Nevertheless, Rainey will not be a top 20 running back for the remainder of the NFL regular season.
Heading into his Week 11 game, Rainey was not a significant part of the fantasy football community’s collective consciousness. He was the second-string Buccaneer running back (behind Brian Leonard), and appeared to have little fantasy value.
Nonetheless, he changed the minds of many fantasy owners when he scored 34 standard-scoring fantasy points against the depleted Atlanta Falcons. Rainey finished the game with 163 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He also managed to snag two receptions for four yards and a touchdown.
All fantasy owners should ask themselves if this single performance is more likely to be an outlier for Rainey, or if it is a representation of his future fantasy production.
To answer this question, one needs to look at Rainey’s past body of work and his perceived physical attributes.
Firstly, Rainey has been the NFL’s version of a nomad this season. He began the preseason as a Baltimore Raven, but was cut by the team on August 31. He did not stay unemployed long as the Cleveland Browns picked him up the following day on September 1.
Rainey yet again was made a running back for hire on October 18. That led to his current team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, signing him on October 21.
Secondly, Rainey’s regular-season game production before Week 11 is barely noteworthy. He averaged only 3.76 yards per carry on 21 attempts, and 30 yards receiving on five receptions.
Thirdly, Rainey does not have the physical attributes of a typical above-average NFL running back. He is 5’7”, 205 pounds, and runs an unremarkable 4.53-second 40-yard dash.
Even though the Week 11 box numbers suggest that Rainey has elusiveness as a ball carrier, the game footage shows that the majority of his eight missed tackles were weak arm-tackle attempts made by the Atlanta defenders.
In a matter of fact, the Atlanta Falcons defense is so poor at tackling; they have the third-worst rushing yards allowed per game in the league (130.0). The Falcons defense is also tied for allowing the most 40-plus yard runs for the season with four.
Rainey’s lack of elusiveness and running power is also evident by his season-average yards after contact (YAC) per attempt. He is currently the No. 101 in the league in this measurement with 1.5 YAC per attempt. Some notable unexciting fantasy running backs that have more YAC per attempt than Rainey: Daniel Thomas (2.3), Daryl Richardson (1.6), Willis McGahee (1.8) and LeGarrette Blount (2.5).
For all the aforementioned reasons, it’s more likely that Rainey’s Week 11 breakout performance had more to do with the favorable matchup than it did with Rainey’s individual talent.
As for Rainey’s remaining regular season schedule, it is not favorable for him in the fantasy perspective. Four of his final six games are against defenses in the top-half of the league for fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs. Two of the games are against top 10 teams in this measurement: Buffalo Bills (6th) and Carolina Panthers (5th).
Even though it’s easy to get excited about Rainey’s fantasy potential following his dominating performance in Week 11, expectations should be tempered considering his underwhelming physical attributes, small sample size of fantasy success and his unfavorable remaining schedule. He will certainly not be a top 20 fantasy running back for the remainder of this NFL regular season.
All aforementioned statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and ESPN.com’s fantasy football statistics.