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The New Reality, No.86: Late-Round Rookie Draft Strategy

Refining 2017 rookie draft strategy between target and avoid prospects

With two months of rookie draft data in the books, incorporating Average Draft Position (ADP) trends and live fire testing in nearly 30 of my own rookie drafts in 2017, here are the key players in Round 3 and beyond:

Overall Perspective

Scrubbing the historical data over the years has shown wide receivers to be the worst bet as a position beyond Round 1 of rookie drafts. There are exceptions to this overarching guideline, but when in doubt, hit another position. Tight ends are running backs are much stronger bets. Tight ends generally have higher draft position (by the NFL) in this range. Running backs are more likely to turn into profit candidates through a flip trade if depth chart opportunity presents itself in the first season or two. These back-end players on a stock dynasty roster need to flash relatively early or else the spot is a candidate to churn in-season for waiver wire flavors of the week. As a result, a dynasty owner needs a well-defined plan for every rookie selection - especially in the later rounds - before selecting a player to optimize the roster spot.

Target Players

Adam Shaheen is a metric freak. While many in the NFL Draft community projected him as a Day 2 pick for months, the general dynasty populous continued to devalue him in rookie drafts after Chicago - a wide open depth chart - selected Shaheen in the top-50. Shaheen has the highest Production Score (+149%) of any drafted tight end dating back to 2000, edging out Rob Gronkowski (+144%). Shaheen also has a supersized frame and above-average athleticism for his size. While I recommend taking Shaheen in the later Round 2 zone, he commonly falls to Round 3 in typical rookie drafts observed.

Gerald Everett is another metric stud at tight end beyond the 'big 3' in 2017. Everett was also a top-50 selection with an open depth chart with the Rams. Everett's elite +42% Athleticism Score gets lost among the historically elite 2017 tight end class but is higher than any drafted tight end going back to 2013. Everett is typically available in the later third round or beyond in typical start-1TE leagues and, along with Adam Shaheen, is an auto-pick in the top-25 of tight end premium formats.

Elijah Hood is the glaring late-round running back recommendation for 2017 on my board. Hood's profile combines an elite Recruiting Score (most important of all the skill positions), prototypical frame, strong +63% RUSH score, and Hood enters the NFL at barely 21 years old. Hood landed in Oakland, where he represents the only lead back-sized option beyond Marshawn Lynch. Hood is typically drafted in the 35-45 range of rookie drafts and is the quintessential flip back for a future Round 2 pick (or better) if the depth chart breaks right.

Kenny Golladay is one of the very few exceptions to the positional guidelines. His metric profile is well-balanced (+22% Size, +28% Athleticism, +45% Production) and landing in Detroit pairs Golladay with a strong quarterback and early flash ability. The WR3 role is wide open and Golladay offers more size than either Golden Tate or Marvin Jones

Ishmael Zamora is the final wide receiver I would consider in Round 3+ of rookie drafts. Often available in Round 4, Zamora was commonly a Round 2 pick before the NFL Draft, where Zamora was ultimately undrafted. Oakland is a sneaky landing spot with the No.3 role open and upside if Michael Crabtree or Amari Cooper were to miss time. Zamora is the ultimate boom-bust bet, but early clarification on a late-round rookie pick is ideal to prevent a long (and ambiguous) hold before churning.

T.J. Logan was a stronger target option before Andre Ellington moved back to running back with Arizona's razor-thin depth behind stud David Johnson. Logan was minimally-productive behind Elijah Hood at North Carolina, but offers a strong combination of Recruit strength and athleticism (sub-4.4 40-time and 6.59 3-cone). Logan is available outside the top-50 in many rookie drafts and offers enough athletic traits to project a rise up Arizona's depth chart.

Avoid Players

Josh Reynolds is concerningly thin (BMI below 25) and Day 2-3 receivers are typically poor bets on the fantasy front. Reynolds is elevated largely by his situation, but Cooper Kupp is much more refined, the Rams signed Robert Woods this offseason, and Tavon Austin will continue to get cracks in the short-term with his elite movement ability. 

Taywan Taylor is a prospect darling to some, but a clear avoid player on my board. While Marcus Mariota is a quality quarterback pairing for a young receiver, Tennessee signed Eric Decker and drafted Corey Davis at No.5 overall. Rishard Matthews is also no slouch as an ancillary receiver and the Titans have Delanie Walker (with Jonnu Smith grooming behind him). In short, Tennessee is suddenly crowded in the pass game and Taylor will need a bevy of circumstances to carve a role, even if he shows his mettle at the NFL level.

ArDarius Stewart is nearly 25 years old for Week 1 of his rookie season and logged a forgettable -51% Production score at Alabama. The boom-bust profile is not justified by intoxicating physical traits either (+10% Athleticism score). Stewart, like Josh Reynolds, is boosted by a relatively open depth chart with the Jets. However, the Jets are a trainwreck. Potentially a quarterback in 2018 begins the recovery process, but for a Round 3 rookie pick, Stewart may not have that long a leash to stick on a dynasty roster through the season of waiver moves and the 2018 rookie draft. Later-round wide receivers are tough to break ties in their direction when roster decisions get tough in-season.

Amara Darboh is another boom-bust metric profile (which rarely pan out by my study). Darboh's -30% Production score is thrown aside by many buying into his physical traits. However, the size-athleticism combination did not translate to impactful market share (or raw) production at Michigan. Darboh barely broke the age-adjusted average market share in his final (age 22) season and lacked touchdown production considering his enviable frame and movement. I notated Darboh struggled for nearly all of Senior Bowl week when covering the event in Mobile, Alabama this year. Doug Baldwin is entrenched as the No.1 receiver in Seattle and betting on Darboh to surpass Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, or Jimmy Graham for the No.2/3 role is a tough ask to warrant keeping Darboh for long.

Chad Hansen, like ArDarius Stewart, is an opportunity-boosted rookie receiver. Hansen was a late breakout (21 years old) and averaged a concerning 12.8 yards-per-catch in his college career. Hansen was also a non-recruit by the metrics and Day 3 receivers are dicey bets to last on an NFL roster for long.