Just how important is draft capital for fantasy?
This question has been analyzed from a number of different angles throughout the years, but most studies are going to come to a similar conclusion — it matters a ton.
I went back and looked at the top-12 finishers at QB, RB, WR, and TE in every season since 2000 and where they were taken as rookies. The results were staggering, and really underscore the importance of the Draft itself and just how much we should let it impact our opinions on our favorite prospects.
As great as it is to know these prospects backward and forward before the Draft, you’re simply leaving out a massive part of the fantasy equation if you just stick to your priors after the Draft.
Here are the findings:
54% of all top-12 (QB1) passers have been taken in the first round.
A massive 47% of QB1s since 2000 were taken inside of the top-15 overall picks.
18% of QB1s were taken in Round 2-3.
19% of QB1s were selected in Round 4-7, but that number is massively skewed by Tom Brady’s dominance as a sixth-round pick.
Over the last 10 years, the only passers that were taken in Round 4-7 to have multiple finishes as QB1s not named Brady are Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kirk Cousins, and Dak Prescott.
Undrafted free agents (UDFAs) make up 8% of the QB1 seasons. Kurt Warner, Jeff Garcia, and Tony Romo were the only UDFAs to finish top-12 more than twice in this span.
41% of all top-12 (RB1) backs have been taken in the first round.
An additional 24% of RB1s were picked in the second round while 16% come from the third round.
This means that 81% of the RB1 seasons were by backs that were taken in Round 1, 2, or 3.
Interestingly, UDFAs make up 7% of the RB1 seasons since 2000 — which is greater than RBs taken in the fourth round (6%). This makes James Robinson’s rookie season look even more impressive.
Overall, just 12% of RB1s come from Round 4, 5, 6, or 7.
44% of all top-12 (WR1) receivers have been taken in the first round.
Meanwhile, an additional 19% of WR1s come from the second round while 15% are taken in the third round.
This means that 79% of the WR1 seasons were by receivers that were taken in Round 1, 2, or 3.
Just 15% of WR1 seasons came from Round 4-7, while an additional 6% were UDFAs.
Unlike at QB, RB, and WR — the most dominant tight ends in fantasy aren’t largely former highly drafted picks.
Out of the TE1 (top-12) finishers, 29% have come from the first round, 19% were taken in the second round, and 20% were third round picks.
That means that 68% of TE1s come from Round 1, 2, or 3.
Once again, we see that UDFAs (11%) are more likely overall at becoming TE1s over fourth (8%), fifth (2%), sixth (4%), and seventh round picks (8%). Antonio Gates skews the data in UDFA’s favor, though.
The last time a seventh round pick finished as a TE1? It was 2004 — Eric Johnson of the 49ers. Shannon Sharpe was by far the most successful seventh rounder since the turn of the century, finishing as the TE2, TE3, TE4, and TE2 in the 2000-03 seasons.
Of course, this does not mean that players that were not drafted early can’t become contributors in fantasy. It’s just that the majority of the top producers were taken early. Again, at least two-thirds of the top-12 finishers at each position were taken in the top three rounds. Meanwhile, UDFAs have found slightly easier pathways to high-end fantasy success than most guys drafted in Round 4-7 but I really think these numbers show just how hard it really is to be an outlier. For every James Robinson, there are 10 Rico Dowdles.
Now let’s take a look and see which teams are in a position to add the most impactful players in this year’s draft.
Which teams have the most draft capital?
To determine just how much capital every team has, I used the classic Jimmy Johnson draft value trade chart as the baseline. Johnson’s chart simply weighs earlier picks more heavily while the later you go into the draft, the picks are devalued. For example, the Jaguars No. 1 overall pick (worth 3,000 points of draft capital) is a little over 5-times more valuable than No. 33 overall (worth 580 points).
The only problem with Johnson’s trade values is that it was developed before the NFL began giving compensatory picks to teams. Comp picks are awarded when a team loses a higher number of quality free agents than they gain. So by losing Tom Brady to the Buccaneers last offseason, the league gave the Patriots the first compensatory pick of the 2021 draft at the end of the third round — 96 overall. The Chargers losing Philip Rivers to the Colts netted them 97 overall while the Saints picked up 98 overall because Teddy Bridgewater signed with the Panthers last offseason.
In short, compensatory picks are a way for teams to get rewarded when their former players go on and have success with a new team. The league awards comp picks by a value-based formula, which is why the first three comp selections were awarded to the Patriots, Chargers and Saints at the end of the third-round as a result of their former quarterbacks joining new teams.
So, to make sure compensatory picks are accounted for, I made some adjustments to the draft capital values in Rounds 3-6. The league started allowing teams to trade comp picks a few years ago too, which adds another wrinkle that Johnson’s original value chart can’t pick up on. Those comp picks have an even better store of value since they can be tacked on to other deals.
