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Putting 2019 in Context: It Was a Really Weird Year for Late-Round Running Backs and Wide Receivers

In the first two parts of this series, we looked at running backs and wide receivers picked in Rounds 3-6 of best ball drafts in 2019 and talked about what your strategy should be in those rounds in 2020. Today, we’re going to do the same thing for RBs and WRs drafted in Round 10 or later.

How did late-round RBs do in 2019?

Not good.

Kind of.

RBs drafted in Round 10 or later this year had an average win rate of 7.2%, whereas the 2015-18 average was 7.8%. Scoring was down 20.0%.

However, the 2019 median (7.4%) was actually higher than the 2015-18 median (7.2%). Best ball win rates usually have a positive skew, which means the average is normally higher than the median because of a few guys who post extraordinarily high win rates. Those guys are your difference-makers; James Conner and Alvin Kamara are two recent examples. The histogram below shows the frequency of different win rate groups from 2015-18.

You can see from the graph that most of the players fall below the average win rate of 7.8%, but the players on the far right of the graph are the real league-winners. In 2019, we simply didn’t have any of those. You can see on the 2019 histogram below that the distribution is fairly normal. The median is similar to what we saw in 2015-18, but we didn’t have those guys at the top bringing the average up.

Chase Edmonds led all late-round RBs with an 11.2% win rate. Before this season, 2016 had the lowest win rate leader of any season in our sample at 14.6%. From 2015-18, an average of four late-round RBs per year posted a win rate better than Edmonds’ 11.2%.

 
Year Leader Win Rate
2015 Danny Woodhead 17.0%
2016 Jordan Howard 14.6%
2017 Alvin Kamara 20.8%
2018 James Conner 21.8%
2019 Chase Edmonds 11.2%

What happened?

For the most part, the decrease in win rate is due to a sudden decline in volume. From 2015-18, average expected points (EP) for these RBs was pretty steady, falling between 70.7 and 75.5 every year. In 2019, it plummeted to 59.1. Late-round RBs were also slightly less efficient and played slightly fewer games than usual, but the drop in volume is the main reason for their lack of success.

 
Year Expected Points Points per Expected Point Games ADP
2015 70.9 0.99 9.2 179.1
2016 70.7 1.00 9.4 184.5
2017 75.5 0.94 9.6 182.4
2018 73.2 0.99 8.7 181.8
2019 59.1 0.97 8.8 171.5
All 69.9 0.98 9.2 179.9

The success of RBs with earlier ADPs also comes into play here, which we talked about in Part 1 of this series. Basically, RBs drafted in Rounds 3-6 suddenly got more volume and played more games this year, but that will not happen again next year in all likelihood (as discussed in Part 1). Since 2015, some of the best late-round RBs have started the year as a real-life backup and been thrust into the spotlight midseason, whether it be due to an injury or simply outplaying the starter. Because a lot of the early-round RBs stayed healthy and played well this year, fewer late-round RBs had the opportunity to break out. And those who did – think Wayne Gallman, Ty Johnson, LeSean McCoy, etc. – either got injured or struggled to separate from the other backup RBs on their teams. The only three late-round RBs to post a double-digit win rate this year – Edmonds, Jamaal Williams, and Tony Pollard – all remained second-stringers on their own teams throughout the season.

Rushing EP (ruEP) in this group was down 15.0%, while receiving EP (reEP) dropped by 20.0%. However, there is no trend to indicate that these RBs are becoming less involved in the passing game; in fact, 2017 and 2018 had the two highest ratios of reEP-to-ruEP. It seems like the disproportionate drop in receiving volume is mostly caused by variance.

How did late-round WRs do in 2019?

Late-round WRs were pretty much the opposite of late-round RBs. The median win rate was up by the thinnest of margins – less than 0.1% – but the average win rate was up 0.4%. Unlike RB, WR did have those top-end guys pulling up the average, as shown in the histogram below.

In the last five years, only 2015 Doug Baldwin (20.6%) has finished with a higher win rate among late-round WRs than what D.J. Chark (18.2%) and Terry McLaurin (17.3%) had this season. DeVante Parker (14.7%) is also inside the top 10. In total, there were 16 WRs with a double-digit win rate in 2019, whereas there was an average of 13.3 in the other four years. You can see in the 2015-18 histogram below how rare it is for late-round WRs to have seasons like Chark or McLaurin had in 2019.

What happened?

Curiously, double-digit-round WRs in 2019 had the lowest average EP of any year in our five-year sample. They averaged the second-fewest PPR points. Despite that, they had a solid median win rate and the highest average win rate (by 0.2%!). This is likely because a) as we discussed, it was a horrible year for late-round RBs, so you didn’t miss out on much by drafting a WR, and b) WR scoring was down league-wide, so late-round WRs were fine relative to other WRs this year.

 
Year Expected Points Points per Expected Point Games ADP
2015 80.8 1.02 10.1 185.1
2016 85.7 1.05 10.4 184.2
2017 86.7 1.00 10.7 184.8
2018 83.9 1.05 10.5 191.9
2019 79.0 1.05 10.2 191.1
All 83.2 1.03 10.4 187.4

If you only look at the averages, it wasn’t that interesting of a year for these wideouts. It just so happened that there were more high-end outcomes. The histograms above suggest that this year is an anomaly, and it’s reasonable to expect the distribution of win rates to return to normal next year.

A Quick Note on Rookie WRs

From 2015-18, there were six rookie WRs to post a double-digit win rate.

There were six in 2019 alone. This explains a lot of why late-round WRs had such a high average win rate.

As Blair Andrews showed in The Wrong Read No. 42, (most) rookie WRs are typically a poor investment in redraft leagues, so it’s unlikely that happens again next year.

What to Expect in 2020

Late-round RBs and WRs both had a better-than-usual median win rate this year — RBs’ median win rate was 0.2% higher than normal, whereas WRs were less than 0.1% better — but WRs had their best average win rate in the last five years, while RBs were firmly below-average in that category. Basically, we just didn’t have any league-winning RBs — like Conner or Kamara in previous years — but we did have more high-end WR outcomes than usual. Late-round RBs in 2019 got less volume than in years past, but you can likely expect that to return to normal next year, since there’s no reason to think that is a new trend league-wide. When you compare this year to 2015-18, it becomes clear that we should not expect this unusual distribution of win rates to repeat itself in 2020. Don’t overreact to the underwhelming performance of double-digit-round RBs this year.

In Part 4 of this series, we’ll take all of the information we’ve gone over in the first three parts and examine how you should use it to attack best ball drafts this offseason.

Image Credit: David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: D.J. Chark.

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