• Andrew Woodruff

Does High School Weight Impact Devy RBs?

Twitter: @_DEVYScout

From this simple question, I wondered if it mattered what running backs from high school looked like as they began their college journey with a handful from there making it to the NFL? This question encouraged my first study in the devy world that I am taking a chance to explore. For those new to devy football, that is a type of dynasty league where you can house college players on your rosters until they enter the NFL or graduate without going pro. It adds a lot more fun and trading to the dynasty landscape strategies.

To start, I went through draft classes from 2014 through this 2021 class to look at the relevant running backs we have seen come into the league from college. This period relates to recruiting classes from 2011 through 2017. I ended up with a list of 50 backs I feel like offered a varied skill set to the NFL and known relevance in fantasy. I checked through each class for players with a mix of decent draft capital or relevance in the NFL. I am aware I ended up leaving off a few here and there that made it into the NFL; however, I think these fifty players were relevant enough to see trends.

The first column helps identify which players ranked at the top of their position leaving high school. Their weights from the recruiting websites of Rivals and 247 are after the draft class, name, and college columns. I highlighted the numbers from Rivals and 247 that were close to their starting college weight as listed on college pages (these are not always accurate but give a starting point). The next column was their average weight between the two to help see how close or far they were from freshman year. The weights inside the black border are the listed weights I found during their time each year in college. The last shown column was their weight when they entered the NFL (I highlighted those above 210 pounds). Let us start breaking down and discuss what I noticed. Starting with the whole group, remember I only have 50 truly relevant players and 210 players in those recruit classes from 2011 to 2017. That is 50 of 210 to give us approximately a 23.8% hit rate. Remember that number may be slightly different depending on how you weigh relevant players and those outside the top 30 RBs of each recruiting class becoming pros.

I want to use how many backs were among the top of each recruiting class for our study. When we look at the top 30 running backs each year, that gives 210 total prospects over the seven recruiting classes. I also analyze the top 15 of each recruiting group which means 105 players in that part too. I broke it down for us in the following table:

First, we discuss our running backs below 180 pounds when they finished high school. These backs are the shortest list of three guys of NFL relevance of Aaron Jones, Darrell Henderson, and Ameer Abdullah. These guys were unknowns in devy football until late in college and into the NFL. None of them were in the top thirty running backs for each of their recruiting classes. By the time they got to the NFL, they had gained 33 or 26 pounds respectively. For reference, these were three of the top five weight changes throughout college. Their average change in weight per college year was 8.67 pounds; that was almost 3 pounds more than the closest average gain from any other group. Unfortunately, that did not help as none of the three got to be more than 208 pounds at the weigh-in of the draft process. Henderson was also the only one who did stay in college for three years as the other two used the extra year. Aaron Jones is the one that has gone on to NFL success which is a testament to his talent and situation. Over the recruiting classes, there were 19 players this small after high school among the top 30 of each group. None of these NFL talents was among them, so I recommend not touching these guys in devy formats until we see them get a shot at relevance in the NFL.

Next, we have the guys in the 180 to 189 weight class finishing high school. They also happen to be a small group with Duke Johnson, Justice Hill, Ronald Jones II, Kenneth Gainwell, and Nyheim Hines. Each of these players outside of the rookie has shown flashes of talent for NFL fantasy rosters. These guys showed flashes quickly in college as all besides Nyheim Hines at a small school went to the NFL after three years. These guys showed various weight changes of 27, 18, 20, 16, and 11 pounds total gained ( average of 9, 6, 6.67, 5.33, and 2.75 per their college years) respectively to the order I listed them earlier. Even with this ability to add weight on a group average of 5.95 per year, that would leave the highest weight range of 189 to gain 6 pounds per year. That is a max of 213 pounds if they could be consistent over four years before declaring for the draft.

Unfortunately, none of these five guys could even reach the 210 marks as rookies, but 2 of them did end up at least above 205. It also coincides with them being part of the three who were also in their top thirty running backs of their recruiting classes. Ronald Jones and Duke Johnson made big jumps in weight going into year 2 to propel them towards NFL opportunity. On the opposite end, Justice Hill went from being above 180 pounds to 171 as a college freshman; that is a red flag that he is probably not having major NFL stardom. Looking at the odds of picking the right guy in this weight range in devy, 3 of 5 from this group were top thirty prospects giving only an 8.6% success rate (3 of 35) from 2011 to 2017. I took it a step further to see how it looked with the top 15; it did improve the hits to 23.1% (3 of 13). There are better ways to spend devy picks than guys this small as they enter college. Consider them in their second years if you see some early talent and large weight jumps.

My middle group was the RBs who were in the 190s weight range as high school seniors. The following thirteen guys were in this weight range as increasing weight: Bishop Sankey, Dalvin Cook, Michael Carter, Christian McCaffrey, Kenyan Drake, Antonio Gibson, Javonte Williams, Travis Etienne, Alvin Kamara, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Devonte Freeman, and JK Dobbins. Look at a few facts for this group:

All RBs were able to get over the 200-pound mark as NFL rookies

  • 10/13 RBs were able to get over the 205-pound mark as rookies

  • 6/13 RBs met the 210-pound mark as NFL rookies

  • 8/13 RBs stayed in college for only three years; the other five stayed for four years

  • 9/13 RBs were in the top 30 of recruiting classes (misses White, Javonte, Gibson, & Carter)

  • Their average weight change per college year spent was 4.41 pounds.

