This post is the first of a series introducing a new dynasty forecasting model called AV+, designed to help you get ahead of the dynasty market.
You probably won’t be shocked to learn that the hit rate of dynasty rookie draft picks is generally low. You might have even seen posts here on DLF over the years like this one from 2017 exploring hit rates, or this recent post on determining the value of picks based on production tiers.
But looking broadly at hits or misses doesn’t tell the entire story. To get a fuller understanding of rookie success rates, I analyzed the careers of each rookie draft pick from 2000-2010 and tabulated the season-by-season return of either reserve-level, starter, or elite production for each player.
Here are the qualifications for each tier, which assumes a 1QB PPR league:
The minimum points-per-game requirement for the Reserve tier varies by position in order to best include the universe of players that would be rostered in a typical league. That may overlook some players who would be held in deeper leagues, but should cover basically any player with actual fantasy relevance, from solid flex option to bye-week fill-in to deeper stash.
First, let’s take a bird’s eye look at the results and then home in on the details.
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Of the top 48 rookies selected each year, an average pick will net you 3.7 years of reserve-level production. Of those 3.7 years, you’ll get 1.5 starter-level years, and out of that 0.6 elite years. That might seem discouraging, but bear in mind we’re talking about an entire draft class.
Of course, not all picks are equal. An average first-rounder generates 5.6 rosterable years of production, including 2.7 starter-level years and 1.3 elite years, and a top three overall pick is good for a line of 6.4/3.3/1.7.
Using scoring averages from 2000-2018, we can use these averages to create a projection of total Career Points for any given draft pick. Averages are weighted toward the last five years of play in order to better represent current offensive trends.
Be careful here not to confuse Career Points for a suggested market value. The 1.01 may accumulate twice the Career Points as the 2.01, but that doesn’t mean that the 2.01 is worth half of the 1.01. The 1.01 is considerably more valuable. We’ll address exactly how all of this equates to market value in subsequent posts. For now, we’re simply examining production.
These overall results are still too broad though. Since career lengths and production rates vary by position, let’s break things down accordingly.
Quarterbacks are a highly polarized group, with either hits or misses and very little in between. Out of 61 QBs in our sample, only ten ever produced any elite seasons, and another six put up a single starter-level season each. The rest were never better than secondary options. Given what we know about the rarity of elite quarterbacks in the NFL, this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
Quarterbacks demonstrated the weakest correlation of all position groups between draft position and career success. You’re extremely unlikely to find an elite quarterback in the late rounds of rookie drafts. You’re also unlikely to find an elite quarterback in the early rounds, at least in comparison to the success rates of other positions.
The rate of return for first-round QBs is sufficiently unimpressive that, assuming you’re determined to draft a quarterback, it’s probably better to let one fall to you later in the draft than pushing your chips in on a more highly rated prospect.
As conventional wisdom dictates, the top RB picks are extremely valuable prizes. Their career production diminishes steeply throughout the first round with the 1.12 generating only half the career points of the 1.01. Things pretty much flatline after the first round, with only a small decline between a mid-second rounder and a mid-fourth. Accordingly, it makes sense to select RBs at either the beginning or end of the draft.
There’s also an interesting trend of running backs being heavily drafted in the top eight picks and then largely disappearing from the draft board until around pick 21. Presumably that’s because a handful get drafted into obvious starting opportunities and the rest are in more speculative situations. Maybe there are ways to leverage that trend when planning your draft strategy, but mostly I’d recommend avoiding running backs for a little while after the top players are off the board.
Here’s great news for those of you holding early first-round picks this year. After some recent disappointments like the wide receiver class of 2016, it might seem as if top wide receiver prospects are a riskier investment than top running backs. The numbers don’t bear that out.
In fact, there’s no better bet than early-first round WRs. Sure, there have been busts in that group, but the booms are big ones: guys like Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, and Dez Bryant. These are the kind of assets that can be cornerstones of your roster for a decade or more.
On average, a top-tier wide receiver pick is likely to deliver four to six years of starter production and at least two years of elite performance. Those are outstanding numbers and you should feel highly confident spending your premium draft picks on wide receivers this year.
Wide receivers continue to score around 30% more points than RBs through the middle rounds and the two basically even out after that. Much of that difference is due to the greater career lengths of wide receivers, as the two score comparably on a year-by-year basis.
Perhaps because so few tight ends manage to climb the draft board at all, the ones that do so are excellent investments. In fact, the success rate for tight end draft picks is on another level. Nearly half of the tight ends selected in rookie drafts eventually put up at least one elite season. Even way down in the third round, a tight end offers the same promise of elite production as a first round running back. That’s an incredible return for what might otherwise be a dart throw pick.
Furthermore, any tight end that manages to generate first round buzz should have your full attention. Only the coveted early-first round wide receiver is a more reliable addition. In short, target tight ends at any stage of the draft.
However thoroughly you’ve studied the incoming players, rookie picks are always a gamble. Understanding the odds and having a realistic sense of how differing picks should perform can help you maximize your draft capital.
In upcoming articles, we’ll continue to discuss how to evaluate draft picks and their place alongside veterans in the wider dynasty market.