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Rookie RBs/Rookie WRs

Posted by Chase Stuart on February 28, 2008

Six years ago, Doug wrote this article on rookie running backs and wide receivers. For those that can't be bothered to click the link, here's a short recap:

Question: how often does the rookie RB who put up the best numbers actually turn into the best RB of that rookie crop?

The answer: very frequently. Almost always, in fact. Edge James, Fred Taylor, Corey Dillon, Eddie George, Curtis Martin, Marshall Faulk, Jerome Bettis, Ricky Watters. That's an 8-year run from 1992-1999 where the top rookie turned into the best back (at least so far -- Fred Taylor will probably get passed by Ahman Green this year [Chase note: Green did pass Taylor, but it took two years, not one for him to grab the lead he still holds. Dillon has since lost his title as well.]).

In fact, look through the list of top-producing rookie RBs and you'll find very few eventual busts among them. Mike Anderson (maybe), Leonard Russell, Ickey Woods, Troy Stradford. Contrast this with the list of top rookie WRs (see the Chris Chambers comment) and you'll see lots and lots of complete zeros.

This just in! LaDainian Tomlinson will probably turn out to be a pretty good player. Extra! Extra! Where else can you get insight like that? Ultimately, this won't help you much, but it is interesting to note the very strong correlation between rookie success and eventual success for RBs and the complete lack of same for WRs.

What's the Chris Chambers comment?

Chris Chambers showed a lot of promise in his rookie year. Instead of regaling you with the gushing accounts of his physical talent -- you can get that anywhere -- I'll just say that I am indeed among the rubes who will be on the bandwagon this year. The guy has some amazing jets. I'll leave it at that.

But in addition to the flashes of raw talent, Chambers also put up the best numbers of any rookie receiver in 2001. Which leads to the question:

How often does the best rookie WR actually turn out to have the best career?

The answer: very, very rarely. Randy Moss had the top rookie season in 1998 and will certainly turn in the best career of all the rookies from his class. But before Moss, you have to go all the way back to 1981 to find a year where the best rookie actually turned into the best receiver over the long haul. That was Cris Collinsworth. Between 1981 and 2000, the WRs with the best rookie seasons ended up with careers that varied from non-existent (Rae Carruth) to mediocre (Darnay Scott) to pretty good (Joey Galloway), but none of them turned into the best WR in their class. Some of those guys are still working on their careers, of course, so this could change (it's possible that Peter Warrick could get his act together, for instance), but if you look through the list, it's clear that the best rookie hardly ever turns in the best career.

All that said, I still like Chambers a lot. I'd put my money on him before I'd put it on any other individual from this rookie class. But against the whole field, he'd be a lousy bet. [Chase note: Chad Johnson, Steve Smith and Reggie Wayne were in this class. Lousy bet, indeed.]

So in the summer of 2002, Doug wrote that the best rookie RB is usually the best RB from his class when he retires, whereas the best rookie WR is almost never the best WR from his class when he retires. Is that still true today?

For those not familiar with fantasy football, VBD is a tool used to measure the real value of a fantasy football player, and it rewards dominant performances. More information on VBD, including how it's calculated, can be found at that link. For our purposes, it's a rough but decent proxy for career value.

In 2002, Antonio Bryant was the number one rookie WR, but Javon Walker has since passed him. In '03, Anquan Boldin was number one, and he still holds that title. Andre Johnson may be coming on strong, though, so I wouldn't crown Boldin just yet. In 2004, Michael Clayton was the top rookie, but Larry Fitzgerald has since blown past him. Three years ago, Reggie Brown was the top rookie WR, but Braylon Edwards has already displaced him from the top spot. Two years ago? Marques Colston was the main man, and he's still doing well, but Brandon Marshall should give him a run for his money. We should probably keep an eye on Greg Jennings and Santonio Holmes, too. Dwayne Bowe was the top WR among the rookies last year, but no one would be surprised to see the runner up (or maybe the guy playing with Mr. Manning) pass him before their careers end . Here's a full list of how the top rookie WRs each year, measured by fantasy points, did over their careers (measured by career VBD). The last column shows their rank in their rookie class.

