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How to Approach Rookies in a Dynasty Startup

In many ways, rookies in dynasty leagues are like icing. Too much can doom you and too little can shorten your window to win. But, just the right amount, combined with the other right ingredients, and you’ll have a delicious cake you can eat. The only difference between re-draft and dynasty is that you’ll be eating that cake for a few years in dynasty, so you’d better hope it ages well when you freeze it.

Rookies tend not to be completely necessary (or particularly relevant) to fantasy success early in dynasty, but they are a critical part of your team’s long-term success. I recently took part in a dynasty startup with the RotoBaller staff on FFPC. You can view the full draft board here. My approach to rookies in this draft may have been more aggressive than usual but there is a method behind the madness, which will be explained below.

If you’re in a dynasty startup league and you’re trying to figure out how to approach rookies, there are a few routes to take. Before you decide, you have to understand there are different peaks and ranges for each position. In dynasty, you have to consider the situations, coaching staffs, and schemes from a long-term outlook. Most of all, you have to consider the positional variance.

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Running Backs

Running backs typically peak between the ages of 23-27, with relevant fantasy production within the same age range. Running backs’ effectiveness is measured by a number of metrics, but one metric that can’t be measured is “juice.” Juice is explosiveness and the best way to determine whether someone still has it, is by watching film and that’s about it. With running backs, if their numbers drop or they become noticeably less effective, they tend to be replaced and discarded rather quickly.

Rookie running backs have a good track record for having a quicker and more significant impact than other fantasy positions as rookies. Starting off a dynasty team with rookie running backs in favorable offensive situations is a good way to get the most from an investment on a rookie. There will always be people willing to trade for backs in their third or fourth year, so you can get a lot of production from a back early on and trade him while the value is high to maximize your return. It’s safe to say, if a running back has already had three or four great seasons and they’re over 24 years old, the value you’ll get on return for him will drop, perhaps substantially, over the next couple seasons.

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
1 Charles L. Bell D. Freeman D. Johnson Gurley Barkley McCaffrey
2 Forte D. Murray Peterson L. Bell L. Bell McCaffrey A. Jones
3 McCoy Forte Woodhead Elliott Kamara Gurley Elliott
4 Moreno Lynch De Williams McCoy Hunt Kamara Ekeler
5 Lynch Foster D. Martin D. Murray M. Gordon Elliott D. Henry
6 D. Murray Lacy L. Miller D.Freeman Ingram Conner D. Cook
7 R. Bush Charles Forte M. Gordon McCoy J. White Fournette
8 Lacy Forsett C. Johnson Ingram Hyde M. Gordon Chubb
9 C.Johnson L. Miller Gurley Blount Fournette D. Johnson Kamara
10 Peterson CJ.Anderson Ingram Howard McCaffrey Mixon Barkley

The table tells us a lot. For running backs since 2013, carrying high-end value for more than three seasons is not as common as you think. Only Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott have accomplished the feat and neither did so in consecutive seasons. However, Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Demarco Murray, Le'Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, and Christian McCaffrey have all had two seasons of top five finishes in that span. No one has done it four times in that seven-year span.

Now, if you want to consider guys over the course of their entire careers (since 2001), the list grows and you get guys like Lynch, Foster, McCoy, Peterson, Forte, MJD, Rice, Priest Holmes, and Ladanian Tomlinson all in the group with three seasons as top-five running backs. Only LT and AP had more than three seasons in the top five (LT had six and AP had five). This means, over the past 19 seasons, only 11 players have had three top-five finishes at the position for their career.

McCaffrey, Kamara, and Barkley are still young and just one season away from that achievement, so let's be generous and say they get there. If they do, that means there's still an average of less than one running back in each rookie draft who will potentially have three top-five seasons in their career.

 

Wide Receivers

Wide receivers are more of a longer-term, higher-risk move than running backs. Unlike running backs, receivers typically peak from age 25 to 30, but their effectiveness as relevant fantasy assets can stretch much longer than that. Although it’s true even the elite receivers tend to not offer the same ceiling as elite running backs, the longevity of their value is typically greater. The issue with receivers is, they also tend to be slow starters in terms of having fantasy value.

Since 2016, only an average of two rookie receivers each year rank in the top 30 of PPR rankings by the end of each rookie season. If you’re investing in rookie receivers, you have to be patient.

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
1 D. Thomas A. Brown A. Brown A. Brown A. Brown D. Hopkins M. Thomas
2 J. Gordon D. Thomas J. Jones J. Nelson D. Hopkins D. Adams C. Godwin
3 A. Brown J. Nelson B. Marshall M. Evans K. Allen T. Hill J. Jones
4 AJ Green D. Bryant D. Hopkins O.Beckham Fitzgerald J. Jones Kupp
5 B.Marshall E. Sanders O.Beckham TY Hilton J. Landry A. Brown D. Hopkins
6 C. Johnson J. Jones A.Robinson J. Jones M.Thomas M. Thomas K. Allen
7 D. Bryant O.Beckham Fitzgerald M.Thomas J. Jones Thielen J. Edelman
8 A. Jeffery R. Cobb AJ Green D. Baldwin Thielen JuJu S-S A.Robinson
9 E. Decker J. Maclin J. Landry D. Adams T. Hill M. Evans Golladay
10 A. Johnson A. Jeffrey D. Baldwin B. Cooks AJ Green Diggs A. Cooper

Looking at the table, it’s worth noting wide receivers could potentially offer the greatest degree of variance in ranking, but also have a longer range of relevancy among the elites. Antonio Brown has finished third once, first four times, and fifth once from the span of 2013-2018. Julio Jones has finished in the top seven in each of the last six seasons. You likely aren’t going to see that from anyone at the running back position. Will the high-end running backs have bigger seasons? Most of the time, yes. However, you’re only likely to see the high-end backs produce at that level for a two to three-year stretch.

