Drafting a Rookie in Fantasy Football – a Good Idea?

Updated July 4, 2015: Drafting a rookie on your fantasy football team is one of the riskier things you could do as a team owner. It ranks right up there with picking up a “one-week wonder” free agent. There are several reasons for this as discussed below:

Rookie Risks

Playing in the NFL is more more difficult than playing in college. Many players can excel at the college level, but NFL football is truly a man’s game. The league is comprised of professionals who play at the highest level. The players are bigger, the game is faster, the competition is more fierce and the pressure to achieve is sometimes overwhelming.

Making it even more difficult are the new distractions – money, fame, drugs and women. All of these must be managed well in addition to consistently performing at a very high level. Some or all of these distractions may have also been an issue during college, but it is a whole new world at the professional level. The NFL has even instituted a Rookie Symposium to address these issues.

The style of the game is different than what is played at the college level. The systems, schemes and terminology are different and more complex. It takes time for a rookie to fully understand a new system and to get comfortable with it.

Rookie receivers, specifically, have additional issues with which to deal. The first is the markings on the field which they use a reference points for running their routes. Hash marks on a college field are 40 feet wide and are 60 feet from the sideline. In the NFL, the hash marks are 18′ 6″ wide (the same width as the goal posts) and are 70′ 9″ from the sidelines. The top of the field numbers on a college field are nine yards from the sideline. In the NFL, the top of the field numbers are 14 yards from the sideline. Second, an NFL receiver must keep both feet in-bounds when catching a pass. In college, only one foot is required. Third, a rookie wide receiver must learn to extend the field by catching the ball away from his body on a sideline route. By extending his arms, the receiver in effect stretches the width of the field giving the quarterback a little more room to work and keeps the ball away from the defender. The other issues a rookie receiver faces are earning the confidence of the quarterback and getting an opportunity to play (working his way up the depth chart). Tight ends tend to develop a bit more quickly, but for the wide receivers, it usually isn’t until their third season when they finally put it all together and begin to produce at a high level.

Think of it another way. If it wasn’t so hard to be a rookie in the NFL, then why are there awards just for rookies? The answer is because if there weren’t any awards, then few, if any rookies would gain any recognition during their first professional season. If it were easy to make the transition to the NFL, then a rookie should be expected to compete for and regularly win the Associated Press’ MVP (Most Valuable Player) award alongside the veterans. By the way, the only rookie to ever win the MVP was Jim Brown of the Cleveland Browns in 1957. (Back then it was known at the Player of the Year award.) That’s a long time ago and Jim Brown was a very special player.

Rookie Performances 2010 – 2014

Listed in the tables below are the drafted rookies from the 2010 – 2014 by position. In each table you will find the round the rookie was drafted, the team which drafted him, the number of games in which he played, the total number of fantasy points he earned during the season, the average number of fantasy points he earned per game and his rank among all players at his position in the NFL based on total fantasy points earned. (Fantasy points were calculated using the Yahoo! public league scoring format.)

Although there is a large number of tables, the key element to look for in each is the fantasy point rankings. These cells are highlighted in yellow by the following criteria:

  • Top 10 Quarterbacks
  • Top 20 Running Backs
  • Top 30 Wide Receivers
  • Top 10 Tight Ends
  • Top 10 Kickers

It is especially important to note how few cells are highlighted.

Rookie Quarterbacks - 2014

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Blake Bortles1 - 3Jaguars14185.2213.224
Johnny Manziel1 - 22Browns413.903.553
Teddy Bridgewater1 - 32Vikings13191.6614.721
Derek Carr2 - 4Raiders16204.0012.820
Jimmy Garoppolo2 - 30Patriots512.182.454
Logan Thomas4 - 20Cardinals27.243.657
Tom Savage4 - 35Texans21.480.765
Aaron Murray5 - 23Chiefs----
A.J. McCarron5 - 24Bengals----
Zach Mettenberger6 - 2Titans777.8811.138
David Fales6 - 7Bears----
Keith Wenning6 - 18Ravens----
Tajh Boyd6 - 37Jets----
Garrett Gilbert6 - 38Rams----

Rookie Quarterbacks - 2013

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
E.J. Manuel1 - 16Bills10142.4814.228
Geno Smith2 - 7Jets16214.7413.420
Mike Glennon3 - 11Buccaneers13167.0212.826
Matt Barkley4 - 1Eagles35.81.954
Ryan Nassib4 - 13Giants----
Tyler Wilson4 - 15Raiders----
Landry Jones4 - 18Steelers----
Brad Sorensen7 - 15Chargers----
Zac Dysert7 - 28Broncos----
B.J. Daniels7 - 3149ers----
Sean Renfree7 - 43Falcons----

Rookie Quarterbacks - 2012

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Andrew Luck1 - 1Colts16294.4618.49
Robert Griffin III1 - 2Redskins15323.6021.65
Ryan Tannehill1 - 8Dolphins16196.1612.324
Brandon Weeden1 - 22Browns15182.6012.225
Brock Osweiler2 - 25Broncos5-0.82-0.268
Russell Wilson3 - 12Seahawks16285.6217.911
Nick Foles3 - 25Eagles791.6013.133
Kirk Cousins4 - 7Redskins335.8411.939
Ryan Lindley6 - 15Cardinals619.783.341
B.J. Coleman7 - 36Packers----
Chandler Harnish7 - 46Colts----

