Draft Strategy

Why You Should Trade Out of the First Round of Rookie Drafts – Part 1

Once the NFL draft ends, there is one thing we can be certain of every year: Rookie Derangement Syndrome is going to set in. That means the hype and excitement over rookie picks is about to peak. Everyone wants to move up in the draft, acquire more picks, or simply get “their guy”.

But don’t let this enthusiasm fool you. All of these rookies have warts. And much like the real NFL draft, the best way to win your rookie draft is to trade back and acquire more picks, even if that means moving out of the first round entirely. Don’t believe me? Here’s what’s wrong with every current first round rookie pick.1

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars
ADP: 1.79

Fournette was one of my eight prospects to fade before the draft, and the smart play is to move off the top pick in your rookie drafts if you can. This take has less to do with my feelings on Fournette as a prospect, and more with the landing spot. Over the last three seasons, Jaguar RBs rank:

  • Last in rush attempts
  • 28th in YPC
  • 31st in rush yards
  • Last in rush TDs
  • 20th in targets

Many would point towards the lack of RB talent in Jacksonville as a reason for the low volume of rush attempts. However, it is probably more a reflection of the Jaguars inability to compete. With just 11 wins in that time-frame, the game script needed to run the football has simply not been available.

Sure, if Blake Bortles takes a step forward this year, the Jaguars could have a more effective run game, but it isn’t something I am banking on. It is also worth noting that T.J. Yeldon has averaged over three receptions per game in his first two seasons, and it should not be assumed that Fournette is going to take a full-time passing down role right away.

Corey Davis, WR, Titans
ADP: 2.58

Corey Davis is perfect and you should all be drafting him always.

I’m going to do my best to move past my insane love for Davis, and be honest about his situation. For starters, Marcus Mariota is averaging 30.44 pass attempts per game for his career, a season-long pace of 487. That would have ranked 29th in 2016. Over the past two seasons, Tennessee is 25th in pass attempts. Davis also has some serious competition for targets in Rishard Matthews.

Davis vs Rishard

Much like Davis, Matthews racked up a ton of production in a smaller conference. Yes, Davis was taken with the fifth overall pick, while Matthews went in the seventh round, but Matthews already has a year of top-end production in this offense and with this QB. Even if Davis rises to the role of top WR in this offense, it may take time, and it may not come with a massive amount of raw targets, especially since the Titans also drafted Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
ADP: 2.93

The case against McCaffrey is a lot easier than you would think. There is ample competition for touches, with Jonathan Stewart still in town, as well as Curtis Samuel. Many are expecting McCaffrey to have a huge receiving role, but running QBs typically do not throw the ball to the RB as often. Sure enough, Carolina is last in RB targets over the last three seasons. Cam Newton also has 20 of the 46 rushing TDs in that time-frame, good for 43 percent. Competition, low TD upside, and the need for a large schematic shift to acquire a major receiving role has to make fantasy owners nervous.

Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals
ADP: 4.76

The Mixon pick may signify a changing of the guard in the Bengals backfield, but selecting him with a top-five rookie pick is not without risk. Our own Charles Kleinheksel made some great points on his potential opportunity in the passing game.

Giovani Bernard has three years left, however, and carries a hefty dead money charge. Averaging nearly nine yards per reception for his career, it will be hard for Mixon to supplant Bernard’s receiving role even if he unseats Hill.

If Mixon cannot take a significant share of the receptions in the Cincinnati backfield, it is going to be fairly difficult for him to contribute in a major way. Jeremy Hill has at least nine rushing TDs in each of his three seasons, but has finished as the RB29, RB35, and RB15 in points per game. And it’s not as if we should expect Mixon to be more of a workhorse, or more efficient, than Hill has been.

Hill vs Mixon

Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings
ADP: 5.33

Besides questions that already exist about Cook’s talent, I have some serious reservations about this landing spot. Minnesota ranked 30th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards in 2016, and invested just a fifth round pick in improving their offensive line in the draft. They did sign Riley Rieff and Mike Remmers in free agency, but there is reason to wonder if that constitutes an upgrade.

Jeremiah Sirles started 11 games last season for the Vikes, and was ranked 56th of 76 qualifying tackles according to Rotoworld. Rieff and Remmers don’t appear to be much better.

There is also the issue of competition. The Vikings signed Latavius Murray to a deal earlier this off-season which placed inside the top 10 for dollars made per year at the position. Murray and Jerick McKinnon have combined to catch 76 passes in 29 games while Cook is a liability in pass protection. Combine that with an inefficient run game and competition for carries, and it becomes very difficult to see Cook as a major fantasy contributor anytime soon.

Mike Williams, WR, Chargers
ADP: 6.55

I know that Williams was taken with the seventh overall pick in the draft, but I’m not totally sure what he offers that is better than the WRs already in tow.

PlayerWTCAR.MSRECYDRECPGRECYPRMSRECYDMSRECTD
Keenan Allen2060.356.812.00.390.62
Tyrell Williams2040.235.617.00.280.28
Travis Benjamin1720.193.715.00.240.16
Mike Williams2180.196.514.00.270.24

Keenan Allen is well-established in this offense, and should be the go-to target if he can stay healthy. Tyrell Williams went over 1,000 receiving yards, averaged over 15 YPR, and scored seven TDs in 2016. In other words, he was about what you’d consider Mike Williams’ ceiling to be as a rookie. The only difference, of course, is that Tyrell is still there. Williams could end up being Malcom Floyd with more competition.

Stay on the lookout for part two of this series, where I’ll talk about the back half of the first round.

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  1. ADP data was taken from My Fantasy League.  (back)
By Anthony Amico | @amicsta | Archive

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