Drafting rookies can be the most terrifying yet gratifying experience of fantasy football. Rookies have an incredible range of outcomes. Because of those potential outcomes, valuing rookies requires different strategies and approaches. Let’s break down how to value rookies in fantasy football redraft leagues by looking at the success and failures of recent rookies.
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How to Value Rookies in Fantasy Football
Examples – Ja’Marr Chase (WR – CIN), Najee Harris (RB – PIT)
The Phenom is a player who is entering the NFL with incredibly high expectations. Those expectations often mean you will have to incur some risk in drafting the player in earlier rounds. Ja’Marr Chase was typically drafted in the late fifth or early sixth rounds in his rookie season. While the ADP wasn’t egregious, it was risky for a rookie who had struggled throughout the preseason.
Najee Harris was an early second-round pick in his rookie year, essentially forcing drafters to commit to Harris as their RB1. While the investment for these players may seem overwhelming, the potential upside outweighs the risk. Phenoms are worth the investment.
But beware – expectations and results can vary from position to position. For example, while Kyle Pitts had a strong rookie year in terms of actual statistics, from a fantasy perspective, his output was underwhelming for his ADP. You must account for realistic upside at the position of a rookie.
The Late Bloomer
Examples – Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR – DET), Christian Watson (WR – GB), Kenneth Walker (RB – SEA)
The Late Bloomer is the most difficult rookie to draft. If you draft a Late Bloomer, you must truly commit to holding them through early-season struggles. The Late Bloomer typically has some issues they need to work through, including overcoming a lack of draft capital, earning trust and snaps, adapting to NFL game speed, and waiting for opportunities to appear via injuries.
Amon-Ra St. Brown’s rookie year was traumatic for me as a fantasy manager. I drafted St. Brown in one league and held him until mid-season bye weeks forced me to make a move a drop him. I was outbid when trying to grab him off waivers. The team that outbid me ultimately beat me in the championship, with St. Brown putting up an incredible performance. Again, it was absolutely traumatizing. St. Brown was WR62 in full PPR his rookie year in Weeks 1 through 12, averaging 7.6 PPG. In Weeks 13 through 18, he was WR2 averaging 25.2 PPG behind only Cooper Kupp and tied with Davante Adams.
Late Bloomers often look like busts early in the season and will cause drafters to bail out early. If you opt to draft a Late Bloomer, do so at an appropriate ADP and be prepared to hold on during their early struggles. You can also take a different approach and avoid drafting the Late Bloomer. Be the fantasy manager that picks up the Late Bloomer when your league mate rage drops him to waivers in Week 3 or reluctantly drops him due to bye week struggles. Save yourself the headache and swoop in on the cheap.
The Best-Case Scenario
Examples – Dameon Pierce (RB – HOU), James Robinson (RB – NE)
Every season there are rookies who don’t have significant draft capital yet fall into ideal situations where they have an immediate chance to become a starter. This most commonly happens with running backs. Although a player may not have the best draft profile compared to his higher-drafted peers, if he is drafted into a situation where he can easily be a significant part of the offense, buy into it. Valuing these players is surprisingly easy. It may feel like a risk investing in players that NFL franchises didn’t really want to invest in significantly. But the value they bring in fantasy football is undeniable.
The Texans drafted Dameon Pierce into a ragtag running back room with Rex Burkhead as the lead back. Early drafters took advantage of the situation and drafted Pierce in the middle rounds. By the time preseason hit, it was clear Pierce was destined to be the lead back, and his ADP rose to Round 5, with many drafters reaching a round earlier. Pierce finished as RB20 in average PPG in full PPR.
The best example of the Best-Case Scenario rookie is James Robinson. Robinson was an undrafted rookie when the Jags did the unthinkable and released Leonard Fournette, leaving Robinson as a true workhorse back. Robinson finished as RB7 in both total points and average points in PPR, averaging 17.9 PPG. Lack of draft capital becomes very irrelevant when you are thrust into an ideal lead-back situation.
The Unfortunate Circumstance
Examples – Garrett Wilson (WR – NYJ), Chris Olave (WR – NO), Jameson Williams (WR – DET)
The Unfortunate Circumstance can be a very frustrating rookie to roster because the upside is often higher than the overall output. These are rookies that have high draft profiles, typically first-round picks with NFL-ready skillsets. They are day-one starters. But because they were drafted early, they often land on a terrible team. No matter how talented the rookie is, there are certain situations you just can’t overcome.
There is good news. Being an Unfortunate Circumstance often means the player’s ADP is reasonable. Chris Olave was drafted around receivers like Robert Woods, Allen Lazard, and Chase Claypool. Garrett Wilson was drafted around receivers like Tyler Boyd and Michael Gallup. When it comes to the Unfortunate Circumstance rookie, don’t be afraid to value them higher than ADP and reach a round early to ensure you get them. The risk is baked in, and they will pay off at value.
Another unfortunate circumstance is rookies coming into the NFL off significant injuries. Despite their profiles, if a team doesn’t have to push them into action after a major injury, they simply won’t. Lower your perception of value for these rookies and avoid drafting them.
Examples – Jalen Reagor (WR – MIN), Skyy Moore (WR – KC)
The Dud is self-explanatory, and the obvious example is Jalen Reagor. The Dud is a cautionary tale to use draft evaluations with caution. The signs were there that Reagor could struggle with the transition to the NFL. Unlike previously discussed rookies Wilson and Olave, Reagor had route and drop concerns that often wreak havoc among rookies. When valuing rookies in fantasy football, look for those who have NFL-ready qualities to immediately step on the field and compete – immaculate route-running, full route tree, and solid hands.
Skyy Moore, on the other hand, is a bad pivot from the Best-Case Scenario rookie because his situation was a smokescreen. Yes, there was an opening for a WR1 in Kansas City. Yes, Moore had strong draft capital. But, he also had some capability concerns and was from a smaller program, meaning the jump to NFL game speed might not be immediate. Moore could certainly turn things around in 2023. But 2022 was a good example of being careful with rookies that aren’t ready to step into a significant role.
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