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Mining the Past – A Decade of Top RB Performances

What can the recent past performance of top running backs tell us?  Is there any specific type of player who tends to get overlooked?  Are certain types of players overrated?  I pulled together a list of the top twenty running backs for the past ten seasons (2002–2011) using Footballguys.com rankings to see if we can tease any information out of those performances.

This research netted me 80 running backs varying from LaDanian Tomlinson (clearly the best back of the past decade for fantasy) to Chris Brown (ranked #20 in 2005).  Giving twenty points for a #1 ranked season down to 1 point for #20 ranked season give you a sense of the stars of the past decade.  To wit, the top ten are LaDanian Tomlinson, Clinton Portis, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Shaun Alexander, Steven Jackson, Tiki Barber, Frank Gore, Brian Westbrook and Edgerrin James (note:  Edge, Alexander, Barber and LT all had some points from before 2001, as did several other prominent stars from the first half of the decade, which I’ll consider when evaluating).

So what did the research show?

Conference Affiliation

SEC – 22
Big East – 11
Big 10 – 10
Big 12– 8
Pac 10 – 7
ACC – 5
Conference USA – 4
Lower Divisions – 4
Mid-American Conference – 3
Notre Dame – 2
Mountain West Conference – 2
WAC – 2

This is a huge edge for SEC running backs – they represent 28% of the sample here and do especially well in the sleeper category where they represent 33% of the players taken from the fourth round and later.

 Top 5 Seasons by Conference

Big East – 10
Conf USA – 10
Big 12 – 9
SEC – 9
ACC – 4
Pac 10 – 4
Big 10 – 2
MAC – 1
Lower Division – 1

While a big chunk of Conference USA success is due to the awesomeness that is LaDanian Tomlinson, they’ve also had top five seasons from Matt Forte, Chris Johnson and DeAngelo Williams.  Conference USA had the top back more times than any other conference.  This leads to the following observation – if a running back from a non-power conference is taken in early rounds, take a very close look.   My guess is that to overcome the demerits of playing against weaker competition, the players really need to show something special.

By Rounds of the Draft

First – 31
Second – 12
Third – 13
Fourth – 9
Fifth– 1
Sixth – 2
Seventh – 2
Undrafted – 10

First rounders dominate here, but there’s some good value to be found in rounds two and three as well.  Looking specifically at the later round draft picks, 24 players drafted in the fourth round or later (including undrafted free agents) turned in top 20 seasons.   Once again, the SEC showed its depth of talent with 8 of 24 drafted in the fourth round or later.  To put that in some context, SEC RBs who went undrafted for what are now the first two days of the draft, outnumber  the entire group of PAC 10 RBs. This list includes Stephen Davis, Rudi Johnson, Arian Foster, Domanick Williams, Peyton Hillis, Earnest Graham, BenJarvus Green-Eliis and LeRon McClain.  Not many superstars, but considering these players were almost all waiver wire fodder you could have picked up for a third to fifth round pick, it’s worth looking at these types of players as flyers.

Size of Players

Using the heights and weights provided, I sorted the players by height, weight and Body-mass Index.

BMI

34+ = 7
33-34 = 9
32-33 = 14
31-32 = 20
30-31 = 10
29-30 = 11
<29 = 9

Height

6’2”+ = 6
6’ 1” = 11
6’ = 17
5’11” = 16
5’ 10” = 17
5’9” = 8
5’8” or less = 5

Weight

> 240 = 7
230-239 = 10
220-229 = 19
210-219 = 22
200-209 = 12
190-199 = 7
<190 = 3

Nothing really new here as the “ideal” running back size appears to be 5’11”, 220 lbs and a BMI around32.   One subjective note that bears further scrutiny is that only one back over 6’ (Steven Jackson) made the top twenty.  Most of the taller backs had injury impacted careers. This list includes Jackson, Brandon Jacobs, Eddie George, Chris Brown, Michael Bush, LenDale White, Larry Johnson, Matt Forte, Fred Taylor, Ryan Grant, Darren McFadden, Fred Jackson, Moe Williams, Chris Wells, Kevan Barlow and Ronnie Brown.

Key Conclusions

1)      Running backs from non-power conferences taken in the early rounds produced more superstars than any other cohort.

2)      SEC RBs are much better bets to deliver on sleeper promise.

3)      Ideal RB size continues to be 5’9” – 6’, 200-220 lbs.

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Phorts
10 years ago

Sweet article! Would be cool to see a list of this year’s rookie class with their info as a follow up!

Admin
Reply to  Phorts
10 years ago

We have the height & weight for rookies listed on our Rookie Rankings page.

http://dynastyleaguefootball.com/rankings/dynasty-rookie-rankings

BeRanDone
10 years ago

Interesting article, it made for a good read! One comment is that AP is also over 6′ tall along with Steven Jackson.

