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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

Rookie Film Study: WRs

Updated: July 23rd 2017

I’ve wavered on my opinion of the top WRs in this class since January when we saw Corey Davis, John Ross and Mike Williams playing in their post New Year bowl games.  In fact, I ended up putting Ross ahead of Williams halfway through writing this piece but decided to flip-flop them again before publishing.  I’m not sure if the fact that the three of them played on very good teams (combined 39-4 in 2016) is correlation or causation but the reality is that they will each be drafted in the first round and will be difference makers in 2017.  It would be cliche to say that you can’t go wrong with any of them, so I won’t, but I will definitely revisit their order after the draft based on the fit with their NFL team because that will help provide some separation between them.

Corey Davis, Western Michigan

The production put up by Corey Davis at Western Michigan is astounding.  The counter-argument regarding his numbers is typically about the quality of his opponents.  That’s fair, but also keep in mind he’s not having passes thrown to him by a future NFL quarterback like Deshaun Watson.  In addition to his production, Davis has good size (6’3″ 209lb; same measurements as Devante Parker last year) and because of that, I’m not scared away by Davis’ “mid-major” resume.

I watched film of Davis playing against Buffalo and Wisconsin.  Time and again throughout both games, I was impressed by his field awareness and how he turns that into perfect routes.  Whether it is knowing exactly where the first down marker is or knowing when to drag a route versus turning up field.  He’s very physical and uses his body well, which was highlighted by a 2nd Quarter touchdown against Wisconsin when he basically boxed the defender out and made the catch look easy.  He did something similar against Buffalo where he ran a great route near the goal line which caused the defender to hold him as he cut towards the pylon, he fought through the hold and by sheer strength turned the play into a touchdown rather than an accepted penalty.  In addition to his physicality, he has quick feet which help him after the catch – specifically two spin moves he pulled against Buffalo, one of which went for a score.

I think Davis himself would admit that he’s not very fast, but he looks slow coming off the line in the tape I watched.  Probably for this reason, he often lines up in the slot where he can gain some momentum before making contact with the defender.  He’s the target of the occasional quick or bubble screen and even some jet sweeps to get him in open space where he can try to make tacklers miss but his lack of elite speed prevents either from being a true weapon in the playbook.  Davis was not called on often to block but when he did I would say he was below average, there was not a single time where I noted that he really helped a teammate gain extra yardage.  Against Buffalo, Davis did have a number of drops but that could have been caused by the intermittent snow that fell early in that game.

Finally, let’s take a closer look at Davis’ aforementioned record-setting stats.  He is 1st ALL-TIME in career receiving yards in the FBS.  He is 2nd all-time in career receiving touchdowns.  He is 4th all-time in career receptions.  When compared to fellow rookie Mike Williams, Davis nearly doubles Williams in the main counting stats (Williams did miss all but one game in 2015, but I was still surprised to see such a difference).  Corey Davis haters will point out that the top of those all-time stats are full of unrecognizable names but it’s still an impressive resume and if he performs well enough at his pro day (if he is healthy enough) it should cement his place atop my rankings.

Mike Williams, Clemson

The most important film you can watch of Mike Williams is of this play from 2015.  That neck injury forced him to miss essentially the entire 2015 season.  It was a scary injury that thankfully was not worse.  If I was drafting for my NFL team, that would most definitely be on my mind as it is for my RSO team.

In my notes from the Clemson vs Ohio State semi-final game, I wrote “Mike Williams is a man.  If he were 2 inches taller he would be a Top 3 pick in the NFL Draft.”  I still agree with that sentiment, but he isn’t taller and after watching film I’ve learned to love Corey Davis more.  Against Florida State, Williams faded into the background a bit, only catching 7 balls for 70 yards (he did catch a key 2pt conversion late).  What stood out most against FSU wasn’t Williams’ size or ability to catch the ball, it was actually his blocking.  On three occasions, one with Watson rushing and Gallman the other, Williams’ blocking on the edge allowed the team to get a first down and advance down the field.  I was similarly nonplussed by Williams’ performance against Louisville even though he was the victim of a few bad throws from Watson.  His best play against Louisville was a short catch where he fought back through the defender to catch the ball.

