Posted by Chase Stuart on August 14, 2007
In Part I, we looked at the rookie seasons and draft values of all RBs drafted between 1978 and 1997. We found out that Reggie Bush, as a result of his significantly higher draft value, still was projected for slightly more remaining career rushing yards than Drew. However, rushing yards doesn't tell the whole story. Jones-Drew averaged 5.7 YPC, which is incredible. Reggie Bush scored 178 fantasy points, which is very high for a RB with just 565 rushing yards.
Let's start with fantasy points. Using the same technique as we did before, we can perform a regression analysis to find career fantasy points scored, using fantasy points scored as a rookie and draft value as our two variables. Here's the formula:
Remaining career FPs = 107.6 + 0.14 * (Draft Value) + 3.58 * (rookie FPs)
What's that mean? If Tony Hunt (Pick 90, Draft Value = 140) scores 31 fantasy points this year, we'd project him to score about 238 fantasy points for the rest of his career. If he breaks out and scores 150 FPs, we'd up that projection to 664 fantasy points. If Titans' rookie Chris Henry (Pick 50, draft value 400) scores 34 fantasy points, we'd project him out at 285 fantasy points for the remainder of his career. If Chris Henry scores 150 FPs, his projection moves up to 701 FPs. But Marshawn Lynch (Pick 12, Draft Value 1200) only needs 119 FPs to be projected for 701 remaining fantasy points.
Once again, I think those numbers don't feel too out of whack with what your intuition would tell you. How do Reggie and Maurice stack up? Bush (DV = 2600) scored 178 fantasy points last year, projecting him out at 1,109 career fantasy points. Jones-Drew (DV = 300) scored a whopping 228 fantasy points last year, which translates to a prediction of "just" 966 career fantasy points. The extra 50 fantasy points aren't enough to counteract the 2300 point difference in pick value. Don't forget that Freeman McNeil and Garrison Hearst both scored under 100 FPs as rookies, but the former number three overall picks would each end up topping 1200 career fantasy points. While it makes sense to put a lot of stock in what players do in the NFL, one rookie season is a pretty small sample compared to three or four years of college and a draft combine.
On the other hand, what about yards per carry? Jones-Drew's sparkling 5.67 YPC is one of the biggest reasons people are so bullish on his future. In fact, since 1970, only two others RBs with a minimum of 100 carries have hit 5.5 YPC as a rookie: Clinton Portis and Franco Harris. That's pretty good company. And just as interesting, Reggie Bush averaged only 3.65 YPC, over two yards per carry fewer than Jones-Drew.
I looked at all rookie RBs from 1978-1997 with a minimum of 100 carries, and ran a regression using yards per carry and draft value to predict fantasy points for the remainder of their careers. Here's the formula:
Remaining fantasy points = -792 + 0.26 * (Draft Value) + 320 * (Rookie Year Yards Per Carry Average)
Jones-Drew (draft value 300, YPC = 5.67) is now projected to score 1110 more fantasy points the rest of his career. This feels about right: he was projected at 966 when looking at just last year's total fantasy points, but deservedly gets a big boost when using yards per carry as a variable. Bush (draft value 2600, YPC = 3.65) is projected for 1,052 fantasy points, which is still pretty good. That's only a small downgrade from before, when we ignored Bush's low YPC average. Why? The sample here is different, because we're only looking at RBs with 100 or more carries as a rookie. The nine RBs drafted in the top three over this 20 year span averaged over 1500 career fantasy points. Only one -- Blair Thomas -- was a bust. So the draft value variable here got a nice boost.
Finally, let's combine rookie fantasy points, rookie yards per carry average and draft value and see what we get:
Rest of career fantasy points = -515 + 0.10 * (Draft Value) + 130 * (YPC) + 4.5 * (FPs)
Jones-Drew's projected soars to 1282 fantasy points for the rest of his career. Reggie Bush is projected for 1024 fantasy points. Bush got a 231 point head start due to his draft position, but loses 263 points to Drew due to the large YPC difference, and another 226 FPs because of the 50 point difference the players scored last year. Interestingly enough, the relatively small 50 point difference in points scored last year is weighed almost as heavily as the enormous YPC differential. Why is a low YPC average for a rookie not so terrifying? Emmitt Smith (3.9 YPC average as a rookie, 3,025 fantasy points scored the rest of his career), Marshall Faulk (4.1, 2,479), Curtis Martin (4.0, 2,078), Tiki Barber (3.8, 1860), Roger Craig (4.1, 1561), Eddie George (4.1, 1532), Charlie Garner (3.7, 1322) and James Wilder (3.5, 1115) all had great careers despite not running very well as rookies. The fact that Barber, Garner and Wilder -- all excellent receivers -- had similar YPC averages to Bush is good news for Bush fans.
For Jones-Drew, the news is even better. The 11 RBs to score 228 or more FPs during their rookie season averaged 1,472 FPs for the remainder of their careers. Don't forget that the NFL's 4th all-time leading rusher -- Curtis Martin -- was a third round pick who had an incredible rookie year and never looked back.
One note: Herschel Walker was drafted in the 5th round due to his involvement with the USFL, and considered a 5th round pick for this study, despite undoubtedly being an elite, top-ten pick talent. To a small extent, that may understate the value of being a high draft pick, because he's not morally one of the low round picks to succeed.
Check out Part III, tomorrow, though. The news doesn't always stay good for our second year stars.