Rookie Class Expectations is a series that helps define how a specific class of players should be perceived. For many years, the phrase “rookie fever” has been thrown around, but what does that really mean? And, despite many going overboard on valuing rookies, what is the correct way to value them in both season-long and dynasty formats? Well, with the help of historical data, prime examples from the past couple of seasons, and some easy logic to follow — I think I’ve found some solid methods to correctly approach this facet of fantasy football.
Each position — Quarterback (QB), Running Back (RB), Wide Receiver (WR) And Tight End (TE) — will follow the same format. First, reviewing what to expect from specific players in rookie seasons, all the way to assessing what career trajectories will look like when things are all said and done. I believe there are successful ways to gauge this much better than our competitors — and some really easy to understand information that can boost you well ahead, from a logic perspective, of your league-mates. While an individual player has a wide range of outcomes, especially when accounting for injuries, potential off field issues, team environment and organizational politics… over hundreds of prospects — there’s macro data that can help us easily assess if a player is a good “bet” for success or not.
If you’ve been reading any of my work over the last couple of years, then you know how much I value NFL Draft position in my process. Every year, when a new class of rookies enters the pool — I think it’s a very important exercise to see what players drafted in previous NFL drafts have done. While it would come at no surprise that the higher a player is drafted, the higher their likelihood for success is — just how stark the difference in success rates from a first round selection to a seventh rounder might still surprise you. The QB position is no different.
NOTE: While one of the biggest no-nos in statistics is throwing data into buckets — for this exercise I think it’s worthwhile.
Rookie Year Expectations
When evaluating rookie year performance, how a player performs and what the results are can sometimes be skewed. This is a player’s first experience as a professional, and beyond special situations — their expectations should to be much lower than a veteran. This is true across all positions, but it’s ESPECIALLY true at the QB position. There are so few QBs in the world that are talented enough to eventually become competent NFL starters, and the list that can accomplish this in their rookie season shrinks significantly.
Probability of a QB throwing for 3,000+ passing yards as a rookie, separated by NFL Draft round (Data used was 2000-2021 NFL Draft Classes):
Before we get into anything else — let’s address why passing yards were used. As the NFL evolves, the QB position has seen a lot of changes over the last two decades, namely their usage in the running game. While that’s true, and it has huge effects on fantasy football today, it’s important to remember that Each of the top 15 in QB fantasy scoring in 2019 passed for 3,000 or more passing yards. Just from a volume perspective, if a QB plays a full season of games in today’s NFL, they’re almost assuredly going to surpass that mark. It’s not perfect, but for a general probability purposes, this is a proxy for which QBs were fantasy relevant in their rookie year.
We start of solid, with Roughly a third (32.5%) of top 10 selection finishing their rookie season with 3,000 or more passing yards. But, as you can see, that’s by far the best probability you’re going to get. As you zoom out, even slightly, to encompass the whole first round — probability drops significantly (down 9.2% from 32.5% to 23.1%).
When you think of the best later first round QB selections of the last two decades, Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson and Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers come to mind. While their careers ended up being exciting, It took Jackson almost a full season to steal the starting job from incumbent Joe Flacco. Rodgers had to sit three seasons (!!) behind Brett Favre before his opportunity. A player’s early career opportunity (unless they’re a significant outlier) is heavily tied to their NFL Draft position, and most QBs are not in a position to start in year one unless drafted very high.
Names behind the numbers…
21 QBs To Throw For 3,000+ Passing Yards In Their Rookie Season (Since The 2000 NFL Draft Class):
Some quick notes:
- 7 of 21 (33.3%) were selected first overall
- 13 of 21 (61.9%) were selected in the top 10
- 18 of 21 (85.7%) were selected in the first 3 Rounds
If a QB isn’t drafted in the top 10 selections of the NFL draft, it’s rare that they can emerge in year one. If a QB is drafted outside of round 1?
It’s all there. Black and White. Clear as Crystal!
You lose (in year one)! Good Day, Sir!