Like Davis, Williams has the physical size (6’4″ 218lb) to be a great NFL wide receiver, but after reviewing his combine results I am starting to question his athleticism.  Williams’ vertical jump of 32.5″ was 30th best and his broad jump of 121″ was 24th best.  I do have to admit that for his size, Williams ran a good 4.50 40-yard dash at his pro day.

Ultimately, I am too hesitant to take Williams ahead of Davis.  At this point, I’d rather be the guy who misses on Williams but gets solid production from Davis than the guy who takes him despite the neck injury, some lackluster tape and concerns about his athleticism and is stuck with a bad contract.

John Ross, Washington

John Ross is fast, no doubt about it.  My concern though is how does that fit into his NFL team’s offense.  I’m not willing to bump Ross above Williams or Davis at this point because his best trait could easily be wasted if he is not drafted by a team/coach with a good track record who would be willing to utilize him properly.  Imagine if Ross was on the Chiefs offense instead of Tyreek Hill last year.  Hill is a former high school track athlete who showcased his speed on his way to a 12 TD rookie season.  Now, think about the fact that Hill ran a 4.29 40-yard dash at his pro day (which is typically a more favorable environment than the Combine) while Ross ran a record 4.22 last week.  That .07 may not sound like a lot but it is and it shows just how Ross could make the most explosive NFL players look pedestrian.

What makes Ross’ speed more impressive is that he is doing it after knee injuries to both knees.  Like Williams, he missed the entire 2015 season.  Ross is also now dealing with a shoulder injury.   If I’m being fair, I have to knock Ross significantly for his injury history like I did for Williams.

It should come as no surprise given his raw speed, but Ross has great release off the line of scrimmage.  He easily gets past defenders and can then accelerate downfield.  Against Rutgers, he had two of these plays in the 1st Quarter that resulted in touchdowns (38 and 50 yards) and he also had one in the 3rd Quarter against USC (70 yards).  Once he got past the defender at the line of scrimmage there was really nothing the defense could do.  Even with safety help, Ross is at full speed in an instant and by the time the safety flips his hips and pursues it is too late.  Ross did not run as many screens as I expected, but I do imagine this being a bigger part of his game in the NFL where corners will be bigger and more adept at keeping him in front of them.  Not surprisingly, Ross did not block much; his contribution to the running game was often running a pattern in the opposite direction of the play to draw defensive attention.  He did add a kick return touchdown against Rutgers (and had 4 on his career) which could help Ross contribute right away on whatever team drafts him.

Honestly, I was expecting Ross to be smaller than what I saw when I started watching film. I had not seen much of him (yeah, yeah East Coast Bias) prior to my research and based off what I had heard on talk radio I assumed he was in the 5’8″ or 5’9″ range.  He measured in at 5’11” 188lb at the combine which puts him in the same vein as guys like Odell Beckham, Markus Wheaton and Corey Coleman; none would be considered tall receivers but they aren’t Dri Archer which is more like what I was expecting.  That bodes well for his ability to stick as a featured receiver in the league.

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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast
  • 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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

NFL Combine Aftermath

Updated: July 23rd 2017

We take a look at some of the top offensive skill position rookies this week following the NFL combine. The article focuses on how individuals and position groups as a whole performed relative to perceptions prior to the combine and what that could mean for draft status.

Running Backs

PLAYER HGT WGT ARMS HANDS 40 225 VJ BJ 20S 60S 3C
Cook, Dalvin 5′-10″ 210 32.375 9.25 4.49 22 30.5 9′-8″ 4.53 DNP 7.27
Foreman, D’Onta 6′-0″ 233 31.375 10.125 DNP 18 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
Fournette, Leonard 6′-0″ 240 31.625 9.25 4.51 DNP 28.5 DNP DNP DNP DNP
Hunt, Kareem 5′-11″ 216 31.375 9.625 4.62 18 36.5 9′-11″ DNP DNP DNP
Kamara, Alvin 5′-10″ 214 32.75 9.25 4.56 15 39.5 10′-11″ DNP DNP DNP
Mccaffrey, Christian 5′-11″ 202 30 9 4.48 10 37.5 10′-1″ 4.22 11.03 6.57
Perine, Samaje 5′-11″ 233 30.375 10 4.65 30 33 9′-8″ 4.37 11.71 7.26
Mixon, Joe * 6′-1″ 228 10.25 4.50 21 35 9′-10″ 4.25 7.00
Table 1: Selected Running Back Performances from 2017 Combine * Pro Day Results

