From Football Guys---ENJOY.
COMMONALITIES of TOP 5 FANTASY BACKS (1994-2003)
By David Yudkin
Before we get started, people will ask why I picked the Top 5 RB instead of the Top 10. That's an easy one. The true peak performers and backs with exceptional scoring are normally the Top 5 backs. I won't argue that some years there may have been 3 great backs and other years there may have been 7, but to keep things consistent, I picked the Top 5. It probably would have made more sense to pick an arbitrary number of points scored per season (say 250) and work from there, but I didn't do it that way.
I really had no set theories I was trying to prove BEFORE I did the research, and only after I had a chance to absorb everything did I begin to start analyzing the results. There is A LOT to review, so grab a drink, put on your reading glasses, hold all your calls, and let's get started . . .
In 10 years, there were obviously 50 individual RB seasons that comprised the Top 5. Some of the data will be based on the 50 individual seasons. However, those seasons were compiled by 26 different RB, so that would explain why some categories use the results of 26 players instead of 50 total seasons. For example, each player was only drafted once, so the draft data is only used once (as is height and weight).
And yes, there will be similar reviews forthcoming on Top 5 QB, WR, TE, and K coming soon (hopefully over the preseason).
Now, on to the data . . .
Average Age: 25.4 years old
21: 3 players
22: 5 players
23: 3 players
24: 6 players
25: 7 players
26: 9 players
27: 8 players
28: 5 players
29: 2 players
30: 2 players
Premier RB scoring is a young man's game. There was no RB 31 or older. Only 4% were 30. Only 8% were 29 or older. Only 18% were 28 or older.
For the 2004 season, here are some of the RB that fall into those categories: Holmes (31), Faulk (31), Martin (31), S. Davis (30), and Taylor (28).
Average Height: 5'11"
81% of the RB were between 5'10" and 6'1". I would not make that a major issue, as the two shortest guys were Priest Holmes and Barry Sanders, who last time I checked had been somewhat successful.
Average Weight: 220 lbs
Under 190: 1
Above 250: 1
I was a little surprised to see that 50% of the runners weighed over 220 lbs. Players on the lighter side include Quentin Griffin (195), Brian Westbrook (200), and Lee Suggs (205).
Average Seasons Played: 4.28 Seasons
1 season: 6
2 seasons: 7
3 seasons: 5
4 seasons: 8
5 seasons: 11
6 seasons: 6
7 seasons: 3
8 seasons: 2
9 seasons: 1
10 seasons: 1
If their were a common ground for what season a RB might be in the Top 5, it seemed to be in his 5th season. It also looks like a back's chances drop dramatically after 6 seasons (only 14% were in their 7th season or later). In 2004, Holmes will be in his 8th year, AGreen in his 7th, and Taylor in his 7th. Lewis, Alexander, and Williams will be entering their 5th seasons.
Average Draft Pick: 3rd Round, 11th Pick
1st Round: 13 times
2nd Round: 3 times
3rd Round: 2 times
4th Round: 2 times
5th Round: 1 time
6th Round: 2 times
7th Round: 1 time
8th Round: None
9th Round: 1 time
Undrafted: 1 time
Clearly, first round picks did better than others, as half of the players were first round picks. The converse to that, of course, is that half of the players WERE NOT first round picks. I think this comes into play a lot in dynasty drafts, as I have frequently heard from people in rookie drafts that "all the GOOD backs were gone by the 5th pick." Certainly, the numbers reflect that great RB can come from almost any round in a draft (or be undrafted altogether like Priest Holmes).
Average RB Taken in Draft: 8.8th RB Taken
1st RB: 6
2nd RB: 4
3rd RB: 2
4th RB: 3
5th RB: 0
6-10th RB: 3
11-15th RB: 2
16-20th RB: 1
20th+ RB: 5
With 11 of the 26 RB taken after at least 5 RB were already drafted, this supports what I mentioned above. Ultra productive RB can come from any point in the NFL draft.
Average Overall Draft Pick: 74.7th Player Taken
With many RB typically being drafted in the 15-50th picks overall in the NFL draft these days, this data seems to suggest that the early backs have done well and the backs taken in the 15-50th pick range have not. That's a whole other article in the making . . .
Total Number of Top 5 Seasons:
7: 1 player
6: 1 player
5: 1 player
3: 5 players
2: 8 players
1: 9 players
Only 3 guys had more than 3 Top 5 seasons (Sanders, Emmitt, Faulk), and there have not been too many better backs in fantasy football than those guys.
Age of First Top 5 Season:
As I said before, breakout stud RB performance is normally for younger backs. Seventeen (65%) of these 26 RB had their first Top 5 season by age 24
Season of First Top 5 Season:
5th Season: 4 players
4th Season: 5 players
3rd Season: 2 players
2nd Season: 7 players
1st Season: 8 players
This tells me that if you a RB hasn't broken out in a big way by your 5th season, he's probably not going to do it. More than half of the 26 RB who posted a Top 5 season had their first Top 5 season in their first or second season.
