Slicing ’17 Rookie Class into 12 Tiers

Updated: July 23rd 2017

According to a recent poll on our RSO Twitter feed, about 50% of RSO leagues have not yet conducted their rookie drafts.  As you’re continuing your preparation, I’m here to provide my tiered rankings of the top 50 rookies.  Navigating three to four rounds of a rookie draft isn’t easy.  My tiers are designed to help you know when to buy or sell so you can accumulate the best possible rookie class, at great value!

So let’s begin…

Tier 1

1. Corey Davis WR TEN

While Corey Davis may not be quite the same level of prospect as recent 1.01/1.02 picks Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and Todd Gurley, he’s undoubtedly the best prospect in this class and the only receiver I’m willing to bet will be a true NFL #1.  Putting my money where my mouth is, I already have 3 shares and am aiming for more.

Tier 2

2. Joe Mixon RB CIN
3. Christian McCaffrey RB CAR
4. Leonard Fournette RB JAX

To say you can’t go wrong with picks 2, 3, and 4 would be inaccurate. In a few years, all three will have differing values. But at this point, the margins between each are razor-thin.

Consistent with my general strategy, I’m going to often choose the most talented player regardless of their potential non-talent-related downfalls such as injury history, off-the-field issues, etc. I’ll take Joe Mixon at 2.  He’s the only RB in this class that I believe truly has an elite RB1 ceiling. My rankings 3rd and 4th ranked players differ depending on your scoring system. PPR -> Christian McCaffrey. Standard -> Leonard Fournette.

Tier 3

5. Dalvin Cook RB MIN

While a sub-10th percentile SPARQ score terrifies me, Dalvin Cook‘s college tape tells a different story. I firmly believe that he’s the most talented back on the Minnesota Vikings and it isn’t remotely close. How soon he will earn playing time may be another story. He will need to improve drastically in pass-protection and ball security to earn playing time.

After the 1.05 pick, this draft class falls off a cliff. If you’re slated to pick 6th or later in the first round of a rookie draft this year, I’d advise shopping that pick for help now or 2018/2019 picks.

Tier 4

6. Mike Williams WR LAC

Back injuries are scary. Back injuries are especially scary when learning a NFL playbook for this first time, getting acclimated to a NFL playbook, and completing for playing time among a crowded group of talented receivers. Even if he fully recovers from this injury in time for the season, he’s unlikely to contribute in a meaningful way this season. Still my 1.06, I’d only make that pick if I’ve exhausted every trade possible without coming to an agreement. If Mike Williams struggles for playing time, but appears healthy when on the field, he might be a buy-low target at the trade deadline or during the 2018 off-season

For more info on his injury and the potential need for surgery if the non-surgical route doesn’t work, I’d recommend listening to the AUDIBLE LIVE! Podcast from June 8th as Jene Bramel (@JeneBramel on Twitter) provides great insight.

Tier 5

7. Alvin Kamara RB NO
8. John Ross WR CIN
9. David Njoku TE CLE
10. Evan Engram TE NYG
11. Samaje Perine RB WAS
12. O.J. Howard TE TB
13. Kareem Hunt RB KC

Even if he doesn’t develop as an inside runner, Alvin Kamara will still be a very productive pass-catching back in the NFL. The Saints offense is very RB friendly and neither Adrian Peterson or Mark Ingram are locks for the Saints’ 2018 roster.

Love John Ross‘ talent, but hate the landing spot. Andy Dalton isn’t the ideal QB for him, especially behind a poor offensive line that may force them to focus on getting the ball out of his hands quickly.

My tight end rankings are based on my belief in their long-term upside. Love David Njoku‘s talent and his situation isn’t as bad as many believe, especially with the release of Gary Barnidge. Evan Engram should settle in as a big slot receiver, though classified as a TE, for the Giants once they release he can’t handle the typical blocking duties of an in-line TE.

O.J. Howard likely will end up as the best NFL TE, but I’m worried that his talent as a blocker may limit his fantasy potential.

Samaje Perine doesn’t feel like a 1st rounder to me.  I would do everything possible to trade the 1.11 pick for a random 2018 1st. He was graded by many as a late 2nd or early 3rd round pick dynasty rookie pick, but has catapulted into the 1st round due to his promising landing spot in Washington. Betting on him to the next Jordan Howard is dangerous. Barring that type of breakout, I expect Washington to be in play for signing a free agent or drafting a top RB prospect in 2018.

