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ADP vs. Actual: Running Backs
David Dorey
July 5, 2010
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Other Positions:  Quarterback  |  Running Back  |  Wide Receiver

Every summer there is conventional wisdom that is expressed in the average draft positions (ADP) that you see on the internet and in magazines. They are merely the collections of numerous drafts to see where, on average, players are taken. Certainly every draft has at least the team owners to make them unique and there are plenty of scoring systems out there as well. You cannot take anything too finite from the results of averaging but comparing that to what actually happened last year using a standard fantasy scoring system gives an interesting view. It shows how well, on average, we all drafted against what happened to those players.

Just to see if there is anything in past history to help us not repeat a bad season, I've taken the liberty of assembling the Average Draft Positions from the last three years for quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers and compared each to what happened that season. For ease of viewing, I have highlighted in green or red which players were respectively very good or very bad draft picks.

2009 2008 2007
ADP Actual    Diff    Player ADP Actual    Diff    Player ADP Actual    Diff    Player
1 3 -2 Adrian Peterson 1 6 -5 Ladainian Tomlinson 1 2 -1 Ladainian Tomlinson
2 4 -2 Maurice Jones-Drew 2 9 -7 Adrian Peterson 2 15 -13 Steven Jackson
3 14 -11 Matt Forte 3 8 -5 Brian Westbrook 3 36 -33 Larry Johnson
4 35 -31 Michael Turner 4 39 -35 Joseph Addai 4 7 -3 Frank Gore
5 10 -5 Steven Jackson 5 15 -10 Steven Jackson 5 4 1 Joseph Addai
6 23 -17 LaDainian Tomlinson 6 12 -6 Marion Barber 6 40 -34 Shaun Alexander
7 20 -13 DeAngelo Williams 7 14 -7 Frank Gore 7 1 6 Brian Westbrook
8 1 7 Chris Johnson 8 10 -2 Clinton Portis 8 20 -12 Willie Parker
9 6 3 Frank Gore 9 13 -4 Marshawn Lynch 9 12 -3 Reggie Bush
10 29 -19 Steve Slaton 10 40 -30 Larry Johnson 10 50 -40 Rudi Johnson
11 56 -45 Brian Westbrook 11 3 8 Maurice Jones-Drew 11 34 -23 Laurence Maroney
12 34 -22 Brandon Jacobs 12 24 -12 Ryan Grant 12 47 -35 Travis Henry
13 24 -11 Marion Barber 13 27 -14 Reggie Bush 13 9 4 Willis McGahee
14 61 -47 Clinton Portis 14 30 -16 Jamal Lewis 14 17 -3 Ryan Grant
15 41 -26 Ronnie Brown 15 35 -20 Willis McGahee 15 11 4 Maurice Jones-Drew
16 12 4 Ryan Grant 16 42 -26 Darren McFadden 16 23 -7 Ronnie Brown
17 22 -5 Kevin Smith 17 18 -1 Brandon Jacobs 17 13 4 Edgerrin James
18 8 10 Pierre Thomas 18 129 -111 Laurence Maroney 18 42 -24 Cedric Benson
19 18 1 Reggie Bush 19 46 -27 Willie Parker 19 3 16 Clinton Portis
20 54 -34 Darren McFadden 20 4 16 Michael Turner 20 10 10 Earnest Graham
21 5 16 Joseph Addai 21 5 16 Thomas Jones 21 22 -1 Thomas Jones
22 46 -24 Marshawn Lynch 22 44 -22 Earnest Graham 22 21 1 Brandon Jacobs
23 7 16 Thomas Jones 23 56 -33 Edgerrin James 23 115 -92 Deuce McAllister
24 21 3 Knowshon Moreno 24 81 -57 Selvin Young 24 16 8 Marshawn Lynch
25 58 -33 Larry Johnson 25 17 8 Ronnie Brown 25 5 20 Adrian Peterson
26 2 24 Ray Rice 26 33 -7 Jonathan Stewart 26 8 18 Marion Barber
27 73 -46 Willie Parker 27 26 1 LenDale White 27 79 -52 Carnell Williams
28 50 -22 Derrick Ward 28 1 27 Matt Forte 28 64 -36 Ahman Green
29 31 -2 Chris Wells 29 16 13 Kevin Smith 29 6 23 Jamal Lewis
30 17 13 Jonathan Stewart 30 50 -20 Julius Jones 30 30 0 DeAngelo Williams
31 36 -5 Felix Jones 31 37 -6 Ricky Williams 31 44 -13 Julius Jones
32 15 17 Cedric Benson 32 57 -25 Fred Taylor 32 41 -9 Jerious Norwood
33 84 -51 LenDale White 33 2 31 DeAngelo Williams 33 78 -45 Tatum Bell
34 57 -23 Donald Brown 34 74 -40 Rudi Johnson 34 25 9 Fred Taylor
35 26 9 Darren Sproles 35 11 24 Chris Johnson 35 66 -31 Brandon Jackson
36 38 -2 Julius Jones 36 127 -91 Rashard Mendenhall 36 39 -3 Lamont Jordan
37 70 -33 Leon Washington 37 64 -27 Chris Perry 37 54 -17 Ladell Betts
38 67 -29 Jamal Lewis 38 78 -40 Felix Jones 38 19 19 Chester Taylor
39 32 7 LeSean McCoy 39 31 8 Chester Taylor 39 18 21 LenDale White
40 11 29 Tim Hightower 40 48 -8 Justin Fargas 40 29 11 De'shaun Foster
41 33 8 Ahmad Bradshaw 41 49 -8 Ray Rice 41 28 13 Warrick Dunn
42 19 23 Rashard Mendenhall 42 47 -5 Deuce McAllister 42 27 15 Kevin Jones
43 16 27 Fred Jackson 43 68 -25 Ahman Green 43 80 -37 Michael Turner
44 40 4 Chester Taylor 44 73 -29 Ahmad Bradshaw 44 46 -2 Chris Brown
45 27 18 Willis McGahee 45 52 -7 Maurice Morris 45 49 -4 Kenton Keith
46 90 -44 Earnest Graham 46 7 39 Steve Slaton 46 70 -24 Vernand Morency
47 64 -17 Jerious Norwood 47 132 -85 Kenny Watson 47 45 2 Leon Washington
48 75 -27 Fred Taylor 48 34 14 Jerious Norwood 48 58 -10 Reuben Droughns
49 37 12 Laurence Maroney 49 na Inj Chris Brown 49 37 12 Najeh Davenport
50 13 37 Jamaal Charles 50 32 18 Tim Hightower 50 43 7 Kevin Faulk

