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?
FIRST YEAR WORKHORSE SCORE
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.
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.
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.
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.