 

Quarterbacks

Quarterbacks likely shouldn’t be valued very high in rookie drafts, unless they’re dual threats. Consistency among pocket passers offers a wide variance from season to season, even among those pocket passers who finish in the top 10. With dual-threat quarterbacks, the floor is always so high, investing in a dual-threat quarterback as a rookie carries strong upside. Variance at the position is more prevalent than many know, as only Peyton Manning (2013-2014), Russell Wilson (2014-2015), and Deshaun Watson (2018-2019) have finished consecutive seasons as a top-five fantasy quarterback since 2013.

2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
1 P.Manning Rodgers Newton Rodgers Wilson Mahomes Jackson
2 Brees Luck Brady Ryan Newton Ryan Prescott
3 Newton Wilson Wilson Brees Brady Roeth. Winston
4 Luck P. Manning Bortles Luck Smith Watson Wilson
5 Dalton Roethlisberger Palmer Cousins Wentz Luck Watson
6 Rivers Brees Brees Prescott Cousins Rodgers Allen
7 Stafford Ryan Rodgers Stafford Stafford Goff Murray
8 Wilson Tannehill Cousins Taylor Rivers Brees Mahomes
9 Kapernick Brady Stafford Bortles Brees Wilson Wentz
10 Romo E. Manning E.Manning Carr Roeth. Prescott Rodgers

Consistency at the quarterback position is hard to come by, but the positive to take away from this is Russell Wilson has finished top 10 six times over the last seven years. Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have finished top 10 five times in that same span. Matt Stafford has finished in the top 10 four times. Newton, Roethlisberger, and Ryan have finished top 10 three times. Dak Prescott has finished top 10 three times in the four seasons he’s been in the league.

The point here is, if you can get a quarterback relatively early in a startup, there’s a good chance the guy can eventually become a viable long-term asset in the league for a long time. In terms of immediate success, dual-threat guys tend to be valuable off the bat. Mahomes was immediately valuable in year two. Both Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen were valuable from year one when they took over past the midway point of their seasons. Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Cam Newton, and Russell Wilson were also very valuable their rookie years as well. In case you are noticing a theme, the value here is drafting dual-threat quarterbacks, because their high rushing totals give them a high floor and almost always propel them into being very valuable in fantasy, very early on.

 

Tight End

I didn’t feel a chart would be an accurate representation for tight ends, because the position holds little value past the third or fourth-best tight end each season. As for drafting tight ends, you’re likely better off trading for one past his rookie season. Only one rookie tight end has finished in the top five or top ten at the position in the past nine years. That guy was Evan Engram in 2017 and much of it was due to a lack of target options in their offense that season.

Also, tight ends who don’t measure as athletic freaks really don’t stand much of a chance to ever produce at a consistent level worthy of high-end starting consideration. Consider the top tight ends over the past six seasons. Who among them isn’t a SPARQ standout? When it comes to career longevity, tight ends take a beating. Some continue to produce into their thirties, but for those who have proven themselves durable at the NFL level, they've been athletic enough to lose a step or two and still be a mismatch against defenders.

Crafting a Rookie Draft Strategy

Rookie drafts are more about striking gold on players more than anything else. If you’re drafting to improve upon your current roster, consider how strong your team is beforehand. If your team doesn’t jump off the page as being a potential league winner, you may be better suited to pursue rookies based on their long-term appeal, rather than drafting the guys you think are going to pop in year one. However, even if your team is a potential league-winner, drafting for positional need over immediate impact probably isn’t the best way to go in dynasty. Just look at N'Keal Harry a year ago. Harry was the consensus top rookie receiver taken in dynasty. The opportunity appeared solid. Production potential seemed to be there, but Harry wasn't a polished route runner. He profiled as a contested ball guy whose athletic measurables were nothing special. He was also headed to a team with a very old quarterback, so long-term appeal simply wasn't there. If you were a contending team last season who drafted him, you were probably doing so because you were filling a positional need. It's hard to believe anyone watched his tape and thought, "There's not much separation on the routes, he's not an athletic freak, and his quarterback was born in the seventies. I'll take him."

I mentioned teams who are potential league winners MAY consider drafting to fill positional needs. However, drafting rookies to fill positional needs is a bit silly in itself. Players in dynasty leagues are much like stocks. It doesn’t matter what position they are, because all of them carry some level of value and that value carries over from position to position. Therefore, if you have an opportunity to draft a player to fill a big positional need, drafting a guy and hoping he hits isn't your only option.

You should draft a player who has the best opportunity to thrive early on. Since the value of that player will undoubtedly be greater by the midway point or end of the season, you’ll be able to have a great asset by which you can trade in order to fill your positional need. You may even be able to get a player and future picks. This general strategy works no matter the makeup of your team.

 

Takeaways

  1. Draft the most talented players in the best position to succeed immediately in the league.
  2. If you’re going to go with a quarterback, make sure his draft capital is high and he’s a dual-threat. If you draft a pocket passer with high draft capital, the odds they become a quarterback with multiple top five seasons are substantially lower.
  3. Maximize rookie hype by trading the guys you don’t have a lot of faith in, but are off to good starts in the league (such as a receiver with a quarterback close to retirement).




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