Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

Hello Heat Seekers, welcome to episode 135 of Sully’s 2 Cents Fantasy Football Podcast.  I am you host; I am Rob Sullivan.  The Sully’s 2 Cents Fantasy Football Podcast is a proud member of the RotoHeat family of podcasts.

Today is Sunday April 11, 2021 and the 2021 NFL draft is only 18 days away.  There has never been a better time for you to visit rookiedraftguide.com.

The team has grinded thru hours, and hours of rookie tape. At last count we have watched film on 108 draft eligible rookies on offense alone. The reason for all this hard work you ask? Well, its all to create our player evaluations for rookiedraftguide.com.  I’d really appreciate it if you would head on over and check it out.

When you get there, you’ll find all our rookie player reviews for both 2021 Offensive and Defensive prospect breakdowns. Become a VIP for only $6/month to view all eight category rankings, view the strengths and weaknesses our team has identified for each player, as well as the draft slots. All of our evaluators on the team have laid out the range that they are comfortable drafting these rookies in every scoring format imaginable.  The bonus of this $6 spend is access to our player rankings on rotoheat.com and all of our ADP information. 

Don’t think of it as a $6 spend, think of it as a $6 investment in you. Investing $6 in yourself is well worth it and will give you a leg up on the other managers in your leagues. 

Back in episodes 75-78 of this podcast, I went thru each position and detailed the hit rates of all skilled players drafted between 2010-2018.  Today, in episode 135, I’m revisiting the hit rates and taking a look at all skilled players once again including the 2019 and 2020 seasons.  I, will touch on draft capital and how that impacts the hit rates and have a look at the upcoming 2021 draft class and what to expect from them based on the historical data we have.

In order to review Hit rates, its important to define what qualifies as a hit.  I define at hit as any quarterback that has delivered a top-12 season at any point in their career. For the running backs, its any back that has recorded a top-12 or top-24 season during their career and the wide receivers it anyone with a WR1, WR2, or WR3 campaign.  Lastly the tight Ends are a hit if they deliver you a top-12 season at any point in their careers. In addition to hit rates, I look at players that have multiple hit seasons as well as players that achieved hit status in their rookie seasons. 

Dynasty Fantasy Managers tend to have a serious case of rookie fever at this time of the offseason, and it intensifies after the NFL draft.  We tend to like rookies a lot at this stage of the game, but once we know where they are playing, we tend to go a little overboard, myself included. With that in mind let’s jump into it.

1. Quarterbacks

Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition
Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

Since the 2010 NFL Entry draft there have been 862 skill position players selected. Of those 862, 130 have been quarterbacks.

Of those 130 selected QBs, 23 of them or 18% have recorded a top-12 season, 15 of them have had multiple hit seasons and 8 of them have been a top-12 QB in their rookie season.  Those numbers might seem low, because frankly they are low. The amount of QBs drafted that will never produce a top-12 season are staggering.  The kicker is that most of them were pretty darn good in college and entered the draft as solid NFL prospects. The reality is NFL teams make mistakes when drafting QBs and as a result so do fantasy managers.

When you dissect the position by round you quickly identify that draft capital matters.  Draft capital is king. Since 2010 there have been 34 QBs drafted in round 1.  15 or 44% have had a top-12 season, 11 or 32% have done it on multiple occasions and 5 or 15% of them have delivered a top-12 rookie season. 

When we look at the 2021 draft class there are 5 QBs that are very likely to be drafted in round one.  Based on the data we have on hand when looking at Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones, two of them are likely to be a top-12 QB at some point in their careers, 2 will do it multiple times and one will do it as a rookie.

To put this into context, we will look back on the 2018 season.  In 2018 there were 5 QBs that heard their name called on night one of the draft; Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson. To date we have seen hit seasons from Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, both of whom have accomplished this twice.  None of the five were top-12 QBs in their rookie season.  All were top prospects, and all were drafted early in Superflex Rookie drafts. The lesson here, is that there is no such thing as a sure thing. The follow rounds see the hit rates drop dramatically.

Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition
Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

Of the 96 quarterbacks selected outside the first round in NFL drafts from 2010-2020, 9 (9.38%), have delivered a top-12 season at some point in their careers, bigger take away here is 91% have not. As you would expect the later the QB is selected the less change that QB has of delivering you a top-12 season. 

When seeking a QB that is going to give you multiple top-12 seasons out of this group, you need a lot of luck.  5 of the 96 have done it. Andy Dalton, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and Dak Prescott.

QBs drafted in rounds five through seven combined to deliver a total of 2 top-12 seasons in the last 11 seasons, and three have had a top-24 finish. When drafting your next QB this spring or summer, if it’s a 1QB league I would avoid all not selected on day one, and in my Superflex leagues I am not looking for a QB selected outside the top 2 rounds in this NFL draft.

2. Running Backs

Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition
Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

Of the 862 skill position players selected from 2010-2020, 233 have been running backs. Of those 233 selected RBs, 67 of them or 29% have recorded a top-12 or top-24 season, 36 (15%), of them have had multiple hit seasons and 28 (12%) of them have been a top-12 RB in their rookie season. 

When looking for top-12 seasons only, the numbers drop to 38 or 16% of the 233, 8.5% or 20 have delivered multiple top-12 seasons and 15 or 6% did it as a rookie. There have been some really strong running back classes in recent memory.  2020 was very solid and the top of that RB class looks like a group of backs to deliver for years.  Of the 19 backs selected last year, 26% of them were hits as a rookie, and 1, Jonathan Taylor gave you a top-12 season. 

The draft class that tops them all however is the 2017 class. 26 running backs were selected that year, and 11 of them (42%) have given you a top-12 or 24 season at least one time, 8 (31%) have hit it on multiple occasions 4 (15%). did it as rookies. Top-12 performances from this group are solid as well.  Eight have done it at least once, 5 on multiple occasions and 4, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and Kareem Hunt did it as a rookie. 

When looking at this 2021 running backs class its top heavy.   Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, Javonte Williams likely top this group, and I am doubtful any are first round selections, there maybe one and all three should go in round 2 at the latest, with likely a few others.  Odds are pretty good that the back that goes in round one delivers for your roster.

When you dissect the position by round you quickly identify that draft capital matters at the RB position as well.   The drop off at the RB position is not as dramatic as the QBs mainly because there are a lot of good running backs selected in the second and third rounds of NFL drafts.  In the last 11 years there have been 62 backs come off the board in these two rounds and both round two and round three have produced similar numbers when it comes to fantasy success. 32 of the 62 backs selected in these two rounds have given you at least one hit season, and an identical 16 of in each round. Both rounds have produced 9 backs to do it on multiple occasions and the second round has had 9 do it as a rookie compared to 7 from the third round.  Draft capital matters, the higher the pick, typically produces the better player, but it also gets that back on the field more in their rookie season. 

Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition
Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

The steep decline at running back comes in round 4 where we have seen 47 backs added via the draft since 2010.  19% or 9 of these 47 have given you a hit season, only 4 have done it on more than one occasion, Lamar Miller, Devonta Freeman, James White, and Jordan Howard.  Howard is the lone back of the 47 to give you a hit season as a rookie and that was a top-12 finish. 

In rounds 5-7 what you get shouldn’t surprise you.  There were 107 backs drafted, 10 with at least one top-12 or top-24 season, 5 have done it on multiple occasions and 2 accomplished this as rookies. 

When drafting your running backs this offseason, the cut off should be the third round.  In the last 11 years, after the end of round 3, 135 of the 154 backs drafted provide a flex worth season at best during their careers, that is 88% of the backs drafted. 

3. Wide Receivers

2021 Rookie Rankings Post NFL Draft
Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

When I evaluate the wide receiver position, I classify a WR as a hit in any given season if they finish in the top-36.  The main reason I expand this position is directly related to dynasty rosters.  Most leagues start at least 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3WRs, and a TE.  The rest are all flex spots and could be any position depending on your league settings. 