Number of Seasons as a Top 12 RB (Fantasy RB1) BEFORE First Top 5 Season:
Not Applicable: 8 players
None: 9 players
1 Season: 7 players
2 Seasons: 1 player
3 Seasons: 1 player
With the exception of Jamal Anderson (2) and Eddie George (3), 96% of the Top 5 RB did not have more than one Top 12 season before entering the Top 5. That, quite frankly, is a pretty high number.
Number of Seasons as a Top 12 RB (Fantasy RB1) BETWEEN Top 5 Season:
Not Applicable: 17 players
None: 2 players
1 Season: 3 players
2 Seasons: 2 players
3 Seasons: 2 players
Since this is such a small sample size (9 players that had a Top 12 season between Top 5 seasons), but it does show that some players were still very productive in the "sandwich meat" seasons.
Number of Seasons as a Top 12 RB (Fantasy RB1) AFTER Last Top 5 Season:
Not applicable: 5 players
None: 11 players
1 Season: 7 players
2 Seasons: None
3 Seasons: 1 players
4 Seasons: 2 players
The biggest group here is the "No seasons group," which means a lot of stud RB went on to fall off the road map. However, for current players, you never really know if they are done producing at a Top 5 level. Some of the RB in this category included Jamal Anderson, Terrell Davis, Emmitt Smith, and Barry Sanders
Average QB Rank: 13.4
1-5: 14 times
6-10: 7 times
11-15: 11 times
16-20: 5 times
21-30: 12 times
31-40: 1 time
Top 5: 14 times (28%)
Top 10: 21 times (42%)
Top 20: 37 times (74%)
Not Top 20: 13 times (26%)
1-10 Ranking: 21 times (42%)
11-20 Ranking: 16 times (32%)
21 or Worse Ranking: 13 times (26%)
I find it interesting that there were that many teams that had Top 5 RB and Top 5 QB at the same time. While somewhat inconclusive overall, it almost seems like teams with elite QB performance also have had more incidents of elite RB performance. I would have thought that teams without good QB play might have utilized a RB as a workhorse more.
Average WR1 Rank: 18.3
1-5: 8 times
6-10: 12 times
11-15: 6 times
16-20: 6 times
21-30: 7 times
31-40: 5 times
41-50: 4 times
51-60: 2 times
Top 10 WR1: 20 times (40%)
Top 20 WR1: 32 times (64%)
Top 30 WR1: 39 times (78%)
1-10: 20 times (40%)
11-20:12 times (24%)
21-30: 7 times (14%)
31 or worse: 11 times (22%)
With 40% of teams having a Top 10 fantasy WR, I am inclined to think that having a top WR threat will increase the production of a RB, at least in this study. I have not researched this overall to determine if history will show that RB with Top 10 WR do better. Again, that's a topic for additional research.
Average WR2 Rank: 40.4
6-10: 4 times
11-15: 3 times
16-20: 6 times
21-30: 7 times
31-40: 5 times
41-50: 5 times
51-60: 13 times
61+: 7 times
Top 10 WR2: 4 times (8%)
Top 20 WR2: 13 times (26%)
Top 30 WR2: 20 times (40%)
Not Top 30 WR2: 30 times (60%)
With a lot of production from a RB and a WR1, it's not surprising that teams would struggle to field a productive second WR. With 60% of the WR2 contained in this study not ranked in the Top 30 fantasy WR, I think that proves to be the case.
WR1 and WR2
Both Top 10: 4 times (8%)
Both Top 20: 9 times (18%)
Neither Top 20: 18 times (36%)
Neither Top 30: 11 times (22%)
Neither Top 40: 5 times (10%)
Again, this indicates that 64% of teams with a Top 5 RB had at least one WR in the Top 20.
QB and WR1
Both Top 5: 6 times (12%)
Both Top 10: 14 times (28%)
Both Top 20: 27 times (54%)
Neither Top 20: 8 times (16%)
The teams with a Top 5 QB, RB, and WR1: 1999 & 2000 Colts, 1997 Broncos, 1998 49ers, 1997 Packers, and the 1995 Lions
Top 5 RB with Top 10 QB, WR1 & WR2
Only two teams have done it in the past 10 years: the 1998 49ers and 1995 Lions.
Average TE Rank: 14.6
1-5: 13 times
6-10: 9 times
11-15: 8 times
16-20: 7 times
21-30: 6 times
31+: 7 times
I posted something about this recently in the Shark Pool. 26% of the time a Top 5 RB also had a Top 5 TE as a teammate. I have no explanation other than solid OL play overall, but I still find this odd.
