How the value of rookies has evolved in fantasy football

In the Yahoo Fantasy Football Forecast, Andy Behrens and Scott Pianowski look at how the game has evolved over the years including the immediate impact of first-year players.

Video Transcript

SCOTT PIANOWSKI: Rookies, right? Rookie running backs used to be a thing, but we would never touch a rookie receiver. We would never touch a rookie tight end. We probably wouldn't touch a rookie quarterback. But the receivers were the big thing. The lemming in your league was the guy who was taking the first-round buzzy receivers, like, oh, you're an idiot. I'll scoop that guy up three years from now when he breaks out.

But not now. Rookie receiver biggest bad play-- that didn't change, I don't think, Andy, until 2014, the year of Mike Evans and Odell Beckham. And Sammy Watkins was still good then, stuff like that.

ANDY BEHRENS: About every five years, we would get a rookie receiver who would do literally anything, right? We would get Randy Moss, and then time would pass. And then we would get Anquan Boldin, and then time would pass, right? But it was not an annual thing. We didn't get-- like today, we're asking which wide receiver is going to finish with like 1,200 yards, 1,400 yards, not whether it's going to happen. Because of course it's going to happen. Justin Jefferson did it, and Ja'Marr Chase did it, and it continually happens.

I think you're right. At receiver, 2014 changed everything. It was Odell Beckham stepping onto the field and immediately being better than he'd ever been at LSU and being comfortable and utterly unstoppable over like 12 games. And he wasn't the only guy that year, right? That may have been Watkins' first year. Kelvin Benjamin had a huge year. Mike Evans is having a big-- everybody in that rookie class, except for Davante Adams, who's probably the best of it, had huge seasons.

I feel like it was Cam Newton who kind of changed it at quarterback, right? Because all of a sudden, we have high expectations for quarterbacks too. It used to be that they didn't play as rookies. Or if they did, they were Peyton Manning, and they threw 28 interceptions. And we weren't even bothered by that because of course he did. He was a rookie. But then Cam Newton happened and RG3, Luck, and Russell Wilson happened, and things changed.

And I struggle with this one a little bit. Because I don't know if this is-- it's probably a combination of NFL teams adopting some college principles, and it's also collegiate offenses getting a lot more interesting and a lot more dynamic, right, and a lot more varied. And there's a lot of receivers on the field for a lot of teams in college right now, and that didn't used to be the case. And I think receivers-- I think more is asked of quarterbacks. I think more is asked of receivers at the college level now at many of the Power Five programs. I think that's part of it.

But I don't know. I would be interested in your thoughts on that. And I would also be interested in your thoughts on whether you've-- to the extent that it has changed the way you draft in fantasy. Because I think of you as somebody who's like-- you're a-- and it serves you really well in fantasy, serves you really well in a lot of aspects.

Being a skeptic is part of who you are, right? And you're not the guy generally who's like, oh, I want to be first to that prospect. I want to be first to that young guy who's never done anything in the league, whether we're talking baseball, football. I wonder to what extent that has changed for you in the NFL.

SCOTT PIANOWSKI: It's a great point. I felt, especially in football but also in baseball, the importance to have younger rosters. I'm much more proactive. Again, rookie running backs, it's never been an issue. You can even argue that maybe they're not-- the shape of rookie running backs is so much different now. They don't go in the first round and now--

ANDY BEHRENS: First year is often the best year. Is Saquon ever going to have a year as good as his rookie year?

SCOTT PIANOWSKI: I'm at a point now I'm afraid to draft into second contracts. Mid 20s to late 20s is old for fantasy skill players, certainly old for a running back. And I wrote something up. When I did my running back exit interview, I wrote about that. I also wrote about it in the "Lindy's" magazine about how the windows just don't stay open as long at running back as we think.

It wasn't that long ago that Todd Gurley ruled the world or Le'Veon Bell ruled the world or Christian McCaffrey ruled the world or Barkley. I think Elliott's at a really dangerous point. So I want to get younger at these positions for sure.

And players come into the league younger now. If you're any good in college, you probably won't stay four years. So a rookie year is bumped up a year too. We see that. I just want to put a cap on this 2014 rookie class. If you sort them by receiving yards for their career, we come up with Mike Evans, Davante Adams, Brandin Cooks, Jarvis Landry, Beckham-- who was a comet when he came out-- Matt Harmon's best friend Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins, John Brown.

Those guys all came out at the same time. And I'm not even mentioning Kelvin Benjamin, who had some moments, Martavis Bryant, who had some moments. Even some of these guys down the list-- Donte Moncrief was drafted to the detriment of people probably a lot of the time. But again, the stance on rookie receivers has totally flipped. And I think we need-- I've certainly changed on this. Our rosters need to get younger.

I used to, in fantasy baseball, talk about the Ibañez all-stars, the boring veteran players. I still think you can make a little bit of value on them in baseball. But in fantasy football, our editor Jason Klabacha would be like, would you want to do something like the Ibañez all-stars for fantasy football? I think for a few years, I might have done that. And every once in a while, you'll get a Frank Gore who has a nice season at the end of his career on the back end, the back nine if you will, of a career.

But you generally don't want to be drafting the old team in your league. I mean, I know the rules are different at quarterback. And maybe even the rules are different at tight end. Age might be a good thing. Experience might be a good thing at tight end. At running back and receiver, if you have the oldest teams in your fantasy league at those positions, you're going to get killed.

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