Drafting the top Fantasy rookies in ADP is quite the gamble! Fantasy Football rookies are like the world’s grab bag — you could end up drafting a first-year player that ends up scoring 10 touchdowns as one of the best at his position. But, sometimes just as often, you could end up with a stinker that angers his head coach and gets buried on the depth chart.
Obviously, rookies represent a high-reward investment in many cases, but depending on where you draft them, they don’t necessarily have to be high risks.
What I mean by that is –- if you draft a rookie wide receiver later in your draft, like say Rounds 11 or 12, you could get a boom-or-bust player at a low cost. But if you are looking at a first-year player that’s expected to be the featured tailback on his new offense, then it’s going to cost you an early round pick most likely. That’s certainly high risk, and it rises the higher you select him.
Looking back over the past 17 NFL seasons, we can see which rookies were the top players entering Fantasy Football drafts, as well as their final rank at the end of the season. The question we’re going to answer is:
How Often Does the First Rookie Drafted (ADP) End Up Being the Top Fantasy Rookies By Season’s End?
Those that drafted Ezekiel Elliott in the first round took a huge gamble — the biggest gamble ever on a rookie player. It paid off, as you’ll see, and now Fantasy owners are looking at Leonard Fournette in a similar fashion.
Top Fantasy Rookies Since 2000
I went back over the past 17 seasons and looked at the Average Draft Position in each year on MyFantasyLeague.com, and then I compared the stats to the Fantasy points scored by position per year over at FootballGuys.com for each year since 2000. These rankings and APD are for standard non-PPR Fantasy Football leagues only.
2016 Fantasy Football Season
- 2016 Top Rookie Drafted: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas, ADP 1.06
- 2016 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas
Zeke had one of the greatest rookie seasons in Fantasy Football history, rewarding those that took a HUGE gamble on him, as the highest-drafted rookie in Fantasy Football history! No other rookie has ever had a first-round ADP like Elliott.
2015 Fantasy Football Season
- 2015 Top Rookie Drafted: Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego, ADP 3.12
- 2015 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Todd Gurley, RB, St. Louis
Had Gurley not tore up his knee in his final season at Georgia (2014), he likely would have been the top rookie picked in Fantasy leagues — possibly with an ADP in the second round. Gordon was injured for much of the season, and he didn’t score his first NFL touchdown until his breakout Year 2.
2014 Fantasy Football Season
- 2014 Top Rookie Drafted: Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee, ADP 6.03
- 2014 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hill, RB, Cincinnati
Hill had about 350 more rushing yards than any other rookie running back last season, ranking 10th among all running backs. Sankey, meanwhile, finished as the 42nd-best running back, even though he was taken about four rounds earlier than Hill’s 11.05 ADP.
2013 Fantasy Football Season
- 2013 Top Rookie Drafted: Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay, 5.02
- 2013 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay
If you recall, this was a tricky draft season for rookie running backs since none were drafted in the first round for the first time in 40 years. But the second round was filled with guys like Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Montee Ball and Giovani Bernard – the highest drafted running back. All four of those guys could have been the top rookie chosen, but on MFL, it happened to be Lacy, who was also dealing with fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin in the same backfield.
2012 Fantasy Football Season
- 2012 Top Rookie Drafted: Trent Richardson, RB, Indianapolis: 3.05
- 2012 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay
T-Rich had a good season (his only one so far), but it was Muscle Hamster that finished just behind Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson in total yards from scrimmage that year. Alfred Morris, a sleeper rookie of immense proportions, finished with the second-most Fantasy points for rookies. Also, Robert Griffin III came close to posting the best rookie season ever for a QB. Andrew Luck, of course, wasn’t too far behind.
2011 Fantasy Football Season
- 2011 Top Rookie Drafted: Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans: 5.06
- 2011 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina
Rather than a running back, it was a quarterback (Cam Newton) and a wide receiver (A.J. Green) that should have been the first rookies drafted in Fantasy leagues that year. Newton had the best rookie season ever by a Fantasy QB, and he finished just behind Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in Fantasy points.
2010 Fantasy Football Season
- 2010 Top Rookie Drafted: Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego: 2.07 – Finished RB32
- 2010 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Jahvid Best, RB, Detroit
Mathews was the 12th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, as he was supposed to be the “featured back in a high-powered offense” in San Diego. Sound familiar, Melvin Gordon? C.J. Spiller was the consolation prize, but Jahvid Best broke out early in that season if you’ll recall. Jahvid finished as the “Best” rookie, ranked 23rd in Fantasy points.
2009 Fantasy Football Season
- 2009 Top Rookie Drafted: Debated: Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver: 5.12
- 2009 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver
It’s strange that Moreno finished the year as the top rookie running back, looking back now. The other rookie running backs from that season? LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Rashad Jennings and Shonn Greene. Even stranger, the second-highest rookie getting drafted that season was Arizona’s Chris Wells, from Ohio State. Yoiks.
2008 Fantasy Football Season
- 2008 Top Rookie Drafted: Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland: 4.01
- 2008 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Matt Forte, RB, Chicago
Without question, this was the greatest rookie class for running backs in NFL Draft history. Look at the rookies drafted in 2008:
- Jamaal Charles, Kansas City
- Matt Forte, Chicago
- BenJarvus Green-Ellis, New England
- Tim Hightower, Washington
- Peyton Hillis, Denver
- Chris Johnson, Tennesssee
- Felix Jones, Dallas
- Darren McFadden, Oakland
- Rashard Mendenhall, Pittsburgh
- Ray Rice, Baltimore
- Steve Slaton, Houston
- Kevin Smith, Detroit
- Jonathan Stewart, Carolina
- Mike Tolbert, San Diego
I’m guessing the Raiders wished they could get that draft pick back.
2007 Fantasy Football Season
- 2007 Top Rookie Drafted: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Buffalo 4.11
- 2007 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota – RB3
After seeing the 2008 Class of RBs, the 2007 version seems boring, but know that Peterson and Lynch are still kicking as top-five picks in Fantasy Football, eight years later. Of the above group from 2008, only Charles and Forte have the same bragging rights as A.P. and Beast Mode.
Peterson was taken, on average, just one pick behind Lynch in Round 4 that season.
2006 Fantasy Football Season
- 2006 Top Rookie Drafted: Reggie Bush, RB, New Orleans 3.09
- 2006 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville
Bush entered the year as one of the most talked about rookie running backs in Fantasy history, after the Texans chose to go against the grain and controversially take DE Mario Williams with the first overall pick instead of Bush.
MJD went on to be a Fantasy beast for several seasons, and now he’s a Fantasy Football playing beast, complete with a show he hosts on the SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Channel.
2005 Fantasy Football Season
- 2005 Top Rookie Drafted: Cadillac Williams, RB, Tampa Bay 4.04
- 2005 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Cadillac Williams, RB, Tampa Bay
Do you remember when Bucs head coach Jon Gruden started Williams’ career with 88 carries in his first three games? He finished with 1,178 rushing yards, by far the best effort of his career. Auburn teammate Ronnie Brown would end up with the better career, but not by as much as you’d think.
2004 Fantasy Football Season
- 2004 Top Rookie Drafted: Kevin Jones, RB, Detroit 4.10
- 2004 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Willis McGahee, RB, Buffalo
Jones was fantastic at Virginia Tech, with 1,647 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns in his final junior season. With
McGahee was actually drafted with the 23rd overall pick by the Bills – in 2003! A knee injury in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl was thought to have killed his draft value, but super-agent Drew Rosenhaus still got him drafted in the first round.
2003 Fantasy Football Season
- 2003 Top Rookie Drafted: Onterrio Smith, RB, Minnesota 7.09
- 2003 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Anquan Boldin, WR, Arizona
Ahhh, who doesn’t love the story of the Whizzinator? In 2005, Smith was caught at an airport carrying dried urine and a device called, “The Whizzinator,” which was a kit that helped people pass drug tests. Then he was suspended after a third violation of the drug abuse policy in 2005. That was the end of his NFL career. He just pissed it away, so to speak.
Boldin, meanwhile, was the top Fantasy rookie of any position that year, and his Week 1 introduction to the NFL is still one for the ages: 217 receiving yards – an NFL record for a debut game.
Texans RB Domanick Williams scored the most points among rookie running backs, however, before he changed his name to Domanick Davis, who eventually faded away.
2002 Fantasy Football Season
- 2002 Top Rookie Drafted: William Green, RB, Cleveland 5.03
- 2002 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Clinton Portis, RB, Denver
It’s painful to think about how many times I gave Green, the Boston College tailback, another shot on my Fantasy teams. He was brutal on the field – and off, with arrests and substance abuse issues.
2001 Fantasy Football Season
- 2001 Top Rookie Drafted: Michael Bennett, RB, Minnesota 3.08
- 2001 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego
Remember that Tomlinson was great at TCU, but Bennett was great coming out of Wisconsin, too. Tomlinson eventually proved to be one of the greatest Fantasy Football beasts of our generation, but Bennett did make the Pro Bowl in his sophomore season … so he’s got that going for him. Bennett reportedly ran a 4.13 40-yard dash at one point, second fastest behind Bo Jackson’s 4.12.
Tomlinson would go on to be the No. 1 overall Fantasy pick in four consecutive seasons, from 2005-08.
2000 Fantasy Football Season
- 2000 Top Rookie Drafted: Ron Dayne, RB, N.Y. Giants 3.02
- 2000 Fantasy Rookie of the Year: Mike Anderson, RB, Denver
It’s painful to look back and see how high Dayne was being drafted in Fantasy leagues, especially considering this was a Giants team that had Tiki Barber already on it!
Well, I hope this little trip down memory lane was a fun one for you. When you go to pull the trigger on that Leonard Fournette pick in the second or third round, maybe you’ll think twice. Consider that over the past 17 seasons, the top rookie drafted ended up being the top Fantasy rookies in scoring just four times – 23.5 percent of the time. Give me middle or late-round rookies instead and I’ll be happy!
David Gonos spent 5 years as a CBSSports.com Senior Fantasy Writer and three more years writing with SI.com. Over the past 17 years, his work has been published on NFL.com, MLB.com, FanDuel, FoxSports.com and USA Today. Since 2001, he has been tracking down the Top 50-plus Free Fantasy Football Draft Tools online. You can contact David Gonos here.