News & Analysis

Projecting rookie running back fantasy performance with comparable players

Over the past couple weeks, I used statistically comparable historical players to project NFL value, as measured by our proprietary wins above replacement metric (WAR), for early– and mid-round wide receivers and running backs. In this article, I’m going to apply that matching analysis with the projections focused on fantasy value. 

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The matching methodology is largely similar to the prior articles, but now we have the actual NFL draft positions for all prospects, and I’m expanding the comparable players listed below to 10 from five. Above the individual player comps, I’ve included a plot with the running backs and the average number of top-6, top-12 and top-24 fantasy weeks (PPR) for the player’s comps over the first two seasons of their careers. These projections give us a broad perspective on fantasy production for each player, along with the ability to compare across the 2020 class. You can marry these projections with the opportunity scores for first-round and Day 2 running backs to determine a good estimate for career production.

METHODOLOGY

The comps below were derived from a two-step process. First, I used player age (as of Sept. 1, 2020) and draft position as filters, then used the rest of the matching features in principle component analysis (PCA). I found the closest statistically comparable players by euclidean distance between the players' principle components and then gave each a “Similarity” score based on percentile of distance. 

The filters for age and draft position are plus/minus 1.5 years and one round, respectively. The metrics for PCA are: weight, 40-yard dash, rushing attempts per game, rushing yards per game, receptions per game, receiving yards per game, and market share of team rushing yards. The comparable player tables for each prospect also include the number of top-12 fantasy weeks for each over the first two years of his career.

For missing Combine 40-yard dash times, I filled the values with Pro Day times plus a 0.1-second penalty, or estimated using weight and other measurables. The final values for projected top fantasy weeks are weighted by the similarity between the comparable player and prospect.

Top-Drafted Running Backs

The first running back chosen in the NFL draft, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, is also the best projected back according to comparable players. Edwards-Helaire brings strong rushing and receiving production, plus a first-round draft pedigree. Jonathan Taylor’s comps were probably the most disappointing, especially considering that he was a favorite among fantasy drafters going into the NFL draft. Taylor's lack of receiving production in college makes him most comparable to one-dimensional running backs who didn’t provide a ton of early-career value.

PICK 32: CLYDE EDWARDS-HELAIRE, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm RuYds/Gm Rec/Gm RecYds/Gm MS RuYds Top-12
100% 2020 Clyde Edwards-Helaire LSU 32 21.4 207 4.60 14.3 94.6 3.7 30.2 62.0% N/A
98% 2007 Marshawn Lynch California 12 21.4 215 4.52 17.2 104.3 2.6 25.2 63.9% 10
96% 2009 Knowshon Moreno Georgia 12 22.1 217 4.62 19.2 107.7 2.5 30.2 71.8% 9
94% 2012 Isaiah Pead Cincinnati 50 22.7 197 4.47 18.2 96.9 3.0 24.5 53.8% 0
92% 2007 Brandon Jackson Nebraska 63 21.9 210 4.55 13.4 70.6 2.4 22.4 41.7% 0
90% 2017 Joe Mixon Oklahoma 48 21.1 228 4.55 15.3 105.1 3.0 44.3 43.1% 8
88% 2006 Reggie Bush USC 2 21.5 201 4.47 15.4 133.9 2.9 36.8 51.3% 14
86% 2009 LeSean McCoy Pittsburgh 53 21.1 204 4.60 23.7 114.5 2.5 23.5 80.6% 9
84% 2017 Dalvin Cook Florida St 41 22.1 210 4.49 22.2 135.6 2.5 36.8 63.4% 5
82% 2013 Giovani Bernard North Carolina 37 21.8 202 4.53 18.4 122.8 4.7 49.0 62.5% 11
80% 2011 Shane Vereen California 56 22.6 210 4.55 19.3 97.3 1.8 17.4 58.7% 1

