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Preseason Running Back ADP - Accurate Or Inaccurate?

By Steve Schwarz | 7/27/23

The question was asked by a loyal reader of this site “Why are running back preseason ADP rankings so seemingly inaccurate?” So I decided to look at the pre-season ADP and post-season results to see how accurate, or inaccurate, fantasy owners are? And, of course, fantasy owners usually take their cues from preseason “expert” rankings.

At the end of the piece is a chart where I have analyzed the last five years of running back preseason ADP versus their final running back production.

For the five-year period from 2018-2022, pre-season ADP only picked a top-10 running back 54% of the time. As an example, last season the public correctly chose: Christian McCaffrey, Austin Ekeler, Derrick Henry, Dalvin Cook and Aaron Jones as top-10 running backs. But they also got five guys wrong – Jonathan Taylor, Najee Harris, Joe Mixon, Alvin Kamara and D’Andre Swift. Last year wasn’t a fluke.

Over the last five seasons, preseason ADP has barely picked better than half correctly (27-of-50). In no season did pre-season ADP reach 80% accuracy. At least the top-10 chosen over that time finish in the top-20 72% of the time. But that’s not particularly good.

Injuries you say?

Actually, in 2022 the top-10 pre-season RBs played 155-of-170 possible games or 91.2%. That’s not a horrible total, which would explain why eight-of-10 finished top-20 and the worst, Taylor, finished 31st after missing the most games (6).

In 2021, when the public got just four running backs right (their worst effort of the survey), the pre-season top-10 backs played just 78.2% of their games (133-of-170).

The final top-10 running backs in 2022 played 167-of-170 games or 98.2%. Since 2018, the top-10 have averaged playing 94.1% of all games which also included sitting out some final games of the season in order to get ready for the playoffs. So, health certainly is a factor.

Pro tip: don’t pick a player injured in preseason. Even a seemingly small injury, particularly when it’s leg related. It’s tough enough to play 17 games in the NFL when you start healthy.

But it is even more interesting to note that just 10 players who were chosen from the 11th RB available to the 20th available, managed to crack the top-10. The average production over the five-year period of backs drafted 11th – 20th was just 27.1 (RB ranking, not overall ranking).

Meanwhile, the same number (10) from the 21st to the 50th available running back cracked the top 10. It indicates that if you are looking for that elite back to lead your team to the Promised Land from below the top few special guys, you are as likely to find him from ADP 40 and up (RBs No.21 and later), as you are from ADP 16-39 (RBs 11-20). The 11th-20th running backs off the board were twice as likely to finish 21st through 50th at the position as finish top-10.

In other words, picking backs No.11-20 has more than double the chance of finishing “well below market value” than top-10. That’s not smart drafting.

For 2023 this translates to; if you draft running backs ranked 1-10 (from McCaffrey through Rhamondre Stevenson) you have about a 54% change of getting an actual top-10 running back and a 73% chance of getting top-20 production. (Note: Hopefully, Leonard Fournette/Patriots make a decision before you draft Stevenson, who takes a hit if he signs in New England).

Najee Harris

But drafting Najee Harris through D’Andre Swift is more likely to disappoint than elate. How much? Again, the average production of these backs, drafted 11th – 20th, over the past five seasons was just 27th place. There is a 22% chance they will be top-10, but a 56% chance they will finish below what you paid for them.

What’s my plan for 2023 as of the end of July?

Despite all the wide receiver talk, I want one of the top-10 RBs depending on my draft position. Then I’ll look elsewhere until we get past the 20th-ranked RB to find my second starter. In the meantime, that should leave me open to pick wideouts, a tight end or maybe Patrick Mahomes on picks 2-4. I see Javonte Williams just passed his physical and should be ready for camp or Jahmyr Gibbs (53.5) and Miles Sanders (55.9) among others could still be around for the fifth-round pick.

Current 2023 ADP as of July 25, 2023.

