2022 Rookie RBs & Their Range of Dynasty Outcomes (Fantasy Football)

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With the NFL draft a few weeks away, I wanted to take a deep dive into this year’s running back class, specifically the consensus top-3 of Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker, and Isaiah Spiller. To do this, I will be leveraging 10 years worth of NFL draft and prospect data to find the closest comparisons for these three running backs. In doing so, I am hoping to provide an objective analysis of their potential in the NFL using their athleticism, production profile, and expected draft capital as benchmarks.

Before we dive in, here are a few quick notes on the database I will be using:

  • Career Metrics were calculated using data from CFBFastR
  • Market share and production metrics are “per-game”
  • The database dates back to 2013
  • Adjusted Speed Score is a metric that combines 40-time and weight
  • Yards Per Team Play is a metric I will mention frequently. It is one of the most predictive metrics for running backs and is calculated as “scrimmage yards / total offensive plays”

Also, be sure to check out the full rookie breakdowns for each of these running backs as part of our Rookie Profile Series!

Breece Hall – Iowa State

Early Dominance at Iowa State

Breece Hall, an early declare prospect out of Iowa State, enters this draft with the most complete prospect profile. Contributing immediately as a true freshman in a Power 5 conference, Hall boasts one of the earliest breakout ages in this class at 18.3 – 2nd only to Isaiah Spiller. As a result, when we examine his experience-adjusted production, he stands out averaging 27.4% of his team’s total yards in his first two seasons out of high school. In addition, he averaged an equally impressive 1.76 yards per team play in that same timespan, placing him in elite company. 

To put that number into perspective, all drafted running backs since 2013 who have averaged at least 1.50 yards per team play in their first two years out of high school have averaged 11.4 PPR points per game in their first three NFL campaigns. That average is about 61% higher than the average drafted running back. What happens when we filter on only day 1 and 2 prospects? That average rises to 14.9 PPR points per game. And just for fun, what if we isolate it to only 1st round prospects? We arrive at an elite group of running backs who averaged 19.6 PPR points per game in their first three NFL seasons: Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Saquon Barkley. In short, early-career production absolutely matters, and Hall clearly checks that box. 

Potential Draft Capital

That brings me to my next point: draft capital. As you can see in the exercise above, draft capital drastically improves the likelihood of a prospect producing immediately out of college. Unfortunately, until after the NFL draft, we are left somewhat in the dark speculating when each player might come off the board. However, the NFL Mock Draft Database and Grinding the Mocks are two helpful tools that aggregate a multitude of mock drafts provided by experts, fans, and the media to come up with an estimated draft pick for each prospect. And while this is far from perfect, it can at least give us an idea of which round a player could be selected. For Hall, both sites have him coming off the board at around pick 40. That alone is extremely encouraging as that likely means that he could be immediately involved in a team’s offense. Interestingly, some of the recent mock drafts from sites such as Bleacher Report and NFL.com have Hall going as high as pick 25 to the Buffalo Bills.

Range of Outcomes: Breece Hall

Combining the data above along with other career metrics, we can use historical data to determine Hall’s likelihood of succeeding in the NFL. We will use the following career metrics and data points for this exercise:

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Taking these numbers into account, we can start to filter through the last 10 draft classes to assess which running backs entered the league with a similar profile to Hall. Let’s first establish our thresholds:

  • Yards per Team Play: +1.75
  • Receiving Yards Market Share: +5.0%
  • Weighted Dominator Rating: +25.0%
  • Adjusted Speed Score: +100.0
  • Years 1-2 Yards per Team Play: +1.50
  • Weight: +210 lbs

Using these thresholds, we should arrive at a list of prospects who produced early on in their college careers and maintained their high-level production. In addition, the adjusted speed score and weight thresholds should isolate our pool of prospects to RBs with above-average size and athleticism. To arrive at a true range of outcomes, let’s first assume that Hall falls past the first three rounds. Which RBs since 2013 have met those thresholds in rounds 4 to 7:

  • Brian Hill

Even though it is a short list, this tells us that most running backs with Hall’s profile do not slip to the last day of the NFL draft. What happens when we focus on day-2 RBs:

And finally, if we filter on only first-round running backs:

This list highlights just how unique of a prospect Breece Hall truly is. We have not seen many prospects with his experience-adjusted production, total career dominance, and athletic profile. Assuming he is selected in the second round, his profile is closest to Dalvin Cook. And regardless of which team he lands on, I fully believe that the team that selects Hall will (and should) integrate him immediately into their offense. Taking all of this into account, it should not come as a surprise that Hall is my 1.01 in most (if not all) rookie drafts.

