Is ADP overreacting to last year’s RB busts?

Last year was the worst ever for first-round running backs. Fewer running backs than ever are now being taken in the first round of 2016 drafts. But was last year’s results a trend or historical anomaly?

Of the seven running backs last season in the top 15 overall of ADP (average draft position), five of them were disasters. LeVeon Bell, Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch all succumbed to injury while Eddie Lacy and C.J. Anderson all failed to live up to top fantasy status for performance (and minor injuries). All five were busts, defined as not producing enough fantasy points to finish in the top 24 at their position (thus being an optimal starter in a 12-team league that starts two RB).

The first round of fantasy drafts used to be the almost exclusive domain of running backs. Twelve of the top 15 picks in drafts were used on running backs as recently as 2007. The NFL has of course changed since then becoming more of a passing league with rule changes and we’ve seen more time shares at running back to reduce punishing workloads. And last year’s performance of top backs appears to have shaken people’s confidence and accelerated the trend. Only 5 running backs are being taken in the top 15 of ADP for 2016 drafts at this point of the summer. Since 1998, no fewer than seven RB have been taken in the top 15 of ADP.

[For the purposes of this study I’m using ADP data from MyFantasyLeague.com and only for 12-team leagues with non-PPR scoring. Formats without PPR and those that started only two RB were more prevalent 10-15 years ago, so it’s a better historical comparison.]

Maybe it’s inevitable that fewer running backs would be taken in the first round in 2016. But the injury rate in 2015 looks like an aberration. The failure rate of 75% of the running backs taken in the top 15 is far above the career norm. It was by far a record high (next highest was 45% in 2013).

RB in top 15 Busts 1st-round bust %
2015 7 5 71.4%
2014 7 2 28.6%
2013 11 5 45.5%
2012 8 1 12.5%
2011 10 2 20.0%
2010 10 2 20.0%
2009 10 1 10.0%
2008 9 1 11.1%
2007 12 4 33.3%
2006 12 3 25.0%
2005 11 2 18.2%
2004 10 0 0.0%
2003 10 0 0.0%
2002 7 0 0.0%
2001 8 1 12.5%
2000 8 1 12.5%
1999 7 2 28.6%
1998 8 0 0.0%

It would appear that the market is overreacting to last year’s first-round busts for running backs. That could present a buying opportunity. The market has overreacted before. After a 2011 season that saw Tight ends and Quarterbacks put up record numbers, five QB and two TE went in the first 20 picks of ADP in 2012 drafts. And five QB went in the top 15 of ADP. Hard to believe, right? Not many panned out and only three QB and no TE went in the top 20 the next season. Maybe this year’s assessment of RB production will also miss the mark.