Everyone knows that football is a young man’s game.
Those of us in the fantasy football world are acutely aware that Father Time calls on RBs much sooner than WRs, and we also know that young RBs have a much higher probability of success than young WRs.
As I reviewed last year’s final stats for our PPR dynasty league (thru week 16), this fact was abundantly clear.
Of the top 15 RBs in standard PPR scoring, 12 were age 25 or less during the season (that’s 80% for the mathematically challenged).
The only exceptions were SJax, Turner, and LT2. Looking at WR performance, only five (33%) of the top 15 were 25 years old or less during the season. The youngsters were Megatron, Nicks, Stevie Johnson, Wallace, and Maclin.
Again, there is no great revelation here to fantasy football owners –especially us dynasty league guys.
We know that there is a very short window for RBs in the NFL so in order to maximize return on investment, rookie RBs are given their opportunity to shine sooner rather than later.
In spite of the fact that big signing bonuses have put additional pressure on WRs to perform early, there is still a longer learning curve for WRs compared to RBs.
With many colleges running pro-style offenses that often use the same terminology, the WR learning curve has been shortened over the last several years but it still exists. And the above numbers don’t lie; young RBs perform at elite levels much faster than WRs. My question is this; how do we best account for the learning curve difference (WR vs RB) in developing strategies for our dynasty league, rookie/FA drafts.
The premise for my strategy will be based on the idea that if I draft a RB in my rookie/FA draft, I will know much sooner if my pick was a “hit” or a “miss” as compared to a rookie WR.
What I’m after is a 1 to 2 year “time to decision”.
That is, I want to make a decision within 2 years tops, whether or not a guy deserves a spot on my roster. Now, I’m not talking about a top 3 overall pick here.
If you have a top 3 pick in this year’s draft, and you don’t take Ingram, Green or Julio than you’re either clairvoyant or you’re an idiot. And if Green or Julio requires a little extra time to develop or get over injuries, so be it. They have the kind of elite talent that is worth waiting for.
I’m referring to players selected in the bottom half of the first round and later.
For example, you’re sitting there with the 1.10 pick and you’re torn between a RB like Shane Vereen and a WR like Randall Cobb. What you’re supposed to do is parrot the NFL Network talking heads and just take the BPA (best player available). Well, guess what? No one knows who the bleep the BPA is. We all look at various expert lists and we develop a consensus opinion and maybe we look at our rosters and we’re tempted to let our needs influence our decision in spite of all the BPA talk. But the reality is that every year the only “can’t miss” picks (at least those with a low bust factor) are in the top 3 to 4 picks of your rookie/FA draft. Go back and look at your league’s rookie draft history; I’m guessing the word crapshoot will come to mind.
So what do we do with that shocking realization? Well, if I can’t trade my way into a top 3 or 4 pick, I employ a very simple strategy.
I take a rookie RB with at least my first two picks of the rookie/FA draft, and when it comes time to take a WR in round 3 or 4, I am more inclined to take a young, free agent WR over a rookie WR.
For instance, this year’s free agent candidates in my league are guys like Jerome Simpson, Jason Hill, or even Donnie Avery.
These guys were all drafted in the first three rounds of the NFL draft in their respective years and were likely 1st or 2nd round picks in the corresponding dynasty rookie drafts.
Since their rookie years, for one reason or another, these players vastly underperformed expectations and were cut by their dynasty owners.
There are many possible reasons for underperformance. Sometimes guys underperform because they just suck- they were good college players, but their skill set just doesn’t translate over to the NFL.
But there are other causes that are correctable over time. Some guys are slow learners; some guys get injured; some guys have character/maturity issues and are just more interested in partying than studying playbooks.
Sometimes guys just get drafted by the wrong team and aren’t in a good environment to develop and work on their craft.
My point is that guys like Simpson (just turned 25) and Hill (just turned 26) are now at a point where for the first time in their careers, they have a legitimate chance to start.
I’m sitting there in the 3rd round of my rookie/FA draft and I’ve already taken a couple of shots at RB with my first two picks.
I’m not sure if my RBs will be hits or not, but at least I know that I’ll get my answer within the next year or two. The same can be said for Simpson and Hill (it’s now or never), I will know if those guys hit or not within 1 year.
The worst thing that can happen is those guys blow their opportunity (likely their last) and I cut them this time next year at the latest.
I think some dynasty owners tend to overlook the required development time for rookie WRs and the corresponding longer roster commitment.
They tend to hang on to a WR they drafted in the 2nd round for 2-3 years, grow tired of waiting, cut him and then do the same thing with the next rookie class.
These owners end up with a lot of dead weight on their rosters and need to be very lucky to overcome the odds and compete for a championship.
Aside from the top 2 or 3 WRs in a rookie draft class, it makes more sense to select RBs early and then look for WRs on your FA list that are in good situations with a realistic chance to start in the coming year.
The alternative rookie WRs available in the 3rd round of this year’s rookie/FA draft are guys like Tandon Doss, Greg Salas or Niles Paul.
They may or may not develop, but do you really want to commit to those guys for 3 years to see if they stick?
I don’t. When it comes to WRs, I want to either trade up and go after the AJ Green or Julio Jones type elite prospects or alternatively wait until the third or fourth round to select young, “tossed aside”, veteran guys that have quietly battled their way up the depth chart and now appear poised for success. At least with this quick “time to decision” strategy (1-2 years tops), you will cull the dead weight from your roster faster. Much like inventory in your business, the higher your turnover ratio, the more efficient your operation.