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Plan B

Hit rates for running backs selected in the middle rounds

Rookie running backs can be slippery to evaluate. Particularly those selected in the later rounds. With the vast majority of these players, you’re not looking for overall value. You’re instead hoping you can latch onto a few viable games at some point during the season.

With running backs like Israel Abanikanda, Eric Gray and Tyjae Spears, we’re looking more at insurance-policy type guys, rather than players who might finish with top-30 overall numbers. If these players can be used for three-four starts in December, they’ll be successful choices, even if their overall production doesn’t rank them among the top 50 running backs.

With that in mind, reasonable to take a step back and look at the hit-miss rates of these kind of backs. On this one, I’m focusing on the third, fourth and fifth rounds. With the guys picked earlier, the decision making is different (when you choose Jahmyr Gibbs or Bijan Robinson, you’re looking for every-week production). And the late-round guys, it’s tough to count on much from them (though Isiah Pacheco hit big last year).

We all use different scoring systems – PPR, standard, TD-only. I didn’t want to dabble in “fantasy points” because those can be tough to follow if the scoring system doesn’t match your own. So I’m instead using 50 rushing yards as a benchmark of sorts. If a player runs for 50-plus yards in a game, he’s a starter of sorts – definitely a contributor. Counting up those games gives us some sense of how many useful weeks rookies are generating.

Starting with third-round running backs. There were 32 selected in the 2013-2022 drafts. Two home-run type guys in that group: Kareem Hunt and Alvin Kamara (who caught a zillion passes, which aren’t reflected here). Three others ran for at least 50 yards in at least half of their team’s games. Then it tails off pretty quickly.

Four rookies selected in the third round this year: Kendre Miller, Tyjae Spears, Devon Achane, Tank Bigsby. The numbers suggest you’ll be fortunate if you can get much out of any of these guys. With Miller, there’s the decent likelihood that Kamara will be suspended for six games, but they also have Jamaal Williams.

In the chart below, the third column is the key one. It shows the number of games the player ran for at least 50 yards. The additional stats (courtesy pro-football-reference) show the rushing stats of the game in which the player ran for the most yards. (I didn’t want to get into listing a phonebook’s worth of games, so a limit of one game for each guy, showing you his top-end.)

NUMBER OF 50-YARD GAMES BY BACKS DRAFTED IN 3RD ROUND (last 10 yrs)
YearPlayerNumOppResultAttYardsTD
2017Kareem Hunt, K.C.10at LACW 24-10171721
2022Brian Robinson, Was.9Atl.W 19-13181050
2019David Montgomery, Chi.9LACL 16-17271351
2019Devin Singletary, Buff.8Den.W 20-3211060
2014Tre Mason, St.L.7Oak.W 52-0141172
2020Antonio Gibson, Was.6Dall.W 25-3201281
2017Alvin Kamara, N.O.6at Buff.W 47-10121061
2014Terrance West, Cle.6at Pitt.L 27-30161000
2019Alexander Mattison, Min.5Phil.W 38-2014630
2014Jerick McKinnon, Min.5Atl.W 41-28181350
2020Zack Moss, Buff.4at Den.W 48-1913810
2018Royce Freeman, Den.4Sea.W 27-2415710
2022Rachaad White, T.B.3Sea.W 21-16221050
2015David Johnson, Ari.3at Phil.W 40-17291873
2015Matt Jones, Was.3St.L.W 24-10191232
2017D'Onta Foreman, Hou.2Ari.W 31-2110652
2016C.J. Prosise, Sea.2Phil.W 26-154761
2015Tevin Coleman, Atl.2Min.L 10-20181100
2021Trey Sermon, S.F.1Sea.L 21-2819890
2020KeShawn Vaughn, T.B.1at Det.W 47-715620
2016Kenyan Drake, Mia.1at Buff.W 34-314561
2015Duke Johnson, Cle.1S.F.W 24-1013780
2014Charles Sims, T.B.1N.O.L 20-2318691
2013Knile Davis, K.C.1at S.D.L 24-2727812
2023Kendre Miller, N.O.??????
2023Tyjae Spears, Ten.??????
2023Devon Achane, Mia.??????
2023Tank Bigsby, Jac.??????

Looking at the same stats for the fourth round backs, and they’re pretty bleak. There have been 44 drafted, with just one solid hit: Dameon Pierce, and he made it clear in the preseason last year that he was going to be pretty good. Chuba Hubbard had some value the previous year, when Christian McCaffrey was hurt for most of the season.

