2021 Rookie Draft Picks were Underrated

The loudest noise you might have heard on fantasy twitter, during startup season, was often the argument that rookie picks were overrated, especially in 2021. Specifically, startup rookie placeholder picks done in drafts before the NFL draft. In my debut article, I’m going to break down some examples of startups where picks were taken and contrast them with post-draft startups to see if there was greater value on either side.

Now I feel there is a simple way to measure this by knowing what the position was drafted at in startups with rookie picks selected as kicker placeholders (Pre NFL Draft Startup – I’ll call this Predraft) and compare them to when that rookie picks went in actual startups when those rookies were included in the drafts (Post NFL Draft Startup – I’ll refer to as Postdraft). For example, Trevor Lawrence was taken 1.12 in a vets + rookies post-NFL draft startup, but in a Predraft, the first kicker placeholder was picked at slot 2.01.

Before we dive in, it’s important to mention a couple of factors.

Picking Vets v Rookie picks

feels safer because people will have positional requirements, I get it but this is Dynasty, you should be generally taking the best player available or close to it, then trade for positions later. I also feel this is nullified by taking a rookie pick where if you take say Rookie 1.06 you may get your 5th or even 4th favorite rookie. So let’s call this about even.

Landing Spots

Also the not knowing who would go where aspect is a big deal, but landing spots I feel some could have been better and some worse, I’m sure generally most will agree with this. Imagine the Broncos took Fields! Yet Lance at SF, again works both ways!  Whilst these can factor into decisions, they don’t seem to have a clear enough impact to stop us from looking into this.  As ever in fantasy football, each league is different and you might have but these are the conclusions I can draw from the drafts I’ve looked at.

For this article, I’m only looking at the first 18 picks. Many fantasy analysts felt like the quality dropped off after this range and people started to grab their long-shot guys a lot more often.

So the idea I have is I’ve taken 4 Pre NFL Draft leagues, one was my home league which I’ve often ignored when it was a big outlier, others sprinkled with some FFTwitter types many of which really know their stuff and have done dynasty startups before for the most part, so these average Rookie pick positions are legit real samples (as noted I’ll disregard any big outliers). I have also decided against using any platform ADPs. Then Postdraft drafts are via solid fields of players again, thanks @5yardrush @bestballuknfl and @dynasty_goat for your help getting me to 3-4 of these to consider

The 1.01

Now with Lawrence being a sure-fire bet for Jags and number one overall as well as SF rookie 1.01 surely this was a sure bet to be a clean similar position in both pre and post startups

1.01 Placeholder Predraft1.111.122.07
1st Rookie taken Postdraft1.122.012.02

So ok… the value was the 2.07 one it would seem, even the sleeper SF ADP has TLaw as 1.12. So yeah, this one I think people played it ok generally which makes sense, but in some Predraft leagues where he went 2.07 or later, he could be seen as a steal!

1.02 and 1.03

I wasn’t sure whether this was Fields or Lance and even post-draft polls were very close to 50/50. So I’ll discuss these two together. These picks are why I wrote this piece!

1.02 Placeholder Predraft3.
2nd Rookie taken Postdraft2.072.082.09
1.03 Predraft3.
3rd Rookie Postdraft2.092.102.11

Yeah, this is huge… pretty much a round and a half of value difference getting you these QBs. People underrated that consensus would rate them as top 10-15 QB’s but they did because of their rushing, Lance arguably landing spot is a big part of it, but Fields you could feel better about, at Broncos/Panthers perhaps… anyway if you got the 1.02 or 1.03 Rookie in a Predraft you likely got at least a round of value here and for some even more than that!! Also worth noting that many people got Fields as the 1.04-1.06 range in their Rookie drafts, which is just stealing as we now see him going in the 2nd round in SF startups!!


Generally, this is perceived as the area of the draft where Najee, Pitts, or Chase would be drafted, and in only one draft was this broken when someone took Zach Wilson as 5th Rookie in a Postdraft. But I think we can work with this

I won’t lay out the picks but we were looking at from here-on in, I’ll just show the pick range as it cleans it up

1.04 PredraftMid 4th to Late 5th
4th Rookie PostdraftLate 3rd
1.05 PredraftLate 4th to Late 5th
5th Rookie PostdraftEarly 4th
1.06 PredraftMid-Late 5th Rd
6th Rookie PostdraftLate 3rd – Mid 4th

More clear value in those Rookie picks in Predraft drafts. This time showing between 1 and 2 rounds of value. That 1.06, in particular, going late 5th in Predraft and then used by Mid 4th. Yeah, these Kicker picks were cracking value if you managed to get them anytime late 4th or 5th as seen here. Huge wins! Also if you managed to snag Fields at 1.05-1.06. You paid a 5th round price for a 2nd round player!


