The Unexpected: Week 5

Updated: October 5th 2017

There are always surprises at the start of the NFL season, some of which may be sustainable through the year while others likely are not.  Determining if your player’s good start is something which will continue may be the difference in figuring out if your team is a true contender or possibly making a poor trade.  With four weeks of the NFL season already in the books, we can start to look at trends and get some idea of different players’ usage going forward.

Quarterbacks

Alex Smith QB2 – Smith rocketed out of the gates with a 4-touchdown thrashing of New England in week 1.  The Kansas City starter made few mistakes since.  Smith leads the NFL in passer rating and completion percentage while pacing the Chiefs to the only undefeated record remaining.  He has been nothing short of great so far throwing for 8 touchdowns with 0 interceptions.

Moving forward – While I foresee continued solid play from Smith, do not expect this production to remain.  The usage is very much in line with recent history, currently tied for 18th in attempts, but his rates are not.  His current 76% completion rate leads the all-time NFL season mark (Sam Bradford 2016) by more than 4 points.  The 8.8 yards per attempt is 1.4 more than any Smith season in Kansas City.  Look for solid QB2 numbers going forward and a quality weekly streaming option.

Jared Goff QB10 – What a difference environment can make.  The second year starter went from a historically bad rookie season to the current leading passer in yards per attempt and third ranked quarterback in passer rating. The additions of left tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan transformed one of the worst lines in football last year benefitting both the run and pass game.  The Rams also brought in a host of new receiving options for Goff including Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods in free agency plus Cooper Kupp in the draft.  Most importantly Los Angeles brought in 30 year old head coach Sean McVay to completely revamp the offensive scheme.  Goff’s throws became far more manageable this season including increased check downs to Todd Gurley out of the backfield and more open throws throughout the field.

Moving forward – The schedule could become much more difficult over the rest of season with few matchups for which I would be thrilled about for Goff and the Rams.  Goff only ranks 22nd in passing attempts over the season and provides nothing as a rusher to fall back on.  I would not count on Goff as my starter in RSO leagues.  I am more likely to try and capitalize on the hot start with a trade or continue stashing Goff if I drafted him as a cheap backup/streaming option.

Running Backs

Kareem Hunt RB2 – No rookie started out hotter than Kansas City running back Kareem Hunt.  Hunt leads the NFL in rushing yards by nearly 40% over the next player (Todd Gurley) thanks to an enormous 7.4 yards per attempt to start the season.  The rookie also displayed significant receiving ability catching 13 balls for a robust 12.1 yards per reception.

Moving forward – Hunt should remain a locked in RB1 throughout the year.  Kansas City should be competitive throughout the season, he shows off impressive lower body strength to power through tacklers, and enough burst to turn open lanes and bad tackling angles into big plays.  He is also heavily involved in the passing game.  The KC offensive line has consistently opened up huge holes for Hunt this season as well.  He is a set and forget player at this point.

Chris Thompson RB6 – Perhaps no player has done more with less than Washington running back Chris Thompson.  Thompson owns a hefty 7.1 rushing yards per attempt over 20 carries in addition to a huge 16.8 yards per reception for 14 catches which combine to a massive 11 yards per touch.  The Washington passing down back also contributed four touchdowns so far.

Moving forward – Thompson is a really good player but anywhere near this level of production is unsustainable.  He averages less than 9 touches per game and that is unlikely to improve much with a load of offensive weapons to choose from in Washington and a quarterback who generally spreads the ball around.  Thompson is nothing more than a flex play in deeper leagues.  Sell if you can get anything of significance for him.

Wide Receivers

Stephon Diggs WR1 / Adam Thielen WR13 – The Minnesota receivers find themselves ranked well above preseason expectations so far.  Each is top-3 in receiving yardage and Diggs has scored four times already.  Case Keenum has been surprisingly solid in Sam Bradford’s absence and the two Vikings own a very large target share of the offense.  Both accumulated 32 targets, double the next most targeted player on the team.  Tight end Kyle Rudolph has reverted to the low volume, low yardage receiver we saw most of his career without Bradford and with an improved offensive line.

Moving forward – There are a lot of questions going forward for two high volume players.  It is fair to wonder how the loss of rookie sensation Dalvin Cook will affect these receivers and the offense as a whole.  Will the Latavius Murray/Jerrick McKinnon combo provide enough in the run game to open up deeper route combinations?  Will Rudolph gain a larger target share with the return of Bradford?  What does Michael Floyd, who reportedly had a superb training camp and likely replaces inconsequential former first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, bring to the table? The questions have me downgrading both slightly going forward.  Diggs remains a must-start player for me but I am looking at Thielen as more of a flex play going forward.

Chris Hogan WR10 – The former Bill performed well so far in his time in New England providing a nice downfield threat with reliable hands.  Hogan has been on the plus side of the touchdown equation scoring four times this season in the high powered New England offense and is tied for second in targets on the team.  He remains a reliable target for Tom Brady on a team with many injuries at wide receiver.

Moving forward – Hogan will have a big role in the offense but will be a volatile weekly play with likely touchdown regression coming.  With plenty of quality receiving options available for the Patriots including Gronkowski, Cooks, Amendola, and White; consider Hogan more of a borderline WR2/WR3 going forward.

Tight Ends

Charles Clay TE4 – Clay was one of my featured streaming options going into the season.  Buffalo ended up trading away the talented Sammy Watkins to the Rams and trading for Jordan Matthews before the season started.  With speedster Marquise Goodwin moving on Clay became Tyrod Taylor’s only significant returning target left outside of running back Lesean McCoy.  Matthews immediately suffered a chest injury further delaying his familiarity with Taylor which focused more of the offense through Clay early in the season.

