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Great Expectations

“Now, I return to this young fellow.  And the communication I have got to make is, that he has great expectations.”

Charles Dickens

Luck_and_BlackmonTo me, one of the marks of an extraordinary writer lies in the ubiquity of the application of his words.  For example, consider the above quotation.  Dickens published Great Expectations in 1861, years before the first game of football was played.  Yet he has unknowingly managed to craft the perfect introduction for the writing that follows.  The ease in which these parallels can be made is, to me, simply staggering.

So let’s diverge from Dickens’ intended meaning, and consider the phrase “great expectations” as it relates to the gridiron.  When I think of this in terms of unrealized potential, I immediately settle in on a select class of players:  rookies.  This concept was first broached about a month ago, when Ken Kelly discussed this past season’s crop of rookie quarterbacks.  In short, Ken detailed how we were spoiled by the preponderance of unexpected fantasy relevance at the position.

Now, we must ask ourselves the question of whether 2012 was an exception, or a developing trend?  What should we expect from the NFL’s rookies in 2013?  In order to answer that question moving forwards, it has once again become useful to move backwards.

In that spirit, data from the past three seasons was examined in an attempt to discern the practicality of relying upon the presence of rookie players in our lineups.  In alignment with Ken’s piece, the quarterback position was analyzed.  To bolster the overall message, running backs and wide receivers were also scrutinized.  While not necessarily predictive, what follows should offer a rudimentary idea of just how great our expectations should truly be.

Three-Year Statistics

The subset of players utilized for this study was chosen based on relative few criteria.  For quarterbacks, it was required the player in question start for the majority of the season.  The running backs and wide receivers chosen finished in, or around, the top fifty players at their respective positions.

The data (courtesy of NFL.com) is representative of a non-PPR, standard scoring system.  The specifics are as follows:

-One point per 25 passing yards

-Four points per passing touchdown

-One point per ten yards rushing or receiving

-Six points per rushing or receiving touchdown

-Two points lost per interception or lost fumble

The subsequent tables reflect this data in terms of fantasy points per game, excluding inactivity (healthy scratches or injury related), as well as the player’s overall positional rank at the end of the season.  Moreover, each player’s draft status was included in regards to the year, round and overall pick (more on this later).  Let’s start with the quarterbacks:

Draft Year

Name

Round Drafted

Overall Pick

Fantasy PPG (Starting)

Overall Positional Rank

2010

S. Bradford

1

1

11.9

20

2010

C. McCoy

3

85

11.3

32

2010

J. Clausen

2

48

5.3

37

2011

C. Newton

1

1

23.1

3

2011

A. Dalton

2

35

12.9

15

2011

C. Ponder

1

12

10.7

27

2011

B. Gabbert

1

10

8.1

28

2012

R. Griffin III

1

2

21.3

5

2012

A. Luck

1

1

17.3

9

2012

R. Wilson

3

75

17.2

10

2012

R. Tannehill

1

8

11.4

24

2012

B. Weeden

1

22

11.1

26

2012

N. Foles

3

88

12.3

33

 

The first point of note is that ten of the thirteen quarterbacks listed above were drafted in either the first or second round, signifying the importance of the position in the eyes of coaches and management.  Next, 2012 sticks out like a sore thumb in regards to fantasy prominence, with rookies taking up three of the top ten spots.  The only quarterback in the previous two years to accomplish that feat was Cam Newton, who finished with the third most points at the position in 2011.

The next table shows the comparative data for the running backs:

Draft Year

Name

Round Drafted

Overall Pick

Fantasy PPG (Starting)

Overall Positional Rank

2010

J. Best

1

30

11.5

22

2010

L. Blount

UDFA

N/A

12.0

27

2010

R. Mathews

1

12

10.7

32

2010

C. Ivory

UDFA

N/A

8.3

35

2011

D. Murray

3

71

13.3

29

2011

R. Helu

4

105

11.6

33

2011

M. Ingram

1

28

8.0

45

2011

K. Hunter

4

115

6.1

46

2011

D. Thomas

2

62

5.8

49

2012

D. Martin

1

31

16.4

2

2012

A. Morris

6

173

15.1

5

2012

T. Richardson

1

3

13.6

9

2012

V. Ballard

5

170

8.8

25

 

Once again, it appears this past year’s rookies spoiled us, as Doug Martin, Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson all finished as top ten running backs.  No running back from the previous years was even a top twenty option at the position, though LeGarrette Blount and DeMarco Murray may have qualified had they played a full slate of games.  Also of note is that, relative to the quarterbacks, the draft statuses show a larger variance.  This, coupled with the sustainability of health through a sixteen game season, shows the transient nature of the position.