Rookie Quartebacks - 2011

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Cam Newton1 - 1Panthers16386.3024.23
Jake Locker1 - 8Titans549.289.942
Blaine Gabbert1 - 10Jaguars15133.368.928
Christian Ponder1 - 12Vikings11135.0212.327
Andy Dalton2 - 3Bengals16224.114.016
Colin Kaepernick2 - 449ers31.200.467
Ryan Mallett3 - 10Patriots----
Ricky Stanzi5 - 4Chiefs----
T.J. Yates5 - 21Texans652.668.840
Nathan Enderle5 - 29Bears----
Tyrod Taylor6 - 15Ravens30.92.369
Greg McElroy7 - 5Jets----

Rookie Quarterbacks - 2010

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Sam Bradford1 - 1Rams16209.8013.020
Tim Tebow1 - 25Broncos799.9014.332
Jimmy Clausen2 - 16Panthers1367.005.237
Colt McCoy3 - 21Browns898.9012.433
Mike Kafka4 - 24Eagles----
John Skelton5 - 24Cardinals537.407.545
Jonathan Crompton5 - 37Chargers----
Rusty Smith6 - 7Titans24.002.064
Dan LeFevour6 - 12Bears----
Joe Webb6 - 30Vikings540.108.094
Tony Pike6 - 35Panthers11.901.968
Levi Brown7 - 2Bills10.000.077
Sean Canfield7 - 32Saints----
Zac Robinson7 - 43Patriots----

Based on the tables above, 62 rookie quarterbacks have been selected in the NFL draft over the past five years. Granted, all 62 quarterbacks would not be considered in a fantasy football draft. So let’s consider just those quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round of the NFL draft as potential fantasy quarterbacks for that particular year. That would leave us with 14 quarterbacks. Of these 14, only three were within the top 10 of fantasy quarterbacks based on total fantasy points scored in their rookie year as shown below:

  • Cam Newton – Panthers (2011) –  3rd
  • Robert Griffin III – Redskins (2012) – 5th
  • Andrew Luck – Colts (2012) – 9th

The one factor all three had going in their favor was that they were designated as the starting quarterback of their NFL team. But does being drafted in the first round and named the team’s starting quarterback guarantee success? No – because E.J. Manuel (Bills), Ryan Tannehill (Dolphins), Brandon Weeden (Browns), Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars) and Sam Bradford (Rams) were in the same situation, but couldn’t crack the top 10 in their rookie season. It just isn’t that easy – even for a veteran. Actually, Russell Wilson (Seahawks) and Andy Dalton (Bengals) were drafted later than the first round, but performed better than the five first-round rookie quarterbacks just mentioned.

Even though the media assured fans that Newton, Griffin and Luck were ready for the NFL, most observers were surprised by the level of success they actually achieved. All three could have just as easily learned the hard-knock lessons most rookie quarterbacks experience as they transition to the professional level.

Drafting a rookie as your starting fantasy quarterback is a significant risk. So many things can go wrong. Very few, as has been demonstrated, can perform at a very high level in their first year. So when it comes time to draft your starting quarterback this year and you have a choice between a rookie and a veteran – think very carefully. If the veteran has a track record of success – give it the weight it deserves. The veteran may not be a glamour pick, but he is a known commodity. Remember the old adage, “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush?” It absolutely applies when drafting a fantasy quarterback.

Rookie Running Backs - 2014

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Bishop Sankey2 - 22Titans1678.24.943
Hill, Jeremy2 - 23Bengals16183.911.510
Carlos Hyde2 - 2549ers1462.14.454
Charles Sims3 - 5Buccaneers841.55.276
Tre Mason3 -11Rams12119.39.925
Terrance West3 - 30Browns14101.77.333
Jerick McKinnon3 - 32Vikings1167.36.149
Dri Archer3 - 33Steelers106.30.6136
Devonta Freeman4 - 3Falcons1657.33.661
Andre Williams4 - 13Giants16127.17.921
Ka'Deem Carey4 - 17Bears1121.502.096
De'Anthony Thomas4 - 24Chiefs1238.93.280
James White4 - 30Patriots36.12.0137
Lorenzo Taliaferro4 - 38Ravens1262.65.253
Alfred Blue6 - 5Texans1682.15.140
Lache Seastruck6 - 10Redskins----
Marion Grice6 - 25Chargers613.002.2114
Tyler Gaffney6 - 28Panthers----
Storm Johnson7 - 7Jaguars520.24.097
Kiero Small7 - 12Seahawks----

Rookie Running Backs - 2013

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Giovani Bernard2 - 5Bengals16166.910.416
Le'Veon Bell2 - 16Steelers13171.913.214
Montee Ball2 - 26Broncos1688.45.542
Eddie Lacy2 - 29Packers15207.513.86
Christine Michael2 - 30Seahawks37.92.6116
Davis, Knile3 - 34Chiefs1659.73.755
Franklin, Johnathan4 - 28Packers717.72.598
Marcus Lattimore4 - 3449ers----
Stepfan Taylor5 - 7Cardinals1218.61.696
Joseph Randle5 - 18Cowboys734.54.975
Chris Thompson5 - 21Redskins400165
Zac Stacy5 - 27Rams13157.412.118
Mike Gillislee5 - 31Dolphins162.11.1147
Latavius Murray6 - 13Raiders----
Kenjon Barner6 - 14Panthers41.40.4150
Andre Ellington6 - 19Cardinals15126.38.424
Mike James6 - 21Buccaneers737.95.468
Rex Burkhead6 - 22Bengals----
Spencer Ware6 - 26Seahawks11.01.0152
Theo Riddick6 - 31Lions1211.10.9111
Ryan Seymour7 - 14Seahawks----
Jawan Jamison7 - 22Redskins----
Kerwynn Williams7 - 24Colts10.00.0165
MIchael Cox7 - 47Giants115.50.5126

