I think we can all agree that ranking players (especially running backs) prior to the NFL draft is a bit of a fool’s errand. But, it’s a valuable exercise because it separates a player’s ability from their situation and that can become impossible once the draft is complete. Take a look back at last year’s first annual RotoViz Composite Rookie RB Rankings. This is an exercise I like to do during each offseason. Look back at what players were highly or lightly regarded last year and then ask yourself what has changed. For example, Johnathan Franklin slotted in as the third most popular RB in last year’s list before ending up on the same team as the #1 guy. That makes him a potential sleeper for 2014. Montee Ball was 8th, but in his case I think some things have changed.
First, a Brief Public Service Announcement
Last year Matthew Freedman provided you with a bit of info on 34 different RB prospects 2. Thats, um, a lot. I think that targeting RBs in your fantasy rookie drafts is an area where a lot of fantasy owners get themselves into trouble. Running back can be a challenging position to fill in today’s fantasy landscape and if your team is in need of one it can be easy to start talking yourself into these guys. Personally, I’m becoming pretty enamored by the idea of ignoring the position completely, or at least starting to think about it differently. When Darren McFadden went down with an injury last year 3 Rashad Jenning’s 20+ touch games were to be expected and owners who had him on their bench were able to put him in their lineup. Usage at other positions doesn’t follow the same script and so while a non-star RB’s best games of the season (like Jennings’) are likely to contribute to their owner’s fantasy bottom line that isn’t true of guys like Marvin Jones.
For your own benefit, I have compiled the following table from Pro Football Reference. This is every RB that was drafted between 2001 and 2010. That’s 10 years worth of rookie RBs. I chose that window because I wanted the most recent backs in the table to have been in the league long enough to provide a reasonable idea of who they are as players. Last year’s rookies look very enticing right now if they had any success but guys like Trent Richardson and Alfred Morris looked a lot more enticing a year ago too. For simplicity, I stripped this down to per game numbers for touches, yards and TDs. I also added fantasy points per game (FPPG) in both standard and PPR scoring. Go ahead, play around with sorting that list.
There are a few things I’d like to draw your attention to. First, most drafts produce very few long-term answers at RB. The 2008 draft is a bit of an outlier. As those players start to age out of the league maybe we’ll see another banner crop just due to opportunity. You’ll also notice that it isn’t always the first RB drafted in a given year who has the most success. However, if you sort by points per game (either category) you’ll find that the top of the list is dominated by earlier picks. I agree with Justin Winn that the economics of the position is changing, and as we start seeing rushers go later in the real NFL draft there will be less of a fantasy stigma associated with getting drafted outside the first three rounds. Just know that real NFL teams are starting to invest less in this position (both in FA dollars and in draft capital). Your fake team may want to follow suit. One other thing I take out of this list is that Knowshon Moreno and Ryan Mathews might be sneaky guys to grab for your RB zero strategy.
Having said all that, this is the internet and I’m totally going to tell you about 21 running backs that are definitely going to take the league by storm and that you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO HAVE ON YOUR FANTASY TEAMS. Just take this as an opportunity to get educated about players so that if any of these guys do drop into a favorable situation now or a couple of seasons down the line, you’ll be familiar with them and have an understanding of what they can bring to a real team or your fake team. One of these guys will get drafted by the Titans and immediately rocket up the ADP rankings. Your job 4 is to find the cheaper options.
For a word about the methodology of this exercise, check out the TE rankings post.
Tier 1 (The Bishop Sankey Tier)
Bishop Sankey: Composite Rank, 1st
He’s pretty much Mr. RotoViz among the RBs this year. Sankey received six 1st place votes and the other three rankers had him 2nd 5. He’s been on Freedman’s radar since last offseason for his nQBDR prowess. His comp list is astonishing, and he comes to work every day. He’s also the rookie leader in the RB Prospect Lab App. I don’t see a need to belabor the point because I suspect we’ll be seeing more written about him here before the season starts, but everyone seems to like him due to his collegiate production and combine performance. I think the only real drama for Sankey is where he goes in the draft. If you’re a true RotoVizian at heart then you’re hoping that he doesn’t end up in a place like Tennessee or Atlanta where his value will be too apparent and he’ll climb up rookie draft boards.
