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Let the Kids Play - Why You Should Pick Rookie RBs Over Vets in 2017

The 2017 NFL Draft’s running back class was one of the most highly touted in recent memory. With eight players being drafted in the first three rounds, this class has a robust investment and is very likely to generate a number of immediate impact players.

My aim in this article is to convince you that you should be thinking of drafting young, instead of spending higher picks on vets at the running back position.

Note: ADP data taken from FantasyPros

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Don't Be Scared

Age is not a barrier for running backs the way it is for all other offensive positions. Research shows that running backs hit the apex of their production at age 24 with 4.41 yards per carry (2), and actually have a large bump comparatively at age 21; this has been the standard for at least the last five years,.

Further, there is an enormous drop-off in production for most running backs after the age of 28. A few of the running backs we’ll be talking about today have passed that cliff age. When you choose from the rookie running backs, you are hedging your bets on two fronts. First, you’re betting on youth, as well as the burst, health and excitement that come with it. Second, you’re getting a comparable value, by drafting players who have been drafted to be lead backs at a cheaper draft price, due to their NFL inexperience.

This looks to be an amazing class of running backs. Christian McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’s all-purpose yards record, while a player like Joe Mixon was so well-regarded, that even with a highly-publicized assault on his record, he didn’t even pass the mid second round. The NFL believes in these players, and so should you.

I recognize that drafting a rookie can be frightening, as you haven’t seen them play in the NFL. The players are bigger, faster, and better coached; it’s only human to want to see proven production before investing. The good news is, every year for the last three years there have been at least two immediate fantasy-viable players in each rookie class.

Last year, we saw Zeke Elliott, and Jordan Howard breakout, with Derrick Henry being a serviceable starter. While in 2015 it was David Johnson, Todd Gurley, Jeremy Langford, and Tevin Coleman; and back in 2014, it was Jeremy Hill, Carlos Hyde, and Devonta Freeman. The point is, every year the investment comes to roost for players.

Since 2006, a clear majority of first round running backs have excelled their first year; even Trent Richardson played exceptionally well his first year where he racked up 1,317 scrimmage yards with 12 TDs. It would become obvious that age was playing to his benefit that year. For re-draft formats, first round running backs are a solid bet, with the risk already placed into their ADP. The point of all of this is to prove to you, dear reader, that you can feel confident investing in the upside of a player that you believe in.


The Value of Rookie Running Backs

Let’s talk about the value that you’ll be reaping this year by drafting players like Christian McCaffrey (ADP 32), Joe Mixon (ADP 48.5), Dalvin Cook (ADP 61), Kareem Hunt (ADP 117), Alvin Kamara (ADP 157), or D’Onta Foreman (ADP 187).

Each of the running backs mentioned here has a clear path to the starting job, and should be expecting to get a legitimate share of the reps by the time week six rolls around. Although each of these options has questions associated with them, so do the players at comparable ADP.

Here are the running backs who are going in the third, fourth, and fifth rounds currently: Carlos Hyde (35.5), Isaiah Crowell (36) Spencer Ware (44.5) Adrian Peterson (52) Eddie Lacy (52.5) Ty Montgomery (52.5) C.J. Anderson (54.5). The problems of time-share, injury, fit-to- system, and ability to be consistent in the NFL plague every one of these veteran RBs. Age kills running back production, so, instead of taking two running backs to start your draft, one would be best suited to take one of the big three running backs, if at all possible; then, waiting until you can pick a cheaper rookie later in the draft. Let other people take players like LeSean McCoy (ADP 7.5), who will be 29 this year, or Marshawn Lynch (ADP 19.5), who’s currently 31, and pick up value at the WR position.

It is the depth of your roster that allows you to succeed far into the season. Depth allows you to fight through injuries, and trade if necessary. We all like to make that major push for the marquee players near the end of the year, and drafting young allows you to do that. If you adopt the strategy of picking up a few rookie RBs, one is more than likely to hit. If you get one of the cheap rookies that performs like Gurley in 2015 or Jordan Howard in 2016, your flexibility in how you approach the end of the season skyrockets. The payout is huge, while the risk is mitigated by the fear that rookies can’t produce.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that not only is taking a rookie this year a good idea, but even if you’re wrong it won’t kill you. This strategy allows you to draft reliable first and second round players that you’re most certain will succeed next year, while simultaneously picking players who have the highest unknown upside in the league. This is a recipe for fantasy success.


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