Running Back Hit Rates 2017-2022

Each season, the National Football League (NFL) holds its annual entry draft. The NFL draft is an event in which teams select eligible college football players to add to their rosters. The purpose of the draft is to acquire new players, intending to strengthen their roster and address areas of need.

Dynasty fantasy football leagues typically operate similarly. The purpose of a rookie draft in dynasty fantasy football is to give owners an opportunity to acquire incoming NFL rookies and add them to their roster. The question is, what should Dynasty managers expect to get out of their draft selections?  

There is a phenomenon in Dynasty leagues known as Rookie Fever. We tend to overvalue rookie picks this time of year, driving up their perceived value. The reality is managers should have a more realistic expectation of what value their rookie picks hold. 

Some rookies will make an immediate impact, some take time to develop and some may never reach the fantasy value we envisioned when we added them to our rosters. I refer to the level of success a player may or may not achieve during their career as their Hit Rate.

Since joining RotoHeat, I have utilized historical data on an annual basis to attempt to determine the expected hit rates of drafted prospects. In this 4-part series, I dive into the drafts over the past six seasons to identify trends and help set a level of expectation for this upcoming rookie class. 

This process began back in 2018 and has compiled the results of every skill player drafted since 2010. With a large number of players drafted in the early years of my data collection no longer playing, I have reduced the data used to the previous six seasons. The 2010-2016 data is referenced throughout to give a larger sample of the historical data. 

The second installment of this 4-part series looks at the running back position. When reviewing hit rates, it’s important to define what a hit is. I define running back “Hits” as any RB that has delivered a top-12, or top-24 season at any point in their career. In addition, I have crunched the data and determined which RBs accomplished the feat as a rookie, as well as how many have done it on more than one occasion. 

Since the 2017 NFL draft, there have been 129 running backs selected. Of those 129 RBs – 9 were first-round selections, 16 in the second, 19 in the third, 29 in the fourth, and a total of 56 were selected in rounds five through seven. 

Similar to the review of the quarterback position, the data shows us that the draft capital of the player is king. While the running backs, draft capital doesn’t have the dramatic impact that it does with the QBs it remains a very relevant indicator of the player’s potential for hit seasons. 

6. Rounds 5-7

Running backs selected between rounds 5-7 do not frequently deliver fantasy-relevant seasons. There have been 56 backs drafted in rounds five through seven since 2017, and two (3.57%) have delivered a hit season. Those two backs are Aaron Jones and Chris Carson. Jones has recorded 4 top-12 seasons and an RB2 finish in 2018. Carson posted his lone top-12 season in 2019, sandwiched between RB2 years in 2018 and 2020.

The best results we have seen from the other 54 backs selected are an RB25 season from Myles Gaskin in 2021 and an RB29 finish from Tyler Allgeier last season. None of these 56 selected recorded a hit season as a rookie.

The 2010-2016 collection of backs outperformed their 2017-2022 peers. We saw 67 backs drafted in rounds five through seven between 2010 and 2016. Eleven (16.42%) of the running backs produced a hit season at some point in their career, with four of the eleven posting a top-12 season. Alfred Morris, Latavius Murray, Jay Ajayi, and Jordan Howard.

Morris, Murray, and Howard recorded multiple hit seasons, with Morris and Howard both delivering an RB1 season as a rookie, the only two to record a hit in their first professional season.

All totaled, 123 RBs have been selected in rounds 5-7, since 2010. Six have recorded at least one top-12 season with another eight having brought their managers at least one top-24 campaign. Rounds 5-7 have delivered a 4.87% RB1 hit rate, and an 11.38% overall hit rate.

It’s safe to say that if you draft a RB selected in these rounds, your expectations should be low. RBs drafted in these rounds should be taken in the later parts of your rookie draft with the majority of them not being drafted at all.

5. Round 4

Running Back Hit Rates 2017-2022
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With the way the NFL seems to be valuing the RB position in recent years, we are seeing more and more backs fall into the fourth round than ever before. From 2017 through 2022, there have been 29 to hear their name called in Round 4.

