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How to Prepare for your Rookie Draft: March Edition (2020 Fantasy Football)

Mar 25, 2020

With free agency coming to a close and the NFL Draft next up on the docket, it’s a good time to evaluate how to approach your upcoming rookie draft. Aside from trades and sparse waiver wire additions, the rookie draft presents the greatest opportunity for a team to acquire talent and improve their roster for the coming seasons.

Whether you have surplus or deficit of rookie picks, now is the best time to take stock of your dynasty league to give yourself an advantage come draft day.

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Evaluate the Free Agency Impact

As you’ve probably witnessed, NFL free agency changes everything. The movement of star and role players to different franchises will change the constitution of team needs — and the players that franchises are most likely to take in the draft. Knowing which teams need to draft a wide receiver or running back is often more important than the prospect’s own talent.

For example, current teams without a star running back include the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Redskins. Other teams like the Bills, Chargers, and Falcons seem likely to add to their running back room, but they’d offer a timeshare at best. Given the lack of high-upside landing spots, you may not place a great value on the rookie running back options and look to trade your picks for an established veteran.

Conversely, multiple franchises with high-quality quarterbacks will likely target wide receivers in this draft. The Packers, Eagles, Saints, and Ravens all seem likely to draft a wideout, possibly with their first draft choice. Knowing that the available situations for rookie wide receivers are favorable, you may be inclined to acquire more second-round rookie picks to take advantage of the draft’s incredible depth at the position.

Take Stock of Your Roster Needs

After accounting for how free agency affected the needs of NFL franchises, you will need to determine how it has impacted your own roster. Did you suddenly lose a starting running back after Melvin Gordon signed with Denver? Did the stock of your wide receivers fall after Tom Brady left New England for Tampa Bay? Before you participate in your rookie draft, you must figure out exactly what holes you have on your roster, and whether draft picks will help your situation.

The 2020 draft offers an incredible selection of wide receivers and running backs in the later rounds. If you have a need at either of those skill positions, you will likely find an adequate replacement in the rookie draft. This year, a second or third-round rookie pick could net a quality starter.

If you need a quarterback, though, you may be better off trading your draft selections for an established veteran. There are few starting quarterback positions left to fill after free agency, and multiple passers lost their starting roles (Jameis Winston, Jacoby Brissett, etc.) following the frenzy. If you have a hole at quarterback in Superflex formats, you’ll need to either trade up to the top of the draft to select Joe Burrow or Tua Tagovailoa or ship your draft capital away to acquire a starter.

Evaluate Your Roster’s Competitiveness

Even though it’s only late March, you should be able to gauge if you’re in a position to compete for a title next year. By looking at your opponents’ squads compared to your own, you will be able to see where you stand and whether you should take a “win-now” or “rebuild” approach.

If you’re looking to compete for a title right away, it may be wise to trade away your draft picks for established veteran talent. After all, last year, rookie running backs only put up 17 weekly RB1 performances, and rookie wide receivers only put up 20 WR1 performances. Despite how talented this class may be, it seems unlikely many rookies will provide consistent, top-twelve production in their first professional season.

However, if your roster doesn’t measure up to the rest of your league-mates, it may be wise to accumulate rookie picks and attempt to rebuild. Even though the 2019 rookies didn’t deliver many elite performances in their first year, they are highly valued now. According to the FantasyPros Dynasty Consensus Rankings, there are 15 rookies from last year’s class listed among the top-100 players. If you can’t win this year, getting rookie picks in a loaded class could help you compete for years to come.

Take Advantage of the Hype

No matter how you slice it, trading assets always comes down to value. With free agency taking the league by storm, many people will overvalue players going to new and exciting destinations. Everyone wants a piece of Tom Brady’s new offense, quarterbacks whose teams have acquired great weapons (Kyler Murray, Josh Allen), and players who have been granted new opportunities (Darrell Henderson, Hayden Hurst).

As we approach the draft, the central focus of most NFL media outlets will be on the incoming rookies. With increased media coverage and rookie hype, there will be a heightened value placed on rookie draft picks. Even after the draft, the value of rookie picks will skyrocket once we can actually connect these talents to a destination. Be sure to take advantage of the rookie buzz.

