How RSO Rookie Drafts Differ

Updated: August 30th 2016

After participating in several RSO rookie drafts, I began to think about how much these differ from standard dynasty league rookie drafts that are the industry standard throughout the fantasy community.  Rankings and Average Draft Positions that you’ll see on sites like Dynasty League Football are intended for standard dynasty leagues, where you can keep the selected rookies on your roster for an unlimited amount of time.  The presence of 3 to 4 year rookie contacts may create a market inefficiency with owners not shifting their draft strategy away from standard dynasty to match the uniqueness and realism RSO provides.  Retaining that player past their rookie contract will likely force that owner to pay the average of the top five salaries at that position, meaning that the player must become elite at their position by the end of their rookie deal to warrant the tag.  It’s worth noting that some leagues implement limits on the number of times a player can be tagged before he has to return to the free agent auction.  Sure, the player can be re-acquired in the free agent auction, but his cap hit will now be determined by the open market.

The Research

I set out to determine which positions should be prioritized in RSO rookie drafts by providing the best return on investment (ROI).  To do this, I created a sample of QBs, RBs, WRs, and TEs that in the last three years (2013, 2014, 2015) posted a season that was “start worthy”.  For simplicity, I defined “start worthy” as players who finished among in the top 10 QBs, top 25 RBs, top 25 WRs, and top 10 TEs for the 2013, 2014, or 2015 seasons in standard scoring, data courtesy of Pro Football Reference.  The sample created a player pool consisting of 19 QBs, 47 RBs, 48 WRs, and 20 TEs.  With my sample pool selected, I began tracking how quickly each player put together a “start worthy” season by recording the results from their first four seasons in the league.

The Results

Start Worthy Chart

Quarterbacks

95% “Start Worthy” by year 4 – Before conducting this research, I expected quarterbacks to take longer to become “start worthy” and was surprised to see 18 of 19 did that in their first 4 seasons.  On average, it took these QBs 2.61 years to put together such a season, meaning this usually happened in years 2 and 3.  Those numbers alone may not mean a lot, but let’s see how it compares to other positions.

Running backs

1.91 years, the average time it takes a running back to become “start worthy” – For a variety of reasons (most of which I agree with), RBs are devalued in dynasty leagues.  However, I believe we should think differently about running backs in RSO as they typically become “start worthy” by year 2 at a ROOKIE SALARY!  This past off-season, I went out of my way to acquire additional second round picks to have more chances of hitting on one of these cost-effective productive young RBs.

Wide receivers

2.02 years, the average time it takes wide receivers to become “start worthy” – WRs are the stars of dynasty football, the prized assets that command huge trade returns.  Becoming “start worthy” by year 2 confirms that WRs are still very valuable in RSO, but might not hold as drastic of an edge over RBs as in standard dynasty leagues.

Tight ends

5% = the lowest % increase in becoming “start worthy” from year 3 to year 4 – By year 3, you may know what you have with your TE prospect.  80% of the sample put forth “start worthy” seasons by year 3, with only 1 TE waiting until year 4.  Important to note, TEs also took the longest time to produce an ROI with an average of 2.53 years to become “start worthy”.

What does this mean to RSO players?

Personally, I wouldn’t select a rookie QB in the 1st round of a rookie draft unless the format is 2QB or Superflex.  With that said, I do feel more comfortable with selecting the top QB prospects in the 2nd or 3rd round of rookie drafts after discovering that the breakout QBs almost always do so by their fourth season.  RBs and WRs should be heavily prioritized in RSO rookie drafts, given that they’re the quickest to produce “start worthy” seasons after entering the league.  While I’d give WRs a slight edge over RBs since they’re more consistent year to year, RBs close the gap a bit in RSO by becoming “start worthy” the soonest.  TEs, on the other hand, should be widely ignored in rookie drafts.  It frequently takes too long for these players to develop into starting caliber options.  Sure, there are outliers – Rob Gronkowski comes to mind.  But strategies built on the outcomes of outliers are doomed to fail.

To summarize, target RBs and WRs in your rookie drafts.  In trades, I’ll typically ask for a 2nd round pick to be added as a thrown in.  While mostly insignificant, I want more chances at hitting on a breakout RB or WR on a multi-year rookie contract.  The RBs and WRs that break out often do so by year 2, which makes it quicker to know when to cut bait on a bust and use the roster spot elsewhere.


Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers keeper and dynasty leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each.