10 Second-Year RBs and WRs to Consider on Draft Day

Jun 17, 2019
10 Second-Year RBs and WRs to Consider on Draft Day

With the 2019 NFL Draft in the books, this season's new rookies have become the focus of attention around the NFL. On fantasy draft day, however, it's important not to lose sight of last season's rookies, many of whom now have a full year of NFL playing experience under their belts and are likely to be more valuable to your fantasy team than their first-year counterparts.

This article will highlight a handful of second-year RBs and WRs who could play a key part in your march to a fantasy championship this season.

We will focus on players who can be drafted at a reasonable price (unfortunately, no second-year RBs appear to be underpriced) but whose value has changed in interesting ways since last year. We will skip players like Saquon Barkley, who we believed would be a stud and who clearly is one.

Nick Chubb, RB, Browns

After an extremely productive rookie season, Nick Chubb surges upward in my 3-year success model (described here for the 2019 RB class). Last year, the statistical model gave him only a 40% chance of being a top-36 RB in one of this first three seasons. Now, after incorporating his first-year production, that jumps to 90%! Drafters are similarly high on Chubb, taking him early in the second round.

However, I tend to agree with John Paulsen that drafters are probably overvaluing Chubb at that price. His lack of pass catching and explosiveness puts a limit on his ceiling that is much lower than for some of the other options available there. Interestingly, the statistical model agrees: while it gives Chubb a 90% chance of having a top-36 season, it gives him only a 37% chance of having a top-24 season. That is clearly too pessimistic, but I agree with the sentiment. Chubb will also have competition from Kareem Hunt later in the season, which could easily lead to a reduction in his workload even if he doesn't completely lose his spot as the primary back.

Given all of that, I'd rather take Dalvin Cook at that spot in the second round or wait for a player like Damien Williams or Kenyan Drake a round or two later.

Kerryon Johnson, RB, Lions

Kerryon Johnson is the only second-year running back that we have ranked ahead of the general consensus (and even then, it's only by one spot). Due to his production last year, the model has increased his odds of success in the next three years from 78% up to 90%, matching Chubb. Johnson also benefits from being on what looks to be a run-first team, under the Lions defensive-minded head coach Matt Patricia.

Like Chubb, the model does not give Johnson a strong chance of being an RB1 this season. He scores even lower than Chubb in the odds of having a top-24 season. However, Johnson is available a full two rounds later than Chubb. While we do expect Chubb to outscore Johnson by about 1 point per game, I'd rather take Johnson at his price.

Royce Freeman, RB, Broncos

With a jump from 43% to 65%, Royce Freeman had the second largest increase in expected success amongst the running backs on this list, behind only Chubb. Freeman is, I think, seen as a disappointment due to being outshined by Phillip Lindsay, who was undrafted. However, the model recognizes that Freeman's first-year production was ahead of what was expected, so it should be viewed as a positive, not a negative.

Of course, we have Lindsay projected well ahead of Freeman, but Lindsay is being drafted in the fourth round, while Freeman is being taken in the 10th. At those prices, I prefer Freeman, who has more than usual upside, to Lindsay, who has more than usual downside, due to the presence of Freeman in the same backfield.

Ronald Jones, RB, Buccaneers

Ronald Jones is the sole member of this list whose success odds have actually decreased since last year. However, as beloved as Jones was last year (scoring 88% in the statistical model), he has a lot of room to fall. Despite simply awful numbers in his first year, with 44 yards on 23 carries, the model still gives Jones a 64% chance of a top-36 season. Plus, his ceiling is the highest of all these backs, per the top-24 success odds.

Jones is currently being drafted in the 16th round, but that is likely to change. The new coaching staff is praising Jones and the 2019 draft gave him no real competition for carries other than Peyton Barber.

Kalen Ballage, RB, Dolphins

We had Kalen Ballage ranked very low amongst the rookies last season. Our model gave him only a 13% chance of having a top-36 season at running back. While Ballage has done nothing to make us think he will be a significant producer, his first year NFL production was ahead of that what the model expected. Incorporating that production, the model now gives him a 30% chance of a top-36 season and similar odds of even a top-24 season at some point in the next three years.

Those new odds are in line with those of Ito Smith, who gets far more attention as Devonta Freeman's backup than Ballage does as the backup of Kenyan Drake, even though there may be more opportunity for Ballage on a Dolphins team that is really playing for next year. Also, Ballage, at nearly 230 pounds, has the body of a lead back, while Smith does not. Both players are reasonable picks, however, very late in drafts (each has an ADP in the 17-18th round) and would likely have significant value in the event of an injury to Freeman or Drake.

Calvin Ridley, WR, Falcons

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