342 of the 862 players selected since 2010 are wide receivers. Of those 342 wide receivers to hear their name called, 78 (23%) have given us at least one season within the top-36, 46(have done it on multiple occasions and 28 did it as a rookie. 40 wide receivers were first round selections,  49 in the second, 42 went in the third, 56 in the 4th and 155 WRs went in rounds five through seven.

The draft capital matters theme continues at the WR position.  When looking at the first round selected receivers, 26 of the 40 or 65% have given you a hit season, 35% have done it on multiple occasions and 30% as a rookie.  You could argue that draft capital matters the most at WR. Quarterbacks and Running backs drafted in the top-100 of drafts matter as well, but if you are not drafted there as a rookie WR your path to snaps and targets is a lot more difficult. 

When you break down the 40 drafted WRs in terms of top-12 WR seasons the numbers are drastically different.  11 of the 40 first round receivers have delivered a WR1 season in their careers, 7 of the eleven have done it multiple times, and two, Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014, and Justin Jefferson a year ago have done it as a rookie.

The best WR class we have seen in the past 11 seasons was the 2014 class.  There were 34 receivers drafted that season.  11 of them gave us hit seasons, 10 on multiple occasions and 6 in their rookie season. Those hit seasons all came from WRs selected in the first three rounds.  The 18 selected after round three in 2014 have combined for zero top-36 seasons. The top 3 rounds in that historic draft saw 16 drafted, with 11 giving us a hit season, 10 on multiple occasions and 8 as a rookie.

Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition
Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

The hit rates fall off significantly in rounds 4-7.  A combined 211 WRs have been drafted in this range, and 15 have given you a hit season, 9 have done it on multiple occasions and 2 have as rookies.  You have a 93% chance of drafting a WR that will never give you better than WR36 in their career when drafting in this range.

The 2020 draft was said to be a deep one, and its was, and the 2021 season is as deep at WR as any in recent memory. A season ago there were 6 WRs drafted in round 1.  They performed well as 50% gave us a hit season.  Justin Jefferson was in the top-12, CeeDee Lamb in the top-24, and Brandon Aiyuk finished in the top-36.

There are as many as 6 WRs that could go in round one this season.  History shows us that of those 6, 4 should have at least one season in the top-36, 2 will do it more than once and 2 will pull it off in their rookie campaign.  Two will give us a WR1 season at least once and one will do it on multiple occasions, and you have a 5% chance that one of the first round drafted WRs will be a WR1 in year one. The fun part as it is every season is trying to figure out which ones will hit.

4. Tight End

Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition
Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

Let’s wrap this up with a look at the TE position.  As noted earlier I define a Hit season for a TE as any TE that rings us a top-12 season at any point in their career. 

157 of the 862 players selected since 2010 are Tight Ends. Of those 157, 30 (19%) have given us at least one season within the top-12, 14 (9%) have done it on multiple occasions and two did it as a rookie, Rob Gronkowski, and Evan Engram. 

Nine tight ends have gone in the first round since 2010, 19 in the second, 28 went in the third, 29 in the 4th and 72 TEs went in rounds five through seven. Of the nine TEs that went in the first round in past NFL drafts, 8 have given their fantasy manager at last one top-12 season, but only one has done it on multiple occasions (Eric Ebron), and only one as a rookie (Evan Engram).

It appears that Florida’s Kyle Pitts is a certain round one selection this season, going perhaps as high a 5th.  Of the nine tight ends selected in the past 11 seasons, T.J. Hockenson was the highest drafted at pick 8, followed by Eric Ebron at pick 10.  I will say that Kyle Pitts checks all the boxes for me and if you follow me, you’ll know he’s my top ranked player in my 1QB rookie rankings.

