In this series of articles, I’m looking at the breakout potential for running backs available in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts. This builds off of my recent breakout receiver articles that profiled each of the second-year wide receivers. My research on 10 years of historical data points to second- and third-year backs as the most likely to break out from middling draft positions and also most likely to generate the most excess value. You can find the rest of the articles on breakout running backs here.
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This article will focus on Kerryon Johnson, currently the RB39 in best-ball drafts. Johnson was the 43rd pick in the 2018 NFL draft, filling a big need for the Detroit Lions — a team that hadn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2013. Johnson didn’t break that threshold in either of his first two seasons, but he was the Lions’ leading rusher both years.
One of the best ways to determine the range of outcomes and the probability of success for fantasy players is comparing them to similar historical players. In this analysis, I’ll compare Johnson to hundreds of running backs drafted since 2006 and project the likelihood of his breakout based on those who had the most similar size, draft position and rookie metrics.
I’ll be especially focused on the receiving potential for these backs, as the outperformance in receiving volume and efficiency has been the most common trait for breakout running backs in the past.
The matching methodology for this set of articles is similar to that for the 2020 wide receiver and running back prospects, where I found the closest statistically comparable players using principal component analysis (PCA) and the euclidean distance between the players' components, and then gave each a “Similarity” score based on percentile of distance.
The metrics for PCA are draft position and second-year numbers for rush attempts per game, targets per game and PPR fantasy points per game, plus rookie PPR fantasy points per game. I also use weight and 40-yard dash times as filters, only including historical players within +/- 15 pounds and +/- 0.15 seconds in the matching process.
KERRYON JOHNSON COMPS