The news broke Saturday, courtesy Adam Schefter, that the Jaguars are reportedly shopping running back Leonard Fournette.
On Monday, the Bills were the favorites to be on the other end of that trade (according to the bookmaker @sportsline).
Fournette would provide the Bills a proven compliment to Devin Singletary. He’s rushed for over a thousand yards in two of his first three seasons.
On the negative side, Fournette has missed 11 games the last two seasons, has only one year left on his contract and averaged under four yards per carry in 2018 and 2019.
The argument continues for fans who see the Fournette glass half empty that the Bills would be better off using a late draft pick on a running back.
They would be wrong.
In the last two years, there have been zero running backs drafted after round three that have rushed for a thousand yards. There were only four from day three of the 2016 and 2017 drafts who topped 1,000: Marlon Mack, Chris Carson, Aaron Jones and Jordan Howard.
That’s four backs out of 66 drafted. A success rate of 6%.
What about undrafted free agents, you say? Phillip Lindsay, for example, did reach a thousand twice as a 2018 UDFA.
Only one other undrafted player who entered the league since 2011 has a thousand yard season. It was C.J. Anderson. He reached a thousand only in 2017 when he rushed for all of 1,007 yards.
However, the Bills don’t need a thousand yard back. They only need a compliment to Singletary.
Last year, Frank Gore finished with 599 yards on 166 carries (3.6 per rush) as the “complimentary” back. The numbers are augmented a bit because Singletary missed four games and wasn’t the starter from day one.
Let’s set the new bar at half a thousand. It’s not all that much. Eight carries for 32 yards a game is 512 yards for a 16 game season. That’s even averaging four yards per carry.
In the 2012-2017 drafts, between three and five running backs taken after round three each year rushed for at least 500 yards in at least one season. All told, 25 day three running backs have exceeded 500 yards in 51 seasons. The success rate at 500 yards increases to 28% (90 total running backs selected).
In addition, 13 undrafted free agents who entered the league from 2012 to 2017 totaled at least 500 yards in 20 different seasons.
That success rate dropped quite a bit in 2018 and 2019. By “quite a bit”, we mean as far as it can drop. Zero running backs picked after round three the last two years have rushed for even 500 yards. (Lindsay and Gus Edwards got there as 2018 UDFA’s)
Add in the last two drafts and the hit rate on 500 yard backs in late rounds drops to 21%.
There are also a few late pick RBs who don’t make the 500 yard group, but have been effective as receivers. Tarik Cohen, James White and Theo Riddick head that list.
With Stefon Diggs joining John Brown, Cole Beasley and Dawson Knox, it’s hard to imagine the Bills would prioritize receiving skills with their second running back.
The per carry rate for many of these late and undrafted backs is higher than Fournette’s career mark of 4.0. Many of those runners are also only seeing four or five carries a game.
Beane and McDermott have seemed to indicate they want someone who can handle a significantly larger load. They could answer Jacksonville’s call and use, likely, a late round pick to fill in the blank next to Singletary with Fournette.
Or they could take what is, essentially, a one in four swing with a rookie from the draft.