Mid Preseason Report

Updated: August 30th 2017

There have been 33 preseason games played which have given us a nice preview of what the 2017 season could be. Several players have already flashed potential while others are starting to make owners very nervous. Here is a list of players that have caught my eye (for good or bad) and what I think it means for their regular season.

↑ 2nd Round Rookie Risers

Alvin Kamara and Jamaal Williams have been impressive while running with their first team offenses in their first two games. Both have shown they can burst through the middle as well as make plays in the passing game. Hopefully, their usage hasn’t been a mirage due to other players (Adrian Peterson and Mark Ingram for New Orleans and Ty Montgomery for Green Bay) not being in the lineup. Regardless, both are in high scoring offenses that should benefit their specific skill set, Kamara through the passing game and Williams with frequent goal line carries. Depending on where they were selected in your rookie draft it might be worth it to inquire what their costs would be now. After the usual crew (Fournette, Cook, McCaffrey, Mixon) these two RBs might have the highest floor for 2017.

↑ McCaffrey the Real 1.01?

It was an interesting quandary as to who should be chosen with the first pick in rookie drafts. Early in the offseason, it was Dalvin Cook but a poor combine dropped him from the pole position. Leonard Fournette was then the next man up and he along with Corey Davis have been the most consistent 1.01 in drafts May through July.  But now that the pads are on and the tackles are real it might have been a steal to get Christian McCaffrey at 1.03 or 1.04. He looks like he will fit perfectly with the Panthers play style and we haven’t even seen how defenses will react to read plays with Cam Newton under center. I expect Jonathan Stewart to have a role but this could be an even better complementary backfield than Giovanni Bernard and Jeremy Hill was in Cincinnati. With his skills in the passing game, McCaffrey looks like an easy candidate for 60-70 targets and should be pushing 1,000 total yards. In PPR leagues that’s more than what I would want out of my 1.01 selection.

↓ LeGarrette Blount

LeGarrette Blount is the most Patriots system player. No other player could go from 18 touchdowns with one team to a potential cut candidate with a different team. With reports suggesting that Blount is slightly overweight and has shown that he might not be a good fit for Doug Pederson’s stretch and shotgun run game it really wouldn’t be a surprise to see him not on the roster week 1. Even if he does stay with the Eagles it will be difficult to expect a consistent weekly total. His value will solely be on whether or not he scores a touchdown in a given week. Unless you play in standard leagues Blount is a player that will likely have Matt Asiata-like value.

↑ Corey Clement

With the news of Blount and maybe even Wendell Smallwood not being roster locks for the Eagles, it makes sense to try and find who the next man up will be. Darren Sproles will always be the satellite back and will be more featured on passing plays. That leaves Corey Clement, the UDFA rookie out of Wisconsin as an interesting option for deeper leagues. He looked good running against a strong Bills defense (4.2 yards/carry and a TD) last week. While he’s unlikely to be used day 1 this may be a Rob Kelley like situation where by midseason he’s pushing for the most touches of the more traditional RBs. He is worth monitoring for now and if either Blount or Smallwood don’t make the roster he might be worth adding.

 

↓ All Indianapolis Colts

I’m tired of this “will he, won’t he” game that the Colts have been playing with Andrew Luck and his shoulder injury. At some point, his lack of presence in practice and in preseason games suggests that he is not healthy and will be missing some games. How many is anybody’s guess at this point but it’s hard to trust any Colts players with the possibility of Scott Tolzien running the offense. T.Y. Hilton is the only player that should hold some consistency week-to-week but even he takes a mild hit. If you haven’t already sold Dante Moncrief I’m not sure what you’re waiting for. His touchdown dependency is a scary thing to bet on and without Luck in 8 games the last two seasons the offense has only averaged 17.5 points a game (Tolzien’s only game they scored 7 points!). Even with a rumor that Brock Osweiler may be on the Colts radar for a trade that shouldn’t get people excited about what the Colts will have going on this season.

↑ Zay Jones

Sometimes a player’s situation just trumps all the previous biases you have against him and you go from avoiding to actively seeking to acquire. Jordan Howard was that player for me last year and Zay Jones looks like he will be my 2017 choice. Sammy Watkins is gone, so is Anquan Boldin, and Jordan Matthews is JAG (Just A Guy) material. A player who is no stranger to being the first option in his offense, he had 158!! receptions last season at East Carolina, Jones is the definition of a possession receiver who just also happens to have 4.45 speed. While I’m less optimistic about long term value because of the history of the Bills and their run first offensive scheme, Jones should be one of the most targeted rookies in 2017.

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.

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.

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.