Fantasy Football: Post-Draft Rookie Rankings
Alvin Kamara is an incredibly talented running back, but had he not been drafted by New Orleans -- a place so perfect for him to showcase his skills -- we probably wouldn't be drafting him in the middle of the first round of fantasy football drafts this year. If Derrick Henry had gone to a team with a completely depleted backfield instead of Tennessee, maybe we'd view him a little differently, too. Would JuJu Smith-Schuster look the same without Ben Roethlisberger? What about Corey Coleman and the poor quarterback play he's dealt with?
Talented players will surely find their way onto a football field, but every circumstance is unique. And this is why, when the NFL Draft is over, the way I view first-year players in fantasy football changes.
Back in March, yours truly posted a writeup on the top-20 soon-to-be rookies in dynasty fantasy football. They were the guys to target in your rookie drafts.
Today, things are different. Not drastically different, but they're different.
Here's how that top-20 list looks now.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants (RB1, Previously RB1)
Unsurprisingly, the top player on today's rookie list is the same one from over a month ago. Saquon Barkley will step into the Giants' offense and instantly contribute both on the ground and through the air. Barkley averaged over 11 receiving yards per game more last year than any other relevant running back in this year's class, and only John Kelly had a higher reception share in his team's offense. My projections currently peg Barkley as a first-round pick in fantasy football redraft leagues this year, and he should be the next great back in the NFL.
2. Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks (RB2, Previously RB3)
Penny had one of the most complete production profiles in this year's draft class (and that matters), placing him at number three on this pre-draft rookie rankings list. But then the Seahawks decided to spend a late first-round selection on him, boosting his overall potential in the league. Running backs in Seattle's offense averaged fewer PPR points per game last season than any other group in the league, and they ranked 23rd in 2016. But with the draft capital spent on Penny, his incredibly strong college resume, the lack of alternative weapons in Seattle's offense (both on the ground and through the air), and Pete Carroll's recent comments about running the football more, Penny should thrive (from a fantasy perspective) in his current situation.
3. Derrius Guice, RB, Washington Redskins (RB3, Previously RB2)
Swapping Penny and Guice in these post-draft rankings was a pretty easy call on my end, only because they were ranked in the same tier before the draft started. Guice was thought to be a higher selection, but he slipped due to -- I don't know, playing too many video games? Regardless, he fell to a spot that won't necessarily be as fruitful as the one in Seattle given Chris Thompson is in Washington to take away receiving looks from Guice. Head coach Jay Gruden said as much when he noted, “It’s first, second down. We have a third-down back. He's not going to play on third down, anyway.” That doesn't mean Guice will catch zero passes in 2018 -- I've currently got him projected for about 26 receptions, which is probably on the high side -- but his upside is certainly capped from the start.
4. Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots (RB4, Previously RB4)
While New England's backfield is one that most fantasy football owners seem to avoid due to what appears to be inconsistent running-back usage, I tend to disagree. The Patriots have now had a running back see at least 40% of the team's rushes over each of the last three seasons, and last year's rushing share leader, Dion Lewis, is now out of the picture. After spending a first-round selection on Michel, it seems logical to think they're looking for a back to replace Lewis in that role, especially given Tom Brady's age. Pass-catchers James White and Rex Burkhead are there, sure, but Michel still has the opportunity to see 200-plus carries and highly important attempts (goal line) in the O as soon as Year 1. That's a big deal in an offense that will score points.
5. DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers (WR1, Previously WR1)
DJ Moore might be special. When prospecting via college production, Moore's final-season market share numbers placed him an an elite tier. His talent was confirmed when the Carolina Panthers selected him 24th overall in April's draft, meaning we've got a productive wide receiving prospect who's also associated with high draft capital. Will he work with the Panthers? That remains to be seen, obviously, but it's not as though he's competing against an Antonio Brown-like top receiver for targets in the Carolina offense. It's fair to wonder whether or not Cam Newton is the right quarterback for Moore; he's struggled throwing the ball short, and Moore may be utilized in the slot and on those types of throws from the get-go. Moore's body of work leads me to believe he has a higher ceiling than just someone who can play the slot, though.
6. Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (RB5, Previously RB7)
Admittedly, it was tough to rank Ronald Jones. I wasn't super high on him coming out because he's a smaller-framed back (205 pounds) who didn't catch a lot of passes in college. In fact, his 4.21% reception share during his last season was one that we don't really ever see from successful NFL backs. As I said at the top, though: situation matters. Jones landed in arguably the best spot for production as Tampa Bay's depth chart is full of guys you'd be dropping to free agency in your Madden franchise. This is a scenario where I'm not in love with the prospect, but I'm in love with the situation.
7. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns (RB6, Previously RB5)
For what it's worth, I have a strong "win-now" mentality in dynasty leagues. Chubb was a touch higher in the pre-draft rankings, but his immediate production in Cleveland -- the team that selected him in the early second round -- is in question. He'll have a hard time snagging a high target share in the offense given Duke Johnson's presence and the addition of Jarvis Landry, and that's on top of the fact that Chubb had caught a grand total of 13 passes over his final 3 seasons at Georgia. While I do think he'll see more touches than Carlos Hyde during this rookie season, Hyde's existence on the team will still lower Chubb's overall ceiling. The Cleveland offense -- and team -- has a bright future, but Chubb still has more of an uphill battle to fight than a lot of other backs in this year's class.
8. Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos (RB7, Previously RB8)
It's not very hard to make a case that Royce Freeman should be higher on this list. The Broncos picked him up in the third round of this year's draft, and they got a do-it-all back who ran the ball 947 times in college while catching 79 passes. He led his backfield in attempts in each college season. Now he's going to be working against a depth chart that has Devontae Booker and De'Angelo Henderson, two questionable backs. Booker's yards-per-carry rate over his first two years has yet to exceed his running back teammates' average while Henderson's a 2017 fifth-rounder who's a tad undersized. Freeman should be able to start right away.
9. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Detroit Lions (RB8, Previously RB9)
If you want to oversimplify things, you could consider a "Big Eight" in this year's rookie drafts, where there are eight running backs who are all set up pretty well for the immediate future. Kerryon Johnson ranks lowest on this list for two reasons. First, my prospect model seemed to like him a little bit less than the other backs. Don't take that the wrong way because it wasn't by much, but I'm being forced to rank players here. The second issue is competition. As it stands, Johnson will be competing for volume during his rookie season with LeGarrette Blount, Ameer Abdullah, and Theo Riddick. Abdullah may be the odd man out there, but Riddick will at least steal some looks away from Johnson through the air. And Blount may be used closer to the goal line. It's definitely not hard to see a path upward for Johnson, though, considering the Lions traded up for him and used a decent amount of draft capital in doing so.
10. Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago Bears (WR2, Previously WR7)
Would it surprise anyone to see Anthony Miller with the second-most targets in the Bears' offense this year? He won't out-produce a healthy Allen Robinson, but Miller should find a role in Chicago out of the slot with Robinson and Taylor Gabriel on the outside. (And, yes, Gabriel's been an outside receiver -- he ran only 15.2% of his routes from the slot last season, per Pro Football Focus.) Among wideouts in this class, Miller's final collegiate season placed him seventh in receiving yard share, fourth in reception share, and fourth in touchdown share. All the while, he has a pretty good athletic profile.
11. Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals (WR3, Previously WR4)
I'd have no problem if you decided to place Kirk ahead of Miller. As a slot receiver, Kirk's immediate production will be hard to project given Larry Fitzgerald's presence in the Cardinals offense. But Kirk's fit with Josh Rosen is great as Rosen was a good passer in college on shorter and intermediate routes, which is what Kirk will surely run as a slot receiver. You could make the same case for Kirk's fit with Sam Bradford, as well, who's been on the lower end in average depth of target throughout his career. If you're a believer that the Cardinals will use Kirk right away, then you should have little concern in taking him at the tail-end of the first round in your rookie draft(s).
12. Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos (WR4, Previously WR2)
Sutton's landing spot was a little surprising, but when you dig in, it does make a lot of sense. Both Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas are getting up there in football age -- Sanders turned 31 back in March and Thomas' 31st birthday will hit in December -- and they both could be released after this season due to the amount of money Denver would save. Sutton didn't have the type of market share numbers Thomas did in college, but he's got the big-bodied, prototypical X receiver mold who could step in and perform if he shows off his skills in 2018. And don't think that he won't see the field at all this year: Denver's lacked a weapon in the slot over the last couple of seasons, and with Sutton, they could move Sanders there. That'll allow them to evaluate Sutton in the short-term.
13. Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons (WR5, Previously WR6)
Calvin Ridley will share a field with Julio Jones, who has seen -- when extrapolated for missed time -- at least 27% of Atlanta's targets in five of the last seven seasons. On top of Jones being there, the Falcons have higher-end pass-catching backs in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, and Mohamed Sanu isn't a free agent until 2021. This isn't to say that Ridley will be pushed to irrelevance in the Atlanta offense -- not at all. There are just some volume concerns. And, clearly, I wasn't as high as most NFL teams on Ridley entering the draft. He's got a smaller frame, and for a receiver who weighs fewer than 190 pounds, it would've been good to see a super productive college career. But Ridley was merely slightly above average in most production categories. Will he be a good NFL wide receiver? I think so. Will he be great? I'm not so sure.
14. Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys (WR6, Previously WR8)
The Dallas Cowboys' pass-catchers are... not very good? You've got a decent-enough player in Allen Hurns there now, but the fact that they're still looking to rely on Terrance Williams in any way, shape, or form in 2018 is mind-blowing. Despite playing with Tony Romo and Dak Prescott over his career, Williams has had below-average per-target efficiency in three of his five NFL seasons, according to our expected points model. Maybe Michael Gallup can fix Dallas' issues sooner rather than later, and, really, he should get an opportunity to see the field during his freshman campaign. I was a fan heading into the draft, and this landing spot bumps him up a couple of spots.
15. Dante Pettis, WR, San Francisco 49ers (WR7, Previously Unranked)
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has mentioned that you don't need a Julio Jones-like player in your offense to be successful. It's not that Jones isn't valuable, it's just that having wide receivers who can do specific jobs well and get separation can be very effective. And, as it stands in the 49ers' offense, they have players who are strong in their roles. Pierre Garcon can be a possession guy, Marquise Goodwin is a field-stretcher, and Trent Taylor can be the slot receiver. Where does Dante Pettis fit in? He didn't play many snaps in the slot in college, per Pro Football Focus, which means he may need to supplant Garcon or Goodwin to get consistent work this year. Garcon is coming off a neck injury, so maybe that's the spot for him, but the path to targets is a little convoluted. The hope is that things develop well for Year 2, and the 49ers don't add much more at the receiver position. Sometimes you've got to trust the draft capital spent (they traded up for Pettis, too) and the coach who made the selection when evaluating a player's potential.
16. James Washington, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (WR8, Previously WR3)
Having ranked Washington as the third-best wide receiver in the class pre-draft, it's clear that I'm higher on him than most. But being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers puts a lid on his true upside. Antonio Brown commands one of the highest target shares in football, JuJu Smith-Schuster is likely to see a bump in volume as a second-year player, and Le'Veon Bell is still part of the offense, too. Washington is the perfect -- and I mean perfect -- replacement for the now-departed Martavis Bryant as he stretched the field consistently at Oklahoma State. In fact, Washington averaged nearly 20 yards per reception throughout college. Insanity. And he should be able to get onto the field right away for Pittsburgh as a result. But over the next few years, he'll be the Steelers' third-best option as a receiver at best. That's why he's not higher on this list.
17. Tre'Quan Smith, WR, New Orleans Saints (WR9, Previously Unranked)
When you look at the Saints' roster, the team's pass-catchers really aren't that strong. Michael Thomas is a stud, and they've got two very capable receiving backs. But while I'm a Cameron Meredith fan, we've got to be objective and realize that this is his first year in the New Orleans system, he was an undrafted free agent, and he's coming off a brutal knee injury. The other option in the offense is Ted Ginn, who just turned 33 years old. That could quickly open things up for Tre'Quan Smith, who's a super athletic wideout who also had above-average production in college. Yes, please.
18. Nyheim Hines, RB, Indianapolis Colts (RB9, Previously RB10)
Hines played all over the field in college, catching 43 passes back in 2016 while also rushing the ball 258 times during his three years at NC State. He's the quintessential satellite back, but he has blazing speed (ran a 4.38 40) and is more versatile as a receiver. Colts head coach Frank Reich mentioned that Hines will move all over the place in Indy's offense, and with a poor receiving depth chart, that means he could see more volume than anticipated from the start. If you want a quick comparison for Hines in this Colts offense, just think Chris Thompson.
19. Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins (TE1, Previously Unranked)
The first and only onesie position player on this list is, as you can see, Mike Gesicki. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Gesicki had a college dominator rating that ranked in the 67th percentile, but when you combine that with his absurd athleticism, you can see the allure. Miami doesn't have the most attractive passing attack in football, but there's at least a big opening for volume right away. You don't always get that at the tight end position.
20. Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins (RB10, Previously Unranked)
I feel a little dirty ranking Kalen Ballage because I wasn't the biggest fan of his entering the draft. Anytime you see a running back prospect get outperformed by a teammate with borderline NFL talent -- get your Alvin Kamara example out of here, we're looking at trends -- it's a red flag. That's what Ballage saw with Demario Richard at Arizona State. But the Dolphins used an early Day 3 pick to snag Ballage, and the Miami backfield has inexperience (Kenyan Drake) and age (Frank Gore). Ballage profiles to be a pass-catching back at the NFL level despite his size, and that could force him onto the field in Year 1. And who knows, maybe my evaluation was wrong from the start.
Later-Round Players to Target: Ito Smith (RB, Atlanta Falcons), Jordan Wilkins (RB, Indianapolis Colts), Richie James (WR, San Francisco 49ers), J'Mon Moore (WR, Green Bay Packers), Keke Coutee (WR, Houston Texans), Cedrick Wilson (WR, Dallas Cowboys)
Quarterback Rankings: Baker Mayfield (Cleveland Browns), Josh Rosen (Arizona Cardinals), Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens), Sam Darnold (New York Jets), Never Josh Allen