The debate over draft round and how it plays into a wide receiver’s valuation is ever-changing. For example, we see arguments for players drafted later based on statistical profiles or judging a player as a “near first” rounder if they go early second, and likewise, early third. Distilling down what matters and busting common narratives is important to ensure we’re selecting the right players in our rookie drafts. To help identify the likely hits, or more importantly, likely misses, let’s see how the data stacks up below.
Hit Rates by Draft Round – Not All Day 2 Picks are Created Equal
Draft capital plays a significant role in identifying successful wide receiver prospects for your dynasty team. Logically, this makes sense. A first-round wide receiver is far more likely to hit than a seventh-rounder or UDFA. That player likely has a better pedigree and teams thrust opportunity onto their early-round picks to justify selections; something not afforded to late-round guys.
The real difference comes after round one when comparing rounds two and three. Often grouped as day two picks, the similarities between rounds ends there. Since 2001, round two wide receivers have hit for a top-12 season 22.7% of the time, compared to round three’s 11.7%. A round two wide receiver has nearly double the top-12 hit rate of a round-three wide receiver. When looking into the ceiling (top-5)of both rounds, they are similar (8% vs 6.5%) but a far cry from round one’s 20.5%.
While WR1 finishes are exciting they are still the ceiling play and unlikely within these two rounds. A top-24 finish is valuable to fantasy teams and ultimately how hit rate is defined on a broader scale. While round one is a coin flip, rounds two and three are substantially riskier. The historical top-24 hit rate for wide receivers in round two is 34% while round three is 23.4%. Again, greater than a 10% difference.
The takeaway from the data is twofold:
- Highly drafted receivers are close to a coin flip when isolating only draft capital.
- There is a significant difference between rounds two and three despite being often grouped as ‘day two picks’.
When making selections in your rookie draft, keeping this in mind should give you an edge over your league-mates.
On a side note: avoid day three wide receivers like the plague.
Does Draft Position within the Round Matter?
Often when a player just misses out on round one or round two, there’s a discussion about the early draft position in that round mattering. Logically, the argument makes sense, however, the data fails to support that conclusion. Below, I’ve broken the data down by the first and second half picks in each round to see if there was any significance to the draft position. Based on the data, the quick answer is it doesn’t matter, and if anything, it is murky at best.
First, round one data is close to what you would expect. All the hit rates in round one are close, with the top half providing a slightly higher floor. With a 52.8% top 24 hit rate compared to the back half’s 45.2% hit rate, early WRs have more safety. Interestingly, the top-5 finishes are effectively the same (22.2% early vs. 19.0% late). The takeaway within round one is hard to distinguish as the data is close. However, one could argue top-half picks have a higher floor but a similar ceiling.
While round one hits are interesting, the defining insight with the data above is within the second and third round hit rates. In round two, not only are the first half of the round picks hitting for a top-12 season at only a 13% rate historically, the second half has hit at a 20% higher rate (33.3%). Likewise, with top-24 hits, the back-half has hit at a nearly 24% higher rate. Intuitively, players drafted earlier should hit at a higher rate.
The idea that the players who just missed on round one but ended up in the first half of round two are likelier to hit is unsupported by data over the last 20 years. This holds true in round three as well. Although the drop-off isn’t as dramatic, the back-half of round three hits at a higher rate for top-5 and top-12 seasons while the front-half of the round hits at a higher rate for top-24 seasons.
The conclusion to be drawn from the above data is that round position has little bearing on success rates compared to draft round itself. This pushes back against the notion that a player who missed the previous round is closer to said round than the one they were drafted in. Moving forward, using draft round is important when evaluating prospects as well as not falling into the narrative trap of draft position.
Although there are no qualifiers to this data, a pure breakdown of hit-rate by draft rounds has a few implications. First, the first round has a “coin-flip” floor and an attainable ceiling. Second, not all day two picks are created equal. The stark contrast between round two and three hit rates is enough to assume there is a tangible difference in how the fantasy community should evaluate those players. And finally, when creating narratives for players and their value, it’s best to avoid using draft pick within round analysis as it has no bearing on a prospect’s hit rate, especially when compared to round overall. With this data, fantasy gamers should be able to better leverage draft capital in their decision-making.