2020 Rookie Rankings Explained: Part II

Updated: May 10th 2020

This was my fourth year creating the rookie rankings for Reality Sports and it was as rewarding as ever in 2020. I look forward to the rankings each year because it’s such a unique experience and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to help inform literally every single RSO rookie draft. Since my rookie rankings can have a large impact on roster composition, I shy away from “hot taeks” and am more risk-averse than I might be in my own personal rookie drafting. I view the rookies through the lens of an RSO league and how a 3- or 4-year rookie contract can change the value of a player compared to dynasty formats. In order to create rankings that are representative for the majority of RSO leagues, I made a few assumptions on rosters and scoring (i.e. 1QB, offense scores more than defense and IDP scoring heavy on tackles/sacks). Each year there are a few themes and surprises that emerge as I’m ranking and over two articles I will share those with you. First up were my notes about this historically deep wide receiver class. Today I’m sharing my thoughts on the rest of the roster.

Click here to view the 2020 Reality Sports rookie rankings, compiled by Robert F. Cowper

Love Hurts?

My quarterback rankings started so simply. Joe Burrow first, no brainer. Tua second and Herbert third, less certain but I was confident. Then I ran into the roadblock that was Jordan Love vs Jalen Hurts. After much consideration, I put Hurts above Love despite the draft capital the Packers spent on Love. My thinking is this: I believe Hurts is more likely to return value on an RSO rookie contract than Love. We don’t know how much longer Aaron Rodgers will be the starter in Green Bay but if it’s closer to four years than one year, you may waste your pick on Love. We also know that Love’s performance and efficiency declined in 2019, so while we love his physical tools we aren’t sure about his consistency. Conversely, in 2019 Hurts showed us that he can adapt to a new system and a new coaching staff and flourish. We saw a side of Hurts that we never saw at Alabama and that gives me hope that he can stick as a passer at the NFL level. Eagles starter Carson Wentz has suffered a number of multi-game injuries throughout his college and pro career so it’s not unreasonable to think that Hurts may get an early chance to prove himself. We may also see Hurts get some Taysom Hill-like touches so he could have utility in 2QB leagues when you’re hit hard by injury or bye weeks. Hurts is a leader and a winner so I’ll take my chances with him over Love.

RBBC

I, like many draft fans, was surprised to see Clyde Edwards-Helaire be the first running back off the board to Kansas City. For the longest time, the consensus RB1 in this class was D’Andre Swift from Georgia. Jonathan Taylor came on strong after another 2,000+ yard season and a good combine performance, bumping Swift from the top spot in some rankings, including mine. CEH going in front of both Swift and Taylor caused me to reevaluate. I decided to keep Taylor at RB1, moved Edwards-Helaire up to RB2 and dropped Swift to RB3. Taylor and Swift will both see some early competition for touches from Marlon Mack and Kerryon Johnson respectively. I figure Johnson is likely to stick around longer than Mack so Taylor is more likely to be the unquestioned starter in 2021. Some have compared it to Nick Chubb competing with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson for touches in Cleveland in 2018 but becoming the guy the following year with great results. Edwards-Helaire will have the biggest opportunity in 2020 but I hesitate to catapult somebody to RB1 who I did not even consider for the spot two months ago. During his seven seasons in Kansas City, Andy Reid has had five different running backs lead the team in rushing yards. There’s no doubt that CEH will have value in 2020 but I think that Taylor has a better shot at having value over the duration of his rookie deal.

Light End

This year’s tight end class was weaker than the previous three so it wasn’t a surprise that none went in the first round. What did surprise me though was just how hard they were to rank. By virtue of his draft capital and the fact that he should have no problem getting on the field early for the Bears, Cole Kmet was my TE1. Two of the next three off the board went to the Patriots which complicates rankings a bit (I slid Dalton Keene down as I expect him to serve as a blocker more so than as a receiver). As far as how Josiah Deguara (Packers), Devin Asiasi (Patriots) and Adam Trautman (Browns) end the season, your guess is as good as mine. I clumped them together in the mid 40s to hedge my rankings. One guy to keep an eye on is Albert Okwuegbunam in Denver. He has been reunited with his college quarterback Drew Lock and was the presumed TE1 back when they teamed up back in 2017-18. Chances are that only one tight end will be drafted in your rookie draft so I would wait on these guys to see how training camp and the offseason shakes out and target any preseason standouts in free agency.

Frequent Flyers

One of my favorite thought exercises each year is trying to identify the UDFAs who have the best chance at fantasy relevance. It’s impossible to predict injuries but we can study team depth charts to see where the road to relevance is shortest. I don’t recommend you draft any of these players in your rookie draft but monitor them during the preseason and pounce on any who find themselves an injury away from a sizable role.

