored 407.8 fantasy points.
Previous Year’s Finish: Johnson was RB8 with 209.8 fantasy points.
How did 2015’s RB1 Finish:: Freeman finished RB6 with 284.1 fantasy points (16 Games played).

Johnson finished as the RB1 in his second year.


RB1 Overall: Todd Gurley played with the Atlanta Falcons and scored 383.3 fantasy points.
Previous Year’s Finish: Gurley was RB15 with 198.2 fantasy points.
How did 2016’s RB1 Finish: Johnson finished RB114 with 13 fantasy points (1 Game played).

Gurley finished as the RB1 in his third year.


RB1 Overall: Saquon Barkley played with the New York Giants and scored 385.8 fantasy points.
Previous Year’s Finish: Barkley was a rookie.
How did 2017’s RB1 Finish: Gurley finished RB3 Overall and scored 372.1 fantasy points (14 Games played).

Barkley finished as the RB1 in his rookie season.


RB1 Overall: Christian McCaffrey played with the Carolina Panthers and scored 471.2 fantasy points.
Previous Year’s Finish: McCaffrey finished RB2 overall.
How did 2018’s RB1 Finish: Barkley finished as the RB10 overall with 244.1 fantasy points (13 Games played).

McCaffrey finished as the RB1 in his third year.


RB1 Overall: Alvin Kamara played with the New Orleans Saints and scored 377.8 fantasy points.
Previous Year’s Finish: Kamara was RB9 with 248.5 Points (14 Games Played).
How did 2019’s RB1 Finish: McCaffrey finished as the RB54 with 90.4 Points (3 Games).

Kamara finished as the RB1 in his fourth year.


RB1 Overall: Jonathan Taylor played with the Indianapolis Colts.
Previous Year’s Finish: Taylor was RB6 with 252.8 Points (15 Games Played).
How did 2020’s RB1 Finish: Kamara finished as the RB10 with 216.5 Points (12 Games Played).

Taylor finished as the RB1 in his second year.


RB1 Overall: Austin Ekeler played with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Previous Year’s Finish: Ekeler was RB2 Overall with 314.9 Points (15 Games Played).
How did 2021’s RB1 Finish: Taylor was RB30 with 146.4 Points (11 Games).

Ekeler finished as the RB1 in his sixth year.

What Does it All Mean?

There is much to take in here, but a few data points stand out. The RB1, on average, is entering their third season. If we remove the two outlier years by veterans (Ekeler and Charles in their sixth seasons), the RB1 is entering their 2.75th season. We should watch for backs in their second and third seasons in the league.

Another data point that stands out is the previous season’s finish. The outliers are Freeman’s RB49 finish and Barkley finishing RB1 as a rookie. Every other back finished as an RB1 or RB2 (top 24) the previous year.

If we know the two magic numbers of 2.75th season and an RB2 or higher finish in scoring the previous year are the standout numbers, we can circle these players:

Rhamondre Stevenson | New England | RB9 | 235.9 points

Najee Harris | Pittsburgh | RB14 | 209.5 points

Travis Etienne | Jacksonville | RB17 | 199.7 points

Kenneth Walker | Seattle | RB19 | 189.1 points

All these players will enter their second or third season in the league.

We also need to include Breece Hall. Hall finished as RB41 with 115.1 Points in only seven games played. His 16.4 PPG was seventh among all RBs. If he comes back from injury, he is the type of talent that can ascend all the way to the throne of RB1 Overall Land.

Breece Hall Advanced Stats & Metrics Profile

Now, onto how we should treat the previous season’s RB1 Overall. This is clearly a mixed bag of results; we have some unbelievably strong results with some season killers. In the last five seasons alone, Johnson, McCaffrey, and Taylor have failed to crack RB3 land (the top 36). On the other hand, Gurley had an even more impressive PPG average in 2018 than in 2017. Fade the RB1 Overall at your own risk.