When gambling on a late-round running back, is it better to choose a rookie? Or instead opt for a running back who’s been around for a year? The player with a year of experience, after all, is a year ahead in terms of understanding the offense and the pro game in general.
In recent days, we have kicked around names like Jerome Ford, Pierre Strong, Kendre Miller, Roschon Johnson, Tyjae Spears and Ty Chandler (pictured). All have their pros and cons, and anybody considering one of those individuals will look at the player and the situation in detail. But in a vacuum, do we tend to do better rolling the dice on a rookie or a second-year guy?
Using data from previous season, we can better see a general lay of the land.
On this one, I left out running backs selected in the first and second rounds. When players are picked that early, the expectation is that they’ll be starters. I also left out free agents, focusing instead only on players drafted from the third round and on.
In the past 10 years, there have been 27 such rookies who have finished with top-40 numbers (using PPR scoring). So I guess if form holds and it’s a typical year, we can expect about three later-round running backs (not including Bijan Robinson or Jahmyr Gibbs) to finish with top-40 PPR numbers. About three guys who will have some value.
|ROOKIE RUNNING BACK SLEEPERS WHO CAM THROUGH|
|2017||Alvin Kamara, N.O.||3||728||826||1,554||14||322.4||3|
|2017||Kareem Hunt, K.C.||3||1,327||455||1,782||11||297.2||4|
|2016||Jordan Howard, Chi.||5||1,313||298||1,611||7||232.1||10|
|2015||David Johnson, Ariz.||3||581||457||1,038||13||217.8||7|
|2020||Antonio Gibson, Was.||3||795||247||1,042||11||206.2||14|
|2013||Zac Stacy, St.L.||5||973||141||1,114||8||185.4||21|
|2019||David Montgomery, Chi.||3||889||185||1,074||7||174.4||24|
|2022||Dameon Pierce, Hou.||4||939||165||1,104||5||170.4||25|
|2013||Andre Ellington, Ariz.||6||652||371||1,023||4||165.3||26|
|2021||Elijah Mitchell, S.F.||6||963||137||1,100||6||165.0||26|
|2015||Duke Johnson, Cle.||3||379||534||913||2||164.3||24|
|2018||Nyheim Hines, Ind.||4||314||425||739||4||160.9||28|
|2022||Tyler Allgeier, Atl.||5||1,035||139||1,174||4||159.4||30|
|2021||Michael Carter, NYJ||4||639||325||964||4||156.4||29|
|2017||Tarik Cohen, Chi.||4||370||353||723||4||154.4||28|
|2019||Devin Singletary, Buff.||3||775||194||969||4||149.9||33|
|2015||Javorius Allen, Balt.||4||514||353||867||3||149.7||29|
|2016||Devontae Booker, Den.||4||612||265||877||5||148.7||29|
|2015||Jeremy Langford, Chi.||4||537||279||816||7||147.6||30|
|2022||Rachaad White, T.B.||3||481||290||771||3||145.1||35|
|2014||Andre Williams, NYG||4||721||130||851||7||145.1||27|
|2017||Jamaal Williams, G.B.||4||556||262||818||6||142.8||34|
|2021||Chuba Hubbard, Car.||4||612||174||786||6||139.6||36|
|2022||Isiah Pacheco, K.C.||7||830||130||960||5||139.0||37|
|2014||Tre Mason, St.L.||3||765||148||913||5||137.3||30|
|2015||Karlos Williams, Buff.||5||517||96||613||9||126.3||38|
|2021||Kenneth Gainwell, Phil.||5||291||253||544||6||125.4||40|
We can then compare those numbers to second-year backs coming from off the radar. In this group, I’m not looking only for second-year backs who finished with top-40 numbers. Those players must also be guys that didn’t do much in their first season. Guys who are emerging from obscurity. (That’s what we’re hoping for from Ford, Chandler and Strong.)
I see 19 second-year backs in the last 10 years who finished with top-40 numbers after not ranking in the top 40 as rookies. (And again, not including first- and second-round picks.) How this is setup, of course, is key. There are four backs (tagged with dots) in this group that finished with top-50 numbers in their first year. That arguably isn’t quite “off the radar”. Rhamondre Stevenson last year, for example, wasn’t lasting until the late rounds. So if we want to instead set the bar at top 50, then it looks like we have only 15 second-year running backs posting top-40 numbers. About half as many.
In this chart, the final column (Prev) shows where the player ranked, using PPR scoring, in his rookie year.
|SOPHOMORE RUNNING BACK SLEEPERS WHO CAM THROUGH|
|2022||• Rhamondre Stevenson, N.E.||4||1,040||421||1,461||6||251.1||8||47|
|2020||Darrell Henderson, LAR||3||624||159||783||6||130.3||36||98|
|2020||Myles Gaskin, Mia.||7||584||388||972||5||168.2||25||90|
|2019||• Royce Freeman, Den.||3||496||256||752||4||142.2||38||46|
|2018||James Conner, Pitt.||3||973||497||1,470||13||284.0||6||113|
|2018||Chris Carson, Sea.||7||1,151||163||1,314||9||205.4||15||86|
|2018||Aaron Jones, G.B.||5||728||206||934||9||173.4||24||63|
|2018||• Marlon Mack, Ind.||4||908||103||1,011||10||182.1||20||48|
|2017||Alex Collins, Balt.||5||973||187||1,160||6||175.0||19||82|
|2017||Kenyan Drake, Mia.||3||644||239||883||4||146.3||31||73|
|2016||Ty Montgomery, G.B.||3||457||348||805||3||142.5||33||122|
|2016||Jay Ajayi, Mia.||5||1,272||151||1,423||8||217.3||11||85|
|2016||Tevin Coleman, Atl.||3||520||421||941||11||191.1||20||79|
|2015||James White, N.E.||4||56||410||466||6||122.6||39||128|
|2015||Charles Sims, T.B.||3||529||561||1,090||4||184.0||16||73|
|2015||• Devonta Freeman, Atl.||4||1,056||578||1,634||14||320.4||1||49|
|2014||Denard Robinson, Jac.||5||582||124||706||4||117.6||38||134|
|2014||Knile Davis, K.C.||3||463||147||610||8||125.0||34||56|
|2013||Lamar Miller, Mia.||4||709||170||879||2||125.9||38||82|
These big-data numbers suggest that if we’re taking a late-round flyer, you’re about twice as likely to hit on a rookie rather than a second-year guy.
In Minnesota, for example, where you perhaps might want to gamble on a youngster (with Dalvin Cook likely to be released and Alexander Mattison being Alexander Mattison). These numbers suggest that if you didn’t know anything about Ty Chandler (who popped a couple of runs in the preseason last year) and rookie DeWayne McBride, you’re about twice as likely to hit on McBride.