NFL Draft Aftermath: Chasing Waterfalls
May 14, 2014 | Rich Hribar
After months of pontification, allocating time and resources, and what sometimes felt like the fantasy football equivalent of the Ludovico technique, the NFL Draft has finally come and gone. You can find our updated rookie rankings here and our updated overall player rankings here, but I want to elaborate on staying grounded for upcoming rookie drafts. Most dynasty owners frequent the approach of playing in three year windows. I personally mix that with a plethora of strategies, but let’s treat all of these rookies with that same mindset. Because face it, if a player isn’t performing within his first three years, you aren’t likely going to roster him anyways. We all fell in love with “our guys” during the draft process and have seen some go on to great destinations and some not even get selected at all. One of the most important aspects of fantasy football is being able to fluctuate when facts change. Coming off of “your guys” isn’t always easy, especially when you poured so much time into your evaluation in the first place. But it’s necessary to put what happened to those guys who were late selections or went undrafted into their proper context. No matter where you deemed a prospect to have value, the NFL has the final say in where they value players. We already know that early round selections are afforded more opportunities. Let’s look at the significance that draft round has in correlation to performance and why it’s likely best to dampen the love of “your guys” in rookie drafts if they were late round buys or went undrafted. We’ll also touch on a few of the intriguing options, with the goal to be cognizant of the probability of future success. I would never suggest that you just ignore anything or any player solely because of trends.
Quarterback Seasons of 125+ Fantasy Points in Years 1-3 Since 1970
It’s no surprise that quarterback has always been a top heavy position in terms of production and draft slot. Good quarterbacks in real and fake football are selected early. Don’t get totally fooled by the jump in total number of undrafted players, either. There are far more players who sign as undrafted free agents every year than there are players drafted at every position. The majority of undrafted quarterbacks to find early success didn’t necessarily do so in the NFL. Warren Moon, Kurt Warner and Jeff Garcia all found success approaching 30 years old after prior stints in different leagues. For fantasy purposes, it’s very hard to roster any long shot quarterback in a start one quarterback league. There are so many options at the position readily available, that tying up a roster spot in the hopes of development is rarely worth the equity. Missing out on of these needles in a haystack options will never cripple your fake team. In two quarterback leagues and super flex leagues, you may be inclined to take a bite on a guy with a small chance to succeed.
2014 Late Round Intrigue: David Fales, CHI (Round 6, 183 overall)
Fales ends up getting to learn the position under the tutelage of the ultimate “QB Whisperer,” Marc Trestman. His accuracy and attacking style of play is really suited to succeed in his system, so if he finds the field, good things can happen. Fales is already 24 years old and Jay Cutler just signed a massive extension, so rostering Fales in hopes that he gets a shot is tough to do
Chasing Waterfalls: Brett Smith, TB (Undrafted)
Smith was definitely one of “my guys” coming into last weekend. He ends up in a place where he’ll be behind 35 year old Josh McCown and last season’s third round selection, Mike Glennon. The new regime in Tampa has also given several indications that Glennon doesn’t really fit into their future plans. Smith is still best left on waivers than burning a rookie pick on, but he’s worth taking a swing if he ever gets a real chance to play with the new, big Tampa Bay pass catchers.
Running Back Seasons of 800+ Yards in Years 1-3 Since 1970
This is pretty surprising for me because the running back position is considered to be very transitive. It’s mostly assumed that you can just plug anyone in to carry the football, but that isn’t really the case. When you consider how many undrafted backs sign with NFL teams every year, the probability of success is really weak. The Arian Fosters of the world tend to appear out of thin air rather than have anything tangible that would tip owners off to pursuing them. Chasing those late backs ultimately leads to many being released from your fantasy rosters.
2014 Late Round Intrigue: Storm Johnson, JAC (Round 7, 222 overall)
I didn’t personally see anything about Johnson that I particularly liked, but the situation in Jacksonville is semi-favorable. As a college teammate of first round selection Blake Bortles, Storm (he’ll never be known by his surname) has very pedestrian attributes with little speed and less than desirable size. Scouts loved him because he had spectacular vision that shows up in his exceptional cutting against the grain style of running. He has some pass catching ability and also issues in protection, but Jordan Todman is strictly a change of pace back and 27 year old Toby Gerhart has yet to show he can carry an entire run game in the NFL.