Here’s every team’s updated draft capital:
2021 Adjusted Draft Capital By Team
Jacksonville Jaguars (top picks: 1, 25, 33, 45, and 65 overall) — Not only do the Jags’ have the rights to Trevor Lawrence, but they also have 25 overall (from the Rams in the Jalen Ramsey trade), 45 overall (from the Vikings in the Yannick Ngakoue trade), and the No. 1 pick at the top of Round 2-5. After they take QB1, I’m fully expecting the Jaguars to hammer defense throughout the rest of the draft. Trent Baalke and Urban Meyer are certainly loaded with plenty of options.
New York Jets (top picks: 2, 23, 34, and 66 overall) — Like the Jaguars and Dolphins, the Jets have three picks inside of top-36 and trail only the Eagles and Vikings (11) in most picks overall. The Jets, Jags, and Dolphins are also the only teams to have five total picks on Day 1 and Day 2. GM Joe Douglas and new HC Robert Saleh have plenty of assets to start reshaping the franchise around likely No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson.
Miami Dolphins (top picks: 6, 18, 36, and 50 overall) — A year after coming into the 2020 draft with the most capital, GM Chris Grier’s Dolphins are third in capital heading into next week. Grier has simply done a masterful job building this team around the draft and, by way of flipping 3 overall to San Francisco — he now owns the 49ers 2022 first, 2022 third, and 2023 first to add to his arsenal. By trading back up with the Eagles (from 12 to 6 overall), Grier now has the ability to sell that pick if one of the big 5 QBs in the draft slides and the Broncos, Panthers, or Patriots want to move up. Miami only has three picks on Day 3 and I’d be shocked if they didn’t trade back at least once to try and get some more ammo in that range. Now, the pressure is on Grier to nail these picks and develop Tua Tagovailoa.
San Francisco 49ers (top picks: 3, 43, and 102 overall) — Championship windows can close in a hurry and the 49ers know it. John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan had just better hope they are 100% right about the quarterback they just sold their (future) souls to get.
Atlanta Falcons (top picks: 4, 35, and 68 overall) — Newly-hired GM Terry Fontenot and HC Arthur Smith find themselves as the Wild Card of the first round. Do they find a trade partner and trade back? Do they take the best non-QB prospect available named Chase, Pitts, or Sewell? Or do they stay put and take the eventual successor to 35-year-old Matt Ryan? Given how top-heavy this roster is and the fact their defense is virtually talentless, Fontenot will try to get a bounty for 4 overall.
Seattle Seahawks (top picks: 56, 129, and 252 overall) — As a result of the Jamal Adams trade, GM John Schneider is without his first and third round picks. He’s also going to go into 2022 without a first — Jets GM Joe Douglas owns that one, too. With the fewest picks by far (3), the Seahawks are banking on new OC Shane Waldron to take Russell Wilson and this offense to new heights and for Pete Carroll to work his magic on defense.
Houston Texans (top picks: 67, 109, and 148 overall) — The ghost of Bill O’Brien lingers. If it weren’t for the Seahawks, new GM Nick Caserio would be saddled with the least draft capital by far. Houston has eight picks… but seven of which are on Day 3. Chris Grier absolutely cleaned O’Brien’s clock on the Laremy Tunsil deal. But, hey! At least the Texans can use the Cardinals fourth round pick that they got in the DeAndre Hopkins trade now! With Deshaun Watson’s legal situation hanging over their heads, I have no idea how Caserio and Jack “Littlefinger” Easterby are going to pull this team out of the depths any time soon.
L.A. Rams (top picks: 57, 88, and 103 overall) — The Rams haven’t made a first round pick since they traded everything to the Titans for the right to take Jared Goff 1st overall in 2016. And GM Les Snead won't make another first-round pick until 2024 at the earliest. If they’re right and Matthew Stafford proves to be a massive upgrade on Goff, none of this will matter though.
Kansas City Chiefs (top picks: 58, 63, and 144 overall) — With longtime LT Eric Fisher gone, the Chiefs had a massive problem at left tackle heading into 2021. They got their fix late on Friday night a week before the draft, shipping off their first, third, and fourth round picks to the Ravens in exchange for Orlando Brown. The Chiefs also got the Ravens second round pick (58 overall) as a part of the package, which is a huge kicker in the deal. By adding Brown, the Chiefs have completely remade the left side of their line with a formidable duo — Joe Thuney is now the league’s highest-paid left guard. The team is getting Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff back (opted out of 2020) at right guard, but right tackle is still a question-mark with Mark Remmers and Lucas Niang expected to compete for the job. Regardless, I see this trade as a massive win for the Chiefs. They got an upgrade at LT in Brown over Fisher and it really only cost them sliding back 31 spots from 27 overall to the Ravens’ 58th overall pick plus a third and a fourth. Now GM Brett Veach can attack some of the depth in this class with his two second rounders.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (top picks: 32, 64, and 95 overall) — Who needs a ton of draft capital when you’ve got Tom Brady and your other 21 starters returning? Most mocks have the Buccaneers adding to their defensive line at 32 overall, but they could certainly make a luxury pick at RB or WR if they wanted to. (Fingers-crossed they don’t go RB and make that backfield even more muddy.)
You can download the NFL Draft order and Draft Capital chart here.