We re-introduced the rookie running back opportunity scores a few weeks ago, a concept developed last offseason to determine the best landing spots for the incoming class of rookies based on the relationship between how productive the backfield was the prior year and its running backs’ ADPs leading into the draft.
While the running back position is likely overvalued in real football, hitting on the right rookie running back can win fantasy championships. Just ask last year’s owners of Todd Gurley and David Johnson.
Now that the draft has arrived, let’s recalculate the scores based on the most current ADPs. In addition, we’re adding a significant change to the methodology to better forecast true rookie running back opportunity.
The adjustment was to treat draft positions of current running backs as having a logarithmic relationship with opportunity, so that the ADPs of top picks like Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley have a much larger negative effect on their teams’ respective opportunity scores. The old formula would have seen two sixth round picks as having as big an effect as one first-rounder, and that likely isn’t the best way to view the opportunity for a rookie running back to have meaningful playing time in his first season.
Let’s revisit the historical results of the relationship.
What we’re looking to quantify is the distance of teams from the trend line, which should help us identify which teams have either currently undervalued running backs or massive opportunity for a rookie if they draft one.
Here are the most current results, which point not only to the most opportunistic landing spots for rookie running backs, but also give us an idea of who are the most undervalued veterans that drafters are unfairly ignoring.
Many of the teams at the top of the opportunity scores, including the Eagles, Giants, and Dolphins had been linked to early running back selections. Now that the Eagles have traded up to the No. 2 overall pick and don’t have a second round selection, it’s unlikely they’ll acquire a top-tier rookie running back. Justin Winn has identified Ryan Mathews as a dynasty trade target, and I have to agree. If he isn’t traded, Mathews should have the opportunity to at least compete for starter reps.
The Giants and Dolphins are still in play to select consensus No. 1 running back Ezekiel Elliott, and the opportunity scores see either team as a prime destination.
The Panthers and Colts have accomplished veterans currently in the backfield, but drafters aren’t very excited about their chances to dominate fantasy leagues in 2016. Both teams would be ideal landing spots for a rookie who has talent, but perhaps isn’t fully polished, to come in and get time to learn the system before being thrown into the fire.
It’s no surprise that the Steelers and Rams are at the bottom of the scores. Having a young, highly valued running back currently on the roster makes those poor destinations for rookies, although injuries could lead to a rookie breakout in the manner we saw a huge comeback season for De’Angelo Williams last year.
As you watch the draft this week, keep the opportunity scores nearby to get a quick read on how much first-year opportunity the rookie running backs will likely have based on where they land.