Combined (Offense/IDP) Rookie Draft Board
By Jene Bramel
May 3rd, 2011

I think the consensus rookie rankings here at Footballguys are one of the strongest features we have every season. But I think a straight numerical ranking - combining all the rookies in a 1-40 list - can leave out too much vital context. There are clearly splits and clusters on those lists, but even the consensus ranking of all our staffers struggles to compare and tier players within and across positions. Knowing that Player X is the consensus RB3 is clear from the rank list, but knowing how nearly that player was to ranking as the RB2 or RB6 or how he compares to the WR5 or TE1 or LB2 is often much less clear.

I prefer a more visual approach, one that tiers players by position, then takes the additional step of comparing the value of those tiers across every position.

Rd
QBs
RBs
WRs
TEs
DTs
DEs
LBs
CBs
Ss
1
M Ingram
AJ Green
R Williams
J Jones
D Carter
M Leshoure
G Little
D Thomas
R Cobb
S Vereen
J Baldwin
B Gabbert
2
D Murray
V Brown
T Smith
L Hankerson
N Irving
R Helu
T Young
C Ponder
J Rodgers
E Gates
M Foster
C Newton
B Powell
G Salas
K Rudolph
C McCarthy
3
A Green
L Hendricks
B Carter
J Sheard
A Dalton
R Quinn
J Locker
Kaepernick
J White
D Scott
D Moore
G Jones
J Jernigan
J Cameron
M Wilson
K Hunter
A Clayborn
4
T Jones
C Shorts
DJ Williams
D Bowers
P Peterson
J Jarrett
D Lewis
J Mouton
E Royster
R Mallett
C Jordan
V Miller
N Paul
C Matthews
5
A Pettis
R Housler
A Ayers
Q Sturdivant
K Sheppard
S Ridley
A Smith
J Harper
D Harris
V Green
N Fairley
6
A Bradford
J Kerley
J Thomas
J Todman
L Stocker
R Kerrigan
B Harris
R Johnson
Q Carter
T Doss
JJ Watt
B Reed
S Keo
7
R Stanzi
C Spann
K Durham
L Smith
S Paea
M Dareus
J Houston
Amukamara
A Black
G McElroy
N Devine
K Pilares
D Nevis
C Liuget
A Dent
J Smith
R Moore
TJ Yates
A Robinson
C Ballard
C Heyward
Carter
R Dowling
J Hines
T Taylor
C Kenney
M Austin
D Moch
A Williams
D Searcy
N Enderle
Sanzenbacher
C Culliver
C Conte
T Tolliver
C Brown
C Prosinski
R Sands

I don't see any major changes for those in non-PPR leagues, although Jacquizz Rodgers and Jerrel Jernigan would be a few slots higher. Those in IDP leagues that give a premium to big plays will want to value Patrick Peterson, Aldon Smith and Robert Quinn accordingly. As a general default, I draft talent over opportunity and upside over a high floor, and I'm not afraid to trust my judgment on a second tier IDP over a third tier offensive player.

My big picture thoughts before examining the positional tiers more closely:

  • The first round goes a little deeper than I expected one month ago. I think there are six running backs with feature back potential (which I'd now argue is 18-25+ total touches per game and RB20 overall upside) and five wide receivers with WR2 or better upside (WR25 overall upside) and a reasonable chance of hitting that upside between now and early 2012.
  • But I think the second round is a mess. I'm not a big fan of the third tier of wide receivers or the muddled picture and/or questionable talent of many of the third and fourth tier running backs. Last year, I felt strongly that Emmanuel Sanders, Damian Williams, James Starks, Jonathan Dwyer, Aaron Hernandez and Daryl Washington deserved consideration at the top of the second round. This year, that "reach at least a half round for him" group might only include Vincent Brown. I like Johnny White, Alex Green and Bilal Powell, but I'm not ready to recommend reaching for them at the top of the second round. I like Greg Salas, Denarius Moore and Lance Kendricks, but I'm not rushing to ride shotgun on a high second round bandwagon for any of them either. And, with uncertainty surrounding the more intriguing linebackers, I'd rather let the second tier IDPs fall to me in the third round this year rather than pressing into the mid-late second for a must-have talent.
  • Finally, while we might eventually decide it wasn't as weak as it appears, this group of IDPs is as underwhelming as I can remember in 15 seasons. While I like the potential of a handful of linebackers and defensive ends, there's not a single first round prospect right now. Given the relative weakness in the second round, however, taking a late second round gamble on a linebacker who projects to good opportunity may still be a smart play.

Bottom line: Unless I had a pet running back or wide receiver target, I'd be looking to deal up into the top ten overall, or trade my second round pick for a veteran with upside, a package of middle round picks or look to get a 2012 second rounder and a later 2011 pick.

