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Rookie Draft Strategies

 

One of the most exciting parts of dynasty football leagues is the rookie draft.  Once a year you get to pick players with no track record and a ton of potential who will fill some type of hole on your roster.  Let’s be honest though, rookie drafting is a risky proposition and in my experience, which consists of ten years of commissioning a dynasty league, at best you have a 50/50 chance of any particular pick making an impact on your team.  I’ve had first round busts, fifth round studs and everything in between.  So how do you stack the cards in your favor?  Here are a few tenets that I keep in mind when making my annual picks.  They are in no particular order, but they have worked for me over and over again.

Just to level set:  Our league’s rookie draft is 5 rounds with 12 teams (60 picks).  We use IDPs, so we draft both offense and defense.  No veterans are allowed to be chosen (we’ve done that in the past, but putting the initial waiver wire order equal to the rookie draft order takes care of it for us). There is no official time limit for choices, although you start to get severely heckled if you take more than a minute!  We also do the draft within two weeks of the start of the season to allow for tracking during the NFL draft all the way through training camp.  We then have one week to cut our rosters to 40 players.

Tenet #1 – Two WRs are Better Than One

In almost every draft in which I’ve taken a wide receiver, I’ve actually taken two.  Here’s my rationale:  receivers take longer to develop for the most part (i.e. the third year WR rule) and even then there is a lot of variability around first and second round NFL wideouts.  If you take two you like in the first three rounds, there are only three scenarios that will occur and two of them are favorable.

Scenario #1: Both WRs develop into productive players for you.

Scenario #2: One develops and the other is a bust.

Scenario #3: Both WRs are a bust.

Now, Scenario #1 is both obvious and rare, but scenario #2 is also a darn good deal.  If I told you that if you drafted six receiverss and half would be productive for you, wouldn’t you rather do that over three years rather than six?

Now, it’s also possible that Scenario #3 occurs but I’ve found that to be rare too.  In 2004, I picked Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Williams. In 2005, it was Mark Bradley and Vincent Jackson. In 2008, it was Chad Jackson and Eddie Royal. In 2009 it was Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jeremy Maclin.  That makes eight receivers in four different years, with two studs (Fitz & Vjax), 1 solid contributor (Maclin) and 5 duds (Heyward-Bey could still develop).  You’ll notice I took on this strategy in 2004/2005, then skipped to 2008/2009. Bunches of receivers – that’s how you do it.  I picked up Marques Colston as a rookie, Roddy White the year before he broke out and last year Victor Cruz in free agency, so I’ve got myself a wide receiving corps.  In rookie drafts, two receivers are simply better than one!

Tenet #2 – Your first pick is critical, don’t overreach

This seems so stupid you don’t even have to say it, right?  Well, you’d be surprised how much overreaching I’ve seen.  Onterrio Smith was a top three pick in 2003.  Kevin Jones was a top five pick in 2004.  Mike Bell was a top three pick in 2006.  It’s not confined to just running backs, either – Chad Henne was a top five pick in 2008.  Not that all of these players didn’t have potential, they did.  I would argue they were all drafted well above their actual potential mostly due to a hunch or a great preseason.  Again, for the most part, drafts are a 50/50 proposition. If you miss on a few first round picks in a row, suddenly everyone around you has uber-talent and you don’t.  You have to make your first pick count.

How do you do that?

If you pick in the top half, stick to the top five consensus rookies after doing your research online.  Don’t pick Mike Shanahan’s rookie running back just because it’s Mike Shanahan’s rookie running back.  Don’t take a quarterback unless it’s Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck.  If you’re at the bottom of the first round, let the draft come to you.  Inevitably you will value six or eight of the top players and one of them will fall to you, so make sure you take that player.  After picking Marion Barber in the fourth round in 2005, DeAngelo Williams with pick #6 in 2006, Adrian Peterson with pick #1 in 2007 (yes, even dynasty veterans have an off year), I felt really good with my running backs and didn’t plan on taking another one in 2008.  I had the tenth pick that year and low and behold, Rashard Mendenhall fell into my lap.  I HAD to take him. Let the draft come to you.  You’re first pick is critical, don’t overreach.

