When it comes to dynasty football, we are inundated with data points for incoming rookies, and are left to consider which ones really matter. As the 2020 NFL Combine results are now official, we can begin to consider which may help us predict future fantasy success. Rest assured, I have done some of this work for you in hopes of raising red flags on some popular 2020 rookie prospects, and narrow down those various factors to focus on the necessary thresholds to consider.
The Data Set
2020 NFL Combine Results, College Data, and Draft Capital
In order to obtain a useful data set, I looked at all of the top-12 fantasy running backs from 2014 – 2019, which resulted in 45 different backs. From there, I looked at the following factors:
- 40-yard dash times
- Burst Score
- Speed Score
- College yards per carry
- College Dominator percentage
- Draft capital
Through this research, I narrowed down what thresholds must be met to encompass a meaningful percentage of the top-12 running backs each season since 2014, which I defined as at least 80%. Better said, what were the minimum thresholds against each factor that at least 80% of the data set reached?
(Keep in mind, the percentiles displayed in the charts below refer to my data set of fantasy RB1’s, NOT all running backs overall)
40-Yard Dash Times
For what is perhaps the most popular combine event, I found that the actual results of this exercise are not as meaningful as people may think. In the past six seasons, 84% of the top-12 running backs each season ran a 4.63 or faster. Of the seven that did not meet that threshold, three were undrafted free agents and one was a late seventh-round selection. These players truly defied odds in every way. Looking at some of the more popular 2020 rookies, Zack Moss‘ 4.65 time has me fairly concerned.
The burst score uses both the vertical and broad jump measurements in the equation, and in this case did not have an extremely strong correlation to NFL success. I had to lower the threshold all the way down to 110 in order to encompass 90.1% of the data set. The most relevant incoming rookie that was unable to meet that threshold was Anthony McFarland, while A.J. Dillon again impressed with a 135.2.
While the 40 time is fairly cut and dry, the Speed Score takes into account a player’s size. If a 189-pound scatback can run a 4.4, it is somewhat less impressive than the 230-pound back that can run that same time. While 110 is considered an extraordinary Speed Score according to Player Profiler, the threshold to encompass the 80% was only 94.8. In this class, Clyde Edwards-Helaire fell just short with a Speed Score of 92.5, while only A.J. Dillon (117.3) and Jonathan Taylor (121.7) showed out as extremely impressive.
College Yards Per Carry
Exactly 80% of the 45 running backs I evaluated achieved at least 5.4 yards per carry during their college careers. While the majority of those backs were over 6 yards per carry, that only encompassed about 50% of the data set which simply was not meaningful enough. I understand many factors play into yards per carry (a team’s offensive scheme, talent, etc.), so I don’t tend to put a ton of stock into this factor. That being said, Eno Benjamin‘s 4.9 YPC was the lowest of the top incoming running backs, while players like Cam Akers (5.0), Joshua Kelley (5.1), KeShawn Vaughn (5.2), J.J. Taylor (5.2) and A.J. Dillon (5.3) also failed to meet that threshold.
This factor is presented in the form of a percentage and shows you just how dominant a player was in college (hence the name). It considers the amount of team yards and touchdowns that a player accounted for, and for the sake of this experiment I was looking for players that failed to reach 22% Dominator rating, which is a percentage that 84% of my top-fantasy running backs were able to achieve. Some people’s choice for the 1.01 in rookie drafts, D’Andre Swift, failed to reach that threshold with just a 21.1% College Dominator. While that team did boast talent, it is interesting that his predecessors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel both topped that 22% mark while sharing the backfield as well.
Here in early-March, we do not have this crucial data point yet for the 2020 rookies. Looking at our 45 different running backs from the past six seasons though, we can conclude that having draft capital of the first four rounds is fairly important for these backs to eventually have RB1 success in fantasy. While just short of my ‘meaningful’ 80% I defined earlier, 73% of the RB1’s since 2015 had Round 1-4 draft capital. This data is skewed a bit with outliers, with six undrafted free agents mixed in. If those six were removed, than 85% of your RB1’s were drafted in the first four rounds of the NFL draft.
What About the Cream of the Crop?
While achieving a top-12 fantasy season as a running back is no small feat, I wanted to take a closer look at those that were able to achieve multiple RB1 seasons since 2014. In some areas, those numbers for those 15 were much more impressive:
- 40-yard dash: 100% of our data set ran at least a 4.63, with 80% topping 4.58
- Burst Score: very similar to the larger data set, 92% had a burst score of at least 110.
- Speed Score: 87% met our threshold of 94.8, and 80% hit at least 97.
- College YPC: very similar to the larger data set, 80% hit the 5.4 YPC threshold
- College Dominator: 93% of our running backs that achieved multiple RB1 seasons met the 22% threshold, and in fact, 80% were at 29.9% or higher
- Draft Capital: all 15 backs (100%) were drafted in the first four rounds, with 93% going in rounds 1-3 (Devonta Freeman being the sole outlier).
Stock Up, Stock Down For This Class
To this point, the combine data did not personally impact my opinion on too many running backs in this 2020 class. A couple of the players that failed to meet multiple thresholds (Darius Anderson, J.J. Taylor) were already long shots to be fantasy relevant backs. However, both Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Speed Score and College Dominator) and Anthony McFarland (Burst Score and College YPC) also failed to meet multiple thresholds which simply raises some red flags at this point. For those two players in particular, I will be closely monitoring draft stock – if they remain third round picks or higher in April, I probably will not be moving them far down my ranks.
AJ Dillon’s strong showing has me moving him up my rankings, albeit only a couple of spots, as the athleticism he displayed in Indy was not always obvious on tape. The only prospect that not only met all thresholds that 80% of the top fantasy backs have met, but also exceeded the thresholds that the top-50% of the RB1’s since 2014 have met is Jonathan Taylor. I will be updating this article in April after the NFL Draft to include draft capital, as well as adding some prospects after Pro Days, such as J.K. Dobbins.
In addition to the April article with my final findings and rookie rankings, be on the lookout for the wide receiver version of this data will be posted this week.