Running Back Hit Rates 2020-2023

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 rosters and address areas of need.

Dynasty fantasy football leagues operate similarly. In this fantasy football format, the rookie draft can be a key component of building your roster. League participants manage their rosters year-round and keep all of their players from one season to the next. This setup allows for long-term team building and player development strategies.

There is a phenomenon in Dynasty leagues I like to call Rookie Fever. Rookie Fever is the overvaluing of rookie picks, driving up their perceived value. Dynasty managers should have a more realistic expectation of what value their rookie picks hold, but as a rule, we overvalue youth and we like shiny new toys.

Some rookies will have an immediate impact, some take time to develop and some may never reach the fantasy value we had planned for them when we added them to our rosters. This article defines 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 annually to determine the expected hit rates of drafted prospects. In this 4-part series, I dive into the drafts over the past twenty-four seasons to identify trends and help set a level of expectation for this upcoming rookie class. 

I began this process in 2018 and I have compiled the results of every skill player drafted since 2000. With many players drafted in the early years of my data collection no longer playing, and the game changing over the past 24 years, I have reduced the data measured to the last four draft classes. The 2000-2009 data and the 2010-2019 data are still utilized and referenced to give a larger sample of data. 

The four-part series continues with a review of the Running Back position. When reviewing hit rates, it’s important to define what a hit is. I define running back “Hit” as any season that an RB delivers 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 rookies, as well as how many have done it on more than one occasion. 

Since the 2020 NFL draft, there have been 77 running backs selected. Of those 77 – 5 were selected in Round One, 10 in the Second, 12 in the Third, 14 in the Fourth, and a total of 36 were selected in Rounds Five through Seven. Similar to the review of the quarterback position, the data indicates the importance of draft capital. The running backs draft capital doesn’t have the dramatic impact that it does at quarterbacks but it remains a very relevant indicator of the player’s potential for hit seasons. 

Rounds 5-7

As one would anticipate, the running backs selected in rounds five through seven have proven to deliver little fantasy relevance. This collection of 35 has played 43 seasons and has produced a total of 3 hits, one top-12 season, and 2 top-24. Those hits all in 2023 came courtesy of Kyren Williams, (RB7), Isaih Pacheco, (RB15), and Jerome Ford, (RB16).

Before the 2023 season, the best result we got from one of the 35 backs in this category was Elijah Mitchell’s RB26 season in 2021 and Tyler Allgeiger’s RB29 season in 2022. Five of the backs selected in this range have yet to appear for the team that drafted them.

Round five through seven saw 71 running backs selected from 2000-2009, and an additional 99 drafted from 2010-2019. These backs combined to deliver 40 hit seasons in a combined 550 seasons of play. 14 of the hit seasons were RB1 finishes and 26 were RB2 finishes. The most dominant back drafted in this range since 2000, is Aaron Jones drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the 5th round in 2017. In Jones’ seven seasons, he has finished as a top-12 back 4 times and a top-24 back on one other occasion.

In total, since the 2000 NFL Draft there have been 206 RBs selected in rounds five through seven. They have produced a total of 43 hit seasons in 604 seasons played, (7.12%) Those 40 hit seasons come from 21 RBs, (10.19%). Nine backs have delivered a hit season on multiple occasions and four – Mike Anderson, Alfred Morris, Zac Stacey, and Jordan Howard all put up hit rookie seasons.

Round 4

Moving into Round Four, not a lot changes in the pursuit of hit seasons. The 2020-2023 group provides us with 14 RBs that have played in a total of 37 seasons to date. Rhamondre Stevenson is the lone member here to deliver a hit season. Stevenson finished as RB7 in 2022. Other than Rhamondre, the best this group has given us is 4 top-36 seasons, and Chuba Hubbard is the only one to give us more than one.

Running Back PickSeasonsRB1RB2RB1%RB2%
Joshua Kelley1124000%0%
La’Mical Perine1203000%0%
Anthony McFarland Jr.1244000%0%
Deejaay Dallas 1444000%0%
Michael Carter 1073000%0%
Kene Nwangwu1193000%0%
Rhamondre Stevenson 12031033.3%0%
Chuba Hubbard1263000%0%
Dameon Pierce 1072000%0%
Zamir White 1222000%0%
Isaiah Spiller1232000%0%
Pierre Strong1272000%0%
Hassin Haskins 1311000%0%
Roschon Jonson 1151000%0%
Running Back Hit Rates 2020-2023

The Round Four group from 2000-2009 comprised 32 runningbacks that combined to appear in 148 total seasons. This group produced 18 hit seasons – 8 RB1 and 10 RB2. Five of the backs delivered a hit season on multiple occasions and former Houston Oiler RB Domanick Williams was the only one to do it as a rookie.

