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A Quick Look at the 2013 Running Back Class

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The disheartening thing about looking at running backs if you’re a stat nerd is that you don’t really have a shot of outperforming NFL draft position in terms of explaining running back fantasy points per game.  Draft position explains about 30% of the variance in RB fantasy points per game, while things like weight, 40 time and college production explain just a small fraction of that 30%.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that the NFL draft is efficient in terms of selecting running backs.  While draft position explains 30% of the variance in FP/G, it doesn’t explain FP per touch at all.  Not even a little.  So pretty much the NFL draft selects running backs well probably because RB is an opportunity-heavy position.  To score fantasy points it’s important to play.  In order to play, it helps if a team used a high draft pick to get the guy.

I’m done with my preliminary RB work for the year, but because I know I can’t beat draft position in ranking, I’m not even going to try.  Instead what I’ve done is gone through and annotated CBS’ list of running backs with some comments based on whether I think guys are fairly valued.  The list is below, but I can summarize it even more succinctly here (with my rank in parentheses):

Overvalued: Giovani Bernard (10), Joseph Randle (19), Andre Ellington(24), Stepfan Taylor (22)

Undervalued: Le’Veon Bell (1), Christine Michael (4), Zac Stacy (5), Latavius Murray (High), Knile Davis (2)

Of the guys that I have in the undervalued list, I think Bell, Michael and Stacy are probably the best bets to become production NFL running backs, while the rest of the group are either athletic fliers available for so cheap that there’s no possible downside.  If Latavius Murray’s 4.38 40 reported from his pro day can be believed, that would make him a top three back for me based on his size and college production.  But in any case, at over 220 pounds, Murray could be a high value late flier.  The same is largely true of Knile Davis.  It doesn’t really matter if he’s “truly” the 2nd best RB in this draft.  His price is so low that he only has upside.

Of the guys I have in the overvalued list, they are either smallish, slowish or smallish and slowish.  I tried to limit my calls of overvalued to instances where the back was projected to a round where the pick actually has value (1-4) and the running back has measurables that are in great supply and available on a regular basis.

PROJ. ROUND POS. RANK PLAYER SCHOOL CLASS WT. Value
1,2 1 *Eddie Lacy Alabama rJr 231 Close to fair
2, 2 Johnathan Franklin UCLA rSr 205 Fair
2, 3 Montee Ball Wisconsin Sr 214 Whatevs
2,3 4 *Le’Veon Bell Michigan State Jr 230 Value
3, 5 *Giovani Bernard North Carolina rSo 202 Overvalued
3, 6 *Joseph Randle Oklahoma State Jr 204 Overvalued
3,4 7 Andre Ellington Clemson rSr 199 Overvalued
3,4 8 Stepfan Taylor Stanford Sr 214 Way Overvalued
4, 9 Christine Michael Texas A&M Sr 220 Value
5,6 10 *Marcus Lattimore South Carolina Jr 221
5,6 11 Mike Gillislee Florida Sr 208 Whatevs
5,6 12 Kenjon Barner Oregon rSr 196 Whatevs
5,6 13 Kerwynn Williams Utah State Sr 195 Fair
5,6 14 *Michael Ford LSU rJr 210 Fair
6, 15 *Jawan Jamison Rutgers rSo 203 Whatevs
6, 16 *Cierre Wood Notre Dame rJr 213
6, 17 Zac Stacy Vanderbilt Sr 216 Lots of Value
7, 18 Latavius Murray UCF rSr 223 Lots of Value
7, 19 *Knile Davis Arkansas rJr 227 Lots of Value
7-FA 20 Onterio McCalebb Auburn Sr 168 Whatevs
7-FA 21 Miguel Maysonet Stony Brook Sr 209 Whatevs
7-FA 22 Ray Graham Pittsburgh Sr 199 Whatevs
7-FA 23 Theo Riddick Notre Dame Sr 201 Whatevs
7-FA 24 Robbie Rouse Fresno State Sr 190 Whatevs
7-FA 25 Rex Burkhead Nebraska Sr 214 Some Value

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