Moving forward – Matthews suffered another injury last week, this time resulting in thumb surgery which could keep him out for a month.  The low volume Buffalo passing attack is not a fantasy player’s dream, but Clay owns a large 25% market share so far and Matthew’s time off should ensure a continued big role.  Consider Clay a weekly starter with the number of significant injuries at the position.

Evan Engram TE7 – One of the golden rules in fantasy football is not relying on rookie tight ends.  They rarely have big passing roles the first season taking time to learn all the nuances of the position.  Engram is proving the exception to the rule.  I wrote an entire article this offseason detailing the virtues of Engram but even I was not counting on immediate starting fantasy value.  The rookie is currently tied for second in targets, tied for fourth in receptions, and ranks sixth in yardage among all tight ends.

Moving forward – The Giants have virtually no run game to speak of, thanks in large part to a struggling offensive line, which likely means a continued short pass-happy offense from coach Ben McAdoo for the rest of season.  The athletic tight end has at least four receptions each game so far and his targets have trended upward throughout the season.  Engram should be a locked-in weekly starter given his consistent heavy usage and lack of quality options at the position.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

2017 RSO Rookie Mock Draft v3.0

Updated: August 23rd 2017

This August update was the hardest mock I have done so far for RSO (including my first 2018 mock which is yet to be published).  It’s easy to fall into the trap of weighting preseason action too heavily so I tried to fight that urge as much as .  I’m sure you will disagree with a number of these picks and I’d like to hear about it @robertfcowper on Twitter.  Please note, I am writing this before the third week of preseason games which is typically when we see the most “realistic” preseason football and you’ll likely be reading it during or after those games.

1.01 – LEONARD FOURNETTE, RB, JAGUARS
1.02 – COREY DAVIS, WR, TITANS
1.03 – CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY, RB, PANTHERS

I’ve had Fournette and Davis as my 1.01 and 1.02, in that order, from the beginning and don’t plan to change them now. Fournette’s value may be negatively impacted by QB Blake Bortles if he continues to struggle like he has so far in the preseason and Davis’s injury hurts his immediate value slightly. Neither falls behind McCaffrey for me, but McCaffrey’s solid preseason work pushes him into a close third in my first tier. If you need a RB over WR, I wouldn’t fault you for getting caught up in the CMC hype at 1.02.

1.04 – DALVIN COOK, RB, VIKINGS
1.05 – JOE MIXON, RB, BENGALS

In addition to moving McCaffrey out of this tier, I decided to flip-flop Cook and Mixon. Mixon may end up with the more productive career over time but on RSO we are drafting for more immediate production as rookie contracts are only three or four years long. Cook has an easier route to RB1 touches with Latavius Murray in front of him rather than Mixon who has Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard to battle.

1.06 – ZAY JONES, WR, BILLS

I was high on Zay previously having him at 1.10 but since July his stock has risen due to personnel moves in Buffalo. Sammy Watkins was traded, Jordan Matthews was acquired and Anquan Boldin signed and promptly retired. Ultimately that’s a net positive for Jones. The Bills won’t be great, but neither was East Carolina.

1.07 – OJ HOWARD, TE, BUCS

Howard stays the course here at 1.07. I haven’t seen or heard anything that encourages me to move him up or down yet.  Don’t forget to grab Cameron Brate too because like most rookie TEs he will need time to develop.

1.08 – KAREEM HUNT, RB, CHIEFS
1.09 – D’ONTA FOREMAN, RB, TEXANS

Foreman has had better success so far during the preseason but I think Hunt has a higher ceiling for the near future. Even if Hunt can’t beat out Spencer Ware for the starting role, he will have value in the passing game. Foreman could see short yardage work so a line of 350 yards but 6-7 TDs wouldn’t be surprising. I originally put players like David Njoku and John Ross ahead these two because of their upside but I’m leaning more towards the sure thing as we get closer to the season.

1.10 – MIKE WILLIAMS, WR, CHARGERS

In true dynasty formats, Williams should not fall this far. However, in our RSO format, there’s a good chance you lose out on 20-30% of Williams’ rookie contract due to his current injuries. His ceiling is higher than that of Jones, Howard, Hunt and Foreman but his floor is lower.

2.01 – ALVIN KAMARA, RB, SAINTS

I’ve hated on Kamara a lot. It’s time to move him up my list though. So far this preseason he has just nine carries but they have been very productive. He has a 50 yard TD carry and 96 total yards; even if you remove the long carry, Kamara still averages 5.75 yards per carry on his other carries. He’ll also be a factor in the passing game, which like with Hunt, will allow him to offer some value as a rookie even with limited carries.

2.02 – DAVID NJOKU, TE, BROWNS

The bloom might be off the rose for Njoku. A report from a few weeks ago showed coach Hue Jackson’s frustration at Njoku’s hands. Plus he suffered an ankle injury in Monday’s game against the Giants (too soon as of this writing to know if it’s serious). He’s still an athletic freak with high upside so he’s worth a speculative pick at the top of the second.

2.03 – JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER, WR, STEELERS
2.04 – SAMAJE PERINE, RB, REDSKINS

JJSS has just one catch and one carry so far but battled a minor injury to start camp. Perine has 14 carries so far (plus one 29 yard catch). I have not heard any glowing camp reports about either guy so they are basically holding steady despite being on crowded depth charts.

