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

Redrafting the 2016 Rookie Draft

Updated: October 9th 2016

As we’re about a quarter of the way into the 2016 season, plenty has changed since our rookie drafts this past summer.  Values have changed, injuries have occurred, and roles have been more clearly defined.  In hindsight there are many picks that we’re all proud of, but also some that we’re ashamed to look back on.  In this piece, I’m going to redraft the first round of a 2016 Rookie Draft assuming that it took place today.

#1.01 Ezekiel Elliott – RB DAL

2016: 94 car – 412 yards – 3TDs; 6 rec – 44 yards

Analysis: The consensus 1.01 pick throughout the off-season, Elliott has largely delivered on the months of hype that surrounded him.  He’s produced as the number one running back in Dallas, though he has been unluckily vultured at the goal-line a few times.  He’s been less involved in the passing game than I anticipated, but I expect his usage to improve over the next few years.

#1.02 Corey Coleman – WR CLE

2016: 7 rec – 173 yards – 2TDs

Analysis: Coleman, my choice for the 1.02 pick in the off-season, has flashed his immense potential in limited opportunities this season.  The Cleveland offense, headed by Hue Jackson, may no longer be a fantasy wasteland as Isaiah Crowell, Terrelle Pyror, and Corey Coleman have emerged this season as viable fantasy options.  Missing 4-to-6 weeks with a broken hand is unfortunate, but it doesn’t impact my long-term projection of Coleman.

#1.03 Will Fuller – WR HOU

2016: 19 rec – 323 – 2TDs

Analysis: I’m not afraid to admit that I was dead wrong about Will Fuller.  I had him outside of my top 10 and didn’t believe he would be nearly as versatile as he’s proved to be.  Not only a deep threat, Fuller is a weapon in all areas of the field.  His success is currently being limited by poor QB, but the sky’s the limit if Brock Osweiler improves.

#1.04 Sterling Shepard – WR NYG

2016: 20 rec – 263 – 2TDs

Analysis: Of all the 2016 rookies, I have the most shares of Sterling Shepard.  A very polished route runner, I expected Shepard to immediately make an impact especially in PPR leagues.  He has not disappointed and appears on a trajectory towards WR2 status for much of his career.

#1.05 Michael Thomas – WR NO

2016: 21 rec – 229 yards – 2TDs

Analysis: Through 4 games, the 6’3″ sure-handed possession receiver has performed well as many expected.   His quick emergence, as a WR3/WR4 in 2016, make him an excellent value on a 3 or 4 year RSO rookie contract.

#1.06 Derrick Henry – RB TEN

2016: 27 car – 97 yards; 3 rec – 50 yards

Analysis: After a very impressive preseason, I expected that Derrick Henry would be much more involved in the Tennessee offense than he’s been through four games.  Instead, DeMarco Murray has been a true workhouse, leaving little work for the rookie Henry.  In a year or two, Henry should take over the starting job in Tennessee and immediately join the RB1 conversation.  A true physical specimen with a unique combination of size and speed, Henry is one of the most athletically gifted RB prospects we’ve seen in quite some time.  This preseason, he even showed promise catching the ball out of the backfield.  If the Henry owner in your league is growing impatient, now’s the time to buy.

#1.07 Laquon Treadwell – WR MIN

2016: n/a

Analysis: Treadwell was widely considered the consensus 1.02 or 1.03 pick in all rookie drafts, but his value has dropped in the first month of the season.  He’s been a healthy inactive in several games and has seen very few snaps when he’s actually been active.  While the Vikings may want to bring their rookie along slowly, it’s very concerning that he can’t beat out Charles Johnson, Adam Thielen, Jarius Wright, and Cordarrelle Patterson for WR reps.  I’m still a believer in his talent, but red flags have been raised.

