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Repeatability - Running Backs
David Dorey
July 20, 2005

With running backs flying off the board in drafts this summer, you'd think that they are all no-miss picks with little risk. Ends up that they have been among the more consistent fantasy values in recent years but that is "recent years". The lack of any rookie running backs in the last two seasons seems to coincide with an increased consistency of Top 12 players repeating the next year. 2002 witnessed an unprecedented event - all Top 6 players from that year went on to remain in the Top 12 the following season. Not a dud in the bunch and 2003 was another good year with only Lewis missing time from his legal problems and Green falling. Otherwise, it was a banner season again for repeating. The 2000 and 2001 seasons are far more similar to what historically occurs.

All player listings to follow were created using the standard performance scoring as seen on The Huddle statistics. This awards 1/10 for yardage and six point touchdowns.

  2000 Pts 2001 Pts 2002 Pts 2003 Pts 2004 Pts
1 M Faulk 372 M Faulk 337 P Holmes 365 P Holmes 365 S Alexander 297
2 E James 332 P Holmes 269 R Williams 317 A Green 337 T Barber 293
3 E George 284 A Green 256 L Tomlinson 299 L Tomlinson 336 L Tomlinson 282
4 M Anderson 252 S Alexander 255 C Portis 281 J Lewis 303 C Martin 271
5 A Green 246 C Martin 236 S Alexander 267 C Portis 271 D Davis 255
6 F Taylor 240 C Dillon 225 D McAllister 262 S Alexander 262 E James 252
 
7 R Smith 240 L Tomlinson 212 T Barber 258 D McAllister 257 C Dillon 248
8 R Watters 232 R Williams 211 T Henry 251 F Taylor 228 R Johnson 219
9 C Garner 231 A Smith 208 C Garner 249 R Williams 222 W McGahee 201
10 C Martin 231 S Davis 185 E George 222 E James 214 B Westbrook 199
11 L Smith 224 G Hearst 180 F Taylor 214 T Henry 210 P Holmes 195
12 S Davis 223 D Rhodes 180 A Green 212 S Davis 203 C Portis 194
 
13 T Barber 218 A Thomas 172 J Lewis 211 T Barber 179 R Droughns 192
14 J Stewart 210 T Barber 164 M Faulk 205 D Davis 179 W Dunn 189
15 W Dunn 201 L Smith 159 D Staley 199 M Williams 178 A Green 188
16 J Lewis 197 S Mack 158 C Dillon 196 M Faulk 172 M Pittman 187
17 C Dillon 194 M Alstott 154 M Bennett 192 K Barlow 167 D McAllister 178
18 R Williams 191 C Garner 152 C Martin 184 C Martin 162 J Bettis 174
19 J Bettis 184 E George 145 G Hearst 179 R Johnson 159 T Jones 174
20 T Wheatley 175 D Staley 141 W Dunn 177 B Westbrook 153 F Taylor 169
21 E Smith 175 J Bettis 136 M Shipp 175 T Duckett 146 K Jones 161
22 J Anderson 171 M Pittman 132 J Stewart 167 E George 142 N Goings 156
23 M Pittman 158 W Dunn 130 A Smith 164 M Pittman 139 E Smith 155
24 J Allen 152 M Smith 129 E James 149 A Thomas 137 C Brown 154
The Following season: Remained Top 6 Became 7-12 Became 13-24 Not in next Top 24

Top 6 became Avg. 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Top 6 3 3 2 2 4 2
7 to 12 1 1 0 1 2 2
13 - 24 1 1 1 3 0 1
Duds 1 1 3 0 0 1
7 to 12 became Avg. 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003
Top 6 1 0 1 2 1 1
7 to 12 1 3 1 0 2 0
13 - 24 2 2 2 2 2 2
Duds 2 1 2 2 1 3
Top 12 was: Avg. 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Top 6 4 4 2 3 6 4
7 to 12 2 3 2 2 3 1
13 - 24 3 1 2 3 2 5
24+ 2 2 4 2 1 2
Rookies 2 2 2 2 0 0

The Top 6 the last two seasons have returned over half to the Top 12 the next year - an aberration considering history that rarely witnesses more than half of any position seeing players repeat great performances. Even more notable - there were no duds from the Top 6 in the last two years which may heighten the confidence people have when drafting tailbacks.

The 7 to 12 range rarely witnesses a player step up into the very top tier and surprisingly, almost none of the players stay in the top 7 to 12 range. They typically split between slipping down to an RB2 range if not to more of a back-up value.

Looking backwards from the Top 12, there were usually six to eight of the Top 12 that turned into a player that still ranked in the Top 24 the next year. Then the last two seasons has seen 11 and 10 players remain in that top 24 bracket the following year - an amazing consistency that has bent the general rule.

Notice too that the Top 12 normally had two players that were rookies each season and yet the recent drought of top caliber tailbacks from college is mirrored in their absence the last two seasons. While the "Big 4" running backs are normally being drafted in the range of 20th or deeper, history indicates that two of them have an excellent shot at ending in the Top 12. The last two years has obscured the typical optimism that rookie runners have historically brought to fantasy drafts, even though this year had three taken in the first five picks - an all-time NFL record.

  Repeat Reliability 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
1 A Green 5 3 12 2 15
2 P Holmes   2 1 1 11
3 L Tomlinson   7 3 3 3
4 S Alexander   4 5 6 1
5 T Barber 13 14 7 15 2
6 C Martin 10 5 18 18 4
7 M Faulk 1 1 14 16  
8 R Williams 18 8 2 9  
9 E James 2   24 10 6
10 F Taylor 6   11 8 20
11 C Dillon 17 6 16   7
12 C Portis     4 5 12
13 E George 3 19 10 22  
14 D McAllister     6 7 17
15 J Lewis 16   13 4  
16 S Davis 12 10   12  
17 D Davis       14 5
18 T Henry     8 11  
19 W Dunn 15 23 20   14
20 R Johnson       19 8
21 B Westbrook       20 10
22 J Bettis 19 21     19
23 M Pittman 23 22   23 16
24 W McGahee         9
25 D Staley   20 15    
26 M Williams       13  
27 K Barlow       17  
28 M Bennett     17    
29 T Jones         18
30 K Jones         21
31 C Brown         24
Finishes that were 25th or deeper each year were not listed.

The table to the right shows the year end ranking for each of the listed players and is sorted in a manner to suggest the most reliable "repeaters" in fantasy drafts over the last five years. Until last year, Ahman Green was money in the bank and over the last four seasons, Holmes, Tomlinson and Alexander are in a class of their own for consistently repeating great seasons. Barber comes off a career best year and his reality is that in almost every draft in the last five years he has been taken well below his eventual value.

Top 12
Running Back Repeatability
50% - 33%

While 2003 had nine palyers return to the Top 12, 2004 went back to the standard number - 6 of 12. When you remove Tomlinson, Holmes and Alexander from the equation, it really stands at 33% (3 of 9). That's not a very high number for how coveted running backs are in drafts though the reality is that you'll need two and maybe three as starters compared to the standard one for quarterback. Those backs in the top 12 are perhaps the main difference makers for fantasy teams because no position has the steep decline in total points that running backs do. And yet, the run continues on and on well after the first dozen are drafted.