Tenet #3 – Never Pick a DB or a Kicker

There is just no value in a rookie draft for DBs and kickers.  I’ve done both in the past and have quickly realized the folly of my ways.  In 2005, I picked Mike Nugent in the fifth round thinking I was getting the next great kicker.  Wow, was I proud of myself!  Now granted Nugent is alive and kicking (pardon the pun), but he’s never been fantasy relevant and I would have been much better off with a DL or taking a chance on a second tier WR.  In terms of DBs, I’ve picked Ken Hamlin and Mike Doss in 2003, Bob Sanders in 2004 and Laron Landry in 2006.  None of them are on my team and none of them had any fantasy relevance whatsoever.  If you use IDPs in your league, take a look at the top 20 DBs last season and tell me how many you would have drafted as a rookie.  In my league there were two, Patrick Peterson and Morgan Burnett.  Rather than shoot for a needle in a haystack, just don’t draft a DB and pick them up as free agents.  As you can tell from above, I stopped drafting DBs in 2006 and I’ve been quite successful picking up different guys every year that fill out my IDP squad who finish in the top 20 (starter quality) for DBs.  Never pick a DB or a kicker, there are plenty out there for free.

Tenet #4 – Pick a TE sooner than anyone in the league would expect you to

This is a relatively new one for me, but it’s been very effective.  Let’s set the stage here – two years ago we were breaking into the second round of our rookie draft and midway through the second round is usually when the first tight end goes off the board.  That year, you might recall, was the year of the tight end.  Jermaine Gresham was the consensus #1, followed by Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Jimmy Graham and Tony Moeaki.  Now, typically not a lot of tight ends are picked in the rookie draft, but this year was different.  That being said, consensus was that Gresham and Gronkowski were second round material, Hernandez was third round material and Graham and Moeaki were guys with big upside to take a flier on in the fourth or fifth round (remember, Graham had all of one season as a college tight end at the University of Miami).

So, back to the story…

Gresham goes at pick 13, Gronk goes at pick 15 and then at pick 19, I take Jimmy Graham.  The whole room laughed because they thought I was nuts.  Hernandez was taken late in round round three and Meoki late in round four.  One of the guys during round four even forgot that I took Graham and called for him again (which also solicited a round of laughs).  You know the rest of the story.  Tight ends are no longer an afterthought in the NFL and they should not be in your league either.  Following my success with Graham, I took Lance Kendricks during round two last year.  The jury is still out on Kendricks for sure, but he has the potential to be a top tight end in the near future.  The point is, if you feel strong enough about a guy, take him where you feel he’s a value, not where the rest of the league values him. Pick a tight end sooner than anyone in the league would expect you to and you may well be paid off handsomely in the future.

Tenet #5 – Every Position is Important, Draft Accordingly

This one slightly cuts against the grain of Tenet #3, although I would argue if you can get quality DBs and kickers outside of the draft, they are still important, just not draftable.  I’ve won multiple dynasty league championships in my ten years of playing in them.  The one thing I’ve learned is to have a well balanced team.  In 2011, I won our league again and I had the worst quarterback situation in the league, bar none.  I had Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jay Cutler, Sam Bradford and John Skelton.  Fitzpatrick was in the top ten early, but dropped out at the end and none of my other quarterbacks even sniffed the top ten all of last year.  Last year I won by being balanced everywhere else and absolutely stinking at quarterback.  In a league that starts 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1K, 2DL, 3LB and 2DB, although I didn’t have a starting quality QB, I had 2 top 20 RBs, 4 top 10 WRs, 3 top 10 TEs, 2 top 10 Ks, the top 2 DLs (Jared Allen and JPP), 3 top 30 LBs and 2 top 20 DBs.  Depth everywhere else carried me to the championship this season.

The lesson here is that every position is important and you should draft accordingly.  Every draft has a different strategy depending on the depth at each position in the draft and your needs.  If the draft is strong at DL and you need depth there, draft early and often.  If you don’t need a RB, get depth in the first round at WR or QB.  Make sure you see what positions are deep in each draft and try to focus on how you can exploit that, either by taking early and often or waiting for quality late and using early picks at a different position of need.  The point is, every draft needs a different strategy.  Make sure you have one that will focus on your needs as well as the talent that presents itself in any given year.

I know our drafts are still months away, but these tenets are always worth talking about!

Editor’s Note: Ken Clein can be found on twitter @DynastyFootball.  Ken also blogs at dynastyfootballfan.com.  Be sure to catch him there as well.” 

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Tony
10 years ago

Great article, lots of good stuff and i also like to beat guys to the punch on drafting TE’s! Got Jimmy in several leagues and hoping Kendricks pans out.

Ken Clein
Reply to  Tony
10 years ago

Kendricks should pan out, he certainly looked good in the preseason last year but the rams fell apart. He dropped some balls too, he needs to improve that!

tebow
10 years ago

hey now that te’s are just like wrs we are making all three spots wr/te flexs in our league. do you think this is a going to be a trend in fantasy since te’s are becoming more of a slot wr than the old blocking te position?