Rookie Running Backs - 2012

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Trent Richardson1 - 3Browns15203.713.69
Doug Martin1 - 31Buccaneers16262.616.42
David Wilson1 - 32Giants1673.24.644
Isaiah Pead2 - 18Rams155.00.3137
LaMichael James2 - 2949ers415.43.9111
Ronnie Hillman3 - 4Broncos1442.93.166
Bernard Pierce3 - 21Ravens1663.94.049
Lamar Miller4 - 2Dolphins1335.52.773
Robert Turbin4 - 11Seahawks1653.53.359
Bradie Ewing5 - 22Falcons----
Chris Rainey5 - 24Steelers1626.21.693
Vick Ballard5 - 35Colts16114.67.225
Alfred Morris6 - 3Redskins16240.715.05
Cyrus Gray6 - 12Chiefs106.20.6133
Dan Herron6 - 21Bengals30.50.2165
Terrance Ganaway6 - 32Jets----
Michael Smith7 - 5Buccaneers----
Bryce Brown7 - 22Eagles1680.05.042
Brad Smelley7 - 40Browns20.30.2168
Edwin Baker7 - 43Chargers----
Daryl Richardson7 - 45Rams1661.83.952

Rookie Running Backs - 2011

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Mark Ingram1 - 28Saints1080.08.045
Ryan Williams2 - 6Cardinals----
Shane Vereen2 - 24Patriots511.72.3108
Mikel Leshoure2 - 25Lions----
Daniel Thomas2 - 30Dolphins1369.35.349
DeMarco Murray3 - 7Cowboys13120.09.229
Stevan Ridley3 - 9Patriots1551.43.461
Alex Green3 - 32Packers41.70.4145
Roy Helu4 - 8Redskins15115.97.733
Kendall Hunter4 - 1849ers1678.84.946
Delone Carter4 - 22Colts1645.52.866
Owen Marecic4 - 27Browns133.90.3133
Taiwan Jones4 - 28Raiders109.81.0115
Bilal Powell4 - 29Jets22.81.4139
Jamie Harper4 - 33Titans1411.60.8109
Johnny White5 - 2Bills113.5.3135
Anthony Sherman5 - 5Cardinals157.50.5119
Jacquizz Rodgers5 - 14Falcons1649.33.165
Dion Lewis5 - 18Eagles1415.91.195
Charles Clay6 - 9Dolphins1341.33.237
Evan Royster6 - 12Redskins639.66.670
Jordan Todman6 - 18Chargers----
Allen Bradford6 - 22Buccaneers11.31.3148
Bruce Miller7 - 849ers1515.11.097
Shaun Chapas7 - 17Dallas30.90.3153
Da'Rel Scott7 - 18Giants110.90.1151
Anthony Allen7 - 22Ravens40.80.2154
Baron Batch7 - 29Steelers----
Stanley Havili7 - 37Eagles----
Jay Finley7 - 43Bengals----

Rookie Running Backs - 2010

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
C.J. Spiller1 - 9Bills1448.03.462
Ryan Mathews1 - 12Chargers12118.39.932
Jahvid Best1 - 30Lions15138.29.223
Dexter McCluster2 - 4Chiefs1132.02.9108
Toby Gerhart2 - 19Vikings1548.93.361
Ben Tate2 - 26Texans----
Montario Hardesty2 - 27Browns----
Joe McKnight4 - 14Jets720.93.085
John Conner5 - 8Jets911.31.3102
Anthony Dixon6 - 449ers1436.82.672
Deji Karim6 - 11Jaguars1117.01.588
Jonathan Dwyer6 - 19Steelers12.82.8130
James Starks6 - 24Packers30.00.0155
Trindon Holliday6 - 28Texans----
Charles Scott6 - 31Eagles----
Jameson Konz7 - 38Seahawks----

Based on the tables above, 111 rookie running backs have been selected in the NFL draft over the past five years. Granted, all 111 running backs would not be considered in a fantasy football draft. So let’s consider just those running backs who were drafted in the first round of the NFL draft as potential fantasy running backs for that particular year. That would leave us with seven running backs. Of these seven, only two were within the top 20 of fantasy running backs based on total fantasy points scored as shown below:

  • Doug Martin – Buccaneers (2012) – 2nd
  • Trent Richardson – Browns (2012) – 9th

The one factor both players had going in their favor was that they were designated as the starting running back of their NFL team. But does being drafted in the first round and named the team’s starting running back guarantee success? Of course not, but it helps. The trend today is for running backs to work in a committee with other running backs. This gives the team the opportunity to exploit the strengths of the different backs based on the game situation. It also keeps players fresher over the course of the very long NFL season. However, it does reduce their fantasy value.

Both Doug Martin and Trent Richardson were the featured backs of their offense. Doug Martin had 77% of his team’s rushing attempts and of his team’s passing attempts, he was targeted 13% of the time. Trent Richardson had 67% of the teams rushing attempts and of his team’s passing attempts, he was targeted 12% of the time.

