How to Manage Rookies in 2024 Best Ball Drafts

May 15, 2024
How to Manage Rookies in 2024 Best Ball Drafts

With the 2024 NFL Draft officially in our rearview mirror, we have entered the dead zone between those seven rounds of selections and OTAs. You know what that means; it’s time to prognosticate the impact of rookie landing spots and, more importantly, draft as many best ball teams as we can handle. Before we do that, though, let’s take a look at how rookies typically perform in these best-ball formats and how we can apply that to this season’s group of first-year fantasy pieces.

Below, I’ll break down rookies by position to find 2023 contributors, trending factors when considering rookies, and what options we have to bolster our score in this 2024 season.

Running Backs

2023 Rookie RB Fantasy Points*
Player Team Half-PPR RB Rank Weeks 1-9 Half-PPR PPG Weeks 10-18 Half-PPR PPG Increase, First to Second Half
Bijan Robinson Falcons RB17 11.0 14.7 33.64%
Jahmyr Gibbs Lions RB11 13.7 14.9 8.76%
Zach Charbonnet Seahawks RB54 3.8 7.0 84.21%
Kendre Miller Saints RB61 3.4 14.4 323.53%
Tyjae Spears Titans RB43 6.4 8.5 32.81%
De'Von Achane Dolphins RB4 24.3 11.4 -53.09%
Roschon Johnson Bears RB53 5.2 6.1 17.31%
Israel Abanikanda Jets RB96 0.0 2.1 N/A
Chase Brown Bengals RB69 0.6 7.3 1116.67%
Eric Gray Giants RB110 1.7 1.3 -23.53%
Evan Hull Colts RB116 1.2 0.0 -100.00%

*Selected in first five rounds of the NFL Draft

As much of a sure bet as most of us believed Bijan Robinson would be in fantasy, he really didn’t start producing consistent RB2 weeks until the second half of the season. His only two 20+ fantasy point performances came after the team’s Week 11 bye, which will be a recurring theme throughout this article. Much of that has to do with what was perceived as a mediocre coaching job, but it’s one of the unknown variables we have to deal with for rookies.

Beyond Robinson, it was a mixed bag for the rookies, as De'Von Achane out-produced any of our wildest wishes, Jahmyr Gibbs held his own despite heavy David Montgomery usage, and Kendre Miller couldn’t take hold of a backfield sans Alvin Kamara for the first three games of the season.

How To Use This Information For 2024

2024 Rookie Running Backs
Player Team NFL Draft Slot Current Underdog ADP Positional Rank
Jonathon Brooks Panthers 2.14 8.08 RB26
Trey Benson Cardinals 3.02 9.02 RB30
Blake Corum Rams 3.19 11.10 RB40
Jaylen Wright Dolphins 4.2 13.01 RB44
MarShawn Lloyd Packers 3.25 13.02 RB45
Ray Davis Bills 4.28 14.01 RB48
Kimani Vidal Chargers 6.05 14.06 RB49
Bucky Irving Buccaneers 4.25 15.03 RB54
Tyrone Tracy Giants 5.31 16.01 RB58
Isaac Guerendo 49ers 4.29 18.04 RB62
Audric Estime Broncos 5.12 18.05 RB63
Will Shipley Eagles 4.27 18.06 RB64
Dylan Laube Raiders 6.32 18.10 RB68
Braelon Allen Jets 4.34 18.11 RB69

Due to one of the best RB free agency classes in recent memory, paired with a relatively weak draft class, rookies are going far later than usual this year. Barring any injuries between now and Week 1, Jonathon Brooks is likely the only option anywhere near a bellcow role, and he still has Miles Sanders, Chuba Hubbard, and an ACL to overcome. As Matt Okada highlighted in his Player Profile of Brooks, it would be a difficult bet to make that the rookie will be the starter by Week 1, but there’s no reason to think he won’t be by October. He’s the most likely candidate to take a huge second-half leap.

