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2019 Rookies and Redraft Leagues: 2 Targets and 5 Fades at RB

In part 1 of this series, we concluded that rookies drafted outside of Round 3 of the NFL draft have very low odds of being “usable” in redraft leagues. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they should be avoided on draft day. As a reminder, a usable player is one who scored 160 or more PPR points over the course of their rookie season.

Even those drafted in the high-leverage rounds have trouble surpassing this threshold. Between 2008 and 2018, 302 players at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions were drafted prior to pick 97 of the NFL Draft. Of these 302 players, only 71 mustered 160 points.

But how can this be? In 2018, Phillip Lindsay, an undrafted free agent, amassed more than 220 PPR points in 15 games. And Brian Malone illustrated that rookie running backs are especially valuable in the fantasy playoffs. Not to mention, Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb, and even Nyheim Hines led successful rookie campaigns.1 In 2017, Alvin Kamara exploded for 315 points and Kareem Hunt flashed for 297. Surely we should be going after these players?

Remember, in this series we’re focused on the drafting of rookies. The position-wide data that we’ve overviewed so far paints a bleak picture of the typical rookie’s season-long fantasy prospects. That’s not to say that rookies should be avoided after the season has started and there’s better information to inform decisions. Per the introductory article of this series:

This season, I’ll maintain a list of rookies to keep my eye on but forego drafting. Rather than let them clog a roster spot for eight or more weeks, I’ll add them for a week or two after the team that drafts them drops them. Maybe lightning will strike. However, the odds are it won’t.

The Usability of Rookie RBs

Draft Picks Total Players Above 160 Threshold %
1 – 32 23 10 43%
33 – 64 26 7 27%
65 – 96 25 5 20%
97 – 128 28 2 7%
129 -161 37 2 5%
162 – 193 28 2 7%
194 + 177 1 1%
Total 344 29 8%

For context, an average of 25 RBs finish with 160 or more PPR points in a given season. Perhaps this makes the results of Round 1 RBs fairly encouraging as these players often come at a lower cost than veterans. Still, less than a third of backs drafted before pick 97 of the NFL Draft accumulate more than 160 points in their rookie seasons.

But there’s an important distinction to make here. While the odds of a rookie RB becoming a “hit” in a season-long context are modest at best, when rookie RBs do hit, they have the potential to be extremely valuable players. All it takes is a veteran going down and the rookie getting a shot to carry the backfield. Blair Andrews has made a number of compelling arguments supporting the usefulness of Rookie RBs.

Let’s increase our threshold to 240 points which equates to 15 points per game (PPG) for players that see action in 16 games.

Draft Picks Total Players Above 240 Threshold %
1 – 32 23 5 22%
33 – 64 26 2 8%
65 – 96 25 3 12%
97 – 128 28 0 0%
129 -161 37 0 0%
162 – 193 28 1 4%
194 + 177 0 0%
Total 344 11 3%

This change drives a percentage decrease of 60% and an overall decrease of 17% for the hit rates of Round 1 backs. Further, it yields a shocking result — only 11 rookie RBs have scored more than 240 points in the last 10 years. There might be an abundance of potential for these players but rarely does the potential transfer into actual production.

For some redraft teams, full-season production isn’t needed. They’re so stacked that frequently turning over their bench in the hopes of finding future starters isn’t a priority. These teams may be interested in players that “boom” late and drive their PPG average above 15. Still, just 18 rookie RBs scored 15 or more PPG in the last ten years. With 30% of Round 1, 15% of Round 2, and 12% of Round 3 backs doing so. Four of these players were drafted after pick 129, making them hard to identify as boom candidates prior to the start of the season.

Forty-eight rookie RBs amassed 10 or more PPG in this time frame. With 52% of Round 1, 42% of Round 2, and 32% of Round 3 backs doing so. Admittedly, these percentages are much stronger than the ones arrived at when using a total point threshold. Still, they shouldn’t alter our view of drafting rookie RBs too significantly.