Leonard Fournette confirmed his freakish size-speed status running the forty yard dash in 4.51s at 240lbs.  Other consensus top pick, Dalvin Cook, disappointed in most drills compared to pre-combine expectations spotlighted by agility and explosion drills near the bottom of the class. Players with this type of athletic profile rarely get drafted early and do not often succeed at the NFL level. It was the type of performance that will have evaluators reviewing film and watching his pro day carefully. Christian McCaffrey shined throughout the combine process highlighted by exceptional agility marks and ultra-smooth receiving drills.  The question remains what fit the Stanford Cardinal will play at the NFL level.  McCaffrey’s traits profile more as a slot receiver but his diverse skill-set should ensure a significant role wherever he lands. Joe Mixon’s off the field issues are well documented but he has the least on-field questions of any running back in this class.  The Sooner possesses prototypical size, breakaway speed, strong athleticism, and superb receiving skills.

Most analysts predicted the running back group as the strength of the 2017 rookie class coming into the season.   We seem to have more questions than answers after an underwhelming combine for the group.  There are few complete top end prospects without question marks and no one from the lower tier of backs really emerged from the combine as someone challenging the top-tier prospects.  The group is very deep with individuals of varying skills who should contribute to NFL teams immediately.

Wide Receivers

PLAYER HGT WGT ARMS HANDS 40 225 VJ BJ 20S 60S 3C
Davis, Corey 6′-3″ 209 33 9.125 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
Dupre, Malachi 6′-3″ 196 31.5 9 4.52 11 39.5 11′-3″ 4.26 11.88 7.19
Jones, Zay 6′-2″ 201 32.5 9 4.45 15 36.5 11′-1″ 4.01 11.17 6.79
Kupp, Cooper 6′-2″ 204 31.5 9.5 4.62 DNP 31 9′-8″ 4.08 DNP 6.75
Ross, John 5′-11″ 188 31.5 8.75 4.22 DNP 37 11′-1″ DNP DNP DNP
Samuel, Curtis 5′-11″ 196 31.25 9.5 4.31 18 37 9′-11″ 4.33 DNP 7.09
Smith-Schuster, Juju 6′-1″ 215 32.875 10.5 4.54 15 32.5 10′-0″ DNP DNP DNP
Williams, Mike 6′-4″ 218 33.375 9.375 DNP 15 32.5 10′-1″ DNP DNP DNP
Table 2: Selected Wide Receiver Performances from 2017 Combine

Two top receivers, Corey Davis and Mike Williams, provided very little information at the combine.  Davis did not perform due to an injury and Williams did not perform in any running drills. John Ross and Curtis Samuel both blazed incredible forty times highlighted by Ross’ combine record-setting performance.  These are completely different players, however.  Ross will be utilized primarily as a lid-lifting deep threat whereas Samuel is more of a do-it-all player in the mold of Tyreek Hill and Percy Harvin with value in the receiving, rushing, and return game. Zay Jones turned in one of the more impressive all-around performances of any receiver, excelling across the board in every drill.

This class is shallow at the top of with very few players possessing the ideal size and athleticism of traditional high end receiving options from previous years. This group is in no way without talent, however.  The combine brought far more depth into view than many realized coming into the combine and should provide a large number of NFL contributors.  Many small school receivers including Jones, Taywan Taylor, and Carlos Henderson displayed NFL-caliber athleticism confirming their college production was more than just scheme-based against inferior competition.

