Top-tier rookie RB fantasy player comps

Kevin Cole breaks down the best fantasy comps for the top tier of the 2016 running back draft class.

| 8 months ago
(George Frey/Getty Images)

(George Frey/Getty Images)

Top-tier rookie RB fantasy player comps


Last week we went through this year’s top wide receiver prospects in a couple of installments, identifying their most comparable NFL players based strictly on the numbers. Earlier this week, we revealed the comparable players for the second tier of 2016 running back prospects.

A short reminder on our methodology: We compiled the statistically significant variables for predicting NFL success (weight, 40-yard dash time, and final season rushing and receiving yards per game) for all running back prospects entering the league from 2000-2016, and divided them into groups using a k-means clustering algorithm.

In this post, we’re going to look at running back prospects in the top tier, the RB1-6 based on recent dynasty rookie mock drafts.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Weight Forty Rush Yds/Gm Rec Yds/Gm
Paul Perkins UCLA 2016 NA 208 4.54 103.3 18.6
Bishop Sankey Washington 2014 54 209 4.49 143.8 23.4
Shane Vereen California 2011 56 210 4.49 97.2 17.4
Johnathan Franklin UCLA 2013 125 205 4.49 123.9 23.1

Paul Perkins was productive in the running and passing games during his sophomore and junior years, but his numbers weren’t spectacular. Perkins’ speed is also good but not great, especially for a slightly undersized back.

We know today a Bishop Sankey comp is the utmost insult to any running back prospect, but the former Washington standout did have spectacular metrics. Perhaps, Sankey was more of an unlucky miss than foreseeable bust.

Shane Vereen has had a productive NFL career in the third-down back role. Vereen’s best fantasy season came in his third year (2013), averaging 16.8 fantasy points per game (PPR). Vereen looks like Perkins’ closest comp.

Fellow former-Bruin Johnathan Franklin wasn’t taken until the late-fourth round of the NFL draft, despite better speed and production than Perkins, who is projected to go in the third or fourth round. Unfortunately, Franklin was forced into an early retirement by a severe neck injury only 12 games into his rookie season.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Weight Forty Rush Yds/Gm Rec Yds/Gm
C.J. Prosise Notre Dame 2016 NA 220 4.48 102.9 30.8
Marshawn Lynch California 2007 12 215 4.46 104.3 25.2
Latavius Murray Central Florida 2013 181 223 4.38 100.5 21.0

C.J. Prosise was one of the favorites of our post-combine running back success model, and his comps don’t disappoint. NFL successes Marshawn Lynch and Latavius Murray most closely match Prosise’s combination of 215-plus-pound size, sub-4.5-forty speed and above average receiving stats.

Prosise, a projected third or fourth round pick, is unlikely to go in the draft as early as Lynch, or as late as Murray. He won’t have near the guaranteed opportunity afforded to Lynch, or need as fortuitous a series of events as Murray had to make it on the field. Murray did have one of the highest historical scores in our running back prospect model, so his ascendance shouldn’t have been a total surprise.

Despite being a converted wide receiver who only played one year at the running back position, Prosise has the perfect combination of traits to star in the NFL as a three-down back.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Weight Forty Rush Yds/Gm Rec Yds/Gm
Devontae Booker Utah 2016 NA 219 4.56 126.1 31.6
Javorius Allen Southern California 2015 125 221 4.53 114.5 35.2
Jay Ajayi Boise State 2015 149 221 4.57 130.2 38.2

Devontae Booker missed the 40-yard dash at the combine and Utah’s pro day, so we’re going to use a time of 4.56 seconds, based on scout estimates.

Javorius Allen and Jay Ajayi had somewhat unproductive but promising rookie years in 2015. Both were favorites of those who value receiving prowess in addition to size and rushing production.

Our pre-combine running back success model frowned on Booker’s chances for NFL success due to his advanced age (turns 24 years old this May). Allen was also an older prospect, and he was able to put up a few strong but inefficient fantasy performances down the stretch last year. Allen finished 2015 as the RB28 in PPR scoring, despite only starting a handful of games.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Weight Forty Rush Yds/Gm Rec Yds/Gm
Kenneth Dixon Louisiana Tech 2016 NA 215 4.58 97.5 42.2
Giovani Bernard North Carolina 2013 37 202 4.53 122.8 49.0
Brian Calhoun Wisconsin 2006 74 201 4.57 125.8 43.9
Mewelde Moore Tulane 2004 119 209 4.65 101.7 45.3

It’s difficult to see in the numbers why Kenneth Dixon is regarded as a better prospect than Prosise or Booker. The biggest difference with Dixon appears to be his touchdown production, totaling a massive 41 over the past two seasons.

Scouts and draft-watchers could also be intrigued by how unique Dixon is as a prospect. All his comparable players with strong receiving numbers were much smaller, and roughly had the same speed.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Weight Forty Rush Yds/Gm Rec Yds/Gm
Derrick Henry Alabama 2016 NA 247 4.54 147.9 6.1
Beanie Wells Ohio State 2009 31 235 4.52 119.7 4.7

Derrick Henry was by far the most difficult prospect in terms of finding comparable players. Henry has been called a unique prospect, and the first time through the clustering algorithm, he was placed in the cluster literally all by himself. Once I loosened the criteria slightly, Chris “Beanie” Wells came out as Henry’s best comp, and it makes sense. Wells was also a sizable back — though not as big as Henry — with great weight-adjusted speed, and combined strong rushing production with almost nothing through the air.

Wells was a late first round pick, and that’s in the logical range for Henry, who is projected to go in the first or second round. Wells was hampered by injuries through most of his NFL career, but did enjoy a 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown year in his third season, including an all-time-great 228-yard performance against the St. Louis Rams.

Whether Henry’s uniqueness as a prospect is a positive or negative is tough to tell, but our post-combine running back model had him at the top of the class.

Name School Draft Year Draft Pos Weight Forty Rush Yds/Gm Rec Yds/Gm
Ezekiel Elliott Ohio State 2016 NA 225 4.47 140.1 15.8
Adrian Peterson Oklahoma 2007 7 217 4.40 144.6 19.4
Jonathan Stewart Oregon 2008 13 235 4.46 132.5 11.2
Rashard Mendenhall Illinois 2008 23 225 4.41 129.3 24.5

Ezekiel Elliott is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the class in the eyes of NFL scouts and draft prognosticators, and his comps back up those assessments. Adrian Peterson is, of course, one of the greatest running backs ever, so maybe comparisons of Elliott to the all-time great aren’t overly optimistic. Elliott’s comps also back up the notion that he is a complete back, and can immediately jump into a major role for whichever team drafts him.

Jonathan Stewart has suffered through numerous injuries in the NFL, but started his career strong with nearly 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns through his first two seasons. Stewart is still productive (989 rushing yards and six touchdowns last season) eight years into his time in the league.

Rashard Mendenhall was another tremendous prospect who found early career success, rushing for nearly 2,400 yards and 20 touchdowns during his second and third NFL seasons. Mendenhall went on to rack up over 4,200 rushing yards in six NFL seasons.

Kevin Cole is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Cole_Kev

  • Vic Hedges

    “We know today a Bishop Sankey comp is the utmost insult to any running back prospect, but the former Washington standout did have spectacular metrics. Perhaps, Sankey was more of an unlucky miss than foreseeable bust.” It is hard to nail down exactly who will succeed and who will not and why, as long as we understand metrics is a tool to be used as an assistance and not the be all, end all some think it is…