Six running backs out of this group have delivered a hit season thus far in their careers, three of the six; Tarik Cohen, Tony Pollard, and Rhamondre Stevenson have had a top-12 season. The lone back drafted here to have multiple hit seasons is Marlon Mack who had back-to-back RB2 seasons in 2018 & 2019. None of this collection reached hit status in their rookie season.

Similar to what we saw in Rounds five through seven, the 2010-2016 collection of round four backs outperformed their 2017-2022 peers. There were 26 backs drafted in Round 4 between 2010 and 2016. Six of them produced a hit season, with four of the six; Lamar Miller, Devonta Freeman, James White, and Mike White having at least one top-12 season.

Miller and Freeman recorded multiple top-12 seasons in addition to multiple top-24 campaigns, and James White added a top-24 season to pair with his 2018 top-12 performance. The 2010-2016 group of Round 4 backs similar to the 2017-2022 group failed to produce a hit season from a rookie RB.

All totaled 55 RBs have been selected in Round 4 since 2010. Seven have recorded at least one top-12 season, and a total of 10 RBs gave us either a top-12 or top-24 season. Round 4 delivered a 12.73% RB1 hit rate and a 30.90% overall hit rate.

As noted the way NFL organizations are valuing the RB position in recent years, we are seeing more and more backs selected here that would have likely been top-100 picks even 3-4 years ago. That said, draft capital matters, and if selected a rookie running back that came off the board in Round four, your expectations should remain low.

4. Round 3

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As expected, we start to see some fantasy-relevant RBs start to emerge in the third round. 7 of the 19 (36.84%) selected, have delivered at least one hit season thus far in their careers. Not only do we see, more hit seasons coming out of Round three, but we are also seeing more top-12 campaigns. Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, James Conner, David Montgomery and Antonio Gibson are that crew.

Six of the RBs to deliver hit seasons, have done it on multiple occasions, led by Alvin Kamara who posted five straight top-12 seasons to start his career and David Montgomery who has four hit seasons on his resume to date.

We also start to see hit seasons from rookies in this round. Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt were top-12 backs as a rookie, and David Montgomery finished his rookie season as RB24.

There were 17 backs drafted in Round 3 between 2010 and 2016. Ten of them produced a hit season, with three of the ten; DeMarco Murray, Duke Johnson, and David Johnson having at least one top-12 season.

Murray and David Johnson recorded multiple top-12 seasons in addition to top-24 campaigns, and Duke Johnson added a top-24 season to pair with his 2017 top-12 performance. David Johnson finished as a RB1, and Duke was a top-24 back in their rookie seasons. David and Duke Johnson are the only two out of this group of 17 to record a hit season as a rookie.

All totaled, 36 RBs have been selected in Round three since 2010. 18, (50%) have recorded at least one hit season. 8 of the 36 have seen at least one top-12 season and there have been another 10 occasions where a third-round drafted back has finished within the top 24. Rounds 3 RBs have delivered a 22.2% RB1 hit rate, and a 27.78% RB2 hit rate.

For the vast majority of Dynasty Managers, your rosters will not be comprised of top-12 running backs only. Round 3 backs should be considered when drafting your rookies. As the draft capital of the player increases, so does the likelihood, that they will have a relevant role within their offense.

3. Round 2

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Since the 2017 NFL Draft, there have been a total of 16 RBs selected in Round 2, and 11 (68.75%) have produced at least one hit season. Four of the eleven have at least one top-12 season to date, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb, and Johnathan Taylor.

Those four backs have all had multiple hit seasons and they are joined by Miles Sanders and D’Andre Swift. On seven occasions we saw a Round two rookie deliver a hit season, six of those hits were top-24 campaigns and the lone top-12 hit season belongs to Johnathan Taylor

Looking further back, 21 RBs selected in the second round from 2010-2016, and 9 (42.85%) have produced at least one hit season. Five of the nine have at least one top-12 season to date, Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, Jeremy Hill, Carlos Hyde, and Derrick Henry.