Trey Benson —probably my favorite back in this class— could have the biggest role in this grouping to start the year, but it will be difficult to completely eschew James Conner as the lead option.

As a whole, this 2024 class has a tall hill to climb if they're going to produce at the same type of level as the 2023 class (Robinson, Gibbs, Achane, in particular). Three rookie running backs finished within the top 18 last year, and I don’t see a path for a repeat. To best mitigate the slow rookie starts and the possibility that they won’t completely take over a backfield, pair them with veteran running backs on other NFL teams, i.e., don’t handcuff. It’s unlikely that handcuffing is ever going to produce the way you would like it to, especially in best ball leagues and especially in large-field tournament leagues like Best Ball Mania, where you want to draft a team with a limitless ceiling.

Wide Receivers

2023 Rookie WR Fantasy Points*
Player Team Half-PPR WR Rank Weeks 1-9 Half-PPR PPG Weeks 10-18 Half-PPR PPG Increase, First to Second Half
Jaxon Smith-Njigba Seahawks WR59 6.7 7.2 7.46%
Quentin Johnston Chargers WR87 2.5 6.1 144.00%
Zay Flowers Ravens WR32 8.5 13.0 52.94%
Jordan Addison Vikings WR28 12.9 8.8 -31.78%
Jonathan Mingo Panthers WR91 4.3 4.2 -2.33%
Jayden Reed Packers WR23 8.3 14.8 78.31%
Rashee Rice Chiefs WR30 8.6 13.6 58.14%
Marvin Mims Broncos WR101 4.3 2.4 -44.19%
Tank Dell Texans WR16 12.3 13.9 13.01%
Jalin Hyatt Giants WR110 3.0 2.7 -10.00%
Cedric Tillman Browns WR129 0.4 3.5 775.00%
Josh Downs Colts WR57 9.0 5.3 -41.11%
Michael Wilson Cardinals WR56 8.1 6.2 -23.46%
Tre Tucker Raiders WR94 2.7 5.1 88.89%
Derius Davis Chargers WR157 1.9 0.9 -52.63%
Charlie Jones Bengals WR158 1.1 1.4 27.27%
Tyler Scott Bears WR152 1.4 1.8 28.57%

*Selected in first four rounds of the NFL Draft

Our disappointments from this grouping started at the top of the Draft when Jaxon Smith-Njigba went to Seattle to fight veterans DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett all season long. Immediately after JSN, the Chargers took Quentin Johnston, who was viewed as a redundant asset with Mike Williams still on the team. Williams didn’t play a snap after Week 3, presenting the best possible outcome for the rookie, and Johnston still delivered as fantasy’s WR87.

There were no complete home runs —though Tank Dell would have been— but we ended up with five top 36 wide receivers, with three of them scoring at least 50% more fantasy points per game in the second half of the season. It’s worth noting that four of those five performances came from the first two rounds, with Dell (Round 3, Pick 6) the lone exception.

How To Use This Information For 2024

2024 Rookie Wide Receivers
Player Team NFL Draft Slot Current Underdog ADP Positional Rank
Marvin Harrison Jr. Cardinals 1.04 2.01 WR9
Malik Nabers Giants 1.06 3.04 WR20
Rome Odunze Bears 1.09 6.06 WR36
Brian Thomas Jr. Jaguars 1.23 6.10 WR41
Xavier Worthy Chiefs 1.28 5.09 WR32
Ricky Pearsall 49ers 1.31 11.12 WR65
Xavier Legette Panthers 1.32 11.07 WR64
Keon Coleman Bills 2.01 7.01 WR40
Ladd McConkey Chargers 2.02 6.09 WR39
Ja'Lynn Polk Patriots 2.05 13.12 WR70
Adonai Mitchell Colts 2.20 9.06 WR53
Malachi Corley Jets 3.01 14.12 WR75
Jermaine Burton Bengals 3.16 14.05 WR73
Roman Wilson Steelers 3.20 14.03 WR72
Jalen McMillan Buccaneers 3.29 18.06 WR89
Luke McCaffrey Commanders 3.37 15.10 WR77
Troy Franklin Broncos 4.02 13.10 WR69
Javon Baker Patriots 4.10 16.04 WR79
Devontez Walker Ravens 4.13 17.07 WR84