Only one running back selected in the fourth round this year, Roschon Johnson, and he’ll be competing for carries with two other notable running backs and a quarterback who might run for more yards than all of them.

NUMBER OF 50-YARD GAMES BY BACKS DRAFTED IN 4TH ROUND (last 10 yrs)
YearPlayerNumOppResultAttYardsTD
2022Dameon Pierce, Hou.9Phil.L 17-29271390
2021Chuba Hubbard, Car.6Phil.L 18-21241010
2017Jamaal Williams, G.B.6T.B.W 26-20211131
2014Andre Williams, NYG6at Ten.W 36-7241311
2021Michael Carter, NYJ5Jac.W 26-21161180
2021Rhamondre Stevenson, N.E.5Jac.W 50-10191072
2016Devontae Booker, Den.5Hou.W 27-917831
2015Javorius Allen, Balt.5Pitt.W 20-1717771
2019Benny Snell, Pitt.4at Cin.W 16-1021980
2017Samaje Perine, Was.4at N.O.L 31-34231171
2015Jeremy Langford, Chi.4at T.B.W 26-2119830
2019Tony Pollard, Dall.3LARW 44-21121311
2017Tarik Cohen, Chi.3at Cin.W 33-712800
2017Wayne Gallman, NYG3Was.W 18-1015890
2020Joshua Kelley, LAC2K.C.L 20-2323640
2018Ito Smith, Atl.2at G.B.L 20-3411600
2016Kenneth Dixon, Balt.2at Pitt.L 27-3112570
2014Lorenzo Taliaferro, Balt.2at Cle.W 23-2118911
2022Pierre Strong, N.E.1at Ari.W 27-135701
2018Kalen Ballage, Mia.1at Min.L 17-41121231
2018Nyheim Hines, Ind.1at Oak.W 42-2811780
2018Chase Edmonds, Ari.1at G.B.W 20-175532
2017Marlon Mack, Ind.1S.F.W 26-239911
2014KaDeem Carey, Chi.1G.B.L 17-3814720
2013Johnathan Franklin, G.B.1at Cin.L 30-34131031
2023Roschon Johnson, Chi.??????

When we get down to the fifth round, we’re in the area where it’s common for players to not even make it on the field. Some will wind up on practice squads. There have been 33 selected in the last 10 years. I think just one really big hit, Jordan Howard of the 2016 Bears. Two others who ran for 50-plus yards in over half of their teams games: Tyler Allgeier and Zac Stacy. And then not much from the rest.

There were four selected in the fifth round this year: Israel Abanikanda, Chase Brown, Eric Gray and Evan Hull.

Brown (pictured) is in the best situation. The Bengals don’t have much else at the position and probably will want to squeeze Joe Mixon to take a pay cut, possibly (but probably not) even releasing him. And Mixon, like Kamara, is a candidate for a league suspension as he faces charges that he pointed a pistol at a woman. But I wouldn’t think the Bengals, being a Super Bowl contender, would be comfortable going into the season with Brown as their starting tailback. I don’t think he’s quite big enough or good enough, and he definitely isn’t experienced enough to give them what they need in the passing game.

NUMBER OF 50-YARD GAMES BY BACKS DRAFTED IN 5TH ROUND (last 10 yrs)
YearPlayerNumOppResultAttYardsTD
2022Tyler Allgeier, Atl.11at N.O.L 18-21171391
2016Jordan Howard, Chi.11Min.W 20-10261531
2013Zac Stacy, St.L.10Sea.L 9-14261340
2015Karlos Williams, Buff.4Mia.W 33-1791102
2016Paul Perkins, NYG3at Was.W 19-10211020
2021Kenneth Gainwell, Phil.2Dall.L 26-5112781
2018Jordan Wilkins, Ind.2at Was.W 21-910610
2017Aaron Jones, G.B.2N.O.L 17-26171311
2016DeAndre Washington, Oak.2Ind.W 33-2512992
2016Wendell Smallwood, Phil.2Pitt.W 34-317791
2013Joseph Randle, Dall.2at Phil.W 17-319650
2016Alex Collins, Sea.1at S.F.W 25-237550
2015David Cobb, Ten.1at Ind.L 24-3019731
2015Cameron Artis-Payne, Car.1at NYGW 38-3514590
2023Israel Abanikanda, NYJ??????
2023Chase Brown, Cin.??????
2023Eric Gray, NYG??????

—Ian Allan

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