The Breakouts & Busts in Every Dynasty Rookie Draft Since 2015 (Fantasy Football)

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It’s that time of the year… where you develop an ulcer remembering the dynasty rookie draft pick you flushed down the toilet.

Dynasty rookie drafts are a war zone of landmines and self-inflicted wounds. Yet when you hit, there are few feelings better in fantasy as you now have an asset that increased in value. Just ask the Vikings how they felt when the Eagles took Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in 2020.

For each year dating back to 2015, I’ll reveal the top-24 picks by ADP (per RotoViz & FantasyFootballCalculator) and categorize them in a number of different “buckets”. These are by no means perfect and while reviewing someone’s value in dynasty can be subjective, I’ve provided some definitions that can hopefully give you some clarity:

  • Smash– This player finished as a fantasy difference-maker within their 1st year at their position (top-12 QB, top-15 RB/WR, or top-5 TE) and became a top-tier option at their position gaining even more dynasty value.
  • Hit– Round 1 rookie draft pick that grew in dynasty value from Year 1 to 2.
  • Value– Relative to their ADP, this player increased their value from Year 1 to 2.
  • Bust– This player was drafted in the top-15 picks and either failed to return any significant value 1st year OR in overall dynasty value the following year. I can’t punish a player taken outside of this range knowing how low the hit rate is.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is exercise is all about checking in after Year 1. Dynasty value over time is so subjective.

For example, how do we categorize Evan Engram? In 2017, he submitted (at the time) the best PPR season for a rookie TE in almost 30 years. He was viewed as a top-3 TE in dynasty at only 23 years old. You never quite got that production again from Engram but he was a “smash” in Year 1 increasing his dynasty value in a major way and being a fantasy difference-maker (TE5) right from the get-go.

Let’s walk through each of the last seven years, reminisce, and perhaps heal some old dynasty wounds along the way.

2021: Too Early to Tell

2021 Smashes: Najee Harris, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle
2021 Hits: Javonte Williams, Kyle Pitts
2021 Values: Pat Freiermuth, Amon-Ra St. Brown
2021 Busts: Trevor Lawrence, Trey Sermon, Zach Wilson, Terrace Marshall Jr.

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Observations:

  • Keep in mind we are one year in with this group so perhaps in 2023, we’ll be having a different conversation.
  • As you’ll see from the proceeding years, this draft was super top-heavy with RB options but the well ran dry after. Other than Michael Carter having some meaningful production, it was clear that Harris and Williams towered above the rest.
  • Pitts’ ADP is clearly the highest ever for a rookie TE with the next closest in our data set being O.J. Howard at 1.08. Remember him? While Pitts would be classified as a “hit” in Year 1, his value is what matters most jumping into the top-3 conversation among TEs. Only Evan Engram hit that threshold among rookie TEs.
  • In an NFL draft that had five QBs in the top-15, this was by far the highest we’ve seen signal-callers go in drafts as all five went in the top-15 of dynasty rookie drafts. While there has been a general trend of taking QBs early, all of these QBs (besides Mac Jones) failed to meet or exceed fantasy expectations in 2021. Lance’s evaluation is ultimately
  • Trey Sermon is one of the more insane dynasty stories as an RB drafted after him on his own team (Elijah Mitchell) leapfrogged him in training camp and ended up being the rookie RB for San Francisco you wanted in fantasy. Mitchell was a mid-4th round dart throw in drafts and likely was sitting on taxi squad rosters to start the year.
  • Amon-Ra St. Brown benefitted from a TD streak to end the year and now looks like a big win for those who took a shot in the middle of the 2nd round. Going back through the set, the hit rate for WRs drafted beyond the 3rd round was zilch unless you consider Malcolm Mitchell or Tajae Sharpe ringing successes. (Hint: You should not.)

Late Round Picks Worth Mentioning:

2020: That Time CEH Skyrocketed to the Top…

2020 Smashes: Jonathan Taylor, Justin Jefferson, Justin Herbert, Antonio Gibson
2020 Hits: D’Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins, Ceedee Lamb
2020 Values: Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk,
2020 Busts: Jerry Jeudy, Jalen Reagor, Antonio Gandy-Golden

Observations:

  • While we are just two years into this draft class, there are some notable takeaways starting at the top. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was considered a solid rookie prospect with some flaws as a between-the-tackles runner, especially near the goal-line. But once we knew his landing spot in Kansas City, he went on a joy ride all the way to being the 1.01 in rookie drafts. While we have the hindsight to lean on, the draft capital given to the lone RB taken in the first round weighed most heavily. The Chiefs’ evaluation at pick 32 didn’t necessarily mean he was a better fantasy asset for a Colts team that picked, Jonathan Taylor, at 41st. However, what probably closed many dynasty managers’ JTT’s arguments was the fact Indianapolis picked WR Michael Pittman Jrahead of Jonathan Taylor.
  • Regardless, CEH’s meteoric rise was unprecedented for No. 1 picks. You can see a sharp turn from early March (1.07 on average) to late April (1.01) after the NFL Draft.