#1.08 Kenneth Dixon – RB BAL

2016: n/a

Analysis: Dixon’s expected debut in Week 5 has generated a great deal of buzz in the fantasy community as many expect him to quickly overtake Terrance West.  As a prospect at the draft, I was very high on Kenneth Dixon…love his speed, athleticism, and pass catching abilities.  The knee injury delayed his NFL debut and briefly suppressed his value, but that has now risen likely greater than it was in April and May.

#1.09 Josh Doctson – WR WAS

2016: 2 rec – 66 yards

Analysis: 2016 may end as a lost season for Josh Doctson, but all hope is not lost.  Assuming he enters the 2017 season healthy, he will have a great opportunity to earn a significant target share in Washington.  DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are both free agents after 2016 and it seems unlikely both will return.  

#1.10 Jordan Howard – RB CHI

2016: 35 car – 178 yards; 9 rec – 77 yards

Analysis: The most interesting aspect of Jordan Howard’s impressive start as a rookie is his usage in the passing game.  Largely considered a 2-down back after catching a total of 24 passes in 32 collegiate games, Howard seemed to lack the upside of more versatile backs but clearly that isn’t the case.

#1.11 DeAndre Washington – RB OAK

2016: 23 car – 147 yards; 6 rec – 37 yards

Analysis: Throughout the off-season we kept hearing that the Raiders weren’t 100% sold on Latavius Murray as their workhorse back.  DeAndre Washington became a fantasy sleeper soon after the NFL draft.  Though only 5’8”, Washington is a physical back that can run between the tackles, make a defender miss in space, and is adequate catching the ball out of the backfield.  He may be part of a committee in Oakland long-term, but committees are the new norm in the NFL.  Washington is clearly a talent that runs behind one of the best offensive lines in football.

#1.12 Hunter Henry – TE SD

2016: 10 rec – 153 yards – TD

Analysis: Hunter Henry looks like he may turn into what the fantasy community had hoped Ladarius Green would be.  Henry has produced in Antonio Gates‘ absence and has become a reliable target for QB Philip Rivers.

Just missed the first round:

Wendell Smallwood – RB PHI

Carson Wentz – QB PHI

Tajae Sharpe – WR TEN

Tyler Boyd – WR CIN

Braxton Miller – WR HOU

Devontae Booker – RB DEN

Malcolm Mitchell – WR NE

CJ Prosise – RB SEA

Paul Perkins – RB NYG

Dwayne Washington – RB DET

Let me know which of your rookie picks you’re most proud of – on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO!


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 keeper and dynasty leagues as talent evaluation and scouting are integral components of each.  Follow him on Twitter @DaveSanders_RSO

Dollars and Sense: Rookie QB Value

Updated: April 18th 2016

I believe that rookie QBs are an undervalued commodity on Reality Sports Online.  However, I am a man on an island because most of my colleagues disagree.  In Dave Sanders’ piece titled “Maximizing Quarterback Value”, he suggests skipping rookie quarterbacks completely.  In Bernard Faller’s piece titled “Value Town: QBs”, he suggests that since the difference between QB2 and QB16 was just 4 ppg that owners could plug-n-play at the position which could lead to you avoid drafting the top rookie QBs.  I disagree with my colleagues on this, in fact I have been a big proponent in my first two articles of reaching for a quarterback in the early second round of your RSO rookie draft.  Ultimately, our differences of opinion come down to one thing: position scarcity.  

The first thing we need to keep in mind about RSO is it’s unique contract driven dynasty format.  Since there are salary cap ramifications for every add/drop, it’s not quite as simple as other formats to rely on the waiver wire to fill your quarterback position.  Furthermore, because of the rookie draft that kicks off each season, younger quarterbacks are more highly owned than in other formats which further complicates the plug-n-play strategy.  Lastly, because RSO owners are more likely to hoard their quarterbacks, it’s important to keep this in mind when looking at metrics such as VBD and others that compare the “replacement level” of a position.

In Bernard’s piece he presents Tyrod Taylor as a good value, which I agree with, but the problem is that in most RSO leagues Taylor was not available once he was a viable fantasy starter and you needed him.  Sure, you could have grabbed him after the Bills’ announcement since he was only owned in about 20% of leagues originally, but if you doubted him and waited to grab Taylor mid-season as a bye week or injury fill-in he was likely already gone.  Ultimately, Taylor finished as QB17 based on the average number of points scored across all RSO leagues and was 81% owned. For comparison, Taylor was only 56% owned on Yahoo and 35% on NFL.com at the end of the season.  On those sites/formats, relying on Taylor to give you some good plug-n-play value at quarterback was a viable strategy, even late into the season, but I don’t believe it could have been on RSO.

Blake Bortles was also a good value but I think the reality of the ownership percentage paints a bleak picture for those who use Dave’s strategy of skipping quarterbacks in RSO rookie drafts.  Before the start of the 2015 season, Bortles was approximately 17% owned on RSO, presumably most of those being owners who drafted Bortles in their 2014 rookie draft.  Compare that to the data compiled by NFL.com leagues in which Bortles was just 2.8% owned in Week 1 of 2015.  By the Jags Week 8 bye, Bortles was up to 40% on NFL.com and by the end of the season he was up to 71.6%; comparatively he skyrocketed to 90.74% in RSO leagues by the end of the season (mid-season ownership percentages are tough to pinpoint on RSO but I would estimate that by Week 8 it would be at least 70%).  To quote Ron Burgundy, “that escalated quickly.”  The owners who had the foresight to draft Bortles in 2014 are paying him rookie money for QB1 production and that’s worth the gamble of drafting a rookie QB rather than battling on the waiver wire once they “pop.”

The next veteran QB we’ll look at to illustrate my rookie QB feelings is the guy everybody loves to hate: Andy Dalton.  Coincidentally, Dalton finished 2015 as QB16 in both average points and ownership on RSO.  In “Value Town: QBs,” Bernard points out that the difference between QB16 and QB2 was just 4 points per game to illustrate his replacement-level strategy.  Based on my research, I think RSO owners need to dig deeper to find the true replacement level at QB.  For most redraft and keeper leagues, I agree with Bernard that QB16 would be the right place to look but for RSO, I would posit you need to go down to at least QB20, if not further, to realistically expect a player to be available.  Before the 2015 season, Andy Dalton was available in just 25% of RSO leagues (17th most owned QB) and that fell to just 8% by the end of the season.  In order to find somebody who was available in at least 40% of leagues at the start of the season, you would have to look to Sam Bradford, Colin Kaepernick or Teddy Bridgewater (the 20th-22nd most owned respectively).  If you were banking on picking up QB16 as a bye week fill-in during your RSO season you were probably out of luck.

As a counterpoint I looked at Ryan Fitzpatrick, the true embodiment of replacement level QBs.  He was just 19% owned before the season began and ultimately finished as QB11 in average scoring so I would admit that he was the rare case of a viable fantasy starter being widely available on RSO.  The interesting thing though lies in Fitzpatrick’s RSO contracts.  A measly 1% of RSO owners have Fitzpatrick locked up for another year.  So while you can find somebody like Fitzpatrick to help you through a few games this season, you can bet that somebody in your league will overpay for him in the subsequent free agent auction.  Instead, you could be content to have a young, potential stud like Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota under contract for rookie money for another 2-3 years.

In summary, I believe these numbers perfectly illustrate the different dynamic of an RSO league and why you need to value young QBs more highly.  You may think that that a value quarterback will be available for you mid-season but chances are they’re already owned by the time you get to the waiver wire.  The best way for you to ensure that you own that QB before they “pop” is to grab them in your rookie draft.  If you get lucky, and I do admit that this is a crapshoot, you could find yourself paying little salary for much production.  After all, the beauty of RSO is it’s similarity to the real NFL, so why would the value of rookie QBs be any different?  Remember what happened when Russell Wilson’s cap-friendly rookie contract allowed the Seahawks to spend their money elsewhere?  Championship.


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.