Every year around midseason, a losing dynasty team will trade an aging veteran for rookie picks. It’s a common strategy in dynasty. A rebuilding team in one of my leagues has traded away Dez Bryant, Emmanuel Sanders, and T.Y. Hilton for picks in consecutive years. Rebuilder has made the playoffs once in the last five years. Rebuilder is probably unlucky, but the pursuit of drafting the next rookie Julio Jones or Odell Beckham Jr. is a familiar ambition for dynasty players.
This begs a few questions.
What are the historical odds of rookie draft picks hitting? Are there true dynasty assets in every draft class?
I researched the last seven seasons to find out how much value rookie picks have provided. It’s changed the way I draft and my perspective on how much value (risk) should be placed on each round and on young, unproven players in general.
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Sample Size: 504 Rookie Picks in six-round, 12-team dynasty drafts with PPR scoring, non-IDP. All ADP data is from myfantasyleague.com.
91/504 (18%), or close to 1 out of every 5.5 players registered at least one season in top 12 QB/TE or top 24 RB/WR fantasy scorers.
30/504 (6%) of those did it during their rookie season.
Excluding 2016, 44 of the 432 rookies (10.2%) drafted had two or more such seasons.
|At Least 1 Season||18||19||13||13||16||8||4||91|
|2 or More Seasons||13||9||7||6||7||2||44|
|1st Round Hits||7||7||7||6||7||4||2||40|
|2nd Round Hits||6||4||3||4||6||3||1||27|
|3rd or Later||5||8||3||4||2||1||1||24|
The first round has delivered a 47.6% hit rate: Less than one out of two of these will have a top-12 QB/TE or top-24 RB/WR PPR scoring season. This has trended to seven of 12 hits over the examined time period, or 58% success.
If you remove ‘one-season only’ players (2010-2014) like Jahvid Best, C.J. Spiller, Trent Richardson, Robert Griffin III and the like, the round-one hit rate goes down to 30%. Basically 1 of 3 first-round rookie picks have become dynasty assets with more than one top season.
A significant drop from the first round, but still roughly one of three second-round picks, or 31% have produced at least one countable season since 2010. Keep in mind some took several years to get there. Lamar Miller, Eric Decker and Davante Adams did not hit until their 3rd year. Golden Tate and Emmanuel Sanders did not hit until year five.
Round 3 or Later
The later rounds are very low percentage shots. Only 24 of 336 rookies, or 7% drafted in the third round or later actually hit. There have been some absolute superstars to come out of late-round picks, though; Antonio Brown and T.Y. Hilton and most recently Dak Prescott. Adding late-round picks to a trade shouldn’t be considered an easy deal maker if you’re on the receiving end based on the minimal hit rate.
The following tables show rookie draft ADP going back seven seasons and how each round finished yearly. If there’s blank space following a player’s name, it means they never finished in the top-12 QB/TE or top-24 RB/WR in PPR scoring. This doesn’t mean certain players haven’t put up relevant production for several games. It just highlights the true dynasty assets.
2010 was an excellent class and yielded 13 multi-year top finishing players. After seven seasons, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Brown and Jimmy Graham can boast four or more top finishes. Several mentioned earlier didn’t hit until after year three, which should give hope for players in later classes that haven’t broken out yet.
Four true dynasty studs came out of 2011: A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Cam Newton and DeMarco Murray. Mark Ingram could be classified as one also but likely disappointed those who spent a 1.01 pick on him. You’ll notice a large percentage of these players are no longer in the league, including several first-round picks. This happens with every class. *Doug Baldwin has two Top 24 finish years but went undrafted in rookie drafts in 2011.
|1.04||Robert Griffin III||9|
Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and T.Y. Hilton lead the pack here. Alfred Morris and Lamar Miller have been solid if unspectacular. Only two truly relevant WRs in Hilton and Alshon Jeffery. 2012 will likely go down as average for its small volume of fantasy producers.
Past Le’Veon Bell, DeAndre Hopkins, Travis Kelce and Jordan Reed, 2013 looks like 2012. Giovani Bernard may be undervalued right now and Keenan Allen’s finishes don’t paint the entire picture. Like 2012, Allen and Hopkins are the only two relevant wide receivers.
Three years in, it’s obvious this class is special. 10 WRs have already posted one top-24 finish compared to the previous two classes with only two per year. Mike Evans and Odell Beckham look every bit the dynasty studs that Antonio Brown and Julio Jones have been. Over half of 2014's first- and second-round picks have produced at least one top season. Jordan Matthews was the WR25 as a rookie and would have two top seasons had he finished one spot better.
Six RBs have hit so far. Amari Cooper and Tyrell Williams are the only two WRs to make the list and Williams was a very late rookie pick who often wasn't drafted at all after going undrafted out of Western Oregon.
Ezekiel Elliott had a monster rookie year for a RB but true to most years, only four rookies posted. The average for this study is four rookies per year. *Tyreek Hill finished in the Top 24 as a rookie but went undrafted in rookie drafts.
Applying this to your Draft Strategy
Not all draft classes are equal.
They can’t all be like the class of 2014. Not all have produced top players at every position. The 2017 class may only produce a moderate level of fantasy producers like 2011, 2012 and 2015 have. There’s probably not a generational talent in every class and even if there is, being able to draft them has its own odds. There are definitely dynasty assets in every class, though.
The more picks you have, the better your odds. Take a shotgun approach to rookie drafts. Increase your odds with more chances.
Early first round picks have performed the best. The track record of success is early. Even great prospects going to great situations don’t always hit, though. Late round picks are truly a crap shoot statistically.
The proper amount of risk needs to be applied to your decision making and draft process.
One of the biggest mistakes both redraft and dynasty players make is putting too much stock into rookies. Since 2000, only 17 rookie WRs have finished inside the top-24. Three of these were in 2014 and two were in 2016. It’s probably not a trend one can expect to continue. A word of caution when drafting rookies early in dynasty startup drafts as the majority will redshirt from a fantasy production standpoint in year one.
Running backs fared better with 34 finishing inside the top-24 since 2000. Statistically, rookie RBs haven’t been the best bet to hit either, averaging two per year. Of the most recent RBs that did hit, Jeremy Hill and David Johnson did most of their production later in the season. They were waiver wire championship winners in leagues where they were dropped.
One reason the hit rate of rookie picks isn’t higher is because so many players drafted before 2010 are still finishing in those top spots. Perennial dynasty studs like Larry Fitzgerald, Frank Gore, Jason Witten and Drew Brees are playing well into their 30s. These types are generally overlooked by the youth-obsessed dynasty community. It shouldn’t be surprising if some dynasty studs currently in their late-20s follow the same career trajectories.
In addition to aging veterans, second and third year players that have yet to breakout look to be the best values. Don’t be afraid to trade rookie draft picks for proven commodities. Taking a small gamble on a player that previously had a top finish season like Shane Vereen or Coby Fleener could be worthwhile.
The ideal dynasty approach is to roster a mix of veteran and rookie players. You shouldn’t ever have to sell the farm and “rebuild” if you can maintain the balance of producing players and harvesting rookies. Expect rookies to bust and plan accordingly. If they do hit, it will just add depth to your team and improve your playoff chances.