Defense (Points Allowed)
Top 5: 9 times (18%)
Top 10: 17 times (34%)
Top 20: 36 times (72%)
Not Top 20: 14 times (28%)
The rankings would indicate that defensive points allowed does not really impact Top 5 performance. The breakdown of team was almost evenly distributed (Ranked 1-10: 34%, ranked 11-20: 38%, ranked 21+: 28%). I would have thought that teams allowing fewer points would run more and teams giving up a lot of points would pass more, this impacting stud RB numbers. However, this does not appear to be the case.
Yes: 39 times (78%)
No: 11 times (22%)
Getting to 300 carries certainly helps his chances . . .
Scored 10+ total TD
Yes: 46 times (92%)
No: 4 times (8%)
But not nearly as much as scoring 10+ total TD does.
Ranking the Next Season
Equal or Higher: 13 times
Lower: 31 times
Did Not Play: 1 time
Again, it's no surprise that most of the control group declined in their ranking the season after ranking in the Top 5.
Average Team Wins: 9.8 Wins
3-5: 4 times (8%)
6-7: 4 times (8%)
8-9: 12 times (24%)
10-12: 20 times (40%)
13+: 10 times (20%)
60% of the RB came from teams with 10+ wins. 86% came from teams that were .500 or better. This poses the question: which came first, the chicken or the egg? Do winning teams create top RB or do top RB create winning teams?
Here are the most common scenarios to consider in looking at the most common attributes of Top 5 RB. Obviously, there could be other situations than these, but here could be a common scenario:
Age: 27 or younger with 6 or fewer seasons
No more than one season in the Top 12 without a Top 5 season
Size: More than 210 lbs.
QB: Top 10
Other Support: Either a Top 5 TE or a Top 10 WR
Based on that loose fitting description, let's review this year's candidates.
Player Evaluation for 2004 Season
Jamal Lewis, Baltimore Ravens
Meets the age, size, and workload requirements. Doesn't come close on the supporting cast requirements. Given his limited receiving numbers and limited chance of rushing for 2,000 yards again, on paper he has a decent but not great chance to repeat as a Top 5 candidate.
Rudi Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals
Meets the age and size requirements. Likely will not meet the team support and workload criteria. If Chris Perry gets many opportunities at all, Johnson will have almost no chance (not that he had a great chance to begin with).
Duce Staley, Pittsburgh Steelers
Too old, not enough workload, and not enough TD. Not in this or any other lifetime.
Lee Suggs/William Green, Cleveland Browns
Each is young enough, but both will likely fall short in all the other areas. A chance slightly above no chance at all.
Edgerrin James, Indianapolis Colts
Meets all the criteria. Based on the commonalties alone, Edge would be a prime candidate. The only concern is whether he can remain healthy enough to stay on the field.
Eddie George/Chris Brown, Tennessee Titans
If the RB1 in Tennessee is George, forget it. He's too old and too unproductive. If it's Brown, he surprisingly meets most of the criteria. (Top 5 QB & Top 10 WR-at least last year). Whether he could get enough of the workload is the question here. Could be a dark horse.
Domanick Davis, Houston Texas
A little on the small side, not a great supporting cast (at least not yet), borderline whether he can get enough carries and TD. May lose some work to Tony Hollings. If he can hold off Hollings, Davis looks like a better bet in 2005.
Fred Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars
Starting to get beyond the age/experience bracket. Offensive support is suspect. Only one season of 300_ carries and only two seasons with 10+ TD. Based on the evaluation baselines, he does not meet many, if any, of them.
Corey Dillon, New England Patriots
Beyond the ideal age. Pats likely won't have high-ranking offensive support players. Could get the 300 carry/10+ TD element, but overall not a great candidate.
Ricky Williams, Miami Dolphins
Seeing how he already has been in the Top 5, he has to be considered a possible candidate. Meets the age/experience components, probably not the team support guidelines, and the workload should not be an issue.
Travis Henry/Willis McGahee, Buffalo Bills
Henry met ALL the criteria in 2002-age, size, experience, a Top 10 QB and TWO Top 10 WR. 300+ carries and 10+ TD. And he STILL didn't make it into the Top 5. McGahee won't help any. If he couldn't do it two seasons ago, it's hard to think his numbers will outclass 2002's.
Curtis Martin, New York Jets
Fails the age litmus test. Could meet the QB/WR segment with Pennington and Moss. Should again break 300 carries. Number of TD suspect. Hard to see Martin getting enough fantasy points to get back to the Top 5. Only 7 of the surveyed RB returned to the Top 5 after falling out of it.
Priest Holmes, Kansas City Chiefs
Falls short in the age/experience categories. Hits all the other benchmarks. We will have to see if the "no RB over age 30" factor remains true. Holmes' red carpet to the end zone may still be enough to keep him in the Top 5, but the Chiefs' OL did have some personnel changes this offseason as well . . .
