Experience-Adjusted College Production & Its Impact on Prospect Hit Rates (Fantasy Football)

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With the NFL draft just a few days away, we are officially entering one of the most exciting times of the year: dynasty draft season. Because even after a disappointing season in which some of us did not win a #FootclanTitle, adding a new group of rookies to our rosters gives us some hope that we can turn things around and secure a dynasty championship. However, with a multitude of rookies joining the league, it can be daunting to have so many options to choose from when you are finally on the clock. After all, you might only have one first-round rookie pick to find the next Justin Jefferson or CeeDee Lamb. With that in mind, I wanted to explore the concept of Experience-Adjusted Production to highlight just how advantageous it can be in evaluating incoming rookies. In this article, we will discuss the following:

  • What Is Experience-Adjusted Production?
  • The Method to the Madness
  • Skill Position Hit Rates
  • 2020, 2021, and 2022 Prospects Review

For this article, we will be focusing on skill position players: Running Backs, Wide Receivers, and Tight Ends. Metrics used in this analysis are calculated per game and were pulled from @cfbfastR (via ESPN box scores).

What is Experience-Adjusted Production?

Simply put, Experience-Adjusted Production is a metric that highlights how productive a player was at a specific year (or years) in their collegiate career relative to other prospects. Let’s break this down further.

Experience: There are a variety of ways to conduct this analysis. But in this case, “experience” will refer to the number of years since a prospect graduated high school. For example, when I mention “Year 1,” that would refer to a player’s true freshman season (or their first year out of high school). This article will primarily highlight early-career production (Years 1 and 2) and how it affects a prospect’s likelihood of succeeding in the NFL.

Adjusted: To adjust player production, we will be referencing prospects who have recorded at least one productive fantasy season in their first three years in the NFL. Why should we focus on their first three NFL seasons? In short, I want to highlight players who returned immediate production for dynasty managers. 

Naturally, the definition of a productive season will vary by position. For Running Backs and Wide Receivers, we will consider one top-24 PPR per-game season a success for fantasy purposes. For Tight Ends, since most dynasty leagues only require one in their starting lineups, we will use one TE1 season (top-12) in PPR per-game scoring as the threshold.

Production: To transform this into a production metric, we will take a player’s career average over a given time, use the career production average of a “successful” NFL prospect as a threshold, and then calculate the difference between those two numbers. To give you a broad example of an Experience-Adjusted Metric, let’s use Breece Hall’s Total Yards Per Team Play (TYPTP) in his first two seasons out of high school:

  • 1.40 TYPTP as a true Freshman
  • 2.12 TYPTP as a true Sophomore
  • Hall’s Year 1 & 2 college average: 1.76
  • Top-24 RB in the NFL: 1.21 TYPTP in Year 1 & 2 in college
  • Experience-Adjusted TYPTP: +0.55 (1.76 – 1.21)

In this example, a running back who has had at least one top-24 season in their first three NFL campaigns averaged roughly 1.21 TYPTP in their first two collegiate years. And as we can see above, Hall passes that threshold by 0.55. This suggests that Hall should have a higher likelihood of returning top-24 production in the NFL due to his early dominance at Iowa State.

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Method to the Madness

What’s the end goal of this analysis? By adjusting production based on those who have succeeded in the NFL, we should be able to reduce our pool of prospects and, ideally, see an improvement in our historical hit rates. To explore the validity of this theory, we will:

  • Examine hit rates for all prospects drafted from 2013 to 2019
  • Analyze how those hit rates change if we apply Experience-Adjusted Production
  • Break down the hit rates by draft round (because draft capital matters)

Finally, as a bonus, we will also apply “early declare” status as a variable. We know that early-declare prospects have generally been more successful in the NFL. If we combine experience-adjusted production, draft capital, and declare status, how much will that improve our rookie hit rate? Let’s find out!

Running Back Hit Rates

When analyzing running back prospects, we see a strong correlation between early-career collegiate production and fantasy success at the next level, specifically in the first two years out of high school. Therefore, for this analysis, we will be using “Years 1 and 2” as the Experience Threshold. We will also leverage one of the more predictive running back metrics in Total Yards Per Team Play (TYPTP), which is calculated as Scrimmage Yards ÷ Total Offensive Plays.

At the running back position, we have seen 43 drafted prospects since 2013 produce at least one top-24 season in their first three years in the league. Those 43 prospects have averaged about 1.21 TYPTP in their first two years out of high school. If we apply this threshold, we arrive at the following top-24 hit rates.

