100 Fantasy Football Tips in 100 Days, Day 32: Why you should gamble on rookie running backs
It isn’t as if all rookie running backs provide value. Actually, the majority of rookie runners finish lower than their preseason average draft position. I tracked all rookie running backs drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft since 2006, and only 36.6 percent finished their rookie seasons in a spot ahead of their average draft position. That is, almost two-thirds of all rookie running backs perform below expectations.
Further, the average fantasy draft position of rookie running backs selected in Rounds 1, 2, and 3 of the NFL Draft has been 41.7 among all players at the position. Their average final rank among running backs has been just 50.2.
So why the hell would I suggest drafting them? The reason is that, with the exception of a few Trent Richardson-type players, rookie running backs rarely get selected in the first few rounds. Since 2006, the average draft position of the top rookie running back off of the board has been just 19th. Only Ryan Mathews in 2010 and Richardson in 2012 cracked the top 10. Darren McFadden (18th) and Reggie Bush (14th) were the only other running backs to get selected in the top 20 of all running backs in their rookie seasons.
In the middle and especially late rounds of drafts, your goal should be acquiring upside. It can be a deathblow to your fantasy team if your first pick fizzles out, but it isn’t too much of an issue if your 14th-round pick is a bust. Thus, there’s no reason to play it safe; you should seek players with very high ceilings late in the draft.