The 2010-2019 group performed similarly to their 2000-2009 peers. Thirty-nine backs heard their name called in Round Four during his era and those backs have combined to give us 20 hit seasons – 8 RB1, and 12 RB2, in a combined 144 seasons. Lamar Miller, Devonta Freeman, James White, and Marlon Mack are the only multiple-hit RBs of the group. They combined for 13 of the 20 hit seasons recorded. Roy Helu who finished as RB24 in 2011 is the only member of the round four class to deliver a hit season as a rookie.

Since the 2000 NFL Draft, a total of 85 running backs have been selected in the fourth round. These players have collectively participated in 363 seasons thus far, yielding 41 hit seasons – 17 RB1 performances and 24 RB2 performances. Notably, these achievements were spread across eighteen running backs. This translates to 21% of the selected players achieving a hit season in their careers, leaving 79% without such distinction. The hit rate for RB1 seasons among fourth-round picks since 2000 stands at 4.68%, while RB2 seasons have been achieved at 6.61%.

Round 3

Twelve running backs have been selected in Round Three since t2000, and four have achieved a hit, in a total of 29 seasons of play. Antonio Gibson stands out as the sole multi-hit performer. Gibson has both an RB1 and an RB2 finish on his resume. His RB2 season occurred during his rookie campaign in 2020, making him the only back in this group to achieve a hit in their inaugural season.

Running BackPickSeasonsRB1RB2RB1%RB2%
Antonio Gibson6641125%25%
Ke’Shawn Vaughn764000%0%
Zack Moss864000%0%
Darrynton Evans934000%0%
Trey Sermon883000%0%
Rachaad White9121050%0%
Tyrion Davis-Price932000%0%
Brian Robinson Jr.982010%50%
Kendre Miller711000%0%
Tyjae Spears811000%0%
Devon Achane841010%100%
Tank Bigsby881000%0%
Running Back Hit Rates 2020-2023

Looking back at the round-three selections from 2000-2009, we find a group of 27. Together, they totaled 142 seasons, yielding 33 hit seasons – 15 as RB1 and 18 as RB2. Brian Westbrook, Frank Gore, and Jamaal Charles collectively contributed to all 15 RB1 seasons and accounted for eight of the RB2 seasons. Seven of the twenty-seven recorded multiple-hit seasons and Kevin Smith (Detroit Lions), and Steve Slaton,(Houston Oilers), did it as a rookie.

The 2010-2019 delivered similar results as the 2000-2009 running backs. We saw 27 running backs selected during this period, and this group demonstrated improved performance, delivering 45 hit seasons- 19 as RB1 and 26 as RB2 in a total of 147 played. Seventeen out of the 27 running backs have achieved at least one hit season to date, with 10 of them accomplishing this feat on multiple occasions. Notably, four backs—David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, and David Montgomery—achieved hit seasons as rookies.

In total dating back to the 2000 NFL Draft, a total of 66 running backs have been selected in the third round. These backs have totaled 318 seasons thus far, yielding 83 hit seasons – 17 RB1 performances and 24 RB2 performances. The 83 hit seasons come from 29 different running backs. This translates to 44% of the selected players achieving a hit season in their careers, leaving 56% without. The hit rate for RB1 seasons among third-round picks since 2000 stands at 11.32%, while RB2 seasons have been achieved at 14.78%.

Round 2

When reviewing the performance of running backs selected in the second round of the NFL Draft from 2020-2023, there is a noticeable increase in hit rates in terms of both RB1s and RB2s compared to those drafted in later rounds. This is to be expected as the best players typically are selected earlier in the draft.

This group of 10 running backs has collectively appeared in 29 seasons to date. In those 29 seasons, they have delivered a total of 12 hit seasons- 4 RB1 and 8 RB2. Only two of the ten have failed to give their fantasy manager a hit season, Cam Akers and Zach Charbonnet. Akers has endured an injury-filled career, and his chances of hit seasons going forward are unlikely. Charbonnet after only one season has a much better chance of joining the other eight who have delivered here.

Three backs, D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor, and Kenneth Walker have had multiple hit seasons, and five of them, Swift, Taylor, Walker, J.K. Dobbins, and Javonte Williams had rookie hit campaigns.

Running BackPickSeasonsRB1RB2RB1%RB2%
D’Andre Swift 354030%75%
Jonathan Taylor4142050%0%
Cam Akers524000%0%
J.K. Dobbins 553010%33.3%
A.J Dillon624010%25%
Javonte Williams353010%33.3%
Breece Hall3621050%0%
Kenneth Walker 412020%100%
James Cook6321050%0%
Zach Charbonnet521000%0%
Running Back Hit Rates 2020-2023

The Round Two group from 2010-2019 produced at a rate slightly higher than what the 2020-2023 group has to date. This group of 28 backs has delivered 42 hit seasons – 21 RB1 and 21 RB2. These hit seasons came from 14 of the 28, with 10 having multi-hit season careers. Eddy Lacy and Jeremy Hill delivered RB1 finishes during their rookie season, and Giovani Bernard. Le’Veon Bell, Nick Chubb, and Miles Sanders all finished as RB2s in year one.