Rounding out this tier is Kareem Hunt – a running back who dazzled on tape, but disappointed at the NFL combine. Joining a Spencer Ware in the Kansas City backfield, many believe Hunt will overtake Ware for the majority of carries by mid-season. I believe this is far from a lock and would expect Ware to lead KC in carries this year, by a 2:1 ratio.

Tier 6

14. JuJu Smith-Schuster WR PIT
15. Chris Godwin WR TB
16. Carlos Henderson WR DEN
17. James Conner RB PIT
18. Zay Jones WR BUF
19. Curtis Samuel WR CAR

Higher on Carlos Henderson than most, I love his ability after the catch. It’s also worth mentioning that aging receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders aren’t long-term barriers to playing time in Denver.

Tier 7

20. Taywan Taylor WR TEN
21. D’Onte Foreman RB HOU
22. Jeremy McNichols RB TB

Loved Taywan Taylor pre-draft and couldn’t have hoped for a much better landing spot.  Great target in the late 2nd or early 3rd round of your draft.

Tier 8

23. Melvin Mack RB IND
24. Kenny Galladay WR DET
25. ArDarius Stewart WR NYJ
26. Gerald Everett TE LAR
27. Joe Williams RB SF
28. Josh Reynolds WR LAR
29. Chad Williams WR ARI

This group includes several recent ADP risers: Kenny Galladay, ArDarius Stewart, Joe Williams, and Chad Williams. In each of my drafts, I want to land several players from this tier.

Tier 10

30. Jamaal Williams RB GB
31. Aaron Jones RB GB
32. Patrick Mahomes QB KC

In both redraft and dynasty, Ty Montgomery is the back I want in Green Bay though it’s hard to ignore the fact that the Packers drafted 3 running backs. If everything breaks right for either rookie back, Williams and Jones could be featured in one of the NFL’s best offenses. That alone makes them solid values in the 3rd round.

If early rookie drafts are any indication, I’m going to be heavily invested in Patrick Mahomes. While he’ll need to be more consistent to succeed at the next level, I can’t help but drool at his raw ability. His landing spot, under Andy Reid’s tutelage, could not be better. Let’s not forget that Andy Reid used to be criticized during his Eagles days for passing too much.  Mahomes will be put into position to not only succeed, but also develop into a QB1 in fantasy.

Tier 11

33. Cooper Kupp WR LAR
34. Wayne Gallman RB NYG
35. Amara Dorboh WR SEA
36. Deshaun Watson QB HOU
37. Adam Shaheen TE CHI
38. DeShone Kizer QB CLE
39. Mitchell Trubisky QB CHI

Tier 12

40. Ishmael Zamora WR OAK
41. Jonnu Smith TE TEN
42. Josh Malone WR CIN
43. Jehu Chessen WR KC
44. Chad Kelly QB DEN
45. Dede Westbrook WR JAX

Tier 13

46. Shelton Gibson WR PHI
47. Jake Butt TE DEN

48. Elijah McGuire RB NYJ
49. Brian Hill RB ATL
50. Donnel Pumphrey RB PHI


Bio: An avid fan of all things NFL, Dave has been playing fantasy football since 1999.  Though Dave participates in all types of fantasy football including redraft and daily, he prefers dynasty and keeper leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each.  Follow him on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO

NCAA Championship Game Preview

Updated: July 16th 2017

Back in 2009 I wrote a preview for every college football bowl game.  It was a lot of work and an undertaking that I regretted somewhere between the Humanitarian Bowl and the Insight Bowl.  I went back and re-read some of those previews this weekend though and found them very interesting.  Now that I have two full years of RSO under my belt, I couldn’t help but think in terms of how all of the mentioned players fared in the NFL and whether or not I would have risked a rookie draft pick on them.  Of all the previews I re-read, the Sun Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma was my favorite.  It was chock full of NFL talent: Andrew Luck, Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, Demarco Murray, Gerald McCoy and Toby Gerhart.  A common refrain I hear from fellow dynasty owners is that it’s tough to keep up with the college season and all of the teams – I think the bowl season is a perfect way to get some exposure and start researching for your rookie draft.  So, I decided we should take a look at this year’s championship game and see if there are any lessons that can be learned for RSO users.