Ken Clein
Reply to  tebow
10 years ago

Definitely, I think that will be a trend. Although we don’t want to get to carried away with it. Remember, there were only 2 top tier TEs last year and while that may increase in years to come, not all teams will use TEs in this way.

tim
Reply to  tebow
10 years ago

I think the traditionalists among us will resist this, but there were 4 TEs in the top-30 receivers for non-PPR. It’s getting hard to ignore.

Nickdib
10 years ago

I’m in a dynasty non-PPR start 1 QB 2 rbs 2 Wrs 2 rb/Wrs 1 Te 1 WR/Te, a kicker and a team def. I always start 2 tight ends. My tight ends are rob gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Winslow, and Kyle rudolph. Is Kendricks good enough to pick up even when he probably won’t start on my team soon that it would be worth taking a 5th Te instead of getting more depth at WR or rb?

Reply to  Nickdib
10 years ago

I had Kendricks as the highest rated TE in the 2011 draft class, over Rudolph. Just my two cents.

Nice read, Ken.

the clarion contrarian
10 years ago

I think the TE is better at the top the in recent years the top 3 that is and would not hesitate to grab one at the back end of round 1 as opposed to mcnutt dwight jones or adams or asnyone past the top 4 wrs . Once Blackmon , Floyd , Wright & Jeffrey are gone I would rather have one og the top tier TEs.

Paul
10 years ago

The TE may be true for leagues with rosters that big. My league just expanded to 21 roster spots (team defense) and I still feel TE’s are too inconsistent year in year out to want to invest in a top guy. During last year I traded Jimmy Graham for what ended up being 1.2 and don’t regret it for a moment. Not saying Gronkowski and Graham aren’t phenomenal players. Just saying I’d trade them now while their value is red hot.

Josh G
Reply to  Paul
10 years ago

I tend to disagree with you. Having an elite TE like Graham or Gronk is someone you can depend on as basically an elite WR except at the other spot. Some people just punt that category unless they have a top 5 TE..and you wouldnt have to..and in Graham and Gronk’s case..its basically a guaranteed 10-15 or more points per week that most other guys wont have.
So would I rather have 1.2 and pick up Trent Richardson? I suppose it depends who my other backs are..but great RBs come out every single year..and great TEs dont.

Chris H
10 years ago

So what is the value of 1.01? i love Richardson, but am fielding offers.

i own it and have been offered Sproles and Jennings by a rebuilding owner. i am very tempted, PPR so Sproles could be huge and i need a WR more than a RB.

my team:
Rivers, Big Ben, Palmer
Bradshaw, MJD, SJax, Charles, Tolbert, McCluster
Marshall, Britt, Crabtree, MWilliams TB, J Jones, Manningham, Plax

Thoughts please

Matt
Reply to  Chris H
10 years ago

I wouldnt make that deal, you could get more. If you don’t want Richardson find an owner picking 2 or 3 who wants him. Convince them you will take Richardson, trade with them for their pick and either a player or there 2 nd round pick. Take Blackmon, luck or another Wr who looks great at the combine who goes to a good spot, Jeffries or Floyd. Just mt two cents.

Chris H
10 years ago

thanks. this guy owns the 2nd pick and seems unwilling to deal it. i am with you i think i want more youth than this provides, but both would have been beneficial to my team this past year. i feel i am a WR and no injuries away from contention just can’t figure out if new youth or proven depth is the way to go.

Paul
Reply to  Chris H
10 years ago

If that’s Greg Jennings I’d take deal in a heartbeat. Rashad I’d pass in a heartbeat. If it’s Greg he still has enough decent years to have value at the end of next offseason hypothetically if you wanted to trade him then.

Wisehawk
10 years ago

Question…
I have AP (2 years left on contract) and Gerhart (which I will not be able to resign.
I have been offered #3 pick in this draft for the pair. I know for a fact a QB is being selected at #1 and #2 in the draft.

Would you make the trade?
I give up AP & Gerhart for #3 pick in this draft.

Cyrus
Reply to  Wisehawk
10 years ago

That is tough… once healthy, Peterson will be a stud. But he will be older and that limits him.

Whereas, if you are guaranteed Trent Richardson, I might do the trade. Only if guaranteed. If you think there is even a 20% chance an owner takes him, don’t do it.

Wisehawk
Reply to  Cyrus
10 years ago

I also have the 6th and ninth pick in the 1st round this year.