name			carvbd	pos	rookfp	rookyr	carvbdrk
Marques Colston		105	wr	152	2006	 1
Reggie Brown		 22	wr	 82	2005	 3
Michael Clayton		 37	wr	164	2004	 5
Anquan Boldin		209	wr	189	2003	 1
Antonio Bryant		  9	wr	113	2002	 5
Chris Chambers		148	wr	129	2001	 6
Peter Warrick		 34	wr	110	2000	 5
Kevin Johnson		 60	wr	146	1999	 6
Randy Moss		844	wr	234	1998	 1
Rae Carruth		  0	wr	 81	1997	 6
Terry Glenn		158	wr	153	1996	 8
Joey Galloway		333	wr	167	1995	 2
Darnay Scott		 44	wr	130	1994	 5
James Jett		 38	wr	 95	1993	 6
Arthur Marshall		  0	wr	 69	1992	 6
Lawrence Dawsey		  3	wr	107	1991	12
Fred Barnett		111	wr	121	1990	 4
Hart Lee Dykes		  1	wr	110	1989	 5
Brian Blades		 91	wr	119	1988	 8
Ricky Nattiel		  0	wr	 76	1987	13
Bill Brooks		105	wr	162	1986	 4
Eddie Brown		165	wr	155	1985	 6
Louis Lipps		216	wr	153	1984	 2
Willie Gault		103	wr	135	1983	 4
Charlie Brown		212	wr	117	1982	 3
Cris Collinsworth	269	wr	149	1981	 1
Art Monk		317	wr	 98	1980	 1
Jerry Butler	         71	wr	109	1979	 6
John Jefferson		311	wr	179	1978	 3
Wesley Walker		334	wr	 95	1977	 2
Sammy White		296	wr	150	1976	 2
Alfred Jenkins		271	wr	113	1975	 1
Nat Moore		242	wr	 76	1974	 3
Isaac Curtis		300	wr	137	1973	 1
Mike Siani		 49	wr	 80	1972	 4
Randy Vataha		136	wr	141	1971	 4
Ron Shanklin		153	wr	 93	1970 	 4

As Doug wrote in his first post, zero rookie WRs that led their class in fantasy points ended up accumulating the most career VBD, from 1982-1997. Randy Moss broke that streak, and then it started right back up again. Anquan Boldin or Marques Colston might be another one to beat the odds, but those races are still too close to call. A lot of the top rookies don't even end up being in the top three of their class, so be sure to be careful about rookie WRs that excel.

So where do the top rookie WRs from the class start out? Good question.

name			carvbd  pos	rookfp	rookyr	rookyr rank
Marques Colston	 	105	wr	152	2006	 1
Braylon Edwards	 	117	wr	 69	2005	 4
Larry Fitzgerald 	186	wr	127	2004	 4
Anquan Boldin	 	209	wr	189	2003	 1
Javon Walker	 	162	wr	 39	2002	12
Chad Johnson	 	404	wr	 39	2001	 7
Plaxico Burress		213	wr	 27	2000	 7
Torry Holt		559	wr	117	1999	 2
Randy Moss	 	844	wr	234	1998	 1
Derrick Mason	 	194	wr	 18	1997	 8
Marvin Harrison	 	809	wr	133	1996	 3
Rod Smith	 	398	wr	 21	1995	13
Isaac Bruce	 	490	wr	 45	1994	 7
Curtis Conway	 	149	wr	 40	1993	 8
Jimmy Smith	 	401	wr	  0	1992	16
Herman Moore	 	394	wr	 14	1991	14
Terance Mathis	 	211	wr	 25	1990	10
Andre Rison	 	414	wr	108	1989	 2
Tim Brown	 	535	wr	114	1988	 2
Cris Carter	 	624	wr	 20	1987	14
Ernest Givins	 	257	wr	145	1986	 2
Jerry Rice	       1607	wr	119	1985	 4
Irving Fryar	 	278	wr	 21	1984	10
Mark Clayton	 	491	wr	 25	1983	16
Mike Quick	 	388	wr	 22	1982	 9
Cris Collinsworth 	269	wr	149	1981	 1
Art Monk	 	317	wr	 98	1980	 1
Roy Green	 	336	wr	  2	1979	13
James Lofton	 	611	wr	119	1978	 2
Stanley Morgan	 	345	wr	 63	1977	 2
Steve Largent	 	759	wr	 93	1976	 2
Alfred Jenkins	 	271	wr	113	1975	 1
John Stallworth	 	402	wr	 32	1974	11
Isaac Curtis	 	300	wr	137	1973	 1
Cliff Branch	 	487	wr	  5	1972	13
Harold Carmichael       522	wr	 29	1971	 8
Ken Burrough	 	291	wr	 32	1970	 8

As you can see, from 1990-2002, ten of the thirteen receivers who would go on to have the highest career VBD would rank outside of the top six in their rookie years. This should serve as a good reminder not to give up on any rookie receiver, even if he does virtually nothing his first season.

This, of course, is bad news for fans of Dwayne Bowe. But what about fans of Adrian Peterson?

