When The Devy Breaks: The Importance Of First-Year Workhorse Scores

With the NFL Draft just weeks away, most of our attention is fully focused on the 2018 class and their landing spots. Today I wanted to look ahead to hopefully gain a better understanding of the current landscape for future classes of running backs — the 2020 class, in particular.

We saw several examples during the 2017 season of outrageous production by freshman RBs, most notably Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. Can we draw any conclusions about future fantasy production or the likelihood of being drafted within the first two rounds purely from first-year dominance?


Back in 2015, Jon Moore explained why Ezekiel Elliott’s dominance at age 19 was important. Anthony Amico recently introduced the idea of RB Breakout Age and why it’s so important in predicting future PPR production. Blair Andrews recently released this year’s version of his Workhorse (WH) Score study, an excellent resource for identifying later-round RB prospects to target in rookie drafts. Using all of this existing work, while referencing the database of historical WH Scores, I pulled the first-year WH metrics for all RBs drafted within the first two rounds of the NFL Draft going back to 2012. I’ve also included first-year age and the number of qualifying games.

Ryan Williams90.7719.7
Daniel Thomas90.7622.2
Todd Gurley80.6718.4
LaMichael James110.6620.2
Giovani Bernard120.6520.1
Christine Michael70.5719.1
Leonard Fournette80.5519.9
Jeremy Hill90.5520.2
Carlos Hyde100.5021.3
Dalvin Cook110.4919.4
C.J. Spiller90.4219.4
Ryan Mathews90.4220.2
T.J. Yeldon50.4019.2
Mark Ingram100.3319
Ben Tate40.3218.4
Dexter McCluster110.2919.4
Montario Hardesty110.2819.9
Shane Vereen100.2619.8
Trent Richardson100.2619.5
Le'Veon Bell100.2518.9
Montee Ball70.2419.1
Toby Gerhart70.1919.8
Joe Mixon70.1819.4
Derrick Henry40.1820
Mikel Leshoure70.1518.8
Jahvid Best90.1518.9
Isaiah Pead60.1419
Christian McCaffrey90.1018.6
Melvin Gordon110.0919.7
Ameer Abdullah100.0918.5
Eddie Lacy30.0820
David Wilson80.0718.5
Bishop Sankey80.0419.3
Doug Martin50.0220
Ezekiel Elliott2018.4

A few observations:

  • Only 26 percent of first- and second-round RBs since 2012 accounted for 50 percent or more of their team’s rushing workload in their first collegiate season.
  • 57 percent posted a WH Score of 25 or better.
  • 74 percent finished their first year before turning 20-years old.
  • Despite playing in seven games as a freshman, Elliott only had two qualifying games because Ohio State tended to blow out their opponents. This contributed largely to his absence of production for the purposes of this study.

Next, I gathered the first-year WH Scores for every RB to score 200 or more PPR points in a single season since 2012.

David Johnson0.7320
LeSean McCoy0.7319.5
Todd Gurley0.6718.4
Giovani Bernard0.6520.1
Duke Johnson0.5519.3
Jeremy Hill0.5520.2
Leonard Fournette0.5519.9
Devonta Freeman0.5219.8
Isaiah Crowell0.4819
Latavius Murray0.4819
C.J. Spiller0.4219.4
Lamar Miller0.3719.7
Jordan Howard0.3619.2
C.J. Anderson0.3120.9
Alvin Kamara0.2920.4
DeMarco Murray0.2819.9
Jay Ajayi0.2619.5
Kareem Hunt0.2618.4
Stevan Ridley0.2619.9
Trent Richardson0.2619.5
Le'Veon Bell0.2518.9
Christian McCaffrey0.1018.6
Melvin Gordon0.0919.7
Eddie Lacy0.0820
Doug Martin0.0220
Alfred Morris0.0120
Ezekiel Elliott018.4

While we see a similar results for the high end of the distribution with future fantasy production as we did with future draft position, a potentially useful lower-end threshold emerges. Players with a WH Score of 50 or better made up 30 percent of this cohort, while players that accounted for 25 percent or more of their team’s rushing production made up 78 percent of the qualifiers.

Again, these results shouldn’t be viewed as a sure thing when attempting to predict future RB success. However, it appears that achieving a first-year WH Score of 25 or better is highly desirable, bordering on necessary. Finally, here are the first-year WH Scores and ages for the 2019 and 2020 RB classes.

Myles Gaskin201990.7118.9
Spencer Brown202090.6719.1
J.K. Dobbins202050.6319.1
AJ Dillon202090.63NA
Jonathan Taylor202090.6118.9
Trayveon Williams2019110.5719.2
Cam Akers202090.5718.5
Damerea Crockett201980.5219
Devin Singletary201990.5219.3
Travis Etienne2020100.45NA
Benny Snell2019100.43NA
LJ Scott2019120.4219.3
David Montgomery201980.4119.6
Justice Hill2019110.4019.1
Trey Sermon202090.30NA
Ty Chandler202080.2219.6
Stephen Carr202090.20NA
Toneil Carter202070.15NA
D'Andre Swift202080.1219
Najee Harris202040.0919.8
Josh Jacobs201970.0720.9
Bryce Love2019110.0618.5
Damien Harris201960.0318.9
Rodney Anderson201920NA

Who to include in the top-12 for each class is obviously an arbitrary decision, but as we can see, 42 percent of the prospects have posted a first-year WH score of 50 or better with 67 percent notching a WH score of 25 or better. As we’ve seen, these threshold hold varying levels of importance, but show that the pipeline of quality RB prospects remains full.


For regular dynasty league purposes, this information should simply be stored for later use. With so much time between now and when these prospects are actually available to draft, it’s wise to not go overboard and fall in love with any one prospect. At the very least, however, it should signal that both the 2019 and 2020 RB classes are strong with the potential to be great.

In devy leagues, this information is more actionable. Taylor and Cam Akers are already hot commodities, so don’t expect any discounts in the near future. Spencer Brown, for instance, could present a strong buying opportunity before the real rush to acquire begins. The same can be said of A.J. Dillon, though likely to a lesser extent, as his performance down the stretch last season almost certainly inflated his value. Myles Gaskin is another interesting case, posting the best WH score in this study.

While the RB position has undoubtedly been devalued in fantasy leagues, NFL teams still show a willingness to invest significant draft capital into the position, giving rookies an opportunity to contribute early in their careers. If that trend continues, expect plenty of candidates with strong early-career profiles to fill those positions.

Subscribe to the best.

By Jordan Hoover | @jhoover9787 | Archive

No Comment

Leave a reply