Player Velocity: More Meta-Trends for One-QB Leagues

by Joel Ybarra · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

Fantasy gamers are deliberating about who to select 1.01 in one-quarterback leagues in 2022 – Christian McCaffrey or Jonathan Taylor. 2022 is no different from previous seasons in that round one is full of a familiar cast of high-upside running backs.  Backs like McCaffrey and Taylor, drafted at these heights before, are favorites to have dominant seasons again. If you have drafted a running back in round one in recent seasons, however, you understand these players have high bust potential. Backs like McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley, for example, have disappointed the last two seasons due to injuries. These incumbent round one running backs fail to deliver on lofty expectations more often than they deliver.

Other players drafted in the first round are making their first appearances there. Though they have not been drafted in round one before, they have been vaulted into the top round based on proven talent and projected performance. What we define as “player velocity” in this study is how much a player’s ADP changed from one season to the next. In 2021, Jonathan Taylor reached high speed. Fantasy gamers were selecting him in round three his rookie season (2020). He then shot up into the late first round in 2021 drafts. Taylor finished RB1 in half-PPR points per game (minimum twelve games played) in 2021. This is not an isolated scenario. Running backs making their first appearances in round one typically out-do backs drafted in round one in previous seasons.

Defining Player Velocity

In this study, we examine what we are calling player velocity for running backs and wide receivers. As stated, player velocity is the delta between a player’s previous year draft position and their current ADP. If a player’s ADP increased more than ten spots from the previous season, they achieved high player velocity. We look at how player velocity correlates with top-six and top-12 points-per-game hit rates. We also look at the velocity of players in three sections of drafts: round one (picks 1-12), round two (picks 13-24), and rounds three through eight (picks 25-100).

Player Velocity in Round One

Select A Running Back Who Has Reached High Speed in Round One

Running backs who soar into round one for the first time typically outperform backs who have been there before. From 2016 to 2021, round one backs whose ADP improved 10 spots or more from the previous season hit in the top-six (points per game, minimum twelve games played) 52.4-percent of the time. Backs whose ADP improved less than ten spots (or decreased) from the previous season hit in the top-six 25.0-percent of the time. In round one, if you do not choose a wide receiver (the most stable asset, as below), choose an RB who has sailed into round one at high velocity.

Round-One Running Back Draft Targets in 2022

If Javonte Williams ascends into round one in 2022 drafts, he will be attaining a high player velocity. He was being selected in round six in 2021. Based on past velocity trends, Williams would be more likely to hit in the top-six than backs like McCaffrey, Taylor, Dalvin Cook and Derrick Henry. These latter backs have already been drafted the past few seasons. Be ready to jump when the changing of the guard is taking place.

Select A Stable Wide Receiver in Round One

Trends for wide receivers in round one are opposite those for running backs. Over the last six seasons, receivers with low velocity in round one performed better than WRs with high velocity. These low-velocity receivers hit in the top-six 77.8-percent of the time versus 28.6percent for the high velocity receivers. Wide receivers are the most stable assets in round one, especially when they have been drafted highly before.

Round One Wide Receiver Draft Targets in 2022:

Davante Adams and Stefon Diggs are the receivers most likely to hit in the top-six in 2022. Fantasy gamers drafted them in round one or the early second last season. Based on this velocity study, Adams and Diggs are more likely to hit in the top-six than Justin Jefferson, Cooper Kupp or Ja’Marr Chase even though those three are being drafted higher.

Player Velocity in Round Two

Draft A Stable Running Back in Round Two

Round two running backs are similar to round one wide receivers. Stable backs being drafted in round two who have been drafted highly in the previous season typically outperform those who have not previously been drafted in this range. These stable running backs hit in the top-six 42.9-percent of the time versus 15.4-percent for backs with high velocity. They are really round-one caliber backs sliding backward because of injury or other narratives drafters tell themselves. Alternatively, they are backs who have been hanging around in round two for multiple seasons and are poised to ascend.

