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Fantasy Fallout

Second-Year Running Backs

by Adam Levitan
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

A theme of the 2014 fantasy draft season is going to be second-year running backs.

I’ve already gone in-depth on the polarizing nature of potential first-round pick Montee Ball. Over the next few months, there’s also going to be a ton of talk about Eddie Lacy, Zac Stacy, Le’Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard and Andre Ellington.

The tie that binds all five of these sophomores is that they each rushed for at least 600 yards as a rookie (Ball was at 559 yards). With that 600-yard baseline in mind, I looked back at how running backs over the last decade have fared in this situation. The top line on each entry is the second-year numbers. The bottom line, in parentheses, is the rookie-year numbers :

2013
Alfred Morris: 276 carries, 1275 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4.6 YPC
(Rookie Morris: 335 carries, 1613 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4.8 YPC)

Doug Martin: 127 carries, 456 yards, 1 touchdowns, 3.6 YPC
(Rookie Martin: 319 carries, 1454 yards, 11 touchdowns, 4.6 YPC)

Trent Richardson: 188 carries, 563 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2.9 YPC
(Rookie Richardson: 267 carries, 950 yards, 11 touchdowns, 3.6 YPC)

Vick Ballard: 13 carries, 63 yards, 0 touchdowns, N/A YPC
(Rookie Ballard: 211 carries, 814 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3.9 YPC)

2012
DeMarco Murray: 161 carries, 663 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4.1 YPC
(2011 Murray: 164 carries, 897 yards, 2 touchdowns, 5.5 YPC)

Roy Helu: 2 carries, 2 yards, 0 touchdowns, N/A YPC
(2011 Helu: 151 carries, 640 yards, 2 touchdowns, 4.2 YPC)

2011
LeGarrette Blount: 184 carries, 781 yards, 5 touchdowns, 4.2 YPC
(2010 Blount: 201 carries, 1007 yards, 6 touchdowns, 5.0 YPC)

Chris Ivory: 79 carries, 374 yards, 1 touchdown, 4.7 YPC
(2010 Ivory: 137 carries, 716 yards, 5 touchdowns, 5.2 YPC)

Ryan Mathews: 222 carries, 1091 yards, 6 touchdowns, 4.9 YPC
(2010 Mathews: 158 carries, 678 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4.3 YPC)

2010
Knowshon Moreno: 182 carries, 779 yards, 5 touchdowns, 4.3 YPC
(2009 Moreno: 247 carries, 947 yards, 7 touchdowns, 3.8 YPC)

Beanie Wells: 116 carries, 397 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3.4 YPC
(2009 Wells: 176 carries, 793 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4.5 YPC)

LeSean McCoy: 207 carries, 1080 yards, 7 touchdowns, 5.2 YPC
(2009 McCoy: 155 carries, 637 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4.1 YPC)

2009
Steve Slaton: 131 carries, 437 yards, 3 touchdowns, 3.3 YPC
(2008 Slaton: 268 carries, 1282 yards, 9 touchdowns, 4.8 YPC)

Matt Forte: 258 carries, 929 yards, 4 touchdowns, 3.6 YPC
(2008 Forte: 316 carries, 1238 yards, 8 touchdowns, 3.9 YPC)

Chris Johnson: 358 carries, 2006 yards, 14 touchdowns, 5.6 YPC
(2008 Johnson: 251 yards, 1228 yards, 9 touchdowns, 4.9 YPC)

Kevin Smith: 217 carries, 747 yards, 4 touchdowns, 3.4 YPC
(2008 Smith: 238 carries, 976 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4.1 YPC)

Jonathan Stewart: 221 carries, 1133 yards, 10 touchdowns, 5.1 YPC
(2008 Stewart: 184 carries, 836 yards, 10 touchdowns, 4.5 YPC)

2008
Adrian Peterson: 363 carries, 1760 yards, 10 touchdowns, 4.8 YPC
(2007 Peterson: 238 carries, 1341 yards, 12 touchdowns, 5.6 YPC)

Marshawn Lynch: 250 carries, 1036 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4.1 YPC
(2007 Lynch: 280 carries, 1115 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4.0 YPC)

Selvin Young: 61 carries, 303 yards, 1 touchdown, 5.0 YPC
(2007 Young: 140 carries, 729 yards, 1 touchdown, 5.2 YPC)

2007
Joseph Addai: 261 carries, 1072 yards, 12 touchdowns, 4.1 YPC
(2006 Addai: 226 carries, 1081 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4.8 YPC)

Maurice Jones-Drew: 167 carries, 768 yards, 9 touchdowns, 4.6 YPC
(2006 Jones-Drew: 166 carries, 941 yards, 13 touchdowns, 5.7 YPC)

Laurence Maroney: 185 carries, 835 yards, 6 touchdowns, 4.5 YPC
(2006 Maroney: 175 carries, 745 yards, 6 touchdowns, 4.3 YPC)

Mike Bell: 6 carries, three yards, 0 touchdowns, N/A YPC
(2006 Bell: 157 carries, 677 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4.3 YPC)

Leon Washington: 71 carries, 353 yards, 3 touchdowns, 5.0 YPC
(2006 Washington: 151 carries, 650 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4.3 YPC

Jerious Norwood: 103 carries, 613 yards, 1 touchdown, 6.0 YPC
(2006 Norwood: 99 carries, 633 yards, 2 touchdowns, 6.4 YPC

2006
Cadillac Williams: 225 carries, 798 yards, 1 touchdown, 3.5 YPC
(2005 Williams: 290 carries, 1178 yards, 6 touchdowns, 4.1 YPC