Alabama

What is there left to say about Alabama?  They are 40-3 over the last three season featuring three different quarterbacks: that is impressive.  Current QB Jalen Hurts is the most athletic of those three signal callers (Jake Coker and Blake Sims being the other two) but he’s just a true freshman so he isn’t really on the radar for RSO users.  His numbers are impressive though: 65% completion percentage, 21 passing TDs, 891 yards rushing and 12 rushing TDs.  What’s most important for our purposes is that he’s certainly capable of keep the chains moving and can distribute the ball well to the backs and receivers.

Those backs and receivers are all young too – most being sophomores.  Even though they may not be draft eligible yet, their stock will only continue to rise so take note now.  RBs Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough combine for a fearsome one-two punch.  Harris averaged 7.2 yards per carry over 141 carries (1,013 yards) but scored just two TDs.  Scarborough is a patient, bruising runner and the touchdown vulture, scoring nine in 2016.  He averaged 6.6 yards per carry for 719 total yards.  Neither tailback is featured heavily in the passing game though, just 15 total receptions, mostly from Harris.  Scarborough reminds me more of TJ Yeldon than Derrick Henry who the semi-final game commentators were comparing him too.  He’s tall for a RB at 6’2″ but does not shy away from contact – in fact he initiates contact and bounces off.  Harris didn’t really impress me in my limited time watching the Tide this year, I think Scarborough will be the better pro when he’s eligible.

Junior Ardarius Stewart was the leading WR in 2016 by yards (816 vs 740) but was out-caught by sophomore Calvin Ridley  (52 vs 66).  Ridley’s NFL prospects mostly go back to his true freshman season in 2015 where he put up a 89-1,045-7 stat line, including a huge game in the semi-final against Michigan State going for 8-138-2.  Ridley’s production fell off in 2016 because of Hurts’ run-first mentality but I don’t think that will actually hurt his NFL draft stock.  He draws comparisons to Amari Cooper but I think he could be even better than that.  Come this time next season, I fully expect Ridley to be a top ten pick.  He’s not a sexy name, but I am intrigued by Gehrig Dieter.  He was a graduate transfer from Bowling Green who joined Alabama for the 2016 season.  He only amassed 15 catches for 214 yards and 4 TDs but the fact that Nick Saban took him on for the season speaks louder than his on-field production.  In his junior season at Bowling Green he totaled 94-1,033-10.  If he went undrafted I would not be surprised, but I think he’s the kind of guy who emerges in the preseason, finds his way into the lineup and turns out to be a PPR factor in future seasons (my mind went to Quincy Enunwa and Adam Thielen, similar size and potential career arc).  TE OJ Howard won’t get any looks early in your RSO rookie draft but he is a big body (6’6″ and 235lb) with big play ability; if he lands with the right team he could be a sneaky third round pick or free agent stash.  If Howard’s name sounds familiar it’s because he torched Clemson last year in the championship game: 5 receptions, 208 yards and 2 TDs.

For those of you playing in IDP leagues, you typically can’t go wrong drafting a first- or second-round Alabama player.  According to NFLDraftScout.com’s most recent mock drafts, Alabama could have as many as four defensive players selected in the first twelve picks: Jonathan Allen, Marlon Humphrey, Reuben Foster and Tim Williams.  LB Reuben Foster and DE Jonathan Allen will likely be impact starters in 2017 for their NFL teams and maybe for your RSO team.  Foster is a high-volume tackler (103 total in 2016, 30 more than 2nd place on the team) who can also get to the quarterback (4 sacks in 2016).  Allen racked up 145 total tackles, 43.5 tackles for loss and 27 sacks over the last three seasons; he finished 7th in Heisman voting this year, the highest for a defensive lineman since Jadeveon Clowney in 2012.  He’s probably a “tweaner” in the NFL, somewhere between a DE and DT that could be a positive if he lands in the right place, or be his downfall if he ends up in the wrong system.

