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.
You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff