A Second Helping at the NFL Rookie Salad Bar

A couple of years ago I served up statistical reasons why the majority of rookies are not to be trusted in redraft leagues. The analogy was made that with main-course veterans available to draft, why would anyone pony up to the rookie salad bar? In most cases, rookies will just spoil your fantasy team’s appetite for winning by taking up roster space.

Since that article, the fantasy football menu has been slapped with some surprising rookie production – Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, Saquon Barkley and Philip Lindsay to name a few from the running back position.

Does this mean that rookies have turned the corner and are more palatable? Not necessarily. The NFL game has changed, but rookies still seem to get the short end of the stick from a fantasy perspective.

Fewer teams are using a workhorse RB. More teams are involving more skill players in the offense so as to be less predictable to defenses. It’s understandable to gravitate to the rookies that did well, convincing yourself that any rookie can be as successful. However, history has still proven otherwise.

First round rookie running backs still have the best production and translate the best for fantasy. But outside of the RB position, all other rookies at all the other positions are still hit or miss.

For instance, in the last 5 seasons, only 5 WR (or 3%) have had more than 1000 yards (out of 136 rookies drafted). Four of those five WR were first round picks.

The best production from any rookie TE was Evan Engram‘s 736 yards in 2017. That’s nearly 200 yards more than the next-best rookie TE in the last 5 seasons.

For every JuJu Smith-Schuster, there’s a gaggle of Zay Jones, John Ross and Mike Williams who disappointed in their rookie debut. (All 3 were drafted ahead of JuJu by the way.)

In the first helping 2 years ago, the rookie numbers presented looked at specific yardage milestones. This second helping presents the production by averaging each position and by each round to better see the comparisons.

Average Yards in First Season (No. of rookies averaged)
The number in parenthesis is the total number of rookies from that position

    • Top-10 RB = 1548.8 (5)
    • Top-10 WR = 598.3 (6)
    • Top-10 TE = 248 (1)


    • 1st round RB = 1256.5 (8)
    • 1st round WR = 580.2 (19)
    • 1st round TE = 393.2 (5)
    • 2nd round RB = 754.6 (11)
    • 2nd round WR = 501.7 (22)
    • 2nd round TE = 279.0 (8)
    • 3rd round RB = 729.1 (15)
    • 3rd round WR = 338.7
    • 3rd round TE = 205.3
    • 4th round RB = 465.2 (23)
    • 4th round WR = 175.0 (23)
    • 4th round TE = 180.6 (8)
    • 5th round RB = 367.9 (17)
    • 5th round WR = 217.5 (18)
    • 5th round TE = 110.2 (10)
    • 6th round RB = 132.2 (19)
    • 6th round WR = 64.5 (20)
    • 6th round TE = 65.0 (6)
    • 7th round RB = 88.7 (13)
    • 7th round WR = 63.8 (17)
    • 7th round TE = 29.1 (6)
    • Undrafted RB = 203.0 (48)

Where does our class of 2019 rookies rank?

Josh Jacobs (OAK) is a first-round rookie RB currently being drafted in the third round of fantasy drafts.

Fantasy history has been favorable to first round rookie RB. However, in Ezekiel Elliott‘s case, as well as Saquon Barkley, there was essentially no depth to compete with.

Doug Martin and the usage of third-down target monster Jalen Richard skews Jacob’s value in the Raiders’ backfield.

There were no other first round rookie RB in this year’s draft class.

Miles Sanders (PHI) was the only second-round rookie RB drafted this past April.

Despite a hamstring injury in OTA’s as well as rumors of Jordan Howard having the early nod for the lead role, Sanders is being drafted in the sixth round.

Next is the quintet of third round RB: Darrell Henderson (LAR), David Montgomery (CHI), Devin Singletary (BUF), Damien Harris (NE), and Alexander Mattison (MIN).

History points to this group averaging just over 700 rushing yards which means someone will have more and the others will have less yards.

I can see Montgomery and Henderson leading this group. However I have reservations about Singletary, Harris and Mattison who are currently late-round flyers.

Two TE were drafted in the first round: T.J. Hockenson (DET) and Noah Fant (DEN). History is not good to rookie TE. Even first round selections. Yet that isn’t stopping some owners from drafting Hockenson in the tenth round and Fant in the 12th round. Despite their accolades, talent and presumed NFL-readiness, I’m not falling victim for drafting them.

It may have been only a few sentences ago, but in the last 5 seasons, only 5 WR had more than 1000 yards as a rookie, four of them were first rounders.

Only 2 WR from this year’s class were drafted in the first round.

Marquise Brown (BAL) is coming off Lisfranc surgery in February. He missed OTA and is still not running at full speed as of this writing. His current draft position has him squeaking into the last round which seems to be relatively risk free.

Meanwhile N’Keal Harry (NE) is climbing up the fantasy boards as an 8th round pick.

History doesn’t shine that favorably on rookie WR either, even if they are drafted in the first round and even if they end up on the Patriots.

If current ADP rankings are any indication, a lot of fantasy owners still love salad.


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Written by 

Joe has been passionate about fantasy football since 2001. He has experience as an owner as well as a commissioner in H2H, auction, redraft and IDP leagues. He has written fantasy football columns since 2010. Submit any fantasy football questions you may have to me on twitter @averagejoem