Which Fantasy Football Rookies Will Make an Immediate Impact?
Now that the NFL Draft has finally come and gone, most of the pieces are in place and we can begin to finalize our preseason rankings. 4for4 will release its initial projections by the end of the month, but for now I wanted to present a few thoughts about this year’s crop of rookies and how they might fare in the upcoming season.
First things first, rookies are typically disappointing in redraft leagues. For every Todd Gurley, there seem to be five Bishop Sankeys. In fact, over the past seven seasons, a grand total of 29 rookies have offered up starter-caliber PPR numbers (i.e. top 12 for quarterbacks and tight ends, top 24 for running backs and wide receivers). That’s about four per year. Let’s take a look:
Note: Jameis Winston finished #13 in 2015.
RB: Doug Martin (#2, 2012), Alfred Morris (#7, 2012), Eddie Lacy (#7, 2013), Trent Richardson (#8, 2012), David Johnson (#8, 2015), Todd Gurley (#9, 2015), Jeremy Hill (#10, 2014), LeVeon Bell (#15, 2013), Giovani Bernard (#16, 2013), Knowshon Moreno (#18, 2009), Zac Stacy (#18, 2013), Jahvid Best (#20, 2010), Duke Johnson (#24, 2015) and Roy Helu (#24, 2011)
WR: Odell Beckham (#7, 2014), Mike Williams (#11, 2010), Mike Evans (#13, 2014), A.J. Green (#14, 2011), Kelvin Benjamin (#15, 2014), Julio Jones (#17, 2011), Keenan Allen (#17, 2013), Amari Cooper (#21, 2015) and Torrey Smith (#23, 2011)
Of those 29 players, 14 were drafted by their teams in the 1st round, six in the 2nd, four in the 3rd, three in the 4th, one each in the 5th and 6th. Twenty-four of the 29 (83%) were drafted in the first three rounds, so while there are always a few exceptions, redraft owners should focus their attention on the highly-drafted rookies when looking for the occasional value in the rookie class.
Let’s go position by position and discuss some of the players who figure (or at least have a chance) to produce as rookies.
Jared Goff will almost certainly start for the Rams, but it would be a major surprise if he’s anything more than a QB2/streaming type as a rookie. He'll plays in a run-oriented, conservative offense with a weak receiving corps.
After Goff, Paxton Lynch probably has the best chance to start given his competition (Mark Sanchez) in Denver. He’s landing in a great spot with a pair of terrific receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, a strong running game and a great defense. Unfortunately, Lynch is considered to be something of a project, so he has the same QB2/streaming ceiling as Goff.
Carson Wentz joins an Eagles team that just gave Sam Bradford a two-year extension, so there’s already a quarterback controversy brewing. If he ends up in a starting role, I’d put him in the same QB2/streaming conversation.
A couple of names jump out as we get out of the first round. One team to watch is the Jets, who want to re-sign Ryan Fitzpatrick, but also drafted Christian Hackenberg in the 2nd round. With Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Matt Forte to throw to, that’s a good situation for whoever ends up under center. The other situation is in Cleveland, where the Browns took Cody Kessler to compete with Robert Griffin III (and Josh McCown?) for the starting job.
Obviously, Ezekiel Elliot landed in a great situation in Dallas. Over the past two seasons, Cowboy running backs have accounted for an average of 420 carries for 1,973 yards and 12 touchdowns, and have added 78 catches for 652 yards in the passing game. If Elliot gets (a conservative) 50 percent of this production, he’ll finish with 249 touches for 1,313 yards and six scores, which equates to low-end RB1 numbers. Granted, this includes DeMarco Murray’s monster 2014 season, but at the same time, Elliot should be a significant upgrade to the Darren McFadden/Joseph Randle 2015 campaign.
With both McFadden and newly signed Alfred Morris on the roster, the Cowboys have the luxury to “take it easy” on Elliot, which is why I started with the 50 percent threshold. If Elliot sees a more aggressive 60 percent of the work, he’d be in the neighborhood of 299 touches for 1,575 total yards and 7.2 touchdowns, which would have been good for a #3 RB finish in 2015. Since landing in Dallas, he’s going around pick 11 (MFL10 ADP), so he’s looking like a late 1st round pick this year.
The only concern is the infamous rookie wall – will Elliot produce at the same rate down the stretch? The 4for4 team is going to look at late-season rookie RB production later this month to see if the rookie wall really exists at the running back position.
There is pretty steep drop-off after Elliot in the RB ranks, since there doesn’t appear (at this point, anyway) to be another running back assured of even a two-down role. Derrick Henry is the second rookie off the board at the end of the 7th round of recent MFL10s.
