Fantasy Rookies Are Overrated
By Jake Ciely
With NFL Draft weekend upon us, immediately, fantasy owners start wondering, “Which rookies should I target this year?” or “Who is going to have an Alfred Morris-like season?” I’ll give you the simple answer: very few, and your odds of grabbing one even less.
Most seasons, your odds of owning a start-worthy fantasy rookie is exceptionally low, let alone in a year where there are few elite-level skill position players available. Sure, people are raving about Tavon Austin, and likely, there will be one running back that breaks through. Even so, Austin isn’t a guarantee, and last year’s best RB was not Trent Richardson, but Alfred Morris – something no one saw coming. And forget what we saw at QB last season; that was beyond the definition of an anomaly.
In 2012, we saw two QBs (Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck) crack the Top 10 with Russell Wilson narrowly missing, even after a rough start. As mentioned, Morris ended the Shanahanigans in Washington, as he ran his way to a Top Five finish. Doug Martin finished second thanks to a few monster weeks, while Trent Richardson checked in at ninth and Vick Ballard was next best at 25th. Over at wide receiver, T.Y. Hilton was the top rookie, finishing 24th with Justin Blackmon 29th. Forget about tight end, as Dwayne Allen was the best rookie, finishing all the way down at 23rd.
For a recap, there were 11 QBs, 21 RBs, 33 WRs and 12 TEs taken in the 2012 draft. Eleven of those players made it into the first round (four QBs, three RBs and four WRs). From that group, five didn’t even come close to making a major fantasy impact, unless you include David Wilson’s Week 14 game. That’s just Round 1. After all, the majority of impact players come from the first three rounds, so let’s dig deeper. There were 19 more skill players taken in Rounds 2 and 3 with Wilson and Hilton being those third round surprises.
In a great year for rookies, we had 10 players who were worth starting in fantasy leagues. “Starting-caliber” players include the Top 15 QBs, Top 36 RBs, Top 36 WRs and Top 15 TEs. That’s 10-of-30 (33 percent) in the first three rounds and 10-for-77 (13 percent) overall.
If you think that last year is a new era of football, just stop right there. I looked back at the past 10 rookie classes to show you just how small the fantasy success rate is. As with the starting-caliber classification above, I included any player in that range, as well as the top overall player at a position if none failed to crack that ranking. Yes, there were several instances with positions that did not have a single starter-worthy rookie.
|Pos||2011 Player||Pos Rank||Pos||2010 Player||Pos Rank||Pos||2009 Player||Pos Rank||Pos||2008 Player||Pos Rank||Pos||2007 Player||Pos Rank|
|QB||Cam Newton||5||QB||Sam Bradford||20||QB||Mark Sanchez||24||QB||Matt Ryan||16||QB||Trent Edwards||30|
|QB||Andy Dalton||15||RB||Jahvid Best||23||RB||Knowshon Moreno||17||RB||Matt Forte||4||RB||Adrian Peterson||3|
|RB||Roy Hely||30||RB||LeGarrette Blount||24||RB||Beanie Wells||31||RB||Steve Slaton||6||RB||Marshawn Lynch||12|
|RB||DeMarco Murray||31||RB||Ryan Mathews||32||WR||Percy Harvin||25||RB||Chris Johnson||11||WR||Dwayne Bowe||24|
|WR||A.J. Green||14||WR||Mike Williams||11||WR||Mike Wallace||28||RB||Kevin Smith||18||WR||Calvin Johnson||35|
|WR||Julio Jones||17||TE||Rob Gronkowski||5||WR||Hakeem Nicks||29||RB||Jonathan Stewart||24||TE||Zach Miller||17|
|WR||Torrey Smith||23||TE||Aaron Hernandez||11||WR||Austin Collie||31||WR||Eddie Royal||20|
|TE||Kyle Rudolph||36||TE||Brandon Pettigrew||25||WR||DeSean Jackson||29|
|Pos||2006 Player||Pos Rank||Pos||2005 Player||Pos Rank||Pos||2004 Player||Pos Rank||Pos||2003 Player||Pos Rank|
|QB||Vince Young||13||QB||Kyle Orton||30||QB||Ben Roethlisberger||20||QB||Byron Leftwich||18|
|RB||Maurice Jones-Drew||8||RB||Cadillac Williams||19||RB||Willis McGahee||9||RB||Domanick Williams||14|
|RB||Jospeh Addai||11||RB||Ronnie Brown||23||RB||Kevin Jones||1||WR||Anquan Boldin||4|
|RB||Reggie Bush||17||RB||Samkon Gado||30||RB||Julius Jones||28||WR||Andre Johnson||23|
|RB||Laurence Maroney||29||WR||Reggie Brown||47||RB||Steven Jackson||32||TE||Antonio Gates||18|
|RB||Mike Bell||30||TE||Heath Miller||12||WR||Michael Clayton||13|
|RB||Leon Washington||35||WR||Lee Evans||24|
|WR||Marques Colston||14||WR||Roy Williams||29|
|TE||Owen Daniels||14||WR||Larry Fitzgerald||30|
Unlike last year, there were no seasons with 10 starter-worthy rookies. In 2004, 2006 and 2009, we came close with nine each, but that’s the good news. There were some pitiful years, as 2005 and 2007 produced just four players, even with four future Pro Bowlers in 2005. In 2003, we hit rock bottom with a mere three fantasy-relevant rookies. Not one of those three years had a QB worth your time, and 2005 didn’t even have a WR that was anything more than bench depth.
From 2003 to 2011, we have 51 fantasy-relevant rookies, good for an average of 5.7 per year. In the first three rounds this year, we have three QBs, seven RBs, 11 WRs and six TEs. That’s slightly down from last year, but overall, the NFL Draft produces around 30 skill players in the first three rounds and 75-80 overall. Taking that average of success from earlier (5.7 percent), we’re looking at a 7.3 percent fantasy success rate overall and still just 19 percent if you only look to the first three rounds.
You’re likely becoming overloaded (or are already there) with stats, so let’s focus on the purpose of giving you all of these numbers. Rookies are overrated. It’s that simple. When your fantasy draft rolls around, the excitement of potential or the intriguing allure of the “unknown” outweighs reality.
That hype associated with what rookies “might” do drives their draft-day cost much higher than their return values will provide. After all, Justin Blackmon cost you more than Reggie Wayne did last season. Everyone loves to grab the “next best thing” or look smarter by finding that rookie gem who leads you to glory. The problem is that you are much more likely to waste an early pick than find a player who can even start for you every week.