It’s pre-draft season which means ADP is running amok, causing some incredibly good and bad market inefficiencies. As I scroll through the Fantrax ADP (here), I’m often overcome with an intense sickness that dramatically transitions into a feeling of absolute euphoria.
You may be saying to yourself, Zeno, are you OK? Are you sure you don’t need some medical help? Well, my friends, yes, I’m totally fine, but I think it’s the marketplace that needs some medical attention with the valuation of some of these players. I’m not a doctor, but I want to dissect and analyze one player whose ADP is far too high relative to his peers to help you avoid overpaying in drafts.
In the wise words of Ice Cube:
you better check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Relax on Kenyan Drake
Coming in at RB17 on the Fantrax ADP list (average pick of 37.25), Drake is being selected over other, more suitable, options such as Lamar Miller, Jay Ajayi, and Alex Collins. The former Crimson Tide running back is going into an unfortunate situation as a 3rd year pro with Miami.
Miami is projected to have about 6 wins in 2018 with a below-average o-line (per PFF). This means Drake will automatically be thrown into constant negative game scripts in arguably one of the leagues most inefficient offenses. This directly implies that he’ll have to be utilized a ton in the passing game and remain efficient on all touches he’s afforded. If you didn’t know already, all RB efficiency metrics are largely unstable from season to season, so we really have to bet on increased volume/touches for Drake to be a worthwhile pick at his current ADP.
The Other Miami Running Backs
By now it’s no secret that the Dolphins made some moves this off-season surrounding the running back position. They signed the ageless wonder Frank Gore, and also spent a 4th round draft pick on Kalen Ballage. While the Dolphins also made some other off-season moves, some more curious than others (I’m looking at you, Danny Amendola and Albert Wilson), these two RB signings indicate that the team isn’t necessarily all-in on Drake and his road to volume is bumpy.
When comparing Ballage to Drake, we see that the former ASU ball carrier has some electric college tape along with a significantly high relative athletic score (RAS) and combine performance (shown in figure 1 below).
I’ll admit that good college tape, excellent combine performance, or high draft capital doesn’t necessarily translate to NFL performance. However, it should be noted that those variables do typically translate to a volume. Since 2000, 4th round draft picks have averaged about 80 touches in their rookie season. This gives us a reasonable expectation that Ballage should receive above average touches in 2018 based on his above-average profile.
While the athletically gifted rookie isn’t a huge threat to Drake’s workload, Frank Gore, on the other hand, is a major threat to volume. The ageless wonder has had over 249 touches and above 50% rush attempt market share for 12 straight seasons; yes. you read that correctly… Twelve. Straight. Seasons. See figure 2 below for his outstanding touch volume by year.
In addition to high usage, he also constantly performs above average when compared to other RBs his age. You can see in figure 3 that he’s had an above average z-score throughout the majority of his career. It’s clear that Frank’s still got some gas in the tank.
It’s not unreasonable to think that Gore’s market share decreases a bit compared to the last few years. However, his historical volume and demonstrated productivity tell us that any drop shouldn’t be significant (maybe a 10% decrease at most). This all points to a smaller piece of the potential RB touch pie for Kenyan Drake. This would lead to reduced opportunities handed to him. With more competition for volume, Kenyan will have to maintain his efficiency which was seemly sporadic in 2017.
Efficiency metrics are unstable year to year, but they can help us get a sense of what type of RB a player is. In particular, we can look at the yards-per-rush distribution tool (data analysis -> offensive patterns -> running back rushing patterns) to help understand how RBs are toting the rock. In Drake’s rushing distribution below, there’s no clearly defined center. He also has an above average percentage of rushes with both positive and negative yards.
This type of distribution is indicative of a boom-or-bust type of ball carrier. Comparing this to Gore’s distribution there is a clear center and more stable percentage of rushes with positive gains. This type of pattern is typical of a consistent grinder-type running back which coaches tend to covet.
So… What now?
Drake is not a smart bet due to volume limitations and hyper-efficiency at his current ADP. Who’s a better bet? Lamar Miller, Jay Ajayi, and Alex Collins will be part of offenses that are expected to have upticks in performance. They are all better bets for the 2018 season. Each of them also has a clearly defined, locked-in, role. If you chase volume and efficient offenses, then you’ll usually come out on top in the running back fantasy carousel.