From The Fantasy Oracle

NFL Rookie Review: Historically Ineffective

Everyone loves rookies. They fall all over themselves to add them to their fantasy rosters. Just how often is that a good idea – to draft a rookie and depend on them to produce in year one?

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It doesn't matter which type of fantasy league you are in, it's a lock that half your league believes they can win the league by depending on rookies. Damn the facts that rookies rarely match the hype. People want to be the ones who “discovered” a youngster so they can tell people for years that they just knew Player X was going to be a star when everyone else didn't even know who he was. There's also something about the human condition that makes us think that the unknown is better than the known (it's why so many dumb ass fellas cheat on their ladies... they think the hot mess at the end of the bar will be better than the good woman they have at home). This long preamble is to introduce my five year review of rookies in the NFL. On a whole they are a lot less fantasy relevant than nearly everyone believes. Let's investigate

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THE STUDY

There are two simple qualifications to be included in this study of the last five years of NFL rookies (2009-13). 

(1) The player needs to have been drafted in first three rounds of the Entry Draft if he plays RB/WR/TE. Quarterbacks are deemed relevant no matter what round they were drafted as a rookie (at best only a handful are relevant every year no matter their draft slot). 

(2) To qualify as a “hit,” i.e. a competent fantasy performer, a player must reach two of the following baseline marks that are listed below (they very by position). 

 

Quarterback: 3,000 yards, 20 touchdowns
Running back: 750 rushing yards, six scores, 40 receptions
Wide Receiver: 750 receiving yards, six scores, 50 receptions
Tight End: 500 yards, four scores, 50 receptions 

Before skipping down to the yearly breakdowns let's take a moment to review those numbers by placing them in perspective of the 2013 season. The following players reached at least two of the relevant marks in 2013. Remember – for the runners and receivers they need only to reach two of the three targets to be considered a “hit” or successful rookie performer.

In 2013 Alex Smith threw for 3,313 yards and 23 touchdowns. Anyone happy if he was their QB1 last season? The answer is obviously no and he blew past the baseline targets. 

In 2013 Maurice-Jones Drew ran for 803 yards, scored five times and caught 43 passes. Remember the frustration you felt with MJD last year?

In 2013 Doug Baldwin caught 50 passes for 778 yards and five scores for the Seahawks. Was he even rostered in your fantasy league last season?

In 2013 Timothy Wright caught 54 balls for 571 yards and five scores. He was undoubtedly on your waiver-wire for the majority of the year.

The point is the baseline levels for “success” that I've set for rookies aren't exactly world beating numbers. Moreover, in nearly all cases, if a player were to barely reach the baseline marks you would NOT want that player starting for you on a weekly basis in fantasy football. The point being that even if the rookies “hit” that doesn't mean they were anything other than merely a flex/injury/bye week fill-in option on a successful fantasy squad. 

Let's begin the study by breaking down each of the past five years before summarizing the results at the end. 

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2009 NFL ROOKIES

QB: Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez, Matthew Stafford
RB: Donald Brown, Shonn Greene, LeSean McCoy, Chris Wells 
WR: Kenny Britt, Michael Crabtree, Percy Harvin, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Jeremy Maclin, Mohammad Massaquoi, Hakeem Nicks, Brian Robiskie, Brandon Tate, Patrick Turner, Mike Wallace
TE: Jared Cook, Brandon Pettigrew, Richard Quinn

Freeman 1,857 passing yards, 10 touchdowns 
Sanchez 2,444 passing yards, 23 touchdowns 
Stafford 2,267 passing yards, 22 touchdowns 

Brown 78 carries, 281 rushing yards
Greene 550 rushing yards, two scores
McCoy 637 rushing yards, forty receptions
Wells 793 rushing yards, seven scores 

Britt 701 yards, three scores
Crabtree 48 receptions, 625 yards
Harvin 60 receptions, 790 yards, six scores
DHB nine receptions, 124 yards
Maclin 55 receptions, 762 yards, four scores 
Massaquoi 34 receptions, 624 yards
Nicks 47 receptions, 790 yards, six scores
Robiskie seven receptions, 106 yards
Tate zero receptions 
Turner zero receptions 
Wallace 39 receptions, 756 yards, six scores

Cook nine receptions, 74 yards
Pettigrew 30 receptions, 346 yards
Quinn zero receptions

Total # of players: 21, five “hits”
QB Hits: 0/3
RB Hits: 1/4
WR Hits: 4/11
TE Hits: 0/3

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2010 NFL ROOKIES

QB: Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, Jimmy Claussen
RB: Jahvid Best, Ryan Mathews, C.J. Spiller, Dexter McCluster, Toby Gerhart, Montario Hardesty, Ben Tate
WR: Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Arrelious Benn, Golden Tate, Brandon LaFell, Damian Williams, Eric Decker, Jordan Shipley, Emmanuel Sanders, Taylor Price, Andre Roberts, Armanti Edwards
TE: Jermaine Gresham, Rob Gronkowski, Ed Dickson, Tony Moeaki, Jimmy Graham