Tier 2 (Not Bishop Sankey, But Not Bad)
Tre Mason: Composite Rank, 2nd
Tre Mason leads the next batch of prospects despite not receiving any 1st place votes and only one solitary 2nd place vote. He dipped his toe into the combine, only competing in the jumping drills, the 40 and the 20 yard shuttle. He doesn’t show up in the Prospect Lab due to his lack of a 3 cone time. However, if you go to the App and plug in a hypothetical version of Tre Mason then he slots in just behind Tyler Gaffney as the 4th best prospect no matter how crappy you make his 3 cone time. He’ll turn 21 just before the 2014 season kicks off so he’s nearly a year younger than Bishop Sankey and most of these other top prospects which is a point in his favor since he’s lead a major program in rushing for two straight seasons at a young age. He didn’t catch many passes (which hurts him in the Prospect Lab) but the FantasyDouche still likes his chances of developing into a three down back. Jon Moore highlighted his combine explosion score while chastising him (along with a few others) for failing to compete in all the drills. Matthew Freedman is willing to overlook his size due to his two seasons of solid production. Freedman also checked in on Mason before the National Title Game with a few comments on how his combine will affect his stock. Mason hit the weight threshold to ignore his ho-hum 40 time, but he’s never completed the agility drills, electing to bypass the 3 cone at both the combine and his pro day…maybe he’s afraid of cones?6. Fun fact, his Dad is one of these guys.
Andre Williams: Composite Rank, 3rd
Andrew Williams grabbed two 1st place votes and probably would have led this tier were it not for me personally sabotaging him with an 8th place rank. I can’t shake thoughts of Shonn Greene and Daniel Thomas with this guy and I don’t like that even in college his numbers were so dependent on game situation. In BC’s 7 wins he averaged just under 235 yards per game and over 2 TDs. In their 6 losses he averaged 89 yards per game and half a TD. I fear that he feasted on the weak parts of his schedule. However, I don’t dislike him 7 and in my personal ranks he just happened to slide to the back of a much larger 2nd tier. The NFL is migrating away from workhorse backs so I like my RBs to be able to do well on limited touches and I don’t view Williams as that kind of guy. If he finds his way to a situation where he’ll be the TD maker or fall into a lot of work then he’s definitely viable. The RB Prospect Lab App likes him. Shawn Siegele envisions Williams as fitting into the first of his three draftable RB profiles. The FantasyDouche highlighted him as a potential sleeper if he lands in the right spot. He also went undrafted in the recent RotoViz mock draft 2.0 which prompted Justin Winn to create series of articles about the devaluation of RBs in the draft.
Finally, he had the most fun comments section in the RotoViz RB rankings spreadsheet. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot ranked him number 1 and then waxed rhapsodic on him “Andre Williams is everything RotoViz is about. Scouts don’t love him because his athleticism doesn’t POP ON TAPE and other guys FINISH THE RUN better than he does. After his surprisingly good combine, none of that seems quantifiable in any way. Rare combination of high floor/high ceiling.” The FantasyDouche must have written this just knowing I’d quote it here: “Having your upside described as Shonn Greene would make it tough to get out of bed in the morning. It would be like if you were 21, leaving college, and someone told you in advance that you were one day going to become branch manager at a Bank of America. It would be hard to not begin using drugs heavily.” That’s from a guy that voted him 2nd among RBs by the way. Then Freedman chimed in that Williams is “Shonn Greene — except better in almost every way imaginable” while only voting him 5th. This is why I spent all that time above trying to talk sense into you.
Jeremy Hill: Composite Rank, 4th
Jeremy Hill nabbed Shawn Siegele’s 1st place ballot and was the only other prospect (outside of Bishop Sankey and Andre Williams) to receive a first place vote. He’s also another player that’s missing an agility score since he sat out those drills at the combine and I can’t find any record of his completing them at his pro day either. At 233 pounds, he’s moving even more weight than Andre Williams. His pro day 40 time of 4.52 bumps his speed score over 110 and puts him in play for the first of the three draftable RB profiles 8. Freedman likes his size and SEC pedigree while Siegele helpfully points out that he’s a better prospect than the next guy on the list 9. I like that he led an SEC team in yards and TDs for two straight seasons and the 233 pounds helps.