2.05 – MITCHELL TRUBISKY, QB, BEARS
2.06 – PATRICK MAHOMES, QB, CHIEFS
2.07 – DESHAUN WATSON, QB, TEXANS

I’m hedging my bet by putting all three of these quarterbacks together at this point but I truly believe the value in RSO drafts is too good to pass up. To lock up these rising stars for three or four years on a cheap contract is just a huge advantage. Sure, the guy you take has to “hit” but that’s the case with all of these rookies. I am a huge Mahomes fan and am encouraged by his 73% completion percentage and 3 TDs so far but it’s hard to ignore how good Trubisky has looked too and he has a better chance of starting Week 1. Watson will likely win the starting job but I have not been a fan of his so I’d rather take Mahomes and wait.

2.08 – JOHN ROSS, WR, BENGALS
2.09 – EVAN ENGRAM, TE, GIANTS
2.10 – CURTIS SAMUEL, RB, PANTHERS

These three have fallen significantly in my eyes. Ross, no surprise, has been injured. 2.08 might be harsh for Ross but I won’t own any shares of him this season if I have to take him in the first. I’m still worried about Engram’s lack of size and whether he can earn enough snaps at WR behind OBJ, Marshall and Shepard (although recent injuries to those three could linger and open the door). Samuel is supposed to be a “jack of all trades” type but until I see him in action and that the Panther’s offense can support him and CMC, he’ll be a “master of none” for me.

3.01 – TAYWAN TAYLOR, WR, TITANS
3.02 – KENNY GOLLADAY, WR, LIONS
3.03 – COOPER KUPP, WR, RAMS
3.04 – CHRIS GODWIN, WR, BUCS
3.05 – DEDE WESTBROOK, WR, JAGUARS

This group of receivers was tough to sort and I made a number of changes before settling on this. Westbrook and Golladay join the mock based off the success they have had in limited action thus far this preaseason. Westbrook had a single catch for a 42 yard touchdown in his first game and followed that with 6-131. Golladay started strong with a 3-53-2 game against the Colts and fell to just one reception for six yards against the Jets. Westbrook has off-field concerns and is likely a terrible human being but if he can ignite a stagnant Jaguars offense he’ll get some looks. Golladay’s hype train is speeding out of the station with plenty of hangers-on but I’m not ready to push him that high in my rankings after four NFL receptions. The other three receivers were in my original mock: Taylor and Godwin down a few picks and Kupp moved up. I still believe in Taylor who has taken advantage of Corey Davis missing time in camp and in the preseason and has 7 for 97 yards; pushing the QBs higher means Taylor falls to the third through no fault of his own. Kupp has a 8-105-1 line through two games. Sammy Watkins coming to town kills any hope of Kupp being the lead target for Jared Goff but he should beat out Robert Woods, et al by midseason. I’m disappointed so far by Godwin who has caught just three of his six targets. I am still hopeful that all of the attention devoted to Mike Evans, DJax and OJ Howard mean Godwin will have sneaky production.

3.06 – MARLON MACK, RB, COLTS
3.07 – WAYNE GALLMAN, RB, GIANTS

Signing Christine Michael this offseason threw some cold water on my Mack ranking.  Why sign a journeyman like Michael to a crowded backfield after drafting Mack?  Michael ended up getting hurt and is out for the season, but Mack was banged up too and missed the start of the preseason. Frank Gore and Robert Turbin can carry the load to start the season so the Colts might take it slow with Mack. Encouragingly, he did have seven touches for 49 yards in his first game action. I’ve had a man crush on Gallman since I started researching the 2016 Clemson Tigers and I haven’t given it up yet, although I continue to drop Gallman down my mock draft (2.09 to 3.05 to 3.07). I don’t believe in Paul Perkins and I’m not sure the Giants do either since they have more draft capital invested in Gallman than Perkins.

3.08 – JAKE BUTT, TE, BRONCOS
3.09 – DESHONE KIZER, QB, BROWNS

The true value of these two players will come down to when they get on the field. I rank them here with the expectation that they will start a majority of the season for their teams. Butt would have been a first round NFL talent if he wasn’t injured – he’s good value here. This late in your rookie draft, Kizer represents good value too even if he’s just QB28 at the end of the season. I’d rather lock these guys up on cheap long-term contracts now before their value crests in my auction draft (if it’s announced that they will be starting Week 1) or in free agency (if they get on the field a little later).

3.10 – TARIK COHEN, RB, BEARS

Cohen has impressed in this first two weeks of the preseason. His size is worrisome (he’s just 5’6″ and 180lbs) but it hasn’t hindered him yet. Cohen leads rookie RBs in yards (181) and leads the Bears backs in attempts (18). His size will keep him from being a workhorse in the NFL but he will have a role. It’s interesting to note that the Bears invested a higher draft pick in Cohen (4th round) than Jordan Howard (5th), even after Howard’s great rookie season.


Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had all season so they really need to jump off the screen.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s

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.

Evan Engram: RSO Cheat Code?

Updated: July 24th 2017

This week we examine one of the rookies who I am taking in many rookie drafts, New York Giant tight end Evan Engram. The title of this article really emphasizes the fact that Engram is a receiver but gets the tight end designation in fantasy leagues.  It is a big advantage and the reader might look to last year’s fantasy stats for why that matters.  Last season’s WR32 scored more fantasy points than the TE4 in PPR leagues.  A player must only put up moderate receiving numbers to become a consistent fantasy starter at tight end.  I take a deeper look below as to why Engram could eventually become a monster for your RSO team.

The Player

Engram led all FBS tight ends, by a significant margin, with 926 receiving yards in 2016. The next closest tight end from a power-5 conference was Clemson’s Jordan Leggett with nearly 200 less yards.  Unlike other players taking advantage of small school athletes, Engram routinely beat up on upper-level competition.  His top 6 receiving games, all with 95 yards or better, came against five SEC conference opponents and ACC powerhouse Florida State.  His top receiving performance of 2016 came against national champion runner-up Alabama, whom he dismantled for 138 yards.  Per Pro Football Focus, Engram led all draft eligible tight ends in touchdowns and yards per route run out of the slot.

