Draft Trends and Fantasy Implications

Everyone has draft fever, but not all players hit early. Let’s look at some draft trends in the last eight years.

With the 2021 NFL Draft coming up, everyone is getting excited for the new rookies coming into the NFL. There are so many different opinions on the offensive players. Many fantasy experts harp on the draft capital of players, which can be an indicator of their NFL success.

Does it really matter where a player is drafted? I took a look at the last eight NFL drafts and used average fantasy points-per-game data from Fantasy Data to look at trends for PPR scoring for offensive players.

Do Teams Have Tendencies?

Many people say that “NFL” stands for “Not For Long.” This can be true, not only for players but coaches and management as well. If you are not successful within a couple of years, you most likely will be replaced. While there are some turnovers, some teams do have a certain strategy they follow and it is interesting what the data shows.


Skill Positions, First Round

Some NFL teams like to choose skill positions (QB, RB, WR, TE) in the first round where other teams decide to go after defense and offensive line. There are seven teams in the last eight years that have selected only one or no skill position players in the first round.

  • 49ers
  • Colts
  • Falcons
  • Jets
  • Packers
  • Saints
  • Seahawks
  • Steelers

Power Five Offensive Players

In college, the power conferences are considered to be the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC.  These conferences get more attention, but there are good players and values found at schools outside the Power Five. Below are the top and bottom five, percentage-wise, of teams selecting Non-P5 players.



Playing time for Rookies

There is a wide variety of reasons that a rookie would not play much in their first year:

  • Injuries
  • Time to get familiar with the playbook
  • Get comfortable with the speed of the NFL game
  • Drafted by a good team, so it is not necessary to play right away.

Regardless of the reasons, some teams in the past eight years have been more prone than others to play rookies their first year. This is an interesting list and a trend that should be taken into consideration when deciding what rookies to select in fantasy drafts. In a dynasty format, you are looking for more than just the rookie year, but this could help you temper expectations of playing time the first year.



Draft Trends for Players Picked

Conferences with Most Players

Looking deeper into the P5 and non-P5 players, we see that the most selections for each position come from the SEC. The order of conferences after the SEC differs by each position, but looking at the totals, you can see that the SEC more than doubles the next highest conference.

While the Non-P5 conferences have fewer players drafted, there is still talent, and the Mountain West, Conference USA, and American conferences seem to be leading that discussion. There is always talk about the SEC bias, but in drafted players, it looks as if the SEC produces the most draftable talent.



QBs and the Hit Rate

Based on 2020 Superflex PPR, the 12th ranked QB scored 17.5 fantasy points per game. Only five QBs in the last eight years have done that in their rookie year, and all were drafted in the first round. That means only 5% have completed this feat. Looking at the averages for their rookie and first three years in the league, it shows the most success came to those drafted in the first and second round.

There will always be outliers like Russell Wilson drafted in the third round, Dak Prescott in the fourth round, and even Tom Brady in the sixth round, but the averages say that you won’t be successful if you bank on finding those players. There is a ton of first-round QB talent this year, but temper expectations because not everyone will impress as Burrow and Herbert did in 2020.




Flex Players

Next, we looked into players that fit into the flex position — RB, WR, TE. These percentages are just breakdowns between players selected each year in the first round among other flex options. Obviously, TEs are a low percentage.

Many think that the decrease in RB value during the first round has been recent. As seen below, it has happened often in the last eight years. Part of this is the move to more of a passing league and spreading the field out more, so teams need more dynamic playmakers outside.

Just like QBs, rookie flex players have not made a huge impact either. If you take the top 30 flex players in PPR, the cutoff is 15.5 points per game. As you can see below, fewer than 3% in the last eight years have met that mark. People will have recency bias about the great 2020 rookie class and think the hit rate is much higher than it actually is.



When it comes to analytics, two major factors in judging college receivers are their dominator rating and breakout age. The dominator rating is the percentage of the team’s receiving production — many analysts look for anything above 30%. I dove into the numbers, and the data showed that to be true.

The data below was found by using Devy Data and Rankings, a Patreon site run by Jerrick Backous. Using the 2020 PPR ranking for WRs, I looked at those who had over 14 points per game during their rookie season. It is a small sample size, but seven out of nine had a dominator rating of over 30% in college.

Examining the “just average” fantasy points per game by their dominator rating, it showed much of the same. Looking at the rookie year and a three-year running average, the players with over 30% dominator rating were much higher.  The interesting part was that the over 20% and under 20% showed similar numbers.



Breakout Age

Breakout age is the age when players reach the dominator rating we are looking for. Most in the analytical community look for the breakout to happen in the first or second year of a player’s college career. Earlier I stated that a 30% dominator rating is the most commonly used mark, but I decided to look at breakout age for 20% also.

Again, I looked at the rookie average and the three-year running average. For both thresholds, the breakout age of one and two show much more success, but the 30% has a slight edge in the higher average. This data again proves the analytic viewpoint of wanting players with a first or second-year breakout.

So what does all this data mean for fantasy moving forward? Drafting for the NFL and Fantasy is not proven science, but you can use past trends to help you make a better-educated decision. Certain teams incorporate their rookie players better than others, so their landing spot does matter, to an extent.

Even a good landing spot doesn’t always mean you pick the right player. I am embarrassed to admit that, in a couple of rookie drafts, I picked Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson. The dominator rating was higher and the Eagles had a big need at receiver. Analytics can be useful, as seen above, but you need to also look at the tape to see the whole picture. A well-rounded evaluator will take both into account when they make a judgment on a player.

Everyone gets rookie fever come draft time, and in a dynasty format, rookie picks are of big value.  All managers want to be able to be their own GM and pick the right player so they can say they knew he was going to be good. But as we see, the hit rate of these players is not high.

So while rookies are fun, this is the time to take advantage of that fever. You could get proven players for a cheaper price before the draft. In fantasy football, there are plenty of ways to build a winning team, but thinking you can always pick the right rookie would be a mistake.


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