Tight Ends

PLAYER HGT WGT ARMS HANDS 40 225 VJ BJ 20S 60S 3C
Butt, Jake 6′-6″ 246 32 10 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
Engram, Evan 6′-3″ 234 33.5 10 4.42 19 36 10′-5″ 4.23 DNP 6.92
Hodges, Bucky 6′-6″ 257 32.5 10.125 4.57 18 39 11′-2″ 4.45 12.08 DNP
Howard, O.J. 6′-6″ 251 33.75 10 4.51 22 30 10′-1″ 4.16 11.46 6.85
Leggett, Jordan 6′-6″ 258 33.5 10.375 DNP 18 33 9′-6″ 4.33 12.06 7.12
Njoku, David 6′-4″ 246 35.25 10 4.64 21 37.5 11′-1″ 4.34 DNP 6.97
Table 3: Selected Tight End Performances from 2017 Combine

O.J. Howard cemented his place among the top tight end prospects.  He possesses NFL size, great speed (he matched Leonard Fournette’s forty-time weighing 11 more lbs), and he scored highest among tight ends in agility drills. Evan Engram produced a workout which would make most wide receivers jealous highlighted by a jaw-dropping 4.42 forty time.  Engram is the premier split tight end in this class and a matchup nightmare with comparisons to Washington star Jordan Reed common. David Njoku was considered the best raw athlete among tight ends pre-combine and his performance impressed.  The former youth high jump champion from Miami excelled in explosion and agility drills.  Only 20 years old, Njoku has room to grow both physically and learning the position. Bucky Hodges possibly raised his status more than any tight end with a great all around performance.  He routinely beat college defenders on jump balls and that explosiveness was demonstrated at the combine with tremendous best-in-position numbers in the vertical and broad jumps.

Overall, the combine boosted the tight end position to extraordinary heights. Already considered one of the strengths of the rookie class, many now think the position group is among the best in recent memory.  While the top tier of prospects certainly excited, there are intriguing prospects littered throughout the class.  6’-7” 278 lb behemoth Adam Shaheen from Division II Ashland played basketball in college and displays rare receiving skills for someone of his size.  Another example from a small school athlete, Gerald Everett out of South Alabama displayed dynamic hybrid tight end/ wide receiver skills throughout the year and at the combine.

Quarterbacks

PLAYER HGT WGT ARMS HANDS 40 225 VJ BJ 20S 60S 3C
Kizer, Deshone 6′-4″ 233 33.125 9.875 4.83 30.5 8”11″ 4.53 DNP 7.4
Mahomes, Patrick 6′-2″ 225 33.25 9.25 4.8 30 9′-6″ 4.08 DNP 6.88
Trubisky, Mitchell 6′-2″ 222 32 9.5 4.67 27.5 9′-8″ 4.25 DNP 6.87
Watson, Deshaun 6′-2″ 221 33 9.75 4.66 32.5 9′-11″ 4.31 DNP 6.95
Table 4: Selected Quarterback Performances from 2017 Combine

I questioned myself about adding athletic results for quarterbacks from the combine. The information provides limited useful data concerning quarterback evaluation except for those QBs who rely on rushing as a major component of their value (think Michael Vick and Tyrod Taylor).  The combine results tended to reinforce much of what was already known about the prospects. Deshone Kizer checks the physical boxes for a limited-mobility, prototypical-sized quarterback while Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky, and Deshaun Watson displayed very good agility in a somewhat undersized frame.  The velocity data featured Mahomes’ (60 MPH) big arm with Kizer (56) and Trubisky (55) displaying solid NFL speed.  Watson’s (49) velocity is at the very low end ever recorded at the combine and the results of similarly measured prospects do not provide much hope for Watson at the NFL level.  Velocity is certainly not the primary trait concerning quarterback success but the lack of velocity will require a degree of decision-making, anticipation, and accuracy which has, at best, been inconsistent in Watson’s college career.

Overall, the combine did not really change the perception of the quarterback class. This is not a good year for NFL teams in need of a franchise quarterback.  In addition to Watson’s issues; Kizer (accuracy), Mahomes (mechanics, decision-making), and Trubisky (experience) possess at least one major red flag that makes each more of a project than an NFL player ready to lead  a franchise.