When Doug ran the study, he noted that every top rookie running back from '92 to '99 ended up with the most career VBD. Since then, Corey Dillon (class of '97) was passed by Tiki Barber and Priest Holmes, and Fred Taylor (class of '98) was passed by Ahman Green. Mike Anderson (class of '00) ended up third that year in career value, but LaDainian Tomlinson (class of '01) is a lock to end up as the career VBD leader from his class. Clinton Portis ('02) should continue that tradition, although the next four RBs -- Dom (Davis) Williams, Willis McGahee, Cadillac Williams and Maurice Jones-Drew -- all are second or third in career VBD after being the top rookie.

name			carvbd	pos	rookfp	rookyr	carvbdrk
Maurice Jones-Drew	 102	rb	228	2006	2
Cadillac Williams	  19	rb	162	2005	3
Willis McGahee		 136	rb	208	2004	3
Domanick Williams	 173	rb	186	2003	2
Clinton Portis		 515	rb	289	2002	1
LaDainian Tomlinson	1185	rb	220	2001	1
Mike Anderson		 154	rb	256	2000	3
Edgerrin James		 731	rb	316	1999	1
Fred Taylor		 441	rb	266	1998	2
Corey Dillon		 478	rb	199	1997	3
Eddie George		 556	rb	203	1996	1
Curtis Martin		 832	rb	265	1995	1
Marshall Faulk		1164	rb	252	1994	1
Jerome Bettis		 434	rb	209	1993	1
Ricky Watters		 823	rb	208	1992	1
Leonard Russell		  90	rb	128	1991	3
Emmitt Smith		1332	rb	183	1990	1
Barry Sanders		1235	rb	259	1989	1
Ickey Woods		  77	rb	217	1988	4
Troy Stradford		  45	rb	150	1987	5
Herschel Walker		 630	rb	241	1986	1
Kevin Mack		 151	rb	200	1985	1
Greg Bell		 304	rb	186	1984	2
Eric Dickerson		 887	rb	341	1983	1
Marcus Allen		 884	rb	196	1982	1
George Rogers		 209	rb	258	1981	4
Billy Sims		 407	rb	288	1980	1
Ottis Anderson		 582	rb	251	1979	1
Earl Campbell		 522	rb	228	1978	1
Tony Dorsett		 705	rb	208	1977	1
Tony Galbreath		  82	rb	147	1976	4
Mike Thomas		 176	rb	182	1975	2
Don Woods		 122	rb	216	1974	3
Boobie Clark		  75	rb	182	1973	7
Franco Harris		 616	rb	190	1972	1
Vic Washington		  40	rb	155	1971	4
Duane Thomas		  75	rb	118	1970	3

From 1989-2006, ten of the eighteen top rookie RBs ended up with the most career VBD. None of them ended up outside of the top three, although Cadillac will probably fall to four (behind Marion Barber, Frank Gore and Brandon Jacobs) and Willis McGahee could be in trouble (Steven Jackson, Willie Parker, Earnest Graham, Kevin Jones, Julius Jones). Still, it seems like Adrian Peterson should have no trouble being one of the top three running backs from his draft class. Extra! Extra! Where can you get great insight like that?

Finally, here's a list of all the top running backs (measured by career VBD) from each class, and how they ranked as rookies:

name			carvbd  pos	rookfp	rookyr	rookyr rank
Joseph Addai		 125	rb	189	2006	 2
Frank Gore		 165	rb	 92	2005	 5
Steven Jackson		 254	rb	110	2004	 4
Larry Johnson		 365	rb	 15	2003	14
Clinton Portis		 515	rb	289	2002	 1
LaDainian Tomlinson	1185	rb	220	2001	 1
Shaun Alexander		 743	rb	 47	2000	 9
Edgerrin James		 731	rb	316	1999	 1
Ahman Green		 547	rb	 27	1998	11
Priest Holmes		 675	rb	  0	1997	21
Eddie George		 556	rb	203	1996	 1
Curtis Martin		 832	rb	265	1995	 1
Marshall Faulk		1164	rb	252	1994	 1
Jerome Bettis		 434	rb	209	1993	 1
Ricky Watters		 823	rb	208	1992	 1
Terry Allen		 448	rb	 79	1991	 3
Emmitt Smith		1332	rb	183	1990	 1
Barry Sanders		1235	rb	259	1989	 1
Thurman Thomas		 856	rb	121	1988	 3
Christian Okoye		 143	rb	101	1987	 3
Herschel Walker		 630	rb	241	1986	 1
Kevin Mack		 151	rb	200	1985	 1
Earnest Byner		 334	rb	 66	1984	 7
Eric Dickerson		 887	rb	341	1983	 1
Marcus Allen		 884	rb	196	1982	 1
James Brooks		 387	rb	121	1981	 5
Billy Sims		 407	rb	288	1980	 1
Ottis Anderson		 582	rb	251	1979	 1
Earl Campbell		 522	rb	228	1978	 1
Tony Dorsett		 705	rb	208	1977	 1
Chuck Muncie		 389	rb	105	1976	 5
Walter Payton		1268	rb	130	1975	 2
Delvin Williams		 206	rb	 39	1974	16
Chuck Foreman		 648	rb	152	1973	 2
Franco Harris		 616	rb	190	1972	 1
John Riggins		 461	rb	118	1971	 4
Art Malone		  92	rb	 23	1970	13

