NFL Draft Dynasty Watchlist

Dynasty story lines to watch in the NFL Draft

There is not a more important time on the dynasty calendar than the next couple of weeks. The way you stack your personal draft board for rookie drafts and how well you manage trades during rookie drafts each May will be the biggest factors in whether or not you have dynasty success. With the first round of the draft kicking off tonight, let’s take a look at some of the key things to watch over the next three days to help us finalize our draft boards.

The most challenging part of this time of year is trying to properly weight the huge amount of new information we get about these players over the next few days against our pre-existing knowledge base. Like most, I hold some strong opinions already about certain prospects and you can check out my pre-draft dynasty rookie draft rankings along with those of Jeff Haseley, Bob Henry, Jason Wood, James Brimacombe, Jeff Tefertiller, Bruce Hammond, and Sigmund Bloom. However, I also believe strongly that the best rookie drafters keep an open mind throughout the process and are quick to take into account new information when it becomes available. Perhaps no information is more important than the draft capital an NFL team spends to acquire a player. My post-draft rankings will almost certainly look quite different next week than they do today.

The goal is to improve and refine the rankings as much as possible over the next week. Most of us have some biases and preconceived notions about players as we head into draft weekend. As someone who writes about devy players and daily fantasy college football, my biases and preconceived notions about players are plentiful. However, it makes sense to approach this time of year with a sense of humility and an open mind to the range of career possibilities for each prospect. Confirmation bias can be a major problem at this time of year. We should be careful not to double-count draft results that confirm our opinions. We also need to be careful not to half-count or dismiss draft results and new information that goes against our pre-draft opinions.

Not only do the decisions teams make on draft day tell us more about their scouting of the prospects (which we should value) but they also give us a plethora of clues as to what role the drafting team envisions for the player. With that information, we can make more educated guesses about the potential fantasy value a player could carry. Never has that been more true than the 2020 draft. We have less information about the players than in years past due to the abbreviated draft process. Plus, the way the tiers stack up heading into the draft dictates keeping an open mind. There are not huge talent gaps between the players at the top of the board at running back and wide receiver so the team fits and quality of the landing spots very much comes into play when breaking ties.

With that in mind, here are some areas to focus on over the next week to help you come out ahead in your dynasty rookie drafts:

  1. The order the top four running backs go off the board and what we can infer about pass-game usage from their landing spots.
  2. The draft capital a team is willing to spend on Cam Akers.
  3. How to get the most value out of what looks like a loaded and very deep wide receiver class.
  4. The top candidates for draft capital arbitrage opportunities.

1. The top four running backs

The top four running backs all rank very closely in terms of value. Each is likely to go off the board within a range of about 20 picks (late first-round through mid-2nd round). Based upon a sampling of the betting props, the expected draft positions are something like #32 for D’Andre Swift, #36 for Jonathan Taylor, #46 for J.K. Dobbins, and #50 for Clyde Edwards-Helaire. There are some really impressive qualities in each of these backs and it is easy to get about excited about their potential.

The first thing to watch is whether those projected draft ranges hold or we see something unexpected with one of the group sliding to the late second round or maybe one going 15 spots earlier than expected. This is pretty self-explanatory — making sure pre-draft assumptions hold and if they do not, trying to figure out why not and what it means (if anything).

The second thing to keep a close eye on any clues about the expected pass-game usage we can expect given the team’s offense. In some ways, that is the biggest missing variable in trying to decide between these four extremely talented back. Pass-game usage also tends to be factored in a little less than it should be for PPR leagues. Looking at all running backs in the NFL last season, a single target was worth 2.5X more fantasy points (PPR scoring) than a single carry. The multiplier is 3.25X if you compare receptions to carries. To get an idea of what that might look like in terms of projections, here are some pre-draft best guesses as to what carries and targets might look like for the top backs in the class:

Player
Carries
Targets
Adjusted Opportunities
PPR Fantasy Points
260
40
360
223
220
80
420
260
180
80
380
236
240
45
352.5
219

The point here is not to get too far out over our skies in making projections but to demonstrate how important targets are running back scoring. If we project 80 targets for D'Andre Swift, that is the equivalent of an extra 200 carries (2.5X multiplier) when it comes to fantasy production. That is where thinking in terms of adjusted opportunities (carries + 2.5X targets) can be a helpful guide when trying to stack our boards for rookie drafts. (Note: NFL running backs averaged 0.62 fantasy points per carry last year. We assumed average efficiency here to get a rough idea of fantasy production given various estimates of touches.)

The amount of pass-game usage we can expect is going to be impacted heavily by landing spots and that is why it will make sense to adjust our rankings post-draft based upon what we learn in the next few days.

2. Where does Cam Akers land?

On a scale where “keeping an open mind” is a 10 and “opinion is not changing” is a 0, Cam Akers would rank about an 8. There are some guys who are relatively easy to get a read on in terms of what to expect in the NFL. Akers is not one of those players for me and I am probably not alone because his draft stock is really hard to pin down. He generally goes anywhere from early-2nd round to late-3rd round in mock drafts and there seems to be little consensus from scouts as to how well he projects to the next level.