Expectations for the 2022 Class In Their Rookie Season…
Here’s a visual that should help us understand how to perceive the 2022 Rookie QB class in their initial season:
This is essentially the inverse of the 2021 class. While last year’s class didn’t hit the high-end expectations I had, we can almost guarantee they’ll fare better than this crop (at least from a volume standpoint) in 2022.
While I appreciate Desmond Ridder, Malik Willis and Matt Corral for the positive aspects of their profile, the only 3rd round QB to become a full-time starter in year one (since 2000) was Russell Wilson. Wilson did win a training camp battle with highly-paid Matt Flynn, but it’s REALLY hard to see that being the case here.
Willis is behind Ryan Tannehill, who while not being an elite QB, is certainly starter caliber and has a ton of experience. The Tennessee Titans should also be playoff contenders, which makes it even less likely that they shift to a first-year QB who didn’t even play Power-5 College football in 2021. I do think the Titans are looking to move on from Tannehill at some point, but 2022 feels unlikely, especially before mid-season.
Ridder would be my favorite for playing time in 2022 if I were a betting man, especially with the Falcons being a team that’s rebuilding. However, Marcus Mariota still has all-world talent (despite his mediocre NFL career thus-far) and connections to Head Coach Arthur Smith. Ridder was a quality QB prospect at Cincinnati, and I thought there was a real chance he was going to land in the late first round of the draft. However, that didn’t happen, and now he’s a third round pick. NFL teams are not going to have a ton of confidence in a third round pick, so he’s going to have to be really special, like Wilson or Dak Prescott (fourth round), to out-play his NFL draft position odds.
Corral arguably has the easiest starting job to win, in Carolina. Sam Darnold has been almost purely a bust in his NFL career, but they haven’t moved on yet, and rumors are he’s been “playing well” so far in training camp. Corral is certainly a prospect with high upside, but he’s notoriously raw, which makes projecting him to win a training camp a tall task.
Kenny Pickett is the lone QB in this class with solid year one starting odds. A first-round pick to a QB-needy Pittsburgh Steelers team, Pickett should have the initial edge in the QB battle with Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky, like Mariota, has been a starter over multiple seasons and has a ton of talent, but he’s on a new team for a reason. Pickett is an older prospect, and has a ton of college experience. He also perfectly fits the type of system the Steelers were running with Ben Roethlisberger. Pickett is a precision passer, and should have a very smooth landing into an NFL offense with some excellent skill position players. I do expect Pickett to find the field at some point in year one, but Trubisky is no slouch.
Evaluating career outcomes is a weird process. While many of the best players come to fruition, it’s important to recognize that not all do. Injuries, off-field issues and disastrous team situations can submarine the most talented players. This needs to be priced into these numbers, and that blindly labeling players busts without doing due-diligence can create bias’ that lead to incorrectly evaluating future players. This is one of the biggest dangers of evaluating things through macro data.
The best example I can think of is former Michigan State WR Charles Rogers.
This is Rodgers’ college career. He was absolutely sublime in all aspects of the wide receiver position, at 6’2″ and 205 pounds. Rogers ran a 4.40 forty-yard dash at the combine and was selected second overall in the 2003 NFL draft.
Beyond Calvin Johnson or Ja’Marr Chase, there’s a real argument that Rogers is the best WR prospect of the last two decades. Rogers got drafted above Andre Johnson!
This was Rogers NFL career.
You’re seeing that correctly. Rogers, a superhero prospect, finished his career with 15 total games played and 440 receiving yards. Rogers ran into drug and substance abuse issues, along with multiple injuries. None of this was predictable for us at home.
While there’s plenty of incredibly helpful information to take away, reviewing each prospect individually is also incredibly important. Players don’t all fail for the same reasons, and while this data can correctly predict that a certain percentage of players will bust from the aforementioned environmental issues (injuries, off-field issues and bad team situations), it’s impossible for us to have that foresight for individual prospects.
This type of evaluation process requires humility and a strong recognition of the variance that takes place.
