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Inside the Numbers: Draft History – RBs


In part two (Part One:  WRs is right here) of the series, I take a look at the past 10 years (excluding the most recent year, 2010) of draft history as it relates to the RBs taken in the first round of the NFL draft to see what trends emerge.

Unless you won the championship last year, you’re in some state of improvement, rebuilding or perhaps complete renovation.  Heck, even if you did slide a ring on your finger in 2010, chances are you’re still at least fiddling with your roster.  To that end, draft picks are the coin of the realm for most coaches.  Understanding your draft position vs. the players most likely to produce out of that position is key towards maximizing the opportunity.   It’s not often, especially after the first few picks, that draft day decisions make themselves.  There is nearly always choices to be made and odds to be considered.

For the RB position, I only analyze the first two rounds and use four categories for the players:  Stud, Starter, Bench and Bust.  Understand that there is no hard-fast rule for what defines a player in one of the four categories.  A “Stud” player is one that should or should have been started every week, regardless of match-up.  A “Starter” is a player that would be started in about 75% of situations and was a stable producer during his time.  A “Bench” player is a player that would not have been started unless as a last resort and a “Bust” player is one that is or has been just that, a bust.  Not everyone will/may share my views as to which category a player exists.

Let’s get to the analysis.

Running Backs, almost regardless of your valuation metric, are a tough group to categorize.  Does a RB like Larry Johnson, who absolutely blows up for two years only to sink back into anonymity classify as a “Stud” or a “Starter”.  For purposes of this analysis, a determination is made based on the value and talent of the player during those years which somewhat color a player’s potentiality or production.  What we’re seeking to find through this exercise is the talent of a player given his drafted position.  In the case of Larry Johnson, because of the enormity of those two years of production, he is classified as a “Stud”.  Injuries, trades, suspensions and coaching changes can often adversely affect the RB position and skew stats or opportunity aside from his talent.  Know that I have put a lot of thought into each player’s category in relation to their production vs. their opportunity.

In the period of analysis, 2000-2009, there have been 53 RBs selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft – 32 in the first round and 21 in the second.

In total, those numbers break down to:

Stud:  15/53 or 28.3%
Starter:  10/53 or 18.9%
Bench:  9/53 or 17%
Bust: 19/53 or 35.8%

Interesting numbers that don’t really give us much of an indication of draft position vs. fantasy production.  Let’s take a look at first round RBs.  Recall from above that there were 32 RBs selected in the first round in the period of 2000-2009.

Stud:  10/32 or 31.25%
Starter:  10/32 or 31.25%
Bench:  4/32  or 12.5%
Bust:  8/32 or 25%

Hmmm, still a relatively even distribution it would appear.

When compared to the 21 second round RBs:

Stud:  5/21 or 23.8%
Starter:  0/21 or 0%
Bench:  5/21 or 23.8%
Bust:  11/21 or 52.4%

A trend begins to appear when comparing first round RBs vs. those selected in the second round.  Second rounder RBs have been largely unproductive approximately 76% of the time during our test period vs. 37% for first round RBs.  There is still most certainly an advantage to drafting a first round RB.

Let’s focus further on the first round to see if we can determine if selection position ultimately helps to forecast a greater likelihood of success.

Of the 32 RBs taken in the first round, the ten taken first over the previous ten years are categorized as follows:

Stud:  5/10 or 50%
Starter:  4/10 or 40%
Bench:  0/10 or 0%
Bust:  1/10 or 10%

If your name is William Green and you were the first drafted RB at #16 in 2002, congratulations, you’re the anomaly.  But at least you get your picture next to Adrian Peterson on DLF!  As these numbers clearly show, taking the first RB off the board in first round nets you a productive fantasy player 90% of the time.

When compared to the second RB off the board:

Stud:  1/10 or 10%
Starter:  4/10 or 40%
Bench:  2/10 or 20%
Bust:  3/10 or 30%

Your odds of getting a productive player drop to 50%.  As one final piece of first round draft position analysis, what about those ten RBs that were selected as the last RB in the first round:

Stud:  3/10 or 30%
Starter:  1/10 or 10%
Bench:  2/10 or 20%
Bust:  4/10 or 40%

Arguably with a similar stratification, the last RB off the board in the first round still produces about 40% of the time, 30% of the time at the “Stud” level while Bench/Bust RBs increase slightly to 60%.

Let me throw in quick analysis of the first RB selected outside of the first round.  Note that in 2000 and 2003, there were no RBs selected in the second round and I will use the first RB selected in the third round (Travis Prentice & Musa Smith).

Stud:  2/10 or 20%
Starter:  0/10 or 0%
Bench:  1/10 or 10%
Bust:  7/10 or 70%

Ouch.  Don’t expect the second round RB that every team missed on the first time around to save your draft.  80% of the time, the first RB taken in the second round is a fantasy non-producer.