  • The WRs are also a big story with six first-rounders. Lamb and Jeudy were perceived as head and shoulders. Managers pegged them as being able to contribute right away but it was Justin Jefferson who rewrote the rookie record book. As I recently detailed in The Hit Rate of Rookies WRs in Fantasy, the Jalen Reagor whiff by the Eagles is an all-timer.
  • Herbert’s tumble feels like it was due to the perception that he would sit longer behind Tyrod Taylor. Well, a punctured lung later and Herbert decided to turn in the best rookie QB passing season of all time. His situation was ripe for fantasy given the weapons he had in Los Angeles. Despite being picked behind Burrow and Tagovailoa, perhaps this is a good example of when to take a gamble on a rookie QB over some mediocre WRs like Antonio Gandy-Golden or a platoon RB like Zach Moss. Both of those could easily be out of the league soon.
  • Antonio Gibson barely made it into our data set but he has to be one of the true outliers when you consider where he was drafted (RB8) and the lack of college production coming in the league as a runningback.

Late Round Picks Worth Mentioning:

2019: N’Keal & the Gang

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2019 Smashes: Kyler Murray, D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown
2019 Hits: Josh Jacobs
2019 Values: Deebo Samuel
2019 Busts: David Montgomery, Darrell Henderson, N’Keal Harry, Parris Campbell, Dwayne Haskins

Observations:

  • This draft might be submitted as Exhibit A in any dynasty rookie draft. N’Keal Harry gets the headlines for being a complete bust (count me as one of the sad dynasty managers with him still rotting on the end of my bench) but the structure of this group also needs to be addressed. RBs with perceived opportunity” were boosted up boards including David Montgomery, Darrell Henderson, and Justice Hill. While Monty definitely worked things out after Year 1, the early returns were not great for players taken outside the 2nd round of the NFL Draft. The point is seeing how valuable WRs were pushed down despite them having 2nd round draft capital.
  • Jacobs was the clear No. 1 pick. No one really wavered from him unless you were in the swells of PPR love and decided to take the plunge with Harry. Good luck finding the corpse of that fantasy team sinking at the bottom of the ocean.
  • Looking back, Metcalf and Brown were docked only based on draft capital. We all admired them as physical specimens. The fact they were teammates at Ole Miss also split some of the opinion cannibalizing either from going higher in drafts.
  • I had a hard time classifying certain players (Miles Sanders) because he was drafted in the top-5 and while he certainly wasn’t a bust, he never really came to fruition as a fantasy difference-maker.
  • Kyler’s spot is by far the highest of any QBs drafted. His dual-threat ability, NFL draft capital (1st overall), and the lack of other top-end QBs made me one of the sharper moves by dynasty managers.

Late Round Picks Worth Mentioning:

2018: RB Swings & Misses

2018 Smashes: Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb
2018 Hits: D.J. Moore, Calvin Ridley
2018 Values: Lamar Jackson
2018 Busts: Royce Freeman, Kerryon Johnson, Derrius Guice, Rashaad Penny, Ronald Jones II

Observations:

  • This draft is emphatically marked by Saquon as the rest of the picks lived in his shadow before dynasty managers were even making their selections. Saquon held his spot as a top-2 dynasty RB for almost four years before injuries and the Giants’ organization fell apart. That’s a pretty long run of elite value and hopefully, you were able to cash out before. The wild reality is that Saquon is only 25 years old so there could be more.
  • The rest of the RBs is the story if you took a swing in the first round. Freeman’s college production said that he could handle the workload in Denver but the third-round draft capital was a major red flag. Among our data set since 2015, the average dynasty draft spot for RBs selected in the third round of the NFL draft is 13.4 with Freeman and David Montgomery skewing the average being the only ones selected in the top-5.
  • Overall, the WRs were spot on by drafters. D.J. Moore and Calvin Ridley both should’ve been top-5 picks based on their 1st round pedigree. The 2nd round WRs feel in line where traditionally you’d expect 2nd/3rd round guys.

  • I love Nick Chubb. I must confess I’m a big fan all the way back to his days at Georgia but the biggest hurdles to his situation were starter Carlos Hyde and head coach Hue Jackson, who refused to give him carries. Viewing him through the lens of his film evaluation and 2nd round draft capital, this is a spot where talent should’ve won out over opportunity.
  • It may astound you to see Lamar Jackson so low but the combination of Joe Flacco being the starter and Jackson barely sneaking into the 1st round didn’t help. There was still worry if he could translate to the NFL game. Laugh wholeheartedly if you were able to scoop a player that changed the NFL game forever. I shared more about this early comparing Malik Willis to other 1st round QBs and Lamar takes the cake with over 50 percent(!) of Louisville’s rushing yards in his final season, the best ever among my prospect model.

