ADP Arbitrage – Rookie/Veteran Pairs

Eric Hardter

On a recent episode of the Dynasty One Podcast there was an “ADP Twin” (i.e. two players who have essentially the same ADP) debate between Brandon Marshall and Sterling Shepard.  Though I’m always one to lean towards veterans, especially when they were tops in the league in 2015, I full well recognize that these types of decisions are always going to come down to roster construction.  If you’re going for youth, it doesn’t make much sense to pick Marshall, and if you’re looking to win now, Shepard wouldn’t seem to be the prudent pick.

That got me thinking – is there a way to mitigate such a rigid strategy and have the best of both worlds?

In a general strategical sense, I say yes.  No two players are alike, but often times you can achieve similar upside between two young players, even if they have disparate ADPs.  Again, this is far from a bulletproof theorem, but when it comes to guys who have yet to take a single snap on Sundays, I think it’s fair to postulate the variance in their outcomes is higher.

When it comes to veterans, I don’t find this to be as reliable.  The majority of dynasty owners remain risk averse, which is often manifested as ageism.  Once again, this remains incredibly understandable – the older a player is means the less time they have in the league, at least as it relates to their prior self.  In other words, while some of these rookies will be out of the league before Mr. Marshall, we’d obviously prefer to have the Jets’ receiver when he was 27 versus his current 32 years of age.  In that sense, his shelf life is much more finite than it was before, and owners are subsequently terrified of the impending production cliff.

So the fact that Marshall is still valued as a fourth round pick (ADP = 46.3) in startup drafts means that he’s pretty darn amazing at football.  In fact, the only other 30+ player in front of him is the similarly talented Jordy Nelson, who’s going off the board in the middle of the third round.  Other veterans, despite the numbers they put up, are much further behind the pack, meaning that not only are they less likely to put up numbers like Marshall or Nelson in the minds of most, but they’re also simply less valuable.

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Circling back to the original premise…

Maybe Shepard will take the world by storm as an NFL freshman, but the more logical outcome is he falls in line with the vast majority of rookies who simply need time to adjust at the professional level.  Marshall, meanwhile, is significantly more likely to put up points and help you win in 2016 – after all, this is the 2015 PPR WR3 we’re talking about.  Marshall probably won’t accrue any dynasty value between now and next year, but in all likelihood there will be a point gap between he and Shepard approaching 125-150 PPR points (or more), which could take years for the Giants’ wideout to make up (assuming Marshall can produce for even more than just the next year).

So bringing this thought experiment full circle, it stands to reason that if you can find another rookie who could theoretically approach Shepard’s upside, but can be drafted later, you can take Marshall early and grab the alternate rookie later.  This would hypothetically give you the best of both worlds, as it relates to immediate scoring and future value.  No, this isn’t black and white, but if nothing else it presents a potential opportunity to take advantage of the current market inequity.

Given all that, I took to Twitter with five comparative examples of rookie/veteran pairs who effectively function as sets of ADP twins.  Put another way, the “hyped” rookie in one pair has the same ADP as the stalwart veteran in the other pair, and the “under the radar” rookie has the same ADP as the less valuable veteran.  My ensuing query was simple – who do the Twitter masses prefer?  For the answer to that leading question, as well as my additional thoughts, keep reading below.

Debate #1 (ADP in parentheses)

Sterling Shepard (47.0) and Larry Fitzgerald (87.5) vs Brandon Marshall (46.3) and Tyler Boyd (87.2)

As you can see, this is a landslide victory (nearly 2:1) in favor of Marshall and Boyd.  As mentioned above, barring injury the heavy odds would dictate Marshall vastly outperforms Shepard.  And even though Fitzgerald was a PPR WR1 last season, he slowed down towards the end of the year, and owners appeared to sour on him.  With Boyd, he’s looked phenomenal thus far in the preseason, and much like Shepard appears to be the second target in the passing offense.  Even though he’s going nearly 3.5 rounds later, the voters appeared unconcerned.

Debate #2

Kenneth Dixon (104.0) and Rashad Jennings (146.0) vs DeMarco Murray (102.7) and Jonathan Williams (161.8)

Okay, I cheated a little bit here as Williams’ ADP is a hair over a round behind that of Jennings.  But the fact that Murray and Williams still won the matchup, albeit only by 8%, actually exacerbates the point I’m attempting to make.  With Murray functioning as the lead back in the Tennessee timeshare and Dixon swimming in the muddy waters of the Baltimore backfield, the veteran once again stands to hold the most 2016 value.  And while Jennings appears poised to function as the lead dog in New York, the voters still prefer the combination of Murray’s likely output and Williams’ potential moving forward.

