Ameer Abdullah, TJ Yeldon, and Recent Second Round Running Backs

When it comes to redraft leagues, often one of the best areas in which we can find value is in the incoming rookie class. Because these players are unknown commodities in the NFL, it is difficult for most fantasy players to invest too much in rookies. This season, I think that most people are willing to invest in first round running backs Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, but what about the second round picks? Should we give into the temptation to draft Ameer Abdullah or TJ Yeldon? I think there is some compelling data on the matter.

The Contestants

I took a look at every RB drafted in the second round from 2010 to 2014. In that time frame, there were 18 drafted in the second round. Four of them (Mikel Leshoure, Ben Tate, Montario Hardesty, and Ryan Williams) did not play in a single game as a rookie due to injury. As a result, I looked at just the 14 healthy backs. Their rookie seasons are listed below in order of fantasy points scored:

Second Round RB 2010-2014

PlayerYearTeamInc.GAttRecTotal YdTotal TDFP14Rank
Average---12.36114.9320.07629.293.64104.943
Eddie Lacy2013PackersJames Starks1528435143511244.59
Gio Bernard2013BengalsBenJarvus Green-Ellis161705612098224.910
Le'Veon Bell2013SteelersJonathan Dwyer132444512598218.910
Jeremy Hill2014BengalsGio Bernard162222713399214.910
Montee Ball2013BroncosKnowshon Moreno16120207044114.442
Bishop Sankey2014TitansShonn Greene16152187022100.245
Daniel Thomas2011DolphinsNone1316512653183.351
Carlos Hyde201449ersFrank Gore148312401476.160
Toby Gerhart2010VikingsAdrian Peterson158121489175.962
Shane Vereen2011PatriotsBenJarvus Green-Ellis5158206240.688
Dexter McCluster2010ChiefsJamaal Charles111821110138.090
LaMichael James201249ersFrank Gore4273154018.4112
Isaiah Pead2012RamsSteven Jackson1510370010.0133
Christine Michael2013SeahawksMarshawn Lynch41807907.9136

As you can see, there is a rather wide disparity between the backs who were successful and the backs who were not. The top four were all RB1’s as rookies with respect to 2014 scoring. The remaining ten failed to finish in the top 40 point scorers at the position. You’ll notice that I also included the incumbent RB on the roster that offered the most most competition to the incoming rookie; that will be important to us later. Let’s take a look at these cohorts in depth.

The Athletes

A fairly natural first instinct is that perhaps the successful RBs were more athletic than the unsuccessful. I compiled the weight, 40-yard dash time, agility score, explosion, and speed score for each of the running backs in each group:

Successful Second Round RB

PlayerWT40AgilityExplosionSpeedscore
Average224.004.5811.42149.00102.00
Eddie Lacy2314.64--100
Gio Bernard2024.5211.03155.597
Le'Veon Bell2304.5810.99149.5105
Jeremy Hill2334.5712.23142106

Unsuccessful Second Round RB

PlayerWT40AgilityExplosionSpeedscore
Average210.704.5011.10155.25102.70
Montee Ball2144.6211.2815094
Bishop Sankey2094.4910.75161.5103
Daniel Thomas2304.6211.35157101
Carlos Hyde2304.62-148.5101
Toby Gerhart2314.511.19156113
Isaiah Pead1974.3911.27149106
Christine Michael2204.4810.71168109
LaMichael James1944.3511158108
Shane Vereen2104.4911.23149103
Dexter McCluster1724.44-155.589

There is not much of a difference in the two groups athletically. Both show roughly the same speed and explosion. The unsuccessful backs were actually more agile as a group, but that probably has more to do with Eddie Lacy not having an agility score and Jeremy Hill‘s being awful than anything else. Giovani Bernard and Le’Veon Bell were both remarkably agile.

Instead, the biggest difference between the two groups is weight. Successful second rounders weighed a whopping 14 pounds more than the unsuccessful backs. This could have to do with the fact that teams trust bigger backs more to receive a full workload as a rookie.

The Incumbents

Another factor that could impact rookie production is the other RBs on the roster. I listed the incumbent RB for each rookie in the first table. Now let’s see how those backs fared the year before their team drafted a rookie:

PlayerYearGRuAttRecTotal YdTotal TDFP14Rank
Average-12.50168.7525.00855.504.25136.0531
Gio Bernard2013161705612098224.910
BenJarvus Green-Ellis2012152782211986177.820
Jonathan Dwyer201213156187292102.943
James Starks20126714286138.689
PlayerYearGRuAttRecTotal YdTotal TDFP14Rank
Average-14.33231.2224.441245.899.11203.713
Adrian Peterson20091631443181918332.94
Marshawn Lynch20121631523178612273.66
Jamaal Charles2009151904014178229.79
Steven Jackson2011152604214786225.810
BenJarvus Green-Ellis20101622912109313199.314
Frank Gore2011162821713258197.514
Frank Gore2013162761612699196.914
Knowshon Moreno20128138216924114.242
Shonn Greene201311776334463.472

The results here are fairly telling. Seven of the nine unsuccessful RBs with competition from the previous season’s roster (Daniel Thomas’ competition came from a free agent signee) were up against a back who had an RB14 season or better. Facing a borderline RB1 undoubtedly factored into their inability to contribute on the field as rookies. On the other side, the only second round rookie to find success against an RB1 was Hill against a rookie from the previous season in Bernard. I think the data strongly point towards taking second round RB who is heavier and up against weak competition from the year before.

What This Means for 2015

In the 2015 NFL Draft there were just two second round RBs: Abdullah and Yeldon. Let’s see how they compare athletically:

AVY

While Abdullah is an Agility All-Star, his weight is less than desirable. However Yeldon’s weight looks very promising when compared to the cohort of successful second round picks. Now to see how their competition fared last season:

NameGRuAttRecTotal YdTotal TDFP14Rank
Joique Bell152233411828200.213
Denard Robinson13135237064117.638

This looks like another strong indicator for Yeldon, and perhaps another reason to reconsider Abdullah in redraft leagues. Denard Robinson was a fantasy asset for a short stretch, but overall has been rather unimpressive. Joique Bell, however, was quite good, finishing as RB13.

Conclusion

While he doesn’t have incredibly impressive metrics, Yeldon looks like the second round RB to draft this season in redraft formats. His weight and competition are ideal for a first year player to come right in and produce. In MFL10’s, Yeldon is currently RB20 while Abdullah is being drafted as RB29. I like the former a lot more at those prices as he stands a better chance to not just pay off that price, but to exceed it.