Analyzing Prospects & their Range of Dynasty Outcomes (Fantasy Football)
With the NFL draft in the rearview mirror, we can finally shift our focus to our rookie drafts! Naturally, it’s an exciting time of the year as dynasty managers gear up for another campaign. Whether you were a contender or a rebuilding team, rookie drafts can often provide a glimmer of hope that you can turn the tides in your favor. However, as dynasty managers, we need to understand that the range of outcomes for each rookie will vary. Some will provide immediate production, while others will never break out in the NFL.
As you might already be thinking, there is no perfect way to predict the future. However, by using historical information and a variety of data points, we can still compare prospects to those that have entered the league with a similar profile. And by analyzing their similarities, we can arrive at a projected range of outcomes for each player.
Setting the Guidelines
How can we analyze each rookie and find prospects that entered the league with a similar profile? Simply put, we will use the following data points:
- Draft Capital
- Career Production
- Declare Status
I purposely did not want to overcomplicate the analysis by using too many metrics. To keep the process concise, we will focus on these four data points, which should provide us with a list of prospects with similar draft capital, production, and declare status. Let’s expand on each data point!
Draft Capital: Naturally, the most important data point is draft capital. This remains one of the most predictive metrics for analyzing rookies as we have continuously seen higher hit rates for players who were selected within the first three rounds of the NFL Draft. For example, below are the top-24 hit rates for wide receivers within their first three seasons in the league (drafted from 2013 to 2020):
- Day One: 45.2%
- Day Two: 32.4%
- Day Three: 2.9%
If you are newer to dynasty, day one refers to the first round, while day two includes players drafted in rounds two and three. Finally, day three includes all other prospects drafted in rounds four through seven. These hit rates should not necessarily come as a surprise as this is also an indicator of team investment. Players drafted in the first round receive a more lucrative contract and are, therefore, a significant part of the team’s future. As a result, they are much more likely to receive playing time early in their career. Day three prospects, on the other hand, are a much lower investment for teams and often have lower guaranteed dollars within their contract. So if a player does not perform up to the team’s expectations, it is highly likely they are either replaced or cut from the roster. Therefore, for our analysis, we will group each player based on the day they were drafted.
Career Production: Draft capital is only one piece of the puzzle and does not guarantee that a player will succeed in the NFL. Especially if we look at the wide receiver hit rates I outlined above, less than 50% produce a top-24 season within their first three years in the league. So how do we further improve our hit rates? We need to incorporate college production into the mix.
There are a variety of metrics that we can use, ranging from market share to efficiency metrics. However, for this article series, we will use the following ones for each skill position:
- Wide Receivers: Receiving Yards per Team Pass Attempt
- Tight Ends: Receiving Yards per Team Pass Attempt
- Running Backs: Scrimmage Yards per Team Play
These two metrics have a stronger correlation to NFL success because they provide a snapshot of their production and efficiency within team context. For our analysis, we will take each rookie’s career number and will apply a 15% threshold in both directions.
Declare Status: Prospects can be classified as either early declare or non-early declare. This simply denotes that a player entered the league as soon as they are eligible for the NFL draft. For example, Jaxon Smith-Njigba is considered an early-declare prospect because he entered the league three years after graduating high school. Zay Flowers would be considered a non-early declare because he stayed for his senior year.
So why does this matter? Historically, we have seen higher fantasy hit rates for early-declare prospects. The working theory is that players who dominate early in their collegiate careers enter the draft as soon as they are eligible. Intuitively, this makes sense. Prospects who produce at a high level as an underclassman have very little incentive to stay for their senior year as they are likely expecting day one or two draft capital. We saw this with Ja’Marr Chase who entered the league early despite missing his entire junior season.
To provide additional context and expand on the numbers above, below are the top-24 fantasy hit rates for early-declare wide receivers within their first three seasons in the league (drafted from 2013 to 2020). As you can see, the hit rates are significantly higher:
- Day One: 68.4%
- Day Two: 47.8%
- Day Three: 3.8%
Weight: I debated whether I should include any type of athletic threshold as part of the analysis. Statistically, it does not drastically improve our fantasy hit rates – especially for wide receivers. Therefore, I am simply using this threshold to avoid comparing players who are completely dissimilar in stature. For example, I do not want to compare Jahmyr Gibbs to Derrick Henry, who was 50 pounds heavier entering the league. So for our analysis, I will add a five-pound threshold in both directions. While five pounds may seem like a larger threshold, keep in mind players can fluctuate in weight as they progress throughout their careers. In addition, if the weight threshold only yields one player comp, I will increase it to ten pounds.
Testing the Thresholds
Let’s put these thresholds to the test by analyzing Breece Hall’s range of outcomes. What do we know?
- Draft Capital: Day Two
- Declare Status: Early Declare
- Weight: 217 pounds
- Career 1.91 Scrimmage Yards per Team Play
- Draft Capital: Day Two
- Declare Status: Early Declare
- Weight: 207 – 227* pounds
- Career 1.62 – 2.19 Scrimmage Yards per Team Play
*Thresholds extended due to limited sample size
Breece Hall is a perfect example because my thresholds did not initially return any prospects. I had to extend the weight threshold to ten pounds to find a usable sample size. As you can see above, very few players were drafted with day two capital that fit Hall’s profile, especially after setting the bar high with an elite 1.91 Scrimmage Yards per Team Play.
Naturally, the comp that stands out is Dalvin Cook, who has produced multiple RB1 seasons despite missing time due to injury. Fittingly, Cook also missed most of his rookie year due to an ACL tear. At the very least, this gives us some hope that Hall could return to form and build off of a rookie season in which he was the RB7 in half-PPR points per game. Duke Johnson, on the other hand, was less accomplished in the NFL. Keep in mind, he still produced multiple top-36 seasons, including an RB17 finish in points per game in 2017. With these two players in mind, Hall should, at the very least, provide flex level value for dynasty managers. However, based on his overall profile and draft capital, Hall has the upside to be an RB1 for multiple campaigns once he recovers from his ACL injury.
What To Expect Going Forward
Hopefully, this provided some clarity on the methodology for this article series. While it is far from perfect, it should at least give us a high-level overview of what we can expect from each prospect going forward. Over the next few weeks, you can expect three articles breaking down the running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends in the 2023 class. The first article will highlight some of the top prospects from day one, including Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Bijan Robinson, and Quentin Johnston. And if you have any questions or suggestions for the series, feel free to reach out on Twitter @FF_MarvinE.