  2023 RB ADP
Rk Pos Player Tm ADP
1 RB Christian McCaffrey SF 1.4
2 RB Austin Ekeler LAC 2.9
3 RB Bijan Robinson ATL 5.0
4 RB Jonathan Taylor IND 7.7
5 RB Saquon Barkley NYG 9.2
6 RB Nick Chubb CLE 10.1
7 RB Josh Jacobs LV 14.2
8 RB Tony Pollard DAL 14.7
9 RB Derrick Henry TEN 15.5
10 RB Rhamondre Stevenson NE 19.6
11 RB Najee Harris PIT 20.8
12 RB Travis Etienne JAX 22.7
13 RB Breece Hall NYJ 23.7
14 RB Joe Mixon CIN 27.2
15 RB Kenneth Walker SEA 28.9
16 RB Aaron Jones GB 29.7
17 RB Dalvin Cook FA 32.4
18 RB David Montgomery DET 38.9
19 RB Alexander Mattison MIN 39.5
20 RB D'Andre Swift PHI 42.6
21 RB Dameon Pierce HOU 43.2
22 RB James Conner ARI 47.1
23 RB J.K. Dobbins BAL 47.9
24 RB Javonte Williams DEN 47.9
25 RB Cam Akers LAR 50.6
26 RB Jahmyr Gibbs DET 53.5
27 RB Miles Sanders CAR 55.9
28 RB Alvin Kamara NO 59.5
29 RB Rachaad White TB 62.8
30 RB Isiah Pacheco KC 66.1
31 RB AJ Dillon GB 75.1
32 RB Antonio Gibson WAS 75.3
33 RB Damien Harris BUF 79.1
34 RB James Cook BUF 80.7
35 RB Rashaad Penny PHI 86.6
36 RB Tyler Allgeier ATL 86.9
37 RB Jamaal Williams NO 89.8
38 RB Brian Robinson Jr. WAS 91.5
39 RB Elijah Mitchell SF 96.6
40 RB Kareem Hunt CLE 98.7
41 RB Raheem Mostert MIA 104.1
42 RB Ezekiel Elliott FA 106.3
43 RB Devin Singletary HOU 107.8
44 RB Kenneth Gainwell PHI 109.1
45 RB Cordarrelle Patterson ATL 113.7
46 RB Jerick McKinnon KC 115.6
47 RB D'Onta Foreman CHI 116.2
48 RB Samaje Perine DEN 122.3
49 RB Michael Carter NYJ 124.1
50 RB Leonard Fournette FA 128.5

Amazingly, three players ranked below No.50 or later became top-10 running backs. I’m sure you would like to know who those “miracle” guys, these “fantasy championship winners,” were, right? How they got there and if you can find someone like that for this season?

In 2018, James Conner replaced a boycotting Le’Veon Bell. Bell was still being drafted among the top-10 running backs right up to Opening Day because no one believed he would hold out for more than a game or two. But he sat the entire season. Conner wasn’t “Bell good” (who posted a second-best 23 FPts/G the previous season), but he did produce 280 fantasy points over 13 games (21.5 FPts/G) which ranked him No.6 that season.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Saquon Barkley signed for 2023, but Josh Jacobs hasn’t signed his franchise deal yet, and just left Las Vegas. Just keep an eye here.

In 2020, the Jacksonville Jaguars decided not to exercise their option on Leonard Fournette and waived him at the end of August that year. The result was a completely confused public. Second-year running back Ryquell Armstead and veteran third-down back Chris Thompson were their two lukewarm choices for the starting position with ADPs of 135.3 and 149.6, respectively. But it was undrafted free agent James Robinson who grabbed the opportunity and dominated the backfield rushing for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns and catching 49 balls for 344 yards and three scores. He finished the season producing 17.9 FPts/G and his 250 fantasy points was seventh-most that season.

The final “miracle” was two seasons ago when Head Coach Arthur Smith converted part-time Bear Cordarrelle Patterson into a full-time running back primarily to compensate for the failure of Mike Davis to produce as the opening day starter. Patterson ran the 153 times for 618 yards and six scores and caught 52 balls for 548 yards and five touchdowns to grab the No.10 spot overall at 14.7 FPts/G.

 Pre-season ADP Rank vs. Actual Finish: 2018 - 2022
1-10 Pre T1-10 T11-20 T21-50 T51-99 T100+  
2022 5 3 2 0 0
2021 4 3 3 0 0
2020 5 0 3 1 1* Barkley
2019 6 2 2 0 0
2018 7 1 1 0 1** L. Bell
Total 27 9 11 1 2
* - injured
** - holdout

 Pre-season ADP Rank vs. Actual Finish: 2018 - 2022
11-20 Pre T1-10 T11-20 T21-50 T51-99 T100+  
2022 2 3 3 2 0
2021 3 3 3 1 0
2020 2 2 5 1 0
2019 2 3 4 1 0
2018 1 1 6 0 2* McKinnon, Freeman
Total 10 12 21 5 2
* - injured

 Pre-season ADP Rank vs. Actual Finish: 2018 - 2022
21-50 Pre T1-10 T11-20 T21-50 T51-99 T100+  
2022 3 3 16.0 8 0
2021 2 3 17.0 5 3* Mostert, Sermon, Edwards
2020 2 5 10.0 10 4* Mack, Cohen, Coleman, Howard
2019 2 4 15.0 8 1* Guice
2018 1 6 14.0 8 1*** CJ Anderson
Total 10 21 72.0 39 9
* - injured
*** - cut from multiple teams

 Pre-season ADP Rank vs. Actual Finish: 2018 - 2022
51+ Pre T1-10 T11-20 T21-50 T51-99
2022 0 1 9 39
2021 1 1 7 43
2020 1 3 12 37
2019 0 1 9 30
2018 1 2 9 31
Total 3 8 46 180