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The New Reality No.63 - Rookie Draft Strategy: The Late Rounds

Outlining key strategies, metrics and player targets for the late rounds of 2016 rookie drafts

Featuring Stefon Diggs as the article image is a reminder of the roster value impact of hitting on later rookie picks in a dynasty league. Stefon Diggs was commonly a Round 3/4 rookie pick in 2015, however, a strong metric prospect from Day 3 of the NFL Draft. The Vikings' depth chart was relatively wide open and Diggs vaulted up to a mid-Round 1 rookie pick trade value by midseason. Even with LaQuon Treadwell's addition to the Vikings receiver corps this offseason, Diggs still has a quality profit attached to his market value from original acquisition. On to Round 3 and beyond for 2016 rookie drafts, searching for this year's Stefon Diggs:

Adjusted Draft Tiers

As mentioned briefly in New Reality 62, Adjusted Draft Tiers (ADT) are my go-to metric is using a single number for incoming rookies. ADT combines NFL Draft position probability with projection model metrics for a single measure of a rookie's odds of becoming a fantasy starter. In Round 3 and beyond, there are hidden ADT gems every single year. Here are a few to keep on rookie draft target lists:

Top-Drafted Quarterbacks

If quarterbacks like Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and even Paxton Lynch slide into Round 3 - they become quality bets. Round 1 drafted quarterbacks will have better historical odds than remaining rookies at other positions outside the top-20 or top-25 of rookie drafts. Quarterbacks are less appealing in a start-1QB and 4-point passing touchdown format, but hitting on them can open avenues to sell another quarterback on a dynasty roster down the line - or enjoy the depth to play matchups in-season.

Rashard Higgins

If looking for the Stefon Diggs-type receiver of 2016 rookie drafts, it is Rashard Higgins. His 18.4 ADT is far better than Malcolm Mitchell, Mike Thomas (Southern Miss), Braxton Miller, and a few other receivers in this mid-round zone of rookie drafts. Higgins is thin and a poor athlete by the projection model, but a high Production Score indicates a high-floor player. Higgins is already getting positive reviews as the No.2/3 on the Browns' depth chart and the passing game there is wide open for impact. Higgins, like Diggs, could be a quality profit by midseason.

Kenyan Drake, Tyler Ervin

In terms of ADT, Drake and Ervin standout for Round 3 and beyond consideration in rookie drafts. Both have been spots in Round 2 as well, but could lag into the mid-to-late 20s overall in July and August. Both have ADTs in the 20s. Ervin has plenty of backing in the metric community as a smaller, but dynamic back with physical juice. Ervin posted a +76% Receiving Score at San Jose State, better than all but C.J. Prosise and DeAndre Washington among drafted 2016 running backs. Drake evolved into a change-of-pace option at Alabama as T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry were interior workhorses. The Dolphins attempted to add running backs in free agency and Drake was their choice at 73 overall with Prosise, Kenneth Dixon, Devontae Booker, Jordan Howard, and others available. Drake and Ervin are both slightly above-average with their overall projection model scores, making their ADT attractive without a high-level rookie pick investment.

Chase Situation

For later round rookie picks, the odds are dismal of finding a long-term dynasty asset. However, short-term bursts of profits are possible for dynasty owners willing to pick-and-flip when values rise. Since these Round 3 and beyond rookie picks are fringe players on a dynasty roster, seek out optimal situations where an incoming rookie is talented enough to take advantage. These will primarily be running backs as annually we see NFL depth chart carnage boost fringe NFL talents into significant touches later in the season. Here are situation plays among the 2016 rookie crop:

DeAndre Washington

The Raiders' depth chart is barren behind Latavius Murray, one of the least talented backs in the NFL holding down a current starting job. Washington has pass-catching chops (+90% Receiving Score) and a short, stocky frame to fill-in if needed. Washington is typically in the 20-30 range of rookie drafts.

Wendell Smallwood

I am not a big fan of Smallwood on tape, but like DeAndre Washington in Oakland, there is little behind oft-injured Ryan Mathews in Philadelphia. Smallwood can be a quick flip player for a 2017 Round 2 pick or even a bit more in-season if Mathews misses time. Smallwood is an average athlete (+4% Athleticism) with more receiving acumen (+31%) than rushing (-27%).

Dwayne Washington

Zach Zenner was a favorite player of mine in the 2015 draft class and there are good reports he is on track to be the power option in the Lions' backfield rotation. However, Zenner is an undrafted player and Washington has plenty of physical juice (+35% Athleticism, third-highest of drafted backs in 2016) and can catch (+28% Receiving). The combination of big, athletic, and hands has performed well from the projection model in recent years and Washington, if he makes the Lions' roster, is a wild card in the backfield.

Josh Ferguson

Undrafted, but another wide open backfield in Indianapolis beyond the nearly-done Frank Gore. Ferguson is a dynamic back in space and his +169% Receiving Score is historically elite and easily the best of the 2016 running back class. If Gore erodes swiftly or misses time, Ferguson is the upside bet of the Colts' backfield for the price of a rookie pick in the 25-40 range.

Seth DeValve

The Browns took a shot on Princeton's Seth DeValve in the fourth round, an undersized but strong metric tight end prospect. Gary Barnidge is a 30-something one-hit wonder as Cleveland's starting tight end. DeValve has the highest Athleticism Score (+39%) of any drafted tight end dating back to 2013. DeValve's +26% Production Score is also third-highest of the 2016 draft class. DeValve may be reserved for tight end premium or deep roster (30+ roster spots) formats due to end-of-roster constraints, but DeValve is a quality bet available in Round 4 and beyond of most rookie draft formats.