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Fantasy Football Rookie Spotlight: Audric Estimé

We've heard the phrase running backs don't matter before. That's evident in the real-life NFL Draft, with only 12 running backs going in the first round since 2014. That list includes Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Josh Jacobs, Melvin Gordon, Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Sony Michel, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Najee Harris, Bijan Robinson, and Jahmyr Gibbs. Four out of the 12 running backs were drafted before 2020.

When we filter by Day 1 and 2 picks, 49 running backs went in the first three rounds compared to 59 wide receivers since 2014. While it doesn't seem like a drastic difference, the NFL replaces running backs at a cheaper cost. That's surprising because five of the top 25 players in fantasy points per game were receivers in their rookie season. Rookie running backs led the list, accounting for 80 percent of the highest PPR/G in Year 1 among backs drafted in the first three rounds.

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In 2024, the rookie receivers highlighted the class, with variations among the top running backs beyond Jonathon Brooks and Trey Benson. Several rookie running backs fell beyond their expected draft capital based on mock drafts. We'll examine one of the youngest running backs in the 2024 class that landed in a murky running back room.

 

College Production

The value of the running back position remains low, as one of the more highly touted running backs goes in the fifth round to the Broncos. Audric Estime is one of the youngest running backs in the class, posting a 40 percent Running Back Dominator as a junior with a career average of 36 percent. Estimé lacked the receiving profile with a five percent receiving yardage market share in consecutive seasons. 

Based on Estimé's production profile and draft capital, the top comparisons via the RotoViz Box Score Scout were Israel Abanikanda, Alexander Mattison, Wayne Gallman, and Benny Snell. While that's not inspiring, Estimé falls into the backup running back range with some upside. Estimé went about 50 picks behind his projected draft capital of pick 109, though it's within a round or so of other mock drafts.

He averaged the third-highest yards after contact per attempt (YAC/Att) at 4.27 behind Tyrone Tracy Jr. (4.44) and Jaylen Wright (4.35). Estimé showed average elusiveness and explosiveness, evidenced by his 30.6 percent missed tackles forced per attempt (MTF/Att) and 44.1 percent breakaway rush rate. Though he may not have the high-end straight-line speed, he rocks an Explosion Score in the 88th percentile. That aligns with the breakaway rush rate, ranking 14th in the 2024 running back class.

 

Rookie Year Situation

The Broncos invested heavily in offensive players with Bo Nix at quarterback in the first, Troy Franklin in the fourth, Estimé in the fifth, and Devaughn Vele in the seventh out of their seven total selections. That makes sense with Sean Payton as head coach since we're used to Payton's teams having high-scoring offenses. 

Javonte Williams is under contract through 2024, and an unrestricted free agent in 2025. They also have Samaje Perine through 2025, and the exciting sophomore back in Jaleel McLaughlin through 2026. The Broncos threw to their running backs at the second-highest rate with 8.8 targets per game behind the Jets at 9.1. For context, that's the third-most targets per game to the running back position over the past three seasons.

We'll see if that trend continues into 2024, but it seems likely because the Broncos averaged 8.1 targets per game (2022) to the running backs before Payton took over as head coach. It's unsurprising to see Payton's offenses targeting their running backs at a high rate throughout his coaching career. Nix threw 66.8 percent of his passes in the short areas of the field and behind the line of scrimmage at Oregon. That bodes well for the running backs, though Estimé lacked the receiving profile of Williams and McLaughlin.

 

Fantasy Football Outlook

It's a lukewarm landing spot for Estimé, especially if the running back usage remains the same. Last season, Williams averaged a 50 percent snap share, with a 51 percent rush share and a 12 percent target share. Perine mixed in on 34 percent of the snaps with a 12 percent target share, with McLaughlin mixing in for an 18 percent snap share and eight percent target share. 

It could be the Broncos being cautious with Williams returning from his injury last season, or how they prefer to deploy their backfield usage. Estimé is a young running back, with good size to break tackles and longer rushing attempts. He came in as RB9 on my spreadsheet but went off the real-life NFL Draft board as RB12 behind two questionable ones in Isaac Guerendo and Sione Vaki. Estimé is a talented running back worth targeting in the third round of rookie drafts, depending on your dynasty team's needs, and a late-round handcuff back in redraft leagues. 



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