This group showed a wide range of weight changes to the NFL. Especially where we saw the ones who pushed themselves above 210 pounds being Etienne, Javonte, Gibson, Kamara, Cook, and Drake. Focusing on those players making weight jumps, Javonte, Gibson, and CEH made impressive growth in their first year of college. Etienne and Kamara made their improvements from the second to third year of college. Dobbins and Cook "made" massive growth when entering college as freshmen when they were at 217 and 213 pounds; Cook was close for his rookie weight, but Dobbins was down to 209 pounds. When looking at all this in terms of the devy freshman darling, we see 9 top 30 recruits is out of 53 total from this weight range giving a 17% hit rate. I took it a step further for the top 15 of each recruiting class showed a 6 of 33 possibilities or 18.2% hit rate. Combine that idea with focusing on guys going to the best Power 5 universities further helps our chances of isolating our guys to target.

As we near the end, we turn to the backs who are so close to hitting that magic mark of 210 pounds as NFL players but fall a little short between 200 to 209 pounds. Eight of them stay three years, six of them remain four years, and one fifth-year starter. Our group is as follows below:

Kerryon Johnson, Rashaad Penny, Miles Sanders, Josh Jacobs, Kareem Hunt, CJ Prosise, Damien Harris, TJ Yeldon, David Johnson, Sony Michel, Melvin Gordon, Joe Mixon, D’Andre Swift, and Todd Gurley

Fourteen of the fifteen players in this range ended up reaching that magic weight mark as pro athletes. A great thing this group showed with weight also happened to be that no one in this group lost weight from beginning college to entering the draft. The obvious thing is these players work in major weight programs as they develop, but it is good to reiterate knowing they should only go up. Several guys seemed to gain a lot more weight before focusing on toning down as they got ready for the combine. The gain varied from four to twenty pounds throughout college and an average of 3.95 pounds per year. That is such a nice feeling knowing most players after three years should see close to twelve pounds of healthy weight added onto their frames as they enter the NFL. Nine of the fifteen players being top thirty positional recruits boosts the case because that would give us higher than the current 22% rate (9 of 41) in this weight category. Seven of them were guys from our list in the top fifteen of classes making a 41.2% hit rate (higher if we included #2 athlete Kerryon from high school; 7 of 17).

We finally made it to our backs over the magic weight mark of 210 pounds as high school seniors! If we have seen how this article has progressed, we should be expecting some great things for this group. Here is the following group who met this mark:

David Montgomery, Saquon Barkley, Jonathan Taylor, Zeke Elliott, Cam Akers, Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, Jeremy Hill, Trey Sermon, Leonard Fournette, Damien Harris, Devonta Freeman, Carlos Hyde, Derrick Henry

Not every back gained weight which is fine because they were hitting the magic number well before needed. Sermon and Akers are the players who stayed close to their high school size with more focus on staying strong for their size, and Hyde was already at 230 pounds. Barkley and the Penn State conditioning program added twenty-three pounds of muscle on his way to the draft; all the other players gained around six to fifteen pounds. The average factoring in the three players who did not change weight was still 2.85 pounds per year in college. Nine stayed for only three years while the other five stayed through four years. Out of the whole group, we also see twelve of them in the top thirty of their recruiting classes. That relates to twelve of sixty-two running backs which were a little lower at a 19.4% hit rate. Focusing just on the top 15 helps increase that to 27-30.3% depending on how you viewed the #1 athlete Derrick Henry enrolling early and played RB in spring practices. All these guys were part of places looking for the big men to set themselves apart quickly.


Big Picture:

Time to compare some things overall across all weight groups of running backs. Starting with comparing the groups based on if they were in the top thirty of their class, thirty-three of the fifty were ranked high going into college. Honestly, after breaking the names apart this way, I prefer targeting the top 30 because some were on the outside: Carter, Abdullah, Prosise, Hyde, Montgomery, David Johnson, Coleman, Jacobs, Penny, Hunt, White, Javonte, Gibson, Gainwell, Justice Hill, Henderson, and Jones. Few names stand out because they get through devy until late into college or when they declare. I recommend not searching for the outlier unless the talent and other metrics support a late devy selection.

Next, I focused on how many years these players were in college because we can not benefit until they get to NFL rosters with Devy football. We want to see successful guys play three years and move up; of this study, twenty-three of the thirty who only stayed three years were in the top 30. We still have an opportunity because those players longer in college were ranked that highly fifty percent of the time. Finally, when it came to the big picture of weight change, the average we saw most players change was a little over four pounds each college season. If we avoid that bottom tier of guys below 180 pounds since their odds are so low, it does lower the weight change to around 3.75 pounds each year. I appreciate anyone taking the time to see what I found out here. It is time for my final thoughts from this study:

  1. It is better to target large universities over the smaller schools in the FBS.

  2. We see better hit rates for the backs already above 200 pounds leaving high school.

  3. Focusing on the top 30 and top 15 for those bigger weight groups further helps the odds in devy football. Do not try to get too clever.

  4. Assuming we choose good prospects staying only three years, the average increase gives most players around 11 pounds to put on before college. That helps push for those in the upper part of our middle category if they are good enough to see early playing time going into college.