Skip to main content

What Is A Dynasty Draft Pick Actually Worth? (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Apr 5, 2021

Running backs are often the position taken with a top-three pick in rookie drafts

If you’ve played in dynasty formats for years, you’ve likely heard someone say something like, “Hey, I’m willing to give you a first-round pick. You need to give something in order to get something as valuable as a first-rounder.” If you haven’t played dynasty but are getting into it this year, be prepared to hear something to that effect.

Should that be something you accept as a dynasty manager, or are rookie draft picks overrated, and there’s a reason they’re trying to sell you on them? I’ll be honest with you; when I started playing dynasty, I had zero idea how to value a first- or second-round rookie draft pick. There was no guide to help value them. All I’d heard was that first-round picks were gold. Like most things in fantasy, I wanted to find out for myself.

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?

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 12 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, as it’s the most accurate source to what dynasty rookie drafts typically look like.

Top of the First Round (Top-3 Pick)

Running Backs

There have been 36 players drafted with top-three picks over the last 12 years, because, well, math. Of those 36 players, 24 of them have been running backs. Those running backs have combined to play 1,259 games over the course of their careers, which is a pretty big sample size. It’s also important to note that running backs don’t take any time to develop in the NFL, which means that recent rookies won’t negatively impact the results like it may with wide receivers, a position that takes a bit more time to develop consistent fantasy starters.

Players RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
1-3 RB Pick 29.2% 52.8% 70.4% 11.0% 29.3%

 

As mentioned, these are the results based on 1,259-game sample size from running backs drafted with a top-three pick in rookie drafts. These are not year-end finishes, either. If you’ve never read the “Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between” series, I’d highly recommend checking it out, as these are numbers pulled directly from it (read that here). This is based on each individual game they’ve played and the results of those games.

So, this chart highlights that you get an RB2 or better performance 52.8 percent of the time, which is a solid number, though I wouldn’t expect you to know exactly what it means from a comparison standpoint. Just like the article “Boom, Bust, and Everything In Between,” the “boom” stands for 25-plus PPR points in a game, while the “bust” stands for fewer than 8.0 PPR points in a game. So, who do these numbers compare to over the course of a career?

Players RB1 % RB2 % RB3 % Boom % Bust %
1-3 RB Pick 29.2% 52.8% 70.4% 11.0% 29.3%
Eddie Lacy 30.0% 51.7% 66.7% 11.7% 33.3%
David Montgomery 35.5% 51.6% 67.7% 12.9% 29.0%

 

Think about it for a second. This is the cream of the crop. The best of the best. A top-three rookie pick. Ask yourself this question right now: Would you trade a top-three rookie pick for David Montgomery‘s career if he played the way he has over the first two years? Because that’s almost exactly what you’re getting. In fact, Montgomery has presented a higher percentage of RB1 games than the average. The running backs who are currently being drafted as top-three picks in 2020 are Najee Harris and Travis Etienne.

Wide Receivers

There’s a bit smaller sample size with the wide receivers, as there’ve been just 11 of them selected with top-three picks since the 2009 draft. The games played sample size is a bit smaller as well, as they’ve combined for a 900-game sample, an average of 81.8 games per player, which is much higher than the running back number of 52.5 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 %
1-3 WR Pick 23.1% 38.7% 50.9% 12.7% 35.0%

 

In order to crack your starting lineup on a consistent basis, you ideally want your wide receiver to post WR3 or better numbers on a semi-regular basis. When seeing the 50.9 percent mark, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, but before you jump to conclusions, what does this look like over the course of a career?

Players WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % Boom % Bust %
1-3 WR Pick 23.1% 38.7% 50.9% 12.7% 35.0%
Amari Cooper 23.7% 38.7% 53.8% 11.8% 32.3%
Jordy Nelson 22.3% 36.5% 50.0% 12.8% 40.5%

 

Depending on your feelings on Amari Cooper, you may love or hate these results, as he’s one of the most debated players in recent memory. It’s also why I’m including a historical comp, and in this case, it’s Jordy Nelson. But think about it – Cooper has finished with 1,000-plus yards in five of his first six seasons, so the results are pretty dang good. Remember these are the averages, which make it the most likely outcome. Everyone wants to remember the Julio Jones‘ and the Mike Evans‘, but don’t forget about the N’Keal Harry‘s, Corey Coleman‘s, and Laquon Treadwell‘s. The only receiver going inside the top-three rookie picks right now is Ja’Marr Chase.