Carlos Hyde: Composite Rank, 5th
Hyde received a solitary second place vote from the most charismatic ranker 10, but has been generally viewed as uninspiring by RotoViz. He’s referenced in several of the previously cited articles mainly as a cautionary tale or a straw man to support why guys like Andre Williams and Jeremy Hill should be considered interesting. Truth be told, my favorable ranking is mainly a bet on the likelihood of Hyde being one of the first backs selected in the draft and ending up in a good situation. Freedman does highlight Hyde’s elite nQBDR as an argument in his favor. I think that Hyde’s support within the scouting community has caused him to go a bit unnoticed here at RotoViz. If everyone else is already writing about a guy then why bother?
Tier 3 (A 7 Pack of Possibilities)
Terrance West: Composite Rank, 6th
Here’s another big back (225 pounds) with a decent speed score (106) who hasn’t bothered to perform any agility drills. The FantasyDouche has him as a sleeper and ranked him 3rd among RBs just like his model says. Everyone else had him in their top 11. Jonathan Bales has pointed out that small school RBs tend to be undervalued in the NFL draft and West’s performance for FCS Towson certainly catches your attention11. He has an NFL body and athleticism and dominated his small school competition the way you’d like and expect to see. His combine numbers compare favorably with RotoViz fav Zac Stacy except he’s packing an additional 10 pounds. Stacy’s calling card was elite agility however, and with West we just don’t know.
Ka’Deem Carey: Composite Rank, 7th
Carey fell between 6th and 11th for every ranker. I suspect that no one quite knows what to do with a guy that produced so well while completely shitting the bed at the combine. His 40 was slow, his explosion numbers were bad and his agility numbers were terrible. I assumed that Carey was the type of guy who would improve his stock at his pro day, but the thing is that he already had his pro day and he was slow there too. Ryan Rouillard was very excited for Carey to lose some luster at the combine12, but I think Carey took that idea and ran with it (slowly). Shawn Siegele laments that Carey just doesn’t’ have NFL atheticism. Freedman compares him to Ahmad Bradshaw which seems like he’s going out on a limb in comparing Carey to a historical corner case 13. However, it turns out that Freedman has been comparing Carey to Bradshaw way before it was cool. Bradshaw had elite agility though while Carey does not.
Lache Seastrunk: Composite Rank, 8th
Pro tip, it’s pronounced “Lake.” Rouillard wanted to see Seastrunk blow up at the combine to drive up his price, but that didn’t happen. Freedman does highlight Seastrunk’s historic explosion score so the combine wasn’t all bad. Lache is a guy that shaved some time at his pro day and also overcame this class’s debilitating fear of agility drills to compete in those too. His pro day numbers give him a non-disqualifying speed score of 101 and an agility score of 11.1 which leaves him a strange no-man’s land with Johnathan Franklin14 among the draftable RB profiles. However, in the case of Franklin, he shared some collegiate receiving chops with his comps which Seastrunk has not demonstrated (9 career catches and zero in 2013). This doesn’t mean he can’t catch the ball, just that he hasn’t been asked too. I was one of the more positive rankers on Seastrunk mainly because I like the explosiveness. I don’t think he profiles as a heavy workload guy so he needs to be able to a lot with a little and I think his explosiveness will help there.
Charles Sims: Composite Rank, 9th
Shawn Siegele ranked Sims as his 4th best prospect and has compared him to DeMarco Murray. He also highlighted Sims while drilling into Dri Archer’s comps. I was also high on Sims because I like that he’s been so prolific catching the ball across two different programs (Houston and then West Virginia). His worst season is still almost 4 catches per game. His agility score doesn’t align with the pass catching back profile, but his production certainly does. Also, here’s a video of him running through bags which I enjoy because someone bothered to bring this to my attention. Sims’ age is a pretty big red flag, but I take some comfort in the fact that he amassed 1400 yards, 10TDs and 70 catches back when he was only 2015.
