The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Fantasy Football: Don’t draft a slow running back

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At RotoWire, I began what will be an ongoing analysis of which rookie traits are the best predictors of NFL success. I started with running back speed.

The 2008 NFL Scouting Combine was one for the ages, particularly for the rookie running backs. Everyone remembers Chris Johnson’s record-breaking 4.24 40-yard dash, but numerous backs were burning up the track that day in Indianapolis. All told, 13 running backs recorded sub-4.5 times, including Darren McFadden (4.33), Jamaal Charles (4.38), Rashard Mendenhall (4.41), Ray Rice (4.42), Felix Jones (4.44), Matt Forte (4.44), Steve Slaton (4.45), and Jonathan Stewart (4.46). In comparison, only four running backs checked in under 4.5 at the 2009 Combine, with the fastest time at just 4.45 (Cedric Peerman).

It’s really no surprise that the 2008 rookie running back class is one of the greatest of all-time. Of the leaders in approximate value per season (a great judge of fantasy value) since 2005, nine of the top 19 came from the 2008 class. Although no one could have completely envisioned the future success of the 2008 class, there were certainly signs that the rookie backs would tear it up in the NFL.

I collected data on every running back 40-yard dash from 2005 to 2009 (giving a few years for the running backs to develop to allow for accurate assessments of their value). It’s cliché to say, but for NFL running backs, speed kills.

The results couldn’t be more apparent; if a running back doesn’t check in somewhere in the 4.4s or lower, the odds are stacked against a productive NFL career. The average value of running backs in that range is nearly four times that of backs in the 4.50 to 4.59 range. The fact that running backs who ran over 4.60 have actually performed nearly as well as those between 4.50 and 4.59 confirms that after a certain point, it’s probably not worth investing in a rookie running back.

Check out the whole article at RotoWire.

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