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The Danger of Reaching on Good Landing Spots: RB Edition

I saw a twitter thread the other day that inspired some research.

The market reaction to this was essentially a death knell to Williams. The common wisdom basically assumed the new rookie running back would come in right away and win the job.

Yet, that is a historical rarity and an easy narrative to exploit.

History of Round 4 RBs

Round 4 running backs rarely hit early in their career.  Since 2008, 43 running backs have been drafted in round 4.  Only 1, Roy Helu, hit as a top 24 running back in his rookie season (Y1).

In total, 7 of the 43 (16%) round 4 running backs have produced a top 24 season.  In total, round 4 running backs have produced 13 top 24 seasons.  5 of the hits have been 1 season hits, Tarik Cohen, Javorius Allen, James White, Helu, and Bilal Powell.  The other two are Devonta Freeman (3 top 24 seasons) and Lamar Miller (5). In short, the hits are narrow and shallow outside of two exceptions in 11 years.

The starter games in Y1 also indicate a low ceiling.  Of the 43 running backs, 25 produce 0 top 24 games in their rookie season.

Only 2 running backs have produced more than 4 top 24 weeks in their rookie season.

If a day 3 running back lands in Kansas City narratives will likely run wild.  Kansas City is a historically good offense with a great offensive system for running backs.

However, these decisions are where cost is the most critical.  Specifically, since 2008, five day 3 running backs have been selected in round 1 of rookie drafts:

  • Roy Helu (10.9)
  • Marcus Lattimore (11.5)
  • Kenneth Dixon (8.3)
  • Devontae Booker (11.9)
  • Samaje Perine (10.6)

This is a who’s who of situational landing spot players after Helu, Dixon, Booker, and Perine all landed on depth charts with projected early opportunities.  Lattimore would have been a higher draft pick, but injuries caused him to fall into round 4.

Takeaway

Much of the debate in dynasty circles will center on the landing spot of rookies over the next 2 months.  This is fun speculation but is a value trap.  In a down class, this can be a particularly dangerous trap.  Keep in mind the average NFL draft pick for rookie draft ranges and avoid reaching on a situation in rookie drafts.  When these situations arise, exploit the narrative by trading down and accumulating a future rookie pick.

The flip side is also true: when players fall in rookie drafts because of a “blocked” landing spot, remember Nick Chubb and Kerryon Johnson looked blocked in 2018, while Ronald Jones was pegged as a week 1 starter.  That did not remain the case for long.

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