Finally, let’s consider the data for the wide receivers:

Draft Year

Name

Round Drafted

Overall Pick

Fantasy PPG

Overall Positional Rank

2010

M. Williams

4

101

9.9

12

2010

D. Bryant

1

24

5.2

48

2010

J. Shipley

3

84

7.5

58

2011

AJ Green

1

4

10.2

14

2011

J. Jones

1

6

11.4

18

2011

T. Smith

2

58

8.1

22

2011

D. Baldwin

UDFA

N/A

6.4

40

2011

G. Little

2

59

5.3

53

2012

TY Hilton

3

92

8.7

24

2012

J. Blackmon

1

5

7.6

29

2012

J. Gordon

2*

38*

6.8

38

2012

C. Givens

4

96

6.1

52

2012

K. Wright

1

20

5.7

55

*Gordon was selected with a 2012 supplemental pick, which would equate to 2013 pick #38

The wide receiver position appears to offer the least upside when rookies are evaluated.  However, those who could claim starting positions in our lineups were generally drafted in the first three rounds.  Even Mike Williams was said to possess first round talent, but fell to the fourth round due to well-documented character concerns.  While not quite as glaring as the quarterback position, there appears to be an early-round bias relative to the immediate contributors.

Discussion

The overall intent of this analysis is to determine the viability of a reliance on rookie players in our starting lineups.  While the above data provides some assistance in gauging whether this strategy is a sound one, we need to make it relatable relative to a league setting.  As all leagues will inherently differ in some way, ESPN’s definition of a standard league will be used for this study.  This league is defined as one with ten teams, where each team is required to start one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers and a RB/WR flex.

This means that ten quarterbacks, as well as up to thirty running backs and wide receivers (depending on the designation of the flex position) will lay claim to starting positions in any given week.  With those numbers in mind, the following table will consider how many of the players chronicled above could be considered starting-caliber.  Furthermore, these numbers will be related to draft position, as well as the draft positions of those above who fell outside the range of consideration for a starting-level talent.

Position

Fantasy Starters

Fantasy Starters Per Year

Starter ADP

ADP of Others Considered

QB

4

1.3

19.8*

34.2

RB

7

2.3

100.4

91.2

WR

6

2

44.3

78.0**

*Skewed by Russell Wilson’s selection with the 75th pick in the 2012 draft

**Josh Gordon’s draft selection of #38 (described above) is utilized here

***A value of 225 (the pick directly after seven rounds of 32 picks) was used for UDFA’s

Once again, it appears that when it comes to rookies, we might be succumbing to what’s known as a “recency bias.”  We saw all the meaningful contributions of the 2012 rookies, and it begins to come across as more of the norm than an exception.  The numbers above, however, tell a different tale.

On average, based on the data from the past three years, there will be a total of roughly five rookies (one quarterback and two apiece of running backs and wide receivers) per year we can regard as plug-and-play.  This equates to barely 7% of the 70 possible starting positions!  With that in mind, regarding a rookie draft as your team’s immediate savior would be a fool’s errand indeed.

By now it should be apparent that dynasty owners can’t necessarily count on rookies to offer an instantaneous upgrade to your roster.  However, the table above shows that there exists a crude methodology for maximizing their immediate potency.  This technique relates directly to where they were drafted.

Starting-caliber rookie quarterbacks are generally those who are selected early in the first round of NFL drafts.  The combined ADP of these players (Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson) is 19.8, but would be reduced to 1.3 if you remove Wilson from the equation, as third round quarterbacks don’t generally offer an immediate upgrade.  The ADP of the others considered sits at 34.2, a value slightly removed from the first round.  If you get the chance to nab the guy who was picked at the top of the first round, he’s likely your best bet for a sudden statistical improvement.