QUARTERBACK

I think Blaine Gabbert has the best fantasy profile in this year's class. I don't love the situation (coach and coordinator on the hot seat, lack of weapons in the passing game), but Gabbert's long term QB1 upside (QB8-QB12 overall) make him a viable late first round pick if you're not in love with the seventh or eighth running back or fourth or fifth receiver on your board. Though I said that I value upside in the introduction, I think there's too much work to be done with Cam Newton. He may be the next Steve Young or Steve McNair, but he may never be NFL ready and his surrounding cast is beyond weak. The risk-reward isn't worth more than a mid-late second rounder. I'd rather bet on Christian Ponder as a long term QB2 with upside. Andy Dalton and Jake Locker are reasonable values if they fall to the third.

RUNNING BACK

He may not have elite top end speed or athleticism but Mark Ingram has vision, balance, instincts around the hole and power. The depth chart may look a little crowded in New Orleans, but there's only one guy with feature back potential on the roster. The Saints only scored nine rushing touchdowns last year, but had 19 in 2008 and 2009 and boast one of the league's most consistent run-blocking offensive lines. Ingram has 1600 yard, 15 TD capability for the foreseeable future. He's the clear RB1 over Ryan Williams and he'd be my 1.01 pick unless you're in a shallow league that requires only one starting running back. That's not to say I don't like Williams; he's dead even with Julio Jones on my draft board.

I may end up in the minority, but I like Delone Carter in Indianapolis. He's a good fit for the zone running scheme, projects well enough as a receiver and has a great chance to slam the door on the slow-to-comearound Donald Brown. If he gains Peyton Manning's trust on third down, he has RB1 potential. Daniel Thomas, Shane Vereen and Mikel Leshoure are extremely close. Leshoure may have the most talent, and I have him just above Daniel Thomas, who may have a better chance for true feature back duty. I think Vereen will be underrated because of the crowded New England depth chart, but he has a legitimate chance to become a 20 touch player on an elite offense. All six are strong first round selections.

I've got Demarco Murray floating in a mini-tier of his own. I have a nagging suspicion that he's another Dallas tease, but there's clearly an argument that he's just as much a lead back in the making as Carter, Leshoure, Thomas and Vereen. There's still more uncertainty in the next two tiers. I liked Alex Green, Bilal Powell, Johnny White and Da'Rel Scott before the draft. I'm not a fan of any of their situations today, but I can make a strong argument for the long term upside of all four.

I have Roy Helu and Jacquizz Rodgers much lower than they are likely to go. Helu will get lots of love as the "next Shanahan back" but he's not super-talented and it's too big of a headache chasing Shanahan backs if they aren't Terrell Davis or Clinton Portis talents. If he fell to the late second I'd draft him, with a plan to move him as soon as he had anything resembling a breakout performance. Rodgers runs bigger than his size, but he's not a feature back. Kendall Hunter and Dion Lewis would get as much as a full tier/round upgrade if you're holding Frank Gore or LeSean McCoy. I might reach for Hunter in the second if I owned Gore and my roster was otherwise stacked for a playoff run.

WIDE RECEIVER

Julio Jones has the better quarterback and won't see any safeties rolled to his side with Roddy White drawing attention, but AJ Green is the better receiving talent and a much better bet to see 140 or more targets over the long haul. I think Green is the 1.02 pick behind Ingram. The Williams-Jones decision comes down to whether you're looking for risk-reward RB1 upside or a near lock WR2 for your roster. I like Greg Little and would consider him with the 1.05. Little has a WR1 ceiling, but there are lots of cold Sundays against pressure defenses in the AFC Central. With Colt McCoy under center, Little is likely to be prone to plenty of week-to-week inconsistency. Don't typecast Randall Cobb as a slot receiver. With James Jones and Donald Driver on the way out soon, Cobb could have 120-130 target, stud possession receiver potential with Aaron Rodgers. He's absolutely worth a mid first round pick.

The third tier of wide receivers is loaded with bust risk. Jonathan Baldwin, Leonard Hankerson and Torrey Smith may all be top 20 wide receivers by 2013. Or they may all go the way or Reggie Williams, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Devin Thomas and Dwayne Jarrett. Vincent Brown has the surrounding cast, the quarterback, the route running skills and the hands. I think he's the best value of the group, but he isn't without risk either. If I get locked into a high second round pick and one of the backs or Baldwin doesn't slide to me, Brown will likely be my target. I've got Titus Young, Edmond Gates, Greg Salas graded as late second, early third targets. Young is a nice fit for the Detroit offense in theory, but Calvin Johnson should still be the first option to stretch the field and Jahvid Best and Brandon Pettigrew are solid underneath options. I don't see enough targets to support Young as more than an inconsistent WR3/4. Further down the list, I think Denarius Moore, Cecil Shorts and Niles Paul could be nice mid-round values while Jerrel Jernigan (I don't buy the offensive fit) and Austin Pettis (may not do anything well enough to see WR2/3 level targets) will likely be drafted well before I'd consider them.

