The spring and early summer every season is the time for dynasty owners, and even redraft fantasy players, to get enamored with the latest crop of talent joining the NFL ranks. Rose-colored glasses are common attire where every first round rookie pick will be a 10-year starter in fantasy and every late rounder is bound for flex-quality glory at a minimum. I decided to take a look at the ADP for rookie drafts from leagues at MyFantasyLeague.com since 2005 to get a better picture of the actual production and impact from these rookie classes. These were all 12-team PPR leagues with no IDPs included. I cut off the study to the top-22 players each year as the ADP after that point becomes far more sporadic.
The minimum PPG for each position to have positive value in a season for this study are:
First off, here is the average PPG above the baseline for each draft slot in their rookie seasons. Hit% indicates how many players were above their positional baseline level in terms of PPG.
|PK||Y1 Avg||Y1 Hit%|
Basically, it gets dicey pretty quick in terms of an instant starter for your fantasy team. Outside of Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, and Julio Jones, the top-3 are filled with running backs. Nearly all of them were drafted in the first round of the NFL draft and, on average, are RB2-type fantasy starters in their rookie season. It is not a big surprise, however, as these players are getting the first shots at significant playing time and a chance to produce in fantasy terms.
Since 2005, the only 1.01 ADP rookie pick that didn’t produce as a rookie above the baseline was Darren McFadden. In fact, owners had to wait until year 3 to see starter quality production from the Oakland running back. Since McFadden’s first two seasons of frustration for dynasty owners, he has produced 11 FP/G and 8 FP/G above the baseline and had two of the most efficient seasons included in this rookie study. Patience is a virtual with top rookie picks.
In year two, the average numbers come up across the board. Overall in year 1, the top-22 rookie picks combined for just a 22% success rate (15% outside the top-3 studs). In year 2, that increases with more sophomores getting a chance for meaningful playing time. The gap closes somewhat between the top tier and the rest of the pack.
|PK||Y1 AVG||Y1 Hit%||Y2 AVG||Y2 Hit%|
The average PPG above the baseline essentially doubles and the number of impact players rises to nearly a third of all the rookies in the study. Another takeaway is that the average PPG of these rookies is as a fringe fantasy starter at their respective positions. Grouping the picks into tiers, the value drop is even more pronounced:
|ADP||5+ PPG||Total Hit%||Y1 Hit%||Y2 Hit%|
Here is where the rubber meets the road in this study. When looking at true impact fantasy players (5+ PPG above the baseline), a top-3 pick delivers 43% of seasons in their first five years in the NFL dating back to 2005. Any other pick in the first round is basically a 1-in-7 proposition to get an unquestioned weekly starter in fantasy. Second round selections are not far off in total value from picks 4-12 in the first round.
Out of the 150+ players included in this study, only 11 produced rookie seasons of 5+ PPG above their positional baseline as a rookie. Four of them were from the magical 2008 draft class (Matt Forte, Chris Johnson, Steve Slaton, Eddie Royal) and just one quarterback, Cam Newton. Of the 11 players with an instant impact, three were 2011 rookies (Newton, Julio Jones, A.J. Green). The other eight are a mixed bag of production after their rookie campaigns. Eddie Royal has not been heard from since his rookie season. Steve Slaton had just one more quality season, and Marshawn Lynch was missing in action in years 3/4 before his 2011 renaissance. The remaining bunch (Forte, Johnson, MJD, Reggie Bush, and Adrian Peterson) have consistently provided positive value in terms of PPG after their rookie seasons.
Factors that cannot be accounted for in this study are the acumen of the owner drafting with these picks and the state of the dynasty team involved. I recommend thinking of rookie picks like weighted lottery tickets. The odds are better the closer the pick is to the head of the line. On one side of the coin, many times a rookie pick can be traded for a veteran that will outperform that incoming player in the short-term with far less bust risk. The counter-argument is that rookie draft time can be the cheapest time to obtain the young stars of tomorrow before they hit it big on Sundays.
Looking at the 2012 rookie class, the top-3 in terms of ADP as of publishing are: Trent Richardson, Andrew Luck, and Doug Martin. While still a lottery ticket scenario, the Richardson, Luck, Martin trio has historically produced an impact season nearly half the seasons in their first five years in the NFL and are start-worthy 2-of-3 times. Statistically, they have a higher probability of fantasy success than the rest of the first rounders: Robert Griffin III, Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, David Wilson, Kendall Wright, Coby Fleener, Isaiah Pead, Alshon Jeffery, and Ronnie Hillman. The odds say 1-2 of the ADP 4-12 rookies will be a fantasy factor as a rookie, with another one joining them as a sophomore. Looking for an impact player? History says just 1-in-7 seasons for the Robert Griffin group will be 5+ PPG above the positional baseline level.
One thing to consider when on the clock for your next rookie pick: are you feeling lucky?
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