The consensus rookie rankings at Footballguys are one of the strongest features we produce each season. However, despite embedded commentary, the consensus rankings can be light on context. If you look carefully, you can see tiers, but it can be difficult to compare players within their position and across multiple positions.
Knowing that Player X is the consensus RB3 is clear from the rankings. Knowing how nearly Player X was to being ranked RB2 or RB6, or how Player X 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 but also shows the value of one position relative to another across my draft board.
NOTES ON THE DRAFT BOARD
**The first version of this feature is based on limited information. Coaching comments, mini-camp observations, debate within the fantasy community, and the clarity that comes from testing this board in my own drafts will bring changes to future versions.
**I build this draft board with the following league parameters in mind: 12-14 teams, PPR, balanced IDP scoring, and full IDP lineups that include defensive tackles and cornerbacks. The commentary that follows the draft board will sometimes address modifications for leagues that provide bonuses for tight end scoring, big play IDP systems, etc.
**There may be more than 12-14 players listed in a given draft round. That's a function of the tiering approach. It's also a natural reflection of the wide range of ADP valuations we always see as a rookie draft moves into the deeper rounds. In some years, there may be fewer than 10-12 players in a draft round. Drafting trends may change from year-to-year, but it’s important to recognize when it’s more correct to trade for a future pick than to reach for a clearly less valuable talent now.
**This board reflects my personal drafting philosophy. I prioritize upside over floor within tiers. I'm willing to accept a higher bust risk in all rounds. I prefer to draft players who are likely to be successful sooner if other variables are equal. And I'm not afraid to trust my evaluations of defensive players and draft a second tier IDP over a third tier offensive prospect -- regardless of positional scarcity.
**I do not personally evaluate offensive skill position prospects. I spend the majority of my preparation watching and discussing defensive prospects. The offensive columns of this draft board are informed by the in-depth process and work of Matt Waldman, Matt Harmon, Sigmund Bloom, Cecil Lammey, as well as Josh Norris, Dane Brugler, Emory Hunt, and Ryan Riddle. I have also relied on the rankings of Bob Henry and Jason Wood at Footballguys for years. If you have other evaluators on your short list and they differ greatly from this board, tweak accordingly.
The draft board is designed to be read top to bottom and left to right. Each position is tiered from top to bottom in its own column. Separations within the columns represent relative tiers and the players are ranked by preference within those tiers. Relative value between positions can be tracked from left to right. The "suggested" draft rounds are based on my view of a player's value, with some consideration given to keeping the number of players with a given draft round grade to a reasonable total.
Positional commentaries can be found after the draft board.
|K Dixon||M Thomas NO|
|D Henry||S Shepard|
|J Goff||W Fuller|
|2||C Wentz||D Booker|
|P Perkins||M Jack|
|J Howard||D Lee|
|3||T Boyd||A Hooper||J Smith|
|L Carroo||T Higbee|
|J Payton||H Henry||S Cravens|
|M Thomas LA|
|C Jones||R Higgins||J Bosa||J Ramsey|
|CJ Prosise||B Miller||N Spence|
|4||K Marshall||C Moore||D Jones||K Neal|
|R Louis||K Joseph|
|C Peake||R Ragland|
|5||D Robinson||L Floyd|
|T Ervin||T Sharpe||N Vannett||S Rankins|
|6||M Boehringer||J Adams|
|7-FA||C Kessler||K Drake||S Devalve||D Buckner||S Wright||J Cash|
|C Cook||R Nkemdiche||BJ Goodson||D Thompson|
|C Hackenberg||J Bullard||M Killebrew|
|D Prescott||J Hargrave||V Bell|
|K Hogan||Dw Washington||K Listenbee||T Hemingway||T Holmes||V Butler||J Perry||E Apple||S Davis|
|Watch||J Brissett||A Collins||K Reynolds||D Morgan||C Tapper||M Collins||N Vigil||M Alexander||KJ Dillon|
|List||V Adams||W Smallwood||A Burbridge||T Duarte||J Ward||K Clark||B Martinez||W Jackson||J Simmons|
|P Barber||D Lucien||C Jones||A Robinson||J Brown||V Hargreaves||TJ Green|
|D Lasco||M Mathews||R Blair||J Reed||D Campbell||K Fuller||T Powell|
|T Davis||B Kaufusi||S Day||A Morrison||A Burns|
|D Cajuste||V Valentine||K Brothers||W Redmond|
|K Lawler||H Ridgeway||K Dodd||C Jones|
|J Marshall||K Fackrell||J Bradberry|
|K Garrett||E Ogbah||T Young|
***You can view a cleaner image of the draft board with full player names and teams here. Email me at email@example.com and I'll send an Excel file to those who'd like to modify this draft board to better fit your player evaluations, draft philosophy, and league parameters.
