With each passing year, the dynasty fantasy football landscape continues to grow. Managers new to the format could be heading into their first rookie draft with very little idea of how it functions or what strategy they should deploy.
While we continue the series on explaining how different aspects of dynasty fantasy football work, let’s dive into dynasty rookie drafts. What are they? How do they work? And what do you need to know to prepare?
Explaining Dynasty Rookie Drafts and How They Work
If you ask most dynasty fantasy football managers what their favorite time of the year is, rookie draft season is probably the answer. Drafting the incoming prospects is one of the biggest appeals of dynasty leagues.
For most dynasty leagues, the rookie draft comes after free agency and the NFL Draft.
After the initial startup draft, rookie drafts are how teams add much-needed youth and upside to their current rosters. Whether it is the first, second, or 10th year of your dynasty league, the rookie draft is incredibly important for your long-term success. It is the only time in which you have complete control over adding players to your roster. Get it right, and you could find yourself poised to dominate for a half-decade.
One way or another, the dynasty rookie draft will drastically impact the trajectory of your team as, after the initial startup, the dynasty rookie draft is the only time to add players (not including waivers or trades).
What Dictates the Order of a Dynasty Rookie Draft?
This can vary from league to league and will allow for some creativity with how leagues determine the draft order. The most common determinant is the previous season’s results, with the order being the reverse of the standings. The manager who finished last goes first, and the champion will have the last pick.
This system inevitably incentivizes tanking. If you can’t make the playoffs, you are better off coming in last. To combat this, some leagues use a lottery, similar to what you see in the NBA or NHL. This would give the bottom teams a higher chance at securing the No. 1 overall pick, but it wouldn’t be a guarantee.
Of course, there’s still no real benefit to coming in seventh (assuming a 12-team league). You still want as many balls in the lottery pool as possible. As a result, another system I’ve seen is having the last six picks be the reverse order of the standings (i.e., playoff results), but the first six picks are the order of the standings.
That means the best team to miss the playoffs gets the top pick. In a 12-team league, the seventh-place team would pick first.
Rookie Draft Pick Trading
This is one of the most alluring parts of a dynasty league. In redraft leagues, the only assets you have to trade are your current players (and potentially FAAB). In dynasty leagues, you can trade players, and you can trade draft picks.
Knowing how to wheel and deal rookie draft picks — and more specifically when to do it — is everything. Much like stocks or commodities, timing is everything, and there is a calendar for the offseason. You need to know when to strike when the iron is hot and when to hold out.
As an example, would you rather acquire the 2024 1.01 (possibly Marvin Harrison Jr.) pick midseason or on the day of the rookie draft? Sure, we likely know who the player is, but the cost to get there is massively different once names are associated with draft slots.
Dynasty rookie draft picks are crucial to improving your roster. It is how managers add both youth and upside, hoping to secure the next Puka Nacua: a third or fourth-round rookie pick that is now a top-15 overall dynasty asset. Play your cards right, and all of a sudden, you’ve reshaped your roster with one pick.
As a general rule of thumb, if I am not competing for a championship, I try to avoid trading any first-round rookie picks. With the focus already on the future, I want to acquire picks not trade them away.
On a win-now team, the theory changes, though. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for a player to emerge into his final form. Instead, I need players who will contribute immediately.
Winning a championship in dynasty is not easy. It is quite different from redraft where one strong draft can put you in contention for a championship. If you have a depleted dynasty roster, whether your own or a team you took over, it can take years of work to turn it into a competitive roster.
I am a redraft player at heart, though. That’s how I learned this game. I don’t say that to diminish dynasty, but rather to explain why I operate the way I do. If I have a chance to win, even if my team isn’t a juggernaut, I’m going to try to win.
A key part of that is using rookie picks to acquire players. Whether that comes in the form of drafting players or trading them away for players, I’m going to get players for my picks. After all, you can always trade for more rookie picks in-season if you want.
Tips for Your First Dynasty Rookie Draft
Many factors go into how you should approach your first dynasty rookie draft. Is your league filled with a bunch of novice dynasty managers? Or is there a mix of rookies and veterans? This can dictate how sharp the draft is and the level of strategy that you need to deploy.
Regardless, the most important thing is to be informed. It sounds obvious, but you’ve all played redraft before. How often have you experienced someone just not know who a player is? And that’s with mostly current NFL players.
In a rookie draft, these are all young athletes coming out of college. Chances are every member of your dynasty league doesn’t watch college football with the same fervor as the NFL. They may not know who some of the second or third-round rookies are. Make sure you do.
The next tip is to know your roster. Where is your team strong? Where is it weak? Are you drafting a player to finish out a position? Or are you starting to build something up with your pick?
When it comes to redraft leagues, I am not a big tier-based drafter. In dynasty, though, tiers are essential.
Of course, opinions on prospects vary. A guy I may view as a high-upside WR2 could be viewed as a bust by someone else. Just go back and read all the opinions on Quentin Johnston from before the 2023 NFL Draft.
Ehh… maybe he’s not the best example since many analysts were projecting that he would fail to live up to expectations. Jayden Reed is probably a more interesting one.
In general, though, there will be a group of players who are closer to “can’t miss.” Then, there will be the guys with wider ranges of outcomes. Finally, there will be the dart throws — the guys that are probably not going to amount to anything overall, but one or two will break through into productive fantasy assets.
Knowing the caliber of player you are likely to get at each of your rookie picks provides you with information as to whether you should trade up, down, or stand pat.
As a bonus, make sure you don’t draft too many players. Far too frequently, a rebuilding team amasses draft picks and then drafts more players than it can use. If you have 10 picks, but only 6-7 realistic open spots on your roster, make trades. There’s nothing worse you can do with a rookie pick than to waste it.
Looking to make a trade in your fantasy league? Having trouble deciding who to start and who to sit? Setting DFS lineups? Check out PFN’s Free Fantasy Football Trade Analyzer, Start/Sit Optimizer, and DFS Lineup Optimizer to help you make the right decision!