This tier is mainly utilised for Javonte, Etienne, and Zach Wilson. But some leagues loved Wilson, and the two RB’s I feel their landing spots could have been better for this article’s sake. They both went into backfield competitions to start and arguably could have landed in spots like Najee which would have meant in a Postdraft would have been taken higher and maybe in line with Harris (or even above!)

1.07 PredraftEarly 6th
7th Rookie Postdraft4th Rd
1.08 PredraftMid 6th – mid 7th
8th Rookie PostdraftLate 5th
1.09 PredraftLate 6th – Late 7th
9th Rookie PostdraftEarly 6th – Mid 7th

So. That 1.07 was strange… people still really went for Wilson/Etienne in 4th, but as rookie pick value was 6th round price tag. 1.07 was another huge value here. 1.08 went well also, about 1.5 rounds of value difference pre and post NFL draft. 1.09 perhaps only half a round of value which in rounds 6-7 isn’t nothing but not a huge value. A solid range!


Taking this one on its own as was the last clear tier difference before everything starts muddling together a bit player-wise, although not sure why as no player is the clear 1.10

1.10 PredraftLate 7th – Late 8th
10th Rookie PostdraftLate 6th – Early 7th

So a round of value to be gained here for whoever is taken in this 10th rookie spot. It varies a lot! Mac Jones has been seen going mid to late 6th depending on how QB heavy drafts went, then Trey Sermon has also been elevated into the same spot because of the perceived sparsity at the RB position. Otherwise, it is usually Jaylen Waddle or Devonta Smith being taken for their upside in this range.


Second last tier, players vary a lot here but the trend of getting value in Pre NFL Draft startups still exists

1.11-2.03 PredraftEarly 9th to Late 10th
11th-15th Rookie PostdraftMid 7th to End 9th

If I take an early example from this group it’s a 1.5 round headstart the rookie pick had. Pick 2.01 on average taken Predraft mid 9th and Postdraft was an early 8th rounder. This was still really good value even though the picks varied quite a lot with Jaylen Waddle, Devonta Smith, Trey Sermon, and Rashod Bateman generally being represented at this spot. Similar trends run throughout this range


2.04 PredraftMid – Late 10th
16th Rookie PostdraftEarly 10th
2.05 PredraftMid 10th – Mid 11th
17th Rookie Postdraft10th Rd
2.06 PredraftLate 10th – Early 12th
18th Rookie PostdraftEarly-Mid 11th

Now it flattens out a bit – Pick 16 was a Predraft 10th rounder, and in Postdraft was generally taken in the same 10th round. Pick 18 ranging from late 10th to 12th. Taken Postdraft as 11th for the most part. So, no massive value here, but no loss of value either.

So rest easy Terrace Marshall owners you likely paid the right price for that 18th kicker pick at the time, you just didn’t get the value bonus like picks 2-15 got, then again if Rondale Moore or Michael Carter falls this far, again a round of value is gained. I think around the 10th round is the moment people have their starters set and are feeling ok with having a Rookie punt, thus why it catches up. I loosely believe this trend to continue to flatten on for pick 19 onwards, the variation of picks from this moment makes this a lot more convoluted.


Picking Rookie placeholders in startup drafts earlier than the consensus was a good strategy, as can be seen in most of the above examples, this is generally backed up when looking into a larger sample of drafts too. Even if you didn’t love the players that dropped to you in rookie drafts you can try to be actively moving around in your draft or take the best player available and move later. Picks are liquid assets and can always be maneuvered if you don’t like what you can get with them.

Finding the value each year in what the rookie picks are exactly worth isn’t going to be simple, but the idea of this sample for 2021 is that you can safely add a little bit more optimism into these picks as it appears their landing spot is the crucial piece in finding an extra round or so of value during those crucial first 10 rounds of your startup drafts

Now of course you must factor in the Rookie hit rate into whatever action you might take here, there is no guarantee that an early pick will hit, but ultimately that isn’t built into people’s rankings, and ‘getting my guy’ often is, so again it should even out. Also, there still exists a viewpoint that the rookie class was weak. But I can say with some confidence, in 2021 if you did a pre-draft startup where you selected rookie picks, if you grabbed one of the top 18 picks, you likely gained immediate value, especially if you managed to snag 1.02 or 1.03, that was money in the bank. Then I have a feeling that this might translate into trading into rookie picks too, but that’s for another day…

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Image Credit: John Jones – USA TODAY Sports