Chasing Waterfalls: Isaiah Crowell, CLE (Undrafted)
I really wanted to talk about Tim Cornett signing in Arizona a little bit, but the situation surrounding Crowell really needs laid out with some perspective. Not only was he undrafted, but he comes into the league with off field baggage and plays a position that isn’t valued. Crowell is best served as a late third round selection given everything we know already, but is still being pushed up ahead of Terrance West, who Cleveland selected in the third round. That’s a little bit of lunacy to me, since the Browns have already spelled out how they value West in trading up to select him. They are signaling that at worst, they had him graded as the third best back in this class. West has also shown he can carry a far bigger workload than Crowell throughout college and played a very similar level of competition. It seems to be that Crowell is going to be the 2014 version of Da’Rick Rogers for fantasy owners. If you want him, you’ll have to reach and likely buckle up for a bumpy ride.
Wide Receiver Seasons of 800+ Yards in Years 1-3 Since 1970
I mentioned draft position importance for receivers in the pre-draft piece, but here you get an even better visual of how top heavy it is. For a position that people lean on for the busts that have occurred, NFL teams actually do a fairly good job of selecting good receivers at the top of the draft. Even the late round receivers that end up being successful generally take a long time getting there in terms of development. The Rod Smith, Victor Cruz and Peirre Garcon types don’t usually bear fantasy fruit for their original owners.
2014 Late Round Intrigue: Robert Herron, TB (Round 6, 185 overall)
I hate to ignore colleague Chad Scott’s internal bromance with seventh round selection, Jeff Janis, but Herron hasn’t gotten a lot of fantasy burn. As Brett Smith’s number one target at Wyoming, Herron snagged 72 passes for 932 yards and nine scores in 2013. He’s usually not my type of player at 5’9” and 193 pounds since he’s going to be a slot option in the NFL. The intrigue is that he’s going to be the slot option on a team with behemoths lined up everywhere, which should afford him cavernous holes to work with in the defense. He has tremendous explosion for his size and little in front of him on the depth chart for inside work other than the possibility of Tampa flexing Tim Wright back to his natural position more now with the tight end additions they’ve made.
Chasing Waterfalls: Albert Wilson, KC (Undrafted)
Wilson is heading to an Andy Reid offense that has been favorable for receivers his size (5’9”, 202 pounds) in the past. I’ve considered him a poor man’s Odell Beckham (homeless version now), so the fit is a good one. With only Junior Hemingway, Donnie Avery and A.J. Jenkins in his way, he could make the roster this summer.
Tight End Seasons of 500+ Yards in Years 1-3 Since 1970
This is really ugly for those holding out hope for Colt Lyerla. Outside of Antonio Gates (who did it twice), the other undrafted guys to hit only 500 receiving yards within their first three seasons were Jake Ballard, Tim Wright, Zeke Mowatt, Paul Coffman, Calvin Magee and Bob Tucker (who did so all three seasons to start his career). That’s not exactly a who’s who of tight end fantasy success.
2014 Late Round Intrigue: Rob Blanchflower, PIT (Round 7, 230 overall)
I really don’t have a lot of great things to say about any of the late round tight ends selected, but Blanchflower was the lesser of all evils. He’s going to be behind 32 year old Heath Miller and is on a team that is lacking red zone receiving options, so there’s at least some light in the tunnel.
Chasing Waterfalls: A.C Leonard, MIN (Undrafted)
Leonard had the highest physical score in my model out of all of the tight prospects this year, but didn’t have the on field production to back it up while playing in a subpar conference. Kyle Rudolph is in the last year of his contract, so there’s a small chance he can run into future playing time. Norv Turner isn’t the worst offensive coordinator for tight end success to take a nibble.
In conclusion, it’s important to remember that late round success is hard to come by. The players that stick out in our minds as successful do so because it doesn’t happen a lot. When looking to make your selections in your rookie drafts in the upcoming weeks, looking at the NFL Draft equity that teams spend in acquiring players often leads to the probability of them succeeding. It seems like common knowledge, but often the allure of landing “your guys” that you had pegged as NFL success stories can get in the way of better judgment. Don’t forego your own equity in the pursuit of what the NFL doesn’t value. Just like the immortal words of TLC, don’t go chasing waterfalls.