Put simply, Engram is the best route runner and receiver at tight end in this rookie class by a wide margin. Linebackers looked silly trying to stay with Engram and he routinely defeated defensive backs.  His tape shows a player with the quickness and agility to separate easily for short, easy completions while also displaying blazing straight line speed to win deep as a “seam-buster” or on the boundaries.  The Mississippi standout attacks all levels of the field with success as shown by his target map below.  Another weapon in the Rebel’s arsenal is his ability to win near the endzone where his leaping ability and route running stood out.  If you do not trust my evaluation, just listen to 2016 Giants defensive captain linebacker Jonathan Casillas describing Engram during New York OTAs:  “He is not a small guy. He runs routes just as good as any receiver we have on our team. He creates separation and he has great hands.”

 

Evan Engram Target Map (Pro Football Focus)

 

The Athlete

Engram is a physical marvel. His 4.42 forty yard dash at the NFL combine is among the fastest ever for a tight end.  His size adjusted speed score is the eight best at the position since 2000.  Player Profiler shows a player testing in the top 16% of each workout metric for tight ends.  In fact, Engram is such a high-end athletic outlier that he has no true comparable at tight end in terms of draft position, size, and athleticism.  One must look to big and fast receivers like Terrelle Pryor and Demaryius Thomas for players with athletic traits approaching Engram’s.

But do those traits work at the NFL level? Some people say a “tweener” like Engram rarely succeeds in the NFL.  This is a myth.  There are many recent examples of smaller move tight ends and large wide receivers with similar physical profiles having successful seasons in the NFL.  A few high level examples of these players, all of whom weighed within about 10 pounds of Engram at the combine, include Delanie Walker, Aaron Hernandez, Jordan Reed, Marquise Colston, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, Calvin Johnson, and the aforementioned Thomas.  Engram is a superior athletic specimen to many on that list.  The main reason that few players with Engram’s size and athleticism have succeeded in the NFL is that there are so few players with Engram’s combination of size and athleticism.

Situation

The community seems somewhat polarized on the situation in New York with many claiming a bad, crowded situation and others seeing a very nice landing spot. I am somewhere in the middle.  Most people agree Engram should see the big majority of tight end targets in short order with only undrafted Will Tye and late rounder Jerell Adams as the primary competition for touches.  The passing game is a mixed bag in New York.  On the plus side, the Giants have finished eighth or better in passing attempts the last two seasons.  The offense should continue emphasizing the pass game with a bad offensive line and running backs who are replacement level type players.  On the down side, those attempts will be made by Eli Manning.  Manning has always been one of the more erratic quarterbacks throughout his career but is nearing the end and looked dreadful in 2016 finishing between Blake Bortles and Carson Wentz in QBR.

The receiving core is also not nearly the obstacle many people claim. Odell Beckham Jr. will continue to dominate targets without much question.  Brandon Marshall, on the other hand, produced one of the worst receiving seasons in recent memory last season and turned 33 this year.  It was not all his fault.   Jets QBs burdened Marshall with one of the worst catchable ball rates in the league.  Marshall’s new contract and interviews make it clear he likely has, at most, two years left in the league.  Sterling Shepard had a decent rookie campaign but his production was over exaggerated by a big target load necessitated by a lack of quality receiving options in New York.  Shepard recorded the third least receiving yards and yards per reception of anyone with his target load. His production per target was more in line with running backs and older tight ends than quality receivers.

Role

Engram will move all over the field in the slot, out wide, attached, and even in the backfield at times. Most importantly, the addition of Engram (and Marshall) brings diversity to a somewhat predictable Giants offense.  New York used more three wide receiver formations than any team in the league last year relying primarily on undersized Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Shepard.  The Giants can now use more 2-WR and multiple tight end sets with Marshall, OBJ, and Engram as the primary receivers.  Perimeter blocking should be improved for the run and shallow passing game with two large receivers matching up against smaller defensive backs at times on the perimeter.  This is done without losing much in the passing game.  At other times, Manning receives isolation opportunities for easy completions when defenses attempt to cover Engram with linebackers.

RSO Outlook

Engram’s distribution of outcomes is wider than most tight ends given his unique skillset and size at the position, meaning he has higher probabilities on both the high side and low-end of production possibilities. This is exactly what you want at tight end where middle of the road starters are both cheap and plentiful through trade or the waiver wire in most leagues. The floor for Engram is a multi-dimensional H-back type of player who the Giants do not figure out how to use consistently.  He does not see the field regularly due to his smaller size and lack of blocking ability leading to fantasy irrelevance.  The fantasy ceiling sees Engram used consistently on the field as a receiver who is a tight end in designation only.  This is where his wide receiver-like attributes give Engram a big leg up on the other rookie tight ends for fantasy purposes.  One might think of a Marques Colston or Jordan Matthews type of role in which Engram eventually sees 100+ targets yearly. This would put him in the conversation as a yearly top 6 option at tight end given the likely efficiency at the NFL level and touchdown potential.

Engram is currently going off the board as the 13th player in rookie drafts and the third tight end behind O.J. Howard and David Njoku.  I am happy to take the discount on the player with the highest fantasy upside at the position and is only a moderate risk at his cost.  The difference between Engram and other tight ends is clear.  One hopes the other rookie tight ends eventually become good tight end options for your RSO team.  You hope Engram evolves into a good receiver who happens to be designated as a tight end which makes for a potential fantasy monster.


Bio:  Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

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

Rookie Mock Draft v2.0

Updated: July 23rd 2017

It’s been awhile since the halcyon days before the NFL Draft when opinions and rookie mock drafts were full of optimistic caveats like “he would be a perfect fit with the [INSERT YOUR TEAM NAME].”  Now that we know everybody’s landing place, it should be much easier to mock draft the rookies, right?  At the top, I would say yes but after 1.07 it’s mostly a crap shoot.  As I felt before, although they have shifted slightly, there are definite tier breaks and groupings of like players.  Below I have ran through a three round rookie mock draft for a typical 10-team RSO league.  If your league plays Superflex or 2 QB, you should adjust by moving the QBs up about 10-15 picks each in my opinion.  Keep in mind this is a mock draft and not my straight rankings (which you can view and read about here; my God do I wish I had a do-over on some of those already!) so it’s a combination of my own personal preferences plus those of the dynasty “community” to create what I hope is a good approximation of what your league will look like.  Along the way, I will offer some thoughts about why I grouped the players the way I did and will offer any details about how my personal rankings differ from the mock draft.  Enjoy!

1.01 – Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars

1.02 – Corey Davis, WR, Titans

Many dynasty rankings are starting to converge on the opinion of Davis over Fournette.  I have not changed my opinion yet when it comes to RSO leagues.  I think both will be fantastic NFL players but you need to keep RSO’s format in mind.  Fournette is likely to be fed the rock over and over early in his career until his body breaks down because the Jags lack offensive weapons; meanwhile the state of the Titans offense is less dire and Davis has the luxury of being eased into a starring role alongside QB Marcus Mariota and the RB duo of Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry.  If I had to guess who would be a better pro in Year 5, I would put my money on Davis.  As an RSO owner, that’s not what you’re worrying about though because your rookie contract is either 3 or 4 years long.  I think Fournette will realize more immediate value and that is why I still have him as my first overall rookie pick.

1.03 – Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers

1.04 – Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals

1.05 – Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings

McCaffrey has supplanted Mike Williams in this second tier in my opinion, especially in PPR.  The order of the three RBs is a toss-up but I feel McCaffrey is the safest pick of the three so I put him first.  I have heard of some dynasty players still considering Cook in the top three picks based on his spectacular tape but I am scared off by his questionable combine; Mixon obviously has character concerns.  Admittedly, I decided against Mixon at 1.07 in one of my RSO leagues and instead traded the pick – I wasn’t desperate for a RB and had a second thought about taking on a guaranteed contract for a guy who already comes into the league with a domestic violence issue.  In hindsight it might have been the wrong decision but I felt it was what was best for my team.  I wouldn’t fault anybody for grabbing one of these RBs at 1.03, ultimately it comes down to personal preference.

1.06 – Mike Williams, WR, Chargers

1.07 – OJ Howard, TE, Bucs

Williams’ and Howard’s value changed for me after the NFL Draft because of their landing spots.  Williams has prototypical size to be an NFL WR1 but he joins the Chargers and will have to contend with the chemistry between Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen and fight for targets with the ascendant Tyrell Williams.  If Allen gets injured tomorrow, which we know is possible, the narrative can change quickly which is why I have Williams above Howard.  Before the NFL Draft, I predicted that the Bucs would take the athletic David Njoku to pair with Mike Evans and create red zone nightmares for their opponents.  I had the name of the TE wrong but the logic is still the same: joining the Bucs is far better for Howard’s fantasy potential than if the Browns took him at #12 as was rumored.

1.08 – John Ross, WR, Bengals

1.09 – David Njoku, TE, Browns

1.10 – Zay Jones, WR, Bills

2.01 – JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers

2.02 – Evan Engram, TE, Giants

This tier of pass catchers just edges out the next batch of running backs for me in terms of this RSO mock draft.  The NFL is a passing league and a majority of RSO leagues feature PPR scoring so it stands to reason that you should lean towards these guys over the likes of Kareem Hunt, D’Onta Foreman and Samaje Perine who are featured below.  Ross paces this group, literally and figuratively, because of his speed and big play ability – he can change a game more so than Jones or Smith-Schuster.  Jones thrived in a short passing system in college and should see plenty of short routes with Tyrod Taylor under center in 2017; the fact that the Bills did not extend Sammy Watkins also helps increase Jones’ value.  I’m higher on Jones than most and think he will prove to have a very high ceiling from the start.  Smith-Schuster peaked in 2015 which is slightly concerning and may start start at WR4 on the depth chart behind some combination of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers (not to mention target stealing RB Le’Veon Bell).  Njoku gets the nod over Engram for me because of his bigger size and the likelihood of seeing targets from Day One, albeit from a poorer QB.  Engram is basically a WR and was the smallest of the coveted TEs in this class; I fear that he may loose snaps to Will Tye if he is not able to hold his own as a blocker.

2.03 – Kareem Hunt, RB, Chiefs

2.04 – D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texans

2.05 – Samaje Perine, RB, Redskins

As I mentioned above, none of these guys are prolific pass catchers (Hunt’s 2016 aside, when he had 9 more receptions than the previous three years combined) so they fall a notch in my mock draft.  Hunt has the best chance of being that dual-threat RB which is why he tops this tier for me.  Plus he was a four year starter at Toledo without any major injury concerns so that is also a plus.  The Chiefs offense was in the top half in most offensive categories and with literally zero draft capital invested in Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, the Chiefs won’t hesitate to make the switch if Ware falters in the least.  Meanwhile, Foreman will have to start behind Lamar Miller who still has three years on his deal (but Houston has a potential out after 2017) so his path to starter’s touches may be longer.  Perine is an interesting player because he was largely overshadowed by his Sooner backfield partner, Joe Mixon, and he now joins a crowded but talent poor Redskins’ backfield.  At various points of the offseason and regular season, it looked like the Redskins feature back would be Matt Jones (who can’t stop fumbling the ball), then 7th round pick Keith Marshall (who got hurt) and then finally Rob Kelley (whose nickname is Fat Rob).  If Perine proves to be the steady and reliable back he was in college he will win the job for the dysfunctional Redskins by mid-season.