Unlike WRs, where draft position can be a telling indicator, RBs are not similarly aligned.  It’s quite safe to say that the first RB off the board in the NFL draft is going to be a fine fantasy producer.  Even the second RB off the board produces at a relatively good rate of 50%.  And even when considering the last RB off the board in the first round, your odds of getting a fantasy producer are much better from this position than the WR of just about any position.

In short, first round RBs are a better bet if you need fantasy production.  If you are in a BPA (Best Player Available) situation, the RB position is a good bet.

In my next article, we take a look at the Quarterbacks of the last decade.

Jeff Haverlack

Jeff Haverlack

Senior Partner / COO at Dynasty League Football
Husband and father who devotes far too much time to Fantasy Football, research, statistics and content development.We created DLF to ultimately assemble the largest fantasy football community on the planet and want YOU to be a part of it.

You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff
Jeff Haverlack

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Hot nikkels

    February 13, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Ive gotten some good feedback on a trade I made recently, acquiring Ray Rice. Gave up rookie/FA picks 1.2, 1.7, and Michael Bush. I needed/wanted another RB to go along with Foster, PT, and Lynch.

    I was trying to figure out if I was better keeping my picks and player and drafting whatever RB I feel was there after Ingram at 1.2. This article further makes me feel better about making the move and dealing the picks away.

    • freebird12

      February 13, 2011 at 12:49 pm

      i would say fantastic deal. rice is in his prime and will stay on top for the next few years. 1.2 is a great pick and would nail you ingram, but rice is proven. 1.7 is a crap shoot, and bush is out at oakland and is an o.w.i. away from jail? so basically all you really gave up was say ingram at the 1.2 pick for rice? good deal.

  2. Kris Kapsner

    February 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Thanks for the article Jeff. I can’t wait to see your similar breakdown of WRs. 🙂

    • DLF_Jeff

      February 13, 2011 at 12:25 pm

      Did you mean QBs? I did WRs about two weeks ago. 🙂

  3. freebird12

    February 13, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    i love this site. un-matched!!!!!!!!!! i’ve been playing fantasy football since 1990 and have been in the same 12 man- 3 division league from that first day. i am also in a 14 man no divisional layout. 2 years ago i got into my first dynasty style league. dynasty football is the ultimate high for all those die-hard fans that just can’t say goodbye to your season, because it never ends. you guys have the “gem” here at this site. i’ve recently discovered your home here and it’s now #1 on my favorites list and i’m just going wild to find some good football stimulation for my problem (as my wife calls it). thanks guys.

  4. Jackson

    February 13, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    this is great stuff! It certainly makes a great argument for taking Ingram/ 1st RB drafted over Green.

    • Chad

      February 14, 2011 at 3:33 am

      in a NON-PPR I would take Ingram > Green.

      • Sensei John Kreese

        February 14, 2011 at 7:12 am

        how about in a ppr league, regardless of need?

        • raidersfan77

          February 19, 2011 at 9:45 pm

          would probably wait to see who takes him in ppr before i take him over aj green

  5. Lung

    February 17, 2011 at 11:12 am

    This article was expertly researched, written, and quite enjoyable to read.

    However, unless you are the owner of the 1.01 pick in your rookie draft, I’m not sure how useful the information is. That’s because the first RB selected in the first round of the NFL Draft is almost ALWAYS the 1.01 pick in dynasty league rookie drafts. Look at the last several years:

    2010 Ryan Mathews 1.12 San Diego
    2009 Knowshon Moreno 1.12 Denver
    2008 Darren McFadden 1.04 Oakland
    2007 Adrian Peterson 1.07 Minnesota
    2006 Reggie Bush 1.02 New Orleans
    2005 Ronnie Brown 1.02 Miami

    and so on.

    Basically, this article tells me that the first RB off the board in the NFL draft is going to be a fine fantasy producer, which is great for those with the 1.01 pick! Every manager drafting after that has about as good a chance of success by taking a running back OR a wide receiver OR (as your next article will surely show) a quarterback.

    Again, while this article contains some very good information, I think it only serves to reinforce to 1.01 pick owners that they will get a real difference maker RB. But to every one else holding the 1.02 to 1.12 picks, this article doesn’t really doesn’t help them that much.

    My $.02
    -Lung

    • bla

      February 17, 2011 at 11:24 am

      yes, but it seems this year that there’s been a lot of support for drafting Green 1st overall. I looked at this as an argument for taking Ingram because of the history of RB’s being successful, but it still doesn’t settle the Green vs. Ingram debate.

    • DLF_Jeff

      February 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm

      True to an extent, but I also point out how successful other RBs have been not first off the board. 2nd RB off the board Productive+ player 50% of the time, last RB in the first round 40% of the time. Foray into the 2nd+ round and the next RB is productive+ only 20% of the time.

      When you compare this with other positions, primarily WR, you get a much clearer view of position vs. draft position vs. productivity. WR carries a much greater bust %.

      So, if you have, say pick 1.04 and are looking at Julio Jones vs. the 2nd RB off the board (just as an example), if you are a in a BPA scenario, the RB has the higher “hit” ratio.

