The Ghosts of Rookie Drafts Past: 2011

Jacob Feldman

julio_jonesIf you’ve ever seen or read any version of A Christmas Carol, you know all about the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. In the world of traditional fantasy football we only care about the present while the dynasty format adds in the future to the mix. It is rare we do or even should care about the past. After all, Adrian Peterson’s 2,000 plus rushing yards last season aren’t going to help you win any games this year.

There are a few instances where taking the time to look back at the past can be helpful. The first is when trying to establish patterns of behavior for players or teams. The second is to get a better handle on the value of a player and possibly getting a great deal on a breakout star before it happens. The third is to figure out your own tendencies, efficiencies and shortcomings when it comes to drafting players. The latter is the focus of this article and for the record it helps to look at the tendencies of your league members to help predict what they are going to do.

From time to time I like to take a retrospective look at my player values (especially rookie drafts) in order to help establish my own strengths and weakness when it comes to player evaluation. I’m going to start with the 2011 rookie draft since it is too early to fully evaluate the 2012 rookie class. I’m going to divide each draft up into tiers as well as list where each player was taken in most rookie drafts.

For the tiers I’m going to use four categories: Studs, Stars, Starters and Backups. These are all in terms of fantasy leagues. To be a stud, they need to be someone that is selected in the first two rounds of a startup draft on a regular basis. Stars cover the players that would be taken in rounds three through five. Starters and backups are pretty self-explanatory in that they are the players that don’t fit the other two categories but would be starters in most fantasy teams or backups on most fantasy rosters. This was all done assuming a 12-team league. ADP was found using information from

2011 Rookie Draft

Top Tier (Studs)

AJ Green, WR CIN – Top 3 pick

Julio Jones, WR ATL – Top 3 pick

The top two players of this draft are without question the two receivers. It is rare to get one top talent out of a draft at a position, let alone two at the same one. Both have grown into top ten performers at their position and top ten dynasty assets overall. We knew they would be great and anyone that spent a top pick on them is very happy they did. You almost have to feel bad for the teams that ended up selecting Mark Ingram (which lots of teams did) over one of these two. Talk about one choice that could change the face of your team for years to come – that is what dynasty football is all about!

Second Tier (Stars)

Cam Newton, QB CAR – Middle First Round

Colin Kaepernick, QB SF – Late Second or Early Third Round

DeMarco Murray, RB DAL – Early Second Round

Stevan Ridley, RB NE – Late Third Round

Randall Cobb, WR GB – Early Second Round

Cobb is arguably the most valuable player in this tier and he almost belongs in the stud group. I just couldn’t put him in the same category as Green and Jones. The best value in this group was Ridley. He was a third round flier in most leagues because he was drafted into a questionable situation where Shane Vereen was expected to win the job. Vereen became injured and Ridley stepped up. Murray was a second round pick in fantasy leagues because the Cowboys already had a starting running back. Injuries struck again and Murray got a chance. As for the quarterbacks, Newton did what was expected while Kaepernick was the fifth quarterback by ADP but might end up being the best in the draft class as soon as this year. The motto here is talent over situation.

Third Tier (Starters)

Torrey Smith, WR BAL – Middle Second Round

Cecil Shorts, WR JAX – Late Third or Early Fourth Round

Kyle Rudolph, TE MIN – Late Second Round

Shorts was a fourth round pick in the NFL Draft to a bad offense – that made him slide in rookie drafts and many people wrote him off entirely because the Jaguars are terrible. If he can teach us anything, it is that even bad offenses will have one or two people that produce as fantasy starters. Don’t forget about the bottom dwelling teams and their players. With Smith and Rudolph being second round picks in most leagues, they did exactly what we expected and have turned into solid starters with some nice upside for years to come.

