One of my favorite pre-draft articles from 2018 was Anthony Amico’s introduction to running back breakout age. We know how important breakout age is for wide receiver prospects. So it makes sense that age-adjusted production would hold similar merit for RBs.
Amico defined breakout age as the age where a RB first crosses 130 adjusted all-purpose yards per game (AAPYPG). This metric is basically traditional all-purpose yards1 with an added emphasis on punt return yards. RBs that hit the desired threshold prior to turning 21 years old have secured at least one RB2 season in their first three NFL years 43.5% of the time.
So with that strong indication of future PPR production in mind, I wanted to profile a few devy prospects that hit the 130 AAPYPG mark last season prior to their 21st birthday. Two of the three names are well known around the devy community. But the third is lesser known and looks to be an intriguing buy-low.
Note: I was unable to track down ages for Pooka Williams, Ronnie Rivers, and Michael Warren II but I wanted to mention them here as prospects that hit 130 AAPYPG last season as either freshmen or sophomores.
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Taylor is a near consensus top-five devy pick and for good reason. His rushing production as a freshman and sophomore is absolutely absurd:
- One of two freshman RBs2 since 2000 with at least 1,900 yards rushing in a season.
- One of two RBs since 2000 with multiple seasons of at least 1,900 yards rushing in a season.
- The only sophomore RB since 2000 with at least 2,100 yards rushing in a season.
Perhaps even more impressive is that 2018 wasn’t Taylor’s initial breakout season. He averaged 148 AAPYG as a true freshman in 2017, reflected in his breakout age listed above. For context, just 3 of the 91 qualifying RBs in Amico’s study broke out before turning 19 years old. The biggest knock on Taylor is his lack of receiving production. And there is evidence showing that Taylor’s low reception totals could become an obstacle to him ultimately hitting his perceived ceiling. But there’s no doubt that Taylor is the one of the best RBs in the 2020 class in terms of age-adjusted rushing production.
Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
Benjamin was an absolute revelation in his first season as the Sun Devils’ starting RB. And as one of just three sophomores since 2000 to finish a season with at least 1,600 yards rushing and 35 receptions, he profiles as a highly-coveted dual-threat RB. He ranked third among all FBS RBs in missed tackles forced (69) and first among Pac-12 RBs in yards after contact (1,030) last season according to Pro Football Focus.
While some outlets have him projected as a third-round pick, I personally believe his ceiling is higher. Particularly because he’s likely to see a similar workload this season if head coach Herm Edwards’ glowing comments are any indication. As a borderline top-12 pick in devy formats you’re probably buying high at this point. But if you want a cornerstone RB to build your team around, Benjamin certainly fits the bill.
DeeJay Dallas, Miami (FL)
While the 2018 season was a disappointment for the Miami Hurricanes, Dallas was one of the best multi-purpose RBs in the entire country. His rushing and receiving lines don’t necessarily stand out on their own. But his kick return and punt return stats vaulted him to a breakout season. A four-star recruit with offers from elite programs like Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Auburn, Florida, and Florida State, Dallas has the desired pedigree. He’s also looking at a potential increase in opportunity with last season’s leading rusher Travis Homer off the roster.
Draft position will ultimately play a huge role in determining Dallas’s potential and is the biggest question mark on his profile. But if you’re hunting for a cheap RB with strong age-adjusted production, Dallas deserves to be on your radar.
Image Credit: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Jonathan Taylor.
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