Here’s a quick look at rookie RB performance this past season, and some thoughts about their prospects next year. I started with a simple PFR Screener for RBs drafted in 2013, with more than 30 carries. Then I used the freshly updated RB Sim App to create projections. The RB Sim App is a great tool; it looks at a player’s production in year N, and then comes up with a range of projections for year N+1 based on similar age/size players. I encourage you to play around with the App, as it also lets you tweak the inputs: for example, maybe a player didn’t get full time reps until partway throug the season, or left a game early because of injury; you can filter those games out.
First, the disclaimer. Opportunity is king for RBs, so the draft and free agency could change the outlook for some of these guys. But the ones you’re most likely interested in seem locked into similar or better roles than they had last year.
Here’s the basic table showing per-game production, and is sorted by draft round.
Second Year RBs - Over 30 Attempts
- Career Approximate Value per Game is a Pro Football Reference metric, that gives an idea of the value of a player to his team’s offense. Higher is better.
- Andre Ellington is old and small? Don’t tell Matthew Freedman. On the other hand, he’s third among rookie RBs in total receptions (34), trailing only Giovani Bernard (49) and Le’Veon Bell (43), so that’s interesting. Pass catching ability will help him going forward. But he produces TDs at about the same rate as Montee Ball, so meh. I think the larger fantasy community overvalues him, but with Mendenhall retired, he’s the clear top dog in the Cardinals’ backfield.
- Eddie Lacy is the only rookie runner to top 1000 yards. The next best? Zac Stacy. You’re welcome.
- Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and Zac Stacy are the only three to approach “workhorse” status based on rushing attempts/game.
- Bell is the worst rusher of the three, posting roughly 13 yards/game less than Lacy, despite similar attempts.
- Montee Ball is already 23. Le’Veon Bell can play two more seasons before he’s the same age.
- Ball is the presumptive RB1 in Denver- so far. But based on their free agency activity so far, Denver is in it to win it this year. It’s pretty easy seeing them resigning Knowshon Moreno, or adding a veteran free agent (MJD?)
- In limited duty, Mike James put up as many rushing yards and receptions/game as Montee Ball.
- Bell proves his mettle in the pass game, virtually matching Bernard for receptions/game and receiving yards/game.
- Bell has the best across the board numbers.
- Lacy, Bell, Stacy, and Bernard all averaged over half a TD per game. That’s really good.
- Stepfan Taylor was not a good draft choice, in part because of his awful Explosion Index.
- Joseph Randle. Why bother? He was our 15th ranked rookie RB last year for a reason.
- I kind of like Mike James, but unless something happens with Doug Martin and Bobby Rainey, he appears to have limited opportunity in Tampa Bay.
What About Next Year?
Here’s what the RB Sim App thinks about these runners for 2014. These figures are raw, unfiltered, and straight from the App. I cut down the list above to just those with over 100 rush attempts as rookies, as they’re the ones most likely to be fantasy relevant this year.
- The App projects Stacy to be the best second year TD scorer.
- Lacy, Stacy, and Bell project to each score about 0.5 TDs a game, which is really good.
- The App also likes Bell to be a slightly better receiving option than Bernard
- OK, the App really likes Bell.
- I didn’t adjust any expectations in terms of attempts/game. Presumably Ellington and Bernard are in for more work this year, so they should be expected to produce more than shown above. We’ll get into that below.
- Left to its own devices, the App projects everyone to get fewer attempts/game next year, except Montee Ball
- Despite not liking either very much, the App likes Bernard more than Ellington, which seems fair.
- Andre Ellington. 25. Same age as Stevan Ridley, Mark Ingram, and Doug Martin for example.
