2018 NFL Mock Draft: Part III, Picks 33-48

Updated: April 17th 2018

If you have not already read Part IV of my mock draft, please start there so you can start at the bottom and follow through to the beginning.  Part IV includes detailed notes about my methodology and process.  Once they are posted, you can then move on to Part II and then finally to Part I.  An important note to remind readers is that this mock draft was compiled on March 30-31 so please keep the timing in mind as you read in case there are trades or free agent signings in the interim.

#48 – Chargers – Justin Reid, S, Stanford

My primary need for the Chargers was on the offensive line.  I addressed that with their first round pick to give Phillip Rivers and Melvin Gordon some protection.  For the next pick, I wanted to target the defense. Last year’s starting free safety, Tre Boston, has not yet been resigned.  Boston led the team in defensive snaps so it’s telling that they didn’t resign him right away.  Former undrafted Texas Longhorn Adrian Phillips is the next up at the position, so the Chargers could use an upgrade through the draft if they don’t bring Boston back.  Justin Reid is the next best safety available, either free or strong, and could start from Day One.  Reid ran the second fastest forty of any safety (4.40) so he has the speed to avoid getting beat deep and he has good ball skills.  He also plays well closer to the line of scrimmage (he had 94 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss in 2017) and would give the Chargers defense some flexibility with how they align the secondary.

#47 – Cardinals – Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

I firmly believe that Rudolph will be taken in the #30-40 range and that he won’t actually make it this far, but I’m not mocking any trades so I had to find a home for him.  Most of the teams starting the second round don’t, or won’t, need a quarterback (i.e. the Browns and Giants who I expect to draft one earlier or the Bears and Bucs who have their own young QBs).  A team may decide to jump up to get him late in the first round to get the extra fifth year of control.  Or, a team may trade up to start the second round and guarantee they get the top of their second tier of passers.  I am higher on Rudolph than most – he started the year as my QB2.  He is a pocket passer with elite size.  He has underrated mobility in and around the pocket but he’s certainly not a dual threat.  I believe he has a high floor as a quiet locker room leader with a ton of experience and and big arm.  The Cardinals signed Sam Bradford to start in the short-term so this would be a good landing spot for Rudolph.  He would not be pressured into starting on Day One but he also wouldn’t be stuck behind an entrenched starter for years (i.e. AJ McCarron).

#46 – Bengals – Brian O’Neill, T, Cincinatti

At pick #21, I also had the Bengals going tackle.  That’s how badly I think the Bengals need to upgrade their offensive line.  I’ll go into more detail at that pick.  O’Neill started his career at Pitt as a tight end before transitioning to RT and then to LT.  O’Neill led all offensive lineman in the 40 yard dash and the 3-cone drills, by significant margins.  He’s tall at 6’7″ but light at 297lbs so he doesn’t really have the frame or the strength to be a starting left tackle in the league.  He’s most likely looking at a transition back to the right side or possibly even inside to be an athletic pulling guard where his athleticism could be utilized.  Watch out for O’Neill on trick plays: he has three career rushing attempts for 39 yards and 2 TDs.

#45 – Packers – Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

Do you feel a sense of deja vu with the Packers drafting a tall corner near the top of the second round?  Last year they took 6’3″ corner Kevin King and this year I have them taking the 6’1″ Isaiah Oliver from Colorado.  The Packers finished 28th or worst in numerous passing defense categories last year, including: completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating and touchdowns.  Oliver is not strong in run support, making just 60 tackles over the last two years, but he does use his length to break up passes (3 INTs and 19 passes defended over the same span).  Adding two potential starters to a beleaguered secondary, plus the return of Aaron Rodgers, could make the Packers a Super Bowl contender.

#44 – Redskins – Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

According to most experts, Harrison is a first round talent but I just didn’t find the right fit for him in the 25-35 range like I thought I would.  He’s the type of player who might get “trade up” attention if he makes it into the second round.  If Harrison makes it this far, or if the Redskins decide they want to try and trade up a few picks, I think Ronnie Harrison would be a good target for their defense.  Aside from free safety DJ Swearinger, the Redskins have barely any cap tied up in the safety position.  The current projected SS is Deshazor Everrett.  While Everrett has a great first name, he is a converted corner who went undrafted coming out of Texas A&M.  Replacing him with a hard hitting safety like Harrison, who tallied 157 tackles and 5 INTs over the last two seasons, would seriously improve a defense that ranked 28th in points last year.

#43 – Patriots – Jamarco Jones, T, Ohio State

I knew that I wanted the Patriots to take a tackle with this pick after passing on the position at #31 but it was really hard deciding on which tackle.  Former starting LT Nate Solder has moved on to the Giants so there’s a big hole to fill on Tom Brady’s blindside.  The other players I was considering at this pick were Martinas Rankin, Brian O’Neill and Chukwuma Okorafor.  I decided against Rankin and O’Neill because they are less likely to make it as a LT at the next level.  Okorafor has the size to be a LT but he’s raw and can’t start right away.  Jones is undersized at just 6’4″ and 299lbs but he played well at LT in 2017 against a highest level of competition.  The length of Jones’ arms stood out to me.  He has longer arms than most of the taller tackle prospects.  Of the remaining tackles, I felt that Jones has the best chance to start for the Patriots on Day One.  However, if I’m being honest, I fully expect them to trade this pick and take somebody like Jones later.

#42 – Dolphins – Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

What are the Vegas odds on two players named Hurst going back-to-back in the NFL Draft?  Hayden Hurst started the season as my top choice at tight end because I believe he is the best combination of blocker and receiver in the class.  I predict he’ll start right away because the Dolphins wouldn’t need to hide him on rushing downs.  In 2017, Julius Thomas and Anthony Fasano combined for 53 receptions, 495 yards and 4 TDs.  Both players are gone, however, and the leading candidate for the starting job would be former college quarterback MarQueis Gray who had just one reception last year.  The Dolphins addressed the defense with the Robert Quinn trade, and earlier in this mock, so I think it makes sense to give QB Ryan Tannehill another target.

#41 – Raiders – Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan

I’ve seen Hurst play in person a number of times against my hometown Rutgers team.  When I saw him play the Scarlet Knights out in Ann Arbor this past season he stood out like you wouldn’t believe.  He ended up with 8 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and a sack.  If possible, his impact seemed even bigger than that from the stands.  I was really rooting for Hurst to go high in the draft but those hopes were dashed with the news that he had a previously undiagnosed heart condition.  Hurst has since been cleared but not without denting his NFL Draft stock.  Hurst is a smaller tackle with good quickness and will fit in well in as a 3-technique in the Raiders 4-3 defense.

#40 – Denver – Frank Ragnow, C/G, Arkansas

According to Spotrac.com, the Denver Broncos have six offensive linemen hitting free agency in 2019 (two each at tackle, guard and center).  That means they need to bring in reinforcements now to avoid having to over-spend next offseason.  It’s also important to solidify the line considering that they used the #5 overall pick on a QB in this mock.  Ragnow was PFF’s top ranked center in both 2016 and 2017.  He played guard in 2015 so he has some versatility as well.  According to PFF’s stat tracking, Ragnow did not allow a single sack over the last three years.  In fact, in 2017 he did not even allow any hits to the quarterback.  That’s impressive.  Ragnow is the type of player that will elicit groans from fans attending the Draft but will be a franchise cornerstone for a decade.