Overview

2017 is a far deeper class for offensive skill position players when compared with the 2016 class. Just three rookie running backs from 2016 received 150 touches and only 2 wide receivers garnered 100 targets.  Do not expect two rookies to lead the league in rushing again or any wide receiver to see the kind of production of the Saints Michael Thomas, but the talent is available in 2017 to double the number of rookies with the afore-mentioned volume numbers.  This class also contains the tight end talent to impact games in a way we rarely see from rookies at the position.


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

More Analysis by Bernard Faller

Rookie Film Study: RBs

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Last week in this space, I reviewed film on the top quarterback prospects of the 2017 class and shared my notes with you.  Today, we are going to look at the top three RBs – all of which are likely to be drafted in the 1st Round.  In my first batch of mock draft analysis, I supposed that we might even see a fourth RB taken in the 1st Round – Joe Mixon and Wayne Gallman will have to wait for their film review but keep them on the radar.

Leonard Fournette, LSU

Before the combine, I only came across one mock draft with Dalvin Cook placed above Fournette.  I’m not sure if that was a publicity stunt or a true belief at the time but it seems to be the vogue opinion now.  I’m not there yet, but it is getting very close the more tape I watch.  I decided to cherry pick the film I watched of Fournette because I wanted to see him against good competition.  I chose to watch him play against Wisconsin (#4 rushing defense in the nation) and against Ole Miss (#22 and one of only four teams to give up single digit rushing TDs, 3 of which came from Fournette himself).  In my opinion, Fournette reminds me of Adrian Peterson.  He is big but still possesses enough breakaway speed if he hits the hole and can rip off some huge runs.  On the downside though, he has a lot of carries for little to no gain that can keep the offense behind the chains.  I think he is an underrated receiver out of the backfield (as evidenced by a beautiful wheel route catch he made against Wisconsin).  He is also decent in pass protection which I was not expecting (in the two games he was actively engaged in pass protection 18 times by my count – he blew 4 of them that led to a sack/pressure/hurry).

Let’s look closer at his boom or bust potential.  In those two games I watched, Fournette had 38 carries.  On 16 of those 38 carries he earned 3 yards or less – that’s a whopping 42%.  You may be able to find similar stats for any running back but it’s a bit worrisome for somebody who is likely going to be drafted in the Top 5 of the NFL Draft.  At that rate, of 3 yards or less, he is putting his offense in 3rd and Medium or 3rd and Long situations too often.  Throughout the film I watched, I was struck by how infrequently Fournette actually breaks tackles.  On his three TD runs against Ole Miss he was essentially untouched for the combined 200+ yards of those plays.  If he hits the hole just right, he has a combination of vision and speed to kill the defense but he does not often gain extra yards by breaking tackles.  If I am going to harp on his bad runs, I do also need to give credit for his great runs.  In addition to all of those short runs he also had runs of 19, 24, 30, 59, 76 and 78.  Remember, that is just in two games against good defenses and ultimately that is why he will be the first RB drafted.

At the combine, Fournette weighed in as the heaviest RB at 240lb (the next heaviest was 233lb).  It should not be surprising then that his 40 yard dash time was far from elite (4.51 seconds, 20th out of 31) and his vertical jump was horrendous (dead last).  I hate to use the cliche, but he very well may be the guy who runs better in pads.  Honestly, I was disappointed by his two drills and I would have liked to see him complete the others to have more points of comparison.  I still have Fournette as RB1, but it is much closer than when I started my research two weeks ago.