  • Michael Warren, RB, Eagles (Rank: 68): Behind starter Miles Sanders, the Eagles have two previous practice squad poaches as their running back depth. Neither Boston Scott nor Elijah Holyfield inspire confidence if Sanders were to go down. I think Michael Warren from Cincinnati would be a reliable fill-in if needed. Over the last two seasons, Warren amassed nearly 3,000 yards from scrimmage and 36 scores in the competitive AAC. In five games against Power 5 opponents during that span he rushed 112 times for 520 yards and 6 TDs. I was surprised to see him go undrafted.
  • JJ Taylor, RB, Patriots (Rank: 71): Taylor measured smaller (5050/185) and ran slower (4.61) than I expected at the combine which definitely hurt his chances of being drafted as a gadget player. Would anybody be surprised if a 5’5″ undrafted free agent running back ended up scoring two touchdowns in a game for the Patriots this season?
  • Austin Mack, WR, Giants (Rank: 116): The bad news: Mack did not test particularly well and was often buried on the Buckeyes depth chart. The good news: the Giants receiving depth chart is littered with other UDFAs and waiver cast-offs. Somebody will need to be the fourth receiver and maybe it can be Mack who I always wanted to see get more targets at OSU.
  • James Robinson, RB, Jaguars (Rank: 117): The Jags running back depth chart is busy behind Leonard Fournette but there always seem to be rumors about him being traded. Whether by injury or trade, if running back touches were to open up in Jacksonville it’s possible that FCS star James Robinson (1,917 yards and 18 TDs last season) could get into the rotation.

Chase-ing the Quarterback

Sacks or tackles? The age-old question when it comes to making IDP rankings. The IDP leagues I play in tend to favor sacks over tackles so I typically value a rush end or outside linebacker over an off-ball tackling machine. So, it should come as no surprise that DE Chase Young is my DE1 and my first ranked IDP player. Most IDP leagues still weight offensive stats more than defensive so I slot Young into my 15th slot overall, making him a mid-2nd rounder. My next decision was on do-everything LB/S Isaiah Simmons or seek and destroy LB K’Lavon Chaisson. I went with Simmons because I have him listed as a LB and that’s almost unfair with his coverage ability. Simmons may never come off the field if he’s utilized to his full potential which means he’ll accrue tackles, sacks, interceptions and passes defended. Chaisson will join fellow new faces in free agent Joe Schobert and fourth rounder Shaquille Quarterman. Chaisson, who was drafted largely on potential and one season of production, will likely start as a pass rush specialist as he rounds out his game.

 

Notes: Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height. Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  When researching my articles I use a number of valuable resources. I would recommend bookmarking the below sites:

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, pro-football-reference.com, cfbstats.com, herosports.com, fcs.football, mcubed.net, expandtheboxscore.com, washingtonpost.com
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2020 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, thedraftnetwork.com, nfl.com
  • NFL rosters, depth charts and contract info: ourlads.com, spotrac.com
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com, mockdraftable.com
  • Season preview magazines: Phil Steele, Lindy’s, Street and Smith’s, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft, Cover 3 College Football
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com
  • Odds & Gambling Stats: vegasinsider.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  Robert works as a certified park and recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

More Analysis by Bob Cowper

The Watch List: 2018 Week 3 Preview

Updated: September 15th 2018

Welcome to The Watch List, a resource to help RSO owners identify the players and matchups from the college game that deserve your attention.  To view my weekly picks and observations, follow me on Twitter @robertfcowper.  Check back throughout the season as The Watch List will continue to update you on who is fantasy relevant and worth your draft capital next year. 

