Fantasy Football: What is a Dynasty Draft Pick Actually Worth?

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Apr 5, 2019

When trading away a veteran like Larry Fitzgerald for a draft pick, what are you actually getting in return?

I remember getting into dynasty formats and thinking to myself, “I know football and I’ve dominated redraft leagues, so why can’t I do the same in dynasty?” Some underestimate the challenge – I did – while others don’t know where to begin. While drafting players with situation and age in mind, it’s one thing, but evaluating a future draft pick and what’s it’s worth is another.

What is a dynasty draft pick actually worth? It’s the question that nobody really knows how to answer, but what I can tell you is that there are certain owners who completely overvalue them, while there are others who give them away like they’re candy on Halloween. Can you win without hitting on draft picks? Sure, but it’d sure make life a lot easier if you knew what you were looking for, right?

When giving up a proven commodity who may have a year or two left, what should you expect in return? It’s only natural to be optimistic with the young rookies coming into the league, but what happens when you remove all emotion and look at what history says you actually get out of those draft picks?

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Another thing to note, as someone comments on it all the time in my Dynasty Trade Value Chart, is that when trading away or for future draft picks, you don’t know if that pick will be the first pick or the fifth pick, though we can usually look at rosters to see if a team is rebuilding and which will contend for championships, which, in turn, give you a worse draft pick. Because of that, I’ve separated the research into sections with each pick/position having a different value.

The research included here goes back as far as I could find in rookie ADP (average draft position), which is 2009, giving us 10 years of data to go off. It’s a good enough sample size to have a solid foundation to find trends. The ADP data used is post-NFL Draft.

Top of the First Round (Top-3 Pick)

Running Backs

Over the last 10 years, there’ve been 30 top-three picks (duh), with 19 of them being running backs. That gives us a solid sample size to sort through, as those 19 running backs have played a combined 941 games. It’s important to note that running backs don’t often take time to develop, meaning the most recent rookies won’t negatively impact the results like the wide receivers do, as they take a bit more time to catch up with the speed of the NFL.

Players RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Top-3 RB Pick 27.6% 51.4% 69.3% 10.3% 31.0%

 

Of the 941 games played among top-three selected running backs, 260 games have netted RB1 performances, while 484 of them netted RB2 or better numbers. This is absurdly high over a span of 10 years, though it’s important to note that we’ve had some top-tier running backs come out over the last four years. Still, there’s going to be more to come and this same includes 10 years, which does have some busts included. If you’ve never read the Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between series, “boom” stands for 25-plus PPR point performances, while “bust” represents games with less than 8.0 PPR points. So, what do these numbers compare to over the course of a career?

Players RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
Top-3 RB Pick 27.6% 51.4% 69.3% 10.3% 31.0%
Eddie Lacy 30.0% 51.7% 66.7% 11.7% 33.3%
Reggie Bush 30.0% 50.8% 76.2% 9.2% 28.5%

 

I wanted to include two players in this example because the numbers were practically smack-dab in the middle of Eddie Lacy and Reggie Bush. While you’d be fortunate to have a long career with those numbers of Bush, many were left unsatisfied with Lacy’s 60 game sample size, though he did finish as a top-six fantasy running back on two different occasions. In the end, the results aren’t bad at all, so if you need a running back, the first three picks typically produce rock-solid results. Currently, there are no running backs in the top-three of ADP, though that could change once we find out the landing spots after the NFL Draft.

Wide Receivers

There’s a bit smaller sample size with the wide receivers, as there’ve been just 10 of them selected with top-three picks since the 2009 draft. The sample size is a bit smaller as well, as they’ve combined for a 694 game sample, an average of 69.4 games per player, which is much higher than the running back number of 49.5 games per player. It’s widely known in the dynasty community that wide receivers have a much longer shelf life than running backs.

Players WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % Boom % Bust %
Top-3 WR Pick 25.6% 42.2% 54.5% 13.8% 32.3%

 

Wide receivers taken with a top-three pick in rookie drafts have posted some ridiculous numbers over the years, with 293-of-694 games producing WR2 or better numbers. The numbers aren’t quite that far off from what running backs have done in the top-tier (RB1 and WR1 performances) and actually have 3.5 percent more boom performances (25-plus PPR points). Just how good are the wide receiver numbers over these 10 years of top-three picks? Pretty dang good.

Players WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % Boom % Bust %
Top-3 WR Pick 25.6% 42.2% 54.5% 13.8% 32.3%
Roddy White 22.6% 42.7% 54.9% 12.2% 30.5%

 

While Roddy White was playing during his prime, he was practically a lock to be drafted as a top-10 wide receiver year-in and year-out. The only issue with relying on these numbers are that there’ve been a few all-time players selected in this range and when you include them in the 10 players, it isn’t much of a sample size. But again, there are going to be generational talents in years to come, so we can’t simply write them off. Players being selected in that range this year include N’Keal Harry, D.K. Metcalf, and Hakeem Butler.