All of the data I have shared today is telling me that I am wrong.  Well, it won’t be the first time and it won’t be the last.  I will say that this data is not fool proof, just like not all first rounders are sure things.  I really feel like Pitts is special and I plan on drafting accordingly.

The second round TE has done well over the past 11 seasons.  In terms of consistency the second round has outperformed the first round selected tight ends.  19 drafted, 8 top-12 seasons, 5 have given us multiple and 1 top-12 rookie – Rob Gronkowski.

Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition
Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

I am not overly comfortable drafting TEs as a rule with the exception of Pitts this year who I am all in on.  With that said if you are drafting a TE, similar to the receivers and the running backs I would try to stay away from rounds 4 through 7. 

The 5-7 rounds are a disaster at this position with the exception of one Iowa tight end, George Kittle.  Kittle went off the board in the 5th round 146th overall in 2017.  Kittle in his 4 seasons has produced two top-12 seasons and 2 top-24 seasons.  There are 71 other TEs studied in this range and the best that 71 could produce was a pair of top-24 seasons from Mychal Rivera, Jesse James, and Ryan Griffen.  Kittle is a beast and is arguably one of the top 2 TEs in the game today.  How he fell to the 5th round I will never know.

5. Conclusion

Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition
Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

In total as mentioned several times here today, there have been 862 skill position players drafted from 2010-2020. 

Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition
Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

23% of the 862 drafted players have provided a hit season at least one in their careers at their respective position.  The bigger take away is, that 77% have not.  664 of these drafted players have failed to provide a top-12 QB, top-24 RB, Top-36 WR or top-12 TE season.

Draft capital, not the ever-popular landing spot is the key.  When you take a look at round one the hits jump to 63%, round 2 its 43%, and round 3 its 35%.  The first three rounds have produced 149 of the 195 hit seasons (76%).  The multiple hit assets which 112 or 13% of the 862 drafted accomplished – 88 of them were drafted in the first three rounds (79%).

Rookies who have given you a hit season, well there have been 66 of them, 7.65% of all drafted players from 2010-2020 gave you immediate return on your draft investment. 60 or 91% of them were selected in the first three rounds. These numbers are not meant to send you screaming in the opposite direction of you rookie drafts.  They are meant to have you think about the value of the picks you hold.    

NFL teams screw up draft choices all the time, as a result so do dynasty managers.  The main take away here is the devil you know trumps the devil you don’t.  We all enjoy rookie drafts after all they are the start of every dynasty season and who doesn’t want to be a part of that. Contenders shouldn’t be afraid to sell draft picks for proven assets and the rebuilders should pause and think about what you are dealing before you go an add a pick that has a legit chance of being worthless. 

Don’t take this as draft picks are worthless because they are not. There are plenty of rock solid fantasy assets that were first round NFL picks in the last 11 years. Ezekiel Elliott, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones to name a few. There were also first rounders that crushed our hopes and dreams. John Ross, David Wilson, Kevin White, Rashad Penny, Lance Kendricks, Tim Tebow, and Christian Ponder all went in round one of the NFL draft and they all amounted to nothing at all.

Have fun with your draft picks, and if you can turn your picks into established fantasy performers, history says you should.

Thank you for listening to episode 135 – Rookie Hit Rates 2021 Edition

If you have yet to subscribe to Sully’s 2 Cents Fantasy Football Podcast you can do so by searching for it pretty much anywhere podcasts can be found. In addition, you can find me on twitter @RotoHeatSully, in both the RotoHeat Dynasty Fantasy Football Community , and RotoHeat Redraft Fantasy Football Community on Facebook and I am @Sully in our Discord chat as well.

For more great Fantasy Football content, subscribe to our website,  YouTube Channel and follow us on Twitter. Be sure to head on over to rookiedraftguide.com for all our rookie player reviews for both 2021 Offensive and Defensive prospect breakdowns. Become a VIP for only $6 to view all eight category rankings and view the strengths and weaknesses our team has identified for each player.

I will be back next week, until then Heat Seekers, stay safe and stay healthy.  Take care.