AJ Green 450x315 2013 Rookie Draft: Best Player Available vs. Your Team Need and How To Value Your Pick

By: Luke Grilli (@LGrilli88)

The NFL Draft begins on Thursday and we will finally know where all these hyped up college players will begin their careers. I figured now was as good as any time to discuss how to approach your annual rookie draft.

Rookies are tough to value in Dynasty Fantasy Football. On one hand, it is great to lock up a stud from Day 1. Those who were able to grab AJ Green with a Top 3 rookie pick in 2011 have been ecstatic about how he has panned out. Green will perform as a Top 5 WR for the next 6-7 years, which is easy money in fantasy football.

On the other end of the spectrum, not every unproven rookie will perform at their expected level. The same year as AJ Green, Mark Ingram was also taken as a Top 3 rookie pick after an illustrious career with Alabama. Drafted by the Saints in the first round, most thought he would flourish against weak run defenses, as Saints opponents had to worry about the Drew Brees led aerial attack first. Ingram had to fight off some injuries and ended up being part of a time share that included Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and the unknown Chris Ivory. This led to the former Heisman Trophy Winner finishing with 520 yards from scrimmage and 5 TDs. Those were obviously not the RB2 numbers that were expected by his fantasy owners. Now, I’m not closing the book on Ingram. He will still be 23 coming into the 2013 NFL season, had a few decent games towards the end of 2012 and may have to worry about Chris Ivory stealing carries if Ivory is traded to the Jets. Ingram’s career isn’t over by any means, but it should be noted that that some owners’ patience may be wearing thin with him.

Before we dig any deeper, I wanted to use the the examples above to point out that rookies are no sure thing in fantasy football and you may have to wait until Years 2 or 3 to see what you have. Now with that all being said, let’s discuss the strategy of BPA vs. Your Team Need.

I wish I had this mindset back in 2011. Back then, I was sitting pretty with the 1.05 and 1.09 picks in what was said to be a relatively deep 2011 Rookie Draft. Taking a look at my roster at the time of the draft, I was rolling with Tony Romo and Josh Freeman as my QBs (meh ok. Romo sneakily puts up solid numbers and Freeman had some potential). At RB, I struggled and was stuck with Beanie Wells and Rashard Mendenhall, with absolutely no depth behind them (my team’s biggest weakness obviously). While my pass catchers consisted of Calvin Johnson, Percy Harvin, Nate Burleson, Deion Branch, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Gresham (My positions of strength, thanks to Calvin and Percy).

I went into the draft targeting a week-to-week starter at RB and someone to be my WR4 to grow into a WR3 with WR2 upside. At the time, I knew that the draft would go AJ Green, Julio Jones and Mark Ingram in order. With those players gone, I REALLY wanted Daniel Thomas and did all I could to move up to 1.04 to get him. I took a look at my TEAM NEED vs. where I was picking, and thought that Thomas was the best RB and could put me over the top. Unfortunately the owner at 1.04 wouldn’t budge and I was stuck with Greg Little at 1.05.  Delone Carter went 1.06, Stevan Ridley 1.07 (inflated pick at the time after his huge pre season game, but ended up being justified) and Jake Locker went 1.08. I was back on the clock at 1.09 and had to make a decision fast. Again, I took a look at my TEAM NEED of running back and this point and made a panicked decision of Jacquizz Rodgers. He was the next best RB on my board since LeShoure and Ryan Williams had both already gone down with season ending injuries and I overlooked DeMarco Murray who went 1.15.

So, my depth chart going into the 2011 seasn now looked like…
QB- Romo, Freeman
RB- Beanie Wells, Rashard Mendenhall, Jacquizz Rodgers
WR- Calvin Johnson, Percy Harvin, Greg Little, Deion Branch, Doug Baldwin, Nate Burleson
…ya the rookies really didn’t  make my roster any better, huh? Obviously, I was the victim of circumstance as Greg Little and Jacquizz Rodgers haven’t panned out as expected (still time!), but they aren’t looking like those difference makers that will turn a playoff team into a championship team.

While hindsight is 20/20, the Greg Little pick wasn’t a horrible one at 1.05, but I should have grabbed Cam Newton at 1.09 who ended up going one pick later at 1.10. I was so stubborn in saying that I wanted to walk away with an RB in the draft that I overlooked the potential of the #1 overall NFL draft pick who could rack up stats as a run first QB. I also wanted to win NOW by taking Little who was expected to step in as the WR1 in Cleveland (OK I should have realized that is a WR3 anywhere else…I have a soft spot for the Brownies though) and I felt that Rodgers would get significant time since Michael Turner was getting up there in years . Plus, Atlanta was transitioning into becoming more of a “pass first” team giving the scat back even more value. Romo was a solid option for me at QB, but the 10 years younger Newton wound up with significantly better fantasy numbers in 2011.

So after that long winded explanation, I hope that it is clear that the BPA approach is the way to go. I know that this is one example in one league, but I truly believe that the BPA is the smartest strategy for you and your fantasy squad. By pigeonholing yourself into believing that one rookie at a specific position will be the reason you win a championship, you severely limit your flexibility in the draft and moving forward. Say I drafted Cam Newton instead of Jacquizz Rodgers. That would have allowed me to move Romo or Freeman for an RB I deemed acceptable and who would have definitely been better than  Jacquizz Rodgers. Both Romo and Freeman have proven something in the NFL, thus would fetch some value in return. The instant the draft starts and/or you use the pick, another owner you may have been in negotiations with could become un enamored with the pick/player and your leverage is gone.

One more note I feel is very important when valuing your rookie pick…

In the days leading up to your draft, rookie picks hold the most weight. Fantasy owners have been salivating at the idea of drafting the next RG3 or Doug Martin. Unfortunately, the stats say that you will probably be drafting Delone Carter before you draft another AJ Green.
Taking a look at that  same 2011 class, here are the names some player who may have been early round rookie draft picks and were not worth that price tag.
Delone Carter
Lance Kendricks
Roy Helu
Blaine Gabbert
Daniel Thomas
Titus Young
Jonathan Baldwin
Leonard Hankerson
Alex Green
…most of these guys deserve to be on your redraft waiver wire, never mind your Dynasty roster.

Now, what rookie from 2011 helped their team win a game(s) during the regular season and/or Playoff Weeks 14-16? Cam Newton, AJ Green, Julio Jones, Roy Helu (remember him?), Torrey Smith and DeMarco Murray. So realistically, at best six helped at some point in 2011. Knowing what I know now, I’d rather trade off that high pick for a proven player if I’m in “win now”  mode. Even if you are in rebuilding mode, don’t be afraid to move a rookie pick for a 2nd or 3rd year player that you have been targeting.

What’s frustrating about rookies in fantasy football is how you should value them. In the end, it is hit or miss on whether or not they will pan out for you. Personally, I would rather have the guy who is a few years older but has already proven himself. It would be great if we could draft players and know they would perform as expected for a set amount of time, but where is the fun in that?

Follow me on Twitter to keep up with the latest in all things Fantasy Football. I will be live tweeting my frustrations as the Patriots continue to trade back in the NFL Draft on Thursday night.