How Often Do Rookie Draft Picks Hit?
In the Fantasy Football offseason, dynasty owners find themselves weighing the value of a rookie draft pick against established NFL players. While we sit in limbo between the Super Bowl and the Rookie draft, dynasty owners like myself use trading to make it feel like the NFL season never left. Since many offseason trades involve draft picks, even if they are just throw-ins, it is important to understand the value of those draft picks. Trades that may have some defenders on both sides, such as this one, may look more lopsided after doing some digging.
One of my favorite ways to dig, as Rotoviz contributor Jacob Rickrode has done in the past, is to check how often rookie draft picks turn into fantasy starters. I decided to analyze seasons from 2012-2017 to see what these hit rates have been for the last five years. For the purposes of this article, we are looking at QB/RB/WR/TE hit rates in 12 team leagues with PPR scoring. A “hit” would be defined as at least one season with a top 24 RB finish, top 30 WR finish, top 12 QB/TE finish (I considered using 24 WR as Jacob does, but in many 12 team PPR leagues you will find them starting three WR or two WR and a FLEX, so I am counting a top 30 finish as a hit).
A few notes about this data. I did NOT include undrafted players who posted “hits”, players like C.J. Anderson, Nick Foles, Kirk Cousins, Theo Riddick, Spencer Ware have had relevant seasons, but did not have the rookie draft ADP that would have been selected in a 12 team 6 round rookie draft. Some of them, like Foles, moved up in ADP right before the season began but since most rookie drafts occur before the NFL pre-season, that data would not be as accurate as using the summer ADP. It would certainly inflate 3rd round or later to an accuracy that is not a good judgement of just how hard it is to nail a pick that late. Many of the names mentioned are also guys that may go in deeper drafts, 2 QB leagues, or grabbed quickly after in free agency, though I also don’t think they contribute to this data in a positive way either. If their dynasty rookie ADP was not in the top 72, they are not included.
- The hit rate on a draft pick over this time-frame is 19.2%
- The hit rate on multiple “starting” level fantasy seasons on a draft pick is 10.8% (excluding 2017)
- 1st round Hit Rate: 45.8%
- 2nd round Hit Rate: 30.6%
- 3rd or late Hit Rate: 9.3%
- 1st round 2+ Starter Level Seasons Hit Rate: 31.7%
- 2nd round 2+ Starter Level Seasons Hit Rate: 18.3%
- 3rd or later 2+ Starter Level Seasons Hit Rate: 4.2%
The first thing that stands out from the data is that 1st round rookie draft picks are more likely to return a multi-season starter than 2nd rounders are of returning you at least one season. 3rd round picks or later are also a complete crap shoot. The 9.3% hit rate on 3rd round picks or later should put into light just how invaluable those picks are. Further, 69% of the 1st rounders who “hit”, had at least one more season of fantasy starter production. For 2nd round picks, that number is 60%. For 3rd round picks or later, that number is 45%. Granted, there are still years left for some of these players to turn that production around, but the likelihood of them doing so on a predictive basis is also unlikely, however, Tight Ends would be the one position who hit their production peak late. Quarterbacks also has a late production peak, but this can be offset by the fact that they would likely be starters prior to their peak, as opposed to a TE who may share roles/targets prior to a breakout. Even worse for 3rd round picks or later: Out of the 20 players who “hit”, only three of them did so in their rookie season. So not only are you rolling the ten-sided die when acquiring these players, but for many of them you will have to hold multiple years to realize value.
So how do we apply this knowledge to our trades? Let’s look at some twitter talk:
— Greg Wiseman (@SaysTheWiseman) February 22, 2018
This is the trade mentioned in the intro, and now that 3.3 throw in looks close to irrelevant and becomes 2019 1st rounder and Alex Collins for Rob Gronkowksi. I assume most people didn’t put anything into the 3rd round pick, but I still find it hard to believe 31% of people prefer the Collins side, even with the talk of Gronkowski retiring to become a professional wrestler.
How about this poll:
Alright folks, what are you trading to get Jerick McKinnon at this point of the year? 12 tm ppr, strictly a depth pick up based on potential upside #dynastytrades @DynastyNerds @DynastyTradesHQ @DynastyTrades
— James Searle (@jsearle23) February 22, 2018
19% of the people who answered the poll would NOT give a 3rd rounder or better for Jerick McKinnon, a 25 year old free agent who just caught 51 passes and need I remind you still has the record for bench reps among active running backs. Show me a 3rd round ADP rookie draft pick with a better chance to return a fantasy starter season than McKinnon and I’ll show you a lie. Something even more unsettling is that 11% of the people said they wouldn’t even pay a 4th rounder! This goes to show that understanding value of draft picks and how they relate to current NFL players can really be misunderstood and too much weight is given to the unknown shiny new toys. I’d be happy to ship a 3rd AND a 4th rounder for a guy that has a floor to land in a pass catching role whether I was a contender or in a full rebuild.
Another interesting one:
— Matt Talbot (@DynastyRobot) February 26, 2018
Look, I understand that Tyrod may very well never start another game for this owner. However, the 4.03 is such a weak return given what we know about hit rates. If we have four NFL starting QBs in a 12 team league, surely there is a team with a questionable QB situation that Tyrod could be their second or third best QB, and we should be looking to acquire an already established player from that team. I’ll take C.J. Prosise over drafting Bo Scarbrough at 4.03. I’ll take Peyton Barber over Nyheim Hines, and yea I’d prefer Tyler Boyd to drafting Antonio Callaway. These names have similar dynasty startup ADP, and I would much rather a player that I’ve seen play at the NFL level.
All of this doesn’t mean some of these picks won’t hit, or that you can’t find value in the rookie draft. This is simply a way for us to understand the likelihood of a pick being a complete bust for us, and a way for us to consider making owners who overvalue these picks to give us similarly (or better) ranked players for them. Conversely, if you are in a rebuild, you might attempt to trade some older players packaged with later picks to get as many picks in the first round as possible. By increasing your volume of picks, you will also increase the chance to find a multi-year hit player in a round that returns 31.7% multi-year hits.
If you have any trades involving draft picks, comment below or share them on twitter. I would love to hear from you.