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Late Round Picks Worth Mentioning:

2017: Studs Galore

2017 Smashes: Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Evan Engram
2017 Hits: Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook
2017 Values: Juju Smith-Schuster, Patrick Mahomes, Cooper Kupp, Chris Carson
2017 Busts: Corey Davis, John Ross, O.J. Howard

Observations:

  • This draft likely shaped the future of your dynasty. More than any others I profiled, not only did you get a plethora of “smashes” but the values are incredible on players like Mahomes and Kupp. Seriously, I could stare at this draft board for a while.
  • The staying power of these RBs is what impresses me the most. Between Fournette, McCaffrey, Mixon, Cook Kamara, Hunt, and Carson, they have a combined 18 years as RB1s. To compare, the other six classes in this study (2015-2016 & 2018-2021) have 20 combined! Kamara leads that group turning in five top-12 finishes in five years.
  • Juju Smith-Schuster skyrocketed to being a 1st round pick in startups just two years in.  As a top-15 pick, you got more than you would’ve dreamed but the bottom would fall out faster than all of us would imagine.
  • Were you glad you drafted Kareem Hunt in the 2nd round of a rookie draft? Yes but with a major asterisk*. He was RB4 in 2017, RB11 in 11 games in 2018 but the legal issues and team change to Cleveland muddies the water of getting a clear read on him as a dynasty pick. Things change over time but if we are viewing this through one year, Hunt was an absolute home run.
  • Four TEs drafted in the 1st two rounds is also a rarity. The three 1st rounders were a bit unprecedented but when you consider how all three were off-the-charts athletically, it makes sense.

Late Round Picks Worth Mentioning:

2016: Shield Your WR Eyes

2016 Smashes: Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Jordan Howard
2016 Hits: Sterling Shepard
2016 Values: Hunter Henry
2016 Busts: Corey Coleman, Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson, Kenneth Dixon

Observations:

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  • Yikes! Remember that group of WRs? Imagine avoiding one of those 1st round guys and ending up with Michael Thomas? Just to show you how much this group bottomed out, here is their dynasty value over time for the 1st round WRs. While Will Fuller V was always a tease with his monster games, he’s the only one who held any semblance of value a couple of years in. The draft pedigree said these guys were worth drafting. Their play on the football field said otherwise.

  • With no QBs being drafted in the first two rounds, there were a number of RBs with subpar draft capital (4th or beyond) that were pushed up. While Jordan Howard was an absolute home run churning out back-to-back top-12 fantasy seasons to start out his career, the rest of the RB group is laughable. CJ Promise was supposed to be a PPR machine, Devontae Booker sputtered when he had the chance in Denver, and Paul Perkins earned the nickname “Smash Jackson” on our show mostly because we needed to liven up his brand.
  • While Derrick Henry certainly took a minute to develop as a major fantasy force, maybe you forgot he was drafted this high in rookie drafts. He saw only 123 touches his rookie year behind DeMarco Murray. It’s hard to categorize him as a bust but managers certainly would’ve been a bit worried they drafted a platoon RB.

Late Round Picks Worth Mentioning:

2015: Remember Way Back When?

2015 Smashes: Todd Gurley, David Johnson
2015 Hits: Amari Cooper, Tevin Coleman
2015 Values: Tyler Lockett,
2015 Busts: DeVante Parker, Dorial Green-Beckham, Ameer Abdullah,

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Observations:

  • You have to refresh your brain a bit to remember some of the players on this list… and how a majority is basically out of the NFL. In fact, the only players currently under contract for 2022 on this list include Amari Cooper, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Marcus Mariota, and Tyler Lockett. That’s it.
  • Gurley’s ride in dynasty was a wild one. I charted it here to show you the heights and depths to which he fell. Still, among the 1.01s in this set, only Ezekiel Elliott had a longer sustained run as a top-10 dynasty RB for more than five years.

  • Cooper’s age and draft capital made him a slam dunk. While the truly elite seasons never fully showed up, it seems like he’s always been so young.
  • David Johnson is one of the rare RBs that were taken in the 2nd round of rookie drafts and sustained long-term value. In the chart above, Johnson had a four-year run as a top-5 dynasty RB and a 2016 fantasy season that made his squads unstoppable.
  • You can see that this rookie draft was still reflective of the “time” in the life of fantasy football. RBs still ruled the day and freak athletes like Dorial Green-Beckham were prized over players with actual college production. Nevertheless, this draft as a whole did not have the overall depth we’d see in the coming years.

Late Round Picks Worth Mentioning:

Comments

Bjensen86 says:

Your comment on Trey Lance in Observations cuts off without finishing the sentence.

Great article!

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