Rookie Undervalued/Overvalued

Updated: July 23rd 2017

One of the great things about fantasy football is the wide range of opinions on rookies coming into the NFL. This week I join fellow RSO writers Nick Andrews and Robert Cowper analyzing a few rookies my compatriots feel the fantasy community is too high on or is not getting the attention they deserve. Be sure to read the other great takes from Nick and Robert on Reality Sports Online.

Undervalued

Nick – Jamaal Williams, RB, Green Bay Packers

During the draft process, I read a one-on-one interview where Williams explained his 1-year leave from BYU as well as his misdemeanor charge. Needless to say, his actions were something that we all did as 19 and 20-year-old males and should not be held against his skillset. In fact, I think they refocused his passion for playing football. He’s ranked as the 29th rookie on DLF, behind players such as Wayne Gallman and D’Onta Foreman. He fits what Eddie Lacy was during his first two seasons as a physical runner that can dominate inside the red zone. Unlike Lacy, he has the ability to play on passing downs depending on what role Ty Montgomery has as the main passing down back. In a format like RSO where rookies are asked to produce more quickly because of the contract limitations, I have Williams ranked as my 11th player (pushing TEs further down). You can likely get him at a discount and wait until the middle of the second and early third. Don’t be afraid to pull the trigger at the start of the second though as I am predicting Williams to be this season’s Jordan Howard of value.

My take:  Solid producer at BYU with average NFL size, bottom tier athleticism, and little passing game production.  Williams displays more power than his size and athleticism dictates and very good running instincts on interior lanes.  Opportunity exists with a wide open depth chart containing only former wide receiver Ty Mongomery and two other running backs drafted later than Williams.  The Packer situation premium is overstated a little at this point though.  Green Bay moved to a more Rodgers-centric passing attack trending downward in rushing attempts the last four seasons  finishing 29th last year.  Williams is going off the board as the 21st player in June MFL rookie drafts.  This is about right for a solid but limited player with a good opportunity to assume a two down role on a high powered Green Bay offense.

Robert – Wayne Gallman, RB, New York Giants

My choice for the player currently being underrated and under drafted is RB Wayne Gallman from the Giants. I became a fan of Gallman’s during Clemson’s championship season last year.  In my National Championship preview, I said that Gallman was a “slasher of a running back who I feel would be at home in a zone-running scheme.” Unfortunately, Gallman didn’t luck out with his destination’s scheme but I still think he can be successful.  Gallman has good size at 6’0″ 215lb but had a disappointing combine which dragged down his real life and fantasy value despite great college production.  He was essentially a three year starter and put up just under 4,000 total yards on 741 touches.  He also stayed healthy and out of the headlines over those three years which is more than you can say about many of the more talented RBs ahead of him. DLF has Gallman ranked as the 22nd best rookie which is actually higher than the 25th that I ranked him.  The surprising part though is his ADP: I had him at 25 in my mock draft but DLF’s ADP has him at 36.0.  The hate has officially gone too far.  That ADP has him behind question marks like Ishmael Zamora, Kenny Golloday and Aaron Jones.  Gallman will start the season on the depth chart behind sophomore Paul Perkins.  Perkins won the job late in the season, ending with four straight double digit carry games.  His production in those games was disappointing though: 62 carries, 271 yards, 2 receptions, 9 yards, 0 TDs.  That’s why the Giants invested a fourth round pick in Gallman, which is actually a higher pick than the fifth rounder used on Perkins in 2016.  To my eye, Perkins is JAG (just a guy) and won’t last as the unquestioned starter in New York.  I’ll be investing in Gallman with the hope that he realizes some value in 2017 and heads into 2018 atop the depth chart.

