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Fantasy Rookies Are Overrated

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Quiet down. Rookies aren't worth the noise. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Quiet down. Rookies aren't worth the noise. Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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
TE John Carlson 7
TE Dustin Keller 14
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
TE Chris Cooley 14

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.