Dalvin Cook, FSU

In my notes, I wrote that if Dalvin Cook showed up at the combine and weighed in at 215lb, he would automatically be my RB1 and overtake Leonard Fournette.  His game tape is that explosive.  He weighed in just short of my hope, at 210lb.  My biggest knock on Cook right now is the diminutive size.  In 2016, 29 RBs were measured at the combine and just 2 of them weighed in under 200lb.  I have seen him listed anywhere between 202-213lb; for comparison, ESPN lists him at 213, CBS has him at 206 and DraftBreakdown has him at 202.  I’m going to assume that he purposefully bulked up for the combine and I expect to see his playing weight fall closer to 202 than 213 come September.  There’s one other thing that concerns me about Cook: his pass protection.  In the two games I watched, he was in protection only a handful of times – most times he was out in the pattern.  I think he has the desire to block, he ended up being the de factor lead blocker on QB scrambles a few times, but he doesn’t have the size.

When watching Cook play, it is clear immediately how explosive he is, especially his cuts.  What is also evident is how patient he is, allowing his blocks to set up.  He rarely takes the hole running straight, but that explosiveness and patience combine for some great runs.  He dominated Florida in the first half but slowed in the second when they were trying to milk the clock.  Against Michigan’s dominant defense he played well too.  In my opinion, two plays against Michigan will best sum up Cook’s potential.  In the 1st Quarter, there was a play where he set out wide as a WR, ran a simple go route, beat the defender and caught the ball over his shoulder for a gain of 45 yards.  It was perfectly executed and could be the piece of tape that showcases his receiving skills to NFL scouts.  Later in that game, in the 4th Quarter, Cook took a 3rd & 22 counter handoff, that was meant to set up better punting field position, and scampered 71 yards after breaking two tackles and turning on his breakaway speed.  A last second push out of bounds was the only thing that kept him from the endzone.  That play showed his patience as his blocks set up and then he exploded up field.  Another positive that caught my eye was the varied sets that FSU’s offense ran.  In the two games I watched, they ran multiple plays out of shotgun, pistol, single back and I formation – that’s good for his transition to the NFL.

If you look at the results of Cook’s combine performance, it throws a bit of cold water on the film.  That’s why I still have him behind Fournette even though I was close to flip-flopping after watching the Michigan tape.  Cook was near the worst RBs in the 3 cone drill, the shuttle drill, the broad jump and the vertical jump.  His 40 yard dash time was good but not great: 4.49 which was tied for sixth fastest.  The only place he really surprised me was his 22 bench press reps which was tied for third most.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

Christian McCaffrey is a better football player than he is a running back.  That was the conclusion that I kept returning to while taking notes as I watched film and researched his game logs and career stats.  He will be drafted by a good team in the late 1st Round and will slot in immediately as a prototypical third down back.  He’s good at a lot of things, but not great at any.  Ultimately, I think that will limit his RSO upside in Year One but at least it will get him on the field right away.

I watched McCaffrey play against UCLA and Washington and in both games, I was impressed with his pass protection skills.  He routinely picked up the blitz and frequently chipped a rusher before going out for a pass.  He is a great safety valve for his quarterback and because of his blocking ability, he is a great threat to catch screen passes; he can feign blocking without the defense thinking “yeah right, he’s not blocking” and then sneak out of the backfield.  His middle name very well may be Versatile because in just two games, he took three snaps at WR and five at QB (in the Wildcat, no passes).  He will likely be the only player I profile this offseason that has passing, rushing, receiving and returning TDs in his career (2/21/10/2 for the record).

McCaffrey is a very patient runner at the line of scrimmage.  Honestly, he was too patient at times against Washington and I think it cost him additional yardage as he let plays develop too long against Washington’s strong defense.  He is rarely stopped for a loss of yardage.  In fact, I noted it midway through one of the games I watched and went back to review the play-by-play: in over 38 carries in those games he had just one negative yardage run.

McCaffrey, in my opinion, is quicker than he is fast.  That showed itself at the combine where he tied for the fifth fastest 40 yard dash (4.48) but did very well in the 3 cone drill (fastest) and shuttle drill (fourth fastest).  His jumping stats were also above average.  No surprise given his size, he was only able to do 10 bench press reps which was the second fewest.

 

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

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast
  • 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.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

FA Expectancy – Le’Veon Bell

Updated: July 16th 2017

Throughout the offseason, I will be preparing a collection of articles that will focus on free agents and trade candidates. The articles will discuss the player in question, and what the move does to their value, as well as what their landing spot means for their new and old teams.