Wide receivers, in general, follow the same blueprint.  Those players who finished in the top thirty in overall scoring have a cumulative ADP over a full round lower than those who didn’t.  Of these six players (Williams, AJ Green, Julio Jones, Torrey Smith, Justin Blackmon and TY Hilton), four were either first or second round picks, and Williams should have been based on talent alone.  So if your team could be considered receiver-deficient, it would be prudent to collect as many first and second round players as possible.

Running backs show the most variance out of all the positions considered.  Only three of the seven potential starters (Jahvid Best, Martin and Richardson) were first round picks, three others (Morris and Vick Ballard) were drafted in the fifth round or later, and one (Blount) wasn’t drafted at all!  If you’re looking for the best bet to swiftly boost the performance of your ball carriers, draft as many running backs as you can and don’t be scared away by draft status.

Conclusion

“Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”

Charles Dickens

Rookie drafts are always exciting, but in regards to your team’s maladies they likely represent more of a band-aid than surgery.  While the 2012 draft produced an unusual amount of elite talent, the above data shows that to be aberrational.  So although there’s absolutely nothing wrong with maintaining great expectations, this analysis should serve as precautionary advice as to why a reliance on rookie starters likely won’t be such a great idea!

Follow me on Twitter @EDH_27

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Cyrus Miller
9 years ago

I have long held the belief that for fantasy, drafting players selected in the first round of the real NFL draft is the best approach.

At QB I limit it to top 5 guys, at WR I limit it to top 32, at RB I include the 2nd round (but usually ignore the 3rd).

This applies both to when I draft them and when I trade for them. Often, a player available in FF that is a first round pick will get an extra chance in the NFL compared to a later round pick. LB is the one position I keep getting burned on, I think if the 1st round LB isn’t starter quality from the get-go, don’t touch them.

Cyrus Miller
Reply to  Eric Hardter
9 years ago

The one thing that is flawed with my viewpoint is WR. There are many good to great second round WR that I ignore (like Jennings, Cobb, etc.). However, I would need to look at numbers to see if second round WR typically bust (with GB being the lone exception) or if it is a higher percentage.

Marshall in the 4th and a few others are exceptions too, of course, but I think the “1st round talent” WR typically are safer and have longer careers.

As for IDP, my only frame of reference is LB. I ignore all OLB as a rule, focusing mostly on ILB or MLB. Of those, the guys that don’t immediately produce typically never produce. Off the top of my head, that would mostly be Rolando McClain and Aaron Curry.

http://www.nfl.com/draft/history/fulldraft?position=LB&type=position

I think I need to start including 2nd rounders for LB…
2012 ILB:
Kuechly
Hightower
Kendricks (2nd)
Wagner (2nd)
David (2nd)
D. Davis/S. Spence (3rd round question marks)

2011 ILB:
Carter (2nd)
Reed/Mouton (2nd busts)
Irving/Sheppard/Foster (3rd busts)
McCarthy (4th, but a lot of bad 4th’s too)

2010 ILB:
McClain (bust, but I hold out hope)
Weatherspoon
Washington (2nd)
Sean Lee (2nd)
Spikes (2nd)
Butler (3rd)
Bowman (3rd)

I give up. I don’t see a correlation between draft position and production. Bowman in the 3rd, Washington in the 2nd, all of the 2012 rookies…

Adam Franssen
9 years ago

Interesting analysis. I would like to see the PPR data. Today’s leagues that don’t reward catches in some way feel like yesterday’s TD-only leagues.

Josh Gans
9 years ago

Merely curious and perhaps I glossed over it..but it says Fantasy PPG. Is that for the year he was drafted, for this year, or for all the years averaged together since he has been drafted? Dez Bryant’s PPG
(and subsequent rank) number seems very low..if its for 2012. Greg Little is shown to have outscored him. So is it for the year he was drafted or for all years in the NFL?
Thanks!

Chris Howat
9 years ago

Forgot Jon “drive me nuts” Baldwin.

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