RSO Rookie Picks Pt. 1

Updated: July 16th 2017

With the passing of this year’s NFL draft, many of you in the RSO community will soon hold your own rookie drafts. To help you along this path, I studied the value provided by previous rookie draft picks.  Part 1 of the 2-part series gives some basic insights into the valuation of RSO rookie picks.  This series is not meant to be all encompassing given the uniqueness of every league.  Starting requirements, number of teams, scoring rules, and many other considerations ultimately determine the value of players.  Every league is different but hopefully this study provides a basis for readers to evaluate rookie picks in their own leagues.

The Data

Rookie draft pick data came from MyFantasyLeague ADP Rankings using keeper league, rookie-only draft data primarily. My data set includes the top 20 draft picks (those picks relevant to a common RSO 10-team, 2-round rookie draft) from 2007 to 2016 which comes to 200 players.  The sample included 80 running backs, 80 wide receivers, 30 quarterbacks, and 10 tight ends.

I obtained player fantasy values from Pro Football Reference (PFR). VBD (Value Based Drafting) values were calculated on a non-PPR basis. VBD measures the fantasy points a player scores above a designated baseline player.  PFR uses the 12th highest scoring QB, 12th TE, 24th RB, and 30th WR as the baseline players.  A player scoring less than the baseline player is given a zero value (there are no negative values in the system).  The values come from season-long statistics which tends to overvalue players who manage to stay healthy throughout the season.  Conversely, high-end performers missing games to injury or suspension will be undervalued along with those players assuming major roles for only portions of the season (running back handcuffs for example).   The findings are best applied to non-PPR 10-team leagues using 1QB/2RB/2WR/1TE/1Flex starting requirements.

We next disaggregate the data into various groupings giving us a better of idea of how to value our rookie picks.

Value by Draft Pick

Image 1

The above chart details the average value produced each year by a draft pick based on draft position. Not surprisingly, better draft picks tend to produce better results.  Players selected in the top half of the 1st round (picks 1-5) in rookie drafts offered 50% more value than picks 6-10 and averaged almost four times the yearly value of players selected in the bottom half of round 2 (picks 16-20).

Image 2

Another way to judge rookie picks is by their success rate. I defined a success, with the somewhat liberal definition, as any player who holds some value (produces VBD points) during their initial 4-year rookie contract.  Again we find the top picks significantly out-producing lower picks.  Picks in the top half of the first round found success at some time during their initial four years a little under ¾ of the time.  Picks in the bottom half of the first round averaged success a little under ½ of the time while 2nd round picks came in at about a 1/3 success rate.  The yearly success rate for players is not nearly as good.  Rookie picks as a whole averaged just over 1 valuable season for every four years.

Value by Position

Image 3

The fact that running backs lead other positions in value is not unexpected for non-PPR leagues, but the extent to which they dominate might be to some. Running backs averaged over 50% more value per season than wide receivers, more than 100% of quarterbacks, and over 300% of tight ends for the sample draft picks.  Other positions simply have no way to make up for the massive volume top end running backs achieve leading to potentially huge yardage and touchdown totals.  Quarterbacks and tight ends are particularly handicapped by traditional fantasy starting requirements where only one TE and QB must start.  The difference from the QB8 to QB20 and TE8 to TE20 was about 30 points or less than two points per game in 2016.  There are simply too many cheap replacement-level players available who will not cost your team very much in scoring unless you are up against one of the few elite options at either position.  These large value differences among positions from the chart above and the afore-mentioned supply of replacement level players at QB and TE strongly argue for the use of 2QB/Superflex and 2TE requirements in order to help balance values among positions.

Value by Year in League

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I next examined player values by looking at how they performed in each year of the initial four-year contract. The biggest take-away from the above chart is that players, on average, see the biggest value jump after their rookie season.  Dividing the data further in Table 1 below by positions offers more interesting insights.

image 5

Running backs and wide receivers (the two biggest positions by value) display the largest jumps in value in year two.  This somewhat contradicts the popular “3rd year breakout” notion applied commonly to wide receivers.  The data suggests quarterbacks and tight ends breakout in year three but we should keep in mind the small samples associated with each position, particularly tight ends.

Conclusions

Part 1 is just the “tip of the iceberg” with regards to the evaluation of rookie pick value but it does provide a few useful insights:

  1. No rookie pick comes without risk, but the top picks are expensive for a reason. Picks in the top half of the first round provide value and reliability which greatly exceeds other picks.
  2. Running backs tend to dominate value in these shallow non-PPR leagues. You always want elite players but take the top back on your draft board if you are in doubt.
  3. Players production usually jumps substantially after the rookie season. This provides a buying window for savvy owners to take advantage of more impatient owners who were disappointed by a rookie’s first season.

While Part 1 dealt with some of the basics of rookie pick values, Part 2 will evaluate RSO rookie picks based on the contract values involved. Hope to see you there!


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

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