#39 – Bears – Arden Key, EDGE, LSU

Key was projected to go much higher than #38 early in 2017, however, he has since fallen due to injury and off the field concerns.  Key had shoulder surgery in the Spring of 2017 while away from the team for “personal reasons.”  What those personal reasons are, I have no idea.  Since Key has not come out and fully explained why he stepped away from the team, I can only guess that it’s a negative story.  I’ll bet NFL personnel are thinking the same.  Key also suffered a hand injury which limited his playing time in 2017.  When he was on the field, he recorded just four sacks in eight games (after eleven in eleven in 2016).  At the combine, Key declined to participate in the 40 yard dash, citing a knee injury.  He also did not do the bench press.  Of the events he did complete, the shuttle was the only one where he finished in the top five among DE/EDGE.  Key is a high risk, high reward player who will need time to adapt to a OLB role in a 3-4.  If he pans out, even as a situational rusher, he’ll be a steal for the Bears at #39.

#38 – Bucs – Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

The Bucs signed 34 year old Brent Grimes to a one year extension this offseason but they need a young option to line up alongside Vernon Hargreaves.  Alexander missed significant time in 2017 with leg and hand injuries, but when he was on the field he allowed just a 17.7 passer rating against.  That’s incredible.  Per Pro Football Focus, Alexander was about 20 points better in that metric than Joshua Jackson, the second best.  Alexander also tested well at the combine, running a 4.38 and performing well in the 3-cone and shuttle.  I’m higher on Alexander than most so maybe I’m reading too much into his stats and potential but I’d like to give him a shot.  If it weren’t for the injury riddled 2017, Alexander would have ended up even higher.

#37 – Colts – Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn

Davis measured in as one of the biggest corners at the combine (6’1″ and 203lbs) and has long arms which helps his ball hawking ability (10 pass break ups each of the last two years).  Davis would be a solid addition to a secondary that the Colts front office has been trying to build through the draft.  In the last three years, the Colts have used six picks on defensive backs, five of those coming in the first four rounds.  Having four picks in the Top 50 means you can concentrate less on immediate need here and instead build a strength.

#36 – Colts – Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

With the first of back-to-back picks, I have the Colts going WR which is a big position of need.  Aside from the flashy TY Hilton, they don’t have much at receiver.  Donte Moncrief is gone, as is veteran journeyman Kamar Aiken.  The Colts signed former Redskins WR Ryan Grant in free agency to a one-year deal but he’s nothing to get excited about.  Sutton is a big bodied receiver with great body control along the sidelines.  He can use his height and length to high point the ball and make contested catches.  He doesn’t have the best straight line speed but he did surprise at the combine in the 3-cone and shuttle agility drills.  Sutton’s skill set compliments that of Hilton so Colts fans should look forward to this pairing for the returning Andrew Luck.

#35 – Browns – Tyrell Crosby, T, Oregon

I still don’t think any of the remaining tackles are worth the pick here at #35 but the Browns don’t pick again until #64 and they need a long term replacement for the retired Joe Thomas so they’ll have to pull the trigger on Crosby.  I also considered Pitt LT Brian O’Neill here but Crosby projects more like a LT rather than a RT or G like O’Neill.  Crosby’s combine performance was mostly forgettable but he did measure in heavier than O’Neil with longer arms and bigger hands, despite O’Neill’s height advantage.

#34 – Giants – Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

The Giants would have considered going RB at #2 overall with Saquon Barkley on the board, but instead they went for a QB.  Being able to get the second ranked running back at #34 is a great opportunity for the Giants.  They did sign 31 year old Jonathan Stewart this offseason but they also invested big money in two offensive linemen in Nate Solder and Patrick Omameh.  In my opinion, the Giants wouldn’t have spent that money if they didn’t intend on replenishing their offensive weapons.  An opening day offense featuring Eli Manning, Stewart, Guice, Odell Beckham Jr, Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram and a re-worked offensive line would set this team up for success in 2018.

#33 – Browns – Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

The Browns have addressed their secondary in free agency by signing three players so I don’t think they will target a CB with the 33rd pick.  I also don’t think they will go with a offensive tackle because none truly warrant this pick.  Instead, I think they will use another high pick on a defensive lineman.  They already have two great ends in Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah, but they could use some help on the interior.  In comes Da’Ron Payne from Alabama.  Payne weighs in at 311lbs and is a pure run stopper (he has just 3 career sacks and 5 tackles for loss).  He would make for a good anchor for the Browns’ defensive line.


Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, 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, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.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
  • 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

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

2018 NFL Mock Draft: Part IV, Picks 49-64

Updated: April 11th 2018

Are you starting to suffer from #DraftTwitter mock draft fatigue?  Honestly, I am.  There are so many mock drafts out there that I’ve actually found myself tuning out and avoiding those tweets, articles, blog posts, etc.  Instead, I started to work on my own NFL mock draft.  Mocking is a great way to force yourself to do some research and make qualitative decisions about specific players.  It’s also the best way to define your own opinions on the players, rather than relying on the #DraftTwitter groupthink.

Here’s the method to my madness… I started out by creating positional rankings and tiers for each position, concentrating on players who could potentially be drafted in the Top 100.  Next, I consulted my preferred team needs resource which was a community effort on the r/NFL_Draft subreddit.  The spreadsheet collects info about primary and secondary team needs, scheme, draft strategy and character risk tolerance.  While it may not be perfect, I think it’s more useful than most similar sites and is far better than I could compile on my own.  Next, I referred to Our Lads depth charts which are my favorite (you should also bookmark their glossary).  For some teams I also visited Spotrac to get invaluable information about contracts and free agency.  To keep track of my picks, I am using the mock draft spreadsheet created by Reddit user Mbrr1214, to which I made a few slight tweaks.  Team names are color coded for quick recognition; colored pick numbers correspond to the pick’s original owner.

A few notes before we get started…

  • This mock draft was compiled predominantly on March 30-31 with some edits in the following days.  It will be posted in pieces over the three weeks leading up to the NFL Draft so please keep in mind the dates in which it was first created should there be any breaking news in the interim.
  • My knowledge of offensive skill players far outpaces that of offensive linemen and defensive players.  That’s not to say I haven’t seen the other players play, it’s just that my analysis is more shallow.  I covered many of these linemen and defensive players during the season and during my bowl previews but I have admittedly not done a deep study.
  • I did not include any trades which can obviously turn this mock draft on its head.  Personally, I think mock drafts that include trades are a cop-out and a way for the author to skirt around tough decisions.  Real GMs may not always have the option of trading out of a pick and must make a decision on whether they go BPA (Best Player Available) or reach to fill a team need.  For a mock draft author to say “well, Quenton Nelson is the best player on the board, let’s trade this pick to a team that needs a guard” is missing the point of the exercise.

What Did I Learn?

I’ve done mock drafts before but never a full two rounder with “honorable mentions.”  I walked away with a few insights:

  1. More quarterbacks will be drafted than you think and they will be drafted earlier than you hoped.
  2. Solid offensive tackle prospects are becoming less common and, as such, teams will have to reach for them nearly as often as they do for quarterbacks.
  3. If I had to build my own team, I would rarely use a top 75 pick on a running back or wide receiver.  Offensive skill players, aside from the quarterbacks, fell much further down my mock than anticipated.

Honorable Mentions

These players did not get selected in my mock but I had originally listed them as potential targets when I started my research.  Since I considered them while working on this project, I thought I should share their names as they could be some of the top targets in Rounds 3 and 4.  They are ordered by position then by last name – they are not ranked.

 

 

Welcome to the 2018 NFL Mock Draft…

#64 – Browns – Kemoko Turay, EDGE, Rutgers

Homer pick alert.  With my last pick in my two-round mock, and the first one that you’re reading, I have the Browns taking Kemoko Turay.  As a Rutgers season ticket holder, I have been both enticed by and disappointed by Turay.  His blocked field goal against Michigan in 2014 remains one of my favorite football moments ever experienced in person at the stadium.  The “Kemoko Dragon” performed well at the Senior Bowl and became a darling of one of my favorite draft resources: NDT Scouting.  NDT had numerous pieces highlighting Turay around the Senior Bowl but I feel like his name has fizzled a bit as of late.  Turay’s career stats are marred by injuries and ineffectiveness but he has raw ability that teams covet.  I use the word raw on purpose because he definitely needs some work.  His senior season at Rutgers was a pretty good one: 60 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 3 sacks.  Edge rusher is not a position of immediate need for the Browns, but when you five of the first 64 picks, you can afford a luxury pick or two.  The depth chart ahead of him is why I would love to see Turay taken by the Browns.  He can come in and learn while he bulks up.  Given time, I think that Turay will be a starting end in the league.

