Fantasy Football: Historical Comps for the Top 12 Running Backs

By Jason Lisk
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I’ve already released my running back rankings, but here I am going to go through the top 12 running backs by average draft position, and doing an objective analysis of their outcomes using historical comps.

For most, I found the 12 most similar players by stats from their 2017 season using PPR scoring, rushing yards, receiving yards, rushing attempts, receptions, and total touchdowns scored. I limited all similar players to those within one year of age of each of our backs.

That worked for most. However, Dalvin Cook is pretty impossible to draw a comparison: a second round rookie who looked good but tore his knee and only played six games. In fact, only Cook and Julius Jones played 10 or fewer games, averaged more than 13 points (non-PPR) and were drafted in the top three rounds. As for Saquon Barkley, I found the most similar backs by draft position, BMI, and age (all 22 or younger). For David Johnson, since he only played one game a year ago, I used the 2016 season and found the results two years later for his comps. (since we don’t know how his 2017 season would have gone if he played more).

All data was courtesy of Pro Football Reference. Here they are, in order of the average PPR points per game by their comps:

TODD GURLEY (19.8 PPG)

Gurley’s comps got hurt a little more frequently than Bell’s, but they are both right there together. You can expect over 1,600 yards if he stays healthy.

LE’VEON BELL (19.8 PPG)

Bell of course has the lockout that could impact his draft outlook, but he’s in his prime, is a monster in the passing game, and could be in store for another big season.

EZEKIEL ELLIOTT (19.0 PPG)

I used Zeke’s prorated stats from last year since he wasn’t injured (like most players with 10 games played). Injury is about the only thing that can hold him back. He’s not far behind the top two because of his likelihood of producing double digit rushing touchdowns.

DAVID JOHNSON (18.7 PPG)

Are we going to get the David Johnson of two years ago? There were a few collapses but enough guys that were still on top of their game that he’s a good choice at the top of a draft. The nature of his injury–unlike say a knee injury at his age–shouldn’t be concerning.

ALVIN KAMARA (17.0 PPG)

Kamara is a really hard one without many truly similar players. He only had 120 rush attempts a year ago but is going in the Top 6, because of his receiving value and big play ability. I guess the closest thing is being a better receiving version of a young Maurice Jones-Drew (who was platooning with Fred Taylor his first few years).

Most of his closest comps were at least productive again, and a few had volume breakouts like many are expecting with Kamara.

LEONARD FOURNETTE (17.0 PPG)

Leonard Fournette is kinda being overlooked entering year 2. His comps were pretty safe to be good, with the only downside being touchdown dropoffs. But I don’t expect the Jaguars to suddenly stop using a pound it in the red zone and play great defense philosophy that carried them last year.

KAREEM HUNT (16.9 PPG)

Kareem Hunt was a revelation last year for the Chiefs as a rookie, and there’s a pretty good chance he will continue to be a solid starter if healthy.

MELVIN GORDON (16.9 PPG)

Three Thurman Thomas seasons show up in Gordon’s comps for last year, which is how he gets this good projection. I’m a little more down on him than being “like Thurman” but he is a solid option after the top 8 are gone.

SAQUON BARKLEY (16.6 PPG)

There were a couple of disappointments on Barkley’s list, but I’m optimistic that he is better than the average of this group and will also be more useful as a receiver than some other top rookies. I have in in my top five, but even if you are inclined toward conservatism with rookies, history shows that guys drafted as highly as Barkley and built like him are easily first rounders.

CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY (15.5 PPG)

McCaffrey isn’t a lock to make the jump in terms of rushing volume and efficiency, but he will likely continue to be a PPR machine.

DEVONTA FREEMAN (11.0 PPG)

Devonta Freeman’s comps should raise a big red flag. He wasn’t great last year, missing two games and finishing with less than 1,000 yards. He was better than these guys in the years leading up, and could bounce back, but there’s a sizeable gap between him and the rest of the top 10 and I would likely go with the top wide receivers before dipping here.

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