Running Back Hit Rates (2013 to 2019)

+1 Top-24 Seasons in Years 1 – 3 in the NFL

Draft Day Total Early Producers ED + EP
1 77.78% 83.33% 100.00%
2 60.00% 68.75% 75.00%
3 12.37% 27.27% 25.00%

*ED = Early Declare Prospect

*EP = Early Producers

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As you can see above, the hit rate for day 1 running backs is already fairly high at 77.8%. In fact, of the 9 running backs drafted in the first round, the only two prospects who did not produce a top-24 season were Sony Michel and Rashaad Penny. However, when we focus on “early collegiate producers” who meet the TYPTP threshold I mentioned above, the hit rate improves to 83.3%! While this isn’t a drastic improvement, we do see the correlation to early production. Of the seven first-round running backs that produced a top-24 season in this timespan, 5 of them met the “early production” threshold above. And if we also apply an early-declare filter (prospects who entered the draft 3 years after high school), we see an extremely impressive hit rate of 100%. That isolates our pool of prospects to:

We see a similar trend for running backs drafted in Rounds 2 to 3 with an 8.75 percentage point increase if we apply the production threshold. That hit rate improves even further to 75% if we only look at early-declare prospects – a group highlighted by Giovani Bernard, Dalvin Cook, and David Montgomery. Finally, perhaps the more interesting result is the 15 percentage point increase for Day 3 prospects. This tells me that isolating our pool of running backs to early producers can improve our chances of finding those “late-round dynasty sleepers” such as Aaron Jones and Chris Carson – both of whom passed the production threshold.

Running Back Prospect Review: 2020 – 2022

Above are all the 2020 and 2021 prospects who averaged at least 1.21 Total Yards Per Team Play in their first two years out of high school. A couple of notes:

  • Jonathan Taylor was an absolute stud, averaging the highest career TYPTP per game in my database
  • Outside of Taylor, Elijah Mitchell is the only other RB on this list with a top-24 PPR/game season. This should not necessarily come as a surprise since most of these players were day 3 picks. It is also worth noting that players like AJ Dillon and J.K. Dobbins still have one more season to improve their class’ hit rate
  • The one player that continues to stand out is Travis Etienne, who had one of the most productive college careers over the last decade. Assuming he comes back fully healthy, as a first-round pick, the likelihood of him hitting for fantasy within the next two years remains high

Lastly, here are the 2022 prospects that meet that same early production threshold. 

  • The two RBs that clearly stand out are Breece Hall and Isaiah Spiller. Considering both are also early-declare prospects projected to go on day two, that gives them a very high chance of hitting for fantasy purposes. In other words, do not fully dismiss Spiller’s profile despite his uninspiring combine
  • Two other prospects to keep an eye on are Kyren Williams and Pierre Strong Jr. They both pass the production threshold and could be selected in the 3rd round of this year’s draft.
  • With Sincere McCormick’s impressive production profile, he might be an intriguing late-round flier in dynasty rookie drafts assuming he does not go undrafted

Wide Receiver Hit Rates

My analysis for wide receivers will be very similar to the one above, except I will be using the metric Receiving Yards per Team Pass Attempt (RYPTPA), which is calculated as Receiving Yards ÷ Team Pass Attempt

Since 2013, we have seen 33 wide receiver prospects hit the top-24 threshold at least once early on in their NFL career. These prospects averaged 1.76 RYPTPA in their first two years out of high school, which will be our threshold for this analysis.

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Wide Receiver Hit Rates (2013 to 2019)

+1 Top-24 Seasons in Years 1 – 3 in the NFL

Draft Day

Total

Early Producers

ED + EP
1 44.00% 80.00% 88.89%
2 29.51% 38.89% 54.55%
3 3.28% 6.67% 12.50%

*ED = Early Declare Prospect

*EP = Early Producers

First off, we see that wide receiver hit rates are significantly lower compared to running backs. However, applying an early-production threshold seems to have a more significant impact, improving the hit rate by nearly 36 percentage points for first-round prospects. In fact, of the 11 first-round prospects that produced one top-24 season, 8 of them met the RYPTPA threshold I outlined above. Furthermore, all 8 of them declared early. Who are those wide receivers?

It is also worth noting that one of the “early producers” that never achieved a top-24 season is the infamous Corey Davis, who happens to destroy every comp list for every wide receiver. Applying an early-declare filter removes Davis from the sample size, and in turn, improves our hit rate. 

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In addition, there is a similar trend for day 2 WRs. Applying both thresholds leaves us with a productive group of prospects headlined by Davante Adams, A.J. Brown, and Allen Robinson. And while the hit rate is only at 54.55%, one of the misses is Robert Woods who eventually produced multiple top-24 seasons later in his career. Lastly, the odds of finding the next Stefon Diggs are clearly very low. However, Diggs did pass both the early-declare and early production thresholds. And as we can see above, that gives us the best hit rate for Day 3 wide receivers.