There were 21 running backs to hear their name called in Round Two from 2000-2009. These 21 backs appeared in a combined 143 seasons, 46 hits – 32 RB1 and 14 RB2. These results were driven by Clinton Portis, Maurice Jones-Drew, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, and LeSean McCoy. These backs are responsible for 35 of the 46 hit seasons, (29 RB1).

In total, since 2000 there have been 59 drafted in Round Two, with 36, (69%) of them delivering a hit season at some point in their career. 19, (32%) have finished as an RB1, and 15, (25%) accomplished the feat as a rookie. Round Two drafted RBs should be targeted when seeking to add running backs to your roster during your rookie drafts.

Round 1

In part one of this series, we noted that the amount of Quarterbacks selected in Round One from 2020-2023 was nearly double the amount of any other round. When reviewing the running backs, the Round One group is the smallest of the seven rounds. Since the 2020 NFL draft, there have been five running backs selected in the first round.

Running BackPickSeasonsRB1RB2RB1%RB2%
Clyde Edwards-Helaire32401025%
Najee Harris 2431233.3%66.67%
Travis Etienne2521150%50%
Bijan Robinson8110100%0%
Jahmyr Gibbs12110100%0%
Running Back Hit Rates 2020-2023

In a combined 11 seasons this group of five has produced eight hit seasons. All five backs have delivered at least one hit season. Four of the five have a RB1 season on their resume with Clyde Edwards-Helaire being the one without. All five delivered rookie hit seasons, except Travis Etienne. Etienne missed his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot. In the two seasons Etienne has participated in his hit rate is 100%.

The Round One group from 2010-2019 totals 16. In a combined 100 seasons played they have 47 hit seasons – 36 RB1 and 11 RB2. Only 3 of the 16 have failed to produce at least one hit season, David Wilson, Rashaad Penny, and Sony Michel. 63%, (10) had multiple hit seasons and 9, (56%) had a rookie hit season.

The Round One group from 2000-2009 had 32 RBs drafted in Round One. Twenty-five, (78%) recorded at least one hit season. Twenty-three, (72%), have recorded more than one hit season, led by LaDainian Tomlinson who posted 8 RB1 and 2 RB2 finishes in his eleven-year career. Twelve, (38%) had a hit season as a rookie.

We expect Round One drafted RBs to be successful. After all, they are supposed to be the best of the best and these are the players we are frequently using first-round rookie picks on. When teams spend this type of draft capital on a player, they tend to utilize them in their offense early and often. The success we see from this group in their rookie season confirms this.

The reality is these elite prospects are not a sure thing for their NFL club or your dynasty squad. Since 2000, we have had a total of 53 running backs drafted in the opening round, and 81%, (43) of them have a hit season on their resumes. There is no sure thing as a “can’t miss” pick in your rookie drafts, but the Round One drafted RB comes pretty close.

Running Back Summary

The 2024 quarterback class appears to best one we have seen since 2020. The 2024 runningback class is not perceived in a positive light. This draft class reminds me of the 2014 draft where no backs were selected in Round One. That season Bishop Sankey was the first RB selected coming off the at pick 54. This season It’s possible we won’t see a back selected in the first two rounds of the draft, something that has not happened in the past 24 years.

Currently, my top-6 ranked rookie running backs are – Jonathon Brooks, Marshawn Llyod, Trey Benson, Jaylen Wright, Braelon Allen, and Blake Corum. To put this class in perspective, Brooks is my 13th-ranked rookie in 1QB formats.

This annual exercise highlights the importance of draft capital. We see the difference in RBs selected in the first three rounds versus the last four. We tend to focus on the landing spot when what we should be focused on is where the player was selected in the draft.

Round Number
Running Back Hit Rates 2000-2023

The intent of this article is not to deter you from selecting a running back in your upcoming rookie drafts. The intent is to highlight the importance of draft capital and to suggest that if you are planning to draft a RB, this is not the year to use a first-round pick on one. In a Super-Flex league, I would likely wait until the mid-second round to grab a rookie back.

Fantasy managers as a rule tend to overvalue the running back position. Let the other managers in your league reach for a back this season. If you are the one to reach, the odds are you wasting that pick, let the other managers in your league clog their rosters with assets that are unlikely to produce.

This article also intends to highlight how valuable the ‘Hit RBs” you currently roster are, especially ones that have done it multiple times. If you roster these types of backs hold on tight, especially on a contending roster. On the flip side, if you are rebuilding, this is a great time to sell.

Running Back Hit Rates 2020-2023

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