By Matthew Walters
That rookie running back that was just drafted with the 5th overall pick in the dynasty rookie draft is going to set your team over the edge this year! This is what many fantasy players tell themselves every year. It may be true, however does the data back it up?
The data used in this article is pulled from myfantasyleague.com ADP analysis from 2013-2019 for startup running backs ADP 1-12 (RB1), 13-24 (RB2), 25-36 (RB3) to determine the percentage chance that a running back drafted in the top 36 of their position will finish the year as a top 24 RB in half point PPR scoring for any of the 3 seasons following their startup drafts. The data uses fantasyfootballcalcuator.com for rookie draft ADPs to determine if a first or second round running back in a dynasty rookie draft will finish any of their first 3 years as a top 24 running back. It is also broken down further to include rookie running backs drafted within the first 6 picks of a dynasty rookie draft will finish as a top 24 back in any of the first 3 years. A running back that finishes as a RB3 on the year was not considered a bust but was not considered a big contributor to fantasy teams either. A bust was considered a running back not finishing as a top 36 running back on the season. For dynasty purposes, it is common to look at a 3 year window as a fantasy owners championship window. The end goal of any fantasy league is to bring home a fantasy championship, and it is hard to imagine a scenario in which a running back finishing outside of the top 36 of their position would consistently help a fantasy player win a championship in their league.
Looking at the data, a 1st round dynasty rookie draft running back only has roughly a 31 percent chance at being in the top 24 running backs during their rookie season with a 51 percent bust rate for that first year. If the running back falls into the top 6 picks of a rookie draft, however, the chance of finishing in the top 24 jumps up to a 40 percent chance with a 40 percent bust rate. “Well nah crap,” you are probably telling yourself. The higher the rookie draft pick, obviously the higher the chance of them being a top 24 back. This is true, but saying this would be missing the point. Even these top rookie running backs only have a 40 percent chance of helping you consistently through their first year and have an equal chance to be a bust in that first year. However, the chance goes to a 48 percent chance to be a top 24 back with a 38 percent bust rate in their second year, and by year 3, a staggering 69 percent of those top rookie running backs will be a top 24 back with only a 25 percent bust rate.
So, what does that mean for the rookie running back? It means don’t panic if they did not work out year one or even year two. It also means a dynasty player should be trying to acquire any of these top 6 ADP rookies that didn’t quite work out in their first two years. For this year, these players include David Montgomery, Derrius Guice, and Ronald Jones. There is a chance any of these 3 take the jump into being a top 24 back this year and could very well be a steal for a fantasy player if they do.
A running back drafted in the second round of rookie drafts or in the 25-36 range in startups are the worst bets you can make as a dynasty player as they both only have only at max a 30 percent chance of being a top 24 back no matter which of the three years one cares to look at as well as both having over a 50 percent bust rate every year. However, the 25-36 running back startup ADP is where the past top 6 dynasty rookie draft pick running backs that have not necessarily worked out well in their short careers are falling. Montgomery, Singletary, Guice, and Ronald Jones are all falling in this range right now. These are the backs that a dynasty player should be targeting in this range. These backs have the highest upside in this range, and the numbers show that these backs have the highest chance of helping win a championship now.
So, what is the best bet a fantasy player can make for finding a top running back? Obviously, having a startup top 12 running back is the best and safest bet as these running backs have a 73 percent chance to finish as a top 24 running back in that first year with only an 18 percent bust rate. After that first year, however, it’s a top 6 pick running back in a dynasty rookie draft entering their second or third year in the league that is the highest upside bet. Now do not hear what is not being said. It would not be smart to go sell all assets for these 2nd and 3rd year players. However, if they can be acquired for a reasonable value, then a fantasy player should absolutely do it in order to compete for a championship now.
As a fantasy player, one should be trying to trade former startup running back 1-12 who are now in the startup running back 13-24 range for these younger, higher upside backs. Good examples of running backs that meet this criteria for the 2020 season include Le’veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and Melvin Gordon. A fantasy player will most likely be able to accomplish more than just a one-for-one trade with these players meaning that extra players or draft picks can be acquired in the deal.
If a fantasy player hits on a first round rookie draft running back, that is great! However, do not get too down if the player did not quite work out how you anticipated year 1. There are many factors that go into a player not contributing right off the bat including injuries or simply taking time to become adjusted to the NFL. Do not just give away a player because they were not quite as good in their rookie seasons as you had hoped. It is important to manage expectations for rookie running backs. A running back may be able to contribute right away like Saquon Barkley or Ezekiel Elliott. However, a player may just take a little time to develop like Melvin Gordon, who burned a lot of fantasy players his rookie year. If you held on to Gordon though, you were quite happy with the stud he became.
In dynasty, a three year window is generally used for evaluating a team and winning a championship. A top 12 running back provides the highest upside and consistency, but will decline as the years go on. However, if a top 12 running back one year is once again a top 12 running back the next year, one should hold these players unless given a great trade offer. A former first round rookie draft running back such as the ones highlighted in this article are the only group of running backs that improve from year one to year 3. In the end, the best odds a fantasy can have at competing for a championship this season are to have a running back that is a startup top 24 running back or one that is going into his 2nd or 3rd year after being a top 6 dynasty rookie draft pick.
Matthew Walters – Dynasty/Injury Writer
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