Wide Receiver Prospect Review: 2020 – 2022

This list includes all drafted prospects from 2020 and 2021 who met the early-career production threshold of 1.76 RYPTPA. A few notes:

  • To no surprise, Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson make this list – two prospects who set records as rookies in the NFL.
  • Naturally, there seem to be plenty of misses on this list. However, a majority of them were non-early-declares, such as Bryan Edwards and Denzel Mims
  • Considering Amon-Ra St. Brown was a borderline day 3 prospect with a positive experience-adjusted RYPTPA, he profiled as one of the better selections in the middle/later rounds of dynasty drafts
  • Rashod Bateman, who has the highest experience-adjusted RYPTPA of this group at 1.11, clearly stands out and remains a dynasty target. And after Marquise Brown was traded to the Arizona Cardinals, Bateman clearly checks all the boxes of a top-24 fantasy WR in 2022

Finally, let’s take a look at all 2022 WR prospects who hit our production threshold:

  • If you wanted another reason to love Skyy Moore, this is the chart for you.
  • David Bell certainly disappointed at the combine, but he remains an intriguing pick in the 2nd round of dynasty rookie drafts due to his consistent, high-level production at Purdue
  • While all eyes are on Drake London and Garrett Wilson, Treylon Burks was the more productive receiver in our experience-adjusted metric
  • Everyone is rightfully focusing on Wan’Dale Robinson’s outstanding year at Kentucky, but he was actually very productive at Nebraska as well. Size remains an issue, but I am more than willing to take a chance on Robinson in the late 2nd/early 3rd round of rookie drafts.
  • You may have noticed that Chris Olave did not make this list, which adds some risk to his overall profile

Tight End Hit Rates

Analyzing Tight Ends is trickier than the other positions. While producing early is certainly a plus, the correlation between Year 1 collegiate production and a prospect’s likelihood of succeeding in the NFL is fairly low. Where we see the strongest correlation is in years 2 and 3. Therefore, we will use that as our experience threshold, along with the metric Receiving Yards Per Team Pass Attempt (RYPTPA).

As mentioned earlier, we will take look at all TE prospects drafted since 2013 who achieved at least one top-12 season. In years 2 and 3 out of high school, those prospects averaged about 1.19 RYPTPA, which becomes our experience-adjusted threshold for the analysis below.

Tight End Hit Rates (2013 – 2019)

+1 Top-12 Seasons in Years 1-3 in the NFL

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Draft Day Total Early Producers (Years 2 – 3) ED + EP
1 75.00% 85.71% 75.00%
2 32.26% 31.25% 50.00%
3 3.85% 0.00% 0.00%


*EP = Early Producers (Years 2 – 3)

*ED = Early Declare Prospect

Surprisingly, the first-round hit rates are very high for Tight Ends, with 6 of the 8 players in the sample size producing at least one top-12 season to start their careers. If we filter on players who exceeded 1.19 RYPTPA in years 2 and 3, the hit rate improves to 85.71% with David Njoku being the only prospect who did not achieve a TE1 season. Interestingly, we do not see a similar trend for day 2 prospects even if we apply our production threshold, which is heavily driven by the multitude of outliers in this range. Some of those players include Travis Kelce, Jordan Reed, and Dallas Goedert – a group of older prospects who did not produce until later in their collegiate careers. However, we do see a sizable improvement in our hit rate if we include the early-declare filter, improving to 50% for day 2 prospects. Lastly, banking on a day 3 TE will likely leave you disappointed with George Kittle and Will Dissly being the only prospects in this sample size (out of 52) to produce a top-12 season. 

Tight End Prospect Review: 2020 – 2022

Listed above are all the TE prospects who hit the 1.19 RYPTPA threshold and were drafted on days 1 and 2 (because day 3 TEs are essentially irrelevant):

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  • To no surprise, Kyle Pitts absolutely dominated in his final two years at Florida
  • If you’re looking for a dynasty stash at TE, Hunter Long could be your guy with Mike Gesicki potentially leaving after his franchise tag season in 2022
  • Freiermuth was only the TE16 last season in PPR per game scoring, but I would be very surprised if he does not produce at least one top-12 season in his first three years in the league

Finally, above are all eligible 2022 TEs who hit the production threshold we outlined earlier:

  • Trey McBride might be the only prospect who checks all the boxes. He has above-average athleticism, produced early in his career, and will likely receive 2nd round capital
  • Isaiah Likely stands out as the most productive TE in our experience-adjusted metric. With potential day 2 draft capital, he could be an intriguing target in the 3rd round of dynasty drafts despite his below-average athleticism
  • Speaking of checking all the boxes, Greg Dulcich belongs in that conversation as well. While he is not as athletic as McBride, he was one of the most productive Power 5 TEs over the last two years

Major Takeaways

While this was a longer article, hopefully you found this helpful as you approach your upcoming rookie drafts. Keep in mind that experience-adjusted production is only one piece of the puzzle. Applying multiple layers to our analysis (career production, draft capital, athleticism, etc.) only improves our rookie evaluations.

In short, here are my key takeaways:

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  • Early-Career Experience-Adjusted Production matters for all positions, though the biggest improvements in hit rates were at the WR position
  • Day 1 early-declare RBs with a positive experience-adjusted production have the highest hit rates among all skill position players
  • While finding late-round sleeper WRs and RBs can be difficult, applying a production threshold and early-declare filter can significantly improve our day 3 hit rates. In short, if you are targeting a day 3 prospect, go after the ones that produced early in their collegiate career
  • With an abysmal hit rate of 3.9%, do not waste your late-round rookie picks on day 3 TEs

If you have any questions, reach out on Twitter @FF_MarvinE

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