PICK 35: D’ANDRE SWIFT, DETROIT LIONS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm RuYds/Gm Rec/Gm RecYds/Gm MS RuYds Top-12
100% 2020 D'Andre Swift Georgia 35 21.6 212 4.48 14.1 87.1 1.7 15.4 46.4% N/A
98% 2011 Shane Vereen California 56 22.6 210 4.55 19.3 97.3 1.8 17.4 58.7% 1
96% 2007 Brandon Jackson Nebraska 63 21.9 210 4.55 13.4 70.6 2.4 22.4 41.7% 0
94% 2008 Felix Jones Arkansas 22 21.3 207 4.47 10.2 89.4 1.2 13.5 30.8% 1
92% 2018 Derrius Guice LSU 59 21.2 224 4.49 19.8 104.6 1.5 10.3 48.6% 1
90% 2010 Ben Tate Auburn 58 22.0 220 4.43 20.2 104.8 1.5 8.1 51.5% 1
88% 2007 Marshawn Lynch California 12 21.4 215 4.52 17.2 104.3 2.6 25.2 63.9% 10
86% 2012 David Wilson Virginia Tech 32 21.2 206 4.49 20.7 122.1 1.6 9.2 64.9% 1
84% 2015 Ameer Abdullah Nebraska 54 22.2 205 4.60 20.3 123.9 1.7 20.7 51.2% 1
82% 2010 Jahvid Best California 30 21.6 199 4.35 15.7 96.3 2.4 23.7 51.5% 5
78% 2016 Ezekiel Elliott Ohio St 4 21.1 225 4.47 22.2 140.1 2.1 15.9 56.2% 17

PICK 41: JONATHAN TAYLOR, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm RuYds/Gm Rec/Gm RecYds/Gm MS RuYds Top-12
100% 2020 Jonathan Taylor Wisconsin 41 21.6 226 4.39 22.9 143.0 1.9 17.4 61.1% N/A
98% 2008 Jonathan Stewart Oregon 13 21.4 235 4.48 21.5 132.5 1.7 11.2 51.6% 8
96% 2018 Rashaad Penny San Diego St 27 22.6 220 4.46 22.2 171.6 1.4 10.1 67.4% 2
94% 2010 Ben Tate Auburn 58 22.0 220 4.43 20.2 104.8 1.5 8.1 51.5% 1
92% 2014 Bishop Sankey Washington 54 22.0 209 4.49 25.2 143.9 2.2 23.4 59.9% 1
90% 2018 Derrius Guice LSU 59 21.2 224 4.49 19.8 104.6 1.5 10.3 48.6% 1
88% 2018 Royce Freeman Oregon Ducks 71 22.5 229 4.54 20.3 122.7 1.2 13.5 46.1% 1
86% 2015 Melvin Gordon III Wisconsin 15 22.4 215 4.52 24.5 184.8 1.4 10.9 57.5% 8
84% 2012 Ronnie Hillman San Diego St 67 21.0 200 4.45 23.9 131.6 1.9 20.8 70.9% 0
82% 2012 David Wilson Virginia Tech 32 21.2 206 4.49 20.7 122.1 1.6 9.2 64.9% 1
80% 2015 Tevin Coleman Indiana 73 22.4 206 4.50 22.5 169.7 2.1 11.8 64.2% 4

PICK 52: CAM AKERS, LOS ANGELES RAMS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm RuYds/Gm Rec/Gm RecYds/Gm MS RuYds Top-12
100% 2020 Cam Akers Florida St 52 21.2 217 4.47 21.0 103.8 2.7 19.8 77.2% N/A
98% 2011 Shane Vereen California 56 22.6 210 4.55 19.3 97.3 1.8 17.4 58.7% 1
96% 2012 Ronnie Hillman San Diego St 67 21.0 200 4.45 23.9 131.6 1.9 20.8 70.9% 0
94% 2014 Bishop Sankey Washington 54 22.0 209 4.49 25.2 143.9 2.2 23.4 59.9% 1
91% 2017 Dalvin Cook Florida St 41 22.1 210 4.49 22.2 135.6 2.5 36.8 63.4% 5
89% 2009 LeSean McCoy Pittsburgh 53 21.1 204 4.60 23.7 114.5 2.5 23.5 80.6% 9
87% 2012 David Wilson Virginia Tech 32 21.2 206 4.49 20.7 122.1 1.6 9.2 64.9% 1
85% 2015 Duke Johnson Jr. Miami (FL) 77 21.9 207 4.54 18.6 127.1 2.9 32.4 68.4% 3
83% 2008 Rashard Mendenhall Illinois 23 21.2 225 4.45 20.2 129.3 2.6 24.5 50.0% 6
80% 2018 Derrius Guice LSU 59 21.2 224 4.49 19.8 104.6 1.5 10.3 48.6% 1
78% 2010 Ben Tate Auburn 58 22.0 220 4.43 20.2 104.8 1.5 8.1 51.5% 1