My take:  Gallman brings virtually identical size and athleticism to Williams but plays with less power and shows more passing game skills.  The Giants are another team with little on the depth chart which is currently fronted by Paul Perkins who did very little to impress last season with his opportunities.  New York provides one of the least friendly running back environments in the league with a bad offensive line and an offense which relies heavily on the short passing game with heavy 3 wide receiver sets resulting in small rushing attempt totals under head coach Ben McAdoo.  The Giants have also routinely used a deep committee under McAdoo which limits the carries for all running backs.  Overall, this is a low-upside player in a low-upside committee situation.  Gallman costs very little at his rookie ADP of 33 and makes for one of the cheaper rookie running gambles with a true opportunity for carries early.

Overvalued

Nick – Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis

I understand the excitement of having a young running back in an offense that has Andrew Luck and has been the hot topic landing spot for any rookie RB the last couple drafts. There are two main problems that I have with acquiring Mack in his current state: lack of draft value and scheme misalignment. Starting with the draft value, before being selected by Indianapolis Mack was ranked in with an ADP in the 30’s. Since then his value has risen to 20th on DLF but has been drafted between 17th and 13th in three of my RSO leagues. Every draft there are players that get pulled up after being selected based on land spot and lose any sleeper value that they had as a late 2nd or 3rd round pick because their acquiring price becomes a high 2nd or maybe even a 1st round pick. I would rather take two or three shots at drafting a valuable RB (such as Jamaal Williams) later in the draft than climbing the board to acquire what was a nice 3rd round pick in March.

The second reason I am avoiding Mack in drafts is that his skillset does not align with how the Colts offense is built right now. Mack was a player that could make big plays when he was able to move downhill and use his elusiveness to make defenders miss. Despite his elusiveness, however, he doesn’t break tackles and only gains minimal yards after contact. This is fine if you play behind Dallas’ or Oakland’s offensive lines that give 3-5 yards before contact. Instead, Mack is playing behind the Colts’ line which is one of the worst in the league and therefore will not be offering consistent holes for Mack to find. Mack also has an awful 54:1 fumble ratio in college that could limit his number of touches and plays until he can be more reliable. Overall I think Mack would be a good pick ONLY IF you can acquire him at the start of the 3rd round, which at this point is highly unlikely. He will become easy enough to acquire 12 months from now when owners are frustrated that he wasn’t able to usurp the ageless wonder, Frank Gore. For these reasons, I’m out.

My take:  Mack displays breakaway speed and plus athleticism at a similar size to Williams and Gallman.   Unfortunately, he also possesses the worst football skills among the group.  He routinely misses rushing lanes forcing runs to the outside.  Mack’s reliance on speed worked against low-level college competition but will find far less success in the NFL against much better athletes.  Mack was not asked to do much pass protection in college.  His small hands combined with atrocious ball security led to an abysmal fumble rate in college.  Mack possesses the widest range of outcomes of any player on this list.  His athletic ability could translate to a dangerous weapon for Indianapolis but his lack of ball security and pass protection skills are the type of deficiencies which lead running backs to short careers in the NFL if they are not corrected early.  An ADP of 19 is on the high side for a player with so many question marks.

Robert – Samaje Perine, RB, Washington Redskins

My choice for the player currently being overrated and over drafted is RB Samaje Perine from Washington. According to DynastyLeagueFootball.com, Perine is the 14th ranked rookie and his rookie ADP is 10.50, meaning he’s a first round pick in most leagues.  Personally, I ranked Perine as my 22nd rookie (10th RB); I did bend to consensus a bit and put him at 15 in my most recent mock draft.  The situation in the Redskins backfield gives me pause.  Last offseason, there were times when we thought Matt Jones, Keith Marshall and Rob Kelley each would start the year as the RB1.  Matt Jones’ struggles with ball security and injuries are well documented but he does have the most draft capital invested in him of all these guys.  A season ending injury was the death blow for 2016 combine workout warrior Keith Marshall but maybe he catches some attention again this training camp, or maybe he gets cut in July, who knows.  “Fat Rob” is probably the least skilled of the bunch but his best ability might be his availability.  None of this is even considering established passing down back Chris Thompson who will likely see about 100 touches of his own.  Given the fact that all of the aforementioned backs are, currently, still on the roster, it makes me hesitant to draft Perine.  I believe Perine is the most talented of the four every-down backs, but at this point they all have some reasonable chance to emerge as the starter so I’m going to stay away.

