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Contrarian Take: Don’t Avoid Fantasy Football Rookies

Rookie Fever; Shiny New Toy Syndrome; Youth Chasers. You know the derisive names for folks who covet fantasy football rookies. And they’re derisive for good reason: as Charles Kleinheksel has shown, players usually don’t produce in their rookie seasons. 

But fantasy football is a weekly game, and some weeks matter more than others. Adam Harstad’s back-of-the-napkin Twitter math shows that in a typical fantasy football league, Week 14 is about 2.5 times as valuable as a regular season week, while Weeks 15 and 16 are each worth about 5 times as much.

That’s a good reason to draft Doug Martin in 2017, but it’s also a good reason to embrace Rookie Fever–especially with rookie running backs.

I used the RotoViz Screener to create two sets of fantasy football rankings for each season from 2007 to 2016: one for Weeks 1 to 13 and another for Weeks 14 to 16. Then I calculated how many rookies finished in the top 6, top 12, and top 18 in each part of the season. Let’s start with the RBs:

RBsTop 6 RegularTop 12 RegularTop 18 RegularTop 6 PlayoffTop 12 PlayoffTop 18 Playoff
Rook %8.3%9.2%8.3%11.7%14.2%12.8%

Rookies were underrepresented atop the top regular season standings, especially considering RB shelf life. But across the board, rookies showed up in the fantasy playoffs, increasing their presence by 40 to 55 percent in each category.

This means that if you’re judging the value of a rookie RB based on expected total points, you’re systematically undervaluing their contribution to your odds of a fantasy football championship.

Wide receivers, on the other hand, you can avoid without sacrificing much:

WRsTop 6 RegularTop 12 RegularTop 18 RegularTop 6 PlayoffTop 12 PlayoffTop 18 Playoff
Rookie %0.0%1.7%4.4%5.0%5.0%4.4%

Sure, rookie WRs tend to blossom late in the season, but still, they rarely make an impact in the fantasy playoffs. And they almost never do so in the regular season.

So now that I’ve convinced you to get out there and draft rookie RBs, you need to figure out which ones. Luckily, it’ll be hard to find a bad choice, as this is the best rookie RB class in years.

I recommend starting with three resources: Kevin Cole’s RB prospect model, Shawn Siegele’s RB Prospect Lab, and Kleinheksel’s RB opportunity rankings. Then jump into the deep end with our Definitive Redraft Guide, where you can find takes on many rookie RBs and tools to do your own research.

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