2.06 – Curtis Samuel, RB/WR, Panthers

2.07 – Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints

I grouped these two “gadget” players together because I have concerns about the number of touches they will get early in their career.  Samuel proved to be a productive rusher and receiver in college but I’m not convinced he’s good enough at either to stick in the NFL.  The sample size on Kamara as a true running back is too small to put any stock into the possibility of him beating out Adrian Peterson or Mark Ingram (if he doesn’t get traded).  Kamara only had 210 career carries for the Volunteers which is fewer than most of the aforementioned RBs averaged per season.  He is a capable receiver (74 career catches and a 9.2 average) so he will see action on passing downs but his upside is limited by the 6-8 touches I expect each game.

2.08 – Chris Godwin, WR, Bucs

2.09 – Taywan Taylor, WR, Titans

Godwin and Taylor find themselves here at the back of the second round which is a great value in my personal opinion.  I actually have Godwin ranked much higher, for the same reasons as OJ Howard, and am ecstatic when I find him later in drafts.  Taylor is not well known which can work to your advantage.  He put up crazy production the last two years on a mediocre Western Kentucky team (154-3,200-34) and tested reasonably well at the combine (4.50 40 yard dash, best 3-cone drill, sixth best broad jump).  As the second WR taken by the Titans he will fly under the radar but grab him now so you hold him when I predict he breaks out in Year Two.

2.10 – Pat Mahomes, QB, Chiefs

3.01 – Deshaun Watson, QB, Texans

I differ from most RSO owners with my opinions on QBs.  I feel you should target the best rookies in the middle of the second round so you can take your pick rather than being at the end of the inevitable run on them.  My top pick in this class is Mahomes – he has a lot of mechanics work to do but should be the Chiefs starter by 2018.  I am not a fan of Watson but he will have the opportunity to start sooner than most other rookies so he’s worth the gamble.  Just like in the NFL, if you can find a startable QB and lock him up for years on a cheap deal it is well worth the risk.

3.02 – Marlon Mack, RB, Colts

3.03 – Carlos Henderson, WR, Broncos

3.04 – Jeremy McNichols, RB, Bucs

3.05 – Wayne Gallman, RB, Giants

The value in this next tier relies heavily on the health and production of the veterans ahead of the rookies on the depth chart.  Because their talent is a step below the higher ranked rookies, they may not be able to overcome the veterans in training camp and instead will need a “lucky break” to get their chance.  Mack will begin behind the ageless Frank Gore but he’s going to break down, and for good, sooner or later.  Henderson joins a crowded group of WRs on the Broncos and will need an injury to Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders to crack the starting lineup; he’ll also need to contend with the young projects of Bennie Fowler and Cody Latimer.  McNichols might have the best shot to ingratiate himself early as Doug Martin is suspended to start the season but reports are that Martin is doing great in OTAs so that puts a dent in McNichols’ prospects after the suspension.  I am a Wayne Gallman apologist and think he has a shot to beat out Paul Perkins.  Perkins did enough in his 112 carries to at least start the season as the RB1 though.  Most people would have Gallman lower but my love for him is too hard to ignore!

3.06 – Jamaal Williams, RB, Packers

3.07 – Cooper Kupp, WR, Rams

3.08 – Jake Butt, TE, Broncos

This tier features three players whose pure talent may not warrant the pick but their situation does – in contrast to the tier above.  The Packers no longer have Eddie Lacy or James Starks so that only leaves converted receiver Ty Montgomery as the incumbent.  Both Williams and Aaron Jones will have ample opportunity to take over the lead role.  The same goes for Kupp who is looking at also-rans Robert Woods and Tavon Austin ahead of him on the depth chart; if Kupp can get on the field early and create a connection with QB Jared Goff he could prove to be a huge value.  TE Jake Butt’s value took a huge hit after he tore his ACL at the end of the season.  Chances are he will be okay to play early in the season and the Broncos will need him as Virgil Green did not show us much last year.

3.09 – Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Bears

3.10 – Deshone Kizer, QB Browns

The same logic applies here as it does for Mahomes and Watson – grab potential starting QBs in your rookie draft to lock them into cheap long term contracts.  Both Trubisky and Kizer join bad teams that could throw them into the fire early.  I doubt they have much value in Year One, like Goff last year, but they are worth the stash given the small cap hit if you’re forced to cut them.

NFL Mock Draft: Picks 17-33+

Updated: July 16th 2017

We’re now less than a month away from the NFL Draft and hopefully you’re well into your rookie research.  I think doing a full 32 pick mock draft is a good, albeit time consuming, exercise for dynasty owners because it can help you identify the landing spots for the best offensive talent.  Hopefully, that offensive talent will feature prominently on your 2017 RSO team.  Below you will find the second half of the first round – to start at the top, click here (INSERT LINK)

#17 – Redskins – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

The Redskins had signed six defensive players in free agency by the time I wrote this piece so I don’t foresee them drafting defense in the first round.  I also don’t see them going for a WR because they have a fair amount invested in new signing Terrelle Pryor and 2016 first rounder Josh Doctson.  John Ross would be a good replacement for the departed Desean Jackson but I feel they’ll compare their WR and RB depth and go for Cook.  Cook did not perform well at the combine but his tape is spectacular, he could end up being a steal here if the tape doesn’t lie.

#18 – Titans – John Ross, WR, Washington

Ross comes with myriad injury concerns (both knees, shoulder) and they do worry me.  If it weren’t for them, his 40-yard dash at the combine alone would be enough to push him 6-8 spots higher in this draft.  Ross is a burner who would pair well with Tajae Sharp, Rishard Mathews and Delanie Walker to create a solid but under-the-radar receiving corps.

#19 – Buccaneers – David Njoku, TE, Miami

This was a surprise pick even to me, having Njoku go before OJ Howard, but I couldn’t talk myself out of it after I put pen to paper while doing my research.  The Bucs had Njoku in for a private workout and must have immediately realized the potential of having Njoku alongside Mike Evans in the red zone.  Howard is bigger and faster than Njoku, but Njoku can jump far higher (7.5″ higher vertical).  Njoku is young (just 20 years old, about 18 months younger than Howard) and started playing football later than most so he has room to grow, literally and figuratively.  Plus he grew up about 5 miles from where I live so maybe this is partly a “homer” pick.

#20 – Broncos – Garrett Boles, OT, Utah

The Broncos suffered a sack on 6.6% of drop backs which was the 8th worst in 2016.  Then they lost Russell Okung to the Chargers in free agency so they need a long term replacement.  I’m not sure that Boles ultimately is that franchise cornerstone LT, but at the least he will provide depth to a position of need.

#21 – Lions – Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

Ezekiel Ansah is the freakiest of athletes but he needs help so offenses cannot constantly double team and chip him.  In 2016 the Lions only had 26 sacks, second worst, and only 2 of those came from Ansah.  Barnett was a three year starter for the Vols who had at least 56 tackles and 9 sacks.  He would help put a pass rushing threat opposite Ansah so offenses couldn’t key on him so much.  The Lions have addressed their defensive line in the past two years, taking 3 DTs, so they may feel that taking another lineman is overkill but they definitely need it.

#22 – Dolphins – Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple

I really struggled to identify the biggest need for Miami.  Ultimately, I decided to go BPA for them and that was Reddick for me.  Reddick really upped his draft stock with an impressive 2016 totaling 65 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 9.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 1 INT.  He’s a stat sheet stuffer.  He did well at the combine, running the fastest 40-yard dash for a DE/OLB and was in the Top 12 for the other drills.

#23 – Giants – OJ Howard, TE, Alabama

As I mentioned above, I was surprised to have Howard fall this far after reading so much about him when doing my research.  I think the Giants would feel the same if they find him here at #23.  He is an amazing athlete for his size, no doubt.  He is 6’6 and 251lb and ran the second fastest 40-yard dash for a TE (4.51) and ran the best times in the 3 cone and shuttle.  My concern with Howard is that he is riding the wave from two massive performances on the national stage against Clemson in 2015 and 2016.  More than 18% of his career receiving yards came in those two games against Clemson.  What was even more surprising is that he only has 7 career TDs and 3 of those came against Clemson.  Don’t assume he must be a redshirt sophomore coming out early and just doesn’t have many games under his belt; he was a four year player who played in 46 career games.  When 2 of your 46 career games account for so much of your production, I have my eyebrows raised.  Those brief flashes of brilliance make Howard a 1st round pick at a position largely devoid of stars but I’m not going to be the guy reaching for him in my rookie draft.

#24 – Raiders – Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

There is a non-zero chance that Joe Mixon goes completely undrafted due to his off the field issues.  Even though NFL teams have black balled other violent offenders, I think they will be enticed by Mixon’s combination of size, speed and pass catching ability and give him a chance any way.  The Raiders are courting Marshawn Lynch currently, but if that falls through expect them to grab Mixon here to replace Latavius Murray.  Despite splitting touches with Samaje Perrine, Mixon still amassed over 1,800 total yards and 15 TDs last season.

#25 – Texans – Jabril Peppers, LB/CB/S, Michigan

The Texans lost 168 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 7 INTs this offseason when LB John Simon, CB AJ Bouye and S Quintin Demps departed.  What better way to replace all of that production than with a versatile and dynamic player like Peppers?  None of Peppers counting stats jump out (just 3 sacks and 1 INT, all coming in 2016) but there’s no denying how athletic he is.  When he first landed in Ann Arbor in 2014 he started at CB but lost most of the season to injury, in 2015 he moved to safety and in 2016 he mostly played LB (oh, and RB, KR and PR).  He does not have a defined role which could be a problem for some coaches but I believe Bill O’Brien, of the Bill Belichick coaching tree, would find ways to make use of him.  The Texans were fourth worst in yards per kick return last year, so Peppers could help there immediately.

#26 – Seahawks – Kevin King, CB, Washington

The Seahawks love tall CBs.  Seven of the eight currently on their roster are 6 foot or taller.  The tallest of the bunch is Richard Sherman and as you’ve heard he is on the trading block.  Sherman is 6’3″ and 195lb meanwhile, King is 6’3″ and 200lb – a near perfect match.  Seattle should try to trade Sherman before the draft because once they take King, it will be obvious to the rest of the NFL that they have no intention of holding Sherman and will lose some of their leverage.

