Depth Charts, Rookies & How to Not Overthink Team Situations After the NFL Draft (Fantasy Football)

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After the NFL Draft, our initial gut reaction related to draft picks are what fills up Twitter timelines and articles with definitive takes.

This just happened five minutes ago so I feel confident about what will happen five months from now!”

But after the dust settles and we move into the heated months of the summer, it can be easy to experience “take-lock” and let the cement dry over our preconceived notions of how depth charts will turn out.

I want to offer five reminders before we are removed too far from draft weekend to sober us up and allow for some nuance in projections and takes heading into 2021.

1. Situations aren’t set in stone.

Perhaps I’m stating the obvious but depth charts can be fluid over the course of the season. Yet, we have such short memories that the tweet sent in early May is long forgotten come October. However, the convictions we have regarding post-draft depth charts influence how BestBall and redraft rankings are compiled going into the summer. Rookies bring an air of optimism while their absence on a team’s roster hypes up veterans who are well past their fantasy primes.

Let’s take a stroll back to a time known as 2020. (Ok, maybe you’d rather forget last year). 

Yes, you read that correctly. (He also led the team in rushing TDs which is a mind-blowing feat as well.) What happened? Miami traded for Matt Breida and employed a backfield led by former 7th Rounder Myles Gaskin and eventually backup Salvon Ahmed, who unashamedly I’ll mention was the cover boy of Ten UDFAs to Remember After the NFL Draft.

The Dolphins are a prime example because we find them in the exact same spot in 2021. Myles Gaskin was declared a big winner and his play in 2020 should’ve given Miami a gentle nudge to not mess with the position too much. Gaskin averaged more touches per game (18.2) than Alvin Kamara last year. For fantasy, he was one of the steals of 2020 never finishing outside the top-36 in any given week and piling up a monster Week 16 with over 30 fantasy points. But on the other end of the spectrum, the Dolphins don’t think about Gaskin the same way we do for fantasy. Not only can teams add players to fight for a roster spot but injuries will unfortunately happen. I’m not throwing shade at Gaskin but he’s not a lock to be a fantasy-winning player in 2021 because of one weekend in late April.

2. To Draft or Not to Draft… This Isn’t the Question.

Whether a team drafted or didn’t draft a position isn’t the same as a vote of confidence. Our job is to read the tea leaves and construct a narrative where players gained and lost value. It’s also possible things status quo. Drafting or not drafting a position isn’t always a signal for fantasy. Sometimes it’s just noise. We can avoid the extremes of groupthink and Twitter beef wars.

I’ll give you a couple of situations from last year:

  • The Jaguars didn’t draft a QB– Gardner Minshew Mania hype ensued all off-season. He started Week 1, had a couple of beer commercials, and then the wheels fell off. His moment in the sun is gone just like that.
  • The Packers drafted Jordan Love in the 1st–  Aaron Rodgers responded, lit the world on fire, and won MVP. And now he’s still pissed.
  • The Patriots didn’t draft a QB– Jarrett Stidham anyone? A perceived winner by many (yes, I found 3-4 different articles declaring him a BestBall steal) and yet he has never started a game for New England.
  • The Packers drafted A.J. Dillon in the 2nd– Aaron Jones had another top-5 fantasy season and promptly re-signed this off-season.
  • The Buccaneers selected Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the 3rd– If you fell victim to this rookie draft trap, join the club. I’m still sobbing..
  • The Jaguars didn’t select an RB– Leonard Fournette “is going to have no real competition for touches”. We luckily were ahead of the game believing the Jaguars would cut him and mentioned James Robinson as an UDFA we loved heading into the offseason.
  • The Patriots didn’t select any WRs– Disregard N’Keal Harry’s rough rookie season. “He’s a sleeper heading into the season with tons of opportunity”. Whoops. Harry now carries a dynasty ADP of WR82(!) and 213th overall in startups. Things actually got worse for him despite the lack of draft capital the Patriots spent. Yikes.

Ok if that sounded overly pessimistic, I apologize. I’ve mentioned this in Are We Good at Drafting Mid-Round RBs? but we tend to overestimate our abilities to forecast. We all fall victim to assuming we can predict usage, opportunity, and situations and even more so on this side of these outcomes. In Superforecasting, a book I highly recommend, they review hindsight bias and take it a step further. Usually, we refer to this type of bias as “once we know the outcome of something, that knowledge skews our perception of what we thought before we knew the outcome”. But more than that, we can often assume that when a decision is followed by a good outcome, the decision was good, which isn’t always true. This leads to my next thought…

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3. Vacated Targets Aren’t Code for Guaranteed Fantasy Production.