#63 – Patriots – Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond

Rumors are swirling that the Patriots might take a quarterback late in the first round.  I think it’s more likely that they take one here at pick #63 (mostly because I doubt they hold onto both of those late first rounders).  If the Patriots pull the trigger in the first round, it would be for Mason Rudolph, whereas if they wait until the second I think it would be Kyle Lauletta.  Lauletta played at Richmond in the Colonial Athletic Association in the FCS.  Lauletta threw for 3,737 yards and 28 TDs last season, adding 4 rushing TDs.  Lauletta has a career completion percentage of 63.5% and improved his accuracy each year as the starter.  He does throw too many interceptions though, 35 over the last three seasons.  My first look at Lauletta came in the lead up to the Senior Bowl when I read Benjamin Solak’s “Contextualized Quarterbacking” piece about the Senior Bowl quarterbacks.  He went on to win the MVP award at the Senior Bowl, moving himself up draft boards.  I went back and re-read Lauletta’s section and two words confirmed for me that the Patriots would target him: “mechanically pure.”  In case you were wondering, the Pats took Jimmy Garoppolo, an FCS quarterback who thew too many interceptions but had a quick release, with pick #62 in 2014.

#62 – Vikings – Braden Smith, G, Auburn

The most immediate need that I identified for the Vikings was their offensive line.  I wanted to address the line with both of their first two picks, hopefully ensuring that new QB Kirk Cousins can last for the duration of his fully guaranteed contract.  Smith is my highest rated lineman on the board at this point so it was an easy pick.  He was an AP All-American in 2017 and starred at the combine.  Smith came in as the biggest guard (6’6″ and 315lbs) in the class.  He also had the highest vertical jump and came in second in the bench press and broad jump.  He’s big enough and athletic enough to hold his own across the line so he could prove to be a valuable addition to the Vikings offense.

#61 – Jaguars – Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado St

I was surprised when the Jaguars let Allen Robinson leave in free agency and then cut Allen Hurns.  I figured they would at least hold onto one of them.  Instead, they decided to re-sign Marqise Lee and add Donte Moncrief from the Colts.  Moncrief is now the highest paid receiver on the team, but they must not be too convinced because they only gave him a one year deal.  Michael Gallup has an interesting personal story which I wrote about a few weeks ago.  He had numerous Power 5 scholarship offers but his test scores were not good enough so he had to go the JUCO route and then ended up at Colorado State.  If he had played at a school like Missouri originally, we could be talking about the top receiver in the class.  Some experts still feel that way about Gallup and trust his pedigree over his route to the pros.  I like Gallup but he has a few negatives that bump him down for me.  Primarily, he lacks elite measureables and is prone to losing focus.  There’s a lot to like though so that seems like nit-picking.  Gallup plays faster than his 4.51 forty indicates.  He is good with the ball in his hands after the catch, utilizing his all-around athletic ability (he earned sixteen varsity letters in high school).  I believe Gallup’s play strength is better than advertised which will be a useful trait as he adds weight for the NFL.  If Lee continues to ascend as he did in 2017, and Moncrief proves he’s not a bust, the Jaguars could be looking at an under the radar receiving corps this year.

#60 – Steelers – Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina St

Similarly to the 49ers below, the Steelers brass would not have expected to need to spend draft capital on an inside linebacker if you had asked them a few months ago.  Unfortunately, though, that is the reality after Ryan Shazier’s frightening spinal injury.  Shazier says he’ll play again but I think it’s safe to say that that will not be any time soon.  You’re forgiven if you have never heard of Darius Leonard.  Leonard is a fifth year senior from South Carolina State, a 3-7 MEAC side.  I had heard the name a few months back but never did any research so I decided to watch one of his 2017 game films and a highlight reel as a quick primer.  Against FCS foe NC Central, he often looked like the best player on the field, showing good speed, especially to the sideline.  He is effective in coverage and plays a great QB spy because he has the quickness to shadow the passer and then meet him at the edge.  Leonard tallied 100+ tackles each of the last two seasons and is an adept pass rusher despite his coverage responsibilities (20 career sacks).  Leonard will likely compete with free agent signing Jon Bostic for a starting role.  Bostic is on his fifth team in five years so I’d put my money on the rookie.

#59 – 49ers – Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

The thought of the 49ers drafting a linebacker in the second round of the 2018 draft would have seemed a little crazy eleven months ago.  Fast forward though and it’s possible that San Fran needs to plan for a future without MLB Reuben Foster.  Foster was arrested twice this offseason and missed six games due to various injuries in 2017.  When researching his off-field issues, I also came across a story about him getting sent home from the combine last year which I had forgotten all about.  Jefferson would be a good pick for the 49ers because he could fill the MLB slot until Foster returns from an anticipated suspension.  Jefferson’s best position, according to Charlie Campbell and Lance Zierlein, may end up being at WLB.  The projected starter at that spot for the 49ers is Malcolm Smith who missed all of 2017 with a torn pectoral.  Either way, whether it’s in the middle or on the weak side, Jefferson will prove valuable from Day One.

#58 – Falcons – Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech

This feels a little early for Settle because I had at least one other DT ranked above him, however, he fits a more immediate need for the Falcons at NT.  The Falcons signed Dontari Poe to a one year deal in 2017 and let him move on to division rival Carolina this offseason.  Settle is big at 6’3″ and 329lbs and would be a space eater for the Falcons.  Settle is a former 5-star recruit who was ranked by ESPN as the 19th best overall recruit in his class and the second best at the position.  In college, he never really “settled” in.  He’s a redshirt sophomore so maturity and experience are a concern, as is his low level of production.  Settle has just four career sacks, all coming in 2017, and 53 career tackles.  The Falcons are a pretty complete team so I think it’s best for them to address a need, even if it may be a bit of a reach.

#57 – Titans – Taven Bryan, DT/DE, Florida

Any time somebody draws comparisons to JJ Watt, you should take note.  When researching Bryan, I came across multiple sources running with the comp, including the NFL Research Twitter account.  Bryan’s production continued to increase in 2017, when he finished with career highs in snaps, sacks, quarterback hits and hurries.  Bryan played as a DT in a 4-3 at Florida and will likely play DE in 3-4 sets with the Titans.  I expect the Titans to use multiple sets though so Bryan could move inside when they switch to a 4-3.  I also envision Bryan playing inside of the 3-4 on passing downs to give offenses a different look and increase pass rush pressure.  Bryan blew away the DT class with his explosiveness and agility at the combine, leading in four drills: vertical jump, broad jump, shuttle and 3-cone.

#56 – Bills – Billy Price, G/C, Ohio State

This is Buffalo’s fourth pick in the first two rounds.  Earlier I have them address quarterback, wide receiver and linebacker.  With #56, I wanted the Bills to make a value pick for the future.  If Billy Price didn’t tear a pectoral muscle at the combine, he would have been a late first round prospect.  Price can play at either guard position or center, as he did for the Buckeyes, but I’d expect him to find a home as an NFL center.  Sadly, starter Eric Wood was forced to retire after last season due to an injury so the Bills could use a long term solution at the position.  They did sign Russell Bodine from Cincinnati last month but it’s just a two year deal with a potential out after 2018.  That would be perfect timing to give Price time to recover before becoming the permanent starter in 2019.