Isaiah Crowell: Composite Rank, 10th
Crowell had an impressive true freshman season as an 18 year old playing for Georgia in the SEC. Then he was arrested on weapons charges, released from the team and ended up at Alabama State. The Fantasy Gumshoe investigated comparisons with Christine Michael and came away appalled at Crowell’s 11.76 agility score16. Crowell scored a lot of TDs at Alabama State but didn’t really dominate the competition there to the extent you would like to see. He may still represent a value if he falls in the draft due to his small school background. The FantasyDouche also looked into projecting Crowell using the RB Prospect Lab, but came away unimpressed even using an estimated 3 cone time that ended up being a quarter of a second too optimistic17.
Jerick McKinnon: Composite Rank, 11th
McKinnon played option QB at Georgia Southern and joins Isaiah Crowell in being compared to Christine Michael. McKinnon shows a bit more favorably than Crowell did, however. Davis Mattek and the FantasyDouche are driving the McKinnon bandwagon in the rankings. The FantasyDouche also highlights McKinnon’s blend of explosion and agility and Jon Moore declared him a combine winner. Shawn Siegele likes him as a discount Shane Vereen. Given his option QB background, it would be fun to see McKinnon go to a team with a creative offensive coach. Maybe they could even pair him up with Logan Thomas or Tahj Boyd and get really freaky.
Tyler Gaffney: Composite Rank, 12th
Here’s a RB that I was highest on of the group because he’s such a perfect RotoViz candidate. His comps are all quite good. His physical tools rate at the top of the class. He scores a tie with Bishop Sankey in the Matt Forte “memorial” award for RB excellence. Even Freedman likes him and points out that he took a year off to play baseball so he’s a little old. You’ll recall that I said you’d need to look for value in your drafts when RB shopping and this is a guy that offers that at his price.
Tier 4 (We Can Still Find a Few
Nice Things to Say)
Storm Johnson: Composite Rank, 13th
First, that’s a badass name for a dude from Florida. Freedman spotlighted Johnson as an nQBDR monster and went so far as to state that a good pro day would potentially make Storm his favorite sleeper. Unfortunately, Johnson scored an incomplete at his pro day as he improved his 40 slightly to 4.54 but strained his hamstring in the process. We don’t have any agility scores for him at the moment which is a recurring theme for this draft class.
Devonta Freeman: Composite Rank, 14th
This guy forced me to retitle this tier because it turns out I haven’t found anything nice to say. His numbers aren’t exciting and he has some athletic red-flags. Scouts like his pass blocking18 so maybe he’ll get on the field. I think his pedigree is what’s got him this far up the list. He’s likely to catch on with a team.
Lorenzo Taliaferro: Composite Rank, 15th
Here’s another big body with a nice physical profile. Rich Hribar has Taliaferro pegged as an arbitrage play with Andre Williams and his small school pedigree likely means he’ll be undervalued on draft day. The FantasyDouche investigated a bit more closely plugging Taliaferro into the Prospect Lab. His conclusion “RB scoring is really about usage, so even knowing that LT is a player that could have success is valuable. Then you’re just paying attention and scooping him up when his chance does come along” mirrors my point from the introduction and also implies that we’re already dealing with players that are unlikely to be rostered in your league.
Antonio Andrews: Composite Rank, 16th
Andrews was highlighted before the season as an nQBDR star. Freedman revisited Andrews after the combine seemingly clutching at straws for why he’s nothing but upside. Shawn Siegele went ahead and compared him to Mark Ingram which is just mean.
David Fluellen: Composite Rank, 17th
Fluellen beats out Charles Sims and Bishop Sankey for the Giovanni Bernard award. Fluellen is another back that Freedman highlighted last offseason and revisited here. I can report that Fluellen did shave a bit of time off his 40 at his pro day (dropped to a 4.66) and he did record a 4.21 shuttle time which is right around the cut-off Freedman listed in that piece and does give him an agility score of 11.1ish which matches his receiving back profile.