PICK 55: J.K. DOBBINS, BALTIMORE RAVENS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm RuYds/Gm Rec/Gm RecYds/Gm MS RuYds Top-12
100% 2020 J.K. Dobbins Ohio St 55 21.7 209 4.66 21.5 143.1 1.6 17.6 54.8% N/A
98% 2014 Bishop Sankey Washington 54 22.0 209 4.49 25.2 143.9 2.2 23.4 59.9% 1
96% 2012 David Wilson Virginia Tech 32 21.2 206 4.49 20.7 122.1 1.6 9.2 64.9% 1
94% 2012 LaMichael James Oregon 61 22.9 194 4.45 20.6 150.4 1.4 17.5 50.1% 0
92% 2012 Ronnie Hillman San Diego St 67 21.0 200 4.45 23.9 131.6 1.9 20.8 70.9% 0
90% 2015 Tevin Coleman Indiana 73 22.4 206 4.50 22.5 169.7 2.1 11.8 64.2% 4
88% 2008 Jamaal Charles Texas 73 21.7 200 4.38 19.9 124.5 1.3 15.3 59.5% 4
86% 2010 Ben Tate Auburn 58 22.0 220 4.43 20.2 104.8 1.5 8.1 51.5% 1
84% 2014 Tre Mason Auburn 75 21.1 207 4.50 22.6 129.7 0.9 11.6 39.3% 1
82% 2011 Shane Vereen California 56 22.6 210 4.55 19.3 97.3 1.8 17.4 58.7% 1
80% 2018 Rashaad Penny San Diego St 27 22.6 220 4.46 22.2 171.6 1.4 10.1 67.4% 2

OTHER RUNNINGS BACKS DRAFTED IN THE EARLY ROUNDS

Zack Moss is the surprise best-projected running back in the group of later-second and third-round running backs. Ke’Shawn Vaughn is the biggest disappointment, though he joins an ideal situation with Tom Brady and little competition on the roster.

PICK 62: A.J. DILLON, GREEN BAY PACKERS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm RuYds/Gm Rec/Gm RecYds/Gm MS RuYds Top-12
100% 2020 A.J. Dillon Boston College 62 22.3 247 4.53 26.4 141.6 1.1 16.3 53.8% NA
98% 2010 Toby Gerhart Stanford 51 23.4 231 4.60 26.4 143.9 0.9 12.1 65.6% 3
97% 2018 Royce Freeman Oregon Ducks 71 22.5 229 4.54 20.3 122.7 1.2 13.5 46.1% 1
95% 2016 Derrick Henry Alabama 45 22.1 247 4.54 26.3 147.9 0.7 6.1 73.6% 3
93% 2011 Mikel Leshoure Illinois 57 21.7 227 4.65 21.6 130.5 1.3 15.1 52.8% 4
92% 2014 Carlos Hyde Ohio St 57 22.9 230 4.66 18.9 138.3 1.5 13.4 45.0% 1
90% 2010 Montario Hardesty Tennessee 59 23.6 225 4.49 21.7 103.5 1.9 23.2 65.8% 1
88% 2018 Derrius Guice LSU Tigers 59 21.2 224 4.49 19.8 104.6 1.5 10.3 48.6% 1
86% 2012 Doug Martin Boise St 31 23.6 223 4.55 20.2 99.9 2.2 19.6 57.7% 7
85% 2014 Jeremy Hill LSU 55 21.9 233 4.66 16.9 116.8 1.5 15.1 56.9% 6
83% 2010 Ben Tate Auburn 58 22.0 220 4.43 20.2 104.8 1.5 8.1 51.5% 1

