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The New Reality No.62 - Rookie Draft Strategy: The Early Rounds

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of dynasty fantasy football.

The post-NFL Draft dynasty calendar is divided into two camps: early and late rookie drafts. The early drafts, during the months of May and June, provide valuable data points for the latter half of owners yet-to-draft. Here is a look at key strategies in the first two rounds of offense-only rookie drafts in July and August:

The Price of 1.01

Before the NFL Draft, Ezekiel Elliott was already the clear 1.01 in rookie draft circles. Since affirming his projected top draft position and landing in a choice situation (Dallas), Elliott has vaulted even higher. In startup drafts, Elliott is commonly going in Round 1 and even in the top-half of the round on occasion. In rookie-only drafts, the 1.01 has fetched the equivalent of three, or even four, first round selections in a package deal. Offering 1.02 and 1.03 for the 1.01 this year may get declined. Top-5 NFL drafted running backs with strong metrics (Elliott qualifies) are as close to 'can't miss' dynasty bets as they come, however, Elliott's value before setting foot on a regular season field is pushing the limits of topping out. A dynasty team who 'earned' the 1.01 this offseason with a depleted roster has a golden opportunity to parlay the selection into a collection of quality assets to accelerate the rebuilding process.

Leverage the Top-4

A vast majority of rookie drafts (start-1QB) contain the same first four selections: Ezekiel Elliott followed by some order of LaQuon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, and Josh Doctson. The consensus disagrees about the receiver order, making the 1.02-1.04 range critical to successfully navigate from a value perspective. If an owner does not have a strong preference, the sweet spot is 1.04 to happily clean up the remaining wide receiver on the board. However, the variance from draft-to-draft creates demand to trade up by owners with a clear-cut top receiver in this year's class. The top-4 is strong enough an example trade to deal down is 1.04 for 1.05 and 2.01 executed in a dynasty league since the NFL Draft.

Buy Metrics & Draft Position

Combining strong metrics and NFL Draft position is a fast-track to making better rookie selections over the long haul. Either alone leaves out part of the optimal equation. Here are a few players to know and their general rookie draft range:

Kenneth Dixon: While a Day 3 draft pick, Dixon's metrics in my metric projection model are off the charts. Dixon ranks in the 98% range of all running back prospects dating back to 1999 and the highest of the 2016 running back class. Dixon is an average athlete, but sports elite Rushing and Receiving scores in the model. Dixon is typically drafted in the 1.06-1.12 range of rookie drafts.

Devontae Booker: The lone blemish for Booker is his age - a David Johnson-like 24.3 years old to start his first NFL season. Booker's projection model profile is a thing a beauty, however, with +22% Athleticism, +60% Rushing, and +18% Receiving marks. Booker's film is reminiscent of Arian Foster with smooth acceleration and movement for a bigger back. Booker is typically drafted in the 1.09-2.02 range.

Leonte Carroo: The Rutgers senior is a thick, adequately-athletic, and highly-productive receiver prospect. Carroo's 86 overall draft position was the No.9 receiver off the board, however, his Adjusted Draft Tier (ADT) which combines historical odds of becoming a fantasy starter and projection model scores is No.5 in the receiver class. In short, Carroo was drafted well below what his metric profile warranted. Carroo was considered a mid-Round 1 rookie pick before the NFL Draft and the cluttered depth chart in Miami must be a heavy contributor to his sagging typical post-draft selection in the 1.10 to even mid-Round 2 range of rookie drafts.

Know the Positional Trends

Since tracking more than 10 years of rookie draft data, there are some stark trends within the first two rounds of rookie drafts. In Round 1, wide receivers are the safe bets historically for dynasty owners. In fact, the top-3 rookie picks have been more than twice as successful by value-over-baseline principles (credit: Joe Bryant) when spent on wide receivers instead of their similarly-priced running back peers. From 1.04 to 1.12, wide receivers are still the best bet positionally, but less of a blowout as the top of the draft. Moving to Round 2, wide receivers become the worst bet of all four skill positions to return starter-level fantasy production with tight ends leading the pack.

The caveat with the above data is metrics matter. My go-to line is 'if betting against the trends, you better have a historically-significant metric reason.' Kenneth Dixon and Devontae Booker fit the mold with elite running back projection model scores. Ezekiel Elliott is another outlier to bet on this season in Round 1. Leonte Carroo in Round 2 fits the criteria and I would not fault any owner for drafting Carroo in Round 1.

Hunter Henry is a name to know for Round 2 of rookie drafts within this section. Tight ends are excellent Round 2 bets in rookie drafts historically, especially when possessing a strong metric profile. Henry has elite college production scores and enough size and athleticism to not create metric concerns. Taking Henry anyway in Round 2 makes sense from a historical odds standpoint, especially any time after Leonte Carroo is off the board.

For more on the Projection Model and Dynasty Metrics of Chad Parsons, check out Projection Model Basics and other content.