1997 was kind of an odd year, as Priest Holmes (21st) and Tiki Barber (5th) both had less than stellar rookie years, but went on to finish 14th and 16th in RB career VBD, respectively. But consider that from '89 to '02, ten of the fourteen rookie RBs that excelled the most as rookies ended up with the best careers. That success rate is pretty startling, in light of the complete chaos apparently going on at wide receiver.

Addai, Gore and Jackson and Johnson may be starting a new trend, as none of them ranked first as rookies. Of the top rookie RBs in those years, only MJD has a good chance of regaining his crown. If I had to guess, though, I'd say that Peterson is going to make sure this trend doesn't reach five.

Finally, here's how the top 25 WRs and RBs -- as measured by career VBD -- ranked in their class as rookies.

name			carvbd	rookfp	rookyr	rkyrrk  carvbdrk
Emmitt Smith		1332	183	1990	 1	1
Walter Payton		1268	130	1975	 2	1
Barry Sanders		1235	259	1989	 1	1
LaDainian Tomlinson	1185	220	2001	 1	1
Marshall Faulk		1164	252	1994	 1	1
Eric Dickerson		 887	341	1983	 1	1
Marcus Allen		 884	196	1982	 1	1
Thurman Thomas		 856	121	1988	 3	1
Curtis Martin		 832	265	1995	 1	1
Ricky Watters		 823	208	1992 	 1	1
Shaun Alexander		 743	 47	2000	 9	1
Edgerrin James		 731	316	1999	 1	1
Tony Dorsett		 705	208	1977	 1	1
Priest Holmes		 675	  0	1997	21	1
Chuck Foreman		 648	152	1973	 2	1
Tiki Barber		 642	105	1997	 5	2
Herschel Walker		 630	241	1986	 1	1
Franco Harris		 616	190	1972	 1	1
Terrell Davis		 600	196	1995	 2	2
Ottis Anderson		 582	251	1979	 1	1
Eddie George		 556	203	1996	 1	1
Roger Craig		 549	187	1983	 3	2
Ahman Green		 547	 27	1998	11	1
Earl Campbell		 522	228	1978	 1	1
Clinton Portis		 515	289	2002	 1	1


name carvbd rookfp rookyr rkyrrk carvbdrk
Jerry Rice 1607 119 1985 4 1
Randy Moss 844 234 1998 1 1
Marvin Harrison 809 133 1996 3 1
Steve Largent 759 93 1976 2 1
Terrell Owens 758 76 1996 6 2
Cris Carter 624 20 1987 14 1
James Lofton 611 119 1978 2 1
Torry Holt 559 117 1999 2 1
Tim Brown 535 114 1988 2 1
Harold Carmichael 522 29 1971 8 1
Sterling Sharpe 496 85 1988 5 2
Mark Clayton 491 25 1983 16 1
Isaac Bruce 490 45 1994 7 1
Cliff Branch 487 5 1972 13 1
Michael Irvin 462 96 1988 3 3
Wes Chandler 432 60 1978 6 2
Gary Clark 425 124 1985 3 2
Andre Rison 414 108 1989 2 1
Andre Reed 410 94 1985 7 3
Chad Johnson 404 39 2001 7 1
John Stallworth 402 32 1974 11 1
Jimmy Smith 401 0 1992 16 1
Rod Smith 398 21 1995 13 1
Herman Moore 394 14 1991 14 1
Mike Quick 388 22 1982 9 1

Sixteen of the top 25 running backs to enter the league since the merger were the top players in their class in their rookie season. Amazingly enough, only one of the top 25 WRs was the top man after his first season, and fourteen of them weren't even among the five most productive rookies in their class.

This entry was posted on Thursday, February 28th, 2008 at 12:21 am and is filed under Fantasy, History, Statgeekery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.