#55 – Panthers – Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

Miller is my favorite player in this draft class.  His measureables don’t stand up to others in the class, which is why we find him at #55 and not at the top of the second, but I’m not deterred.  Miller’s release is superb and he makes the spectacular catch look routine with excellent body control.  In addition to his playmaking ability, Miller has repeatedly impressed me with his toughness and determination.  There were times when he willed the Tigers to comeback or to victory, often exhausted or banged up.  He has the versatility to line up anywhere and was Pro Football Focus’ sixth ranked slot receiver in 2017.  With Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith on the field with him this season, I would anticipate seeing Miller in the slot.  In terms of Miller’s long term projection, this fit works well because I doubt that either Smith or Funchess stick around long.

#54 – Chiefs – Josh Sweat, EDGE, Florida State

I was of two minds when considering the Chiefs first pick of the 2018 draft (they traded their first rounder in the deal to land Pat Mahomes last year).  My first thought was that the Chiefs should be cautious, opting for a sure thing since they are missing a first rounder.  My second thought was that because they were missing that first rounder that they should be more aggressive and make a high risk, high reward pick.  My id won out and here we have Josh Sweat.  Sweat is a complicated prospect because he has a history of knee injuries that make him a risk.  Those injuries though are the only reason that Sweat would be available to the Chiefs at this pick.  A player with Sweat’s combine measureables (4.53 40 yard dash at 6’4″ and 251lbs) and production (29 career tackles for loss and 14.5 career sacks) would not normally be available here.

#53 – Bills – Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa

It’s startling how little draft capital the Bills have invested in the linebacker position.  Only two of the seven backers currently on the roster were drafted, the rest were all college free agents.  Those two who were drafted, Matt Milano and Tanner Vallejo, were fifth and sixth rounders last year.  The Bills drafted the position this high twice before in recent memory, in 2013 and 2016, but both Reggie Ragland and Kiko Alonso were traded away.  Jewell is the next up in my linebacker rankings and he would be a good fit at MLB in the Bills system.  It’s fun reading scouting reports on Jewell and seeing how the author tries to tiptoe around the fact that Jewell is simply unathletic.  However, he is quite productive: he recorded 124 or more tackles each of the last three years.  In his write up about Jewell, Matt Miller said that “all those hyperbolic cliches like ‘tackling machine’ actually apply to Jewell.”  If history is any indication, Jewell may not be long for Buffalo but I’m confident that he would make an impact before his subsequent trade.

#52 – Ravens – Martinas Rankin, T/C, Mississippi State

The Ravens offensive line ranked 18th in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus.  Perhaps that should come as a surprise given that the Ravens spend the 28th most, on a per player average, on the offensive line.  The team spends even less at center where they rank 29th in spending.  Rankin is a versatile lineman who played tackle in college but could end up playing center in the pros.  The Bulldogs tried him out at center last Spring but kept him at tackle instead.  Drafting a player like Rankin would give the Ravens a lot of flexibility and could help solidify the line both at tackle and center, wherever the immediate need is.

#51 – Lions – James Daniels, C, Iowa

The Lions need a center and James Daniels is a damn good one.  Last year’s starting center, Travis Swanson, has signed with the Jets.  The Lions did sign G/C Wesley Johnson, ironically from the Jets but he doesn’t really satisfy the team need.  Johnson is a former tackle who moved inside for the NFL, he’s not a true center.  Neither is guard Graham Glasgow who would project as the starting center for Detroit this year if they don’t address the position.  While doing some research on Daniels, I came across this highlight where he owns a BC linebacker and I couldn’t help but watch it a number of times.  Daniels came in smaller than some of the other top center prospects but he showed his supreme agility by owning the competition in the shuttle and 3-cone.

#50 – Cowboys – D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

There’s been a number of rumors that the Cowboys are considering a wide receiver with their first pick, specifically Calvin Ridley  I think that would be a mistake, even though Ridley is my highest rated receiver, and sincerely hope they continue to add to their already-strong offensive line instead.  I’d much rather see the Cowboys wait, full disclosure that I’m a fan, and grab a receiver at this pick.  I have Anthony Miller ranked higher in my rankings at the moment but I think that Moore is the more likely selection for the ‘Boys.  Per WalterFootball.com, Moore has met with the Cowboys on multiple occasions.  Moore was not on my watch list to start the season but by the end of it he had worked his way into my positional rankings.  Moore is quick (4.42 speed) and explosive (first among WRs in the broad jump, second in the vertical) and runs with purpose once he has the ball in his hands.  He had awful quarterback play at Maryland so the fact that he performed as well as he did at times is impressive.  In my preview of Moore, I called him a “trick play master” which could come in handy when the Cowboys offense becomes predictably run-heavy.

#49 – Colts – Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

I believe there’s zero chance that the Colts head into training camp with just Marlon Mack, Christine Michael, Josh Ferguson, Robert Turbin and Matt Jones competing for running back reps.  They are a lock to add a running back in the first few rounds.  Mack should be the favorite to come out of that group but I don’t think he’s able to be a bellcow and none of the journeyman inspire confidence.  Chubb was pegged as the top back of this class years ago as a freshman but he has since fallen down the rankings due to an ACL injury and sharing the spotlight with Sony Michel.  I still prefer Chubb to Michel as a pro prospect but I do admit that Chubb’s running style likely means he’ll serve a shorter career.  Chubb had three 1,000+ yard seasons and averaged 6.3 yards per carry over 47 games.  His 44 career rushing TDs are fourth most in the SEC since 1956, per Sports-Reference.  Chubb is not a receiving back but that’s okay because that’s Mack’s strength.  The biggest knock on Chubb is his ACL injury from 2016.  I’m not that concerned because he returned and completed two full seasons since then, even if he has lost some of his pop.  Having a formidable running back duo will help Andrew Luck get back into form because the team will not have to rely solely on him to move the offense.


Note: When watching film for a player in the offseason, 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, herosports.com, fcs.football, foxsports.com
  • Film: 2018 NFL Draft Database by @CalhounLambeau, youtube.com (but be wary of highlight only reels)
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.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
  • 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

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

League Contract Settings

Updated: July 23rd 2017

As we round the final turn heading into training camp, let’s get into the final segment of the League Settings article series.  If case you’ve missed them, the first two articles focused on League Scoring Settings and League Configuration and Settings. As Alec Baldwin emphatically states in my favorite movie, Glengarry Glen Ross in reference to executing contracts, “there’s only one thing that matters: get them to sign on the line that is DOTTED!”.

The Reality Sports Online platform is unlike any other with respect to contracts. The Free Agent Auction Room and the online rookie draft allow for all sorts of both fixed priced contracts (rookie wage scale) and dynamic market-priced deals (free agent auction). Therefore, when a commissioner is creating or tweaking contract settings in their league, there are a myriad of things to consider so let’s dive in head-first.

1) Don’t Go Too Crazy With Long Term Contracts

I know, I know. You joined this platform because you actually wanted to use your brain. All the other keeper leagues feature roster keeper decisions that anyone can make. Keep Mike Evans for another year? Sure, can I have more steak with that? The RSO element of a league or commissioner-elected quantity of multi-year contracts enables maximum strategy on how you prioritize who gets long-term deals and manage yearly salary cap space.

Each year, you get the same allotment of contracts elected by your league (I know this is a question I get from newbies all the time so I wanted to address this). However, post-auction you can make any type of roster moves and trades to acquire whatever long-term or short-term talent you want as long as you have the cap space and roster slots to do it. If you want your team to consist of all four-year contract players, it may be difficult to amass, but it can happen.

When folks join a league like this, the inkling is to keep your studs in perpetuity. Talent and value constantly change, and making a multi-year contract mistake in your first year is crippling. My inaugural year had teams splurge on Trent Richardson and C.J. Spiller. It took a lot to get out from under those deals.