Before free agents officially signed though, I wanted to get in a comprehensive analysis of Le’Veon Bell who has been designated with the Franchise Tag for 2017. I want to evaluate where he and the Steelers are in 2017 and where they might be in the future should they part ways.

Currently, the dynasty RB3 on DLF Bell had himself another great season that made those who gambled on his 3-game suspension a likely championship caliber team. Since his tagging, there are talks that he and the Steelers are looking at a big extension that could make him the highest-paid running back in the league. Even if they don’t come to an agreement before the July 15 deadline the Steelers would have the option to tag him again for next season. But would Bell play under a second tag? I posted a poll on Twitter asking the community what they thought Bell would do if he was placed under the tag.

Twitter Question - Bell

The community expects him to play, but it wasn’t as overwhelming as one might think. In fact, holding out after a potential second tag in 2018 was only 1% different and his expectation to hold out this year was also reasonably high. Bell hasn’t expressed any interest in holding out, so we’ll expect him and the Steelers to come to an agreement in the coming months. But the devil will be in details of what the contract really says about the Steelers commitment to him. Too often the headline after signings will read, “Player and Team agree to a $45M deal over 4 years”, but what does that really mean? If it is very front loaded with the guaranteed money drying up after the second year then this can really just equate to a 2 year extension.

The Steelers will also show their hand in this year’s draft by how they handle the running back position. Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette will not be drafted by the Steelers in round one, but a serious investment at the end of day 2 or even a high day 3 running back selection could signal that the team is already thinking past the days of Bell. Joe MixonI think Joe Mixon, another running back with a troubling history would be the perfect fit for the Steelers in this draft. The franchise is well insulated to handle an expected media frenzy that would come with his selection, and they wouldn’t have to invest as high a value pick because of his history (likely 3rd to 5th round). He could be an excellent bargaining chip for the Steelers to hold over Bell’s head in future contract talks. If Bell walks, Mixon can step right in after the media storm blows over after 2017. If they sign him they still have an excellent talent at backup in case of injury or major suspension.

So what would the Steelers be with/without Bell then?

We know what the Steelers are with Bell lining up behind Ben Roethlisberger and keeping defenses honest for Antonio Brown to work all over the secondary. They are one of the most prolific offenses in the league, and are frequently in the top 10 in terms of scoring and total yards. But what if Bell held out or the Steelers moved on?

We had glimpses of what this scenario would be like, with mixed results, thanks to recent suspensions and the injuries that Bell had in 2015 and 2016. In early 2015 DeAngelo Williams was as good as Bell to fantasy owners. He also held up for those who kept him through midseason when he picked right back up after Bell went out with a leg injury for the rest of the season. It started the same in 2016 when Williams had to fill in for Bell again at the start the season due to suspension. However in the playoff game against New England when Bell could only play the first quarter the Steelers couldn’t get anything going on offense. The defense took away Brown with double coverage and the running game was stale for most of the game.

This might be why the Steelers are willing to sign Bell to a long-term deal because they saw that without him they might not be able to get over the hump that is New England in the AFC. But the question still remains as to whether any above average running backs like the previously mentioned Joe Mixon, would do equally as well in Pittsburgh’s offense for what could be a fraction of Bell’s cost?

So what does this mean for Bell as a fantasy asset?

Short of taking another ill-timed puff of the funny stuff I expect Bell to be dominant in 2017; maybe not as dominant on a per game basis as he was down the stretch last year but still a locked-in RB1. The interesting evaluation will be what his value is in 2018? Depending on his contract situation and what the Steelers do to fill his backup role this off-season he could be an excellent sell-high asset. Even in 2017 for owners that are not in their championship window, this could be the best (and maybe last) year to sell Bell for a fist full of picks and/or young players.

For those of you who have him in your Auction this season do not get sucked into offering him a huge $70M/4year deal. Remember that the back years of RSO deals are where the cap hit is at its highest so let other owners commit long term to him. Instead try and get him with only a 2-year deal which gives you the flexibility to hold him or move him at the end of 2017 based on what he does.

