What History Tells Us About Dynasty Rookie Drafts: Part IV

By Alex Kurpeski, Bradley Stalder, & Angel Maldonado

 

There’s an overused saying that goes: ‘History is doomed to repeat itself’. You’ve definitely heard this phrase at least once in your lifetime; it is a cliche that the media, World History teachers, and parents love to use conversationally. In the context of fantasy football, this phrase often rings true as well. There are patterns that players and teams tend to follow and stick to, often enough that they become cyclical in nature. 

 

We know that the Patriots can’t draft a wide receiver to save their lives. We know that the Raiders, regardless of who is running the team, will often take the fastest guy on the board. We also know that, with the superstitious nature of the fantasy football fanatic, there is a certain association with the numbers on the board and what they represent. While not all players are created equal, there is a meaning to where they are drafted, which program they are drafted from, and where they are ranked on the draft board. 

 

At a certain point, these things become very arbitrary. However, if we’re basing our insight on the historical data, they do paint some rather vivid pictures of just what we can come to expect out of our prized rookie draft picks. Thus, we here at 3CoSports are prepared to bring to you an all-encompassing analysis from the last decade of dynasty league data, combining qualitative and quantitative elements to provide accurate profiles of the projected top-12 dynasty league rookies based on recent historical trends. 

 

Top 12 ADP as of May 27th, 2020:

 

  1. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
  2. RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
  3. RB J.K Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
  4. RB D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
  5. WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
  6. WR Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
  7. RB Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
  8. WR Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles
  9. WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
  10. WR Henry Ruggs, Las Vegas Raiders
  11. RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  12. WR Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

 

From the data we have collected for this piece, we have determined that the minimum amount of points scored by a player to deem them as having had a ‘fantasy relevant’ campaign is somewhere between 143 and 144 standard scoring points in a season, although there will be some contextual elements that will also help determine some of our findings (for instance Sammy Watkins has had a good career according to these metrics, but when compared to several of the receivers from his own class, he is verging on ‘bust’ territory). 

 

Here are just a few of our findings to provide a broader context of just how valuable and dependable 1st-round rookie draft picks have been this decade. 

 

  • The average top-12 rookie pick has a relevance yield of 45%, meaning that a typical first-round rookie draft pick will only produce a fantasy relevant season about half of the time he’s in the league
  • Back end picks have not boded well, as slots 9-12 have some of the lowest relevance yields → Contending teams should definitely sell their picks for playoff runs
  • While there weren’t any TE’s or QB’s in this year’s top-12, tight ends have generally fared poorly with an extremely low yield rate, while QBs have generally fared pretty well (although 75% are no longer starting in the league)

 

So far, this series has covered the history of players like Michael Pittman Jr,  Jalen Reagor, Jerry Jeudy, and more. Today, I’ll be taking a look at CeeDee Lamb and D’Andre Swift to see what history tells us about their future success.

 

#5: WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys 

 

 

Heralded by many draftniks as the best receiver in this year’s class, Lamb will be joining a Cowboys offense that already features two of the best young receivers in the NFL (Pro Bowler Amari Cooper and former Colorado State star Michael Gallup). While picking Lamb with the 17th overall selection may have been a bit of a luxury for a team with glaring holes in the secondary, the Oklahoma standout was easily the best player on the board and more importantly, Dallas was able to keep him from falling into the hands of their division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. At 6’3, 195 lbs, Lamb bears a strong resemblance to DeAndre Hopkins as a player, combining elite body control (for those contested throws) with smooth running abilities that make him a monster before and after the catch. 

 

The 1.05 spot in rookie drafts has been historically kind to most fantasy owners, with a 56% relevance yield. In the last decade, exactly 50% of the players drafted in this range (on average) have been wideout, with some being stars (Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham, D.K Metcalf (on his way to stardom at least) and others being less successful (Devante Parker (until 2019), Greg Little). Lamb will be given a special opportunity off the bat, as he is expected to take over as the slot receiver in Dallas to begin his career (a role that Randall Cobb managed to revive his career last season), catching passes from Dak Prescott (who finished second in the league with 4,902 passing yards in 2019) while Cooper and Gallup draw tougher cornerback matchups on the boundary. It’s clear that Lamb is a quick learner, as he managed to tally over 800 receiving yards in each of his collegiate seasons while playing with three different quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts). The sky’s the limit for Lamb in Dallas, as long as his college dominance can translate to the pro level. 

 

History has not been kind to Big 12 receiver products, as the conference has produced very few hits (Dez Bryant in 2010, Tyler Lockett in 2015) and a whole lot of misses (Josh Docston, Kevin White, Justin Blackmon, Corey Coleman, Tavon Austin). Whether it’s due to the high-volume passing offenses or the lackluster secondaries, there’s something about this conference that holds back very talented receivers from becoming stars at the NFL level. Looking at the Sooners directly, there are many players who went from record-setting college superstars (Ryan Broyles, Dede Westbrook, Sterling Shepard) to average-below average professionals. While the Cowboys have generally had success finding talented receivers in the draft this decade (Bryant, Gallup, longtime WR3 Terrance Williams (a Baylor product, Big 12 represent!), and undrafted free agent Cole Beasley), one has to wonder whether the team has been diligent or just plain lucky. 

 

Lamb suffers from a similar critique that guys like Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and Justin Jefferson have garnered from us, as he played with three of the most accurate QBs in college football history for his entire run with the Sooners (Mayfield (career completion rate of 69.8% at OU), Murray (69.8% as well at OU), and Hurts (69.7% at OU)) while also lining up longside future NFL stars like Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown, Mark Andrews, and future NFL draft pick Charleston Rambo. By seeing a consistent stream of accurate targets in a wide open passing offense littered with other viable playmakers, Lamb was able to really maximize his utility for the Sooners. 

 

In general, taller receivers have been the biggest boom or bust candidates in these drafts, as some of the all-time greats from this decade (Julio Jones (6’3), A.J Green (6’4), Hopkins (6’3), Demaryius Thomas (6’3), Michael Thomas (6’3), Allen Robinson (6’3), Mike Evans (6’5), Bryant (6’3), Davante Adams (6’3), Alshon Jeffery (6’4)) have been big bodies while some of the biggest disappointments (Dorial Green-Beckham (6’6), Jon Baldwin (6’4), White (6’3), Parker (6’3), Doctson (6’3), Corey Davis (6’3), Stephen Hill (6’4), Justin Hunter (6’5)) have also been on the taller side. Each of these guys were once projected to be dominant NFL players like Lamb, now it will be up to him to manifest his own destiny. 

 

Pro Comparison:

     

Ceiling: DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals 

A perennial fantasy WR1, doesn’t matter who his QB is, he’s gonna produce at a high level. One of the few receivers worth selling the farm for in a trade, he becomes one of the premier players of the 2020’s. 

 

Floor: Kevin White, N/A 

(AP Photo/Annie Rice)

A perennially disappointing former Big 12 star who can’t win against NFL coverage. Becomes one of the biggest busts of the 20’s, another punchline for NFL meme pages to pull out when trashing the Cowboys.

 

Median: Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears 

 

A WR1 on his best days, a WR2 the rest of the time. A superior talent with the occasional disappearing act, still a great player to build around in a dynasty league. Will eb and flow with his QB to some degree, but generally will persevere when paired with a subpar signal caller.  

 

#4: RB D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

 

 

At the 1.04 spot we have the latest attempt by the Detroit Lions to create a functional run game, former Georgia Bulldogs star D’Andre Swift. Interestingly enough, this 1.04 spot has produced many successful NFL players, with a 58% relevance yield, the third highest overall percentage. 70% of the players taken in this range this decade have been running backs, some being major league busts (Jahvid Best, Ryan Williams, Rashaad Penny), some huge success stories (Melvin Gordon, Christian McCaffrey), and some just being average NFL backs (Eddie Lacy, David Montgomery). 

 

While it may not be the best sign that Swift is the fifth Lions running back taken in the first round of dynasty league drafts this decade (Best, Mike LeShoure, Ameer Abdullah, and Kerryon Johnson preceding him), it’s quite possible that the fifth time will be the charm for the team as they look to finally surround quarterback Matthew Stafford with a viable battery mate. Given the successes of his former UGA teammates in recent years (Nick Chubb and Sony Michel), it would appear as though the Dawgs know a thing or two about developing NFL-caliber running backs. 

 

Swift, a third-down back with an uncanny ability to find holes in the defense, is a very Alvin Kamara-esque type of modern running back. He’s gonna be an extremely valuable checkdown option in the passing game, while also providing the team with some explosivity in the run game. At 5’9, 215 lbs, Swift combines a lower center of gravity with the thickness you need in a true three-down back. His 73 catches across three seasons as a member of the Bulldogs patented running back committee show that he is quite capable of coming in immediately to take on passing down work for a pro style offense. Despite playing a prominent role for the team in all three seasons he spent with the Dawgs, Swift enters the NFL without the same wear-and-tear as guys like J.K Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor, having only toted the ball 440 times despite playing in countless big games. He’s about as good of an all-around back as there is in this class, although he doesn’t blow you away in any one area, a true jack-of-all trades, master of none type. Yet while he would appear to be an ideal candidate to take over as the Lions three-down workhorse, there is good reason for concern.

 

Detroit currently boasts a rather deep backfield, with third-year backs Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough near the top of the team’s depth chart and 2019 sixth-round pick Ty Johnson still around as a change of pace option. Lions GM Bob Quinn and Head Coach Matt Patricia have both gone on the record as being in favor of the dreaded committee approach at the running back position, a death blow for a young back’s fantasy outlook. While Swift is undoubtedly the team’s best option on passing downs, QB Matthew Stafford has not been nearly as reliant on checkdowns as he was when the team featured Theo Riddick as their third-down back (Riddick had 53+ catches in four consecutive campaigns). 

 

Even if Swift manages to revive the Riddick role in the offense, the best fantasy finish that Riddick had came in 2015 as the RB18 in PPR formats. Should the larger backs on the team (Johnson at 6’, 215 lbs or Scarbrough at 6’2, 235 lbs) box the smaller Swift out of red zone and short yardage work, he will become exclusively dependent on high-volume target shares in the passing game (which features Pro Bowler Kenny Golladay, veteran Marvin Jones, and 2019 first-round pick T.J Hockenson) and big rushing plays from beyond the opponent’s 20 yardline to produce at a high level. Should he fail to lock down a true three-down role in the team’s backfield, Swift owners may soon come to regret investing premium draft capital into him. However, while many running backs have come to die in Detroit, Swift is probably the most NFL-ready player we have seen the team bring in at the position. 

 

Pro Comparison:

     

Ceiling: Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets 

RB1 upside as a true three-down back for an offense that leans heavily on him in the passing game. An absolute monster in PPR formats, the backbone of a winning dynasty team for multiple seasons. 

 

Floor: Bishop Sankey, N/A 

A complete non-factor, skilled pass-catcher in college who couldn’t hack it as a lead back at the pro level. Pass-catching abilities mask deep flaws as a ball carrier. Another resident of Detroit’s running back graveyard. 

 

Median: Gio Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals 

(Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)

Change of pace/pass-catching back who sticks around thanks to great work in the passing game. A RB2-RB4 depending on other backs on the roster, not the greatest player on earth, but longevity and consistency prevent this pick from giving you nightmares.

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