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Fantasy Football: Pre-combine 2022 rookie running back fantasy model

Iowa State junior running back Breece Hall runs the ball for a touchdown in the second quarter against TCU on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames. 20211126 Iowastatevstcu

In this analysis of 2022 NFL Draft prospects at the running back position, I’m going to detail the quantitative process behind the results, including the importance of different features and how assumed draft position (via GrindingTheMocks), age and production markers all blend into a single prediction. In this case, the prediction will be focused on fantasy results, specifically the number of top-12 weekly finishes at the position over the prospect's first three NFL seasons. We could extend the window further to cover a player’s entire career, but the point in the real NFL draft and the fantasy rookie counterparts is to see a return on investment earlier rather than later.

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This analysis will cover all running backs from the 2022 class currently in the top-200 on the PFF Big Board, using their assumed weights (somewhat speculative) and actual production figures to forecast fantasy success.

METHODOLOGY

This analysis uses what is known as an ensemble model, or a blend of the results from different models which are then blended together to form a single, and hopefully more precise, final prediction. One of the models is tree-based, the other linear. The historical data from previous running back classes from 2006 through 2019 were used to train the models, including the number of actual top-12 weekly fantasy finishes for those previously drafted running backs. The historical fantasy finishes are based on points-per-reception (PPR) scoring.

The features for each running back in the models are as follows, ordered by relative importance and statistical significance. The stats are from the prospects’ best statistical season in which they played at least five games and logged at least 100 carries:

  • Draft position
  • Share of total team yards
  • Rushing yards per game
  • Share of total team touchdowns
  • 40-yard dash
  • Receptions per game
  • Weight
  • Age

Draft position is, by far, the most important feature in predicting fantasy success for running backs, followed by production and measurables. 

Higher drafted running backs at top programs are more often coming from backfields with two or even three drafted players, thereby diluting their shares of team production due to splitting workloads. To account for this, I adjusted up the shares of total team yards and touchdowns for running backs who played with other drafted running backs in their final seasons.

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2022 RUNNING BACK CLASS

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