Other first-round draft picks were put into a timeshare, which hurt their fantasy value. In 2010, C.J. Spiller (Bills) was teamed up with Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson and only had 18% of the rushing attempts and 6% of the passing targets. Ryan Mathews (Chargers) was coupled with Mike Tolbert and only had 35% of the rushing attempts and 5% of the passing targets. Jahvid Best (Lions) led his team’s backfield of Maurice Morris and Kevin Smith , but still only had 42% of the rushing attempts and 13% of the passing targets. In 2011, Mark Ingram (Saints) was added to a very crowded backfield comprised of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles and Chris Ivory. Even though he had the most rushing attempts of the committee, they amounted to only 28% of the team’s total. Ingram was a non-factor in the passing game as he was targeted only 2% of the time. In 2012, David Wilson (Giants) was part of a backfield with Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown and only had 17% of the rushing attempts and 2% of the passing attempts.

There was a big surprise from the 6th round of the 2012 draft. Alfred Morris, in a pre-season competition with Roy Helu, Evan Royster and Tim Hightower, earned the starting running back job. He played in all 16 games and had 65% of his team’s rushing attempts and of his team’s passing attempts, he was targeted 4% of the time. The only competition for Morris was the Redskin’s own fleet-footed rookie quarterback, Robert Griffin III, who had 23% of the team’s rushing attempts.

There were no running backs drafted in the first round of the 2013 draft. However, there were four rookie running backs who were given the opportunity to carry a significant workload right out of the gate. These players were Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard, Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy and St. Louis Zac Stacy. Bell and Lacy were named starters right away. Bernard was teamed up with BenJarvus Green-Ellis in a timeshare and Stacy got his break because the starters ahead of him on the Rams’ depth chart (Daryl Richardson, Benny Cunningham and Isaiah Pead) face-planted during the first four games of the season. Denver’s Montee Ball, another second-round selection, had a golden opportunity in Denver, but literally fumbled away his chances with his inability to hold on to the football or adequately protect Peyton Manning on passing downs. A nice surprise out of the sixth round was Arizona’s Andre Ellington. Even though he was the lesser half of a committee with Rashard Mendenhall, he still ranked 24th overall among all NFL running backs in fantasy points accumulated. With the retirement of Mendenhall during the off-season, Ellington moves into the lead role for 2014.

There were no running backs drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft, but there were a couple of gems that had a good year due to opportunity. These players included Cincinnati’s Jeremy Hill, the New York Giants’ Andre Williams and St. Louis’ Tre Mason. Hill worked in a committee with Giovani Bernard to start the year, but when Bernard went down with an injury in mid-season, Hill took advantage of the situation and exploded with production. When Bernard did return to the field, Hill held on to the lead role in the committee and ended the season as the 10th most productive running back in the league. Andre Williams started the season playing the big-back role behind newly acquired free agent Rashad Jennings (formerly with Oakland). He, too, got a bigger playing opportunity when Jennings went down with an injury in mid-season, but unlike Jeremy Hill, couldn’t impress his coaches enough to take over the lead role once Jennings returned to action. However, he kept plodding along for the entire 16-game schedule and finished as a 21st most productive fantasy running back in the league. Tre Mason didn’t get onto the field in 2014 until week 6 as the coaching staff didn’t think he was ready, especially in pass protection. If it weren’t for one huge game in week 13 against the Raiders in which he scored 34.4 fantasy points, there wouldn’t be much to note of the rookie. That one game accounted for 29% of his total production for the year. Mason did enough, however, with the 12 games that he did play to finish the season as the 25th most productive fantasy back of 2014.

Drafting a rookie as your starting fantasy running back is less risky than drafting a rookie quarterback. When making your determination as to whether to draft a rookie as a starting running back on your fantasy football team, remember to consider the following:

  • Skill level – can be effective between the 20’s and at the goal-line
  • Opportunity to play – better if not in a committee situation
  • Situation – whether the team philosophy is run-first or pass-first
  • Durability – you can’t score points if you aren’t on the field

Rookie Wide Receivers - 2014

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Sammy Watkins1 - 4Bills16133.08.326
Mike Evans1 - 7Buccaneers15177.111.810
Odell Beckham1 - 12Giants12204.017.05
Brandin Cooks1 - 20Saints1086.38.658
Kelvin Benjamin1 - 28Panthers16152.89.617
Lee, Marqise2 - 7Jaguars1249.14.193
Jordan Matthews2 - 10Eagles16135.28.525
Paul Richardson2 - 13Seahawks1233.12.8104
Davante Adams2 - 21Packers1462.64.576
Cody Latimer2 - 24Broncos42.30.6175
Allen Robinson2 - 29Jaguars1068.86.968
Jarvis Landry2 - 31Dolphins1697.46.149
Josh Huff3 - 22Eagles1214.51.2134
Donte Moncrief3 - 26Colts1464.14.675
John Brown3 - 27Cardinals1699.06.247
Jalen Saunders4 - 4Jets8-1.3-0.2207
Bruce Ellington4 - 649ers1327.02.1108
Shaquelle Evans4 - 15Jets----
Martavis Bryant4 - 18Steelers10104.110.442
Kevin Norwood4 - 23Seahawks610.21.7144
Ryan Grant5 - 2Redskins66.81.1153
Devin Street5 - 6Cowboys41.80.5177
Jared Abbrederis5 - 36Packers----
Robert Herron6 - 9Buccaneers611.82.0138
T.J. Jones6 - 13Lions----
Matt Hazel6 - 14Dolphins----
Walt Powell6 - 20Cardinals4-2.0-0.5209
Quincy, Enunwa6 - 33Jets----
Mike Campanaro7 - 3Ravens416.24.1128
Jeff Janis7 - 21Packers11.61.6178
James Wright7 - 24Bengals1112.11.1137
Tevin Reese7 - 25Chargers----
Jeremy Gallon7 -29Patriots----