PICK 76: KE’SHAWN VAUGHN, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm RuYds/Gm Rec/Gm RecYds/Gm MS RuYds Top-12
100% 2020 Ke'Shawn Vaughn Vanderbilt 76 23.3 214 4.51 16.6 85.7 2.4 23.8 65.2% NA
98% 2011 Shane Vereen California 56 22.6 210 4.55 19.3 97.3 1.8 17.4 58.7% 1
96% 2016 C.J. Prosise Notre Dame 90 22.3 220 4.48 15.7 102.9 2.6 30.8 48.7% 1
94% 2007 Brandon Jackson Nebraska 63 21.9 210 4.55 13.4 70.6 2.4 22.4 41.7% 0
92% 2010 Montario Hardesty Tennessee 59 23.6 225 4.49 21.7 103.5 1.9 23.2 65.8% 1
90% 2014 Charles Sims West Virginia 69 24.0 214 4.48 17.3 91.3 3.8 33.4 60.9% 1
88% 2015 Duke Johnson Jr. Miami (FL) 77 21.9 207 4.54 18.6 127.1 2.9 32.4 68.4% 3
86% 2012 Isaiah Pead Cincinnati 50 22.7 197 4.47 18.2 96.9 3.0 24.5 53.8% 0
84% 2017 Kareem Hunt Toledo 86 22.1 216 4.62 20.0 112.5 3.2 31.0 57.1% 12
82% 2015 Ameer Abdullah Nebraska 54 22.2 205 4.60 20.3 123.9 1.7 20.7 51.2% 1
80% 2011 Alex Green Hawaii 96 23.2 225 4.55 10.4 85.6 1.9 25.9 74.8% 0

PICK 86: ZACK MOSS, BUFFALO BILLS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm RuYds/Gm Rec/Gm RecYds/Gm MS RuYds Top-12
100% 2020 Zack Moss Utah Utes 86 22.7 223 4.65 18.0 108.6 2.2 29.8 55.4% NA
98% 2017 Kareem Hunt Toledo 86 22.1 216 4.62 20.0 112.5 3.2 31.0 57.1% 12
97% 2007 Dwayne Wright Fresno St 111 24.2 228 4.73 21.8 121.8 2.4 18.4 67.6% 0
95% 2017 James Conner Pittsburgh 105 22.3 233 4.65 16.7 84.5 1.6 23.2 40.7% 7
93% 2016 C.J. Prosise Notre Dame 90 22.3 220 4.48 15.7 102.9 2.6 30.8 48.7% 1
91% 2011 Daniel Thomas Kansas St 62 23.9 230 4.72 22.9 121.9 2.1 13.2 60.8% 1
90% 2015 Duke Johnson Jr. Miami (FL) 77 21.9 207 4.54 18.6 127.1 2.9 32.4 68.4% 3
88% 2015 Ameer Abdullah Nebraska 54 22.2 205 4.60 20.3 123.9 1.7 20.7 51.2% 1
86% 2011 Shane Vereen California 56 22.6 210 4.55 19.3 97.3 1.8 17.4 58.7% 1
85% 2014 Jeremy Hill LSU 55 21.9 233 4.66 16.9 116.8 1.5 15.1 56.9% 6
83% 2014 Carlos Hyde Ohio St 57 22.9 230 4.66 18.9 138.3 1.5 13.4 45.0% 1

PICK 93: DARRYNTON EVANS, TENNESSEE TITANS

Similarity Draft Year Player College Draft Pos Age Weight Forty RuAtt/Gm RuYds/Gm Rec/Gm RecYds/Gm MS RuYds Top-12
100% 2020 Darrynton Evans Appalachian St 93 22.1 203 4.41 18.3 106.0 1.5 14.1 48.0% NA
98% 2007 Antonio Pittman Ohio St 107 21.7 207 4.44 18.6 94.9 1.1 9.8 55.3% 0
96% 2018 Nyheim Hines North Carolina St 104 21.8 198 4.38 15.1 85.5 2.0 11.7 47.6% 1
93% 2008 Jamaal Charles Texas 73 21.7 200 4.38 19.9 124.5 1.3 15.3 59.5% 4
91% 2010 Joe McKnight USC 112 22.4 198 4.47 13.7 84.5 1.8 12.2 50.0% 1
89% 2012 LaMichael James Oregon 61 22.9 194 4.45 20.6 150.4 1.4 17.5 50.1% 0
87% 2014 Tre Mason Auburn 75 21.1 207 4.50 22.6 129.7 0.9 11.6 39.3% 1
84% 2012 Lamar Miller Miami (FL) 97 21.4 212 4.40 18.9 106.0 1.4 7.1 72.6% 1
82% 2012 Robert Turbin Utah St 106 22.7 222 4.50 19.2 116.7 1.3 13.2 41.0% 0
80% 2006 Jerious Norwood Mississippi St 79 23.1 210 4.33 17.4 103.3 1.7 8.7 74.1% 1
78% 2009 Glen Coffee Alabama 74 22.3 209 4.58 16.6 98.8 1.1 8.4 53.2% 1

 

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