Does Draft Capital Matter For Future Fantasy Success?

Now we know we are not the first to journey down this path, but we are here to simplify the search. What we did was look back over the last 10 years (2011-2020) to see how many consistent fantasy contributors came out of each round of the NFL draft. We aren’t going to be talking about one hit wonders. Instead, we are highlighting the players who were able to sustain some level of fantasy success over their careers.

In this article we are reviewing the running back position. The benchmark used was 10 points per game in half point per reception (PPR) for their career. Before anyone loses their minds, this article isn’t saying that 10 points per game is a top 24 running back each year. However, the lower points per game helps take into account flex spots to start a 3rd running back and/or a down year from an otherwise consistent starting tailback.

Below you will find a chart breaking out draft capital by round for running backs. The chart is broken out into four columns:

  1. Round Drafted – Identifies the round in the NFL draft that the running backs were drafted
  2. Total running backs drafted – This is the total number of running backs drafted in that round over the past 10 years
  3. Career 10 PPG in .5 PPR – This column represents how many running backs drafted in that round hit the benchmark of 10 PPG for their careers in .5 PPR
  4. % Hit Rate – The final column shows what percentage of the running backs drafted in that round hit that benchmark

Feel free to just review the chart only and take what you want from it. If you want some additional insight on how we feel about 2021 prospects based on this data it will be included later in the article!

Round Drafted Total
Running Backs Drafted
10 PPG in .5 PPR
% Hit Rate
1 14 11 79%
2 29 13 45%
3 30 7 23%
4 45 3 7%
5 31 3 10%
6 34 0 0%
7 40 2 5%
Total 223 39 17%
Totals after Round 3 150 8 5.30%

Running Back Takeaways

The highest hit rate from any round and position (WR, RB, TE) comes as no surprise with first round running backs. The most obvious reason of course is a lot of these players immediately see full workloads. Of the 14 first round running backs taken since 2011, 11 have finished with at least 10 points per game in .5 PPR in their careers. Two of the three running backs who didn’t qualify as hits were David Wilson and Rashaad Penny. Both players dealt with early career injuries and in Wilson’s case he was forced to retire. Penny seems to be an interesting dynasty buy as he has been productive when given opportunities and will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The other player is Sony Michel who just missed the cut at 9.4 PPG and does have two top 30 running back finishes under his belt. Michel will be an unrestricted free agent after this season, and due to his first-round pedigree, he could land in a spot that would allow him to compete for a lead back role in 2022. 

2021 Rookie Running Backs

Player: Najee Harris

Team: Pittsburgh Steelers

Round: First

Historical Hit Rate: 79%

Najee Harris is walking into easily 275-300 touches (17 games) in year 1 so his prospects of being an instant fantasy asset are a near lock. Harris’ ADP is already in the back half of the second round and could continue to rise the closer we get to August. His price tag is reasonable for now, but with offensive line issues and an aging quarterback his ability to be a top 10 running back in PPG in 2021 could be harder than we think. The Steelers offensive line lost 3 starters from last year, and was dead last in Football Outsiders Offensive Adjusted Line Yards in 2020.

Player: Travis Etienne

Team: Jacksonville Jaguars

Round: First

Historical Hit Rate: 79%

Travis Etienne seems likely for a solid receiving role right out of the gate but becoming the main ball carrier could take some time. This situation looks a lot like the Lions from 2020 under new Offensive Coordinator Darrel Bevell who coached in Detroit last season.  D’Andre Swift only saw 10 carries once weeks 1-8 playing alongside the likes of Kerryon Johnson and Adrian Peterson. In the second half Swift took off seeing at least 10 carries in 5 of his last 6. Don’t be surprised if Etienne sees a similar situation with James Robinson and Carlos Hyde in the fold.

Player: Javonte Williams

Team: Denver Broncos

Round: Second

Historical Hit Rate: 45%

Javonte Williams could be an extremely underrated dynasty prospect with Melvin Gordon still in town for 2021. Williams most likely will struggle to see a major workload year one, but that shouldn’t stop people from drafting him as high as 1.05 in single quarterback dynasty drafts. Second round running backs have a higher hit rate than any wide receivers which means Williams probably has a better shot at sustained fantasy success than any wide receiver not named Ja’Marr Chase. His landing spot isn’t bad either (Go read “A Fantasy Football Short Story about Pat Shurmur” only at football.razzball.com).

Player: Trey Sermon

Team: San Francisco 49ers

Round: Third

Historical Hit Rate: 23%

Trey Sermon was the 4th running back off the board and the only other running back taken with a day 2 pick. Historically that alone gives him a better chance to be a consistent fantasy asset then all day 3 picks combined. Sermon was the highest running back drafted by a Kyle Shanahan led offense since Tevin Coleman in 2015. Coleman only saw 8.1 opportunities a game his rookie year playing behind starter Devonta Freeman. The following two seasons Coleman finished as a top 24 running back each year.

The Day 3 Picks

Historical Hit Rate: 5.3%

Day 3 picks have a 5% hit rate with only 8 of 150 drafted in these rounds hitting the benchmark in the past 10 years. Notable running backs including Devonta Freeman, Aaron Jones and Chris Carson have emerged as consistent fantasy contributors after falling into the final day of the NFL draft. Some of the early favorites to be fantasy assets from Day 3 of 2021 draft class include Michael Carter (Jets) and Kenneth Gainwell (Eagles). However, with only a 5% hit rate for day 3 running backs and 14 being drafted on day 3 in 2021 it’s no better than a 50/50 shot that even one running back surfaces as a starter.

Sources: Razzball.com, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Football Outsiders and FFToday.com