Dynasty League Football


Don’t Draft Rookies

Editor’s Note: This article was the winning submission of one of our Writing Contest winners – Jaron Foster. It was chosen for its creativity, statistical analysis and concept. Team DLF is excited to welcome Jaron to the writing group and we know you’ll enjoy much more of his work in the coming months and years.

Here’s introducing a radical concept: don’t draft rookies.

How much are dynasty owners planning to invest in rookies, either in terms of auction dollars or the opportunity cost of passing on more established veterans? In re-draft leagues, your answer may be simple as only a small group of players merit consideration anyway. Not so in dynasty leagues, where you currently find yourself because of your thirst for a more realistic (and complex) experience. To this point, developing and acting upon a strategy during your draft is even more critical than in more casual leagues.

Owners in dynasty leagues naturally think long-term when drafting, meaning young players with immense upside are the most prized commodities. After all, 2011 startup dynasty league owners with Cam Newton and AJ Green acquired (relatively) cheap players who are already borderline elite. Everyone will be looking to find these gems in the 2012 rookie class.

Unfortunately for these drafters, this mindset is counter-productive to a basic recipe for success (or at least remaining competitive) in fantasy football: minimizing risk. This concept takes shape in many ways, including analyzing player consistency ratings or reviewing which players will have games in domes or warmer climates at the end of the season.

Newton and Green, while putting up great numbers some weeks, gave owners their shares of inconsistency. Newton tallied just 158 passing yards and 27 rushing yards in week three after a couple of monster games and ended the season with three straight sub-175 yard passing games (including the championship weeks for most fantasy leagues). Green had a phenomenal season for a rookie receiver, but that still included eight weeks (HALF his games) with 63 or fewer receiving yards. Neither of these players offered the consistency needed throughout the regular and postseasons for fantasy league owners to heavily rely on them in their rookie seasons.

Despite their inconsistency, other highly-touted rookies in recent years paled in comparison to make a significant fantasy impact. Last year has been widely considered to be the most productive ever from the rookie class, yet no quarterback outside of Newton and Andy Dalton warranted consideration, nor did any receiver other than Green or Julio Jones.

The running back position was even less fruitful, with top players Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams, and Mikel Leshoure all missing extensive time (in the case of the latter two, the entire season) due to injuries. Shane Vereen (15 rushes for 57 yards) and Daniel Thomas (only 3.5 YPC as a backup) were the other running backs commonly selected in the top two rounds. The best production at the position came from third rounder DeMarco Murray, and after an opportunity emerged in week seven, had only two 100+ yard games in the next seven before suffering a season-ending injury. There was a great deal of promise shown, but not much in terms of production realized by fantasy owners.

Fantasy owners who acquired rookies in 2010 (Sam Bradford, CJ Spiller, Ryan Mathews, Dez Bryant, Jahvid Best, Ben Tate, Montario Hardesty, and Golden Tate) and 2009 (Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin and Donald Brown) were also largely disappointed. Only owners in dynasty leagues reaped benefits from any of these players as production did not appear until year two at earliest. Knowshon Moreno and Hakeem Nicks had respectable years in 2009, but were by no means consistent options on playoff teams.

The point, as I’m sure you’re arriving at as well, is that most (and perhaps all) rookies are poor options for fantasy owners. The high price likely required to acquire these players only stacks the odds against drafting rookies. Depending on the nature of a keeper league, particularly how many players can be kept and for how many years, rookies may really only be draftable in dynasty leagues (if at all!).

Clearly, if you choose not to draft any rookies in your dynasty draft, you will miss out on the players whose talent will emerge early in their careers. However, a better strategy than drafting a rookie will be to target them in mid-season trades. This brings two clear advantages:

1) you will not have spent valuable auction dollars on such high-risk players, and

2) you will have time to evaluate their role in the offense based on preseason and regular season snaps (or for those of you into this level of research, first-team practice snaps).

The former allowed you to draft less flashy but likely more reliable veteran talent, while the latter may allow you to buy low from a frustrated owner.

With this strategy in mind, let’s take a look at recent rookie season examples at each skill position (QB, RB, WR, TE) to help identify trends that led to breakout seasons the following year:

Josh Freeman, QB TB

2009 rookie season: started first game week eight, then broke out in week nine with three touchdowns. Increased number of completions each of the next five weeks

Analysis: While he had his growing pains, Freeman had a key advantage over many other rookie quarterbacks: opportunity. Rookie coach Raheem Morris drafted Freeman in the first round and stuck by his player throughout the remainder of the season.

Next year results: 3600+ passing yards, 25:6 TD-to-interception ratio

Ray Rice, RB BAL

2008 rookie season: through team’s first eight games, 49 rushing attempts/15 receptions, 354 all-purpose yards

Analysis: Rice broke out in week nine against Cleveland, but otherwise had a relatively unspectacular rookie season. However, rookie coach John Harbaugh played his rookie running back in passing game early in the season, using Rice in third-down situations even with relatively productive Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain on the roster. There was little fanfare over Rice, so dynasty owners could have possibly acquired him cheap via trade.