What Can We Learn?

Last year was a bloodbath for those early running back picks with four of the first seven major disappointments. In the first 17 ADP picks, only Chris Johnson was a true value pick and as is so usual almost every player taken did not quite meet with the expected results considering where they were taken. The scariest part here is that running backs should be your most certain pick and the one that should deliver the most consistent numbers for your team. But - every year there are always several in the top 15 or so backs taken that are outright busts. May be from injury, could be due to just failing to repeat a previous good year. But always - three or four of those picks are going to outright suck.

Let's break down some of the individuals to see why it was that they ended up as overvalued.

2009

Matt Forte - Not a flop but his role as a receiver was not duplicated and instead he was left with more poor rushing totals like he already had the previous season.

Michael Turner, Steve Slaton, Brian Westbrook, Brandon Jacobs Clinton Portis and Ronnie Brown - Injured

LaDainian Tomlinson - Arguable what the problem was. He says they just did not rely on him as before (true). But he also had a poor "yards after touch" and yards per carry. Probably a combination of his age and the team turning to the pass more.

In most seasons, those backs which flop do so because of injury. While it may seem reasonable to shy away from older players like Westbrook, Tomlinson and the like, that is not too reliable. The 32-year old Thomas Jones had a top ten season last year. There is almost always one 30-year old runner who has a big year.

What is consistently happening each year is that those picks made around tenth to say 20th or so contains a lot of flops. These are the runners who (besides injury) fall back because they just do not meet a big previous season or they are the older players that have long been relied on who are just not meeting expectations this late into their career. They are usually veterans with a comfortable name to call in the second round. And often they just do not get it done. Conversely, if you had to pick out a grouping most likely to turn in a season far beyond expectations, that usually comes out of the 20th to 30th ranks. Figure these are either the younger players with less track record or the veterans who seem much less attractive due to some situation.

Consider last year

Pierre Thomas - great pick and that was with him injured as well. He had a bigger role in those games he was healthy.

Joseph Addai and Thomas Jones - Hot new rookies scared off drafters but Donald Brown and Shonn Greene did almost nothing during the regular season.

Ray RIce - Same situation as Chris Johnson and Rice took over his team as well. Throw Rashard Mendenhall and Jamaal Charles in the same bucket.

Again - there is no hard and fast truism here that applies to all players. But there is usable information to consider. The biggest question to ask yourself in this age of committee backfields is how likely is it that the youngster displaces the veteran? Seems like conventional wisdom had a lot of those wrong last year. Second year backs have been making a great showing but that could be as much about a great draft class in 2008 than anything else.

The large number of running back disappointments that end up being taken in the second or third round makes grabbing a sure thing quarterback or wide receiver even more enticing. And you cannot do much to predict injuries other than avoiding older players and assuming the risk that you will miss out on the one or two aging gems.

More than anything - just be aware of the changing nature of backfields. With so many tandems switching who is primary and how effective he is, it may make sense taking both players if you can afford it.

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