How to trade draft picks in dynasty fantasy football
By: Ben Cunningham (Twitter: @BenC1357)
Hello there, I’m new to the Pro Football Mania team. My name is Ben Cunningham, I am a chemical engineer from Kansas City, MO (Go Chiefs!) and work in food manufacturing in real life.
Fantasy football became a part of my life in 1998 and I got serious about 10 years ago expanding my portfolio each year since then. Today that includes 20 dynasty leagues, a few redraft leagues per year, and hundreds of bestball drafts each year on multiple platforms.
My goal is to bring you content focused on the strategies needed to be a successful fantasy football player across all of these formats.
Today we will discuss rookie draft picks and why you should trade them when presented with the opportunity. We need to convince ourselves of two things: 1) We aren’t as good as we think we are at drafting rookies in dynasty leagues and 2) We should always be willing to trade our rookie draft picks.
A couple of points before we dig in. First, in dynasty fantasy football avoid thinking in absolutes that limit opportunities. Words like “never” and “always” should be avoided. If you take an absolute approach (“I never trade my future rookie picks.” or “I refuse to trade that player.”) you limit your options to leverage value and improve your team.
Second, is knowing your league mates’ tendencies. Some often trade their rookie picks and some rarely do. Those are indicators of value where the same asset will have a different value to different players no matter what a trade calculator or ADP would tell us.
Let’s start with how good, or bad, we are at drafting rookies in dynasty leagues. First, the success rate of rookies draft picks is low. Our goal with rookie picks should always be to get a top 12 QB, top 24 RB, top 36 WR, or top 12 TE, what I will call “hit rate”.
The hit rate of a random rookie draft selection is low. The hit rate for rookie picks 1.01-1.06 is around 50%, however in the latter half of the first round the hit rate drops significantly to below 40%.
Second round picks hit around 30% of the time and in the third round our success drops below 10%. A dynasty player can slightly improve these hit rates by using a few principles that we will discuss in the future, however our chances of success with each pick are not great and the best players accept this fact instead of stubbornly fighting against it. Knowing this should make a player open to trading for known entities.
Trading first and second round picks can be tricky. These picks are at their highest value when you are on the clock in your rookie draft, people will pay high prices in the heat of the moment when they love a player on the board. But, remember that hit rate from before.
If you can get added value, make that trade. The bigger issue is that the time we most want to trade our rookie picks is during the NFL season when we think we’re one player away from a championship. Players should take a serious pause if they are giving up value to make a trade in that situation because it can often lead to missing out on the championship and not having the asset to build for the future.
This is especially important when trading for a veteran player with uncertain future contract status. If you traded a rookie pick for Todd Gurley in October 2020 you are feeling pretty jaded right now.
Well, why did I bring that particular example into play — I moved a second rounder for Gurley around that time on a RB needy team and still am not happy about it. The trade got me to the semifinals, and then a swift defeat by a better team. We all make mistakes in this game, the important part is learning from them.
Third round picks are very interesting, because dynasty players have a wide range of value on them. Some think they are amazing drafters (they aren’t) and will trade away a contributing player for a lottery ticket.
A great approach in a negotiation is when you find yourself valuing a player more than your opponent yet your opponent won’t pull the trigger on the deal. Often adding a third-round pick to the deal will get it done. You should do this every single time, as that pick has virtually no value and you are getting the player you want.
Similarly, do not let the addition of a third or fourth round pick sway your view of a trade offer if you value the assets you are getting in return. Another great approach is to constantly shop your third round pick for players who don’t have sexy names but will win your league, imagine trading a third round pick for Cole Beasley early last season.
You should never consider your rookie picks off limits. In general no dynasty asset should be completely off limits (you players with CMC or Saquon on your rosters know what I’m talking about right now).
One hurdle for many dynasty players is having to pay in advance if you trade a rookie pick, and it is understandable if you avoid trading picks if you are considering leaving a league. However, if you plan to say in the league make the investment. If we keep in mind the hit rate of rookie picks we should always be considering trading them for known entities that score points now.
There are a few approaches in trading future picks that should be considered. First, use them to upgrade a position.
If you have a good but not great WR you might be able to add a first round pick to get that stud you feel is going to dominate for years to come. In 2014 I traded AJ Green plus a 2015 first round pick for DeAndre Hopkins, and some in the league questioned the move.
The reasoning for my move was based on the age of the players involved and the belief that Green had peaked, meanwhile Nuk was entering his second year and exploded as many young stud WRs tend to do. The reverse of this type of trade may also work best for your team, if you feel the hype on a young player is overblown you can get that contributing veteran player to still win now while also building your asset values for the future.
In 2019 there were a wide range of opinions on JuJu Smith-Schuster while he was in the middle of a difficult season following his age 22 breakout.
Taking advantage of the age discrimination many dynasty owners have I traded JuJu for Adam Thielen and what would become the rookie 1.09. Ironically that 1.09 in 2020 was used to draft Justin Jefferson. Some trades backfire, and some are rocket ships to the moon.