By Alex Kurpeski, Bradley Stalder
There’s an overused saying that goes: ‘History is doomed to repeat itself’. You’ve definitely heard this phrase at least once in your lifetime; it is a cliche that the media, World History teachers, and parents love to use conversationally. In the context of fantasy football, this phrase often rings true as well. There are patterns that players and teams tend to follow and stick to, often enough that they become cyclical in nature.
We know that the Patriots can’t draft a wide receiver to save their lives. We know that the Raiders, regardless of who is running the team, will often take the fastest guy on the board. We also know that, with the superstitious nature of the fantasy football fanatic, there is a certain association with the numbers on the board and what they represent. While not all players are created equal, there is a meaning to where they are drafted, which program they are drafted from, and where they are ranked on the draft board.
At a certain point, these things become very arbitrary. However, if we’re basing our insight on the historical data, they do paint some rather vivid pictures of just what we can come to expect out of our prized rookie draft picks. Thus, we here at 3CoSports are prepared to bring to you an all-encompassing analysis from the last decade of dynasty league data, combining qualitative and quantitative elements to provide accurate profiles of the projected top-12 dynasty league rookies based on recent historical trends.
Top 12 ADP as of May 27th, 2020:
- RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
- RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
- RB J.K Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
- RB D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
- WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
- WR Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
- RB Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
- WR Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles
- WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
- WR Henry Ruggs, Las Vegas Raiders
- RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- WR Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts
From the data we have collected for this piece, we have determined that the minimum amount of points scored by a player to deem them as having had a ‘fantasy relevant’ campaign is somewhere between 143 and 144 standard scoring points in a season, although there will be some contextual elements that will also help determine some of our findings (for instance Sammy Watkins has had a good career according to these metrics, but when compared to several of the receivers from his own class, he is verging on ‘bust’ territory).
- The average top-12 rookie pick has a relevance yield of 45%, meaning that a typical first-round rookie draft pick will only produce a fantasy relevant season about half of the time he’s in the league
- Back end picks have not boded well, as slots 9-12 have some of the lowest relevance yields → Contending teams should definitely sell their picks for playoff runs
- While there weren’t any TE’s or QB’s in this year’s top-12, tight ends have generally fared poorly with an extremely low yield rate, while QBs have generally fared pretty well (although 75% are no longer starting in the league)
This is the fifth and final part of this series. Click the following links if you’re curious to see what history tells us about the likes of Michael Pittman Jr, Jalen Reagor, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and more!
So without further adieu, let’s take a look at this year’s top-3 picks and how they compare to their predecessors.
#3: RB J.K Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
Former OSU standout J.K Dobbins may be the ultimate test of patience for a dynasty league owner, as he has the chance to one day become the lead back for the most successful run-heavy offense in NFL history. Right now, however, he is being blocked by a former Pro Bowler (Mark Ingram) who still has a lot of gas left in the tank. While it may not be until his third season in the league, there is a RB1 season in Dobbins’ future as long as the Ravens continue with their current philosophy on offense. This long term upside is what has led to Dobbins’ rise up the draft boards into the 1.03 ADP spot.
The 1.03 spot has yielded a 54% relevance rate this decade, with almost all of the backs taken at this juncture having been brought into similar situations as Dobbins (C.J Spiller, Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb, Miles Sanders), eventually climbing up the depth chart to become the respective ‘bellcows’ for their teams. There’s a lot to like about Dobbins as a player, especially in regards to his fit with the Ravens. While he’s not the best pass-catcher in the world (only 71 receptions in three seasons with the Buckeyes, solid numbers but nothing special), Dobbins is still proficient in this area, while also packing quite the punch as a runner. While Dobbins did not participate much in the NFL Combine (only participated in the bench press, doing 23), Dobbins is well known as an extraordinary athlete He thrives in offenses centered around the RPO and, wouldn’t you know it, that is exactly how the Ravens run their offense. (That sound you hear is people who didn’t draft Dobbins at 1.03 screaming in agony.)
At 5’10, 220 lbs, Dobbins is about the exact size you want in a running back; sturdy enough to take a bunch of shots, while not being oversized enough that it would force him to run too upright. He comes from an OSU program that has developed a pair of very successful NFL players this decade (Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott) both of whom Dobbins models his game after. Dobbins’ phenomenal vision in the open field should make him an ideal fit in the Ravens run-option offense, as he shouldn’t be asked to do too much in pass protection (one of his weaker areas) while farming open lanes like an 8 year old on a 24 hour Minecraft binge. His durability can’t go unnoticed; throughout his three years at Ohio State, he didn’t miss a game while starting 40/42 of those games. His 106.2 yards per game and 5,104 all purpose yards are both second best in Buckeyes’ history. In conclusion: Dobbins was a stud. The question is: can that production transfer over to the NFL?
