Analyzing QB & RB Pre and Post-Draft ADPs
There are no days off for the true sickos of the fantasy football community. I say this affectionally, as I consider myself a part of that group. The dust has barely settled on the 2022 NFL season, and I’ve already churned out a handful of best ball drafts despite the season being more than six months away.
NFL free agency is only two weeks old, and the NFL Draft is over a month away. While those who don’t participate in early-season drafting may never understand, those who indulge know just how exciting this time of year can be for fantasy enthusiasts.
As sports books take on one pre-draft bet after another, fantasy drafters are laying bets of a different kind. With so much still to unfold in the coming months, every selection of a free agent or incoming rookie is a bet on landing spots and team situations that will benefit them this fantasy season.
While some work out in our favor, the #process is not always perfect.
A popular pick last season in the pre-draft process was Chargers running back Isaiah Spiller. A high-level producer at Texas A&M from 2019 to 2021, drafters thought the sky was the limit for Spiller once he reached the NFL. His pre-draft ADP of 95.4 in FFPC leagues quickly proved to be a massive overpay after the Chargers drafted him 123rd overall. Joining a crowded backfield of Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley, and Larry Rountree, Spiller’s post-draft ADP settled in at 144.1. A 12th-round ADP still proved to be too rich for Spiller, who saw just 21 touches in his rookie campaign while appearing in just six games.
It’s safe to say we get plenty wrong.
A few weeks into the early draft season, I’ve been left wondering just exactly how well we do at prognosticating the NFL future of so many players, and which positions are worth chasing in the pre-draft process. With the help of the fine folks at RotoViz.com, I was able to dive into some historical FFPC draft data over the last four years.
It’s safe to say we’ve done a decent job at drafting quarterbacks ahead of the NFL Draft. Of the four fantasy-relevant positions explored in this exercise (QB-RB-WR-TE), the differential in draft ADPs (pre-draft ADP minus post-draft ADP = differential) was a mere 6.4 on average.
Undoubtedly the biggest mistake of the pre-draft quarterback process was Malik Willis. His ADP differential of -66.9 marked the worst of any quarterback in our 27-man sample. Strangely, the quarterback with the next furthest fall was Trevor Lawrence (-24.7), which is a bit odd when you consider he was a near lock to go 1.01 to the Jaguars in 2021.
We’re aided by the fact that most of the rookie signal callers we’re drafting are projected first-round picks, and identifying the QB-needy teams likely to draft them isn’t exactly rocket science. Last season was particularly difficult, as we saw just one quarterback go in the first round (Kenny Pickett), despite as many as five being rumored to go in the first round.
Again, drafters were insanely high on Willis, who was the sixth-highest drafted QB of all in the sample since 2019.
Of course, some of these first-rounders fall into less-than-ideal spots -- a la Jordan Love to the Packers in 2020 or Trey Lance to the 49ers in 2021, but on average, these first-round quarterbacks are putting up 182.5 points in their rookie season, while averaging 14.2 points per game.
First-round rookie quarterbacks are and will continue to be favorites among drafters. Taken more for their “guaranteed workload” and less for their league-winning upside, they can often provide a steady floor for drafters looking for a QB2. Of course, drafters never know when they could hit on a 300+ point scorer like Kyler Murray or Justin Herbert, which could immediately improve the overall outlook of their roster.
Every season is draft season with the Rotoworld Draft Guide Bundle. Get our baseball, football and basketball draft guides at one low price, $44.99 for the year. Plus, use promo code BUNDLE5 and save an extra $5 at checkout. Buy today!
Admittedly, the running back position sparked my curiosity for this article in the first place. Late-round running backs have long been coveted for their league-winning upside and those of us who have been in the 2023 draft lobbies since March can’t help but chase them.
Within the four years’ worth of ADP data I acquired, we have 91 total running backs who were targeted both before and after the NFL Draft in their respective rookie seasons. On average, those running backs see their ADP rise by 16.1 picks, but within that sample lies a spectacular amount of duds and outliers.
Take for example Rodney Anderson, who was going inside the top 200 before the NFL Draft, only to see his ADP fall to 294.2 after the Bengals drafted him in the sixth round. Or Isaih Pacheco, whose ADP rose by 149 spots after the Chiefs drafted him in the seventh round. Fantasy managers do weird things when players go to the Chiefs, although this worked out fairly well.
Generally, fantasy managers get most excited about running backs who acquire Day 2 draft capital (Rounds 1-3) or better. It’s not exactly a secret that these players tend to find the field a bit sooner than their Day 3 counterparts and offer more fantasy upside in their rookie seasons, as shown on the table below. Round 8 is intended to reflect players who were undrafted rookie free agents.
Of the 91 running backs in this sample, only five running backs drafted in Round 4 or later averaged double-digit fantasy points per game -- that’s not including James Robinson (18.0 PPG), who was left out due to drafters not targeting him pre-draft.
Running backs with Day 2 draft capital or better steal the show, and drafters who get in on them early are doing more than finding points -- they’re also finding tremendous value.
Of the 27 running backs to receive third round draft capital or better since 2019, only four saw a drop in ADP after the NFL Draft, one of whom was Travis Etienne, who suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in training camp. On average, the ADP for this group increased by 36.8 spots -- good for a boost of nearly three full rounds.
This influx in ADP is unlikely to have much of an impact on incoming rookie Bijan Robinson, who is already being priced near his ceiling with an FFPC ADP of 13.6. But the consensus RB2 of the class, Jahmyr Gibbs, is touting fifth-round ADP (52.3), while potential Day 2 guys like Tank Bigsby, Evan Hull, Sean Tucker, and Roschon Johnson all have pre-draft ADPs outside of the top 150.
Illinois running back Chase Brown, who put on an impressive combine and could serve as an early-down grinder and goal-line back has an ADP of 227.4. If he falls to the right team, he could see a rise similar to that of Brian Robinson last offseason after the Commanders took him in the third round of the draft. Robinson’s draft stock rose by nearly six rounds after the draft.
While it’s easy to get excited about all of these Day 2 backs, I would encourage caution when loading up with backs drafted specifically in the third round. Only three third-round backs scored in the top-15 in fantasy PPG among the Day 2 group, and while we’re working with a small sample size, the RotoViz Screener Tool shows just 11 third-round running backs with double-digit PPG since 2013.
With a little under a month to go until the NFL Draft, we’ll revisit this topic later in the week with a look at rookie wide receivers and tight ends.