2014 Fantasy Football: Rookie RBs Will Struggle

By Sean Cordy
Tre Mason
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

At the moment, most mock drafts have running backs completely omitted from the first round this year.  Simply put, there’s no need for any team to take a tailback in the first round, as most teams are comfortable with their running situation and there’s no obvious pick like a Trent Richardson or Adrian Peterson as there had been in years past.

There’s a chance that Tre Mason of Auburn or Carlos Hyde out of Ohio State could hear their name on Thursday, May 8, but that’s really only if a team anticipates someone drafting one of the prospects previously mentioned before their pick in the second round.  However, even amongst the doubt of having a first-round running back, there’s a guarantee that everyone will fall in love with at least one first-year running back this year.

But here’s why no one should think about adding a rookie running back to their fantasy roster — this year, or any year: think of the last great rookie running back. Who do you think of?  Trent Richardson, Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno, Reggie Bush among others? But why?

Likely, the reason that those players came to your mind was that their anticipation before the season was great; that NFL Draft analysts claimed them to be saviors of their team. Did any of them really make the splash that was expected of them? Rarely is the answer.

In the last 10 seasons, only five rookie running backs have churned out a top-10 season in their position. Of those five, three were drafted lower than the first round (Eddie Lacy in 2013, Steve Slaton in 2008 and Maurice Jones-Drew in 2006). 60 percent of the seasons, a rookie halfback has cracked the Top 10. Not bad, but that’s just one player. Since 2004, there have not been multiple rookies RBs to be in the top-10. More so, the numbers of rookie backs to crack the top 20 since 2004 is staggering (and not in a good way).

It’s actually more rare to find a rookie running back to rank in the bottom of the top 20 than it is to find one in the top half. Only four other running backs have broken the top 20, along with the five to break the the top 10. What does that mean?

Consider a standard 10-team league. That means that in the last 10 seasons, only nine rookie running backs deserved to be starting on your team. In other words, only nine of 200 running backs in that time to be in the top 20 were rookies — not even a half percent of the whole! There’s roughly a one in 10 chance that one of this year’s rookies will break the top 20 based on the production in the last 10 seasons.

Among the top backs in the draft this year are Hyde and Mason, but history states that if a rookie were to beat the odds, neither of them would likely to be the back to accomplish the feat. Only three of the rookies in the last 10 years to be at the top of their class at year’s end were the first running back taken (Richardson, Moreno and Peterson).

The odds are stacked in the favor of veterans in this game. It’s tough for any player to transition to the NFL, especially running backs. Some players can beat the odds and are worth the hype (such as Richardson and Peterson), but I’d much rather invest my high fantasy picks on veterans with proven pedigrees.

Only draft a rookie running back if they fall down the draft board and you can pick them without losing potential value at another position.

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