While Baltimore has tried and failed with numerous running back prospects this decade (Justice Hill (who looks like the odd man out with the addition of Dobbins), Kenneth Dixon (lost the starting gig more times than anyone I can recall), Javorius ‘Buck’ Allen (great name, awful NFL player), Lorenzo Taliaferro (a blip on the radar in the mid 2010’s), and Bernard Pierce (the original Ray Rice contingency plan from 2014), the current iteration of the team is by far the best fantasy situation a rookie has seen from the organization in a long, long time. Lamar Jackson and Dobbins have the opportunity to bring opposing offenses to their knees, so don’t be surprised if Dobbins is the team’s starter (sorry Mark Ingram) by the end of the 2020 regular season.
Ceiling: Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
A mid-low tier RB1 who dominates in an offense tailor-made to his strengths. Will occasionally has off weeks due to the team’s reliance on Jackson, Ingram, and others in the running game, but presents a solid floor and limitless ceiling week-in and week-out.
Floor: Mikel Leshoure, N/A
A former Big 10 bellcow turned washout who displays no real skills at the pro level. Fails to make an impact, being outshined by other talents on the roster. Flames out after a few seasons on the roster bubble.
Median: Carlos Hyde, Seattle Seahawks
The definition of an average NFL running back, can take the heat working between the tackles and becomes a very solid RB2 during prime. Held back by lack of elite traits but still manages to win dynasty league owners a decent amount of games. Doesn’t achieve greatness but doesn’t disappoint either.
#2: RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Taylor was the best player on the field for almost his entire college career, plowing through elite Big 10 defenses with ease all the while keeping Wisconsin relevant in the polls. While many would argue that Taylor should be the 1.01 in rookie drafts, his average draft position at the time we are writing this piece is behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
That may not be bad news for Taylor owners, as the 1.02 spot in rookie drafts has been good to most owners this decade, with a 61% fantasy relevance yield. The running backs taken in this range have been very good in general, with far more successes (Ryan Mathews, Mark Ingram, Doug Martin, Gio Bernard, Leonard Fournette) than busts (Derrius Guice, who still has time to redeem himself).
There are a lot of things to love about Taylor, starting with the team that drafted him. The Colts offensive line was graded in the top third of the league by PFF, while boasting a top-five rushing offense that featured middling talents like Marlon Mack and Jonathan Williams as the lead back at certain points in the season. Adding a truly dominant talent like Taylor to the equation sounds like the perfect recipe for a RB1. Consistency has been the key to Taylor’s success thus far, as the former Badgers star put up the most combined rushing yards between his Freshman and Sophomore seasons of any back in NCAA history, while setting the record for most games of 200 or more rushing yards (12). Moreover, Taylor belongs to a select group of college backs to average 6.5 of more yards per-carry, a group that consists of names like Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, and Melvin Gordon, with only a few of egregious busts (Jahvid Best, Guice, and LaMichael James, the former two having dealt with severe injuries upon entering the league).
When looking at Wisconsin running back products, two names from this decade standout. The first being Montee Ball, who like Taylor operated as the sole catalyst for the program’s run-heavy offense in the early 2010’s, setting the record for most career rushing touchdowns in college football history. By the time he entered the league, Ball was working off of fumes, as he lasted just two seasons with the Broncos before being cut. The man who replaced Ball as the Badgers lead back, Melvin Gordon, has had a much more decorated NFL career, with 4,240 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns thus far in his career. While Taylor’s game has shades of both players, he has inevitably drawn more comparisons to Ball, as both players rushed for over 5,000 yards in their decorated collegiate careers. History suggests that these 5,000 yard college rushers are doomed to fail in the NFL, given the lack of success experienced by guys like Ball, James, Donnell Pumphrey, Justin Jackson, Royce Freeman, and Myles Gaskin.
While Taylor should immediately take over as the Colts primary ball carrier, his upside will be limited if he is unable to secure a role in the passing game. Taylor’s 42 receptions in college are the least for a rookie draft first-round pick with 900+ touches since 2010. With proficient pass catching backs like Mack and Nyheim Hines on the roster, I would expect the stone-handed Taylor to be taken off the field for most passing downs. Considering the fact that newly minted starting quarterback Philip Rivers completed 38% of his passes to running backs in 2019, Taylor would be missing out on some serious fantasy point opportunities should he be taken off the field on these downs. Indianapolis has not been the best when it comes to drafting running backs this decade, with underwhelming busts like Mack, Hines, and Delone Carter being taken by the team with premium draft capital.
Should the team feed Taylor like the Badgers did, he may very well become one of the best backs in the league. However, if Taylor’s workhorse role in college leads to him wearing down faster than his peers, his name may soon become synonymous with the term ‘bust’.