ScottD
Reply to  BeRanDone
10 years ago

Football guys had Peterson at 6′, which was my source for thie article.

StevieMo
10 years ago

That’s awesome. I’ve always thought that “prototype RB size” was 5’11”, 220 pounds. Cool to see it pretty much validated.

Truly love your site.

tebow
10 years ago

how many of those smaller backs came in the last 3 years? since the nfl is geared towards passing some of thode pass catching 190 pound speed backs are more in fashion

ScottD
Reply to  tebow
10 years ago

The three were Charlie Garner, Warrick Dunn & Darren Sproles. The recent “small” backs tend to be in the 190s…

Jason
10 years ago

I always thought ideal size was 6 foot 200 lbs… guess I was off on that

Jacob
10 years ago

I don’t think there are any C-USA guys that are highly touted this year. They will all be late round picks, unless I’m forgeting someone. As for the injury list of players over 6′, I don’t know if some of the names belong there. One injury doesn’t really constitute a history in my eyes. Over all, I loved the article though! It would be great to see a follow up after the NFL draft with the players that will most likely succeed, then to look back on it after a year or two to see if it pans out that way.

ScottD
Reply to  Jacob
10 years ago

Injury research is on my list of things to work on but the data is incredibly difficult to sort through due to all kinds of other influences on playing time and the relative lack of good injury information in a easily attainable format. It was more an observation that when I looked at the players over 6′, the thing that popped into my head is that a lot of them missed some time due to injury. I was expecting to think that with the lighter players, but I’m guessing the small guys who aren’t durable didn’t play enough to ever be a top 20 back, so they don’t show up.

Josh G
10 years ago

based on this article, Trent Richardson is not in the ideal category.

Krcil
Reply to  Josh G
10 years ago

Why not? From the SEC, okay weight wise, and even height is okay. Maybe I’m reading the article differently… (Richardson is 5’9” & 229lb)

Josh G
Reply to  Krcil
10 years ago

exactly. 10 pounds too heavy and at the bottom end of the ideal height.

Trust me..love this website and 95% of the articles..and I am taking Trent..just noting 🙂

RobbyRobDU
10 years ago

Being Slightly shorter but the same weight, that’s only a bonus if anything.
Smaller pass-catching WRs are en-vogue because the do-everything back is OUT OF VOGUE. Less backs are asked to catch and play 3rd down, some top backs aren’t even the preferred goal-line option.

Just like every top basketball player reminds you: “this is a business” and no one takes a beating like a RB, and no body can take a beating like short and compact.

Richardson hits every measurable here, and for any of you guys that are 5’11 go stand next to a guy that’s 5’9, you can barely tell you’re taller, but you can tell when he weighs 10 more pounds of solid muscle than you 😉

Definitely and AWESOME in-depth article that is great for entertainment purposes. I wouldn’t read much into it, except that you should NEVER sleep on SEC running backs, The states of Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama put HORSES into the league, wouldn’t be surprised if you’re approaching 33% of the league from those states (if not higher).

RobbyRobDU
10 years ago

Addendum: One must take into account that the running backs that are 5’9 and under also weigh in the 200 and under category….so if you make an adjustment for the 5’9 ish guys that are i the 215+ range, the story changes a little.

If you are in a league that values RBs similarly to QBs and you don’t desperately need a QB, do NOT pass on Trent Richardson. Period.

Lyrical Assassin
10 years ago

Good read…reminds me a lot of another article I read about rb BMI:
http://www.sports-central.org/sports/2011/03/15/does_size_matter_for_running_backs.php

Greg G.
10 years ago

When is he running the 40?

Wisehawk
10 years ago

If you had a choice in this years dynasty draft…looking at rookies…which would you take?

Richardson

or

You can have (2) of the following:
Miller
Wilson
Martin

Would you take Richardson or a (2) of the other backs?

Cyrus
Reply to  Wisehawk
10 years ago

I would take Richardson because I know he will be top 15, probably top 10.

However, if I had absolutely no RB at the moment, I would take two of them and an aging veteran like Gore. That way, you have the short term in Gore, and two chances at a serviceable starter.

But the way I view it, half of first round RB’s don’t become starters in the first 2 years, so most likely your “two RB’s” will end up being one RB who is worse than Richardson and another RB who isn’t good enough to start.

wisehawk45
10 years ago

I have the following…
AP
Gerhart
Chris Johnson
Ridley

QB: Rodgers

I was offered 1.2 for

1.6 and 1.9, as well as, Dem. Thomas (Denver) which I do not have enough credits to re-sign.

Would you make that trade?

1.1 is taking Luck or Blackmon

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