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The Return of RB Breakout Age and Prospect Model Impact

The Return of RB Breakout Age and Prospect Model Impact
Anthony Amico April 14, 2020 10:05AM EDT

The Impact of RB Breakout Age For Fantasy Football

Back in 2018, I did some work on breakout age for running backs. Unfortunately, my methodology was flawed, and I ended up finding no real value-added for determining when a collegiate RB breakout age. RB breakout Age was not a factor in my initial machine-learning RB model posted in March.

But I am not one to quit so easily. I did some additional research, and have come up with a new, better way to identify RB breakouts. You may recall, from the initial model, that adjusted yards per team offensive play was a major factor. Using that as a basis for breakouts proved to be incredibly strong.

I went back into my database (261 RBs), and recorded the age at which a player recorded at least 2.0 adjusted yards per team offensive play. I then created a weighted average with that number and final age of the RB, much like I do with the WR position (if a RB never broke out, just final age is used). The results proved to be extraordinary.

x85BARBsHitsHit Rate
Age 19171059%
Age 20471532%
Age 21821518%
Age 2273912%
Age 233700%
Age 24400%

As you can see, breakout age and the resulting adjusted age can tell us a lot about incoming RBs. An adjusted age of 19 led to a whopping 59% hit rate in the sample, and the hit rate decreases in a reasonable fashion as age increases. Interested in an older RB prospect? If they haven’t broken out, or didn’t break out until late, it is likely best to avoid them. No RB with an adjusted age of at least 23 was a hit in the sample.

RB Breakout Age: Model Impact

Of course, the final test for how much to care about breakout age is to see how statistically significant it is in models. Fortunately, adjusted age proved to be very significant when run through the machine-learning process. It led to the development of a new, six-model ensemble. Here were the inputs listed in order of significance:

  1. Final season adjusted yards per team offensive play
  2. ESPN Grade
  3. ESPN overall rank
  4. Adjusted age
  5. Speedscore
  6. Binary return touchdown check

To give an idea of just how powerful adjusted age is, it came in with the same level of significance as the overall rank, which is essentially our proxy for draft position. Outstanding. Here’s how the new model rates the 2020 RB class. I have included the age metrics in the table so you can see who sees a bump as a result.

PlayerSchoolfAgebAgex85BAProb
Jonathan TaylorWisconsin20.9618.9619.2682.2%
J.K. DobbinsOhio State21.0521.0521.0554.0%
Cam AkersFlorida State20.5420.5420.5436.9%
D'Andre SwiftGeorgia20.98-20.9833.1%
AJ DillonBoston College21.6821.6821.6830.5%
Clyde Edwards-HelaireLSU20.7420.7420.7428.2%
Zack MossUtah22.0622.0622.0624.2%
Antonio GibsonMemphis21.54-21.5419.6%
Eno BenjaminArizona State20.7319.7319.8817.2%
DeeJay DallasMiami21.3-21.35.7%
LaMical PerineFlorida21.93-21.935.7%
Anthony McFarlandMaryland21.84-21.843.7%
Darrynton EvansAppalachian State21.49-21.493.5%
Ke'Shawn VaughnVanderbilt22.6721.6721.823.4%
Salvon AhmedWashington21.02-21.023.1%
Javon LeakeMaryland21.43-21.431.6%
J.J. TaylorArizona22-221.4%
Levante BellamyWestern Michigan23.1-23.11.3%
Raymond CalaisLouisiana21.76-21.761.3%
Patrick Taylor Jr.Memphis21.69-21.691.2%
Joshua KelleyUCLA22.1321.1321.281.1%
Rico DowdleSouth Carolina22-220.6%
JaMycal HastyBaylor23.32-23.320.5%
Mike WarrenCincinnati21.1520.1520.30.5%
Scottie PhillipsOle Miss22.25-22.250.4%
Brian HerrienGeorgia21.91-21.910.4%
Sewo OloniluaTCU22.11-22.110.3%
Reggie CorbinIllinois23.83-23.830.2%
Tony JonesNotre Dame22.12-22.120.2%
Darius AndersonTCU22.32-22.320.1%

Our top RB in the previous model sees an even bigger bump when factoring in age. Jonathan Taylor broke out at the tail-end of his age-18 season, and it has his success probability all the way up at 82%. The only other prospect to break out before 20 was Eno Benjamin, who saw his success probability nearly double since the first exercise. On the other end of the spectrum, Zack Moss saw his probability decline due to advanced age and some declining ESPN grades.

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