Make sure to continue to read more Free Agency Expectancy articles throughout the offseason to be prepared for your summer Auctions. Have a player that you want me to evaluate? Send me a message on Twitter @naandrews19.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews

2017 Free Agency Preview

Updated: July 16th 2017

Welcome to 2017! Hopefully, 2016 was a success in regards to your fantasy teams. We are less than one week away from the start of the NFL Combine which officially starts the NFL offseason activities. While many people will have their attention focused on the incoming rookies, rightfully so, this will also offer the first major opportunity for the rumor mill to start for players set to hit free agency on March 9th. We will have to wait and see which players are ultimately tagged by their team but this could be a great year for dynasty owners that like to take risks on relocating free agents. Along with these free agents, there may be a star-studded group of players that are cut. Once the draft comes around there should be a large number of big names that will be changing uniforms.

To prepare you, the owners of RSO, for the whirlwind that is NFL free agency I’ve gone to the liberty of making a list of the most fantasy relevant players that are either free agents or could be moving teams next season.

QB RB WR TE
Colin Kaepernick (Cut) Adrian Peterson (Cut) Adam Thielen (RFA) Cameron Brate (ERFA)
Jay Cutler Alfred Morris (Cut) Alshon Jeffery Gavin Escobar
Jimmy Garoppolo (Trade) Andre Ellington Brandon Marshall (Cut) Jack Doyle
Josh McCowan (Cut) Benny Cunningham Brian Quick Jared Cook
Kirk Cousins Chris Thompson (RFA) Cordarrelle Patterson Jermaine Gresham
Mike Glennon Christine Michael Danny Amendola (Cut) Jordan Cameron
 Tony Romo (Cut) Danny Woodhead DeSean Jackson Julius Thomas (Trade)
Tyrod Taylor (Cut) Darren McFadden Eddie Royal (Cut) Lance Kendricks (Cut)
DeAngelo Williams Eric Decker (Cut) Larry Donnell
  Doug Martin (Cut) Kamar Aiken Luke Willson
  Eddie Lacy Kendall Wright Martellus Bennett
  Isaiah Crowell (RFA) Kenny Britt Ryan Griffin
Jamaal Charles (Cut) Kenny Stills Vernon Davis
  James Stark (Cut) Markus Wheaton
Jonathan Stewart (Cut) Marquess Wilson
Latavius Murray Michael Floyd
  LeSean McCoy (Cut/Trade) Pierre Garcon
  LeGarrette Blount Robert Woods
Le’Veon Bell Taylor Gabriel (RFA)
  Mike Gillislee (RFA) Terrance Williams
Rashad Jennings (Cut) Terrelle Pryor
Rex Burkhead Willie Snead (ERFA)
Ryan Mathews (Cut) Victor Cruz (Cut)
Terrance West (RFA)
 

Coaches

 

New

 

Former

Anthony Lynn Chargers (HC) Bills (OC/HC)
Chris Ballard Colts (GM) Chiefs
Doug Marrone Jaguars (HC) Jaguars (OC)
Kyle Shannahan 49ers (HC) Falcons (OC)
Mike McCoy Broncos (OC) Chargers (HC)
Sean McDermitt Bills (HC) Panthers (DC)
Sean McVay Rams (HC) Redskins (OC)

 

Throughout the offseason I will be working on a collection of articles focusing on some of these players as they sign new deals (either with a new team or their current team) and the impact they will they have as well as what this means for the players around them. I will also look at a couple of coaching and management changes that you should be aware of and what it means for your players that aren’t moving.

In the meantime make sure to buy-in to your leagues and start those trade conversations again with other owners. The best way to prepare for free agency is to have a list of what other owners may be looking for before your rookie draft. As players begin to sign with new teams having an open communication with your league mates will put you atop their list of first contacts when they want to start trading.

If you want to start a conversation about what any player’s impact could be if they move to a new team reach out to me on Twitter @naandrews19.

More Analysis by Nick Andrews