Slow Feet Don’t Eat
Seeing what happens if a receiver struggles to crack the positional top PPR 50 finish in their first two seasons was insightful. It is a fun study providing the odds of any receiver making the top 24 in their career when starting slow. I am linking that article below and reminding people that I did miss Adam Thielen, but the study was eye-opening. You can find it here https://www.ffballallday.com/post/struggling-wrs along with the follow-up on those who found success early here https://www.ffballallday.com/post/life-of-the-early-bloomers.
Now I was asked to do the same for running backs but without a specific target in the cutoff number. As a math teacher, I started by looking at classes going back to 2010 and seeing what happened to the careers of RBs who did not reach RB36 or better in either of their first two seasons. I looked at the players as a successful hit if they had at least one season of 170+ PPR points since that came out to be the rough average of RB24 over the past seven seasons. Consider the data in this study to see what these guys showed us.
The Class Breakdowns:
For each draft class, I went through and marked the running backs into three categories. Those in green were what I consider a success within their first two seasons. Those in yellow had at least a season somewhere between RB25 and RB36 within their first two seasons (Hint: a later study to come). Finally, those in blue were my primary focus for this original piece. We will make more general observations after going through the relevant classes.
With our first class, we see fourteen players of relevance since I included some undrafted running backs. They must prove relevance somewhere along the way in their careers if they went undrafted to count. That left us with the eight guys for this study. Unfortunately, all of them ended up missing the mark in their careers. James Starks did manage 166.3 points in his sixth season, however.
2011 had a larger draft class as fifteen players qualified for my initial study without including the eight others. Vereen was a near miss as he did have one close season but fell short. Everyone else ended up being a miss outside of two guys. Let’s look more into each.
1st season: 15 games, 13.9 points, 53rd finish
2nd season: 09 games, 17.3 points, 70th finish
Seasons with a top 24 finish: once in 2017 (7th season) as RB12 under the Patriots. By week 5, the team saw his skills as a better versatile weapon than the other running backs.
1st season: 00 games, 0.00 points, No finish
2nd season: 16 games, 2.1 points, 100+ finish
Seasons with a top 24 finish: once in 2014 (4th season) as RB14 with the Vikings. Someone stepped up with Peterson out.
Seventeen more players qualified from the 2012 class. Hillman came close in his fourth season, but this class was mostly failures based on the study. There was a single hit with Lamar Miller.
1st season: 13 games, 38.5 points, 57th RB finish
2nd season: 16 games, 110.9 points, 37th RB finish
Seasons with a top 24 finish: Went on to five straight successful seasons as RB9, RB4, RB19, RB16, and RB23.
The first two seasons were with the Dolphins and then with the Texans for the next three. He started behind Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas before splitting carries with Thomas in his second season. The talent showed his potential as Year 3 ended up being the turning point when his original coach drafting him wanted to utilize him more. After back-to-back successful seasons, he signed a contract with the Texans and produced before tearing his ACL in the 2019 preseason.
This class added nineteen more players to this study while the other five men started their careers quickly. Only Latavius Murray and Spencer Ware met the threshold of success.
1st season: 0 games, 0 points, no RB finish (IR)
2nd season: 15 games, 84.7 points, 50th RB finish
Seasons with a top 24 finish: Performed two straight in 3rd and 4th seasons as RB11 and RB13. He then signed with new teams where he has managed to have four straight seasons of some level of RB3 production afterward (he did have an RB37 season once).
1st season: 2 games, 1 point, 101st RB finish
2nd season: he did not play any games.
Seasons with a top 24 finish: Once (4th season) as RB18 with the Chiefs and Andy Reid using a split RB tandem after losing Jamaal Charles. After that season, he tore up his knee in the following season and has not returned to relevance since then.
2014 gave me fourteen more guys to study. Of this group, four actually passed.