My take:  It is not surprising that my colleagues selected all running backs for their choices in a deep class at the position.  Each back chosen in this article was taken in the fourth round of the NFL draft but their rookie ADP varies from 33 for Gallman all the way up to 8 for Perine.  Perine is easily my favorite back of the group.  He brings true NFL power back size and incredible strength with nice agility for his mass.  Where pass protection is a weakness for most rookies that limits playing time, Perine’s blocking is a strength.   I have little doubt the former Sooner should receive 15 carries a game by the end of year given the Washington depth chart.  As stated by Robert, though, the coaching staff may feel the need to mix in a variety of players.  The problem for Perine is his 8th overall rookie ADP.  This is an extremely hefty price point for a player who will never be even moderately involved in the passing game and will be heavily touchdown dependent in fantasy.


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

GM’s Guide to Waldman’s RSP: Part II

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Back in April, I took a Reality Sports centric look at Matt Waldman’s opus, The Rookie Scouting Portfolio.  My aim then was to distill the 1,000+ page document into a few useful takeaways for RSO owners; the aim today is to take those takeaways and apply them to the 2017 rookie crop.  By no means is this an exhaustive or all-encompassing look at the RSP and it’s potential lessons, so please support Matt and his work by purchasing the full RSP and going through it in depth – you’ll be happy you did.

Below you will find the same headers from my original post, the takeaways, with a short reminder of why I think that point is important, and how I feel 2017 applies.  For each section, there are numerous players who might apply but I will concentrate on just one per section – specifically players who would be on the radar for most in “standard” RSO leagues.  Your mileage may vary, depending on league settings.

Pair Rookie Productivity Charts with Depth Chart Notes

The key to being a successful RSO GM (as in the NFL) is identifying value.  Everybody knew that Zeke Elliott was going to be a real life and fantasy stud, but he didn’t represent any value as you had to use the 1.01 to get him.  Those owners who grabbed backs like Rob Kelley and Devontae Booker later in their RSO rookie drafts were the beneficiaries of production that belied the value of their contract.  In my first RSP article, I identified 150-200 carries as the sweet spot between production and cost to acquire.  In order to find rookies who have the potential to hit that threshold, it’s important to closely look at the team’s depth chart to determine their opportunity – Waldman’s depth chart notes are a great tool to help with that.  The guy who I am targeting with all of this in mind in 2017 is Wayne Gallman.  I’ve proclaimed my love for Gallman on RSO’s site before and I will do so again here.  Gallman joins a Giants backfield with Paul Perkins and Shane Vereen but there should be enough touches to go around.  I see 2017 going very similar to 2016, whereas Perkins will start the year as the starter (like Rashad Jennings did) with Gallman gaining steam as the season progresses.  Vereen factors in mostly as a pass catcher rather than a ball carrier; he missed most of 2016, and has missed multiple games in four of six seasons, but even when healthy he’s only had more than 62 carries once.  Perkins averaged a respectable, but uninspiring, 4.1 yards per carry on 112 carries and added 15 receptions for 618 total yards but zero TDs.  My expectations for Gallman would be a bit higher, maybe 160-175 total touches, 750-800 yards and 3-4 TDs.  Keep in mind that the Giants invested a 4th round pick in Gallman after spending a 5th on Perkins just the year before.  So, either they are not convinced Perkins can be their RB1 or they will be invested in a RBBC.  Obviously the first outcome is preferable for Gallman owners but either way I firmly believe he will outperform his RSO contract.  Waldman has Gallman ranked at 22 and DynastyLeagueFootball.com has him at 21, so depending on your league size he’s either a late 2nd or early 3rd draft pick so his contract will be somewhere in the $900,000-$1,300,000 range.  Invest in him now and as he blossoms the next few years you’ll be happy you have him locked in on the cheap.