If you have rookie draft picks, I recommend that you don’t sell them until after the draft. If you’re looking to acquire rookie picks, now is the best time to buy while everyone is still figuring out what happened in free agency. Taking advantage of value at any point in time is key to winning your trades and improving your roster.

Diversify Your Scouting 

Many scouts and media outlets will have different opinions regarding the talent and best fits of incoming rookies. You want to diversify your scouting resources and look at as many reports as possible to form a balanced opinion based on available data.

For example, I’ve seen multiple analysts comment on Henry Ruggs. Some analysts have called him the most explosive athlete at the wide receiver position and compared him to the second-coming of Tyreek Hill. Others have said he’s an injury-prone risk whose speed is his only remarkable asset, likening him to Taylor Gabriel or John Ross.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you regarding which opinion you trust and statistics you deem more important. We’ve got a great selection of analysts here at FantasyPros covering rookie prospects, and while you will ultimately form your own opinion one way or another, gathering advice from multiple experts will keep you well-informed and prepared come draft day.

Take a Look at NFL Mock Drafts

While draft day is unpredictable in itself, mock drafts are an important tool at your disposal. They will help you not only determine which teams need to pick up a skill position player, but also when they could possibly be drafted.

Again, this feature is more to help you identify landing spots for incoming rookies and determine if you like the fit. I’ve seen the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles projected to take a Round 1 receiver in multiple mock drafts; the breakdowns and analyses will help you visualize what player could potentially end up with a receiver-needy team and determine if the situation is beneficial for their fantasy prospects.

Having an idea of how many running backs, wide receivers, and quarterbacks will go on Day 1 or Day 2 of the draft will give you insight into how much capital NFL franchises will invest in these skill positions. If there’s a greater investment, there will likely be greater usage and commitment early on. You should stay informed by looking at mock drafts as your draft approaches, and you should familiarize yourself with who is most likely to draft a running back or wide receiver. 

Set your Draft at the Perfect Time 

Whether you are the commissioner of your dynasty league or just an active participant, you need to ensure that the rookie draft takes place at an appropriate time of the year. The rookie draft is the biggest event that occurs in the offseason for veteran dynasty leagues, so the timing has to be perfect.

You want to ensure enough time has passed after the NFL Draft. Depending on how deep your rookie draft runs, you could be selecting 60 total players. You need to allow time for undrafted free agents to be signed and potential veteran cuts to be made. Also, most draft pick trading will happen after we know the players’ landing spots, so you want to leave that trading window open for a sufficient amount of time.

You should also consider drafting before either rookie minicamp or training camp begins. While watching these players perform in the preseason will give your league increased data, it takes a lot of strategy out of the draft. You shouldn’t let injuries that occur in training camp or depth chart movement affect your rookie draft; it’s smarter to base the draft on hypothetical fit, not actual production. Two or three weeks after the NFL Draft is the perfect time to start your rookie draft.

Do a Dynasty Mock Draft (with Veterans & Rookies and Only Rookies)

No matter what league you are in, how far away your draft is, or your level of confidence in your scouting skills, I will always advise doing multiple mock drafts. Getting an idea of how the consensus opinion aligns with your own expectations and simulating tough decisions is great practice for when the moment finally comes.

I would do a few rookie-only mock drafts before and after the NFL Draft takes place. This way, you develop an expectation of the hierarchy of rookie talent and how that changes post-draft. You can experiment with different scenarios, such as what happens if you draft a quarterback with the 1.01 or take the best skill position player available. 

Even if you are already in a long-standing dynasty league, I would run a startup mock draft with rookies and veterans. This should give you a steady indication of how much your pick is actually worth and how closely valued an incoming rookie is to a current veteran. You will get a sense of the expected trade compensation for your rookie picks and whether or not you can take advantage of peoples’ overvaluation of draft choices. The FantasyPros DraftWizard is an excellent resource for performing both types of mock drafts and running different simulations.

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Dan Ambrosino is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Dan, check out his archive and follow him @AmbrosinoNFL.

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