Kenneth Walker III – Michigan State

Early Career Production & Peak Season at Michigan State

Kenneth Walker, better known as K-Dubs, is coming off of an absolutely dominant season in which he totaled over 1700 yards and 19 touchdowns at Michigan State. As you can see in the table above, he averaged more than 70% of his team’s rushing yards while accounting for well over a third of Michigan State’s total offense. In addition, it was encouraging to see him eclipse the 2.00 yards per team play threshold, similar to Breece Hall’s final two seasons. And among all Power 5 running backs in 2021 (minimum 8 games played), Walker ranked 5th in total yards per team play (2.18), proving that he was one of the most dominant running backs in the country. 

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But while his final season was very impressive, we have to acknowledge the fact that Walker only dominated after he transferred to Michigan State. And though he did break out in his sophomore campaign, his two-year average of 0.86 yards per team play at Wake Forest leaves much to be desired. This is the part of Walker’s profile that takes a hit as both Hall and Spiller were much more involved for their respective teams in their first two seasons out of high school.

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Receiving Production

Another red flag in Walker’s profile is his receiving production, averaging an unimpressive 3.76% receiving yards market share in his best season. For reference, in my database, the average career receiving yards market share for a drafted running back is 5.76%. The fact that Walker was unable to hit that threshold even once in his career is slightly concerning. Could this be a product of Michigan State’s offense? Maybe. Historically, if we take a look at two recently drafted Michigan State running backs – Jeremy Langford and Le’Veon Bell – both were more productive as receivers in their collegiate career. Langford eclipsed the 5% receiving market share threshold once, while Bell did it twice in his final two seasons. Of course, the team has changed since then, so that might not be the cleanest comparison. But since Walker’s receiving numbers were not much better during his time at Wake Forest, this leads me to believe that this is more of a trend than a product of the Trojan’s offense. If you listened to Tuesday’s rookie show, Jason mentioned that Walker’s film showed glimpses of his ability to be an adequate pass catcher, so there is always a possibility that he is used in that way in the NFL. But based on their collegiate numbers alone, I would rather bank on Hall and Spiller being the more productive receivers going forward.

Potential Draft Capital

At the end of the day, draft capital continues to be the strongest indicator of success at the running back position. And despite some of the red flags in Walker’s profile, he should be firmly entrenched as a day 2 pick. Using both NFL Mock Draft Database and Grinding the Mocks, Walker is projected to come off the board at around pick 44 and 53, respectively. Similar to Hall, this should bode well for Walker’s outlook at the next level. Interestingly, some of the mocks on the Mock Draft Database have him going as early as pick 27 or 29 to either the Buffalo Bills or Miami Dolphins. I would personally be very surprised if Walker leapfrogs Hall and is selected in the first round. But nonetheless, both landing spots would be extremely intriguing considering both offenses profile to be very productive this upcoming season.

Range of Outcomes: Kenneth Walker

Let’s do the same exercise using Kenneth Walker’s career stats to find similar college profiles heading into the NFL. Walker’s career numbers:

Once again, let’s set the thresholds:

  • Yards per Team Play: 1.00 – 1.50
  • Receiving Yards Market Share: Less than 5%
  • Weighted Dominator Rating: +20.00%
  • Adjusted Speed Score: +100.0
  • Years 1-2 Yards per Team Play: Less than 1.00
  • Weight: +205 lbs

Using these thresholds, we should arrive at a group of non-pass-catching running backs that were less productive to start their collegiate careers but dominated in their final seasons. 