OK, that’s all very interesting, but what does it mean for fantasy football? Let’s take a more specific look at each player’s per game projections.
|Stacy Yr 2||24.3||13.6||16.8||69.33||0.5||2.58||20.86||0.06||0.56|
The App likes Stacy for very similar production next year. I think that’s reasonable. He enters the offseason as the clear number 1, so if anything we could expect more. Here’s the fantasy point/game projections, based on his comparable players. Looking at the PPR column, that’s a pretty solid projection for a RB who, at least so far, doesn’t have a lot of buzz.
|Bernard Yr 2||24.5||12.3||8.46||36.15||0.22||2.8||22.09||0.08||0.3|
Interestingly, the App projects a decline in production for Bernard. Indeed, most of his comparable players experienced a year N+1 dip:
In real life, I don’t think that’s in store for Bernard. There were four games last year when Bernard had fewer than 10 rushing attempts. I don’t think that happens again this year. New Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson has been an OC three previous times. His leading rushers were Trung Canidate (5’11”, 205), Warrick Dunn (5’9″, 180), and Darren McFadden (6’2″, 210). I don’t think he’ll have a problem getting a consistent workload Bernard’s way (5’9″, 202). Here’s Bernard’s fantasy projection. I guess I’m hoping he does see a higher than expected workload. Otherwise his floor and median projections are lower than Stacy’s.:
|Lacy Yr 2||24.4||12||17.98||75.17||0.55||2.49||19.46||0.06||0.6|
I adjusted this forecast for Lacy by removing the game where he was injured and had only one carry. The App likes him to be used very similarly. I think that makes sense- in many ways, his role and offensive situation seem the safest of any of these players. Here’s the fantasy projection:
The projections mirror that sense of safety- Lacy has a pretty high PPR floor. But his ceiling barely bests Stacy, and falls short of Bernard. Since those two will likely be available later than Lacy, they might offer better value.
|Bell Yr 2||24.8||11.8||17.07||72.55||0.45||2.89||22.6||0.04||0.49|
The App thinks Bell will put up a few more yards/game but see a dip in receiving production. The App also really likes his fantasy prospects.
No surprise that he has the best floor, median, and ceiling projections for the second year backs. As much as I like Stacy, a 4 point/game difference in the High score is pretty significant. Stacy would have to be a lot cheaper to make that difference worthwhile.
|Ellington Yr 2||25.3||13.2||8.77||40.78||0.2||2.34||19.75||0.09||0.29|
Even by throwing out Ellington’s 2 lowest carry games from last season, I couldn’t budge his projection much. Much like Bernard, most of his N+1 comps did worse, and I’d argue that several that did better are clearly superior players: LeSean McCoy, C.J. Spiller, and Deangelo Williams for example:
So what does this mean for fantasy projections?
I don’t think Ellington is worth the amount of buzz he’s getting, based on this ceiling projection. And that floor is downright frightening. I think the only thing that makes him a worthwhile target is if it becomes clear that he’ll get a significantly higher workload this year.
Bear with me while I explain Ball’s projections. In this table, you’ll see his rookie per game production, along with the raw “Yr 2” projection from the RB Sim App. For the alternate year 2 projection, I used the RB Sim Lab, which allows you to create custom RB projections. I wanted to get an idea of Ball’s projection if he’d been used more heavily as a rookie. So I input his age and weight, and set his carries and yards/game to equal Knowshon Moreno’s from last year. In other words, what if Ball had had Moreno’s role?
|Ball Yr 2 Alt||24.2||13.1||17.1||73||0.5||3||24||0.1||0.6|
|Ball Yr 2||24.2||11.4||9.06||38.42||0.23||1.61||11.6||0.02||0.25|
As you can see, that gives a very sizable boost to Ball’s projection. Of course, we don’t know if Ball would have produced like Moreno, but this gives us a bit of an idea of what we might expect if he makes it to the season as the RB1 in Denver.
Here are the fantasy projections for Ball, based on th Sim Lab alternate inputs:
By giving Ball that favorable boost, he still sports a rather low bottom end outlook. His ceiling is nice, though. I think that ultimately Ball’s value will come down to where he’s being drafted. If he’s being drafted in the early rounds with clear high end RB1 expectations, then that’s a faith-based gamble I’ll pass on. If you can get him in the mid rounds as an RB2, that’s much more appealing. [Ed. Note: I corrected the Ball section to account for a math error in his revised projections 4/9/14.]