Fantasy: The 2012 Rookie – QB and RB

| February 24, 2012

Recently, I made a fantastic batch of tortilla soup. It was my first time attempting such a dish, and the results were quite palate pleasing. I figured I would like it because I knew that I liked tortilla soup. The question, ultimately, would be how well I executed the recipe – in this case, flawlessly. Having an idea that the delectable dish would be good beforehand affected my decision to make it. In fantasy football, figuring out which rookies are going to make a fantasy impact is not so easy, but having a good recipe helps.
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What can we reasonably expect from a rookie? Every season a few are predicted for stardom only to fall completely flat on expectations, while others make unexpectedly significant contributions. Matt Waldman wrote an excellent article for the New York Times a while back about rookies in fantasy football, but he looks at a broader picture whereas we are concerned with more recent history (see below). In reality, rookies are difficult to predict, even when we know what their role will be with their team.
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As such, in my quest to create better auction values, I was left with a glaring problem in my calculations: rookies. Because my calculations once took into account past seasons in conjunction with future projections, I did not have any data to plug in for the next crop. I could just pick a rookie from the previous season and use his statistics, but that would not go far enough. My solution was to create one for each position. As a result, have compiled statistics for relevant rookies at the skill positions and offensive line over the past three seasons.
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A few notes about the data I have compiled:

  • Data has been culled for the past four seasons, from 2008 to 2011.
  • Each position has several arbitrary thresholds that must be met for data inclusion. Without these thresholds, The Rookie’s numbers are impacted significantly by less playing time or aberrations.
  • Once the irrelevant players are removed, average of the remaining, relevant player data is taken to create The Rookie for that position.

We recently took stock of how the 2011 rookies fared against last year’s Rookie, and there were some interesting results. Alas, I still do not have a name for the 2012 Rookie, like Scott Spratt’s Joseph Hands. Maybe we should call him Andrew Fleenallen von Richardwrightmon? Perhaps one day I will create a poll to decide a name for each position. At any rate, behold the 2012 rookie at quarterback and running back:
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Quarterback

Thresholds: 10 games, 600 snaps, 125 fantasy points

Year Name Team Att. Comp Comp % Yds YPA TD In Points PPS PPA Games PPG
2011 Blaine Gabbert JAX 413 210 50.8 2,207 5.3 12 11 135.1 0.15 0.26 15 9.0
Andy Dalton CIN 516 300 58.1 3,398 6.6 20 13 224.1 0.21 0.34 16 14.0
Cam Newton CAR 517 310 60 4,051 7.8 21 17 383.6 0.36 0.31 16 24.0
2010 Sam Bradford SL 590 354 60 3,521 6 18 15 210.1 0.19 0.32 16 13.1
2009 Mark Sanchez NYJ 363 196 54 2,444 6.7 12 20 154.4 0.16 0.33 15 10.3
Matthew Stafford DET 377 201 53.3 2,271 6 13 20 145.6 0.21 0.30 10 14.6
2008 JaMarcus Russell OAK 368 198 53.8 2,423 6.6 13 8 159.6 0.18 0.32 15 10.6
Matt Ryan ATL 434 265 61.1 3,442 7.9 16 11 207.1 0.19 0.38 16 12.9
Joe Flacco BLT 429 257 59.9 2,970 6.9 15 12 196.8 0.18 0.32 16 12.3
2012 The Rookie 445 255 56.8 2,970 6.6 15.6 14 201.8 0.20 0.32 15 13.4

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Cam Newton obliterated the rookie competition last season. Rookie quarterbacks will be hard-pressed to even come close to Newton’s fantasy output, and for good reason: 14 rushing touchdowns is a NFL record for quarterbacks. However much Newton skewed the 2012 Rookie’s numbers, though, comparing last year’s qualifying rookie averages against the 2011 Rookie QB yielded some pretty interesting results.
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Rookie quarterbacks are still notoriously bad fantasy options, though the Rookie’s outlook is better after last year. His scoring output would be ranked 20th after last season, just between Matt Hasselbeck and Tarvaris Jackson. As nice of a season as Andy Dalton had, he only scored 14 more points than Bradford did in 2010 and 22 more points than the Rookie.
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Because Newton’s performance is going to increase bias rookie average draft position (ADP) this year, none may be worth a draft pick. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin stand alone in the top tier of rookie quarterbacks this season, and Griffin may be the better draft choice because of his rushing attack. There are chances that Ryan Tannehill and Brandon Weeden wind up as immediate starters as well. To expect another Newton-like season though would be playing with napalm – do not trust rookie quarterbacks in redraft formats.

