A new era has begun and for those who played fantasy football more than a decade ago, the current running back landscape and relative values in dynasty are strikingly similar. Eleven of the top 21 players in the current ADP play the RB position. The push up of RB talent in each rookie draft seems like the norm. This has created a very common approach by owners who covet these players on their rookie contracts and once the usage has reached a certain level, the decline is coming and it’s time to sell. NFL teams have taken the same approach, opting against giving massive contracts to running backs and treating them as replaceable. The few who were rewarded with big contract extensions have not lived up to the billing. Dynasty teams have followed suit by shopping RBs after the early production window and seeking to hit the reset button on a replacement.
I’ve reviewed every running back who was selected in the NFL Draft from 2010 to 2019 and looked at factors that we can use to predict the type of production we can expect during their rookie contract. Capital is based on where they were selected (round one to seven) in the draft. First-round picks are signed to rookie contracts for five seasons and second-round picks are signed to rookie contracts for four seasons.
The ages referenced in the study are the age of the player on the day they were drafted. The production thresholds are based on the average threshold to finish as a top 12 (RB1), top 24 (RB2) and top 36 (RB3) over the past ten seasons. Day one of the NFL Draft refers to players in the first round, while day two are players in the second and third. Day three refers to everyone else.
After reviewing the data, I will discuss some dynasty buy and sell targets and how to approach the incoming rookie class.
The Player Pool
Over the last ten NFL Drafts, 205 running backs have been selected. This excludes any player who played fullback, h-back or changed positions. Undrafted free agents were not included in the sample size. Only their numbers during their rookie contracts were included.
|RBS DRAFTED (2010-2019) BY ROUND|
The Production Threshold
The threshold is based on a 12-team, PPR format and takes the average finish of the RB12, RB24 and RB36 over the past decade. This creates a benchmark number for a player to finish as an RB1, RB2 or RB3 in a season.
|AVG SEASON PPR THRESHOLD (PTS)|
The younger players are preferred when it comes to draft capital. This does not speak to previous workload in college nor does it speak to production at the NFL level. It does show that NFL teams prefer players who are younger at the position.
|AVG AGE ON DRAFT DAY BY ROUND|
Top 12/RB1 Production
The sample produced 50 seasons of more than 218.35 PPR points. Looking at the profile of the players who hit this benchmark, draft capital is the most predictive measure. 42% (21) of the RB1 seasons came from players drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. Another 42% (12 in RD2 and nine in RD3) were selected on day two of the NFL Draft. Only eight seasons of RB1 production came from players drafted in round four to seven and five of those were drafted in the fourth round.
Age matters, but not as much as draft capital. The age of the RB1 producers is very evenly balanced between the ages of 21 and 24 with 20% hitting the mark at age 21, 24% at the age of 22, 18% at the age of 23 and 22% at the age of 24. This correlates with when these players reached these marks. Six first-round rookies hit the RB1 mark in their rookie year and six others in their third year. Four players hit the mark in the second year and four others in their fourth season. Out of the 21 seasons by players drafted on day two of the NFL Draft, 18 of them did so in their first three seasons.
Conclusion: A running back drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft is still a prime candidate to produce a top-12 season in their first four NFL seasons if they are age 24 or under. This supports players like Derrius Guice and Kerryon Johnson as buys as they have two more seasons within this range. On the contrary, Leonard Fournette is a solid bet to not produce at this level going forward.
Top 13-24/RB2 Production
Draft capital matters slightly less for hitting top-24 production. 52 seasons fit into this sample size and the bulk of production (33 of 52) were players drafted in the first three rounds of the draft. Sixth-round picks produced 15% (eight of 52) of the top 24 finishes as compared to five from the fourth and fifth=round draftees. Round seven only produced one season in the top 24.
Age is not very predictive for the top-24 finishers but may not be fully explained by this data. Only two of the 19 seasons of RB2 production achieved by players drafted on day three of the NFL Draft were in the player’s rookie year. 15 of the 19 were accomplished in year two or year three.
|RB SEASONS BASED ON YEAR IN LEAGUE|
Conclusion: Reaching the top-24 threshold for a player drafted after the third round of the NFL Draft is likely related to opportunity. A later round pick may not get the touches in their rookie season but may have shown enough to earn a starter workload in year two and year three. Tony Pollard screams out as a speculative buy after his effective production in a limited role as a rookie. If we can project more touches, he’s a prime candidate to take this jump.
