One Trick to Finding RB1s in the NFL Draft

With the NFL regular season over, and all but the National Championship completed in college football, it is time to start diving into the 2018 NFL Draft. The draft is easily my favorite event of the year — not even the Super Bowl surpasses it. With the turn of the New Year, now is the time to look through the college landscape and find tomorrow’s stars. I’m going to show you one easy trick to finding RB1s in the NFL Draft, and then identify some candidates from the 2018 NFL Draft that fit the billing.

What if I told you this trick is a simple filter that you can put college running backs through that has historically produced an RB1 40 percent of the time? That’s something you would probably be interested in, right? I’m going to talk about that, along with some additional filters to improve our odds of success even more.

It’s All About Efficiency

The filter that I’m talking about is efficiency. RBs who were efficient in college have a great chance to succeed in the pros. However, they need to be able to maintain that efficiency over a large workload. The RBs I searched for all have at least one collegiate season with:

  • At least 200 rush attempts
  • A YPC of at least 6.0
  • At least 15 receptions
  • a YPR of at least 10

In all, there were 31 different RBs to accomplish this feat since 2000, roughtly two per season. This does not include any RBs who are draft eligible this year or later down the road.1

The Results

Hit Percent40.6%28.1%43.8%43.8%

The results are strong, with a shade over 40 percent of the total sample having at least one RB1 season during their careers. The hit rates are also given for the RB2 threshold, and for RB1 and RB2 from a PPG standpoint. It is pretty clear that targeting efficient RBs is a simple cheat code for finding successful players.

Additional Filters

While there is already a measured level of success in drafting high-efficiency RBs, we can increase our odds by using some additional filters. For starters, we already know that a Combine invite is a big deal for potential RB prospects, and such is the case in our sample as well.

Hit Percent52.0%36.0%56.0%56.0%

There were 25 players in our sample who were invited to the NFL Combine. Being invited to the Combine AND being highly efficient greatly increased the odds of success. High-efficiency RBs who were invited to the Combine have become RB2’s 56 percent of the time, and RB1’s 52 percent of the time (36 percent in PPG). The odds continue to improve if we only look at prospects from major schools.

Hit Percent58.8%35.3%64.7%64.7%

The above table looks only at RB prospects from the Power Five. All of these players, 17 in total, were invited to the Combine. Again, the hit rates go up, though not as significantly as before.

Versus Draft Position

One thing worth noting is that the market has been very efficient with regards to high-efficiency RBs. Of our original sample of 31 RBs, 20 went in the first four rounds (65 percent). Only two players were taken in rounds five, six, and seven, while nine such RBs went undrafted. None of those 11 players produced hits at any level.2 However, our high-efficiency RBs in rounds one through four out-produced the field.

ThresholdField Hit PercentHE Hit Percent
RB1 PPR25%65%
RB1 PPG25%45%
RB2 PPR40%70%
RB2 PPG38%70%

Here is the difference in hit rate by round.3


We can easily see that as a group, the highly efficient RBs blow away the total field of RBs drafted in rounds one to four. They do take a small loss in the second round, but that might be attributable to noise from small sample size. There’s no real reason a second-round back should fare worse than a first or third round back. Instead, the more global trend of looking at RBs from the first four rounds gives a larger sample to work with and paints a rosy picture.

2018 Draft Candidates

Let’s take a look at some high-efficiency candidates for the 2018 draft.

Royce Freeman, Oregon

Freeman had a prolific career for the Ducks, with over 6,400 scrimmage yard in his four seasons. He also displayed the ability to be a workhorse, with at least 244 carries in three of his four years played at Oregon. For his career, he averaged 5.9 YPC and 10.3 YPR, so he the epitome of the kind of player this piece is seeking out. He made the list in 2015, and was just one reception away from making his second appearance this season. Had he played in Oregon’s bowl game, he would have certainly been a repeat performer.

Nick Chubb, Georgia

Chubb made this list way back in 2014 as a true freshman. Unfortunately, he suffered a gruesome knee injury as a sophomore that drastically altered his career arc. Kyle Pollack does a nice job of breaking down the rest of his career, which was spent splitting work with the talented Sony Michel. Now two years removed from the injury, Chubb averaged 6.4 YPC in his final season, and has averaged 14.6 YPR on eight post-injury receptions. It is possible that he still fits this profile.

Myles Gaskin, Washington

Gaskin is only a junior, and not guaranteed to declare for the upcoming draft. However, after three very productive seasons for the Huskies, I hope that he does. Gaskin’s most efficient season was his last, but he has been very consistent as the lead back for Washington. He has at least 222 carries in each season, and has averaged at least 5.7 YPC in all of them. He is one of my favorite draft sleepers.

Dalyn Dawkins, Colorado State

If there is a player on this list that I don’t expect to make it at the next level, it is Dawkins. He split time in the backfield each of his first three seasons before becoming the lead runner in 2017. He is also very old (already 23), and played against small-time competition. I am curious to see if he receives a Combine invite. That would certainly give me some more hope.

  1. Watch out for Devin Singletary!  (back)
  2. This indicates that the undrafted group probably had something else wrong with them that forced them out of the draft.  (back)
  3. Note that a positive number indicates an improvement by narrowing the field down to high-efficiency RBs, and a negative number indicates a decline.  (back)

Anthony Amico

Anthony is a football coach who possesses two different mathematics degrees. He uses his combined knowledge in those two fields to attack the fantasy landscape across a variety of formats, including daily fantasy, dynasty, and 2QB. He lives to be contrarian. In addition to RotoViz, Anthony is currently a contributor for Fantasy Insiders, TwoQBs, and numberFire.
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