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Running Back

Thresholds: 12 games, 300 snaps, 100 points

Year Name Team Att. Yds Avg. TD Fu TA Rec Yds TD Standard SPPS SPPT PPR PPPS PPPT
2011 Daniel Thomas MIA 165 581 3.5 0 2 14 12 72 1 67.3 0.18 0.13 79.3 0.21 0.16
Roy Helu WAS 151 640 4.2 2 1 56 49 379 1 117.9 0.21 0.15 166.9 0.30 0.21
DeMarco Murray DAL 164 897 5.5 2 1 34 26 183 0 118 0.30 0.15 144 0.37 0.19
2010 Jahvid Best DET 172 567 3.3 4 1 74 58 487 2 139 0.24 0.18 197.4 0.34 0.25
LeGarrette Blount TB 201 1,007 5 6 3 6 5 4 0 132.1 0.37 0.26 136.1 0.39 0.27
2009 Knowshon Moreno DEN 247 947 3.8 7 1 38 28 228 2 162 0.27 0.21 197.5 0.32 0.26
Beanie Wells ARZ 176 821 4.7 7 4 15 12 143 0 131.6 0.41 0.28 142.4 0.45 0.30
LeSean McCoy PHI 155 637 4.1 4 2 49 40 308 0 118.5 0.19 0.15 154.5 0.25 0.19
2008 Jonathan Stewart CAR 184 839 4.6 10 2 13 8 47 0 146.3 0.40 0.26 152.6 0.42 0.27
Matt Forte CHI 316 1,238 3.9 8 0 74 63 449 4 241.5 0.28 0.22 303.7 0.35 0.28
Steve Slaton HST 268 1,282 4.8 9 2 56 50 497 1 221.9 0.29 0.29 283.9 0.37 0.37
Chris Johnson TEN 251 1,228 4.9 9 1 59 43 260 1 206.8 0.31 0.31 249.8 0.38 0.38
Kevin Smith DET 127 552 4.3 3 2 52 39 286 0 172.2 0.23 0.23 136.8 0.19 0.19
2012 The Rookie 198 864 4.4 5.5 1.7 41.5 33.3 257 0.9 151.9 0.28 0.22 180.4 0.33 0.25

-That 2008 rookie class is looking better and better with each passing year, again considering Ray Rice, Rashard Mendenhall, Jamaal Charles, Michael Bush and Darren McFadden all did not qualify. Last year’s rookie fantasy was pitiful, to put it simply. Its flimsy crop dragged the 2012 Rookie RB down, down, down as the quarterbacks went higher, to paraphrase Johnny Cash. Whereas Cam Newton led the charge upward for rookie quarterback trends, running backs dragged the 2012 Rookie RB into the mud.

Once again, this merely highlights that the NFL is now a passing league. With the vast majority of backfields being run in a committee, rookies are simply not going to get the opportunities to contribute they once got. DeMarco Murray and Roy Helu brought some midseason value to the owners that were lucky enough to scoop them up off the waiver wire, but late manifestation and end-of-season injuries mitigated their usefulness.
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Only Murray matched last year’s Rookie with a 0.3 PPS ratio, but just barely. Mark Ingram, last year’s only first-round NFL draft pick, did not even qualify because of injuries and sharing running back duties with roughly 17 other tailbacks.
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There is a silver lining in last season’s fantasy debacle: it can only get better, right? This year’s class already seems to have a leg up. Trent Richardson is a better prospect than Ingram by many accounts, and he could really have a great season if he winds up somewhere like Cincinnati, where he will command a greater workload. Lamar Miller and David Wilson could be great in the right situations—Green Bay, in particular, sounds tantalizing for one of those two—and Doug Martin could sneak into fantasy relevance as well. Ultimately, their landing spots will be a big determining factor in their fantasy value.
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The other bit of good news is rookie running back draft stock should be at an all-time low, meaning you should be able to draft these guys pretty late with the exception of Richardson, perhaps.
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Tune in next time when we reveal the 2012 Rookie at wide receiver and tight end.
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Questions and comments are always welcome via Twitter – @PFF_Alex
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