Punch Drunk Wonderland

Overvaluing The Rookie Class

As anyone can tell you who is a fantasy diehard one of the most difficult things to do is put a value and a draft price on young players who have yet to play a professional football game. If general managers in the NFL that are being paid exorbitant amounts of money can regularly miss on college prospects, how is the average fantasy football owner supposed to nail a high percentage of their draft choices when it comes to drafting rookies? There are countless things to be considered when drafting a rookie at any position. There is college tape, scouting reports, as well as combine results that can be reviewed and researched extensively, but an impressive college resume and respectable combine results can only take you so far in the NFL. There are many factors that can outweigh a successful college career, or an impressive combine. If a player is drafted to a weak or below average team their opportunity for any immediate success will be limited, or if they are buried on the depth chart behind talented veterans it may take an injury before a rookie is given any sort of chance to succeed. There is also the possibility they end up playing for the one of many coaches or offensive coordinators who essentially doesn’t trust rookies. Despite having a high draft grade or being an early draft selection they will have difficulty succeeding anytime soon, and let’s be honest even dynasty players can’t be looking more than three or four years ahead regardless of playing in a dynasty format.

Despite 2014 being a historically productive year for rookie wide receivers only five made it into the top 50 in receiving yards, Odell Beckham, Jr. (1305), Mike Evans (1051), Kelvin Benjamin (1008), Sammy Watkins (982), and Jordan Matthews (872), did just that, with honorable mention going to both Jarvis Landry who finished 54th overall with 758 yards, and Brandin Cooks who almost certainly would have approached 1000 yards receiving if not for sustaining a season ending injury in week 11.

The running back class fared much better than the wide receivers and essentially any other position for that matter, with six running backs finishing in the top 30 in rushing. Jeremy Hill (1124/5.1ypc), Tre Mason (765/4.3ypc), Andre Williams (721/3.3ypc), Terrence West (673/3.9ypc), Isaiah Crowell (607/4.1ypc), and Branden Oliver (582/3.6ypc) all enjoyed successful rookie campaigns. There was a total of nine running backs that finished the season in the top 40, with Bishop Sankey (569/3.7ypc), Jerick McKinnon (538/4.8ypc), and Alfred Blue (528/3.1ypc) finishing 33rd, 35th, and 37th in rushing respectively.

The fantasy success for rookies on offense pretty much ends with the running backs though, traditionally rookie quarterbacks and rookie tightends struggle in their inaugural season, and 2014 was no exception. Last season only four rookie quarterbacks passed for over 1000 yards, Derek Carr (3270/21TD’s), Teddy Bridgewater (2919/14TD’s), Blake Bortles (2908/11TD’s), and Zach Mettenberger (1412/8TD’s), combing collectively for only 54 passing TD’s and 48 interceptions. Rookie tightend’s are usually the least productive offensive position for fantasy owners, with last year’s group being no exception, the top 10 rookie tightend’s combined for a mere 134 receptions, and 1353 receiving yards. Jace Amaro led the pack with a modest 38 receptions for 345 yards and 2 touchdowns in what can only be described as an ineffective rookie season.

There isn’t a great deal of success to be had on the defensive side of the ball either for rookies, with only five defensive players exceeding the 80 tackle mark in the 2014 season, CJ Mosley (89 Solo, 44 Assists), Preston Brown (66 Solo, 43 Assists), Chris Borland (84 Solo, 24 Assists), Telvin Smith (72 Solo, 32 Assists), & Ha Ha Clinton Dix (65 Solo, 27 Assists), were the rookie tackle leaders. There were no rookies that reached double digit sacks either last season, with Aaron Donald leading the way with 9. The top 10 rookie sack leaders combined for 47 sacks, with only three players exceeding five sacks. This pattern of minimal production for rookies did not change for the defensive backs either, not one rookie reached five interceptions, and the top 10 interception leaders combined for only 17 interceptions collectively. Of those 17 interceptions only 11 were made by Safeties and cornerbacks.

Despite the allure of drafting and starting rookie fantasy players, the numbers show that it rarely pays off. Dominant rookie seasons such as Odell Beckham displayed in 2014 are few and far between, so don’t get caught up in last year’s stats when drafting 2015 rookies.

Martzy About Martzy
New to PDW, Martzy is a content contributor who focuses on IDP, dynasty, and draft strategies. He's been a participant in our PDW Getting Defensive Mocks and has been quick to offer excellent insights.