Rookie Wide Receivers - 2013

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Tavon Austin1 - 8Rams1390.97.051
DeAndre Hopkins1 - 27Texans1690.25.652
Cordarrelle Patterson1 - 29Vikings16116.77.332
Justin Hunter2 - 2Titans1459.44.274
Robert Woods2 - 9Bills1480.35.757
Aaron Dobson2 - 27 Patriots1275.96.360
Terrance Williams3 - 12Cowboys16102.06.440
Keenan Allen3 - 14Chargers15148.69.917
Marquise Goodwin 3 - 16Bills1245.63.8100
Markus Wheaton3 - 17Steelers96.40.7158
Stedman Bailey3 - 30Rams1131.92.9114
Ace Sancers4 - 4Jaguars1559.64.073
Josh Boyce4 - 5Patriots612.12.0138
Chris Harper4 - 26Seahawks10.00.0191
Quinton Patton4 - 3149ers36.02.0161
Denard Robinson5 - 2Jaguars132.60.2176
Kenny Stills5 - 11Saints1695.15.948
Tavarres King5 - 28Broncos----
Corey Fuller6 - 3Lions----
Ryan Swope6 - 6Cardinals----
Justin Brown6 - 18Steelers----
Alan Bonner6 - 27Texans----
Cobi Hamilton6 - 29Bengals----
Brice Butler7 - 3Raiders810.31.3142
Charles Johnson7 - 10Packers----
Kevin Dorsey7 - 18Packers----
Marquess Wilson7 - 30Bears31.30.4182
Aaron Mellette7 - 32Ravens----

Rookie Wide Receivers - 2012

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Justin Blackmon1 - 5Jaguars16120.87.629
Michael Floyd1 - 13Cardinals1666.24.168
Kendall Wright1 - 20Titans1585.05.755
A.J. Jenkins1 - 3049ers3---
Brian Quick2 - 1Rams1527.61.8114
Stephen Hill2 - 11Jets1143.23.993
Alshon Jeffery2 - 13Bears1054.75.579
Ryan Broyles2 - 22Lions1043.04.395
Rueben Randle2 - 31Giants1647.83.089
DeVier Posey3 - 5Texans118.40.8154
T.J. Graham3 - 6Bills1538.72.6100
Mohamed Sanu3 - 20Bengals947.85.388
T.Y. Hilton3 - 29Colts15137.09.123
Chris Givens4 - 1Rams1591.06.152
Travis Benjamin4 - 5Browns1452.43.783
Joe Adams4 - 9Panthers9-4.0-0.4206
Devon Wylie4 - 12Chiefs65.30.9164
Jarius Wright4 - 23Vikings744.16.392
Keshawn Martin4 - 26Texans1619.81.2131
Nick Toon4 - 27Saints----
Greg Childs4 - 39Vikings----
Danny Coale5 - 17Cowboys----
Marvin Jones5 - 31Bengals1130.82.8109
Juron Criner5 - 33Raiders1223.11.9123
B.J. Cunningham6 - 13Dolphins----
Marvin McNutt6 - 24Eagles40.00.0198
Tommy Streeter6 - 28Ravens----
LaVon Brazil6 - 36Colts1522.61.5124
Rishard Matthews7 - 20Dolphins815.11.9137
Toney Clemons7 - 24Steelers34.11.4172
Jeremy Ebert7 - 28Patriots----
Junior Hemingway7 - 31Chiefs----
Jordan White7 - 37Jets21.30.7186

Rookie Wide Receivers - 2011

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
A.J. Green1 - 4Bengals15153.010.214
Julio Jones1 - 6Falcons13147.511.318
Jonathan Baldwin1 - 26Chiefs1131.42.9110
Titus Young2 - 12Lions1698.26.146
Torrey Smith2 - 26Ravens16130.08.122
Greg Little2 - 27Browns1684.45.353
Randall Cobb2 - 32Packers1544.02.994
Austin Pettis3 - 14Rams1225.02.1121
Leonard Hankerson3 - 15Redskins416.34.1129
Vincent Brown3 - 18Chargers1244.93.793
Jerrel Jernigan3 - 19Giants----
Kris Durham4 - 10Seahawks33.01.0166
Edmond Gates4 - 14Dolphins----
Greg Salas4 - 15Rams627.24.5119
Cecil Shorts4 - 17Jaguars109.00.9145
Tandon Doss4 - 26Ravens----
Kealoha Pilares5 - 1Panthers----
Denarius Moore5 - 17Raiders13103.98.039
Jeremy Kerley5 - 22Jets1441.83.098
Niles Paul5 - 24Redskins123.20.3163
Ryan Whalen6 - 2Bengals42.70.7170
Dwayne Harris6 - 11Cowboys----
Aldrick Robinson6 - 13Redskins----
Ronald Johnson6 - 1749ers----
Scotty McKnight7 - 24Jets----
Stephen Burton7 - 33Vikings43.81.0160
David Ausberry7 - 38Raiders111.20.1180
DeMarco Sampson7 - 46Cardinals113.60.3162