Ceiling: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
True Fantasy RB1, with 1.01 redraft potential year-in and year-out. A workhorse back who blows up would be tacklers like they’re made of tissue paper, Taylor becomes a one-of-a-kind star behind the best young offensive line in the NFL. Colts ‘run the damn ball’.
Floor: Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
Fantasy RB3 when he gets goal-line work, gets displaced by a better pass-catcher who outperforms him.
Median: Jordan Howard, Miami Dolphins
Average RB2/3 that sticks around for a long time pounding the ball for 3-4 yard gains. What you see is what you get. Could do better but could also do much worse.
#1: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
The 1.01 in 2020, Edwards-Helaire was the first running back off the board this year, having been taken with the 32nd pick in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s hard to find a player more primed for success, as the Chiefs offense should immediately create a path for the LSU product to become a RB1 in fantasy. The 1.01 spot has been everything it’s cracked out to be, with a 69% (nice) fantasy relevant yield rate. There have certainly been some misses (Trent Richardson, Tavon Austin, Sammy Watkins, and Corey Davis have certainly sent some dynasty owners to therapy), but there have simultaneously been some league-winners taken at this spot (Dez Bryant, A.J Green, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Josh Jacobs).
There’s a lot to like about CEH, as he combines elements of Mark Ingram, Jacobs, and Alvin Kamara’s games to become the optimal archetype for an NFL running back. LSU has produced a lot of moderately successful NFL backs (Leonard Fournette, Jeremy Hill, Spencer Ware, Stevan Ridley) who didn’t possess the electric receiving skills that Edwards-Helaire displayed. At 5’7, 210 lbs, Edwards-Helaire is a bowling ball on wheels when he hits the open field, becoming almost impossible to tackle due to his low center of gravity. While Joe Burrow and Joe Brady got most of the attention for LSU’s offensive renaissance last season, the emergence of CEH as a viable pass-catcher out of the backfield, while also operating as a hammer in the running game allowed the Tigers offense to become truly unlocked. Chiefs HC Andy Reid has reportedly compared Edwards-Helaire to his former running back Brian Westbrook, a fantasy dynamo in the mid-2000’s, going as far as to say that the 2020 first-round pick may be even better than the former Eagles star.
We saw how viable a true bellcow back can be in fantasy from the Chiefs offense when the team employed Kareem Hunt from 2017-2018, as Hunt scored 525.4 PPR points in 27 games as the team’s starter. In the wake of Hunt’s release in late 2018, the team began employing a committee approach led by replacement level back Damien Williams, who still managed to score 226 PPR points in 16 games as the team’s starter since. While he may be paired with Williams in a one-two punch to begin his career, Edwards-Helaire will likely take over as the team’s bellcow by the end of his first season. Given the fantasy successes of Hunt, Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware, and Damien Williams as the lead backs during the Andy Reid era, it would appear as though the CEH will be walking into a RB1 career.
There are a handful of concerns about Edwards-Helaire that are worth mentioning. First off, the success rate of backs from 5,000+ yard passing offenses has not been the best this decade, with only Joe Mixon and Doug Martin being very successful. Fortunately for Edwards-Helaire, he will likely be playing in a scheme quite similar to the one run by LSU in 2019, as the Chiefs offense is about as pass-happy as one can find in the pros. Moreover, the young back has only one real season as the lead back for an offense, a plus and a minus when taking into consideration the fact that he may not have the same wear-and-tear that high usage backs like Jonathan Taylor have picked up from playing a ton of downs in college. Lastly, the Chiefs have had their fair share of misses in the draft when it comes to running backs, having used premium draft capital on the likes of Dexter McCluster, Knile Davis, and De’Anthony Thomas.
All-in-all, there are few players who get presented with an opportunity as golden as the one Edwards-Helaire has. To be able to join an organization with a top-tier head coach (Reid), offensive coordinator (Eric Bieniemy), QB (Patrick Mahomes), wide receiver (Tyreek Hill), and tight end (Travis Kelce) is a once in a lifetime type of opportunity. There are certainly a lot of mouths to feed on the Chiefs offense, but if they hope to defend their Super Bowl victory, they’re going to need to re-establish the ground game. Other than a serious injury, there’s no justifiable reason why Edwards-Helaire should not have an excellent NFL career with multiple RB1 fantasy finishes.
Ceiling: Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
A perennial RB1 who can pick up points as a receiver and as a runner. A product of an extremely efficient and prolific offense.
Floor: Sony Michel, New England Patriots
A lower end RB2 whose well-roundedness doesn’t translate from college to the pros. Gets points due to touch share, but fails to impress very much.
Median: Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens
A low end RB1, high end RB2. A relatively average player who ebbs and flows with the success and direction of the offense.