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 26.9% 47.7% 63.4% 10.2% 34.9%
James Conner 27.1% 47.9% 60.4% 14.6% 37.5%
Mark Ingram 26.7% 46.6% 70.2% 6.9% 31.3%

 

While the running backs who were picked with a top-three pick averaged 52.5 games played, the running backs picked in the 4-6 range have averaged 53.8 games, so there’s no drop-off in expected career length right now. You can see James Conner‘s career numbers here, and it just so happens he’s played 50 regular season games in his career, so a running back selected in the 4-6 range is essentially Conner’s career to this point. Based on the leagues I play in, I can tell you that no one would’ve been trading a high first-round rookie pick for Conner. Still, if you’re drafting a running back in this range, you should expect a starter on your fantasy team for at least a few years. The only running back being taken in this range in 2021 is Javonte Williams.

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 18.4% 35.3% 49.5% 7.6% 32.1%
Robert Woods 15.5% 33.6% 47.4% 8.6% 34.5%
Mike Wallace 16.2% 34.5% 54.9% 4.2% 35.9%

 

Some who have been around for just a couple years might see Robert Woods and be like, “Wow, that’s a great pick,” but these numbers include the four years where he was essentially irrelevant in Buffalo. That’s why including a historical comp like Mike Wallace makes sense. I should note that the average number of games played for receivers in this range is 66.3, while the top-three pick receivers average 81.8 games. Again, many will tell you that DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas were drafted in this range (they were), but so were players like Josh Doctson and Greg Little. We’re trying to gauge what the most likely outcome is. The receivers being taken in this range of 2021 rookie drafts right now include Rashod Bateman and Devonta Smith.

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 16.6% 35.3% 53.1% 6.8% 45.5%
Carlos Hyde 14.4% 36.7% 56.7% 3.3% 41.1%
Rashad Jennings 15.2% 33.7% 53.3% 3.3% 44.6%

 

This might make you want to throw up all over your phone/computer. Have you ever wondered why some of the best teams in your league will look to trade away rookie picks because they’re “contending”? It’s also because they’re smart. This is an even bigger sample size because it’s six picks, so the comps aren’t based on a small sample size. We have a size of 1,075 games from 23 different running backs, bringing the average to 46.7 games per running back. That means it might be tough to find a running back in this range who gets a second contract in the NFL. The only running back being taken in this range in 2021 is Kenneth Gainwell.

Wide Receivers

We continually see running backs fly off the board in rookie drafts, as drafters want instant gratification. That made me wonder just how good the wide receivers may be in this range. Again, when trading for a pick in this range, you are trading with a team that’s very likely to make the playoffs, which means they were already good.

Players WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % Boom % Bust %
7-12 WR Pick 15.3% 30.3% 42.4% 7.1% 41.6%
Sterling Shepard 15.4% 30.8% 43.1% 9.2% 30.8%
Tyler Lockett 13.8% 30.9% 42.6% 8.5% 43.6%

 

Every now and then, I want you to stop during this article and ask yourself if you’d trade a first-round pick for the player in the comp section. So, would you trade a first-round pick for Sterling Shepard‘s career? The answer for most of you would be “absolutely not,” but that’s the reality of what you can expect out of your late first-round pick. Tyler Lockett may have popped onto the fantasy radar over the last few years, but he wasn’t offering much while playing behind Doug Baldwin in his early years. This is a 37-player, 2,162-game sample size, too, so we weren’t shortened on the proof. There are certainly going to be some good receivers to be had in this territory, like Odell Beckham Jr., Justin Jefferson, and Calvin Ridley (were all drafted in this range), but there’s also going to be receivers like Cordarrelle Patterson, Michael Floyd, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (also drafted in this range).