1st season: 14 games, 73.1 point, 60th RB finish
2nd season: 7 games, 80.3 points, 60th RB finish
Seasons with a top 24 finish: Succeeded in 3rd and 4th seasons as RB20 and RB8. The jump in points to pass his total in half the games proved he was one to watch since his season was cut short from a foot fracture. He went off during his third and fourth different coaches as well. He has not been able to reach it again as he has jumped to three teams.
1st season: 14 games, 112.7 point, 40th RB finish
2nd season: 8 games, 25 points, 104th RB finish
Seasons with a top 24 finish: Once in 3rd season as RB23. He played one more season before his career was over.
1st season: 11 games, 94.3 point, 47th RB finish
2nd season: 16 games, 83.4 points, 57th RB finish
Seasons with a top 24 finish: Once in 4th season as RB17. Injuries have held him back since then before finally playing again some this season.
1st season: 3 games, 11.1 point, 111th RB finish
2nd season: 14 games, 122.6 points, 37th RB finish
Seasons with a top 24 finish: Twice as RB6 and RB18 in 5th and 6th seasons.
All ten were misses before this season until Mike Davis became a hit because a prime leading role with McCaffrey hurt most of the season.
All twenty-nine running backs from the 2016 and 2017 classes who failed to reach the mark have gone on to be successes. Do not expect much change.
For the 2018 class, Chase Edmonds may be the only candidate to break into a top 24 season if he has a big week 17 for his third season. Some names to monitor for this class are Penny, Kerryon, and Ballage. Each showed flashes, but the odds are lowering every moment they delay. As for the 2019 group, Henderson, Pollard, and Gaskin may have a chance to break into the top 36 with these last two games. Damien Harris and Snell are two potential names to watch as either can be a hit if either team commits to them moving forward. Lean towards Harris based on circumstances.
Studying the RBs who failed to be a top 36 back in either of their first two seasons gave some interesting notes. Currently, if Edmonds makes it, there will have been 11 successful players of the 130 plus relevant case study subjects. That is not including others who went undrafted and did not have any meaningful career to my knowledge. That gives about nine percent odds for the study though it can be lower if I pull up the other names.
The distribution by draft capital were as follows: zero 1sts, one 2nd, one 3rd, five 4ths, one 5th, two 6ths, zero 7ths, and one UDFA. That makes sense with the early rounds being priority picks. Coaches force them the football quickly to determine if they will be successful. It is not often to see a guy with high draft capital getting a chance to prove anything by year 3. That leaves the late-round players to duke it out and prove they can overcome the odds with team depth charts.
Unfortunately, the production we see from these players also seems short-lived. Seven of the eleven players only produce a significant season once in their career so far. Of the remaining four, each saw the successful seasons back to back. Only Miller has gone on to have more than two seasons. Additionally, team context matters too. Lewis, Asiata, Ware, and Davis produced these seasons when the other options on their team were hurt or suspended. Each of those teams went back to other options afterward. Edmonds, McKinnon, and West were backups in high-scoring offenses where the original starter got hurt for some time. The injury forced them into a larger seasonal role as part of a tandem. Only Murray, Hyde, and Miller were the lead person to lead the backfield for multiple seasons. And then James White is a different case of Brady needing another target outside of Edelman and Gronk. If you tried selling high on any of these guys, you probably only regretted Lamar Miller and Carlos Hyde. And based on the return, it may have worked in your favor still. The short shelf life and later career production proved to be a significant factor.
This study has helped prove that RBs need to find the relevance on the field quickly if they want to be useful long term fantasy assets. Guys that hold these types of players in favor of trading them away are gambling on beating the odds. Or they have them as insurance to lead players in the backfields. Pay attention to the differences of teams bringing in competition or a back who dealt with some injury concerns in the first two seasons. Stay tuned for my follow-up study on the players who landed between immediate success and early failure. As always, check out the other articles and works produced by myself and the others at Fantasy Scouts. I appreciate you reading this far. I will do any study you may be interested in for fantasy football by letting me or my team know on Twitter or our website.