Dynasty Rookie Drafts: What the Last Five Years Can Tell Us (Fantasy Football)
As we move our way closer to the NFL Draft, there’s at least a 55 percent chance you’ve peed your pants in excitement for your upcoming rookie draft.
We get it. We have rookie fever as well going talking through the rookie class on the Fantasy Footballers podcast this week and dropping the first-ever Fantasy Footballers Dynasty podcast all about the rookie RBs.
The first episode of the Dynasty Podcast is LIVE NOW:
-Rookie RB Deep Dive
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New episodes each week. pic.twitter.com/QZMQxkfzR6
— Fantasy Footballers (@TheFFBallers) April 5, 2023
What can we learn from the past, how can we avoid similar mistakes, and ultimately how can we take advantage of inefficiencies in rookie draft markets? You want that leg up on the competition so let’s take a stroll down memory lane and look at the last five years of rookie drafts to see if we can glean anything.
Gaining conclusions from rookie draft can be a bit short-sighted for a number of reasons:
- We are currently “in it”. In other words, these players are still fresh in our minds and dynasty teams we play with. Keep in mind your own bias.
- We can too easily make up our minds about players. Year 1 tells us a lot but not the entire story when trying to evaluate how much a player is worth in a fluid market. The dynasty landscape is changing much more rapidly than you might realize. We have a hard time comparing year-to-year data with rookies.
- Dynasty ADP can be a bit of a misnomer. A reminder that ADP is how the collective group of dynasty players assess and assign value, not necessarily “this is actually how much a player is worth”. In other words, Michael Thomas might’ve been the 1.01 in startup drafts just four years ago based on what people thought he was worth but in reality that ADP was a giant fart in the wind. Sorry to be blunt but dynasty ADP changes much more than people realize… even with WRs.
All of that is to say that it is a helpful exercise to take a step back from the last five years. For data, I used an average of FantasyFootballCalculator, RotoViz, and FantasyPros consensus data to find a good middle ground. The format is specific to 1QB although I’ll be doing a follow-up on SuperFlex rookie drafts shortly.
Here is how I grouped each of the last five years into “buckets” with not every pick fitting in these categories.
- Smash– Gained value in dynasty and looks like a franchise cornerstone for fantasy
- Hit– 1st round rookie picks that met rookie draft value, not necessarily breaking out for fantasy yet
- Value– Exceeded rookie draft pick becoming a fantasy starter
- Miss– Top-15 pick that lost massive dynasty value in just a year with little fantasy production to speak of
2022: 1st Round Hits, 2nd Round Who Knows?
2022 Smashes: Breece Hall, Kenneth Walker, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave
2022 Hits: Drake London
2022 Values: Jahan Dotson, Rachaad White, Tyler Allgeier
2022 Busts: Skyy Moore
TBD: Treylon Burks, Jameson Williams
- It’s too early to make judgment calls on a lot of these players. But the first round was stocked with about as good a top-7 as you’ll find in rookie drafts. Garrett Wilson is now seen as a top-5 dynasty WR while Chris Olave put up top-5 rookie WR metrics (YPRR , TPRR, & Target Share) when compared to other rookies since 2014.
- Jahan Dotson‘s descent into early Round 2 territory is another testimony to managers prizing situation and perceived outlook over draft capital. Washington might still be a mess at the QB position but Dotson’s draft capital should’ve been an indicator that the NFL viewed him as an elite separator.
- Dameon Pierce was hard to identify because in Year 1, he certainly looked like a hit. Some draft data showed him going as high as 1.06 with people reaching for him. The Texans have a new coaching staff and with a rookie QB under center so don’t just copy and paste what Pierce did as a rookie in 2023. I wrote an article last year (on this exact date in April!) called the Dynasty Rookie Draft Manifesto that shares some tips on why reaching for RBs usually doesn’t work out long-term despite team need.
- The second round wasn’t as kind although Tyler Allgeier carved out a solid role in Atlanta and went over 1,000 yards. Rachaad White became one of 11 rookie RBs over the last decade with 50+ receptions and he should have a bigger opportunity in Year 2 in Tampa Bay.