Other Top-Half of the First Round (Picks 4-6)

Running Backs

This is an area of the draft where you trade with a team who’s expected to miss the playoffs, though they may not finish in the bottom of the standings. This is a good negotiation tactic to use, as you almost have to assume worst-case scenario with the draft picks you’re receiving. And then, if they finish bottom-three, you’ve just bumped up in historic production, though it’s not as big of a jump as you might expect.

Players RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
4-6 RB Pick 27.2% 47.6% 63.4% 9.3% 35.9%
Mark Ingram 28.3% 48.1% 71.7% 7.5% 30.2%
Ahmad Bradshaw 28.3% 47.8% 67.4% 5.4% 37.0%

 

In this group of running backs, there were 13 of them who combined to play a total of 599 games. That’s an average of 46.1 games per player, so again, not too far off the average from a top-three running back selection. The difference is negligible in performance, too, as the RB1 percentage remains nearly identical, but the RB2 and RB3 numbers dip just a few percentage points. Judging by this, if you need a running back, the difference between a top-three pick and a top-six pick, historically, is not all that different. The running backs being selected in this range of rookie drafts right now include Josh Jacobs and David Montgomery.

Wide Receivers

Now that we know running backs don’t fall off much from the top-three to top-six, how about the wide receivers? Just like the running back section, when trading for a pick in this area of the draft, you’re trading with a team you’re assuming will miss the playoffs, though they may not finish in the bottom of the standings.

Players WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % Boom % Bust %
4-6 WR Pick 17.2% 34.2% 48.0% 7.1% 34.5%
Emmanuel Sanders 17.7% 33.1% 43.5% 8.9% 41.1%

 

The drop-off for wide receivers drafted in the 4-6 range is much more significant than the running back drop-off. There was an eight-percent drop in both WR1 and WR2 percentages just from moving down a few spots in the draft. While you may think Emmanuel Sanders has been a solid player the last few years, he wasn’t a fantasy asset for a long time while in Pittsburgh. This is based on a sample size of 12 wide receivers who played a total of 777 games, so a very high 64.8 games per player. When drafting a wide receiver in this range, you essentially have a 50/50 chance to find one who’ll be a consistent producer on your fantasy team.

Back Half of the First Round (Picks 7-12)

Running Backs

Instead of breaking this section into three picks, we’re going to do all six picks combined. Why? Well, as you know, the fantasy playoffs are impossible to predict and anything can happen. This is the area where when trading for future draft picks, you’re expecting the other team to be in the playoffs. If their team suffers a major injury after the trade, you might just find yourself with a top-six pick, but you’re not counting on it. When trading with a contending team, what should you expect to find at the running back position in the back-half of the first-round?

Players RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
7-12 RB Pick 16.4% 35.2% 53.7% 7.1% 45.5%
Isaiah Crowell 13.2% 34.2% 53.9% 2.6% 40.8%
Rashad Jennings 15.2% 33.7% 53.3% 3.3% 44.6%

 

Not quite what you were expecting, was it? If you’re an RB-needy team and you think trading for a future first-round pick with a contender is a good idea, you should probably reconsider. There were 22 running backs selected in this sample, with an average career of 38.5 games played, so even your estimated career length is shorter. Go and find the nearest Isaiah Crowell dynasty owner if he’s happy with him on their team. Then ask that owner if they would’ve traded him for a draft pick in the 7-12 range knowing what they know now. I know I would’ve said yes rather quickly. Even those who have been playing for a long time, you remember how frustrating it was to deal with Rashad Jennings, who was in a continuous timeshare with Darren McFadden? If you need a running back and you’re picking in the back-half of the first round, you’re not likely to find fantasy gold, though there are exceptions to every rule. Running backs being selected in this range of rookie drafts right now include Darrell Henderson, Miles Sanders, and Damien Harris.

Wide Receivers

There was a time last year where everyone was drafting running backs with the top six picks and leaving wide receivers like Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore to those in the back-half of the first-round. Let me tell you, that was fun for teams who were already good. It was probably a mistake on their part, but historically, how have wide receivers drafted in the back-half of the first-round performed?

Players WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % Boom % Bust %
7-12 WR Pick 14.4% 29.4% 41.6% 6.6% 42.9%
Kelvin Benjamin 13.1% 27.9% 42.6% 4.9% 42.6%

 

Similar to the running back section in the back-half of the first round, the results probably aren’t what you would’ve expected, though Kelvin Benjamin was actually useful for a couple years. In this sample, there were 29 wide receivers selected, so the sample size is as big as we’ll find in this article. Those players put together a massive 1,665 games, which averages out to 57.4 games per player. There are definitely some good receivers to be had in this area of rookie drafts, but again, there’s a better chance of you finding a dud than a stud who’ll be in your lineup every week. The only receiver being drafted in this range of rookie drafts right now is Kelvin Harmon.

Top Half of the Second Round (Picks 13-18)

Running Backs

I’ve decided to lump the top six picks together in this round because there wasn’t that much change in the results from 13-15 and 16-18, so we went with a bigger sample size at the top-half of the second-round. We’re now back to the teams who aren’t projected to make the playoffs and they’ll likely try to sell you this pick as “essentially” a first-round pick, but here’s the spoiler… it’s not. We started to see the dip in the second half of the first round, but it only gets more dramatic here.