Round two does not reveal any trends for wide receivers. Some receivers ascend into round two from later rounds and some have been drafted highly before. Their hit rates do not differ greatly. This further confirms that round two running backs are simply better bets than round two receivers. Stable running backs hit in the top-six 42.9-percent of the time while high velocity receivers hit at a 23.1-percent clip.

Round Two Running Back Draft Targets in 2022

Joe Mixon, Saquon Barkley, Aaron Jones were all drafted late in round one in 2021 and have high potential to produce at an elite rate in 2022.

Player Velocity in Rounds Three Through Eight

Draft Stable Running Backs and Wide Receivers in Picks 25 through 100

We divided picks 25 to 100 into players with negative velocity (ADP decreased ten spots or more), neutral velocity (ADP increased or decreased less than ten spots) and positive velocity (ADP improved ten spots or more). Stable assets at the running back and wide receiver positions perform the best in rounds three through eight. Stable RBs (ADP changed less than 10 spots in either direction) hit in the top-12 at a 33.3-percent rate. Backs with negative velocity hit at a 18.8-percent rate and backs with positive velocity hit at a 15.7-percent rate. Receivers hit top-12 at a 27.3-percent rate versus 13.6-percent for negative velocity and 22.2-percent for those with positive velocity.

Draft Second Year Running Backs and Wide Receivers in Picks 25 through 100

We also examined player velocity for running backs and wide receivers as rookies versus their second, third, and fourth years. Second year running backs and wide receivers were the best bets over the last six seasons. Both RBs and WRs entering their second season have a far greater velocity than their third- and fourth-year counterparts. Second-year wide receivers’ ADPs typically improve almost 60 spots on average more than third-year backs and 70 spots more than fourth-year players. Second-year running backs’ ADPs typically improve by 35 spots more on average than third-year players and 70 spots more than fourth-year backs. Fantasy gamers understand second-year players have high breakout potential and draft them that way.

Second year running backs’ ADPs are still typically later than first-year running backs. Only one rookie running back drafted in picks 25 through 100 the last six seasons finished in the top-12. It was Jonathan Taylor. Fantasy drafters are unimpressed with second-year RBs after disappointing rookie seasons. That means we can acquire second year backs at low prices and they more often than not outperform rookies. Sophomore backs hit in the top-12 in points per game 26.9-percent of the time – higher than third- (25.9-percent) and fourth-year (19.0-percent) players and rookies (4.8-percent).

Second-year wide receivers typically come at a higher draft price than rookie receivers. Fantasy gamers realize rookie wide receivers take time to be difference-makers and draft them counting on them to make a leap in their second year. Second-year wide receivers have a higher top-24 hit rate (43.5-percent) than third-year (32.3-percent) or fourth-year (13.6%) receivers. Notably, one out of three (33.3-percent) of rookie receivers selected in picks 25 through 100 by ADP hit in the top-24 over the last six seasons (Ja’Marr Chase – WR5 in 2021).

Year Two Draft Targets in Picks 25 through 100 in 2022:

Running Backs – Travis Etienne, Elijah Mitchell, Rhamondre Stevenson

Wide Receivers – Jaylen Waddle, Rashod Bateman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Elijah Moore, Devonta Smith, Kadarius Toney

Using Player Velocity to Find Draft Hits

Running backs achieving top speeds and making their first appearance in round one have a more robust top-six hit rate (52.4-percent) than backs making repeat appearances in the first round (25.0-percent). This velocity study also continues to reinforce the fact that we should be drafting running backs, not receivers, in round two. Somehow the stable second-round running backs outperform the stable backs in round one by a significant delta (42.9-percent to 25.0-percent), as well. Year 2 running backs and wide receivers drafted in picks 25 through 100 by ADP have higher velocity than third- and fourth-year players. We can target them in that zone and find some top-12 hits. Applying these player velocity findings, we can continue to use these meta-trends to win drafts in 2022 and beyond.

*All ADP and scoring data is from Fantasy Pros. Scoring is based on 1/2-PPR and points-per-game numbers when players have played at least twelve games in a given season.