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 13.2% 31.5% 50.3% 4.8% 47.5%
Sony Michel 13.5% 32.4% 48.6% 0.0% 45.9%
Shane Vereen 16.0% 32.0% 49.3% 4.0% 48.0%

 

If you haven’t played fantasy football for more than five years, I fully expect you to be like, “Who’s Shane Vereen?” Exactly. If you don’t know him, maybe you remember Isaiah Crowell? Yeah, this area of rookie drafts doesn’t produce very good results for running backs. If you’re just looking for a running back to offer flex value ala Tarik Cohen (he’s better than these results), this is the territory to find them. The running backs drafted in this range have averaged just 36.6 games for their career, which obviously means you’re going to find some players who don’t even play out their rookie contract in this territory. The only running back being drafted in this range in 2021 as of right now is Chuba Hubbard.

Wide Receivers

We have a big sample size in this territory, as dynasty managers continually try and spot a future star receiver in the second round of rookie drafts. There have been 30 wide receivers who’ve been drafted in this range, who’ve accumulated 1,311 career games, or 43.7 games per player. If you finished outside the playoffs and have one of those high second-round picks, you might want to see what you can get in return.

Players WR1 % WR2 % WR3 % Boom % Bust %
13-18 WR Pick 9.5% 20.4% 32.4% 3.7% 52.8%
Mohamed Sanu 9.8% 20.5% 35.2% 0.8% 54.1%
Brandon LaFell 9.2% 20.2% 34.5% 3.4% 46.2%

 

Ask anyone who’s played fantasy for some time and they’ll tell you that neither Sanu nor LaFell offered consistent fantasy production, and they were slightly better than the odds you get with a high second-round pick. I don’t care how good of a talent scout you think you are; the odds of finding a regular starter in this range is not likely. It’s not to say it can’t happen, as Keenan Allen, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Brandon Aiyuk have proven. But for every one of those, there are probably five or six busts like Hakeem Butler, Leonte Carroo, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Zay Jones.

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

Running Backs

This is the area of the draft where you’re likely 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 immediately without some special circumstance. Of the 25 running backs selected in this range, they’ve averaged 36.6 games in their career, the same as 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 9.5% 23.1% 40.1% 2.2% 59.1%
Ty Montgomery 11.3% 22.6% 41.5% 3.8% 54.7%
Rex Burkhead 10.6% 21.2% 37.9% 4.5% 57.6%

 

Yikes. When the champion in your dynasty league offers you his second-round pick for someone on your roster, this is the type of running back you’re trading for. It’s why I laugh when someone tells me they wouldn’t trade a first-round pick for David Montgomery, but that they’d take him for a second-round pick. Would you trade a late second-round pick for a player like Gus Edwards? That’s the question you should be asking. We know that almost nobody would say yes to that, but in reality, you should probably take Edwards (if you plan on drafting a running back with that pick). The running backs going in this range of 2021 rookie drafts right now are Michael Carter and Trey Sermon.

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 10.5% 21.0% 32.9% 4.7% 53.0%
Mike Williams (LAC) 9.3% 18.5% 33.3% 3.7% 46.3%
Rishard Matthews 10.7% 18.7% 33.3% 4.0% 56.0%

 

If you ask anyone in dynasty about Mike Williams, they’ll tell you he’s been a bust, but he’s had some usable games. That’s the career you should expect out of a late second-round rookie wide receiver pick. Here’s the crazy part: Tyler Lockett, Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Godwin, and Josh Gordon were all taken in this range of rookie drafts, which certainly helps pump up the numbers. You can certainly find wide receivers who are contributors in this range, though the hit-rate isn’t great. Rookies being selected in this range of 2021 rookie drafts right now include Kadarius Toney, Dyami Brown, and Seth Williams.

Takeaways

There are going to be outliers in every tier of rookie drafts and they’re going to impact the overall results, but even with them included, the results aren’t crazy. Another thing to keep in mind is that the players who had a great career will impact the results more than players who busted out of the league in a few years because they’ll carry a bigger portion of the sample size.

Every year, there will be some who tell you it’s a generational class and that it’s different, but we’ve legitimately gone through more than a decade of results and shown the actual value of rookie draft picks.

So, in short, most dynasty players overvalue rookie draft picks that aren’t in the top-six. If someone offers you a proven commodity who has multiple years of production for a late first-round pick, you should absolutely be willing to accept before they read this article and know what they’re likely to net with that pick.


SubscribeApple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Podcasts | Stitcher | SoundCloud | iHeartRadio

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

 

Follow the Pros!

Follow us on Twitter @FantasyPros for exclusive advice and contests