Pay Attention to ADP Value Designations

A player I’m higher on after reading through this year’s Post Draft Update is WR Josh Reynolds.  Reynolds was drafted by the Rams in the 4th round and Waldman believes he will see production right away in the NFL; he placed Reynolds on his “Good Fit” list and also placed him in Tier A with other instant impact WRs like Corey Davis, Mike Williams and John Ross.  The average ADP for Reynolds as collected by Waldman was pick 35.8, over 21 picks after where Waldman has him ranked, the highest such discrepancy for anybody in the top 50 (note: DynastyLeagueFootball.com currently has him at 30.50 so his value may be creeping up).  The more research I do, I’m starting to convince myself that Waldman is right and that Reynolds is somebody I should own shares in.   The Rams WR corps is weak, maybe the weakest in the league, and Reynolds had solid collegiate production in the SEC (164 receptions, 2,788 yards and 30 TDs in three full years).  Last year, Malcolm Mitchell was in a similar position (ranked #16 by Waldman but being underdrafted).  So, what does this mean for RSO owners?  It means that you can wait a round (or maybe even two if you’re daring) on Reynolds and still get great value.  Target him in the early- or mid-3rd round and the $900,000 investment will provide solid returns.

Don’t Fall in Love with Lottery Tickets

It’s easy for a dynasty owner to fall in love with a rookie, especially ones with the intoxicating blend of physical ability and potential playing time.  If we’re talking players like Leonard Fournette or Corey Davis, they are obvious no-brainers.  The challenge though, is identifying the guys who might need to work on a key positional skill or maybe who are buried on a depth chart.  These “lottery tickets” can pose huge cap headaches for their RSO owners so I urge you to stay away.  In my original piece, I mentioned Zach Zenner, whom I was highly interested in in 2015 but avoided.  Ultimately he did realize some value in late 2016 but not enough to warrant a roster spot through all his zeroes and a guaranteed rookie contract.  This year, I will avoid WR Krishawn Hogan from the Cardinals.  In a recent draft of mine, a fellow owner called Hogan a “lotto ticket I’m willing to take,” but in taking Hogan he passed on the aforementioned WR Josh Reynolds who has a shorter path to targets and has draft capital invested in him.  I know that Hogan is a great story (he supported himself through college so he could play football) but the hype has gone way too far for me as an RSO GM.  Hogan has prototypical size at 6’3″ and 220lb but he played in the NAIA at Marian University.  It’s not that he chose to skip D1 recruiting offers for personal reasons, he just didn’t have much production in high school (20 receptions as a senior).  He chose D2 Walsh University but then transferred after a 32 reception season to the lesser NAIA.  Aside from my questions about his ability and lack of high level competition, I am concerned about how many bodies there are in front of Hogan on the Cardinals depth chart.  There’s the obvious names of Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, JJ Nelson and Jaron Brown but the Cardinals also added Patriots castoff Aaron Dobson and even drafted rookie Chad Williams in the 3rd round.  I know all this sounds like I’m “hating” on Hogan, and I honestly feel bad writing negatively about him because everything I read has great things to say about him as a person but I’m just not willing to commit to him on my RSO team.  Even if you have a 5-round rookie draft, I would rather not invest in somebody like Hogan who will likely eat up cap and roster space for most of his contract before (maybe) becoming productive.  If you are intrigued by Hogan and want to be the guy who had him before he arrives, I would urge you to let him go undrafted, sign him as a free agent on a 1-year deal and then use the new contract extension feature if he flashes anything.

 

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
  • 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.

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.

Rookie Mock Draft v1.0

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Here it is folks, the much anticipated rookie mock draft you’ve been waiting for.  Let’s put a few things in context before we move on… Remember that it’s still March and players are liable to get hurt (or healthy) and that the value of the below players will inevitably shift once we know who they are drafted by.  Also, keep in mind that this is how I would draft for a “neutral” RSO team – your team’s positional needs and salary cap situation should greatly influence your own thinking.  For example, if you lucked into David Johnson two years ago but still finished last and grabbed Zeke in 2016, maybe Fournette isn’t the way to go at 1.01.  For the purposes of a narrative structure, I have grouped some of the players into similar talking points, their grouping is not necessarily reflective of a “tier” or anything else.

  • 1.01 – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

  • 1.02 – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan

I’m not sure there is anything that can happen over the next month to make me change the position of either Fournette or Davis on my “Big Board.”  After my film study of the top players at their positions, I determined they were my favorite.  I compared Fournette to Adrian Peterson in my write up and think he will be the best bet to contribute immediately even on a bad team.  As for Davis, I believe he is the best combination of size, production and injury history at the WR position.  Dynasty League Football has Davis listed as 1.01 on their 2017 rookie rankings and I would not balk at that decision depending on your team’s composition.

  • 1.03 – Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma

  • 1.04 – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

  • 1.05 – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

As sure as I am about Fournette and Davis not falling, these three are all neck and neck for me and will continue to fluctuate.  I did not include Mixon in my RB Film Study piece and am regretting it now.  Putting Mixon at 1.03 is a crapshoot but because he has the widest range of potential outcomes is exactly why I put him in that spot.  Because of his off the field issues, Mixon will not be drafted very high so there is a better chance that he lands on a good team who decides they are willing to take the chance.  There’s also a non-zero chance he isn’t drafted at all.  Who knows.  If it weren’t for his baggage, I don’t think anybody would question him this high.  As I discussed in my WR Film Study piece, Williams’ tape just does not impress me and I am worried about his 2015 neck injury.  Cook’s stock has fallen after his brutal combine performance despite his spectacular tape.

  • 1.06 – Christian McCaffery, RB, Stanford

  • 1.07 – John Ross, WR, Washington

  • 1.08 – Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee

  • 1.09 – JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

These four just miss out on being considered at the top of the draft.  I think McCaffery’s immediate impact in the NFL will be as a third down back whose pass protection will keep him on the field unlike many rookie RBs; I don’t think he has enough Year One upside to draft any higher though.  Ross is obviously a burner but he has a long injury history and his value will heavily rely on who drafts him.  Kamara is a little under sized (5’10” and 214lb, very similar to Cook) and only had 210 career carries at Tennessee (a whopping fourteen games with single digit carries; for comparison McCaffery had 253 carries in 2016 alone).  Kamara did show out at the Combine in the vertical and broad jumps, unlike Cook, and could ultimately move up this list.  Smith-Schuster put up back-to-back 10 TD seasons at USC but is about 2 inches shorter than he should be to garner more draft attention.  Smith-Schuster compares well to DeAndre Hopkins at the 2013 Combine so while I’m cautious, I have some hope.

  • 1.10 – OJ Howard, TE, Alabama

  • 2.01 – Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss

  • 2.02 – David Njoku, TE, Miami

In one of my early offseason articles, I mentioned that 2017 could be the year of the running back in the NFL Draft.  2017 very well may go down as the year of the tight end in your RSO draft.  I grouped these three TEs here right at end of the 1st, start of the 2nd because honestly I don’t know where else to put them.  It’s hard to imagine three TEs being drafted by the time you hit 2.02 but these guys could arguably make an earlier impact for your RSO team than Kamara or Smith-Schuster.  I’m not quite ready to put them above those two though since they play more in-demand positions.  Engram ran a faster 40 yard dash than both Corey Davis and Mike Williams while Howard beat out Smith-Schuster.  Both Engram and Howard beat out Curtis Samuel in the 3 cone drill and the shuttle even though he he’s been lauded as a a versatile athlete by many.  Njoku does not quite measure up to Howard’s and Engram’s athleticism, although he was a state champion high jumper in high school, but the unknown about him (only 64 career receptions, only started playing football in middle school) has scouts salivating about his potential.

  • 2.03 – Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

  • 2.04 – D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas

  • 2.05 – Curtis Samuel, RB/WR, Ohio State

Perine and Foreman are both two big backs (both weigh 233lb, Perine is 5’11” while Foreman is 6’0″).  The biggest differnece between the two comes down to experience for me.  Foreman bounded into the spotlight in 2016 with a 323 carry, 2,028 yards and 15 TD season (enough yards to be 23rd on the all-time single season list) but he was only a contributor in 2015.  Perine on the other hand, was a three year starter with three 1,000 yard seasons and 51 total TDs in his career.  I thought it was interesting too that Perine so handily outperformed Foreman in the bench press at the Combine, 30 reps to 18, despite their similar size.  Ultimately, I’ll go with Perine and what I deem to be a surer thing.  To highlight the trouble with Curtis Samuel, I have grouped him here with Foreman and Perine even though that is a horrible fit for his skill set.  Samuel could run into the same issue in the NFL where his versatility could end up being his downfall.  Samuel totaled 172 carries and 107 receptions in his Buckeye career.  He is the same height as McCaffery and Ross and falls between the two weight-wise which feels about right.  Ultimately his speed (4.31 40-yard dash) will make him desirable but I worry he will struggle to fit into every offense and could become a gadget player.

  • 2.06 – Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina

  • 2.07 – Malachi Dupre, WR, LSU

  • 2.08 – KD Cannon, WR, Baylor

I’m torn on how to sort these three WRs but ended up going for the size and production of Zay Jones despite playing at a lesser school in East Carolina.  I also considered Carlos Henderson and Dede Westbrook but decided to leave them off.  Jones came in at 6’2″ and 201lb at the Combine and ran a solid 4.45 40-yard dash.  His production jumps off the page more than anything else though… 158 receptions, 1,746 yards and 8 TDs in 2016.  That wasn’t a one-time thing either – he totaled 399 receptions, 4,279 yards and 23 TDs in a four year career.  Much like Perine feels like a sure thing, so does Jones at this point in your rookie draft.  Dupre is of a similar size but just did not produce at LSU, likely due to ongoing quarterback issues.  Dupre has thirteen career games with 1 or 2 receptions while Cannon and Jones have twelve combined, most of which came in their freshman seasons.  Meanwhile, Cannon has the production, Baylor is a high volume air raid offense, but lacks size.  Cannon isn’t quite the same athlete as Corey Coleman who came out of this same offense last year but he’s close enough to warrant a chance.

  • 2.09 – Wayne Gallman, RB, Clemson

  • 2.10 – Pat Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech

We’ve reached the point in the mock draft where I will call a few “shots.”  I fell in love with Gallman while I did research for my championship game preview back in January and I wish he was getting more love.  He had a bad Combine but I’m going to go against all logic and still hold out hope.  Gallman is a slasher who would be a great fit for a zone read scheme in the NFL.  His production was off the charts at Clemson despite having star QB Deshaun Watson hogging the spotlight (675 carries, 3,475 yards, 36 total TDs in three seasons as the primary running back).  I’m not ready to write Gallman off yet and want to be able to claim I was right when he inevitably blossoms on the right NFL team.  Similarly for Mahomes, I am doubling down on my previous love.  I don’t think he is the best QB coming out and he definitely won’t be the highest drafted but he’s the one I want on my RSO team provided I don’t need an immediate starter.  I predict Mahomes will be nabbed late in the first round, either by a playoff team or a team trading back into the first because they want him.  He needs help with his footwork and making full field reads but he has great arm strength and athleticism.  When watching tape, I saw him catch defenses making late substitutions for free plays (one of which turned into a touchdown), a la Aaron Rodgers.  College quarterbacks just don’t do that.  If I was an NFL GM, and I’m not so take all my suggestions with a big grain of salt, I would be getting Mahomes for my team.

Mock Draft Trends

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Does anybody else have Mock Draft Fever yet?  I sure do.  I’ve been checking out various mocks around the interwebs and have noticed two trends that I think are important for RSO owners to keep in mind as we head into the combine season.  Will things change as we progress through the combine and pro-days, certainly, but starting your research now is still a good idea.  Here are two story lines that RSO owners need to pay attention to as they start their mock draft and rookie research.

Offensive Line is Almost Historically Weak

Since 1999, an offensive lineman was not taken in the Top 10 just twice: 2015 and 2005.  Ultimately, like the quarterback position, I think team need will supersede talent and somebody will reach for whomever they feel is the top graded tackle.  You may be asking yourself, who cares, I’m not drafting Cam Robinson regardless of where he goes in the NFL draft.  Of course, but I think this is important for two reasons…
  1. The later the first offensive lineman is taken, the higher the potential that star offensive skill position rookies get drafted higher (i.e. by worse teams)
  2. The earlier the first offensive lineman is taken, the more likely a “run” on them starts because teams are worried they will get stuck with a third-rate tackle
Let’s use a real example to illustrate both ideas and how they could play out.  If the Jaguars, who arguably need both OL and RB help, take RB Leonard Fournette at #4, the next likely landing spot for the first OL would be the Chargers, Panthers or Bengals at #7-9.  If they all skip on OL too, it’s possible we may not see an OL taken until #14 and the Colts who desperately need to protect Andrew Luck.  If the Jaguars go OL first, maybe Fournette falls to #8 and the Panthers, which would look A LOT better for his rookie RSO prospects than the Jaguars.  If the Jaguars do go OL and it causes any of the next ten teams to panic and grab their own over a skill position player, it could mean somebody like WR Corey Davis falling to a better offense like the Titans or Bucs to pair with their young franchise QBs.

2017 Could be the Year of the 1st Round RB

Depending on which mock draft you look at, we will likely have multiple RBs taken in the 1st Round, probably three.  Fournette will undoubtedly go first followed by Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffery.  The draft fortunes of RBs has fluctuated over the last twenty years but over the last five years specifically, the demand for rookie RBs has trended downward.  We could argue if that has more to do with the talent of the players or the importance of the position to NFL teams but that is a conversation for another day.

The last two years gave us Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, but 2014 and 2013 gave us zero 1st Round backs.  2012 was the last time that three RBs were drafted in the 1st Round but two of those were at #31 and #32.  You’d have to go back to 2010 to see a stronger crop with #9, #12 and #30.  Looking back at the 1st Round names before the 2013-14 drought is scary: Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Mark Ingram, CJ Spiller, Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best.  The best of this group, Martin and Ingram, are viable RB1s in RSO formats today but they have had bad seasons along the way and aren’t without question (you could throw Gurley and Gordon in that mix too – of course Elliot is a step above them all).  Spiller, Richardson and Mathews have had varying levels of success but none proved to be dynasty assets.  Wilson and Best were both out of the league prematurely due to injury.  Should you be scared of drafting a 1st Round RB for your RSO dynasty?  Probably if his name is not Leonard Fournette.

I think 2017 should probably be a two RB year in the NFL Draft’s 1st Round: Fournette and Cook.  After seeing the success of Elliot in 2016 though, I would not be surprised if some team who thinks their OL is on the rise tries to recreate that magic, albeit with a lesser back.  I predict somebody will reach for McCaffery in the 24-30 range and would not be surprised to see either Joe Mixon (despite his off field issues) or Wayne Gallman (after all of Clemson’s success the last two years) get a nod at #32 if the Patriots trade out which they often do.  Your RSO draft of course will look different with only skill position players but at this point in the process, I would be hesitant to take Cook higher than 1.05 and for McCaffery/Mixon I would wait even a few picks later (of course that could all change based on who drafts these guys).

*Note: 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
  • Draft history: drafthistory.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.