Debate #3

Josh Doctson (41.2) and Michael Crabtree (79.5) vs John Brown (41.2) and Will Fuller (89.5)

Once again I cheated somewhat, this time on two levels.  Brown isn’t your classic veteran, but as mentioned earlier the only 30-somethings in the first four rounds are Nelson and Marshall – I didn’t want to double dip the latter, and the former was nearly a round ahead.  The main goal was to ensure that the earlier-ADP guys were roughly the same, as the premise here was arbitrage by virtue of who you can theoretically nab later.  Brown is only entering his third year, but I wanted to compare apples to apples when it came to Doctson (both receivers), and if nothing else Brown is somewhat old (26) for his NFL tenure.  Secondly, similar to Debate #2 above, Fuller was nearly a round behind his veteran compatriot Crabtree.

But that remains relatively immaterial, as the goal essentially amounts to who’s available later if you go with the vets early.  And as is shown above, even though the margin is narrow, the veteran early/rookie late strategy is preferred again.  Fuller could and should actually have the better rookie season than Doctson, who remains shelved with his mystery Achilles ailment, and is going to struggle for any sort of viability in year one.  As Crabtree remains the epitome of the “boring veteran,” I’m again unsurprised by the results.

Debate #4

Derrick Henry (81.8) and Jonathan Stewart (112.7) vs Latavius Murray (79.5) and Devontae Booker (114.0)

This one isn’t terribly surprising to me, even though it doesn’t align with the prevailing theory.  Henry has been one of the most hyped rookies of the off-season, with multiple analysts postulating that he’s already the team’s best running back (remember ladies and gents, it’s hyperbole season).  His veteran counterpart Murray, despite having a much clearer path to starting viability and little in the way of competition, has seen his value effectively remain static over the past several months.  Booker has already seemingly won the Broncos’ RB2 job, and could potentially approach Henry’s output this season, but he’s simply not viewed on the same level.  I can easily see why being able to acquire a proven, reliable veteran like Stewart at the same price would be preferable to owners.  It’s a decisive win for the Henry side, but if nothing else the proportion of voters who went with Latavius and Co. was non-negligible.

Debate #5

Michael Thomas (56.8) and Rishard Matthews (135.0) vs Eric Decker (57.5) and Tajae Sharpe (146.7)

Essentially we have the opposite of Debate #4 above.  The hype-train rookie, Thomas, has done precious little in preseason games despite the glowing practice reports.  That he’s anywhere near a consistent performer like Decker is laughable to me.

However, Thomas isn’t the only hype-fueled rookie.  Sharpe has looked good in both practice and games, and his accelerated growth likely played a part in the Titans parting ways with the mercurial Dorial Green-Beckham.  Even though he’s going a full round lower than teammate Matthews, his side won the vote.  Again, much like with Debate #4, a non-negligible proportion of voters prefers the Thomas side, but this is another feather in the cap of my theorem.


Though 80% of the five scenarios concluded by voting in line with the “veteran early, rookie late” methodology, it’s prudent to remember that these remain cherry-picked examples.  The reason for this is twofold:  I strived to keep the positions of the combatants the same, but more importantly, it’s hard to find examples that fit the mold.  That’s why in three out of the five cases there were ADP “Twins” who were a full round apart.

Also, this is the silly season.  Impressive performance by Fuller, Sharpe and Boyd boosted their value.  The Bills’ release of Karlos Williams boosted Jonathan Williams’ value.  The inactivity of Doctson is giving owners pause, even though rookie contributions shouldn’t be expected.  Dixon has been buried on Baltimore’s depth chart.  These things matter, as deciding between two players can effectively boil down to microeconomics.

Nevertheless, the masses have spoken, and whether it comes down to an aggregate series of personal preferences, or just the nebulous concept of which side is more “valuable,” the voters ultimately saw merit in my argument.  So if you’re shooting for the middle road and trying to both win now and later, I think it could and should be viewed as a preferred strategy.  Your team’s age pendulum isn’t swinging too far in either direction, and there’s still insulation built in with regards to not mortgaging the future.  Regardless, I think this type of ADP arbitrage can be used successfully, giving the owners immediate fantasy viability while also allowing for upside down the road.

Follow me on Twitter @EDH_27


eric hardter