In the 2nd round of the actual draft, Tennessee ponderously picked Henry to caddy for Murray. Apparently, the 3-13 Titans didn’t have any other holes to fill after acquiring Murray to be their workhorse. (In other words, it’s a terrible spot for Henry to land.)
Kenyan Drake (Dolphins) and C.J. Prosise (Seahawks) went in the 3rd. Drake could carve out a pass-catching role to complement Jay Ajayi, so he’s more of a target in PPR formats than in standard. As for Prosise, it looks like he’ll compete with Christine Michael to be the primary backup to the very productive Thomas Rawls.
Paul Perkins went in the 5th to the Giants, where the team has a group of solid but uninspiring running backs. Perkins could work his way into a two-down role with Shane Vereen doing his thing on third downs.
On the Friday of the draft, I tweeted some numbers that I crunched while looking at the rookie year production of 1st round receivers. Here’s a summary:
Since 2000, 62 receivers have been selected in the 1st round. They averaged 41.1-575-3.7 as rookies. That equates to #54 WR production in PPR. There were 38 1st round receivers taken since 2000 outside the top 10 in the draft. They averaged 39.4-550-3.4 as rookies, which equates to #57 WR production in PPR. Not good.
Since 2010, 19 1st round WRs have averaged 52-716-5.1 as rookies. That equates to #42 WR numbers. Twelve of those 19 were taken outside the top 10 and have averaged 46.7-600-4.1, or #50 WR numbers. Since 2010, the nine 1st round WRs drafted outside the top 10 and played 12-plus games averaged 51.6-679-4.8 as rookies. Those are #45 WR numbers.
What’s the takeaway here? While there are exceptions – as rookies, Beckham, Benjamin, Evans, Cooper, Green and Jones all scored at least 203 PPR fantasy points since 2010 – the average production of a 1st round receiver drafted outside the top 10 equates to low-end fantasy WR4 production. Please note that, save for Julio, all of those players ended up in a real-world WR1 role.
Unsurprisingly, the seven receivers drafted in the 1st or 2nd round in 2016 went to teams with a moderate-to-major need at receiver, but only the Cleveland’s Corey Coleman and the Minnesota’s Laquon Treadwell project to see real-world WR1-type targets this season, and Coleman’s role depends heavily on the status of Josh Gordon. As for Treadwell, he’ll likely be Teddy Bridgewater’s top target, but the Vikings don’t exactly have a good passing attack. Still, I expect that these will be the first two rookie receivers off the board this summer.
Houston’s Will Fuller and Cincinnati’s Tyler Boyd should each slide into a real-world WR2 role, but that’s not a given. Washington’s Josh Doctson will have to beat out (or simply outlast) Pierre Garcon to see starter’s snaps, while the Giants’ Sterling Shepard will compete with (a healthy?) Victor Cruz for targets opposite Odell Beckham. Finally, in New Orleans, Michael Thomas will have to beat out Willie Snead to become fantasy relevant as a rookie. Of this group, Shepard jumps out as the best value given his 11th round ADP, especially if he fills the Randall Cobb role in Ben McAdoo’s offense.
Early MFL10 ADP has Treadwell and Coleman going around pick 90 (8.06), which looks about right, though Coleman looks risky there with Gordon’s reinstatement pending. I might bite on Treadwell there if I need a receiver at that point in the draft.
Rule of thumb: Don’t draft a rookie tight end since they’ll probably just let you down. In the last seven seasons, only Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez finished with starter-caliber numbers and they did it in the same year with the same team. In the last five years, only two rookie tight ends — Zach Ertz (#23) and Jace Amaro (#24) — even managed to finish with TE2-type numbers. In the last two years, Eric Ebron and Maxx Williams both landed in great spots as rookies and neither was fantasy relevant.
Going in the 1st round certainly doesn’t ensure early success, either. This list of the 23 rookie 1st round picks (since 1995) isn’t encouraging. Only two players — Jeremy Shockey (#3, 2002) and Heath Miller (#11, 2005) — finished with starter-caliber numbers as rookies.
Hunter Henry will need an injury to Antonio Gates to sniff starter's snaps as a rookie. The Falcons took Austin Hooper in the 3rd round and if he has a great offseason, he might have a chance to get in the TE2/streaming discussion, but that’s about it.
But this year, there’s no harm in forgetting about rookie tight ends and instead focusing on the good value at the position. I’ll be targeting Coby Fleener, Ladarius Green, Dwayne Allen and maybe Zach Miller in the late rounds.