    • ScottD

      February 18, 2011 at 1:08 pm

      Just to be fair, the first RB off the board last year was CJ Spiller. In ever dynasty draft I was involved in everyone skipped over him for Mathews (and rightfully so in my opinion). Spiller was in fact, the first rb in 2010…

      • DLF_Jeff

        February 18, 2011 at 2:57 pm

        Good catch … and it’s also likely in my opinion that if/when I do this exercise again this time next year, it’s likely that the numbers of the first back off the board will drop due to Spiller

  6. Ken

    February 18, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    You don’t think that Spiller will get a chance to show the potential he flashed in preseason last year? I didn’t think Jackson played well enough to keep him on the bench another year. Take out 2 good games agianst Detroit & Cincy, and he had 600yds & 3 tds.

    • DLF_Jeff

      February 18, 2011 at 5:27 pm

      No, I don’t. I’m not a fan of Spiller. He was a great college back but I just am not a fan of his style in the NFL. On the right team, he could be maximize what he brings to the table, but BUF is not that team. For the record, I’m not a big fan of Jackson either, but mostly because he’s one dimensional and also plays in BUF. Not to mention that he’s at that magic RB age.

  7. smooth operators

    February 19, 2011 at 8:35 am

    I have 1.1 and 1.4 picks in a ppr dynasty 14man keeper league draft, I know it all depends on where Ingram and green get drafted. I have chris johnson and michael turner, my w.r are not good dex mccluster, T.O. What would you reccomend me drafting as my 1st two draft picks?

    • DLF_Jeff

      February 20, 2011 at 9:40 am

      Like you said, it may have everything to do with where Ingram gets drafted. Any chance of moving Turner for WRs or a stud WR?

      In your case, you may need to go after AJ Green and then take either Julio Jones or the next best RB at 1.04. Any chance of trading the 1.04 for a good WR?

    • DLF_Jeff

      February 20, 2011 at 9:41 am

      I really dislike using at first pick for a WR. I’d even be looking to move 1.01 for a a top 6 WR if you can. If you can’t, then see what you can do to land a top 10 WR in trade. If that doesn’t pan out, go ahead and take Green. PPR league does make for a safer bet.

      • smooth operators

        February 24, 2011 at 10:53 am

        thanks again for responding, what u think of w.r mike williams of bucs, i was thinking turner for mike williams n owen daniels, sumn like that, i do like ingram with 1.1 pick, 1.4 pick i cud try dealing it for average w.r or go young and get julio, baldwin, or titus young, what you think?

  8. Cool Hand Luke

    February 19, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    I would look to acquire a player like MOJO for those picks and then try to flip Turner for a solid WR. Do you have any decent/good free agents out there?

    • DLF_Jeff

      February 20, 2011 at 9:42 am

      You may want to reply to the actual post … may not be seen at the end. You replied as a new post.

    • smooth operators

      February 24, 2011 at 11:03 am

      free agent w.r are very slim, because its a 14man keeper dynasty league, so most of #1 w.r are kept, i do like aurrelious benn from bucs and mike williams from seatle which are still available, what u think of boldin? what u think of draftn l.b what round

  9. raidersfan77

    February 19, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    if u end up using the picks i would address the wr position w both of the picks. i.e. AJ and julio. But they may take up to 2 years to catch on to the pro game. I do agree w/ the above poster LUKE on moving the picks for someone like MJD or Ray Rice. CJ2K and one of those two would pretty much carry u to the playoffs for the next 5 years. Then turner would be dispensible for a mid tier wr. you could target someone like vjax or bowe or someone else depending which teams in ur league need a rb. Just my 2 cents, good luck.

    • DLF_Jeff

      February 20, 2011 at 9:43 am

      You may want to reply to the actual post … may not be seen at the end. You didn’t actually reply to the post

  10. freebird12

    February 20, 2011 at 7:28 am

    if you do the deal, remember your giving away all that youth for mjd? i’d keep the picks, add youth to your team. johnson and turner is a hell of a tandem i’d like to have. both are clear cut #1s not envolved with a committe? wrs are always easier to get thru freeagency then backs, thats where i would look first, and like rderfan77 said, use your picks for the young wrs. turner will have another good year this year as atlanta is poised to make a run. you can always move him next year, but i’d ride him this year, and build my wrs thru your picks and freeagency?

    • DLF_Jeff

      February 20, 2011 at 9:44 am

      You may want to re-reply to the post but make sure to reply within the post of the one you are responding to. You replied as a new post and it may not be seen.

    • smooth operators

      February 24, 2011 at 10:59 am

      thanks again for reply, i still believe in keeping both 1.1, 1.4 picks im stuck on taking ingram first pick and add depth to my r.b pos. and planning to take w.r with 1.4 and so on with my nex 2 picks to build my w.r depth, id figur after my 1.4 pick id be drafting experienced free agent w.r. i am waiting til draft day to see where ingram, green,jones do end up and answer back after that.

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