Phew, this is a lot to work with. The wide receivers were featured throughout the Draft as teams looked at the continuingly growing WR market and, in some cases, would prefer to build the room through the NFL Draft. An astonishing 19 rookie WRs currently have an ADP on Underdog, and, there’s no way that there aren’t plenty of landmines here. Nine of those options are going in Round 13 or later, but optimism season abounds with a lot of these options.

Outside of options we can easily see operating as the team’s WR1 (Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers); I’d prefer to stack most of these options with their quarterback or use an approach that pairs two of these late-round guys together.

Remember that we’re trying to tell a story with these picks. Drafting Ricky Pearsall should mean that you think Brandon Aiyuk or Deebo Samuel will be traded or that one could miss some time. Taking Brian Thomas Jr. means Gabe Davis won’t be Trevor Lawrence’s preferred deep target. Selecting Adonai Mitchell means he will beat out Josh Downs and Alec Pierce for playing time and will outperform his moderate statistical profile.

These “stories” are more important at the wide receiver position than any other because of the sheer number of options in the player pool and the difficulty with which these rookies will consistently impact your team. Over half of the rookies (nine) drafted in the first four rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft finished the season as WR87 or worse.

Tight Ends

2023 Rookie TE Fantasy Points
Player Team Half-PPR TE Rank Weeks 1-9 Half-PPR PPG Weeks 10-18 Half-PPR PPG Increase, First to Second Half
Dalton Kincaid Bills TE15 7.2 7.0 -2.78%
Sam LaPorta Lions TE1 11.1 11.9 7.21%
Michael Mayer Raiders TE32 2.7 6.7 148.15%
Luke Musgrave Packers TE26 5.6 4.6 -17.86%
Luke Schoonmaker Cowboys TE72 1.1 1.5 36.36%
Tucker Kraft Packers TE34 0.2 6.8 3300.00%
Darnell Washington Steelers TE90 0.3 0.8 166.67%

The entire landscape of the tight end position has changed over the last couple of seasons, and this 2023 draft class continued to support that trend. On top of the overall TE1 (Sam LaPorta) and TE15 finishes (Dalton Kincaid), Tucker Kraft and Michael Mayer were both top-18 options in points per game through the second half of the season. That may not seem like much but it’s a far cry from the seasons in which rookie TEs were simply ignored in fantasy.

In the 2022 season, Greg Dulcich, Cade Otton, Isaiah Likely, Trey McBride, and Daniel Bellinger were all streaming options, if not home run best ball selections. This is in huge contrast to a season as recent as 2020, when Harrison Bryant, Cole Kmet, and Adam Trautman were the only rookies coming off of Underdog draft boards, and not one of them scored more than 50 half-PPR points in the entire season.

As more tight ends enter the league as more of a pass-game weapon, it’s less likely that we need to wait until the back half of the season to see fantasy production, let alone two or three years.

How To Use This Information For 2024

2024 Rookie Tight Ends
Player Team NFL Draft Slot Current Underdog ADP Positional Rank
Brock Bowers Raiders 1.13 9.03 TE11
Ben Sinnott Commanders 2.21 13.05 TE17
Ja'Tavion Sanders Panthers 4.01 18.04 TE29
Theo Johnson Giants 4.07 18.11 TE39
Erick All Bengals 4.15 18.12 TE42

The Brock Bowers landing spot has, rightfully, soured his ADP a little at this point, but that doesn’t mean we should be passing on him. If anything, the Raiders clearly have a role for him in mind by taking him with the 13th-overall selection despite rostering Michael Mayer. It’s nearly impossible to talk about first-round rookie TEs without referencing Kyle Pitts in the same breath, but his ADP was in the fifth round of 2021 Underdog drafts, nearly four rounds higher than Bowers.