I'll defer to Matt Waldman and Sigmund Bloom on the UDFAs as usual and recommend Cameron Kenney, Dane Sanzenbacher and Terrence Tolliver as players worth monitoring during camp as the next Blair White, Danario Alexander scheme-situation-skill match.

TIGHT END

I liked last year's class much better than this group. Kyle Rudolph is a better player than some gave credit before the draft, but I think his ceiling is a low level TE1. Lance Kendricks might be the better prospect if the Rams target him often in play action and from the slot. Sam Bradford hit a number of deep crossing routes to his tight ends last season on play action boot legs and Kendricks is a much better athlete. Jordan Cameron is a tier behind them, but it'll take longer for him to arrive and I think he's less likely to hit his ceiling.

Like everyone else, I'm disappointed in how the draft unfolded for Virgil Carter and DJ Williams. Williams still deserves consideration in the fourth round (and possibly sooner) with the potent Green Bay offense and Jermichael Finley a potential free agent after the 2011 season. Julius Thomas has upside, but I expect Carter to see more targets in 2011 and possibly 2012. John Fox and Mike McCoy historically haven't relied on the tight end, but that may be a function of talent as much as philosophy. There were years when the combination of Donte Rosario and Jeff King saw 70-80 targets combined. One of the new Denver tight ends could still have TE2 value.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

If you're in a league that uses defensive tackles as a separate lineup position, it's reasonable to consider Nick Fairley as early as the mid-fifth round and Stephen Paea in the seventh. I'm not sold that either are sure bets to get 80 percent or more of their team's snaps, or that either will be consistent 40 solo or six sack players. I missed on Ndamukong Suh's upside last year, but don't expect those numbers from the top producing rookie DT every season.

DEFENSIVE END

There are five or six strong defensive end candidates this year. But rookie 4-3 defensive ends have a steep physical learning curve as they get taught a weekly lesson in leverage by the league's veteran offensive tackles. And though the league is trending toward 1-gap 3-4 fronts and allowing those ends to get upfield rather than hold their ground, it's an uphill battle to fill up the box scores from the 3-4. Those concerns mean that high upside 4-3 ends like Jabaal Sheard (who moves into a situation with immediate opportunity in Cleveland) and Robert Quinn carry lots of risk before the third round. Da'Quan Bowers slid on draft weekend, but he still has DL1 upside. If you're comfortable waiting on him while the Buccaneers ease him into a rotation, he's also a consideration in the third.

LINEBACKER

There's no clear first rounder like Rolando McClain, Jerod Mayo or Patrick Willis in this draft. I'm not certain that there's a high second rounder like DeMeco Ryans or Daryl Washington or Lawrence Timmons either. I have a mid-second round grade on Nate Irving, who seems likely to beat out Joe Mays and become an every-down player in Denver. But I'm not convinced he'll cover or pursue well enough to become a consistent LB1. Mason Foster and Colin McCarthy could be in line for every-down duty and LB2 upside if their teams decide to move on from their current veteran MLBs. Bruce Carter may see fewer than 100 snaps in 2011, but he could follow Timmons' career path and become a dynamic WILB with big play upside.

I think the scouting reports on Greg Jones resemble those of Kirk Morrison and London Fletcher. The same conditions that favored a mid-round flyer on Phillip Dillard last season make Jones (who is a better talent than Dillard) a worthwhile upside bet in the late third this year. Martez Wilson carried a high pre-draft scouting grade, but he'll have trouble racking up tackles at SLB, even as an every-down player. In the later rounds, I'd rather bet on Jonas Mouton (possible every-down ILB in SD) or Von Miller's pass rush upside in Denver than Akeem Ayers or one of the 3-4 rush OLBs. If your league gives a premium for sacks, bump Aldon Smith and Von Miller into the third round and consider a developmental flyer on Pittsburgh's Chris Carter if you have a taxi squad slot.

CORNERBACK

Patrick Peterson has the skill set to produce after his rookie corner value falls off next year. Speculation that he'll have to move to safety later in his career shouldn't worry you either. Brandon Harris should start right away in Houston and is the only other draftable corner, whether you're in a CB-required league or not.

SAFETY

Jaiquawn Jarrett should pick up where Quintin Mikell left off in Philadelphia. He's not Eric Berry or LaRon Landry, but is a high floor (DB3) prospect with DB2 or better upside. Quinton Carter is probably a year away but makes sense as a late round pick in deeper leagues with developmental space.

If free agency begins soon and teams have OTAs, I'll update this feature in the coming weeks for those with late spring and early summer rookie drafts. As always, questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to bramel@footballguys.com, and you can follow me on Twitter. Thanks for reading.

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