Probability of Career NFL QB Seasons throwing for 3,000+ Passing Yards, Separated By NFL Draft Round (Data used was 2000-2021 NFL Draft Classes):
Much like the rookie season numbers, it shouldn’t be surprising that first round QBs are the main contributors to fantasy football from a career perspective. QB that get selected in the first round of the NFL draft have produced at least one 3,000+ passing yard season 67.7% percent of the time, and two or more 52.3% of the time (Since the 2000 NFL draft class). These are amazing numbers compared to other rounds, and should hold a lot of weight in the thought process of dynasty owners. Over the last couple of rookie drafts, we’ve seen many first round QBs drop like rocks.
A few that come to mind are Chicago Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky, Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen, and New York Giants QB Daniel Jones. While two of these players still have things to prove (though things look bleak for Trubisky) they’ve undeniably already outplayed their rookie draft ADP. Most didn’t like Allen and Jones as prospects, so despite both going high in the first round of the NFL draft, they decided to fade anyway. But, armed with the knowledge that roughly three of four QBs (67.7%) drafted in the first round will provide a fantasy relevant season, and over (52.3%) half will provide two – drafting any first round QB in the fourth round of a rookie draft is an optimal proposition.
Trubisky is likely done as a starting QB for an NFL team, but he cost nothing in rookie drafts, and provided two-fantasy relevant season for you, including a top 10 points per game finish in 2018. While he’s widely perceived as a bust from a real NFL perspective, Trubisky is right around average for what to expect from a first round QB. Of course, 32.3% of first round QBs never provide consistent fantasy relevance, so that’s a reality also.
The second round is weird from a range of outcomes scenarios, and while this round hardly ever provides ELITE fantasy QBs, it does consistently dish out start-able options. Of course, Drew Brees is the second-round QB we all remember, but Andy Dalton, Derek Carr, Jimmy Garappolo , and Colin Kaepernick all provided multiple fantasy-relevant seasons.
Beyond the first two rounds, we’re hunting for outliers.
QBs like Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Tom Brady don’t come around often — and expecting to find them on a consistent basis is clearly an error based on these numbers. Wilson and Brady are the only QBs drafted outside the top two rounds of the NFL Draft to produce six or more 3,000+ passing yard seasons since 2000. A QB who sustains a long career is going to be found in the later rounds (In this case, round 3 or later) once a decade at the current rate, so price that into your evaluation methods.
Names behind the numbers…
Here Are The 23 QBs To Throw For 5 or more 3,000+ Passing Yards Seasons In Their Careers (Since The 2000 NFL Draft Class):
Some quick notes:
- 7 of 23 (30.4%) were selected first overall
- 15 of 23 (65.2%) were selected in the first round
- 18 of 23 (78.3%) were selected in the first two Rounds
The QBs that sustain long careers are almost always selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.
Expectations for the 2022 Class In Their Careers…
Here’s a visual that helps display how we should be perceiving the 2022 Rookie QB class careers:
It was an undeniably ugly class from the start, and the macro odds are not in our favor this year.
Kenny Pickett landed with a great organization and should be someone who starts multiple years, but he was by no means a special QB prospect. The Steelers absolutely needed a QB after officially losing Ben Roethlisberger for good this offseason, but there’s no telling if Pickett is going to beat out Mitchell Trubisky in year one, or become a multi-year starter at any point. For QB-needy teams in SF drafts, this would be the route I’d go. But, if you aren’t in desperate need, feel free to fully fade this class.
The Trio of third-round QBs is certainly intriguing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them emerged into a multi-year starter, but a third-round QB is a third-round QB. Just because Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder were pushed up mock draft boards (because there was nobody else to push up!) doesn’t mean they were ever deserving of that praise. This trio is going far too early in Superflex rookie drafts for me, which I’m using to my advantage to attack other positions (mainly RB and WR), but if you’re desperate, or want to sure up a Marcus Mariota or Sam Darnold in deeper leagues, I totally get it!
We struck platinum and gold with the 2020 and 2021 QB classes, and it’s no shock that we have a lean year on our hands.