The rest of our class will have a tougher time producing right out of the gates, but they all have solid landing spots, particularly the three options going off the boards in the final round. Ja’Tavion Sanders (Bryce Young), Theo Johnson (Daniel Jones), and Erick All (Joe Burrow) are perfect stacking options when you are looking to complete 3TE builds.

Ben Sinnott should be sprinkled on teams conservatively. Though he has far better real-life draft capital, he’s just as likely to be the fourth or fifth option on his team, has a running quarterback, and costs 5+ more rounds of draft capital.

Quarterbacks

2023 Rookie QB Fantasy Points
Player Team Fantasy PPG QB Rank Weeks 1-9 Fantasy PPG Weeks 10-18 Fantasy PPG Increase, First to Second Half
Bryce Young Panthers QB41 11.8 8.2 -30.51%
C.J. Stroud Texans QB9 19.6 16.9 -13.78%
Anthony Richardson Colts QB11 18.2 N/A N/A
Will Levis Titans QB36 17.7 9.5 -46.33%
Aidan O'Connell Raiders QB35 7.7 12.8 66.23%

There isn’t a position in fantasy that is more circumstantial than a rookie quarterback. Not only are teams typically very bad when they select the position at the top of the NFL Draft, but there are tons of moving pieces, which means the first quarterback taken isn’t guaranteed to be the most productive.

One need look no further than last year with Bryce Young/C.J. Stroud, but according to this recent study by Scott Kacsmar (@ScottKacsmar), the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft only has the best career from the class about 40% of the time. Now, that study looks at Approximate Value, not fantasy points, but poor quarterbacks rarely produce consistently in Fantasyland (my apologies to Blake Bortles and Sam Howell).

Our sample set from last season feels incomplete with Anthony Richardson playing so few snaps, but it is interesting to see just how poorly Young did with his terrible surrounding cast after the vast majority of scouts had him as the no-doubt QB1.

How To Use This Information For 2024

2024 Rookie Quarterbacks
Player Team NFL Draft Slot Current Underdog ADP Positional Rank
Caleb Williams Bears 1.01 8.12 QB11
Jayden Daniels Commanders 1.02 9.11 QB13
Drake Maye Patriots 1.03 17.06 QB27
Michael Penix Jr. Falcons 1.08 N/A N/A
J.J. McCarthy Vikings 1.10 15.10 QB24
Bo Nix Broncos 1.12 18.03 QB31

Without even bothering to fact-check, you have to assume that Michael Penix Jr. is the only quarterback taken in the top 10 completely undrafted in Underdog’s Best Ball Mania database, but that’s to be expected.

The position that Bryce Young was put in last year is nothing like the one Caleb Williams finds himself in. As we discussed here, D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen, Rome Odunze, and an ascending offensive line give him a far better floor than we could have expected for Young.

Honestly, the only comparable situations are that of Drake Maye in New England and Box Nix in Denver, but their ADPs are currently reflecting our trepidation. They both make fantastic additions in 3QB builds, as they can easily out-kick their current fantasy draft capital with even a decent-to-good showing.

Bottom Line

Entirely ignoring rookie targets from your best-ball portfolio is not a good idea, even though I’m sure you’ve heard of people avoiding them altogether with varying degrees of success. Setting parameters around yourself before a draft even begins is a great way to limit your upside in the long run. Rather, know that rookies typically surge in the second half of the season and can still be league winners without early-season production. Balance your rookie picks with these tactics:

  • Pair running backs with unsexy, consistent producers like David Montgomery, Rhamondre Stevenson, or James Conner.
  • Stack late-round rookie wide receivers with quarterbacks you already have on your roster.
  • Sprinkle your late-round tight ends into 3TE builds, and don’t be afraid of Brock Bowers’ landing spot.
  • There are more viable rookie quarterbacks this season than in years past. Take “your guy,” but be wary about sticking multiple first-year QBs on the same team.
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