Denver Running Backs
The fact that I have to type the names "Griffin, Bell, Anderson, and Hearst" as potential starters makes it hard to envision any of these guys getting a big enough workload. Hearst and Anderson is too old. Griffin and Bell are somewhat diminutive in stature. I suppose Plummer could be a Top 10 QB if he plays every game, and Sharpe could easily be Top 5 again if he plays. A lot of things have to break the right way for a Top 5 RB to come out of Denver.
Oakland Raiders Running Backs
Between Wheatley, Fargas, and Zereoue, I can't see any of these guys meeting many of the parameters.
LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego
Even with limited offensive support, LT meets the other items on the list and has to be a leading Top 5 candidate. The only issue is whether his superhuman workload starts to take its toll.
Stephen Davis/DeShaun Foster, Carolina Panthers
Davis is getting along in years. Steve Smith is a good WR option, but the others are likely not strong enough. With two backs in the picture, both negate the other's chances.
Deuce McAllister, New Orleans Saints
Deuce has been knocking on the door the past two seasons. Meets all the grading standards except for the "only one season in the Top 12." His chances have to considered "excellent ."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Backs
Garner, Alstott, Pittman, White = no chance.
Warrick Dunn/T.J. Duckett, Atlanta Falcons
Dunn is not a candidate. Duckett might be if Dunn ever went down for a long stretch or were run out of town. Vick would meet the QB requirement and Crumpler could meet the TE guideline.
Ahman Green, Green Bay Packers
Starting to get borderline in terms of age and experience. Favre might be a Top 10 QB option, but it's doubtful the receiving corps will be. You have to give 3-time Top 5 RB a very good shot.
Minnesota Running Backs
Top QB and Top WR. If they could only decide on a single back, that guy would be GOLDEN. But they probably won't, so we can only dream.
Thomas Jones/Anthony Thomas, Chicago Bears
The Bears will probably not have a RB with 300 carries or 10+ TD, nor will they likely have any other Top 10 players.
Kevin Jones, Detroit Lions
See Thomas Jones/Anthony Thomas.
Correll Buckhalter/Brian Westbrook, Philadelphia Eagles
With McNabb and Owens, the Eagles could meet the supporting role standard, but it's hard to see either one of these becoming the clear #1.
Julius Jones, Dallas Cowboys
With Hambrick gone, it looks like Jones inherits the starter's job. But he and the Cowboys fall short in every evaluation standard.
Clinton Portis, Washington Redskins
After back-to-back years in the Top 5, Portis goes to DC. Obviously meets the criteria except for size. The Skins could have a Top 10 QB in Brunell and a Top 5 WR in Coles. High degree of success.
Tiki Barber/Ron Dayne, New York Giants
Virtually impossible unless Dayne goes away again and Toomer and Shockey are huge. That's hard to envision with a rookie QB. Barber is too old and would need a lot more TD. Ron Dayne is the worst RB since Ron Dayne.
Marshall Faulk, St. Louis Rams
History has not been kind to players in Faulk's category. Obviously, the offensive support infrastructure is still in place. If only Faulk can convince his body that he's 25 again . . . The age factor is probably a deal breaker here.
Shaun Alexander, Seattle Seahawks
Meets all the criteria. Has to be considered one of the front-runners.
Kevan Barlow, San Francisco 49ers
Right age, right size, wrong offensive contingent. Had Hearst left and Owens and Garcia stayed, his chances would have been a lot better. Could get the workload and the TD, but SF lost so much on offense it would come as a surprise to see Barlow rise into the Top 5, although Top 10 seems attainable.
Marcel Shipp, Arizona Cardinals
Meets the age and size requirements. Could meet the QB/WR combo requirements. Could even get the 300 carries. But fell 10 TD short in the 10+ TD category. Needs to score A LOT more to stand even the smallest of chances.
Based solely on the "most typical" attributes of Top 5 RB . . .
That leaves us with Edgerrin James, Deuce McAllister, Shaun Alexander, Ahman Green, and Clinton Portis as the most likely candidates for the Top 5 RB slots this upcoming season.
Next tier of candidates: Ricky Williams, Chris Brown, Travis Henry, T.J. Duckett, and a true RB1 from Minnesota would also potentially be in the mix if their situations played out just right.
If nothing else, we can start to draw some conclusions (although not necessarily firm conclusions) on some historical trends over the past 10 seasons. It appears that age, size, workload, and performance of other key skill position players can influence the success of elite scoring fantasy RB. Hopefully, this has provided some insight as to what has happened in the past and perhaps this will help us determine who might be a Top 5 RB in the future.
I like the Edge call. Depending on what happens with Eddie George, i agree Chris Brown could be a nice sleeper.