Dollars and Sense: Rookie Value

Updated: March 25th 2016

How much does it cost to produce one fantasy point on Reality Sports Online?  That’s the question I was asking myself during my first season playing on RSO.  Thanks to RSO’s unique salary-cap based format, I knew there was an opportunity for some Moneyball-esque number crunching.  Since it’s March and we’re starting to see more and more mock drafts come out for the NFL draft (is there anything more painful than trying to follow a mock draft on ESPN’s bottomline?!) I thought the value of rookies in RSO was a good place to start.  Before we get to the 2016 newbies though, it’s important to start with a look at the value of the 2015 rookies.

For those of you who are new to RSO, a quick word about rookie salaries.  Rookie salaries are not set by the “free market” instead they are set by the rookie wage scale, just as in the real NFL.  Your rookie draft picks are slotted into a salary based on their draft position.  There is a handy guide here.  In the simplest terms, the higher the pick, the more the salary with significant drops between rounds unless you’re playing in some crazy 32-team fantasy league.  The salaries used refer to the player’s first year salary, not the full contract value.

I gathered the Average Draft Position (ADP) of the top 30 rookies from April 2015 and assigned salaries based on the 2015 rookie wage scale for a 10-team league.  Next I gathered total fantasy points for each of these players (average points scored across all RSO leagues in an effort to control for various scoring systems) and put all the data into a handy table to refer to during our analysis.  (Note: I chose the April 2015 time period because it mirrors the same time in the process as we are now, before any rookie has been drafted and their fantasy stock has not been impacted by the pros or cons of the team which drafted them.  March ADP was not available on

As an experienced fantasy player, I thought I knew what the data would show me before I started but I was wrong, there were some definite surprises.  I’d even argue that after looking at the 2015 rookie draft class through the lens of RSO value, we all may need to adjust our future draft boards.  Here are the trends that caught my eye by round.

Topic 1 2015 Rookie Value per RSO Dollar TABLE Google Sheets 1

Wasted Value in the First Round

Out of the Top 10 picks, only TJ Yeldon and Todd Gurley returned Top 10 value.  Yeldon’s ADP put him at the #9 pick and he coincidentally ranked #9 in value based on my calculations.  Todd Gurley just made the cut (#10 in value) but you probably used the 1.1 or 1.2 draft pick to get him – still a good season considering his injury concerns, but little value. Jay Ajayi showed two brief flashes of talent and Melvin Gordon was largely a bust so those two RBs were definitely not worth the investment.

Overall, the top WRs were even more of a disappointment.  Kevin White and Breshad Perriman did not suit up at all in the regular season due to injury which was only compounded by the fact that neither player was placed on season-ending IR until late in the season.  Amari Cooper did have a good season, 72-1,070-6, but he fizzled at the end of the season when his owners needed him most; over the last five games, Cooper totaled just 15-219-2, including an eight target goose egg in Week 14.  Devante Parker and Dorial Green-Beckham were both usable at times while Jaelen Strong was an afterthought in Houston.

Including the two injured players, the Top 10 picks of 2015 average value ranking is #19.  After removing the injured White and Perriman the average improves slightly, up to just better than #17.

So, what does this mean for draft strategy?  Put simply, if I don’t have the 1.1 or 1.2 in an RSO rookie draft, I’m looking to either trade up or trade back to the second round.  Using RSO’s rookie wage scale, mid to late first round picks are rife with the risk of a low return on your investment.  While Cooper and Gurley may not have been there from a value perspective there is little doubt that they will be the cornerstone of your franchise for years to come.  

Topic 1 2015 Rookie Value per RSO Dollar TABLE Google Sheets 2

Quarterbacks Were an Incredible Value in the Second Round

By far, the most valuable rookie in 2015 was Jameis Winston.  Based on his ADP and RSO’s rookie wage scale, owners were paying Winston just over $3,900 per point while Marcus Mariota was just under $4,800.  The #2 value was RB David Johnson who was just under $4,400. For comparison sake, Amari Cooper (the #1 by ADP at the time of this sample) earned nearly $32,000 per point.  Winston was nearly ten times more valuable in 2015 than Amari Cooper by this metric.  

So, what does that mean for draft strategy?  I would posit that if you were sitting at the top of the second round with a draft pick and there is a top quarterback available, I would draft him no matter what my team need was.  In a 10- or 12-team league the drop off in rookie salary from the last pick of the first round to the first pick in the second round is huge, nearly $2,000,000.  However, please do not take this to mean that you should be drafting Carson Wentz first overall – remember that this is all about value.  If you had selected Winston at pick 1.1 last year, he baloons to $19,000 per point.  This would put him at #8 in our value ranking – a good value when you use the 2.1 pick on him but not so much when you use the 1.1.

Topic 1 2015 Rookie Value per RSO Dollar TABLE Google Sheets 3

Grab a Wide Receiver in the Third Round

In the third round we see four wide receivers who were valuable based on the small salary you had to pay them.  Tyler Lockett and Stefon Diggs (#4 and #5 in value, respectively) far outperformed expectations and could start 2016 as viable WR3/Flex options for some owners.  Even Phillip Dorsett and Chris Conley (#11 and #12) showed some evidence that they could take on a bigger role as they become more familiar with their team’s offense.  Both Dorsett and Conley only had one 10+ point game so it’s hard to get too excited, but it was a good sign nonetheless.  If you picked up any of these four in the third round you’re feeling much better than if you wasted a pick on somebody like Duron Carter.

So, what does that mean for draft strategy?  Unless you’re in the deepest of deep leagues and need to hit on a lottery ticket, I’m going with a solid wide receiver in the third round.  I would target somebody with a shorter track to starter’s targets (i.e. Diggs taking the WR1 spot from Mike Wallace isn’t that surprising – Devin Smith overtaking both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker would have been).  The rookie salary is low enough that it won’t hurt you if you never start the player and I believe the rookie WR is more likely to contribute in year 1 than RB or TE.

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

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