Games to Watch

  • #5 Oklahoma at Iowa State, 12:00pm, ABC:  The 2017 version of this matchup was possibly my most memorable game of the season.  David Montgomery was a constant threat out of the backfield, LB Joel Lanning filled in at QB, Allen Lazard caught a contested game-winner, Baker Mayfield scored 3 total TDs and Trey Sermon had a breakout game on national television.  The fact that the Cyclones stole the W made it even more satisfying as a fan.  A number of the stars from that game have moved on but we’ll still see some solid play on the ground with Montgomery, Sermon and Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray.  Against Iowa last week, Montgomery played to his doubters, averaging just 2.6 yards per carry on 17 totes.  Through two games the Sooners are allowing more than 130 yards per game so I expect Montgomery to improve.  Sermon and Murray have combined for 174 yards and 3 scores thus far.  The onus will fall on them now that starting RB Rodney Anderson is out for the year.  (By the way, I was so disappointed to hear the Anderson news.  I was ready to peg him as my RB1 for the 2019 class.)
  • UC Davis at #9 Stanford, 2:00pm, PAC-12 Network: I talked about Stanford last week so I’m not going to rehash their players to watch.  This matchup is interesting because it will give us a spotlight game for UC Davis WR Keelan Doss.  Doss, who dominated the FCS last season, started the season strong with 11 receptions and 85 yards in a victory over San Jose State of the FBS.  I studied Doss in the preseason and noted that he uses his 6030/209 size to dominate smaller corners.  He is elite at the catch point with strong hands.  This matchup will mean a lot for his NFL Draft stock.  (Update:  Bryce Love has been ruled out for the game.)
  • #12 LSU at #7 Auburn, 3:30pm, CBS: I see this game finishing 15-9 and being a defensive classic.  Combined, the two defenses gave up 33 points to their opening weekend opponents, both of which were ranked in the top ten.  The game is also worth watching because it will feature two potential first rounders in LSU LB Devin White and Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham.  Stidham had a great game against Washington, completing 72.2% of his passes for 273 yards and a score.  White meanwhile is making his case to be the first inside linebacker off the board with 19 tackles through the first two games.  We’ll have to keep an eye on his interest to declare early, one article I found was not sure he’d make the leap early.  The winner of this one will be in the driver seat to compete against Alabama for the SEC West crown.
  • #17 Boise State at #24 Oklahoma State, 3:30pm, ESPN:  If you like points, tune into this matchup at 3:30pm instead.  Boise and OK State are 5th and 8th in points per game (117.5 combined).  In addition to being entertaining, the game will feature a few notable draft prospects.  On the Bronco side, we have QB Brett Rypien and RB Alexander Mattison.  RB Justice Hill is the player to watch for the Cowboys.  Hill hasn’t been involved in the passing game yet (just 2 receptions) and that was one of the things buoying his stock.  Now that he’ll be facing a worthy foe, I am hopeful that Hill will get more work.
  • #4 Ohio State at #15 TCU, 8:00pm, ABC:  I’m really not sure what to make of the Buckeyes yet this season.  That seems crazy to say when you consider they have outscored two Power 5 opponents 129-34 this year but neither Oregon State or Rutgers truly provided a test.  When you factor in all of the off-field drama it’s tough to forecast where this squad will end up in three months.  TCU started slow against SMU but ended up with a 42-12 victory.  The Horned Frogs’ defense is ranked sixth in yards allowed this year (they finished 19th last year so it’s not a fluke) and will be a tougher adversary for Ohio State.  Unsurprisingly, Ohio State’s backfield trio of QB Dwayne Haskins and RBs Mike Weber and JK Dobbins are succeeding so far.  Weber and Dobbins have combined for 364 yards, 4 TDs through two weeks.  TCU’s Shawn Robinson has also been productive, albeit more so on the ground than the air.  Robinson has 328 yards passing, 4 TDs and 1 INT plus 112 rushing yards and 3 rushing TDs.  I’ll be keeping an eye on Ohio State’s aggressive defensive line to see how well they can keep Robinson in the pocket.  We know DE Nick Bosa is a generational pass rusher and it looks like sophomore Chase Young isn’t too shabby himself (he had a great strip sack against Rutgers that was ultimately reversed on replay).  If the pass rush gets too far up field and Robinson escapes he’ll be the difference maker in a close one.

Players to Watch

Honorable Mentions

  • Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State:  Haskins earned the starting job this Spring and his play so far has proved that he was the best option for the Buckeyes for 2018.  He’s completing 79.2% of his passes and has tossed 9 TDs to just 1 INT.  In limited duty in 2017, Haskins was nearly as efficient with the ball so I don’t think his successes are a factor of the weak foes he’s faced.  Haskins is a redshirt sophomore so there’s no guarantee he declares after this season but if he continues to play well, I would expect him to give the NFL a go a la Cardale Jones.
  • Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin:  Unfortunately for fantasy players, but thankfully for college football fans, Taylor is not draft eligible after this season.  So, I won’t give him the full treatment this season but his stats warrant mention.  Taylor totaled 1,977-13 last season and is on pace to blow away those marks.  He started well against Western Kentucky with 145-2 and somehow improved against New Mexico with 253-3.  Taylor is an electrifying combination of size, speed and elusiveness.  He’ll be coming out in a crowded 2020 running back class so it remains to be seen how high he’ll climb but he has 1.01 potential.
  • Juwan Washington, RB, San Diego State:  Washington is the heir to the San Diego State rushing title throne.  Prior to him, Donnell Pumphrey and Rashaad Penny both led the FBS in rushing in their senior seasons.  Washington, just a junior, is already off to a great start with 314 yards and 4 TDs.  158 of those yards came against a solid Stanford defense.  Washington is diminutive (5070/190) but runs with enough power to be effective in short yardage situations.  He runs with a shiftiness and quickness that you’d expect of somebody his size.  Tarik Cohen would be an easy comparison based on size but it’s important to realize that Washington is nowhere near as accomplished as a receiver (just 9 career receptions).  Washington is an experienced returner who brought three kicks back in his career.  His return ability should earn him an NFL nod but some proof that he is worthy of passing down work would make him a fantasy consideration.