Six of the RBs selected between 2010 and 2016 have delivered hits on multiple occasions, the five listed above as well as Giovani Bernard who opened his career with three straight top-24 finishes. Bernard, Bell, Lacy, and Hill all delivered a hit as a rookie with Lacy and Hill’s being a top-12 finish.

All in all, 37 RBs have been selected in Round two since 2010. 20, (54.05%) have recorded at least one hit season.
9 of the 37 have seen at least one top-12 season and there have been another 18 occasions where a second-round drafted back has finished within the top 24. Round 2 RBs have delivered a 24.32% RB1 hit rate, and a 48.64% RB2 hit rate.

With the NFL drafting trends pushing runningbacks down team’s Big Board, the second round has become the defacto round one for running backs. Fewer and fewer backs have been drafted in Round one and the talent of backs selected in the second round has increased as displayed in the high values from 2017-2023 compared to those drafted in 2010-2016.

Historical data indicates that Dynasty managers should target running backs drafted in Round two. In what is becoming a theme in this article the higher the draft capital the better the result tends to be the rule. Running backs selected in this range are generally selected by teams with the immediate need and the talent level combined with the team’s investment tends to get these players on the field sooner rather than later.

2. Round 1

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Round 1, as one would expect, sees a rather high hit rate. Of the 9 RBs selected in the first round between 2017-2022, 7 of them (77.78%) have delivered a least one hit season at this point in their career, and five have done it on multiple occasions.

Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, and Najee Harris all delivered a hit in their rookie season. Fournette, McCaffrey, Barkley, and Harris had RB1 rookie campaigns.

Drafting a first-round selected running back is as safe as it gets when drafting your rookie running backs. Of the nine drafted here, only Rashaad Penny and Sony Michel have failed to deliver at top-24 season or better thus far into their career.

There were ten backs selected in round 1 from 2010-2016. Nine of them delivered at least one hit season, eight of which had at least one top-12 campaign. David Wilson was the lone Round 1 running back drafted between 2010-2016 and his career was limited to two seasons due to injury.

From 2010-2022 there have been a total of 19 RBs drafted in the first round. Seventeen or 89.47% have recorded at least one hit season.
13 of the 19 have seen at least one top-12 season and nine of them have hit the top-12 on multiple occasions. This group is highlighted by Mark Ingram, Todd Gurley, Melvin Gordon, and Ezekiel Elliott.

When it comes to rookies producing a top-12 season, Round One rookies drafted since 2010 have achieved this mark on eight occasions, and there were an additional three backs that finished in the top-24 as a rookie. The 2022 rookie class was the first to fail to produce a top-12 back since 2019, and it’s the fourth class of the 14 studied.

1. Conclusion

In conclusion, we have 129 running backs drafted since 2017. Those 129 running backs have produced a total of 38 top-12 or better finishes, and an additional 33 top-24 or better seasons. Those 38 top-12 or better finishes came from 15 of the 129 backs studied (11.6%). Two of the fifteen (13.3%) were first round selections, four of the fifteen (26.7%) were second round selections, and five of the fifteen (33.3%) were drafted in round 3.

These 11 running backs have accounted for 29 of the 38 top-12 seasons (76.3%). Nine of the eleven have multiple top-12 seasons, and those nine have accounted for 27 of the 38 (71%) top-12 finishes this group has produced from 2017-2023.

The bottom line is when drafting running backs this offseason, you should be targeting the backs selected in the first three rounds to maximize the return on your investment.

It is difficult at this point of the offseason to predict where the top ranked rookie running backs will be drafted this season. Using the historical data dating back to 2010, we know that 270 running backs were selected. We know that there have been 43 (15.9%) to finish with a top-12 season at least once in their career, and a total of 76 RBs, (28.1%) have finished a season at RB24 or better at least once.

So, of the top 24 ranked RBs in the 2023 draft class, based on historical data, we should expect that six of them will have at least one top-24 season. There will be other useful RB3 seasons from these backs as well. Rookie Fever is a thing this time of year without question, the reality is that rookies are risky, and to limit your risk you need to be drafting top-100 NFL picks whenever possible.

Thank you for reading 2017-2022 Running Back Hit Rates

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