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The Devaluation of RBs Is Real, Or Why I Didn’t Draft Andre Williams

christinemichael

Jon Moore recently posted the results of Rotoviz’s second rookie mock draft, and couldn’t help but wonder why nobody seemed to want to draft Andre Williams. As somebody who had  three chances to draft Williams, and seriously considered it, I felt compelled to share why I didn’t draft him.

I’ve included a handy table below. The sample is all RBs drafted in the first three rounds of the last five NFL drafts. I broke it down by how many were selected in total, as well as what the average pick used to acquire them was.

You’ll notice two extra sections as well. I felt I should include some adjustments for Trent Richardson, as he was by far the highest drafted RB in this sample, and by an even larger margin in the year he was drafted. I included a section that completely discounts his existence, but I don’t like doing anything that makes me feel like I belong in the Browns’ front office. So I included another section treating him as though he were the 26th overall pick, since that’s what the Browns got for him in the trade.

Year # Selected Average Pick #
2009
First Two 4 30.75
First Three 6 43.67
2010
First Two 7 36.43
First Three * *
2011
First Two 5 48.2
First Three 8 60.125
2012
First Two 5 37.4
First Three 7 48.29
W/O Richardson
First Two 4 46
First Three 6 55.83
Richardson at 26
First Two 5 42
First Three 7 51.57
2013
First Two 5 53.2
First Three 6 60.33

Observations:

  • No RBs were selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft, but the overall sample size is consistent with the rest of the years.
  • Aside from 2012, the average picks both within the first two and first three rounds are later on average every year.
  • The 2010 sample consisted of C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Jahvid Best, Dexter McCluster, Toby Gerhart, Ben Tate, and Montario Hardesty. I suspect the underwhelming nature of this group may be why RBs slipped so much the next year. You’ll also notice this group contains examples of pretty much everything that can go wrong with a RB: Injury, ineptitude, learning curve, limited role, and being stuck behind an entrenched starter.
  • Another possible explanation is that the 2012 class was just kind of mediocre. The RBs, in order of draft pick: Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams, Shane Vereen, Mikel Leshoure, Daniel Thomas, DeMarco Murray, Stevan Ridley, and Alex Green. Only Murray and the Pats’ RBs have ever been very relevant.
  • Giovani Bernard was the first RB off the board in last year’s draft, at pick 37. You’ll notice that number is higher than the first two round averages for both 2009 and 2010, and is essentially equal to it in 2012 if you don’t adjust for Richardson.
  • Common thought seems to be that no RBs will be taken in the first round this year, only furthering this trend.

Conclusion:

Hopefully you noticed that’s not Andre Williams at the top of the article, but Christine Michael. Christine Michael was the very last pick of the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, meaning most teams passed on him twice. Keep in mind that Michael is loved by scouts and stat guys alike. Nowadays, Christine Michael owners are just hoping that Marshawn Lynch gets cut for financial or legal reasons after this upcoming league year.

Toby Gerhart may get a chance to be a bell-cow RB this year in Jacksonville, but he had to play out his entire rookie contract before he got that shot, even though he has been consistently productive throughout his career. That’s what happens when you get stuck behind Adrian Peterson. Most owners who drafted Gerhart in rookie drafts probably no longer own him or will be disappointed if he’s anything less than a true 3-down RB next year.

If you’re being optimistic, a RB has around a ten-year window of productivity. The last few years of that window are going to be their decline phase. If you have to wait a few years for them to even see playing time, are they even worth drafting? I don’t want to hold onto a guy for years, and then hope that he actually plays well and doesn’t get injured when he finally does see the field.

Even though I like Andre Williams (Shawn Siegele thinks he is comparable to Adrian Peterson), I could never bring myself to draft a RB without knowing their situation, precisely because there are situations where I do not find them to be worth drafting. Most rookie drafts don’t take place before the real draft obviously, but I’m not going to mock a player I may never take in the real thing.

My theory is that since RBs are being devalued in the draft, quality RBs are more likely to get taken by teams that take a “best player available” philosophy than ever before. RB is one of the most egalitarian positions in the NFL, except when a team has an entrenched starter. This means less RBs (and more importantly, less high-quality RBs) will see the field in their early years.

It’s not all doom-and-gloom however. In Part 2, I’ll examine how the devaluation of the RB position could be used to gain an edge. I’ll also examine the devaluation of QBs in another article.

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