Introduction of the Study
If you have been following along, you might be wondering how this article will be different from another article I wrote recently, My Dynasty FF Team Needs An RB1.
That previous article uses my own dynasty fantasy football team as an example and I explain my plan for attempting to fill my own need for an RB1. I describe general strategy about managing draft picks throughout the season, not directly by trying to fill all positions in the rookie draft or at the start of the season, but rather strategically to efficiently strengthen a position on a roster at the right times of the season.
In contrast, this article is an analytical analysis of dynasty rookie RB draft picks, comparing average draft position (ADP) with success rate. It is the 2nd part of a four part series. The first part is How To Add A QB1 To Your FF Dynasty Team.
I do these analyses for myself to manage my own dynasty football team, and the previous analysis destroyed a long time belief that I held, that top QBs have the longest NFL longevity of the fantasy football relevant positions. I was shocked to see that generally they peak in year two and decline after that. I also discovered that there seems to a successful band by ADP of QB picks in the 2.07 to 3.03 range.
Doing the similar analysis for RBs I was surprised to find the opposite of both of my findings regarding QBs. So let's dive in.
Historical ADP Information
Based on historical ADP information, this is where running backs were drafted over the last nine years:
Some notable RBs that had an ADP greater than 36 include Austin Ekeler, Aaron Jones and Tony Pollard. Besides these RBs that somehow managed to escape everyone's radar, there really aren't any deep ADP steals of the decade. Perhaps the closest to this are David Johnson and Kareem Hunt, both drafted at 2.03 (15th overall). We might see some RBs with later ADPs from last year pop such as Rachaad White, Tyler Allgeier and Isiah Pacheco. I know, Allgeier is a stretch with media favorite Bijan Robinson joining the Atlanta backfield, but he showed promise last year and I drafted him in the 2nd round last year, so I hope he out-performs Robinson, and is the every down back for the Falcons. Okay, back to business...
Success Rate vs Years of Experience
The next step in my analysis is to see how these players panned-out since being drafted. If you read my QB analysis, you know I only valued top 12 QBs, assigning them a value of 1 if they were in the top 6, and a value of 0.5 if they ranked 7th to 12th. Since we must start two RBs in my league, I valued the top 24 RBs, accordingly:
- Ranked 1-6: 1.00
- Ranked 7-12: 0.75
- Ranked 13-18: 0.50
- Ranked 19-24: 0.25
Then I took the integral of their results and got this chart:
The last two rows are where the valuable information pops out. It shows the success rate versus years of experience. Next I put this information into graphical form:
What surprised me about this curve, isn't that rookies and veterans perform almost equally well, but the sudden drop-off after year 6. This chart tells me more about when I should sell RBs than how to find good ones cheap. So if you are wondering here are some top RBs entering their 7th year: Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffery, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt.
Fournette is on my roster. He had 1,191 yards from scrimmage with 73 receptions and 6 TDs last year, so I believe its likely he will land somewhere. And as soon as he does, I will be offering him up for trade. If I had seen the above chart last year, I would have tried to trade him as soon as I didn't need him anymore.
If I owned any of the other RBs listed above, I would be trying to trade them away right now. Could Christian McCaffery have another top-6 RB year? Yes, of course. There is a drop off, but it doesn't go to zero, and historical data is not always a perfect predictor of the future. However, whether or not McCaffery has another top-6 RB year in 2023, his drop off is likely coming soon and you can still get good value for him in a trade. The goal is to be efficient with pick and player value. It's easy to say "buy low and sell high", but it's another thing to recognize the opportunity and have the courage to actually do it.
Here are the top running backs entering their 6th year: Saquon Barkley and Nick Chubb. I am going to throw Rashaad Penny in the mix here also. He is also on my roster and I know the frustration of owning him. He has RB1 potential, but always gets injured. He is in a decent situation, sharing the Eagles backfield with also oft-injured D'Andre Swift. If he can stay healthy for three games and start to show flashes, I will trade him in an instant.
My initial goal of this article wasn't about selling RBs, but rather about trying to acquire RB1s. Unfortunately this analysis does not end up like the QB analysis. RB1s are valuable, have longevity - more than I expected - and are simply difficult to add. So the biggest takeaway from this article might be to look for the right opportunity and timing to trade those 6th and 7th year RBs that you have on your roster.
Nevertheless, let's finish breaking down draft value versus ADP.
This is a break down of success rate by round:
- 1st: 25.9%
- 2nd 8.6%
- 3rd 3.7%
With the QBs we found a 2nd band of success in the 2.07 to 3.03 range, and this is the reason for the color bands in the charts above - to break down the analysis into every 9 picks rather than each round. However, with RBs we don't really learn anything new from this:
- 1-9: 27.5%
- 10-18: 11.7%
- 19-27: 5.0%
- 28-36: 3.8%
The takeaway from this is simple. Generally we are making good assessments of RBs after the NFL draft, without them actually taking any snaps. With the QBs we attributed the 2nd band of success from 2.07 to 3.03 to discovering unexpected QB talent in the pre-season. Not so RBs.
Given that many more RBs are drafted than QBs in dynasty fantasy football, we have a decent data set, and we might get a better picture of the value of the top-6 picks by ADP. Here is a more granular breakdown of success rate versus ADP in the first round:
- 1.01: 55.6%
- 1.02: 47.2%
- 1.03-1.06: 21.7%
- 1.07-1.12: 16.7%
The drop off after the first 2 picks is very high. The data is a little bumpy, so I smoothed it out for you. This is the actual success rate for the first 12 picks, and I let Excel add a logarithmic trend line so you can see a smooth curve:
Without any specific analysis of Bijan Robinson, given that he is the 1.01 pick by ADP this year, this chart indicates he has a 55% chance of being a successful running back over the next six years. Typically when a running back is drafted high in the NFL draft, they are expected by coaches and fans alike to take a major backfield role right away. Coaches are afraid to look foolish if their RB doesn't work out, so even if they made a poor choice, they still give the RB lots of opportunity.
So unfortunately there are no basement bargain tricks to add an RB1 to your roster unless you have exceptional scouting ability and can find one of those rare RB1s in the 2nd or 3rd round. And unless you came in last place last year, you probably don't have the 1.01 pick. I have addressed this issue in another article I wrote, How to Win Your Dynasty League. That article is mostly about how to acquire an advantage by building your arsenal of draft picks.
Ultimately, if you don't urgently need to add an RB1 to your roster to sneak into the playoffs, and if you don't have the 1.01 pick, I recommend you don't try to solve your RB1 problem in the draft. Wait until mid-season or so, find a team that isn't going to make the playoffs, and get a bargain on a veteran in his 5th or 6th year to help you in the playoffs, and then trade him away. Use the techniques in "How to Win Your Dynasty League" to get the 1.01 pick in a future year.
Finally, there is always a chance you can snag the next Austin Ekeler from the waiver wire. You increase your odds of being that lucky guy or gal in your league if you stay active on the waiver wire each week, but it isn't something you can depend on as a way to find an RB1.
If you found this article helpful, here are some other articles I have written that you might also find helpful: