There is a drumbeat in the dynasty fantasy football community. It is growing louder, day by day. Do you hear it? It is the drumbeat of the 2023 rookie class. Perhaps you have heard some of the names. Bijan Robinson. D.J. Uiagalelei. Bryce Young. Tank Bigsby. Even if you do not play in devy leagues, you will certainly be exposed to the names and profiles of these talented players on Twitter or simply by watching college football.
I have been playing dynasty for nearly ten years, and the “yeah, but wait until this draft class comes along” mentality is not a new phenomenon. The wide receivers in 2014. The running backs in 2020. The quarterbacks in 2021. The community typically does a great job of identifying talent in upcoming draft classes. However, what follows that process is that many dynasty players will become hyper-focused on a future class and, in turn, ignore an upcoming class.
We are starting to see dynasty players trade out of the 2022 draft class. Their trade targets? Accumulate as many picks as they can in the 2023 rookie class.
Is this a sound strategy? In my opinion, for the reasons below, it is not.
The only feeling in fantasy football better than winning your league is being “right” about a player. Now, add in the ability to claim “I knew it!” about a player years away from the NFL. It’s intoxicating. Everyone remembers their successes, but very rarely do we dwell on our failures. Subsequently, you don’t have to go back very far to see how often we (and the NFL!) get it wrong.
Analysts viewed players like KD Cannon, Carlos Henderson, and Malachi DuPree as first and second-round rookie picks in early 2017. Equanimeous St. Brown was a consensus top 12 rookie pick in early 2018, only to fall to the sixth round of the NFL Draft. The following year, both Kelvin Harmon and Hakeem Butler were wildly misranked by the dynasty community. Is anyone still feeling burned by Ke’Shawn Vaughn?
Of course, we’re going to get it wrong! Scouts and general managers in the NFL get it wrong all the time, so how could we have a chance? And if we get it wrong with rookies just weeks away from playing professional football, how could we possibly have a consistently high level of success when it comes to draft classes a year or two in the future?
Furthermore, this is also to say nothing of the havoc COVID played with the college football season last year. Many scouts couldn’t attend games in person last year, even when those games were played. It is widely believed by those in NFL circles that more “out of nowhere” college players will breakout this year than ever before, simply because we did not have a chance to watch them in action last season.
INJURIES AND LIFE
Injuries are a part of football at every level, from pee-wee to the pros. Bryce Love. Marcus Lattimore. Journey Brown. Justyn Ross. George Pickens. Once promising careers derailed or even ended in an instant. Certainly, there is a lot of football to be played between now and the 2023 NFL draft. To be clear, I do not wish injury on any of these great prospects! It is simply a sad reality of the game we love.
We are also talking about young men in their late teens and early twenties. Life happens. Football happens. Some players become academically ineligible. A new coach may change a team’s system entirely.
Similarly, a player may find themselves transferring from school to school, never to find a good home for success. For instance, Arik Gilbert was once considered a can’t-miss tight end prospect. After bouncing around from LSU to Florida to Georgia, will he ever meet his potential?
WILL NIL LAWS KEEP THE 2023 ROOKIE CLASS IN SCHOOL?
Earlier this summer, the United States Supreme Court ruled that college athletes could profit financially from their “name, image, or likeness.” This NIL ruling caused swift upheaval on campuses from coast to coast, with some players now bringing in tens of thousands, and more, in endorsements. We often hear about players declaring early for the draft due to financial hardship. Even players projected to go in the third and fourth round will leave school early in search of a paycheck if their family is in need.
With NIL laws and endorsement money, what if that financial hardship no longer exists? Early speculation has many believing that these changes will keep players to stay in school through graduation. Alabama’s Bryce Young makes over $1 million. Lower tier prospects are also bringing in the cash. Auburn’s Bo Nix’s deal with Milo’s Sweet Tea reportedly nets him six figures. Prospects completely off the NFL’s radar are also getting in on the action. Penn State’s quarterback Sean Clifford recently made over $10,000 from a single night signing autographs at a local restaurant.
Finally, let’s not forget that both Travis Etienne and Najee Harris went back to school, dramatically changing the composition of the 2020 rookie class. If you’re banking on getting picks in the 2023 rookie class, how sure are you that the players you are targeting will be in the class?
TIME IS MONEY
Finally, forget the players themselves. Those 2022 rookie draft picks you are trading away? They are going to gain value over the next year. Study after study has shown this. Experience playing dynasty has shown this. There will be great players in the 2022 draft class!
The most recent class believed to be weak was the 2019 class. Despite that, the 2019 rookie class gave us DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin. In addition, it gave us A.J. Brown, Diontae Johnson, and Josh Jacobs. Kyler Murray is a top-five Superflex pick. Lastly, T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant are two of the best young tight ends in fantasy football.
Overall, my advice would be to learn about the 2022 draft class before you make any rash decisions. Find out more about top quarterbacks Spencer Rattler and Sam Howell. Keep your eyes out for breakout candidates like Jayden Daniels. Find a running back or two that you like. Perhaps you’re a Breece Hall person. Maybe you like Kyren Williams out of Notre Dame. Discover the wealth of talent at wide receiver, the backbone of any dynasty roster. I promise you that the 2023 rookie class draft picks will still be available to you in the future! Undoubtedly, if you hit on a player or two from the 2022 draft class, you will have the option of trading those players for 2023 rookie picks.
Even without COVID-plagued seasons, football always has surprises in store for us. Baker Mayfield wasn’t on anyone’s radar, and he ended up being the top pick in the draft. Same with Joe Burrow and Zach Wilson. If you play in any devy leagues, you’ll know the rookie draft will often still have plenty of available players drafted. We just don’t know, and I want that to be the biggest takeaway of this article. Play the cold, hard calculus of historical data rather than trusting your eyes and heart. The hype about players and draft classes will come and go, but the value of your rookie draft picks will always be present.