Rookie Wide Receivers - 2010

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Demaryius Thomas1 - 22Broncos938.44.397
Dez Bryant1 - 24Cowboys1292.17.747
Arrelious Benn2 - 7Buccaneers1355.04.279
Golden Tate2 - 28Seahawks1123.12.1119
Damian Williams3 - 13Titans922.42.5120
Brandon LaFell3 - 14Panthers1358.84.576
Emmanuel Sanders3 - 18Steelers1249.64.184
Jordan Shipley3 - 20Bengals1578.05.257
Eric Decker3 - 23Broncos914.61.6133
Andre Roberts3 - 24Cardinals1442.73.190
Armanti Edwards3 - 25Panthers30.70.2177
Taylor Price3 - 26Patriots14.14.1159
Mardy Gilyard4 - 1Rams76.30.9153
Mike Williams4 - 3Buccaneers16158.49.912
Marcus Easley4 - 9Bills----
Jacoby Ford4 - 10Raiders1586.55.850
David Reed5 - 25Ravens101.50.2171
Riley Cooper5 - 28Eagles817.62.2126
Kerry Meier5 - 34Falcons----
Carlton Mitchell6 - 8Browns10.90.9174
Dezmon Briscoe6 - 22Bengals215.37.7131
Antonio Brown6 - 26Steelers916.71.9129
David Gettis6 - 29Panthers1569.04.666
Kyle Williams6 - 3749ers30.80.3175
Terrence Austin7 - 12Redskins44.71.2158
Marc Mariani7 - 15Titans----
Timothy Toone7 - 48Lions----

Based on the tables above, 149 rookie wide receivers have been selected in the NFL draft over the past five years. Granted, all 116 wide receivers would not be considered in a fantasy football draft. So let’s consider just those wide receivers who were drafted in the first round of the NFL draft as potential fantasy wide receivers for that particular year. That would leave us with 17 wide receivers. Of these 17, seven were within the top 30 of fantasy wide receivers based on total fantasy points scored as shown below:

  • A.J. Green – Bengals (2011) – 14th
  • Julio Jones – Falcons (2011) – 18th
  • Justin Blackmon – Jaguars (2012) – 29th
  • Sammy Watkins – Bills (2014) – 26th
  • Mike Evans – Buccaneers (2014) – 10th
  • Odell Beckham – Giants (2014) – 5th
  • Kelvin Benjamin – Panthers (2014) – 17th

The one factor all three players had going in their favor was that they were designated as a starting wide receiver of their NFL team. But does being drafted in the first round and named one of the team’s starting wide receivers guarantee success? Again, the answer is of course not, but it helps. However, there are, as discussed at the beginning of this article, many hurdles that stand in the way of a rookie wide receiver’s success.

All seven wide receivers are very talented players, but Justin Blackmon found himself on a team where the quarterback situation was less than ideal. Blaine Gabbert, also a rookie in 2012, was underwhelming and was eventually replaced by Chad Henne in week 11. Once Henne was under center, Blackmon’s production improved.  By year’s end, Blackmon, who played in all 16 of the Jaguars games, was the target of 23% of the team’s pass attempts – a team high.  A.J. Green played in all 16 games for the Bengals and was the target of 31% of the team’s pass attempts – also a team high. Julio Jones played in all 16 games for the Falcons and, while competing with Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez for the attention of Matt Ryan, was the target of 21% of the team’s passes. For the four drafted in the 2014 class, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans had the least attractive quarterback situation. The Bills started the season with E.J. Manuel and then switched to Kyle Orton when Manuel was benched after four weeks. The Buccaneers started the season with free-agent acquisition Josh McCown, but were forced to play rookie Mike Glennon when McCown suffered a thumb injury in week 3. The Bucs tried to stick with Glennon the rest of the way, but it was futile. McCown regained his starting job in week 10. Odell Beckham and Kelvin Benjamin had much more stable environments in which to play under Eli Manning and Cam Newton, respectively. All four receivers garnered at least 21% of the teams passing targets and with the exception of Mike Evans, they all led their team in that category – Watkins 22.1%, Evans 23.2% , Beckham 21.7% and Benjamin 26.8%.

Other first round draft picks had a less than auspicious start to their career. In 2010, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas found himself buried on his team’s depth chart behind Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal. Dallas’ Dez Bryant had the third most of his team’s targets, but still could only manage to score 92.1 fantasy points to rank 47th among all NFL wide receivers. In 2011, Kansas City’s Jonathan Baldwin, similar to Demaryius Thomas, also found himself buried on his team’s depth chart behind Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Dexter McCluster. In 2012, Arizona’s Michael Floyd had to fight for targets with Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts from the less-than-impressive quarterback committee of John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and fellow rookie Ryan Lindley. Tennessee’s Kendall Wright led his team in targets (19%) but could only accumulate 626 yards and four touchdowns.  That is still better than the year San Francisco’s A.J. Jenkins had. He played in only three games all season and dropped the only pass thrown his direction. In 2013, Tavon Austin managed to gobble up the second-most receptions on his team, but unfortunately he was playing for the Rams in a season when Kellen Clemens had to start the final nine games of the season for an injured Sam Bradford. A 40-69-418-4 line isn’t going to endear himself to many fantasy team owners. The Texans’ DeAndre Hopkins found himself playing a distant second fiddle to ball hog Andre Johnson in his rookie year. Johnson had twice as many targets, receptions and touchdowns as Hopkins. Cordarrelle Patterson did most of his damage in a role other than wide receiver. He actually scored more touchdowns (5) on running plays and as a kick returner than he did from catching passes (4). In fact, he gained more yards per carry (13.2) than he did per reception (10.4). It was only his versatility that buoyed his final ranking as the 32nd most productive wide receiver in 2013. In 2014, Brandin Cooks was having a decent rookie season until he broke his thumb in week 11, ending his season. He would likely have finished in the top-30 had he not had his season cut short.