2019 Implications

Redraft owners should only give significant consideration to Rookie RBs drafted in the first 96 or so picks of the NFL Draft. If they own an abundance of teams they could make a case for straying from this rule on one or two teams, understanding that the probabilities are not in their favor. Twenty-four RBs were selected in the 2019 NFL Draft, with seven being selected in the first three rounds.

  • Josh Jacobs, the only RB taken in Round 1, is currently being drafted as the RB20 at pick 37. Given this draft spot, targeting a player with a one in five chance of scoring 240 or more points may make sense. Of course, in three out of five seasons, a back drafted in Round 1 of the NFL Draft will fail to reach 160 points as a rookie. However, given that approximately 25 RBs will score more than 160 points in 2019, Jacobs sits on the fringe of players expected to achieve this feat. As a result, one can argue that he doesn’t need to be avoided.
  • David Montgomery is being selected as the 26th RB with an ADP of 54. Montgomery was selected by the Bears in Round 3 with pick 73. It’s already clear that he’ll be ceding some control of Chicago’s ground game to Tarik Cohen and will need to beat out Mike Davis to control the rest of the team’s backfield opportunity. This makes him a risky target. Coincidentally, Cohen is being drafted four picks earlier and a strong argument can be made that he is more deserving of the Round 5 price tag.
  • Darrell Henderson’s ADP has steadily increased since April. He’s now being drafted as the RB30 at pick 64. Ben Battle explained why Todd Gurley is a bad Round 3 pick. There are a number of valid reasons to be concerned about his health and many avenues to which Henderson could see playing time in 2019. Some of which, don’t assume that Gurley misses time. Given C.J. Anderson’s late-season success in 2018, and how solid of a prospect Henderson is — don’t forget, he won our Rookie RB tournament — he represents the highest upside of any 2019 RB. Henderson was selected by the Rams with pick 70.
  • Despite being the second RB selected in the Draft and the only in Round 2, Miles Sanders is being drafted as the RB31 with an ADP of 65. Despite Sanders’ solid athletic profile and encouraging junior season production, drafters are likely concerned with the presence of Jordan Howard. The Eagles backfield boasts a number of other backs that have seen some success, even if limited, such as Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, Josh Adams, and Donnell Pumphrey. As a result, it may take the first quarter of the season for Sanders to assert himself as the majority owner of Philadelphia’s backfield. Sanders is a player to keep your eye on during waivers but not one to target during drafts.
  • The Patriots selected Damien Harris with pick 87. He’ll start the season behind 2018 Round 1 selection Sony Michel while competing with James White and Rex Burkhead. If concerns surrounding Michel’s knee continue to surface, Harris may creep into the top-100 of ADP. Currently, he’s being drafted in Round 11 at pick 128. As is always the case with New England RBs, predicting his usability from week to week will be difficult. Of course, it’s hard to argue that Harris won’t enjoy ample upside if the team’s backfield situation changes and he’s is forced into a significant workload. Unless Michel misses significant time, it’s unlikely that Harris gets to 160 points. The Patriots have had just one season since 2011 in which multiple backs surpassed this threshold. James White has averaged 191 points over the last three seasons.
  • Alexander Mattison was selected by the Vikings with a compensatory Round 3 pick at 102. His ADP has experienced the most dramatic incline since April. Ideally, Mattison will play the role of Minnesota’s grinder behind Dalvin Cook. In addition to Ameer Abdullah, the Vikings roster two satellite backs in Roc Thomas and Mike Boone. Mattison could carve out a role and with a Round 14 ADP comes at a much cheaper price than the likes of Harris. Still, even with a Dalvin Cook injury, he may not qualify for weekly usability.
  • Devin Singletary was a prolific NCAA rusher but has low odds of NFL success. With a small stature and speed score of 83, the odds were highly against him even before being draft by Buffalo. He may have been selected inside the first 96 picks but should go undrafted as a rookie in redraft leagues despite his ADP of 169.
Image Credit: George Walker/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Darrell Henderson.

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  1. Barkley totaled 384 PPR points, Chubb 194, and Hines 161.  (back)

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