Chase Edmonds is another player who fits these criteria and on my shopping list going into 2020. Chris Carson, on the other hand, remains the only player in this whole ten-year sample to carry seventh-round draft capital and post a top-12 and top-24 season during his rookie contract. The hip injury he suffered at the end of the 2019 season makes his prospect bleak going forward, but the outlier status alone makes him a classic candidate to cash out on while you can.
Top 25-36/RB3 Production
In all fairness, producing a top 36 (130.65 PPR) season is not extremely difficult in today’s NFL. Depending on your league format, this number may or may not have significant value in your lineup or as a trade chip. However, the data does support the top 36 cut-offs being predictive of future seasons of higher finishes. Of the players who finished between RB25-36 in their rookie year, 50% of them posted at least one top-24 season or better. Out of the 50 seasons included in this sample, 29 of 50 (58%) were age 23 or age 24.
Conclusion: Tread lightly with this range as the landscape is littered with landmines. With that said, I’ve identified some players who produced a top-36 season in their rookie campaign and are potential candidates to produce at a higher level going forward. Sony Michel posted RB3 numbers in each of his first two seasons and if there is a time to buy him, it’s before year three. If his best year is ahead of him, 2020 is likely it. Nyheim Hines posted a disappointing Sophomore fantasy line but his 160.9 PPR points as a rookie puts him on my watch list as a bounce-back candidate next year and a bargain buy at his current RB54 price, especially if the Colts bring in Philip Rivers and his propensity to target his satellite back.
Devin Singletary is the classic mix of solid draft capital and enough production to point his arrow way up in the minds of dynasty owners. The current RB20 in ADP has risen to a level where I’m willing to bet against going forward. He compares similarly to players like Tre Mason and Jeremy Langford, both who saw immediate backfield competition in their second year and ended up losing out on ever getting the primary workload. I’m not predicting Singletary to bust, but it’s difficult to overcome his evaluation before 2019 and fair to wonder if he’s greatly overvalued.
Data from mockdraftable.com.
Scouting RBs in the 2020 NFL Draft Class
We’re only two months away from the 2020 NFL Draft and most dynasty owners are focused on where the incoming rookies will slot into their annual rookie drafts. Like each of the past three seasons, running backs reign supreme and in most leagues, scarcity at the position will push the top NFL draftees into high-demand territory in dynasty drafts. Let’s examine the incoming class and how they project based on the historical data. Below is the list of rookies in the first rookie ADP of the 2020 season:
By no means are these projections set in stone as we don’t have the combine numbers, medical reports and most importantly, free agency impact on the current NFL backfields. Using the NFL Mock Draft Database 2020 Big Board, let’s take a look at the projected draft capital for this running back class.
|Michael Warren II||5+|
This shows the current ages of the RBs in the 2020 Draft. Adding two months to their current age will correlate with the ages referenced in the sample size.
|Michael Warren II||21.3|
Regardless of draft capital, note others under the age of 22 years old on draft day as they will finish their rookie contracts before their age-25 seasons. Based on the sample data, only 3.95% of players achieved a top-36 season at the age of 26 or older.
|Patrick Taylor Jr.||21.8|
Conclusion: The class is extremely top-heavy. The consensus top three, D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, and JK Dobbins have very few questions marks based on their age and projected draft capital. All three are slotted in as top-five rookie picks in superflex leagues and likely the first three selections in a start one quarterback format. Barring they obtain the draft capital, both Cam Akers and Clyde Edwards-Helaire should not be far behind, and arguably, they make up the difference in draft capital by being the two youngest running backs in the class. An RB-needy team should feel comfortable moving into the slots right behind the first tier and still be able to address the position.
On the contrary, Zack Moss appears to be the poison pill in the class if he’s selected on day two of the NFL Draft and even if his mid-fourth round projection holds, will get selected in dynasty rookie drafts as a much higher spot than I’m comfortable with. He compares favorably to a list that includes Mike Davis, Kenneth Dixon, Chase Edmonds and Jamaal Williams – all relevant contributors but only impactful when combined with optimal opportunity. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is likely off my board entirely, regardless of draft capital, and based on his pre-combine buzz is an easy avoid regardless of cost.
Eno Benjamin is polarizing but intriguing. His age and potential early day three draft capital make him a target over Moss, but enough negativity regarding his Senior Bowl weight and drop in stock from before the 2019 season has put him at an attainable spot. Check out this 20/20 profile on Benjamin from Matt Griffith.
By no means is age and draft capital the only criteria we can use to evaluate a running back. Ultimately, you can take this data and all the other tools available on the site to identify value gaps in your specific dynasty league and cross-reference with other metrics you feel are important for the running back position.
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