As a result, my recommendation is to start your league with the following contract allotment: 4 year contracts: one, 3 year contracts: two, 2 year contracts: three. The good part of this approach is it focuses your four year deal on someone you really value or the possibility of hitting a developmental home run at a cheaper price.

One year deals can be incredibly value in RSO leagues, assuming you strategize them well. For instance, in last year’s RSO Superflex writers league, I picked up Melvin Gordon on a one year, $8.0 million deal coming off an injury. I loved his talent and figured that his zero touchdowns scored in his rookie season was an anomaly. I was right, and now I have used my franchise tag on Gordon for the upcoming season for one year, $20.3 million.

I personally like using at least one of my two year deals on a quarterback and tend to like wide receivers for long term deals. It is rare for me to give a running back more than two years, based on how frequently that position changes and the short life span of most high-end backs.

2) Have A Two or Three Round Rookie Draft; Have Them Offline

If you’ve read some of our offseason pieces, the rookie draft has been a huge focus. I love the fixed price of rookies, especially at the top of the second round where the contract costs drop precipitously. To keep the rookie pool from getting diluted (like in a five round rookie draft), I recommend having two to three rounds of rookie drafts for most leagues that have 10 to 12 teams. That way there are a few coveted rookies who spill into the auction (think Jay Ajayi two years ago), but enough talent to not have rookies get dropped from rosters for weekly moves.

In terms of having the rookie draft offline, this is a mindset shift for me after having our writers league draft over email this year. I was astonished by how many trades occurred and how efficiently we could still pick rookies. I adhere to the more strategy the better, so I loved all the trade activity that occurred in the rookie draft.

Rookies remain incredibly valuable, especially if you can hit on your draft picks. Those who don’t like rookies can maximize their value by trading these picks for prime assets either at the trade deadline, throughout the offseason, etc.

3) The New Normal: In-season Contract Extensions

In April, Reality Sports Online released details on in-season contract extensions here. In general, I’m a fan of this as it adds another element of strategy to the league. However, I would recommend that owners proceed with caution on banking on in-season extensions or making trades with limited knowledge of how this will work in practice (it is all theory now) this offseason.

For starters, I would recommend that all leagues vote on how many in-season extensions they want to adopt each season (and potentially revisit this decision after the first year of this feature). My main league voted on one extension for transparency purposes with the thought being that we love the auction and want the player pool to be as deep as possible in the auction, but still allowing the opportunity to exercise the in-season extension for one key player per team.

One thing is obvious from all the guidance in Kyle’s release and my interactions with Stephen and Matt on the in-season extension. Players will not be taking pay cuts. So if you franchised tagged a player last season and the breakout season never came, that salary still serves as the base for a potential extension in season. These will be difficult decisions to make.

Further, until you see what the algorithm spits out in Weeks 4 through 13 of the 2017 season, it is a totally crapshoot. Especially with the famed rookie class featuring Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks, and Sammy Watkins. Those rookies have a low base salary by virtue of the rookie wage scale but figure to jump to what they’d command in the auction if they were free agents on the in-season extension market. For instance, I paid 4 years, $169 million for OBJ in an auction last summer.

Both historic player performance and current year performance will factor into player salaries as well, so you really would be making a decision with imperfect information if you were basing 2017 offseason moves (including franchise tagging a player in hopes of extending them next summer) or trading for a player who could be extended.

4) An Outside-the-Box Thought

As you all know, I’m a huge fan of RSO and it is currently the only league platform I play on. That said, there are inherent limitations of any start-up which has to weigh the costs and benefits of making platform changes. For me, one sticking point is the fact that any player thrown out by an owner in an auction has to be thrown out at a minimum bid. Often towards the end of the auction, there’s a developmental type player I have my eye on and unless someone else throws that player out or I do and ensure that someone else bids on that player, the player I’m targeting may end up on my team as a one-year guy, which wasn’t my intent.

As a result and based on a conversation I had with Stephen this offseason, our league has adopted an off-platform workaround to that issue. Basically, every team in our league has the ability to convert a 1 year, $500k minimum contract to a multi-year contract of the length of their choice (two, three, or four years) within 24 hours of the auction by notifying the commissioner in writing. The commissioner would then have to use the edit contracts feature to alter the contract length. The intent would be for this player to be of the devy type, so ideally defenses and kickers would be excluded but your league could decide on that as you see fit.

By implementing this option, your league would be adding another layer of strategy without impacting the overall contract allotment that you have elected for your auctions.

5) Franchise Tags

The franchise tag is a super-valuable strategic piece that has been in RSO leagues since inception. Basically any expiring player can be extended for the higher of 120% of current year salary or the Top 5 positional average of your league for players under contract.

Since the salary of these players can get fairly high, I recommend that each league allows one franchise tag per team. A player can be franchise tagged and traded if the “Finalize Franchise Tag” button is selected in the offseason.

I personally have used my tag before and it typically pays off if you signed an oft-injured player who produced on his deal. For instance, I turned a two year, $26 million deal for Rob Gronkowski from our inaugural year into to franchise tags at 120% raises. Gronk is now out of franchise tags and will return to the player pool this offseason.

Positionally, depending on your league, there are some leagues where significant value can be found in using the franchise tag for positions like quarterbacks (those late round QB types), tight ends and DSTs. Wide receivers and running backs typically command a prettier penny.

6) Trades/Waivers

I think trades and waivers are fairly standard in RSO leagues. For trades, we let our commissioner review and make the decision. In a format like this, almost every deal has some form of long-term strategy, so something would have to be egregious or somehow demonstrate collusion (which frankly is super rare) for a deal to get rejected. To ensure that teams that are trading draft picks are invested long-term in our league, we make teams trading future year picks kick in at least 50% of next year’s league dues upon trade execution.

In terms of waivers, the FAAB system prevails for one year players. It is fairly standard.

 


Matt Goodwin is entering his fourth season as a writer for Reality Sports Online and is in year five of his main league. He also contributed for numberFire for several years. He is an avid sports fan from Cleveland, Ohio who would count a Cleveland Indians World Series victory a close second behind getting married to his wife Renee and the births of his children, Jory (7 year old son) and Lainie (2 year old daughter). Matt loves mid 90’s hip-hop, playing pick-up hoops, traveling, Ohio State football and Arizona basketball, watching Glengarry Glen Ross for the millionth time and being outside the few months it doesn’t rain in Seattle where he lives. He can be found on Twitter @mattgoody2 and hopes you continue to read his In the Zone articles.

More Analysis by Matt Goodwin

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

More Analysis by Dave Sanders

RSO Writers’ League Rookie Draft

Updated: July 16th 2017

For our RSO readers, we wanted to give an open look into our Writer’s League Rookie Draft. Since we did our draft through an email chain we started by declaring our franchised players for the upcoming season. A list of who was tagged and for how much is listed below followed by the pick-by-pick selections and comments from each owner.

Stephen Wendell – Jimmy Graham ($10,331,667)

I tagged Jimmy Graham because I am obviously so confident in the draft pick I just made (Engram)

Luke Patrick – Travis Kelce ($10,331,667)

I tagged Travis Kelce because I assume any guy with a reality show is a good investment for football purposes.

Matt Goodwin – Melvin Gordon ($20,323,333)

I tagged Melvin Gordon because, well he dominated last year and has less competition this year. The $20.3m price tag seemed about right compared to what I thought he’d get on the open market.

Kyle English – Matt Ryan ($19,242,667)

I tagged Matt Ryan because he has Julio and should come out and torch everyone after last year’s super bowl embarrassment.

Nick Andrews – Drew Brees ($24,311,719)

I tagged Drew Brees for several reasons:

  1. a) Many of the other QBs were being tagged leaving Brees to be the target of the auction if I let him go
  2. b) Being in a win now mode allowed me to justify overpaying from the usually conservative salaries I give QBs and;
  3. c) There was enough interest in Brees through trade talks that if I am unsuccessful in my quest for a repeat championship he should bring back a couple of decent assets during this season.