Bradford 3,512 passing yards, 18 touchdowns 
Tebow 41-for-82, 11 total touchdowns
McCoy 1,576 passing yards, six touchdowns 
Claussen 1,558 passing yards, three touchdowns

Best 555 rushing yards, 58 receptions, six touchdowns 
Mathews 675 rushing yards, seven touchdowns 
Spiller 283 rushing yards, 24 receptions
McCluster 21 receptions, 209 rushing yards
Gerhart 32 rushing yards, one touchdown 
Hardesty 266 rushing yards, zero touchdowns
Tate zero carries

Thomas 22 receptions, 283 yards
Bryant 45 receptions, 561 yards, six touchdowns 
Benn 25 receptions, 395 yards
Tate 21 receptions, 227 yards
LaFell 38 receptions, 468 yards
Williams 16 receptions, 219 yards
Decker six receptions, 106 yards
Shipley 55 receptions, 600 yards, three touchdowns  
Sanders 28 receptions, 376 yards
Price three receptions 
Roberts 24 receptions, 307 yards
Edwards zero receptions

Gresham 52 receptions, 471 yards, four touchdowns
Gronkowski 42 receptions, 546 yards, 10 scores 
Dickson 11 receptions, 152 yards
Moeaki 47 receptions, 556 yards
Graham 31 receptions, 356 yards, five touchdowns 

Total # of players: 28, two “hits”
QB Hits: 0/4
RB Hits: 1/7
WR Hits: 0/12
TE Hits: 1/5

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2011 NFL ROOKIES

QB: Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Chris Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, Andy Dalton
RB: Mark Ingram, Ryan Williams, Shane Vereen, Mikel LeShoure, Daniel Thomas, Steven Ridley, DeMarco Murray, Alex Green
WR: Jonathan Baldwin, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Titus Young, Greg Little, Torrey Smith, Randall Cobb, Leonard Hankerson, Austin Pettis, Vincent Brown, Jerrel Jernigan
TE: Lance Kendricks, Kyle Rudolph, Rob Housler

Newton 4,051 passing yards, 35 total touchdowns 
Locker 542 passing yards, four touchdowns 
Ponder 1,853 passing yards, 13 touchdowns
Gabbert 2,214 passing yards, 12 touchdowns
Kapernick five pass attempts
Dalton 3,298 passing yards, 20 touchdowns

Ingram 474 rushing yards, five scores
Williams no carries
Vereen 57 rushing yards rushing 
LeShoure no carries
Thomas 581 rushing yards rushing
Ridley 441 rushing yards, one touchdown 
Murray 897 rushing yards, two touchdowns
Green three carries

Baldwin 21 receptions, 254 yards
Jones 54 receptions, 959 yards, eight touchdowns
Green 65 receptions, 1.057 yards, seven touchdowns
Young 48 receptions, 607 yards, six touchdowns
Little 61 receptions, 709 yards, two touchdowns 
Smith 50 receptions, 841 yards, seven touchdowns
Cobb 25 receptions, 375 yards
Hankerson 13 receptions, 163 yards
Pettis 27 receptions, 256 yards
Brown 19 receptions, 329 yards
Jernigan no receptions 
Kendricks 28 receptions, 352 yards
Rudolph 26 receptions, 249 yards
Housler 12 receptions, 133 yards

Total # of players: 28, five “hits”
QB Hits: 2/6
RB Hits: 0/8
WR Hits: 3/11
TE Hits: 0/3

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2012 NFL ROOKIES

QB: Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles
RB: Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Isaiah Pead, LaMichael James, Ronnie Hillman, Bernard Pierce
WR: Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, A.J. Jenkins, Brian Quick, Stephen Hill, Alshon Jeffrey, Ryan Broyles, Reuben Randle, DeVier Posey, T.J. Graham, Mohamed Sanu, T.Y. Hilton
TE: Colby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Michael Egnew

Luck 4,374 passing yards, 23 touchdowns
Wilson 3,118 passing yards, 30 total touchdowns
RGIII 3,200 passing yards, 27 total touchdowns
Weeden 3,385 passing yards, 14 touchdowns
Tannehill 3,294 passing yards, 12 touchdowns
Foles 1,699 passing yards, six touchdowns

Richardson 950 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns, 51 receptions
Martin 1,454 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns, 49 receptions
Wilson 351 rushing yards, five touchdowns, four receptions
Pead 54 rushing yards, zero touchdowns, three receptions
James 125 rushing yards, no touchdowns, three receptions
Hillman 330 rushing yards, one touchdown, 10 receptions
Pierce 532 rushing yards, one touchdown, seven receptions

Blackmon 64 receptions, 865 yards, five touchdowns
Floyd 45 receptions, 562 yards, two touchdowns
Wright 64 receptions, 626 yards, four touchdowns
Jenkins zero receptions
Quick 11 receptions, 156 yards, two touchdowns
Hill 21 receptions, 252 yards, three touchdowns
Jeffrey 24 receptions, 367 yards, no touchdowns
Broyles 22 receptions, 310 yards, two touchdowns
Randle 19 receptions, 298 yards, three touchdowns
Posey six receptions, 87 yards, zero touchdowns
Graham 31 receptions, 322 yards, one touchdown
Sanu 16 receptions, 154 yards, four touchdowns
Hilton 50 receptions, 861 yards, seven touchdowns