Ronnie Brown: 241 carries, 1008 yards, 5 touchdowns, 4.2 YPC
(2005 Brown: 207 carries, 907 yards, 4 touchdowns, 4.4 YPC

Frank Gore: 312 carries, 1695 yards, 8 touchdowns, 5.4 YPC
(2005 Gore: 127 carries, 608 yards, 3 touchdowns, 4.8 YPC)

2005
Kevin Jones: 186 carries, 664 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3.6 YPC
(2004 Jones: 241 carries, 1133 yards, 5 touchdowns, 4.7 YPC)

Julius Jones: 257 carries, 993 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3.9 YPC
(2004 Jones: 197 carries, 819 yards, 7 touchdowns, 4.2 YPC)

Steven Jackson: 254 carries, 1046 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4.1 YPC
(2004 Jackson: 134 carries, 673 yards, 4 touchdowns, 5.0 YPC)

2004
Domanick Williams: 302 carries, 1188 yards, 13 touchdowns, 3.9 YPC
(2003 Williams: 238 carries, 1031 yards, 8 touchdowns, 4.3 YPC)

Keep reading for takeaways, notes on this year's sophomore backs and conclusions.

TREND TAKEAWAYS
1) Between 2003 and 2012, 33 rookie running backs have rushed for 600 or more yards. 22 of them have suffered a decline in yardage as sophomores.

2) Between 2003 and 2012, 12 rookie running backs have rushed for 1000 or more yards. Nine of them have suffered a decline in yardage as sophomores. The only three that didn’t were Domanick Williams, Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson.

3) Between 2003 and 2012, 18 rookie running backs (with 600+ yards) have rushed for seven or more touchdowns. 13 of them have suffered a decline in touchdowns as sophomores. Jonathan Stewart stayed stagnant. Chris Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Joseph Addai and Domanick Williams scored more as sophomores.

4) Between 2003 and 2012, four rookie running backs (with 600+ yards) averaged less than 4.0 yards per carry: Matt Forte, Knowshon Moreno, Vick Ballard and Trent Richardson. All four of those suffered a decline in both yardage and touchdowns as sophomores.

5) Between 2003 and 2012, eight rookie running backs (with 600+ yards) averaged 5.0 yards per carry or more: Steven Jackson, Jerious Norwood, Maurice Jones-Drew, Selvin Young, Adrian Peterson, Chris Ivory, DeMarco Murray and LeGarrette Blount. Six of them suffered a decline in yardage as sophomores. Five of them suffered a decline in touchdowns as sophomores.

BUT WHY?
To be honest, I really don’t know why runners that had success as rookies to fail so often as sophomores. I didn’t expect it. When I think of career arcs, I typically think of a sharp rise from Years 1 to 2 and then gradual improvement from there until the peak.

Overuse was not usually an issue. Just eight of these 33 backs had 250+ carries as rookies. Serious injuries were not a huge factor either as only seven guys (Mike Bell, Selvin Young, Steve Slaton, Beanie Wells, Roy Helu, Vick Ballard, Doug Martin) missed significant time. Many of these guys – Slaton, Wells, Martin particularly as really high fantasy picks – were really bad even before their injury.  

My best guess at what’s going on here is simple regression to the mean. The majority of these backs outperformed expectations as rookies and then fell victim to the curve as sophomores. The 11 backs that improved in yardage (Ryan Mathews, LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson, Jonathan Stewart, Adrian Peterson, Laurence Maroney, Ronnie Brown, Frank Gore, Julius Jones, Steven Jackson, Domanick Williams) are/were, for the most part, special talents.

APPLICATIONS TO 2014
Here are the numbers for the five rookies in 2013 that rushed for 600+ yards:
Eddie Lacy: 284 carries, 1178 yards, 11 touchdowns, 4.1 YPC
Zac Stacy: 250 carries, 973 yards, 7 touchdowns, 3.9 YPC
Le’Veon Bell: 244 carries, 860 yards, 8 touchdowns, 3.5 YPC
Giovani Bernard: 170 carries, 695 yards, 5 touchdowns, 4.1 YPC
Andre Ellington: 118 carries, 652 yards, 3 touchdowns, 5.5 YPC

* Lacy applies to numbers 1, 2 and 3 in trend takeaways.
* Stacy applies to numbers 1, 3 and 4 in trend takeaways.
* Bell applies to numbers, 1, 3 and 4 in trend takeaways.
* Bernard applies to number 1 in trend takeaways.
* Ellington applies to numbers 1 and 5 in trend takeaways.

CONCLUSIONS
This evidence isn’t meant to be taken as a be all, end all in terms of discussion on second-year running backs. Each player should be evaluated individually, with trends like this as one piece of the puzzle. Take the facts stated here and put as much emphasis on them as you wish.

As noted at the of the “But Why?” section, a big part of the whole evaluation should be raw talent. Eddie Lacy oozes it, and he’s trending up with Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) fully healthy. … My bigger concerns are in Zac Stacy and Le’Veon Bell because they fell into category 4. Stacy does get a boost with Sam Bradford (neck) expected back. … The numbers in category 5 prove that simply blowing the doors off defenses as a rookie doesn’t mean a player will continue to do so in Year 2. Andre Ellington prospectors should take note – even with the addition of free agent LT Jared Veldheer and return of stud LG Jonathan Cooper (leg). … I still absolutely love Giovani Bernard because I think his situation has changed. Run-first Hue Jackson’s promotion to offensive coordinator is monstrous.

I remain really high and Lacy and Bernard. I think the ADPs of Stacy, Bell and Ellington will end up too rich for my blood, especially after digesting the above data.

Adam Levitan
Adam Levitan is in his seventh season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.