Day 3 RBs who meet these thresholds:

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  • Jonathan Franklin
  • Andre Williams

Day 2 RBs who meet these thresholds:

Day 1 RBs who meet these thresholds:

  • None

We can immediately see that this list offers a much wider range of outcomes due to Walker’s less productive first two years at Wake Forest and below-average production in the receiving game. First of all, three of the five running backs on that Day-2 list are about +20 lbs heavier than Walker. That leads me to believe that his closest athletic comps might just be Mason or Mckinnon. Secondly, what stands out on this list is that none of these players (outside of McKinnon) are considered pass-catching specialists out of the backfield. Hyde did have a season with over 50 targets, and we did see Henry’s target share improve slightly in 2021. However, early on in their careers, they were primarily relied upon as early-down runners. This could be a concern for Walker if his lack of pass-catching usage continues at the next level. We know that running back targets are worth significantly more for fantasy than rushing attempts. So unless Walker enters the league with efficiency similar to King Henry, his upside could be limited. Therefore, in this year’s rookie draft, I would much rather bank on one of the wide receivers who possess a much more complete prospect profile before selecting Walker in the middle of the first round.

Isaiah Spiller – Texas A&M

Consistently Productive at Texas A&M

Finally, we arrive at Isaiah Spiller, who might just be the most polarizing running back in this class. While his film showed glimpses of a special player, his athletic measurables caused his ADP to drop significantly. However, there is a lot to like about Spiller’s overall profile, especially if he is selected within the first three rounds. If we examine his early career production, his profile is actually very similar to Breece Hall’s. Spiller averaged about 24.8% of his team’s total offensive production in his first two seasons while averaging a 7.6% receiving yards market share. In addition, he boasts the earliest breakout age in this RB class at 18.1. 

The biggest knock on Spiller’s profile, however, is that he was never truly dominant in any season. While he did exceed the 1.00 yards per team play threshold every year, he never exceeded the +2.00 mark like Walker and Hall. And while many expected Spiller to take that next step as a Junior, you can see in the table above that his overall production actually declined in every metric. His final year was far from ideal, but we should not discount his production profile entirely. Spiller is still an early declare who produced as a young prospect, totaling at least 1,000 scrimmage yards every single year.

Potential Draft Capital

Of course, none of that will matter if Spiller does indeed fall in the NFL Draft. The NFL Mock Draft Database currently has him coming off the board at around pick 56. However, on Grinding the Mocks, Spiller’s stock has fallen all the way down to pick 77. While a decline in ADP is not what we want to see heading into the NFL draft, Spiller should still be locked in as a day 2 prospect at the very latest. 

Range of Outcomes: Isaiah Spiller

Before we start filtering through my database, here are Isaiah Spiller’s career numbers:

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Once again, let’s set the thresholds:

  • Yards per Team Play: 1.25 – 1.75
  • Receiving Yards Market Share: +5.0%
  • Weighted Dominator Rating: +22.5%
  • Adjusted Speed Score: Less than 100
  • Year 1-2 Yards per Team Play: +1.25
  • Weight: +210 lbs

Using these thresholds we should find a group of running backs who did not test as well at their pro-days or at the combine but were still very productive throughout their collegiate career.

Day 3 RBs who fit meet these thresholds:

Day 2 RBs who meet these thresholds:

Day 1 RBs who meet these thresholds:

  • None

I was surprised to find that only two running backs fit Spiller’s athletic and production profile since 2013. This likely implies that most prospects with his frame and level of production generally test much more athletically at the combine. Ideally, he is selected in the 2nd or 3rd round, and his closest comp becomes Kareem Hunt. And while Kenneth Dixon was not necessarily the most productive player, his pass-catching ability from college did translate into an immediate role with the Ravens prior to the multitude of injuries that unfortunately derailed his career. Therefore, Spiller’s ability to contribute as a receiver could lead to immediate opportunity on an NFL team. As for his dynasty value, I am still willing to take Spiller in the first round of rookie drafts. However, his profile seems to be riskier than I had initially thought. As a result, I would not take him before the 1.07 of rookie drafts, simply because of the top-heavy wide receiver talent in this class.

Fantasy Implications

To keep things short, going through this process has shown me two things: 

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  • First off, Isaiah Spiller and Kenneth Walker both present intriguing profiles that are far from perfect. As a result, their range of outcomes provides a much higher level of risk due to a variety of holes in their production and/or athleticism. While both deserve to be taken in the first round of rookie drafts, I would not fault anyone for drafting Garrett Wilson, Drake London, or Treylon Burks ahead of them. 
  • Second of all, Breece Hall is by far the most complete running back in this class. He simply checks the most boxes as a prospect. You should confidently draft him as the 1.01 in your rookie drafts, knowing that he has the highest potential ceiling and floor in this RB class.

If I missed anything or if you have any specific questions on the data used, reach out on Twitter @FF_MarvinE.

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