Matt Papson – Eli Manning ($19,242,667)

I decided to tag Eli for $19.2MM despite the hefty price tag and my significant dollar commitments to other quarterbacks for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a superflex league where quarterbacks are the highest scoring position and where I feel the ownership (in general) is severely undervaluing quarterbacks. Two, I believe Eli is poised to have perhaps the finest statistical year of his career, but I’m not confident about his long-term prospects. Finally, even though I’ve got a bunch of money tied up in Andrew Luck & Carson Palmer, I’m not 100% confident Palmer will return to form, even though I still feel good about the odds.

Jaron Foster – Jameis Winston ($19,242,667)

Given the superflex format and lack of quality quarterbacks that will be available in the auction, the franchise tag price seemed reasonable to keep a young QB who is ready to take the next step with some new toys to play with.

Bob Cowper – None

I tagged nobody because, well, my team just wasn’t very good.

Dave Sanders – None

Bernard Faller – None

2017 RSO Writer’s League Draft Results

Below is a transcription of each pick and comments that the owner made during their selection. Included also are the trades that occurred during the draft.

Corey Davis

1.01 – Corey Davis

Luke Patrick: I opted for Corey Davis, but it was a hard call for me with Fournette and McCaffrey beckoning at a position of need.   With a bloated A-Rob (Allen Robinson) contract and an invaluable 4-year control on a potential stud WR proved too much for me to resist, I opted for the potential HR.

1.02 – Leonard Fournette

Bob Cowper: Even though Jacksonville isn’t great, I think he will be dominant enough to be a valuable fantasy player from the start (albeit less so than Zeke).  I think Fournette’s pass catching ability is underrated so as long as he can be an average pass blocker he has a shot at staying on the field for 3 downs.

1.03 – Christian McCaffrey

Jaron Foster: Between draft stock and lack of competition, this is a fairly easy choice for me. He should have a high PPR floor even if he doesn’t turn into a 3-down back and a high ceiling if he does.

1.04 – Joe Mixon

Matt Papson: I entered the Rookie draft with selections 4 and 6. My plan, which was feasible until a few weeks before the draft, was to land two of the four elite running backs — Fournette, McCaffrey, Mixon, and Cook. When the draft fell Davis, Fournette, McCaffrey, I was faced with a difficult decision. I preferred Mixon to Cook, though not by much, and I thought there was a chance if I took Cook, perhaps Mixon would still be around at 6. I was not confident the opposite would be true.

1.05 – Dalvin Cook

Nick Andrews: I traded up before the draft started sending the 1.10 and a 2018 1st knowing that I wanted to get one of the top 5 rookies. Once all the other players were selected through the first four this was an easy choice to make. Cook was considered the 1.01 up until the combine and depending on your expectations from Latavius Murray this could be his backfield from week 1. He has the skills to be a 3-down back and should help to take some pressure off of Sam Bradford.

1.06 – Mike Williams

Papson: As it turned out it didn’t matter. I took Mixon, Cook went 5th, and I was essentially forced to take Mike Williams by default. Williams is the #1 WR on my board but was not planning to take unless I had to because of existing depth at the position. Best available reigns supreme.

1.07 – O.J. Howard

Bob: Struggled with this one a bit.  I haven’t been shy about my Howard concerns – he’s obviously an athletic freak but he was so underutilized at Alabama and so much of his production came in two games against Clemson.  To those who argue that the Alabama offense just doesn’t use the TE, I would counter by saying that it hasn’t relied on a run-first QB like Jalen Hurts either but Saban found a freak athlete he just had to work into the game plan.  Why not with Howard?  He might have the lowest floor of some of the others in contention at 1.07 but it’s hard to say no to somebody of his size and speed.  Having Antonio Brown and Jordy Nelson under contract also factored in, figured I should fill the TE spot rather than taking John Ross or reaching for one of the second-tier RBs.

1.08 – Kareem Hunt

Matt Goodwin: As someone who owned Spencer Ware last season in this league, I’m picking Kareem Hunt because I think he’s very talented and in a situation where he can win the Chiefs starting running back job this season and if he does, that’s fantasy gold. I’m intrigued by the fact that Pro Football Focus ranked him third in its elusiveness rating. Also, the Chiefs traded up to get him, which speaks volumes about what they think of him. Hunt caught six balls in multiple games this season and has a nose for the end zone and big plays. I’m happy to pick what some are calling the “steal of the NFL draft” and who Louis Riddick had effusive praise for, comparing him to Emmitt Smith. As someone who graduated from Miami University, I’d be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to pick a future star from the MAC.

1.09 – Alvin Kamara

Jaron: I took Kamara to back up the newly acquired Mark Ingram. It would have been difficult to choose between Hunt and Kamara, given Hunt’s ideal landing spot, so I’m glad the decision was made for me. I expect Kamara will sit behind Ingram and AP for a year, and then will take over when one or both leave the bayou.

1.10 – John Ross

Kyle English: Don’t really need a WR, but that’s far and away where the best value is at this point.  Still struggled quite a bit with this one, but ultimately decided on Ross.  Quite worried about competition for targets there in Cincy and his injury history, but at the 1.10 I can’t let him fall any further.

*TRADE ALERT*

Bob Trades: Jordy Nelson

Luke Trades: 2.08, 2.06, Giovanni Bernard, Tyler Lockett

*TRADE ALERT*

Papson Trades: 1.06 (Mike Williams)

Luke Trades: 2.01, 2.09, 2018 2nd, Jerrick McKinnon

 

2.01 – Juju Smith-Schuster

Papson: Flush with 3 2018 1st round picks, and with 7, 8, and 9 (Howard, Hunt, Kamara) falling fairly favorably, I briefly negotiated for the 1.10 before making a deal for 2.01 and 2.09 in exchange for Mike Williams. My intention here was to end up with two of the following three: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Patrick Mahomes, and DeShaun Watson. I took Juju at 2.01, though I pondered both Mahomes and Watson in that slot. Depending on who you ask, JuJu could be ranked as high as 7th and low as 27th, but I wasn’t willing to wait any longer.

2.02 – Chris Godwin

Bob: He was my best player available (#8 on my board) and even though I already took Howard (and have Martin) I’m going for it.  As a Michigan and Rutgers fan, it kills me but I loved watching him play this year. Godwin makes spectacular high point catches and should see lesser coverage with all the other weapons. I really wanted Davis at 1.02 but figured Godwin would be my backup at 2.02.

2.03 – Evan Engram

Bernard Faller: My top fantasy TE in the class but is really just a pass catcher.  Unlike most TEs, his maturity as a receiver makes him ready to play from day one.  The ridiculous combination of size, speed, and athleticism is virtually unmatched by any receiver in this class.

2.04 – David Njoku

Stephen Wendell: Miami must not have had a lot of favorable lines this year because I spent no time watching any Miami football, but I tend to only watch college football where I have some action, but that tends to be most games, so I am not sure how I missed him. That said, even if I had watched him, my opinion of rookies means nothing and Bob Cowper’s means everything to me… the guy is an animal, a Matt Waldman in the making. And he has Njoku ranked 12…his BPA is Zay Jones who I like as well, but not a perfect situation for him in Buffalo and he kind of feels like a guy that may be pretty great (if he becomes great) at the end of his rookie deal when he is likely a FA already in our league. Additionally, someone has to catch some passes for the Browns this year, whether it is Osweiler or Kizer (or Jimmy G??) throwing them, so why not a stud TE to grab a few and pick up a few red zone scores (he grabbed 8 last year). Lastly, a severe position of need for me, especially if Fleener does not play better in NO this season.