Clemson

Let’s get this out of the way at the top: I am not a fan of Deshaun Watson.  It’s nothing personal, by all accounts he is a great young man, but I just don’t want to put the fate of my RSO franchise in his hands.  There is no doubt that he is talented but in my opinion he makes too many mistakes.  Against Ohio State, Watson threw two INTs early in the game that could have made for a much different outcome if the Buckeyes were able to take advantage but the ensuing drives ended in a missed field goal and a punt.  Among 124 qualifying quarterbacks (who averaged 14 attempts per game), Watson threw the second most interceptions (17) in 2016; in 2015 he threw 13 for a total of 30 in the last two seasons.  For comparison, Dak Prescott, Paxton Lynch and Christian Hackenburg combined to throw just 15 INTs in 2015 before being drafted.  DynastyLeagueFootball.com has Watson as their rookie QB1 for 2017 but that’s more a result of the weak class than Watson’s pro possibility.

Junior RB Wayne Gallman is fun to watch and luckily for us it seems as if he will be entering the draft this offseason.  He’s a slasher of a running back who I feel would be at home in a zone-running scheme in the NFL even more so than he has been in Clemson’s read-option attack.  The more highlights I watch and research I do, the more I fall in love.  He’s big enough (6’1″, 215lb) to hold up over the course of the season and is a good enough receiver to stay on the field in some third down situations in the NFL.  Over the last two seasons, Gallman has combined for 2,940 yards from scrimmage and 30 TDs.  I think his RSO draft stock will be heavily influenced by his performance against Alabama in the championship game.  Honestly, I hope he struggles in that game so his stock stays idle and I have a chance to grab him in my home RSO league at 1.09 or 2.02.

As good as I believe Gallman is, he’s not the best pro prospect on his team.  That honor goes to junior WR Mike Williams.  Williams’s story is a good one.  He was injured early in the first game in 2015 after colliding with the goalpost support while catching a touchdown.  He fractured his neck and spent the rest of the season rehabbing so he could come back with a vengeance in 2016 and that’s exactly what he did.  Williams will probably be a top ten pick in this year’s NFL draft after an impressive 2016.  Williams hauled in 90 balls for 1,267 yards and 10 TDs.  As a sophomore back in 2014, he went 57-1,030-6 so he’s no one-hit wonder.  Depending on where you look, Williams is either listed at 6’3″ or 6’4″ but either way he’s tall enough to be an elite NFL receiver.  Williams will most definitely be the first WR drafted in RSO leagues this year, but he probably won’t be the only Clemson WR taken.  Junior WR Artavis Scott is a smaller possession receiver who has had at least 73 receptions in each of his three seasons with the Tigers.  Scott doesn’t have gaudy numbers that will drive his RSO draft stock but given the right offense, he could be worth a third round rookie pick.  Sophomore WR Deon Cain isn’t draft eligible this offseason, and may not be relevant this time next season to be honest, but he is a big play threat that could make the difference versus Alabama.  He averages 19.1 yards per catch, has 9 TDs this season and has a catch of 20+ yards in eight of fourteen games this season.  Senior TE Jordan Leggett is also a factor in the passing game, but might make more of an impact as a good blocker.  He’s been banged up lately and left the Ohio State game injured but I couldn’t find any updates online; assuming he is healthy heading into the offseason, he should be a top five rookie tight end, and much like OJ Howard, deserve some consideration.

On defense, Clemson is much less appealing from an IDP perspective than Alabama.  ILBs Ben Boulware and Kendall Joseph each had at least 100 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and an interception.  I don’t believe either will really impact RSO owners this season; if Joseph returns for another season he could see his value increase.  DT Carlos Watkins had 10.5 sacks this season and could be a late first-round NFL selection.

TL:DR

Both teams are full of NFL-caliber talent so this is an important game for dynasty owners to watch.  The players that you should keep an eye on in the championship game are: Calvin Ridley, Wayne Gallman and Mike Williams.  In my opinion those are the three that will have the most impact on RSO leagues in years to come (don’t forget though that Ridley is not draft eligible until 2018).

My prediction?   Alabama wins easily because of their defense and ball control offense but the score ends up being close due to some late garbage time scoring.  Hurts has at least 15 carries; Ridley only gets a handful of targets but has at least one game changing play; Scarborough serves as the hammer to kill the clock at the end, totaling at least 150 yards; Watson throws at least two INTs; Gallman starts strong and has good per-touch numbers but is mostly forgotten about once Clemson falls behind.  Final score: Alabama 34, Clemson 24.


Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.