Next year results: 2000+ all-purpose yards, eight touchdowns, 78 receptions

Antonio Brown, WR PIT

2010 rookie season: 16 receptions/167 yards in seven regular season games and 5/90 in three postseason games

Analysis: While the popular pick to emerge was Emmanuel Sanders, digging into the numbers may have led you to Brown in 2010 instead. With Hines Ward on the decline and an opening opposite Mike Wallace, Sanders played 13 games with only 28/376 to show for it while constantly battling injuries. Despite less-than-impressive statistics most weeks he played, Brown never completely disappeared as Sanders did and showed a rapport with Ben Roethlisberger with a key long reception in the playoffs against Baltimore

Next year results: 69 receptions, 1,108 yards

Jimmy Graham, TE NO

2010 rookie season: Five receptions/49 yards in Saints’ first nine regular season games, 26/307 in final seven games

Analysis: While Graham never followed a gradual increase in targets and receptions fantasy owners generally look for, that is all the more reason owners may not have recognized a breakout season. Four straight mid-late season games with 3+ receptions and four touchdowns in the final three games reflected Drew Brees’ increased trust in his big new tight end. The inevitable departure of Jeremy Shockey also supported the potential for recognizing a breakout season

Next year results: 99 receptions, 1310 yards, 11 touchdowns

The dynasty strategy here is to avoid drafting rookies, but know where to look for mid-season trade targets. Use your draft resources on less risky picks and find the diamonds in the rough a few weeks later.

Latest posts by Jaron Foster (see all)
0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
10 years ago

Very nice article. Now this is the kind of stuff I’m accustomed to reading on DLF. Very well done Jaron.

Reply to  captainzach1
10 years ago

Completely agreed. Well done!

BB Wayne
Reply to  captainzach1
10 years ago

Yes! Winner Winner Chicken Dinner. I agree but if you can upgrade with top 5 rookie picks, then do it. But, definitely have the sniper ready mid season for those second or third year break out targets. Great work Jaron.

10 years ago

Great article; however, one point needs to be accounted for. There are some rookies who flash so much potential right away that it is impossible to acquire them halfway thought the season (example from last year alone: AJ Green & Julio). I think there is an exception to the point raised here……it might be worthwhile to take a leap of faith on a rookie before they play their first snap of regular season because once they show the talent, you are not going to get them…at least for cheap (example from today: RG3).

10 years ago

I agree with the others. This is good stuff. I agree with the basic premise, but, like every rule, there are exceptions. If you have a chance to draft a guy like AJ Green, Julio, Luck, T. Rich ect I think you have to take it. No way you’ll ever be able to get those guys cheap mid season even if they under perform.

If you don’t think you’ll have an early (top 4-5) pick trading the pick usually works out better. Regardless, good stuff here Jaron. This is my kind of article with stats to support claims and relevant, useful info. Congrats!

Sensei John Kreese
10 years ago

Very well done, Jaron.

I take offense with for not including second year sensation Torrey Smith anywhere on this list, but other than that…..

tim halverson
10 years ago

great article. and one question for those that commented. why do you you say nice article BUT… ?
as if you could do better.
if you could do better then do it

Reply to  tim halverson
10 years ago

I didn’t mean great article but…… in a way disrespectful to the author. I was just trying to point out where I think there is an exception to the concept he put forward. Not but as in “I can do better” more but I don’t completely agree.

I think I made it pretty clear I thought it was great and that he deserves to be writing for the DLF team. If I didn’t I apologize.

Eric MacKenzie
Reply to  tim halverson
10 years ago

That’s nonsense. We’re all here talking about professional football players. Should we all stop posting about them because we can’t do better?

Brian Meyer
10 years ago

the game itself is all about risks….so while i do agree with the mantra of “minimizing risk” if you shy away from risk by generally assuming all rookies will not be worth their investment you are doing yourself a disservice. draft rookies but do so only after you’ve come to accept that their 1st year will be made up of alot of adjustments usually leading to subpar fantasy production…..understand the risks you are taking before making the call to draft a rookie and you’ll be just fine as later round veteran acquisitions and waiver wire scouring can easily tide you over in the short-term.

John Warton
10 years ago

I love the premise, but there is still alot of risk involved with targeting rookies/2nd yr players mid season. They may flash potential and you move to acquire them to find that they are only a flash in the pan.(Peyton Hillis 2010, Tashard Choice, Kahlil Bell, Any Redskins running back in the last 2 years, Eddie Royal,Doug Baldwin, Louis Murphy)

alden bietz
10 years ago

While I agree to some extent with you on Rookie value in a Dynasty start up league. Where we are not on the same page is, blue chip rookies, or top tier. QBs like Luck or Griffen change that concept. If the top QBs Brady, Rogers, Brees, Newton, Stafford are gone then you go Luck, or Griffen. Then grab a middle tier QB later so you could sit a rookie QB on your roster.

The top two blue chip WRs from last year are Jones, and Green. Both are already high WRs in year two. There are always hit and miss Players in rookie drafts, but when you can get blue chip players, they are ones you can build your team around. There are only a few players you could call blue chip, cant miss guys. But grab them when you can, while trying to win now.

To Top