*TRADE ALERT*

Luke Trades: Josh Gordon, 2019 1st

Kyle Trades: Blake Bortles, Laquon Treadwell

*TRADE ALERT*

Papson Trades: 2018 1st

Kyle Trades: 2.05

2.05 – Patrick Mahomes

Papson: As the round progressed, I got a little anxious about the fact that Mahomes and Watson might both be gone by 2.09, and I then decided I wanted to find a way to get both. I tried desperately to acquire 2.06 and 2.08 from Rookie Draft aficionado Bob Cowper but quickly realized that would be futile. I instead moved up to 2.05, where I selected Mahomes because in Andy I trust.

2.06 – Mitchell Trubisky

Bob: I wanted Mahomes and should have pulled the trigger to move to 2.05.  Guess I did the reverse-Bears.  I think the QBs are being undervalued for our superflex league so I still wanted to go for one and took Trubisky.  I hope he doesn’t start in the NFL this season because he’s not ready (neither is Mahomes but I think his ceiling is higher). I went for a similar guy last year in Jared Goff and while that may not work out, hoarding young QBs on cheap contracts can only end up hitting sooner or later.

*TRADE ALERT*

Papson Trades: 2.09, Jerrick McKinnon

Goody Trades: 2.07, Sterling Shepard

2.07 – DeShaun Watson

Papson: I made some nifty moves to swap 2.09 & 2.07 so that I could also grab Watson and complete my triumvirate.

2.08 – Zay Jones

Bob: It wasn’t who I was targeting here since I figured he’d be gone. The Bills don’t trust Sammy Watkins so at worst he’s a year away from being the number one and in the meantime should have PPR value.

*TRADE ALERT*

Papson Trades: Kelvin Benjamin

Stephen Trades: 2018 2nd

*TRADE ALERT*

Goody Trades: Jerrick McKinnon

Kyle Trades: Josh Gordon

2.09 – DeShone Kizer

Goody: In short-SuperKizeme! For my squad heading into the rookie draft, my hope was to dump some salary and keep my picks intact as best as possible. After giving away Mark Ingram ($18m this year) before the draft, I thought that effort was done until Matt Papson offered to take one year of Sterling Shepard for $9.9m off my books to swap 2.07 for his 2.09, and I couldn’t pass up the chance to enter our auction with the most cap space in the league. I would have taken DeShaun Watson at 2.07, but am happy I get to take a super-cheap flyer on DeShone Kizer. As a Cleveland Browns fan, I liked the pick and think there is some time for Kizer to grow. The physical tools are there and in this superflex league if Kizer becomes a star that will be incredibly valuable to me. So in the end, guys like Samaje Perine and Cooper Kupp move to the background and Kizer has me dreaming of a QB from my youth with a similar sounding name-Kosar (as in Bernie). #Believeland

*TRADE ALERT*

Papson Trades: Sterling Shepard, Michael Floyd, 2018 1st

Bernard Trades: 2.10

2.10 – Curtis Samuel

Papson: I ditched some players’ salaries and a final 2018 1st to get to 2.10 to select Mr. Irrelevant, Curtis Samuel.

*TRADE ALERT*

Luke Trades: Mike Williams, 2018 1st

Bernard Trades: Tyrod Taylor, 2018 1st

2017 Writer’s League Rookie Draft Results

1.01 – Corey Davis – Luke 2.01 – Juju Smith-Schuster – Papson (thru Luke)
1.02 – Leonard Fournette – Bob 2.02 – Chris Godwin – Bob
1.03 – Christian McCaffrey – Jaron 2.03 – Evan Engram – Bernard
1.04 – Joe Mixon – Papson 2.04 – David Njoku – Stephen
1.05 – Dalvin Cook – Nick 2.05 – Patrick Mahomes – Papson (thru Kyle)
1.06 – Mike Williams – Bernard (thru Luke, thru Papson) 2.06 – Mitchell Trubisky – Bob (thru Luke)
1.07 – O.J. Howard – Bob 2.07 – DeShaun Watson – Papson (thru Goody)
1.08 – Kareem Hunt – Goody 2.08 – Zay Jones – Bob (thru Luke)
1.09 – Alvin Kamara – Jaron 2.09 – DeShone Kizer – Goody (thru Papson thru Luke)
1.10 – John Ross – Kyle 2.10 – Curtis Samuel – Papson (thru Bernard)
More Analysis by Nick Andrews

2017 NFL Draft – Fantasy Outlook

Updated: July 16th 2017

The NFL Draft is something of a hype event but one which draws the most intense of scrutiny and magnification. In the end, it’s only three days in the scope of time despite the enormity it provides to the future and hopes of millions of fans across various states and regions. It’s passing allows us to initiate the analytical process in advance of another season. For fantasy owners, they typically have to wait a bit longer before they can utilize this new information to their benefit, but the RSO platform will have you thinking long in advance of an actual draft date.

The projections covered here aren’t entirely numerical or fantasy-specific from a numbers standpoint. They are preliminary given how far away the season is and in lieu of injury potential, etc. But there were many intriguing, offensive-minded moves by teams in this Draft despite the high volume of defensive stalwarts recognized by “experts.” What follows is a run down of both first and second round prospects along with later round selections who could be worth monitoring as we head toward an active and exciting offseason.

Blue Chippers (Rounds 1 and 2)

The first two rounds of the NFL Draft should probably be examined together as you have kids with similar ceilings but some move down a bit due to injuries and circumstance. Leonard Fournette was the first offensive player selected and his arrival in Jacksonville is going to be met with hope from the tormented fan base within that city. For me, I do not like the offensive line down in northern Florida at this time and while Cam Robinson (Round 2) will help at the RT spot over time and offered good value in this draft, I simply do not see Fournette putting up amazing numbers initially in Jacksonville unless that OL play improves, and especially given who he has at QB. He’ll still be a player that garners plenty of attention at the RB spot in any draft and he offers young legs. But I’m not enough of a believer in what Jacksonville has offensively to fall in love with Fournette as a year one prospect.

Jacksonville foolishly spent an early fourth rounder on a very suspect character guy in DeDe Westbrook and their inability to really add to other areas within their offense probably hurts them in 2017 at least. Within this division, however, the Tennessee Titans acquired a player many people like and admire in Corey Davis from Western Michigan and while the Terrell Owens comparison are obviously quite premature, Davis would seem to be exactly what Marcus Mariota needs right now. It also helps that the Titans went WR/TE in round three and if you are thinking big picture early on, Mariota could morph into a very attractive fantasy option in any format, although the health concerns for someone who runs as much as him will be a limitation. Long story short, Mariota has a plethora of options to work out of the pocket now and he is a guy to watch for in 2017, as is the aforementioned Davis. Rookie WR’s can be a major risk, but Davis is a guy I would certainly look intensely at this season as he really is a special talent.

The aforementioned Mariota came into this league along with Jameis Winston and if anyone should be licking their chops right now, it’s probably Tampa. The Bucs are still young defensively to an extent and the OL needs refinement. But the acquisition of O.J. Howard at pick number 19 may have been the steal of the round and it was a legitimate need as Tampa doesn’t have anyone there now close to the caliber of Howard, who happens to be a strong blocker as well. Chris Godwin is a WR from Penn State who went to Tampa in round three with Boise RB Jeremy McNichols finding his way into the TB backfield in round five. The latter two names might not make an impact early on from a fantasy standpoint, but both are talented and Howard should be monitored as I believe he has a chance to be an offensive ROY candidate within the confines of this already explosive and evolving offense.