Preston Williams, WR, Colorado State

  • Listed at 6040/210  per sports-reference.com
  • Film watched: Hawaii 2018
  • 2017: Redshirt after transferring (16 receptions, 247 yards and 2 TDs in 7 games with Tennessee in 2015-2016)
  • 2018: 3 games, 27 receptions, 391 yards, 4 TDs

Williams is an interesting NFL Draft prospect who wasn’t really on my radar this offseason.  I had heard the name numerous times on SiriusXM’s ESPNU radio but I didn’t follow through with any research.  Now that Williams has excelled to start the season, it was time to dive in.

Before we look at Williams’ stats and film, let’s discuss his background.  Williams is a former 5-star recruit who chose Tennessee over numerous top schools (i.e. Alabama, Clemson, Auburn).  When he decided to transfer, it was rumored that he could join Miami, Cal or UCLA.  Ultimately he chose Colorado State because he had relationships with some of the Rams coaches.  Before he took his first snap for CSU, Williams was suspended indefinitely for an altercation with his girlfriend (he shoved her when she was trying to move out).  Williams pleaded guilty, is no longer facing legal ramifications and was reinstated to the team before their first game.

On the field it’s clear that Williams needs some seasoning but there were a few plays that showcased his ability and got me excited.  He appears slow out of his breaks and does not seem to have the violent, fast-twitch movement you would want from your receiver off the snap.  Williams lines up all over the field which is a good sign for his versatility to fit into an NFL scheme.  I don’t see enough from him as a route runner yet.  To my eye, it seems like he’s coasting, knowing that his physical gifts can bail him out of situations.  He does let the ball get into his body but when he attacks it with his hands, he can make good fingertip catches.  On the two below plays, Williams tracks the ball, makes an adjustment and catches it with his fingertips.

As you can see in the first clip above, Williams does have some ability after the catch.  He’s not very fast, probably in the 4.55-4.60 range, but he has a long stride and runs with strength and determination.  He showed this perfectly later in the Hawaii game:

It’s a shame he wasn’t able to hit paydirt on that one but the play is still very instructive.  He uses a combination of acceleration, field awareness and power moves to stay in bounds and shed tacklers for extra yardage.  Honestly, it was the play that made me decide to feature him here.

Williams lit up Hawaii to start the season for 9-188-2.  What’s more impressive is that he followed up that effort with solid games against Power 5 opponents.  In those games against Colorado and Arkansas, Williams totaled 18-203-2.  Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that a Colorado State receiver is racking up the yards because the Rams have produced two mid-round NFL prospects over the last few years in Rashard Higgins (5th round) and Michael Gallup (3rd round).  Williams will be hoping to continue the trend.  Williams only has 43 career receptions so this may be a bit premature but I think he has the pedigree and athletic ability to earn himself a mid- to late-round draft grade if he keeps up his statistical pace and comes out in 2019.

 


Notes: In an effort to standardize the description of key positional traits, I frequently use the following adjectives: elite, good, above average, average, below average, poor.  My experimental grading system uses a Madden-like approach by weighting position relevant traits on a 100-point scale; bonus or negative points are awarded based on production, size, injury history and character.  Heights listed are using a notation common among scouts where the first digit corresponds to the feet, the next two digits correspond to the inches and the fourth digit corresponds to the fraction, in eighths.  So, somebody measuring 5’11” and 3/8 would be 5113.  This is helpful when trying to sort players by height.  When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games.  When time permits, I may add a third game. If game film is not available I will search for highlight reels, but keep in mind these are the best plays that player had 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.  There are a lot of analysts out there who have a deeper depth of knowledge about certain players but I pride myself in a wide breadth of knowledge about many players.  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, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com, mcubed.net
  • Recruiting: 247Sports.com, espn.com, sbnation.com, rivals.com
  • Film: 2019 NFL Draft Database by Mark Jarvis, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, draftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, draftek.com, ndtscouting.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, Athlon Sports
  • Podcasts: ESPN’s First Draft, Strong as Steele with Phil Steele, The Audible by Football Guys (specifically episodes w/ Matt Waldman), UTH Dynasty, Draft Dudes, 247Sports College Football, College Fantasy Football: On Campus, Underdog Pawdcast, Saturday 2 Sunday, Locked on NFL Draft
  • Logos & Player Media Photos: collegepressbox.com, the media home for FWAA members

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  He is a proud member of the Football Writers Association of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.  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