There were four nice surprises outside of the first round over the past four years. In 2010, Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams, drafted with the third pick in the fourth round, led his team in targets, receiving yards and touchdowns to rank as the 12th best fantasy wide receiver for the year.  In 2011, Baltimore’s Torrey Smith, drafted with the 26th pick of the second round, out-performed fellow wide receiver Anquan Boldin to rank as the 22nd best fantasy wide receiver. In 2012, Indianapolis’ T.Y. Hilton, drafted with the 29th pick of the third round, came on strong in the second half of the season to finish as the 23rd best fantasy wide receiver – six slots higher than fellow rookie and first round draft pick, Justin Blackmon. (A case in point – quarterbacks matter! Luck to Hilton is a better combination that Gabbert to Blackmon.) In 2013, San Diego’s Keenan Allen, drafted with the 14th pick of the third round, took advantage of the opportunity given by a season-ending injury to Malcom Floyd to outperform every wide receiver in his rookie class. Among all NFL wide receivers, Allen ranked a remarkable 17th. In 2014, Philadelphia’s Jordan Matthews, drafted with the 10th pick of the second round, had a nice rookie year by posting a 67-104-872-8 line. Filling the void left by the release of DeSean Jackson, his eight scores were just two shy of Jeremy Maclin’s team-leading 10 touchdowns.

Drafting a rookie wide receiver is about as risky as drafting a rookie quarterback. There are significant adjustments required at this position. As stated earlier, it usually takes a couple of seasons for everything to finally click. Choose carefully if thinking about drafting a rookie wide receiver and make sure you take into consideration team’s quarterback along with the system in which he plays and the competition on the depth chart. Based on recent evidence, I wouldn’t reach to far to draft a rookie wide receiver. Consistent scoring is more likely to come from a player who knows a team’s system well and has earned the confidence of his quarterback, although there are always exceptions – like the first round picks in 2014. That was a special group of rookie prospects.

Rookie Tight Ends - 2014

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Eric Ebron1 - 10Lions1230.82.645
Austin Seferian-Jenkins2 - 6Buccaneers932.13.643
Jace Amaro2 - 17Jets1446.53.329
Troy Niklas2 - 20Cardinals43.81.092
C.J. Fiedorowicz3 - 1Texans58.81.876
Richard Rodgers3 - 34Packers1334.52.740
Crockett Gillmore3 - 35Ravens918.12.056
Arthur Lynch5 - 15Dolphins----
Ted Bolser7 - 2Redskins----
Rob Blanchflower7 - 15Steelers----

Rookie Tight Ends - 2013

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Tyler Eifert1 - 21Bengals1556.53.829
Zach Ertz2 - 3Eagles1570.94.720
Gavin Escobar2 - 15Cowboys925.42.850
Vance McDonald2 - 2349ers1011.91.263
Travis Kelce3 - 1Chiefs----
Jordan Reed3 - 23Redskins969.77.721
Dion Sims4 - 9Dolphins79.21.368
Levine Toilolo4 - 36Falcons1117.51.658
Luke Willson5 - 25Seahawks1233.22.847
Nick Kasa6 - 4Raiders46.91.782
Mychal Rivera6 - 16Raiders1664.74.023
Ryan Griffin6 - 33Texans1030.43.049
Michael Williams7 - 5Lions----
D.C. Jefferson7 - 13Cardinals----
Chris Gragg7 - 16Bills211.35.764
Justice Cunningham7 - 48Colts10.40.4108

Rookie Tight Ends - 2012

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Coby Fleener2 - 2Colts1240.13.338
Dwayne Allen3 - 1Colts1670.64.423
Michael Egnew3 - 15Dolphins----
Ladarius Green4 - 15Chargers45.61.476
Evan Rodriguez4 - 16Bears122.10.288
Orson Charles4 - 21Bengals1610.10.661
Adrien Robinson4 - 32Giants----
Rhett Ellison4 - 33Vikings166.50.473
Taylor Thompson5 - 10Titans164.60.382
James Hanna6 - 16Cowboys168.60.567
Drake Dunsmore7 - 26Buccaneers----
David Paulson7 - 33Steelers165.10.380

Rookie Tight Ends - 2011

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Kyle Rudolph2 - 11Vikings1542.92.935
Lance Kendricks2 - 15Rams1532.42.241
Rob Housler3 - 5Cardinals1211.30.961
Jordan Cameron4 - 5Browns83.30.485
Luke Stocker4 - 7Buccaneers149.20.765
Julius Thomas4 - 32Broncos40.50.1100
D.J. Williams5 - 10Packers131.30.194
Lee Smith5 - 28Patriots91.10.195
Richard Gordon6 - 16Raiders120.20.0103
Virgil Green7 - 1Broncos152.40.290
Ryan Taylor7 - 15Packers156.40.475
Daniel Hardy7 - 35Buccaneers----

Rookie Tight Ends - 2010

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Jermaine Gresham1 - 21Bengals1469.14.921
Rob Gronkowski2 - 10Patriots16112.67.05
Ed Dickson3 - 6Ravens1021.22.152
Tony Moeaki3 - 29Chiefs1573.64.920
Jimmy Graham3 - 31Saints1265.95.523
Aaron Hernandez4 - 15Patriots1497.06.911
Dennis Pitta4 - 16Ravens20.10.1100
Garrett Graham4 - 20Texans----
Clay Harbor4 - 27Eagles613.22.260
Michael Hoomanawanui5 - 1Rams732.64.740
Andrew Quarless5 - 23Packers1127.82.542
Brody Eldridge5 - 31Colts63.90.784
Fendi Onobun6 - 1Rams21.50.891
Dennis Morris6 - 5Redskins----
Nate Byham6 - 1349ers62.70.589
Anthony McCoy6 - 16Seahawks----
Mickey Shuler7 - 7Vikings14.44.480
Dorin Dickerson7 - 20Texans----
Jim Dray7 - 26Cardinals94.70.578
Dedrick Epps7 - 28Chargers----

Based on the tables above, 70 rookie tight ends have been selected in the NFL draft over the past fiveyears. Granted, all 70 tight ends would not be considered in a fantasy football draft. So let’s consider just those tight ends who were drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL draft as potential fantasy tight ends for that particular year. That would leave us with 13 tight ends. Of these 13, only one, New England’s Rob Gronkowski drafted in 2010, was within the top-10 of fantasy tight ends based on total fantasy points scored. Gronkowski ranked 5th.