Fleener 26 receptions, 281 yards, two touchdowns
Allen 45 receptions, 521 yards, three touchdowns
Egnew zero receptions

Total # of players: 29, six “hits” (greatly aided by amazing QB crop)
QB Hits: 3/6
RB Hits: 2/7
WR Hits: 1/13
TE Hits: 0/3

 

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2013 NFL ROOKIES

QB: Mike Glennon, E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith
RB: Giovani Bernard, Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball, Christine Michael, Le'Veon Bell, Knile Davis
WR: Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, DeAndre Hopkins, Keenan Allen, Terrance Williams, Robert Woods, Justin Hunter, Markus Wheaton, Stedman Bailey, Aaron Dobson, Marquise Goodwin
TE: Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, Jordan Reed, Travis Kelce, Gavin Escobar, Vance McDonald

Mike Glennon 2,608 passing yards, 19 touchdowns
E.J. Manuel 1,972 passing yards, 11 touchdowns
Geno Smith 3,046 passing yards, 18 touchdowns

Giovani Bernard 695 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns, 56 receptions 
Eddie Lacy 1,178 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns, 35 receptions 
Montee Ball 559 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns, 20 receptions 
Christine Michael 79 rushing yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 receptions 
Le'Veon Bell 860 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns, 45 receptions 
Knile Davis 242 rushing yards, 4 touchdowns, 15 receptions 

Tavon Austin 40 receptions, 418 yards, 4 touchdowns 
Cordarrelle Patterson 45 receptions, 469 yards, 7 touchdowns 
(leaves out his two return scores).
DeAndre Hopkins 52 receptions, 802 yards, 2 touchdowns 
Keenan Allen 71 receptions, 1,046 yards, 8 touchdowns 
Terrance Williams 44 receptions, 736 yards, 6 touchdowns 
Robert Woods 40 receptions, 587 yards, 3 touchdowns 
Justin Hunter 18 receptions, 354 yards, 4 touchdowns 
Markus Wheaton 6 receptions, 64 yards, 0 touchdowns 
Stedman Bailey 17 receptions, 226 yards, 1 touchdown
Aaron Dobson 37 receptions, 519 yards, 4 touchdowns 
Marquise Goodwin 17 receptions, 283 yards, 3 touchdowns 

Tyler Eifert 39 receptions, 445 yards, 2 touchdowns 
Zach Ertz 36 receptions, 469 yards, 4 touchdowns 
Jordan Reed 45 receptions, 499 yards, 3 touchdowns 
Travis Kelce DNP
Gavin Escobar 9 receptions, 134 yards, 2 touchdowns 
Vance McDonald 8 receptions, 119 yards, 0 touchdowns 

Total # of players: 26, five “hits” 
QB Hits: 0/3
RB Hits: 3/6
WR Hits: 2/11
TE Hits: 0/6

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FIVE YEAR REVIEW: 2009-13

Let's bring our brief review together. 

The last five years, among rookies drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft (as well as all relevant quarterbacks), I reviewed the following number of players at each position.

QB: Twenty-two
RB: Thirty-two
WR: Fifty-eight
TE: Twenty

How many of those players “hit” at each position? Remember that the bar I set was pretty low, at least in terms of their value in the fantasy game. In fact, the baseline numbers that were needed to be considered a “hit” likely wouldn't have been enough to make that player an every week player in most leagues.

There are two simple qualifications to be included in this study of the last five years of NFL rookies (2009-13). 

(1) The player needs to have been drafted in first three rounds of the Entry Draft if he plays RB/WR/TE. Quarterbacks are deemed relevant no matter what round they were drafted as a rookie (at best only a handful are relevant every year no matter their draft slot). 

(2) To qualify as a “hit,” i.e. a competent fantasy performer, a player must reach two of the following baseline marks that are listed below (they very by position). 

Quarterback: 3,000 yards, 20 touchdowns
Running back: 750 rushing yards, six scores, 40 receptions
Wide Receiver: 750 receiving yards, six scores, 50 receptions
Tight End: 500 yards, four scores, 50 receptions 

“Hits”
QB: Five of 22 or 22.7 percent
RB: Seven of 32 or 21.2 percent 
WR: Ten of 58 or 17.2 percent
TE: One of 20 or 5.0 percent

That means that of the 132 skill players that I reviewed the past five years only 23 of them “hit – that's a rate of just 17.4 percent. That's a terrible rate of return on rookies. Remember, if we raise the bar from my baselines to the level of actually being an every week starter in 12 team fantasy leagues, that total of 23 players shrinks even further. 

Recent history says you shouldn't draft a rookie counting on him to be a weekly starter. If you do you'll likely end up being disappointed in the vast majority of cases. Given that FACT, should you change your thoughts about rostering rookies in 2014? The most likely answer is yes. 


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