Cyrus
10 years ago

So time for my question, if anyone is here to read it…

I have the following in my IDP dynasty:
QB: Brady
RB: Blount, Ryan Williams, Vereen [Gore, Reggie Bush and Mendy are FA that I can keep at the winning bid]
WR: Andre, Colston, Harvin, DHB, V. Brown, Decker, Wayne

I also have the 1.01, 1.02 and 2.04 picks. I am not taking Luck.

It seems the consensus for my picks would be Richardson and Blackmon… but I’ve seen some negative reports about Blackmon and positive reports on Wright.

Do I mix up the #2 pick? Do I trade down and grab another RB?

What position am I looking at for 2.04, or do I just grab BPA? I’ve considered taking the best QB or LB if all of the RB/WR are picked over, as I need depth at QB and have studly LB but could trade one of them.

Josh G
Reply to  Cyrus
10 years ago

Why are you not taking Luck considering you have 1 and 2, no backup QB and decent WRs already..and its dynasty?

Sensai_John_Kreese
Reply to  Josh G
10 years ago

Too early to make a call like that, dude. Let the combine and draft play out before you make trades for high draft picks.

Cyrus
Reply to  Josh G
10 years ago

I decided early on that I didn’t want Luck, I want someone who will help my team out this year. Luck is insurance against a Brady injury, but I am trying to win it. (I am going to take a QB with my 1st in 2013 or trade for one, currently trying to trade for Flynn).

Because I made that decision, I traded up one draft slot with the condition that I can’t take Luck. The #2 team was going to draft Luck, so I gave them a late pick to move up to make sure they didn’t change their mind and trade the pick.

Tony
10 years ago

You’ve got a Good problem to have with your roster & picks. However u need some help at RB and i dont think theres a Rookie QB worth drafting after the top two, if theres a Vet u can get for depth.

With your WR’s i might draft top two RB’s and see which WR drop to you at 2.04, theres some depth at WR in this draft. Thatz based on what u do bidding on your FA RB’s…. My 2cents!

Cyrus
Reply to  Tony
10 years ago

I’m not willing to draft one of the RB’s over Blackmon. I would be willing to trade down to grab one at #4 or #5, I guess.

However, I’ve had bad luck drafting RB’s– took Moreno at 1.01 in 2009, Tate at 1.06 in 2010 and Ryan Williams at 1.04 in 2011. I’d rather take Blackmon and trade one of my WR’s for an existing RB.

Matt
Reply to  Cyrus
10 years ago

You just named 3-4 running backs that don’t have the same credentials as T. Rich, but it’s your team.

Cyrus
Reply to  Matt
10 years ago

I am taking Richardson at 1.01, no questions asked.

The advice given was to take one of Wilson, Miller, Martin or Polk over Blackmon, which I am not willing to do.

Then I mentioned my experience taking RB’s and how it hasn’t always been BPA (or they have just gotten hurt).

I wanted to clear that up, but I am still checking in to see if anyone has any other advice. Should I just stick with Blackmon at #2?

Matt
Reply to  Cyrus
10 years ago

My bad, I like Floyd, but it really depends on where they go etc. Before this year Jeffries was the guy. I want to see what he does at the combine.

Paul
10 years ago

Need an opinion or two. I just traded Kenny Britt for Roddy White and 1.6. I’m a contending team with Julio Jones already so pretty much ATL’s passing yards I get.

Josh G
Reply to  Paul
10 years ago

Prrsonally I think you got the better end of the deal. Plenty of people are in love with Britt and I understand why..but with QB issues and him being a headcase..I think I’d rather have the pick and a top 5/6 wr.
That said..Roddy is likely on the downside of his career and Britt isnt. I also dislike having 2 WRs from the same team..I dont care if its Miles Austin and Dez, Cruz and Nicks, Roddy and Julio..etc…
I’d now see if you can trade Roddy for someone like Nicks (top 10 wr, still young and possibly the owner thinks Cruz is better now..so maybe is a little uncertain..).

Paul
Reply to  Josh G
10 years ago

I’m kinda trying to win now though considering I got…
Stafford, Vick, Locker, Ponder
CJ2K, Foster, Bradshaw
Megatron, the two Falcons
Finley
BAL D

Josh G
Reply to  Paul
10 years ago

then Roddy is likely your man!

Good luck!

3 years ago

You’re so awesome! I do not believe I have read something like this before.
So good to discover another person with a few original thoughts on this issue.
Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is something that is needed on the web,
someone with a bit of originality!

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