#27 – Chiefs – Pat Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

When researching the Chiefs, I found one writer on Draftek.com who went back and looked at decades of their draft history.  He found that the Chiefs have not taken a first round QB since 1983.  They haven’t even taken one in the second round since 1992.  I think the time has come in 2017.  I believe Pat Mahomes is the best combination of talent, potential and value in this draft class.  His mechanics need work, he rarely throws with his feet set, but his arm strength and awareness are evident when you watch his film.  If needed to start tomorrow, Trubisky and Watson would be better choices, but the Chiefs still have Alex Smith.  Smith is a good-enough QB who can give Mahomes the time he needs to improve and mature.

#28 – Cowboys – Forrest Lamp, OG, Western Kentucky

The Cowboys should go the same route they did in 2013, when they took C Travis Frederick, and make a surprise pick by taking the highest rated interior lineman.  The Cowboys definitely need DL help too but I think they will forego that need for now.  Lamp was a tackle predominantly in college but projects more as a guard in the pros.  The Cowboys invested heavily in their OL from 2011-2014 using three of their four first rounders on linemen.  With a young backfield of Zeke Elliott and Dak Prescott to protect, there’s no reason to stop now.

#29 – Packers – Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State

Ladarius Gunter was embarrassed by opposing offenses on multiple occasions last year so the team signed Davon House to try and stanch the bleeding.  House isn’t enough to vastly improve a passing defense that was in the bottom ten in most categories and was worst in passing yards per attempt.  Conley had 4 INTs last year and 8 passes defended which will definitely help.

#30 – Steelers – Zach Cunningham, OLB, Vanderbilt

The Steelers have lost LBs Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones to free agency.  I was between Cunningham, Tak McKinley and Charles Harris for this pick.  I chose Cunningham because of his combine performance in the vertical and broad jumps which show his burst and lower body strength (even though they they beat him in the speed drills).  Cunningham is not a real threat to sack the QB (zero sacks in 2016), likely because of that lack of elite speed, but neither was Jarvis Jones (1 sack in 2016).  For me it’s all about Cunningham being a volume tackler (125, 10th most in the NCAA in 2016).

#31 – Falcons – TJ Watt, DE, Wisconsin

You can’t go wrong with a Watt, right?  Watt is the best combination of strength and speed in the pass rushers remaining at this point and will immediately help what was a bad defense in 2016.  Watt ran a better 3 cone and shuttle drill than highly touted athletes Dalvin Cook and Curtis Samuel.  In the Falcons 4-3 system, Watt will probably slot in at DE rather than OLB but he likely has the ability to play anywhere in the front seven if needed.  My only concern on Watt is the sample size.  He played minimally in 8 games as a sophomore in 2015 (just 7 tackles, 0 sacks) so all of the hype is based off his 63 tackle, 11.5 sack junior season and his combine performance.  At this point there are other pass rushers with a longer track record (McKinley, Harris) but Watt gets the nod because of the bloodline.

#32 – Saints – Obi Melinfonwu, S, UConn

Melinfonwu would be a luxury pick for the Saints here at #32.  I’m not sure they need him but if he doesn’t go in the first round, he’s somebody teams will target with a trade at the top of the second.  Melinfonwu has moved up draft boards after a stellar performance at the combine.  He ran the fastest 40-yard dash among safeties (4.40).  He had the highest vertical jump (44″).  He had the longest broad jump (141″, best by a huge 9″ gap).  If he ran the 3 cone and shuttle drills, I bet he would have dominated those too.  Not only is he a great athlete but he is a tackling machine (118 tackles in 2016, 18th best and one of the few safeties on the list) who also had 8 career INTs.  Not a bad addition to a passing defense that was third worst per attempt last year.

#33 and beyond

These are the players whom I believe teams will be targeting at the top of the second round.  With the break between the first and second rounds, it gives teams time to re-evaluate their board and see what highly rated players fell to a point that they just need to snap them up.  Based on projected rookie contracts by Sportrac.com, the difference in total contract value for the #32 and #33 picks is about $1.6mil.  For comparison, that’s about the same difference as the value between #24 and #32.  So, there is real value at the top of the second.  There’s an RSO lesson here too… If you do your homework and have your own “Big Board” you can package picks together to move up to 2.01 and grab a first round talent at a steep discount.

  • Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State – I really wanted to find a spot for McDowell but didn’t.  He’s a huge space eater (6’6″, 295lb).  He isn’t much of a pass rushing threat but who needs to be when you’re that big.
  • Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama – Robinson is the best of the rest of the poor OT class.  I originally figured he would go in the first before I started but the value on many of the defensive players was just much better.
  • DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre DameI am not a fan of Kizer but others are.  I believe he lacks awareness and good decision making on the field.  However, he is big and fast and somebody is bound to fall in love and try to grab him and hope they can fix him.
  • Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss – Engram is the fastest of a fast group of rookie TEs but he is also the smallest.  He is “just” 6’3″ and 234lb.  I would not be surprised to see him play more on the outside and essentially transition to WR similar to how Devin Funchess did when Michigan realized he didn’t really have the size to be a pro TE (Engram is bigger though so it’s probably not going to be an official change).  Size wise, he is about the same as Jordan Reed but Engram ran a much quicker 40-yard dash (4.42 vs 4.72).  If you told a coach he could have a faster Jordan Reed without the long injury history they would jump at that.
  • Nate Peterman, QB, Pitt – Mel Kiper believes that the Texans might be interested in Peterman.  He’s brought it up on the First Draft podcast and worked it into his most recent mock draft.  I’m thinking there may be something he’s been told by a team official but he can’t just admit that.  No way should they take him in the first, but I think they could make a move up to pick #40 or so and grab him then.  With Romo retiring and Osweiler shipped to Cleveland, the Texans are left with Tom Savage.  As a Rutgers season ticket holder, I have first hand experience of what happens when you rely on Tom Savage.

**Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast, draftek.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com

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.