How Often do Top-12 PPR Running Backs & Wide Receivers Repeat in the Following Season?

May 23, 2017
How Often do Top-12 PPR Running Backs & Wide Receivers Repeat in the Following Season?

Every fantasy draft season, the names at the top of ADP lists are those who performed well the previous season. But if the goal in fantasy football is to project forward, why do so many drafters blindly look backwards?

How Often do Top-12 Running Backs and Wide Receivers Repeat?

I was not sure what the data would show. What I found was that it was a mixed bag over the past five fantasy seasons, a time period marked by a much larger emphasis on passing efficiency and broader use of spread offenses in the NFL. However, over the past two seasons, one position stood out in year-to-year consistency.

ppr rb1 wr1 graph.PNG

I was not sure exactly what the data would show, but what I found was that it was a mixed bag. Here are some takeaways:
  • RBs and WRs each had at least half of their top-12 scorers from the previous year repeat just once over the past five years.

  • Wide receiver PPR scoring leaders have been more consistent the past two seasons when it comes to repeating the following season.

  • 2014’s top 12 PPR RBs would have matched the four WRs that repeated the next season if not for injuries to LeVeon Bell and LeSean McCoy. McCoy missed four games and still finished as RB18. Smart Bell owners handcuffed him with DeAngelo Williams who finished the next year as RB5.

If we break the top-12 PPR scoring leaders down further, into buckets of top 1-6 and top 7-12, what do we find out about their year-to-year consistency?

  • Each of the past two seasons, only one of the top-6 PPR RBs from the previous season finished as a top-12 RB for that year. In 2016, Devonta Freeman was RB6 after finishing as RB1 in 2015. In 2015, Matt Forte was RB8 after finishing as RB3 in 2014.

  • Five of the top six PPR RBs from 2016 have May (post-NFL Draft) ADPs in the first round in MFL10 leagues (see below). Given that only one RB in each of the past two seasons has followed up a top-six campaign with a top-12 season, that might give some pause to those who draft the names I'll get to in a second.

  • If the cost of one the the previous year’s top six RBs is a first-round pick in fantasy drafts, perhaps it is wiser to find one with more than one season of fantasy success and/or opt to take one after the first round.

2016 toprb adp.PNG

Top-12 Running Backs -- Looking Ahead to 2017

  • Eight RBs over the past five seasons have bounced back from failing to repeat as a top-12 back to finish in the top-12 in a future season down the line: LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Frank Gore, DeMarco Murray, and LeVeon Bell.

  • Some of the names that were not top-12 RBs in 2016 but have been in the top 12 in the past would be easy to envision returning to top-12 status in 2017: Marshawn Lynch, Eddie Lacy, Lamar Miller and Todd Gurley. These players will have a clear path to touches and a feature role in 2017.

  • Some of the names that were not top-12 RBs in 2016, but have been RB1s in the past, yet would be difficult to envision returning to top-12 status in 2017: Matt Forte, Latavius Murray and Chris Ivory. Whether it’s age, competition or a diminished role, I don’t see these three ascending.

  • Among last year’s top-12 RBs, Frank Gore now has a legitimate father time factor against him, unlike previous seasons where there were plenty of historical examples of backs his age performing. Gore gained more total yards last season than any age 33 RB this century. In fact, he shattered the next-closest mark by almost 200 yards. But if he’s going to succeed at age 34, he’s going to have to buck a serious negative trend. No age-34 RB this century has reached 550 scrimmage yards.

  • Two names that have been top-12 RBs in the past are hard to diagnose: Mark Ingram and Danny Woodhead. Ingram now has former star Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara to contend with for touches, while Woodhead is in his 30s, albeit on a team with no established starting RB that has been extremely pass-heavy in the past, which fits his style. For more on Woodhead’s 2017 outlook, read Chris Raybon's piece on him from earlier this offseason.

  • Is the sophomore slump real for rookie RBs who finish in the top 12? In the past five years, only David Johnson in 2016 backed up his top-12 rookie season with another top-12 season in year two. The rest? Sophomore slumps abound: Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, Alfred Morris, Jeremy Hill and Todd Gurley. One has to wonder what that means for Ezekiel Elliott and Jordan Howard in 2017.

Top-12 Wide Receivers -- Looking Ahead to 2017

The Bottom Line

  • Over the past two seasons, drafting one of the top six scoring RBs from the previous year has only produced a 17-percent success rate in terms of that RB finishing the following season as a top-12 RB.

  • Over the past two years, 42 percent of the previous season’s top six WRs have finished in the top 12 the following season. Over the past five years, that success rate grows to 50 percent.

  • Given that five of those six highest-scoring RBs from last year come with first-round price tags right now, it is probably safer to choose WRs early.

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