Even though he did split targets with fellow tight end rookie, Aaron Hernandez, Gronkowski was a touchdown machine. Ten of quarterback Tom Brady’s 36 touchdowns were scored by Gronkowski. Aaron Hernadez added another six. Tight end Alge Crumpler added two more. A full 50% of Tom Brady’s touchdown passes were thrown to a tight end. The only other teams who could come close to that percentage in 2010 were the Jacksonville Jaguars with 42% (Marcedes Lewis) and the San Diego Chargers with 40% (Antonio Gates). In 2011, Tom Brady threw an even greater percentage (62%) of his touchdown passes to a tight end. The greatest single factor Rob Gronkowski had going in his favor as a rookie was having Tom Brady at quarterback.

Other first and second round draft picks had a less than auspicious start to their career. In 2010, Cincinnati’s Jermaine Gresham, as the #4 receiver for Carson Palmer, could only manage to score 69.1 fantasy points to rank 21st among all NFL tight ends. In 2011, Minnesota’s Kyle Rudolph was stuck behind Visanthe Shiancoe on the depth chart and St. Louis’ Lance Kendricks never found the endzone.  Although a former teammate at Stanford with quarterback Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener found himself playing second fiddle to fellow rookie tight end, third round pick, Dwayne Allen in 2012. In 2013, Cincinnati’s Tyler Eifert and Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz found themselves in a timeshare situation with Jermaine Gresham and Brent Celek, respectively, killing the fantasy value of all four tight ends. In Dallas, Gavin Escobar had few opportunities as he played behind fantasy stud Jason Witten. San Francisco’s Vance McDonald found himself in a similar situation – begging for scraps left by Vernon Davis. In 2014, the only first-round pick, the Lions’ Eric Ebron, landed in a fantasy wasteland – a three-headed timeshare with Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria. The Buccaneers’ Austin Seferian-Jenkins also found himself in a timeshare. He battled free-agent acquisition Brandon Myers for targets and both suffered with a less-than-ideal situation at quarterback with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon. The Jets’ Jace Amaro was in a similar situation with fellow tight end Jeff Cumberland and the disaster that was the New York quarterback position with Geno Smith and Michael Vick. Troy Niklas should have known from the moment his name was called in the draft by the Cardinals that he wasn’t going to have much of an impact in the offense as Arizona has rarely targeted the tight end position in their offensive scheme since Bruce Arians was selected as head coach in 2013.

Just like wide receivers, tight ends need to make similar adjustments from the college game to the NFL. To be a factor in fantasy football, a tight end must be in a system that uses the position as a receiver rather than additional protection for the quarterback on passing plays. However, in order for a player to even get on the field, a tight end has to be equally adept in both areas. Tight ends tend not to make a huge impact in their rookie year. Unless there is an outstanding talent going to a position-friendly offense, rookie tight ends are better left on the draft board.

Rookie Kickers - 2014

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Zach Hocker7 - 13Redskins----
Nate Freese7 - 14Lions315534

Rookie Kickers - 2013

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Caleb Sturgis5 - 33Dolphins161257.818
Dustin Hopkins6 - 9 Bills----

Rookie Kickers - 2012

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Randy Bullock5 - 26Texans----
Greg Zuerlein6 - 1Rams16116.07.321
Blair Walsh6 - 5Vikings16168.010.51
John Potter7 - 44Bills----

Rookie Kickers - 2011

PlayerRound
and
Pick
TeamGames
Played
Total
Fantasy
Points
Fantasy
Points
per Game
Fantasy
Points
Rank
Alex Henery4 - 23Eagles16124.07.817

Kickers are rarely drafted by NFL teams and if they are, they tend to be picked in the later rounds. In 2010, no kickers were selected in the draft. In 2012, however, Blair Walsh turned out to be a very nice find and proved to be a suitable replacement for Ryan Longwell. Even if a kicker does get drafted by an NFL team, there is usually a battle for the kicking job during training camp and a rookie could easily find himself out on the streets should he not perform as well as his veteran competitor. That happened to Zach Hocker in 2014. Or it could happen that a kicker could suffer a nasty groin injury right before the beginning of the season and miss the entire year. That happened to Buffalo’s Dustin Hopkins in 2013.

Thank you for reading this rather lengthy discussion on rookies. Hopefully, with the data presented, fantasy football team owners will think carefully before investing a draft pick in a rookie. Although there is fantasy gold to be found from time to time in the NFL draft, most first-round picks don’t pan out as rookie superstars. Give them time to develop.

Related articles at Fantasy Football Impact:

Return to the Drafting Strategies overview page

Drafting a Rookie in Fantasy Football - a Good Idea?

Disclaimer: Fantasy football is a game of speculation; therefore, Fantasy Football Impact disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, regarding player performance or results associated with its opinions or advice.