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Trade Away Your Dynasty Rookie Picks Before it's Too Late!


April is when dynasty fantasy football players get spring fever. Last season's exploits are a distant memory. The combine has come and gone. Now we're just counting down the days until our rookie drafts. Who doesn't love a good rookie draft?

Me, that's who! Call me Scrooge if you must, but let me explain why first.

In this piece, I will outline the pros and cons of using rookie picks, but ultimately you will be convinced that holding onto those picks might not be as valuable as you think.

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Why We Want Rookie Picks

Let's consider the reasons why rookie picks are so desirable to dynasty owners.

New Product Envy

We've all got a friend or relative who always has the most recent iPhone, or newest game console, or somehow knows the lyrics to that fire new mixtape before anyone else knew it was released. We're all annoyed by that guy - in part because we're a little bit envious. Let's face it, who wouldn't love to be the first to own something new and desirable?

Something similar happens with dynasty rookie picks. For months heading up to the draft we've been inundated with praise for the incoming rookies. We'd like to be the first (and only!) one on our block to own Corey Davis or Leonard Fournette.

Fear of Missing Out

This is the flip side of the coin. Sometimes we want rookie picks because we desire the players themselves. Sometimes we want rookie picks because we're afraid of what will happen to our dynasty team without them. Will we end up with a roster full of decrepit past-their-prime has-beens? Will our best players get superseded by rookies? Will we suddenly fall behind Ted from Accounting because he bolstered his wide receivers through the rookie draft?

Jonesing for a Fix

Sometimes we just miss the action. It's been a long time since we've been able to really tinker with our dynasty rosters, let alone materially affect our future prospects. The rookie draft is an oasis in the long desert between the end of the last season and the start of the next. Like weary travelers, we look forward to the oasis, and can't wait to get there.

Legitimate Roster Needs

Sometimes (all the time if you're in a deep, competitive league) we just have holes to plug. Players bust, get injured, retire, or get suspended. Our roster has a hole, and we need to fill it.

 

Why We Should Fade Rookie Picks

I submit that only one of the four reasons for desiring rookie picks listed above is legitimate, and even in the case of legitimate roster needs, the rookie draft isn't the only, or maybe even the best, answer to addressing the need. Just like you might need a new car, but a new car may not be the right answer. Maybe a used car is a better option. In other words, we should question our motives for acquiring or desiring rookie picks. What need are we trying to fill? And is it the right need?

If we can recognize that a large part of our desire for having rookie picks is based on psychological reasons that may or may not have a lot of merit, we'll be one step closer to avoiding the biggest reason for fading rookie picks - we're just not that good at using them.

Using data from My Fantasy League, here are all the players with a first-round rookie ADP over the past four Augusts.

PLAYER PLAYER PLAYER PLAYER 
Abdullah, Ameer Coleman, Tevin Fuller, Will Perriman, Breshad
Agholor, Nelson Cooks, Brandin Gordon, Melvin Prosise, C.J.
Austin, Tavon Cooper, Amari Gurley, Todd Sankey, Bishop
Ball, Montee Dixon, Kenneth Henry, Derrick Shepard, Sterling
Bell, Le'Veon Doctson, Josh Hopkins, DeAndre Thomas, Michael
Benjamin, Kelvin Ebron, Eric Hyde, Carlos Treadwell, Laquon
Bernard, Giovani Eifert, Tyler Lacy, Eddie Watkins, Sammy
Booker, Devontae Elliott, Ezekiel Matthews, Jordan West, Terrance
Boyd, Tyler Evans, Mike Parker, DeVante White, Kevin
Coleman, Corey Freeman, Devonta Patterson, Cordarrelle Yeldon, T.J.

We can quibble, but I bet you'll have a hard time coming up with even 10 clear-cut, slam-dunk winning picks. Let's hit briefly on what I think are the best names:

  • Le'Veon Bell - Complete stud. Has also missed 17 games in four years and has been suspended twice.
  • Brandin Cooks - Two top-14 positional finishes, but missed six games as a rookie and now goes to a lower-volume passing offense.
  • Amari Cooper - Improved in second year, finishing as WR16. Outside the top 20 as a rookie.
  • Mike Evans - Three top-24 finishes in three years.
  • Devonta Freeman - Exploded as a second-year back, but did nothing a a rookie.
  • Melvin Gordon - Ditto.
  • DeAndre Hopkins - Two great seasons sandwiched by two duds (nine points per game as a rookie, just 12 with Brock Osweiler in 2016).
  • Michael Thomas - Looks great so far.
  • Sammy Watkins - Missed 12 games the past two seasons.

These guys haven't been as good for dynasty rosters as we might think, especially as rookies. But even if you count them all as clear hits, the first round rookie pick batting average is still pretty bad. If you're really generous and count guys like Kelvin Benjamin, Giovani Bernard, and Eddie Lacy as clear hits, you'll still have a hard time getting to a 50 percent success rate on a first round rookie pick. And we haven't even talked about the damage guys like Nelson Agholor, Montee Ball, or Bishop Sankey caused their owners.

Here's the kicker. Look at the table again and note the players in italics. Those are players whose rookie ADP was in the second half of the first round. So if you've had a recent pick in the back half of round one, you might have hit on Michael Thomas or Devonta Freeman (if you didn't get rid of him after a nondescript rookie season). Jordan Matthews, Tyler Eifert, and Kelvin Benjamin have had periods of valuable performance. Otherwise, you haven't gotten much to show for your pick. I won't present the data here, but the hit rate of rookie picks gets even worse in the second and third rounds of rookie drafts.

 

Conclusion

At best, the hit rate on rookie picks is 50 percent, and the hits don't always come in the player's rookie season. In short, rookie picks are lottery tickets. Okay, maybe your odds of hitting are better than that. We'll call them raffle tickets then.

So what should you do with your rookie picks? Any time you can add a second or third round pick as an incentive to get a trade done, I think that's a good idea. For first round picks, I'm always looking for an opportunity, especially close to rookie draft time, when rookie frenzy is at its strongest, to trade them away for established players. Using widely available dynasty trade tools, you can see that, as of early April, the 1.01 rookie pick is roughly equivalent in value to Keenan Allen, Jarvis Landry, or Jordy Nelson. Current rookie favorites Leonard Fournette and Corey Davis might have better ceilings than those players. But they certainly have lower floors. Alternatively, you can probably flip a high rookie pick for two players, or a player and a lower pick, to give you two shots at bolstering your roster. In a game as volatile as fantasy football, I prefer known veteran commodities to unknown commodities in almost all circumstances.




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