Players RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
13-18 RB Pick 13.6% 32.6% 51.6% 4.8% 46.5%
Andre Ellington 13.3% 33.3% 56.7% 1.7% 43.3%

 

There was about a year and a half where Ellington was somewhat of a fantasy asset, but the rest has been a blur. That’s the average feeling you’ll get with an early second-round running back. The average amount of games played in this tier is just 34.9 per player, or just over two seasons. It’s not to say you can’t find some rock-solid players in this range, as David Johnson went 17th overall in 2015 drafts, but it’s not very likely. The running backs being chosen in this range in 2019 are Rodney Anderson and Devin Singletary.

Wide Receivers

I’m not going to lie; the odds don’t look good for finding a wide receiver who can contribute to your dynasty team on a consistent basis in this range. There were 22 wide receivers drafted in this range who combined to play a massive 856 games, making it the largest sample size among wide receivers in this study. So, no matter how good of a talent scout you think you might be, understand that the odds are stacked against you.

Players WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % Boom % Bust %
13-18 WR Pick 8.6% 18.6% 31.1% 3.8% 54.1%
Danny Amendola 8.1% 17.9% 31.7% 0.8% 56.1%

 

You don’t trade for a high second-round pick and expect to get Danny Amendola back, right? I mean, he played a lot of games, but as you can see, he wasn’t very useful. Wide receivers drafted in this range often fizzle out much sooner in their career, too, as the average career span is just 44.9 games in this range. When trading for a second-round pick, you’d better hope your league is sleeping on someone who should’ve gone in the first round. The wide receivers being drafted in this range in 2019 include Deebo Samuel, Marquise Brown, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and Parris Campbell.

Bottom Half of the Second Round (Picks 19-24)

Running Backs

This is the area of the draft where you’re selecting guys you know are going to be backups on the team they’re drafted to. The starter in front of them may be incompetent or get hurt, leaving them with an opportunity, but it’s not likely they’re going to make an impact on your fantasy team without some special circumstance. Of the 20 running backs selected in this range, they’ve averaged 39.0 games in their career, so actually more than the running backs drafted in the 13-18 range, but let’s be clear, they didn’t help your fantasy team judging by their numbers.

Players RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
19-24 RB Pick 8.9% 21.8% 38.3% 2.3% 60.8%
Elijah McGuire 8.7% 21.7% 34.8% 0.0% 65.2%

 

Crazy how similar the numbers are with Elijah McGuire to this pick range, right? Of the 779-game sample, late second-round running backs have given us just 69 RB1 performances over the last 10 years. Don’t make the mistake of thinking one of your favorite running backs is being drafted at the end of the second-round, as it’s not very likely he gets a chance to succeed. Some running backs being drafted in this range in 2019 include Trayveon Williams, Justice Hill, and Benny Snell.

Wide Receivers

Because of a few standout players, the wide receivers drafted in this range actually outperformed those who have been drafted in the top of the second-round. It goes to show that if you want a wide receiver, trading for a second-round pick might not be a bad option, no matter where in the round the pick is. Something that can also come into play is that we’re back in the area where playoff teams are drafting, which means they create the ADP in this range. If they’re consistently winning, it’s likely that they are just better talent evaluators than those who consistently get the early picks in the draft.

Players WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % Boom % Bust %
19-24 WR Pick 10.3% 21.0% 32.4% 4.2% 53.5%
Mohamed Sanu 11.0% 22.0% 38.0% 1.0% 50.0%

 

While Mohamed Sanu is/has been better than Amendola, it’s not like he’s been a fantasy stud for years. He’s been solid since reaching the Falcons, but knowing he’s delivered WR2 or better numbers just 22 percent of the time highlights the odds of hitting it big in this range. Just like in any territory of rookie drafts, there are exceptions, and for whatever reason, the 22nd pick has treated wide receivers well. Chris Godwin, Martavis Bryant, Josh Gordon, and Eric Decker were all drafted in that spot and had what I’d describe as great careers for a late second-round pick. The wide receivers being taken in this range in 2019 are Andy Isabella (currently 22nd overall) and Emanuel Hall.

Takeaways

As we’ve talked about throughout the analysis, there are outliers in productivity here and there. But in the end, these are the historical results. Again, every year someone is going to tell you that it’s a generational class and that “it’s different,” but history doesn’t lie. It doesn’t mean you can’t find value outside the top 10 picks, but what it does mean is that dynasty draft picks are often overvalued. Judging by some of the questions I receive, a first-round pick is worth a lot more to owners than someone like Isaiah Crowell or Kelvin Benjamin. If you’re able to get proven studs who have multiple years of production left in exchange for a mid-to-late first-rounder, I’d suggest making that move before they read this article.

If you’d like to know how I value the rookies in this year’s draft class, we’ve been posting at least one scouting report per day on the biggest prospects. You can find them all right here.


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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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