Marion Grice: Composite Rank, 18th
Grice caught 91 passes over two seasons at Arizona State, but he just turned 23 so he isn’t exactly young. Freedman discusses Grice here and mentions his combine performance here saying “Dude basically showed up, weighed in, and peaced out.” That’s not entirely fair since Grice had broken his leg in November and wasn’t yet back to full health. Freedman discussed his receiving skills and TD production with the caveat that he needs to prove what kind of athlete he is. Unfortunately, that doesn’t appear to be in the offing before the draft. Grice did conduct his own pro day AFTER the AZ State pro day (again his leg was still healing). He clocked in with a time that was described as “in the 4.6 range” which I guess could mean a 4.69? At any rate, it’s unclear if this guy is healthy enough to prove what kind of athleticism he has. His receiving and TD prowess is hard to ignore though.
James White: Composite Rank, 19th
James White turned up as a boogeyman for Montee Ball’s value in a Davis Mattek piece from last offseason. Siegele profiles him as a discount Gio this offseason. I suspect only one of those things can be true.
Damien Williams: Composite Rank, 20th
Once again, it’s Freedman who is paying attention to these guys down here. Williams was mentioned in his lurid piece on Zach Line last offseason19. At that time Freedman points out that “NFL Draft Scout currently has Damien Williams, who is returning to OU for one last year, as the #2 RB prospect for the 2014 Draft.” I’m guessing he’s not rated as their #2 RB prospect anymore. Williams did post a 4.45 40 at 222 pounds so his physical profile is still solid. He shows ok on the FantasyDouche’s age adjusted prospect rankings, but that’s kind of ironic since no one seems to know how old he is. The FantasyDouche had this to say about him “Damien Williams has a terrible 3 Cone, although he was a decent pass catcher in college. I kind of like him as an Arian Foster-ish sleeper. He’s big enough, fast enough and a decent enough receiver that if he did get a shot to start I think he could be good.”
Tim Cornett: Composite Rank, 21st
Tim Cornett has the distinction of being the first RB in our rankings that didn’t appear on everyone’s top 30 list. Both Ross Eagles and Scott Smith left him out entirely. He slots in at #6 on the FantasyDouche’s age adjusted rankings. Rich Hribar also included Cornett as an arbitrage play on Storm Johnson. I think that when we reach the point where we’re highlighting a player’s favorable comparison to the 13th best prospect then that’s where we’ve officially crossed some Mendoza line for diminishing returns.
I’ll refer you back to my words of caution at the beginning of this odyssey; it’s a good idea to introduce yourself to these running back prospects and file their names away in your subconscious. Somewhere along the line, your familiarity with them may allow you to pull the trigger on picking them up a week or two before they get their shot. That’s valuable. Remember though that these are prospects rather than finished products.
The Composite Ranks
Nine different writers contributed to these rankings. Rankers are: FD = FantasyDouche, SS = Shawn Siegele, MF = Matthew Freedman, JM = Jon Moore, SS2 = Scott Smith, DM = Davis Mattek, ZD = Zach Dietz, WTF = Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, RE = Ross Eagles
2014 Rookie RB Composite Rankings
|James Wilder Jr.||99||99||99||26||21||99||24||18||19||28|
|George Atkinson III||27||99||99||28||99||99||22||15||99||31|
- Not the enigmatic Mr. Rotoviz Staff, but the actual collective “staff” (back)
- what the hell did I just sign up for? (back)
- What? (back)
- RotoViz will help (back)
- This gives him the most 1st place votes AND the most 2nd place votes of any of the backs (back)
- I wanted to link to picture of Tre Mason eating an ice cream cone so I could emphatically prove that this wasn’t true, but I couldn’t find one so konosphobia is still in play (back)
- I’ve owned both Shonn Greene and Daniel Thomas over the years and they’re not dead yet (back)
- That article is all about Andre Williams with Hill getting a brief mention for his disappointing combine, but the pro day number is better than Andre’s (back)
- we all agreed…in composite (back)
- Hint: it was me (back)
- 88 TDs!!! (back)
- more value baby! (back)
- Bradshaw turns up in the table above as one of the few really late round RBs to have a lot of career success (back)
- Hey! You said that guy was a sleeper earlier (back)
- that was 4 years ago, but still (back)
- even Johnny Utah thinks that’s bad (back)
- Shane Falco can’t believe it (back)
- this is according to Shawn Siegele (back)
- Warning, NSFW (back)