- Skyy Moore‘s 1st round rookie draft status was tied to Patrick Mahomes and him alone. His target share (5.6%) was a bottom-15 percent mark among rookie WRs to see 50+ targets since 2014. Woof. Will he earn more targets in Year 2 or is he another example of dynasty managers drafting based on opportunity over talent?
Late-Round Picks Worth Mentioning:
- Undrafted- Chigoziem Okonkwo, TE, TEN
2021: The Draft That Keeps on Giving
2021 Smashes: Najee Harris, Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, Amon-Ra St. Brown
2021 Hits: Javonte Williams, Kyle Pitts, Travis Etienne*
2021 Values: Justin Fields, Pat Freiermuth
2021 Busts: Trey Sermon, Zach Wilson, Terrace Marshall Jr.
- Pitts’ ADP is 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. Pitts’ injury-plagued 2022 was super disappointing but he’s still holding steady in dynasty ADP. We obviously want players who perform for fantasy but Pitts is the rare player who has yet to meet expectations but isn’t being punished in terms of dynasty value.
- As you’ll see from the proceeding years, this draft was super top-heavy with RB options but the well ran dry quickly. Other than Michael Carter having a small run as a rookie, it was clear that Harris and Williams towered above the rest. *Travis Etienne was not included in the original subset due to injury and the fact the rookie draft data was all over the map. If you drafted in early May, he likely was a top-4 pick. He currently sits as a top-7 RB in our dynasty startup rankings. You had to wait it out and perhaps managers acquired him at 75 cents on the dollar after missing all of his rookie campaign.
- 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. Lawrence regained a lot of what was lost after getting rid of the Urban Meyer stench. Fields looked like a lost cause and now vaults into being a top-5 dynasty QB. That is a rare occurrence and should not be seen as normal. Lance’s evaluation is ultimately unknown starting a mere four games in the NFL. Zach Wilson is ummm… (how do I say this kindly)… not on anyone’s radar.
- 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. Sermon recently popped up again on the dynasty radar as a stash Jason mentioned on the dynasty podcast.
- Drafted in the 4th Amon-Ra St. Brown benefitted from a TD streak in 2021, a WR1 finish in 2022 and now looks like a massive win for those who took a shot in the middle of the 2nd round. Going back to 2015, 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.) He’s a great story but not a prescriptive tale for someone with Day 3 draft capital.
Late-Round Picks Worth Mentioning:
- 3.03- Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, NE
2020: That Time CEH Was On a Rocketship
2020 Smashes: Jonathan Taylor, Justin Jefferson, Justin Herbert, Antonio Gibson
2020 Hits: D’Andre Swift, Ceedee Lamb
2020 Values: Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk, Michael Pittman Jr.
2020 Busts: Jalen Reagor, Antonio Gandy-Golden, Denzel Mims
- While we are just three 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 Jr. ahead 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 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. He’s now fading from the limelight as coach Ron Rivera apparently is done with utilizing him.
Late-Round Picks Worth Mentioning:
- 3.02- A.J. Dillon, RB, GB
- 3.06- Chase Claypool, WR, PIT
- 3.08- Cole Kmet, TE, CHI
- 3.12- Jalen Hurts, QB, PHI
2019: N’Keal & the Gang
2019 Smashes: D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown
2019 Hits: Josh Jacobs, Kyler Murray, T.J. Hockenson
2019 Values: Deebo Samuel
2019 Busts: Darrell Henderson, N’Keal Harry, Parris Campbell, Dwayne Haskins
- 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:
- 3.02- Diontae Johnson, WR, PIT
- 3.08- Terry McLaurin, WR, WAS
- 4.01- Tony Pollard, RB, DAL
- 4.09- Hunter Renfrow, WR, OAK
2018: RBs Are A Challenge
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
- 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.
- 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 recently comparing Anthony Richardson 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.
Among QBs taken in the 1st round since 1995, here's how Anthony Richardson stacks up in terms of college rush share.
Also, Jake Locker says hello. pic.twitter.com/gduWkWyhEq
— Kyle Borgognoni (@kyle_borg) March 13, 2023
- 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 yet again.
Late-Round Picks Worth Mentioning:
- 3.03- Dallas Goedert, TE, PHI
- 3.06- Josh Allen, QB, BUF