At least some of these discrepancies can probably be chalked up to things we can only guess about from the outside, which makes our job all the more difficult. For example, you probably should not give much credence to an anonymous scout quote like “he’s not a great makeup guy.” However, if a number of teams pass on an obviously talented player as he slides down the board, then that is telling us there really is something NFL teams are wary of. We should probably also factor that in when we try to put together our own rookie draft boards. We can make some educated guesses as to what the off-field scouting reports and information gathering in Tallahassee are telling teams based upon where he ends up getting drafted. Part of what makes Akers a bit tougher to pin down is that we never got to see him on a well-functioning team. In his three years at Florida State, the Seminoles went 18-20. It would be understandable to some extent if he was frustrated and did not have a perfect attitude.

Due to the above, Akers is a good example of a player where it makes sense to let his draft capital play a fairly large role in where we rank him in our rookie drafts. If he goes mid-to-late in the second round, then he belongs in the 1.04 to 1.07 range because a team is telling us with their actions that they trust him and view Akers as a potential centerpiece of their offense. If he slides deep into first half of the third-round, then some caution is warranted and he looks better in the 1.07 to 1.10 range. If Akers tumbles deep into the third round or further, then we need to try to figure out what is really going on and possibly make some bigger adjustments to our risk versus reward expectations.

In short, Akers draft position is one of the key unknown variables in terms of setting the tiers in the mid-part of the first round of our rookie drafts.

3. Maximizing Draft Value at Wide Receiver

There is a lot to try to figure out at wide receiver over the week. However, the one thing that seems unlikely to change is that CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy belong at or near the top of our board at the position. There seems to be general agreement among the vast majority of NFL types, #drafttwitter, and fantasy analysts that Lamb and Jeudy are both very good prospects. That sort of near-unanimity has not been present for many wide receiver prospects in recent years, which makes me feel good about putting Lamb and Jeudy near the high end of the value range that was discussed in my recent rookie pick values article. Even if valuing them at the top of their range, the top rookie wide receivers will rank lower for me than the top few running backs. Potential three-down running backs are a much rarer commodity than talented young wide receivers and more likely to make an immediate impact.

The other factor that should drive rookie draft strategy when it comes to wide receiver this year is how little difference we have seen in the career success of first-round wide receivers in comparison to second and third round receivers. In the last four rookie classes, both second and third-round wide receivers have proven more valuable dynasty assets on average.

Another way to demonstrate the relative parity in terms of what we should expect given a wide receiver’s draft round is to look at the Top 24 fantasy wide receivers of 2019. Here is how they broke down:

Now, there have been slightly fewer first-round wide receivers than second or third-rounders over the past decade but even if you look at it in terms of percentages, 18% of the 34 wide receivers drafted in the first round over the last decade finished Top 24 last season while 21% of the 43 wide receivers drafted in the second round finished Top 24 last season.

In short, drafting wide receivers is very difficult for NFL teams. The best wide receivers almost always go in the first three rounds. However, within that cohort, there is very little difference in the range of outcomes between the first, second, and third-rounders.

This is especially important information to have in our back pocket as we watch the 2020 NFL Draft unfold because the defining characteristic of this class is the depth of the talent at wide receiver. Countless draft analysts have stated they have given 18 to 20 wide receivers Top 100 grades. This is the year to re-stock our dynasty rosters at the position. With that in mind, the smart strategy over the next few weeks is to do what you can to position yourself to get as many of these Day 1 and Day 2 wide receivers as possible (trade down when the price is right) and make a special note to remember some of the names of the wide receivers who go in the third round. At least one of them is likely to be the next Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp, Terry McLaurin, Kenny Golladay, etc.

4. Who are the draft capital arbitrage values?

Every year there are players who go much lower in rookie drafts than their NFL draft capital would indicate they should. There were many examples in 2019 rookie drafts but here are three that stand out:

Daniel Jones (#6 overall) was going almost a full round later than Dwayne Haskins (#15 overall) in super flex dynasty drafts last offseason.

David Montgomery (#73 overall) was the rookie 1.04 while Devin Singletary (#74 overall) was the 2.06.

N'Keal Harry (#32 overall) was the rookie 1.02 while Marquise Brown (#25 overall) was the rookie 2.03.

Now, the point here is not to make your rookie draft board match exactly the order the NFL drafts players in. However, what you should be doing is constantly doing reality checks throughout your rookie draft and trying to determine if you are really getting the most bang for your buck with your rookie picks. For example, during 2019 rookie drafts, there should have been some alarm bells going off at the idea of staying put at 1.02 or 1.03 and drafting N’Keal Harry as opposed to taking advantage of the opportunity to trade down and grab three second-round picks to scoop up three wide receivers (like Marquise Brown) who all went in the same basic area of the draft as Harry.

Keep an eye out for these opportunities where the groupthink goes into overdrive and the valuations of the fantasy community end up extremely at odds with what the NFL draft capital is telling us. Every year there end up being these opportunities to get players that the NFL values highly at a deep discount in dynasty rookie drafts.