How to Prepare for Your Dynasty Rookie Draft: March Edition (2021 Fantasy Football)
The NFL season may have ended just a few weeks ago, but for fantasy managers in dynasty leagues, draft season is starting to pick up. We’re well into the free agency period, and we’ve already seen some start to trend up (Patriots-Buccaneers Super Bowl next year, anyone?) and others trend down (sorry, Titans fans).
So what should you be doing to prepare as a dynasty manager? Usually, the NFL Scouting Combine would be a good source of data, but the COVID-19 pandemic has led to its cancellation. Instead, we’re left with individual school Pro Days. Those are already well underway, and you can find a full schedule here.
Here are my tips on how to prepare for your dynasty rookie draft this year.
Have a Plan and Stick to It
First, if you haven’t read Mike Maher’s writeup on what to do in February, I would read through it now. The key takeaway from it is to cook up a plan — look at your roster, come up with realistic expectations, and identify the steps you need to take to improve. Are you one stud player away from a championship? Great, go get one — and don’t be afraid to spend draft capital to do so. Do you have more question marks in your starting lineup than starters? That’s not great, but you can recover. Try shopping a few players for picks and prepare for a rebuild.
The key part of this step is to be realistic. Just because you have sky-high expectations for a few players doesn’t mean that they’ll pan out. Try thumbing through our dynasty rankings or syncing your league with My Playbook to make a realistic prediction for your roster. Once you’ve done so, target the positions you need to target and decide whether veteran or rookie players would better fill those gaps.
Trust the (Right) College Statistics
I am a numbers guy. Some analysts will tell you to trust the tape before trusting the stats, but I like to work the other way around. So what numbers should you target? If you look at just raw volume numbers, players in bad conferences will stand out. In contrast, if you look at just efficiency rates, you may find a player in the midst of a career season that he may struggle to replicate in the NFL.
At quarterback, you should trust completion percentage over expected (CPOE). Passing accuracy translates well from college to the pros, so it’s a worthwhile metric to target in rookie drafts. That said, quarterbacks who throw tons of dump-offs will have higher completion percentages. CPOE corrects for that by integrating pass difficulty into the calculation. Unfortunately, college CPOE numbers can be hard to access, and you may have to work with raw completion percentage instead.
If you can access CPOE, it can help you at wide receiver and tight end, too. A receiver who succeeds and posts a high catch rate despite poor quarterback play has the potential to flash in the NFL. In contrast, a receiver who posts an average catch rate despite excellent quarterback play may underwhelm at the professional level.
Running backs are harder to scout, especially because so much of their success hinges upon successful offensive line play. Rushing yards over expected would be a fantastic statistic to use here, but alas, those numbers are inaccessible or uncalculated.
College dominator rating can also help you identify strong values. The number is calculated based upon the share of a team’s offensive production that a player produced. For wide receivers and tight ends, dominator rating is the share of a team’s receiving yards. For running backs, it’s the total share of a team’s total offensive production, as they can contribute both on the ground and in the passing game. You can find these numbers at PlayerProfiler.
Follow Player Pro Days
Pro Days give us two types of data. We’ll get numbers on how players handle drills, which tell us about things like strength, speed, and agility. We’ll also get their measurables, or their height, weight, hand size, etc., all of which can affect how well a player will adapt to the NFL.
The first type of data is especially important when scouting running backs and wide receivers. An elite 40-yard dash time suggests that a player may have enough speed to create separation in the pros. Broad and vertical jump data point to burst; 20-yard shuttle and three-cone drill times point to agility. Also, a strong showing on the bench press points to power, which is especially important for running backs.
The second type of data, measurables, matter for all positions. You’ll want to target tall quarterbacks with large hands (although Kyler Murray and Russell Wilson prove that those numbers aren’t the end-all, be-all). Big wide receivers can more easily succeed on the perimeter — although you’ll want to make sure that their bulkiness doesn’t undermine their athleticism. Small, shifty receivers can succeed in the slot.
Watch Rookie Film
Once you’ve studied the numbers, watch the film of players you’d like to target. To do so, I recommend that you read through ESPN box scores and find games in which your player did well — or struggled. Then, you can find YouTube highlights of the appropriate game to get a feel for how your player posted the numbers that they did.
While I prioritize numbers over tape, watching a player’s film can help you figure out whether their numbers hold water. Sometimes, a player may train hard for the 40-yard dash and post an elite time, but they run slower in pads. Alternatively, they may have a mediocre 40-time, but their film points to elite on-field speed.
If you have a suspicion about how a player’s size or athletic profile will affect their performance, make sure to see if the tape bears that out.
Listen to the (Right) Experts
You may not have time to review the numbers and tape on every player. That’s okay. There are plenty of experts who devote hours to the tasks that I’ve laid out above, and sometimes, it’s better to defer to others instead of brute-forcing all the work by yourself.
If you’re looking for some points, Kyle Yates has written a ton of player profiles ahead of this year’s draft. He also runs our dynasty football podcast along with Ray Garvin. Also, keep an eye out for David Zach’s Z-Score content that comes out post-draft. You can find all of our NFL Draft content here and all of our dynasty content here.
Of course, there are plenty of talented analysts who publish their content elsewhere. I have trusted Dane Brugler’s NFL Draft Guide for my draft prep each year, and I strongly recommend that you do the same. Josh Hermsmeyer’s pre-draft content is also worth reviewing before your rookie draft.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Waiver Wire Assistant – that allows you to quickly see which available players will improve your team and by how much – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.