Three other offensive guys to note who went on Thursday night were Christian McCaffrey, John Ross and Evan Engram. McCaffrey is a name which will attract sizable attention as we head toward the regular season and Ross is the fastest guy to ever show at the combine. But Engram is the name from that trio which might just have the most fantasy upside in year one for me. McCaffrey is a player who will produce, especially when you factor in the creativity with which he can be used alongside Cam Newton. But his injury concerns early on combined with potentially being overvalued on a team with a rebuilding OL should make you somewhat guarded about pursuing him too early in most fantasy formats. The son of a former NFL stud in Denver and a mother who played soccer at Stanford will be a match-up nightmare and Carolina should be vastly improved, but that doesn’t mean his draft position in some formats will be truly warranted. McCaffrey could end up an overvalued prospect and that is what concerns me. While we are on the subject of these Panthers, Curtis Samuel is a playmaking option and second rounder from Ohio State who could become an effective aspect of this offense as well.

Ross was a big pick-up for Cincinnati and they also snagged a RB we’ll talk about in a later section. They said speed kills and I don’t disagree in any capacity. The Bengals have struggled some the last 1-2 years, but while Andy Dalton isn’t taking them to the Super Bowl any time soon, this is a club which still figures to have a fantastic offense. Ross’ speed element combined with A.J. Green will be something that has to be considered in teams of how Cincinnati can continue to progress. This is a defense which has regressed and so its very likely that the Bengals will be in some higher scoring games once more this season. Ross has the ability to adapt quickly but I don’t know how long it will take for Dalton to adequately judge his speed and that is one thing you’ll want to track the closer we get to preseason football in August.

As for Engram, it’s similar to Tampa Bay in the way they picked up Howard. This is truly one of the most important positions in the league currently and both the Bucs and Giants needed to improve here. Engram has the speed to come into this offense and complement guys like Brandon Marshall and Odell Beckham, but learning this offense won’t be easy for any first year player. The good news from a fantasy standpoint is that quick passing would figure to benefit Engram and that is the backbone of the NYG offense, especially with the OL really struggling these last couple of years. In any event, Engram has definitive long term value in the RSO format for me given the added dimension he offers as a speedy TE who gets to play alongside a veteran QB who is looking to cement his legacy in what really could be a more or less wide open NFC in 2017-2018.

Four players stuck out to me in round two but all of them have questions. The name I actually like the most is that of Zay Jones, the 37th round pick which went to Buffalo. Jones is a Dallas product who attended school in East Carolina. He has good size at 6’2 and made a lot of plays going up and getting the ball in college. Challenges will be more significant at this level, but with Robert Woods now playing in LA with the Rams, Jones is a guy who will reap the benefits of what has been an improving offense as Tyrod Taylor gets more and more comfortable. Taylor, LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins have been injury prone in the past, though and that is the one thing Bills fans probably fear coming into every season. But this is an acquisition which helps them, especially with Watkins not looking like a guy who has the frame to last and succeed in this league over time. Zay Jones might not be the most sought after rookie in the 2017 fantasy season, but he might be a sleeper for a Buffalo club which will probably find itself down at times and in comeback mode while forced to utilize a pass heavy approach.

Joe Mixon s a player who should likely have an enormous fantasy impact in Cincinnati and even if you are not a fan of Mixon the person (with seemingly no one being in that camp) he is a fantasy piece I would likely covet. He is a dual threat and while Dalvin Cook is more hyped, Cook may struggle to stay healthy at this level and is playing behind an extremely shaky offensive line in Minnesota. JuJu Smith-Schuster has the pure talent and speed dimension to catch on and be a real slot option in Pittsburgh and for those reasons, Mixon and Smith-Schuster are two rookies coming out of this draft and playing in the AFC North who hold significant promise to me. These were critical additions for both clubs and, especially in the case of Cincinnati, the combination of now adding Mixon and Ross could make the aforementioned Dalton another QB that has more potential as a 2017 fantasy option despite his limitations when it comes to the most important of games. Ultimately, I’ll pass on Cook and a lot of that relates to where he is headed to.

Later Round Options to Keep Tabs On

Every year there are later round players who make immediate impacts regardless of how many people scoff at the notion that such a player will prove valuable early on. Some guys are young and hungry enough to step up quickly and that is what we’ll be looking for. At the University of Tennessee, Alvin Kamara took on a significant workload and nothing will be any different down in New Orleans under Sean Payton. Drew Brees is a quick passing QB and Kamara is a guy whose athleticism can create problems. The Saints can score with the best of the league regardless as to how bad the defense can look at times and that means Kamara will be a guy to move on in any Draft format as he could have a chance to accumulate numbers as a pass catching back out of different formations. Kamara’s usage and smaller frame are primary factors in his falling to round three and that speaks to the caution you should use in approaching him in 2017. He has to add to his body and has to develop in other areas, but from a talent and “fit” perspective, Kamara is going to have an excellent chance to generate numbers from the jump.

Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington – 69th overall to Los Angeles Rams) Carlos Henderson (Louisiana Tech – 82nd overall to Denver Broncos) and Amara Darboh (Michigan – 106th overall to Seattle Seahawks) are all bigger and more physical receivers who can help their respective teams. I wouldn’t view them as likely to break onto the scene early because speed limitations obviously hampered each guy’s draft standing to some extent. But these are three players I generally like and if you get a chance to watch the tape on any of them, they each impress me for what they can do at a play-making position. This was a defense heavy draft through those top 60 selections and the league is realizing how critical defensive assets can be given the rules we have in place and the general evolution of offense. But all three of these names were probably second round worthy in my opinion and I’d look for all three to enter situations they can undoubtedly make better, especially in the case of Henderson who will be the third receiver in a Denver offense which is looking for big things from Trevor Siemian in his second year as starter.

One other third round pick who has to be discussed is Kareem Hunt. The Toledo product has the body type to be a real find for someone in this league and Andy Reid generally does his homework. The loss of Jamaal Charles left a void and adding some fresh legs will likely prove to be a good idea. This club still has offensive line concerns which hamper their ability to score effectively in the red zone from time to time. Additionally, I see the Chiefs as a potentially evolving offense which could have short term defensive limitations that make 2017 a rough one for them, especially given the division they play in. But Hunt is still a player whose game I respect. He could prove to be very effective over the long haul, especially if this franchise moves gracefully into the Patrick Mahomes era in a couple of years. Hunt is a player who might not offer much ROI in year one, but I undoubtedly like him down the line.

Speaking of running backs, latter round value can be there for many and Donnell Pumphrey (San Diego St. – 132nd overall to Philadelphia Eagles), Jamaal Williams (BYU – 134th overall to Green Bay Packers) and Wayne Gallman (Clemson – 140th overall to New York Giants) were good pick-ups for teams which needed RB help. Pumphrey was very effective in college against MWC talent and the biggest concern is indeed durability as he is right around 180 lbs. I still like Pumphrey but the “Mark Ingram to Philly” evolving storyline makes you pump the breaks about likely first year impact for someone like Pumphrey. Williams might be the best pure fantasy value, however as he has good physical traits a chance to come in and battle for the starting position in an offense which features Aaron Rodgers. Williams should a target for anyone looking at rookies to fill out their roster and while I actually like Gallman a bit more as a player thanks to his pass catching skills, Gallman’s OL in New York isn’t all that great as noted. I like both Williams and Gallman a lot, though and believe they could be two RB’s you want to pursue in RSO and other fantasy formats.

Hopefully these notes will help, but monitoring team news and roster changes as we head toward the summer months is also critical. Whether utilizing the RSO platform or should you be more involved in other formats, knowledge of rookies and their impact early on can be a major difference maker in a successful fantasy campaign. This league is so injury-prone that depth charts are picked apart from time to time. Rookies are called upon to perform sooner rather than later and knowledge of these first year talents can be critical. We look forward to bringing you coverage of the fantasy landscape as it enters into yet another season and wish you the best in your preparation.


Author: Richard Salvatori (@dickiesalvo)

More Analysis by Richard Salvatori