Fourth Tier (Backups)

Andy Dalton, QB CIN – Middle or Late Second Round

Jake Locker, QB TEN – Early Second Round

Mark Ingram, RB NO – Top 3 Pick

Shane Vereen, RB NE – Early Second Round

Mikel Leshoure, RB DET – Middle or Late First Round

Kendall Hunter, RB SF – Middle or Late Second Round

Jacquizz Rodgers, RB ATL – Late Second Round

Greg Little, WR CLE – Middle First Round

Vincent Brown, WR SD – Late Second or Early Third Round

Robert Housler, TE ARI – Fifth Round

Jordan Cameron, TE CLE – Middle Fourth Round

Luke Stocker, TE TB – Fifth Round

This group can for the most part be split up into smaller subgroups. You have players who have underperformed because they didn’t transition as well as expected like Ingram, Little and Locker. You also have players who have underperformed due to injury like Vereen, Leshoure, Hunter and Brown. They could improve this year or they could fade away entirely. You also have players who are just limited due to their physical abilities like Dalton and Rodgers. Then you have the tight ends that are finally going to get their chance after learning for a few years.

Complete Misses So Far

Blaine Gabbert, QB JAX– Late First or Early Second Round

Christian Ponder, QB MIN – Middle Second Round

Ryan Williams, RB ARI – Middle First Round

Daniel Thomas, RB MIA – Early or Middle First Round

Alex Green, RB GB – Late Second or Early Third

Roy Helu, RB WAS – Late First Round

Delone Carter, RB IND – Early or Middle Second Round

Jonathan Baldwin, WR KC – Middle or Late First Round

Titus Young, WR FA – Late Second Round

Leonard Hankerson, WR WAS – Middle Second Round

Lance Kendricks, TE STL – Late Second or Early Third Round

If you are going to build a successful fantasy team, you pretty much need your first and second round picks to be players who at the bare minimum still belong on your roster a few years later and not on the waiver wire. If you look at a lot of these names and know you drafted them, chances are you’ve struggled recently as a result.

Injury is a big reason why a lot of these players have ended up on this list. Unfortunately, there isn’t a ton we can do to predict injury other than look at the history of players and that certainly isn’t perfect. Character (or rather the lack of it) is another big reason as we have seen some very recent examples of careers that get destroyed by poor choices on and off the field. The third reason for failure is when players get hyped up too much. Sometimes this is the fault of the media spotlight, but often it is because of their situation. When we put too much emphasis on situation and forget that some of these were merely average talents we get the likes of Gabbert, Ponder and the poster boy Daniel Thomas.

The bottom line that this group should teach us is to watch out for injury histories, character issues, and don’t get sucked in by the hype of the media or the situation. The fact that these misses made up about half of the first two rounds of most rookie drafts should also remind us just big of a gamble the rookie draft actually is in the grand scheme of things. We have 10 players that were starters or better from this draft. While everyone wants to think that there are 20 or 30 stars in every draft, we know that isn’t the case.

2011 Rookie Draft Reloaded (According to current startup ADP)

1.01 – AJ Green

1.02 – Julio Jones

1.03 – Randall Cobb

1.04 – Demarco Murray

1.05 – Stevan Ridley

1.06 – Cam Newton

1.07 – Colin Kaepernick

1.08 – Torrey Smith

1.09 – Kyle Rudolph

1.10 – Cecil Shorts

1.11 – Shane Vereen

1.12 – Mark Ingram

2.01 – Vincent Brown

2.02 – Mikel Leshoure

2.03 – Jordan Cameron

2.04 – Andy Dalton

2.05 – Jacquizz Rodgers

2.06 – Ryan Williams

2.07 – Robert Housler

2.08 – Greg Little

2.09 – Kendall Hunter

2.10 – Jake Locker

2.11 – Jon Baldwin

2.12 – Leonard Hankerson

Imagine your thoughts back in 2011 if your rookie draft actually went like that! Turns out that is roughly how it should have gone based on today’s ADP. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s similar look at the 2010 rookie class to see if these trends continue.

jacob feldman