What do we make of running backs who don’t do much as rookies? Darrell Henderson and Damien Harris, for example. Is it time to cut bait on those guys?

Harris hardly even got on the field for the Patriots, while Henderson showed a couple of brief flashes while playing sparingly for the Rams – he was their 3rd-string tailback for much of the season.

Other rookie running backs who didn’t make much of an impact: Justice Hill (Ravens), Benny Snell (Steelers) and Tony Pollard (Cowboys). Bryce Love (Washington) spent the entire season on injured reserve.

But if form holds, some of these running backs will at some point become viable players. Recall Ronald Jones of the Bucs. He was a train-wreck as a rookie, playing so poorly it was fair to wonder if he would have made the team if he weren’t a second-round draft pick. He came around nicely and became their starter.

(And let’s not disparage Snell and Pollard too much; Snell had a couple of good fill-in games for Pittsburgh, while Pollard had a 100-yard game off the bench.)

Each player, of course, must be evaluated on his own merits. If a player gets arrested twice in the offseason and shows up 30 pounds overweight at training camp, he’s probably not a good investment. With Ronald Jones in Tampa, on the other hand, they didn’t have much else at running back and were talking him up in the offseason.

But let’s look at this issue from the 10,000-foot view.

In the last 20 years, 65 second-year running backs have put top-20 numbers. That’s using PPR scoring. Of that group, over a third didn’t rank higher than 45th in their first year. (I was going to use the top 50, but I saw three backs ranking 48th-49th, and I wanted to get them in there). In the chart, I’ve got these risers tagged with black dots.

Only slightly more of these backs were guys who already had ranked in the top 20 in their first season.

Scorecard reads 27 who were top-20 backs as rookies, versus 23 who ranked no higher than 45th in their first year.

Of the top 18 second-year backs of the last 20 years, a third were guys who didn’t shine as rookies.

So without speaking to the talent and situations of guys like Henderson (pictured), Harris and others, it would seem to make a lot of sense to use some later-round picks on second-year running backs. The historical numbers suggest that a few of these backs will dramatically outperform where they’re selected in fantasy drafts.

On the chart below, “PPR” shows the player’s fantasy points, including catches and 2-point conversions. The “Rk” shows where the ranked that year. “Prev” shows where he ranked among running backs as a rookie (using PPR scoring).

2016David Johnson, Ariz.1,23987920413.817
2000Edgerrin James, Ind.1,70959418403.322
2009Chris Johnson, Ten.2,00650316398.9111
2010• Arian Foster, Hou.1,61660418396.0172
2018Christian McCaffrey, Car.1,09886713388.019
2002LaDainian Tomlinson, S.D.1,68348915386.226
2014LeVeon Bell, Pitt.1,36185411370.5115
2018Alvin Kamara, N.O.88370918354.243
2006Frank Gore, S.F.1,6954859333.0542
2009• Ray Rice, Balt.1,3397028330.1349
2004Domanick Williams, Hou.1,18858814329.6314
2015• Devonta Freeman, Atl.1,05657814320.4149
2002• Deuce McAllister, N.O.1,38835216317.0865
2003Clinton Portis, Den.1,59131414314.567
2001• Shaun Alexander, Sea.1,31834316306.1462
2002Travis Henry, Buff.1,43830914301.7930
2010LeSean McCoy, Phil.1,0805929299.2332
2018• James Conner, Pitt.97349713284.06113
2000Fred Taylor, Jac.1,39924014283.9932
2007Joseph Addai, Ind.1,07236415276.6413
2014Eddie Lacy, G.B.1,13942713276.668
2008Adrian Peterson, Min.1,76012510269.595
2019Nick Chubb, Cle.1,4942788261.2817
2016• Melvin Gordon, S.D.99741912254.6745
2019Saquon Barkley, NYG1,0034388244.1112
2018Joe Mixon, Cin.1,1682969243.41033
2011Ryan Mathews, S.D.1,0914556240.6731
2000Ricky Williams, N.O.1,0004099240.61629
2018Tarik Cohen, Chi.4447258240.01128
2005Steven Jackson, St.L.1,04632010239.6933
2009• Jamaal Charles, K.C.1,1202979237.71054
2002Michael Bennett, Min.1,2963516237.71829
2008Marshawn Lynch, Buff.1,0363009234.61316
2018Kareem Hunt, K.C.82437814230.2124
2004• Willis McGahee, Buff.1,12816913229.714--
2009Matt Forte, Chi.9294714223.0122
2007Maurice Jones-Drew, Jac.76840710217.5118
2016• Jay Ajayi, Mia.1,2721518217.31185
2007Reggie Bush, N.O.5814176214.8129
2009Tim Hightower, Ariz.5984288213.61432
2014• C.J. Anderson, Den.84932410211.311144
2009Jonathan Stewart, Car.1,13313911211.21533
2009• Rashard Mendenhall, Pitt.1,1082618209.917128
2003• Brian Westbrook, Phil.61333213209.52082
2012• Stevan Ridley, N.E.1,2635112209.41573
2018• Chris Carson, Sea.1,1511639205.41586
2017Ezekiel Elliott, Dall.9832699205.2122
2006Marion Barber, Dall.65419616204.01939
2017Jordan Howard, Chi.1,1221259201.71510
2016Todd Gurley, LAR8853276200.2159
2010Knowshon Moreno, Den.7793728200.11818
2019Phillip Lindsay, Den.1,0111967197.72013
2008• Pierre Thomas, N.O.62528412193.91957
2016• Tevin Coleman, Atl.52042111191.12079
2005• Willie Parker, Pitt.1,2022185190.018104
2012• Mikel Leshoure, Det.7982149189.218--
2014Giovani Bernard, Cin.6803497187.91813
2013Alfred Morris, Was.1,275787186.3207
2005Julius Jones, Dall.9932185186.11931
2007• LenDale White, Ten.1,1101147184.41872
2015• Charles Sims, T.B.5295614184.01673
2018• Marlon Mack, Ind.90810310182.12048
2014Andre Ellington, Ariz.6603955181.51926
2015Jeremy Hill, Cin.7947912176.32010
2017• Alex Collins, Balt.9731876175.01983

—Ian Allan