Every year I highlight vacated targets and breakdown where teams have historically shifted their passing volume when players leave town. I wrote Vacated Targets & Predicting the Future almost two years ago and it is one of the pieces I proudly am questioned the most about in my tiny little corner of the fantasy football world. With rookies, we are quite thirsty for these new & shiny players to fill the void that the previous batch of disappointments left. We like new and novel things to solve old problems. It’s human nature.

But remember that vacated targets are descriptive of what happened last year, not prescriptive of “here is where the targets go in 2021″.  I highlighted this recently on Twitter with a couple of names rising up rookie draft boards since the NFL draft.

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Reaching on players like these in dynasty drafts because of present opportunity doesn’t have the best track record recently if we factor in draft capital. Now draft capital is just a part of the puzzle but it does not tell us everything…

4. All draft picks are not created equally.

If you haven’t done so, stop what you’re doing and read Marvin Elequin’s Draft Capital & Its Correlation to Early-Career Fantasy Production. RBs clearly bring the greatest early returns but outside of Round 2, WRs are basically a crapshoot…

I’m going to list off a few names that recently had almost the same EXACT draft capital as players taken in 2021. Some of these will make you roll your eyes and others you’ll have to do some googling to jog the brain of players taken in the last five years!

Draft Pick Player Team Recent Players with Similar Draft Capital Since 2017
R2, 34th Elijah Moore NYJ Zay Jones (2017), Deebo Samuel (2018), Tee Higgins (2020), Michael Pittman Jr. (2020)
R2, 49th Rondale Moore ARI Christian Kirk (2017), Anthony Miller (2017), A.J. Brown (2018), KJ Hamler (2020), Chase Claypool (2020)
R2, 56th D’Wayne Eskridge SEA
R2, 57th Tutu Atwell LAR
R2, 59th Terrace Marshall Jr. CAR
R3, 77th Josh Palmer LAC ArDarius Stewart (2017), Terry McLaurin (2019),
R3, 82nd Dyami Brown WAS Carlos Henderson (2017), Michael Gallup (2018), Lynn Bowden Jr. (2020), Bryan Edwards (2020)
R3, 85th Amari Rodgers GB Chris Godwin (2017)
R3, 89th Nico Collins HOU
R3, 91st Anthony Schwartz CLE
R4, 109th Dez Fitzpatrick TEN
Amara Darboh (2017), Dede Westbrook (2017), Antonio Callaway (2018), DaeSean Hamilton (2018), Hakeem Butler (2019), Gary Jennings Jr. (2019)
R4, 112th Amon-Ra St. Brown DET

In no way am I comparing these players in terms of athletic measurables or team situation. But because “draft capital” is usually an argument used to pound the table for certain players, I wanted to give you a picture because dynasty short-term memory is well… short. I’m doing a follow-up piece on WR ADP in dynasty and how it is a slope of death for 1st round WRs. Coming soon.

5. Embrace the variance.

We don’t know what we don’t know. Comforting, yes I know. But admitting that on the front end is helpful in a number of ways. Having strong convictions about player projections is part of the puzzle. But on the other end, “staying water” is an old Footballers adage that is essential in having a clearer end in mind for players and their situations. Be open to the fact that we don’t know everything.

Take for example the 2017 WR draft class. Knowing what you know now five years later, did you know exactly how these player’s careers were going to turn out? Did Zay Jones‘ draft capital (and monster production at East Carolina) dictate he was destined for stardom? What about 82nd overall Carlos Henderson, taken two picks before Chris Godwin? He never played a snap in the NFL.

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WR # Round # Pick # Player Team
1 1 5 Corey Davis TEN
2 1 7 Mike Williams LAC
3 1 9 John Ross CIN
4 2 37 Zay Jones BUF
5 2 40 Curtis Samuel CAR
6 2 62 JuJu Smith-Schuster PIT
7 3 69 Cooper Kupp LAR
8 3 72 Taywan Taylor TEN
9 3 79 ArDarius Stewart NYJ
10 3 82 Carlos Henderson DEN
11 3 84 Chris Godwin TAM
12 3 96 Kenny Golladay DET
13 3 98 Chad Williams ARI
14 3 106 Amara Darboh SEA

The point isn’t the belittle anyone or say NFL teams get it wrong. (Ok, they often get things wrong). But there are so many variables in play for each player no matter how sure of a thing they are in our minds. For these WRs, it was more than just an opportunity. QB play, situations, timing, and injuries all played a role in their success or lack thereof. Knowing that there is massive variance on the front end prepares you to pivot or at least re-examine some of your initial takes.


Mike Massinger says:

Great info, thanks for putting that together!

BattleSkirt says:

Nice Article, well worth the read.

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