From Plato to Dynasty Fantasy Football: The Rule of Thirds

From Plato to Dynasty Fantasy Football: The Rule of Thirds

Rookie Hit Rate (2021)

Eric Burkholder (@ericburkholder6: twitter)

Garret Vena (@FFgoldmine: twitter)

The number three has constantly and consistently resurfaced throughout history to have significant —-. The philosopher Plato saw three as being symbolic of the triangle and in turn believed the world to be constructed from a series of triangles, ancient Babylon believed in three primary Gods (Anu, Bel, and Ea) representing Heaven, Earth, and the Abyss, Chrisitianity has the trinity (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit) and many popular folk-lore continued the trend over and over again (three wishes, three little pigs, the three bears, ect.) In Photography the rule of thirds is a guideline to composing visual images by dividing that image into 9 equal parts. This technique creates a more eye catching subject then simply centering the subject. In dynasty fantasy football the number three and the rule of thirds can be applied to create more clarity on the value of rookie draft classes.


In all my years of playing dynasty I’ve been a big proponent of the “things come in threes rule.” Whether it’s a 2-3 year winning window, a player’s sustainable value and projected volume, or draft classes. As far as draft classes a lot of success rate variance has to do with a changing of the guard due to age, a changing of team personnel, and contracts which often leads to a change in teams for that specific player. The goal of this article is to shed some light on discrepancies in draft class values from year to year and show how they compare to the perceived values of consensus around the dynasty community.


Using the criteria of a fairly loose interpretation of a “hit” season being a wide receiver finishing in the top 24, a running back in the top 15, and a quarterback finishing in the top 12 at their positions, let’s break down each draft class, starting in 2014.


2014 was every rebuilding team’s dream with all but two selections in the first round of rookie drafts having at least one “hit” season. The wide receiver position led the way with 6 finishing with multiple seasons that “hit”. These include names like Brandin Cooks, Odell Beckham Jr., Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, and Mike Evans, who has been a “hit” in every single season since entering the NFL. Nearly every wideout selected in the first round has multiple seasons of production, yet, the class is highlighted by the ultimate bust in Sammy Watkins who was as close to a can’t miss prospect as we have in our 7 year sample size. The running back and quarterback positions are a tale of the other side of the coin with just Devonta Freeman and Blake Bortles having multiple “hit” seasons. It’s worth noting that Johnny Manziel and Bishop Sankey were considered the top of this class at their respective positions, according to ADP, and both were busts in the purest sense of the word.


2015 of course had high expectations following the performance of the 2014 class, and the top three did not disappoint. Amari Cooper, Stefon Diggs, Melvin Gordon, and Todd Gurley each had 4 or more “hit” seasons, and Gurley was as dominant a player fantasy has seen before being capped by a degenerative knee injury. Outside of those three, only David Johnson and Tyler Lockett had multiple “hit” seasons. Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, the two top picks in the 2015 NFL draft, are cautionary tales of just how difficult it is to make it in the NFL at the quarterback position.


2016 was incredibly top heavy with only the true studs having a real impact right away. Ezekiel Elliot has been top 12 in every season since entering the league and Michael Thomas has been all but one year (missed a large part of 2020 due to injury after setting records at the position the year prior). Both of which have been touted as the best player overall in their position groups at one point or another. Jordan Howard had great production early in his career and the unicorn that is Derrick Henry has been dominant of late, notching two “hit” seasons. Quarterbacks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz had promising starts to their careers though they have both fallen out of favor as of late. Outside of these 6 high profile names Dak Prescott is the only player in the class who has had true fantasy impact, thus driving down the value of 2017 rookie draft picks.


Three seasons removed from the dominant class of 2014, we have the juggernaut rookie class of 2017. This was once, again a rebuilding team’s dream.  Heavy at the running back position, with six of the top seven running backs selected having had multiple “hit” seasons, with names like Christian McCaffery, Alvin Kamara, and Kareem Hunt highlighting the class. Quarterback produced 2 absolutely elite players in Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun watson and though the wide receiver position is a little less consistent, names like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chris Godwin, Cooper Kupp, and Kenny Golladay stand out and still garner respect in the dynasty community. 


Much like 2014, 2017 inflated the value of draft picks tremendously and much like 2015, 2018 proved to be very top heavy while littered with trap plays and busts. Six of the top eight running backs selected have never had a top 15 finish. Saquon Barkley and Nick Chubb were the only running backs to hold value out of this class, while names like Derrius Guice, Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel and Kerryon Johnson (the list goes on and on) never had a real impact in fantasy lineups and more often than not cost you the week if you started them. Due to the time generally required to develop at the wide receiver position, only Calvin Ridley has “hit” in multiple years in this 3 year sample size. However; the jury is still out on DJ Moore, Cortland Sutton and D.J. Chark, amongst others. The quarterback position has only one hit so far with Lamar Jackson being an MVP and touting the best season by any player in fantasy football history.


Due to the lackluster performance of the majority of the 2018 class, which had high expectations following in the footsteps of the 2017 class, 2019 was touted as a weak class, but has proven that to be false to this point. In just two seasons, all 3 running backs selected at the top of boards have had a top 15 season, 4 wide receivers have already broken out, and Kyler Murray has been an absolute stud at quarterback. Only AJ Brown and Kyler Murray have multiple hit seasons so only time will tell if this class breaks the mold.  Undervalued yet overly productive, this is a classic case of buying the dip in perceived value and trading away before history repeats itself


Once again touted as a juggernaut class (much like ‘14 and ‘17) 2020 produced 7 potential workhorse running backs (including two that finished top 10 as rookies), a slew of valuable wide receivers (again 2 that are considered “hits” as rookies), and 3 franchise quarterbacks with Justin Herbert being selected third and setting records this past season. Once again the third rookie class (from 2017) is not only producing elite talent but is deep at multiple positions. A trend that is undeniable and worth noting going forward. 


Following the absolutely stacked class of 2020, names like Johnathan Taylor, Cam Akers, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson among others are in the discussion for being the top player at their position group in dynasty fantasy football. This is surely going to inflate the value of 2021 rookie picks, which is extremely top heavy but will lack the depth it is believed to have due to recent rookie class of 2020. After a disappointing class in ‘21, ‘22 will be undervalued leading to an opportunity to buy the dip and yet another changing of the guard in 2023 when players at the top of positions are past the age apex. Players like Ezekiel Elliot, Davlin Cook, Denandre Hopkins, Micheal Thomas, Devante Adams, Allen Robsinson amongst many others will be on the way out and the 2023 class, much like 2014, 2017, and 2020, will be waiting in the wings to earn elite draft capital and the almighty opportunity that is so elusive in the NFL.


Editors Notes: Following the three year pattern, 2019 is actually supposed to be one of the weaker classes. So far, it has a 21% hit rate, which may rise but not dramatically (compared to 25% hit rate in 2018 and 35% in 2017). Because 2014, 2017, and 2020 are the three dominant classes, the year following is usually pretty good as well (2015, 2018, and 2021) should all be solid but not as good as expected. If we follow this same pattern, 2022 should be a weak class.


Courtesy of @FFGoldmine on twitter- Garret Vena

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