THE BIG PICTURE
There’s talent at the top of this rookie class.
Ezekiel Elliott brings every-down talent to a Dallas offense that offers elite opportunity. He’ll rightly be projected to a higher rookie rushing projection than we’ve seen in years and is a no-brainer 1.01 selection. There will be differing views on whether LaQuon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, or Josh Docston belongs at the top of the wide receiver group, but all three have a very favorable floor-ceiling combination.
After that, it’s an extremely thin year.
While there are certain to be players who have long periods of fantasy success in the 15-30 range of this year’s draft, there’s no one I’m excited enough to stand on the table and make a draft priority. In fact, I’ve added a blank tier line after 20 players this year. The 3-5 players above that line would probably receive second round grades in most years, but are relative weak second rounders. Many of the players I have tiered underneath that line as “third round grades” are closer to fourth round values in most years.
As is so often the case, then, my advice is to use your second, third, and fourth round picks as capital if possible. Overpay to get 1.01 if possible. Convert those picks into 2017 picks. Trade for established options with some upside. If you’re unable to move those picks, identify the running backs and wide receivers with the highest ceiling and take your shot there. If you’ve got multiple picks in those rounds from previous trades and cannot consolidate them into a higher pick, strongly consider taking a flyer on Myles Jack or Jaylon Smith before the third round.
Fifteen teams drafted a quarterback. Another handful added one as an undrafted free agent or minicamp invitee.
I would consider drafting Jared Goff or Carson Wentz in the late first or early second round. Neither quarterback has a surrounding cast ready-made for success. Waldman rates Goff's pocket presence and throwing accuracy above Wentz. It's enough for me to give him the nod here. I think there's an argument to grade Wentz closer to Paxton Lynch (and Cardale Jones). If you strongly prefer to draft backs or receivers over quarterbacks, you'll want to move Wentz into the late second round tier.
Cardale Jones is a tough read. He may easily have been a first round pick had he declared for the draft after his strikingly impressive three-game run at the end of 2014. After struggling through 2015 and losing his starting job to J.T. Barrett, his stock dropped just as quickly. But the 2014 tape still exists. I think he has more long-term potential than many of the eight quarterbacks drafted before him. After seemingly settling on Tyrod Taylor last year, the Bills are in no hurry to extend last year's starter. I don't know when or where Jones will get his shot to start -- good luck figuring Rex Ryan out here -- but I give him a better chance at earning a second contract as a starting quarterback than anyone below him on this board.
I asked Waldman during our recap of the late rounds whether Cody Kessler or Kevin Hogan was more likely to get a second contract. He answered Hogan. That gives me pause, but Hue Jackson is already hellbent on proving that Kessler is the answer in Cleveland. Jackson put the hard sell on the Cleveland media after the selection, saying "Trust me on this." The most common comparison on Kessler from quarterback evaluators is a poor man's Andy Dalton. Specifically, he's expected to make better decisions but has a weaker arm than Dalton. That's not inspiring.
I'm not interested in Christian Hackenberg. No one I trust likes his pocket presence when facing pressure or accuracy. The physical tools are there, but if the scouting reports are correct he's unlikely to put them to effective use. I won't talk anyone out of taking a chance on Connor Cook in an earlier round. But it's going to be hard to rehabilitate his image behind an ever-improving Derek Carr. Vernon Davis is worth watching if he survives a tryout with the Seahawks. He won't stay on my short list if he leaves Seattle without a free agent deal.
Just four running backs were drafted in the first three rounds this year. Whether this is an indication that NFL evaluators were unimpressed by the talent available, another indication of the trend away from lead backs, or a sign that many teams are still evaluating the deep class of backs added to rosters last year -- or a combination of these factors and more -- isn't clear.
Whatever the reason, it makes for an underwhelming group of fantasy prospects.
Ezekiel Elliott will be the consensus first overall pick this year. Sigmund Bloom is already saying he'll rank him third overall in redraft leagues this year. Elliott is exceptionally talented, scheme-diverse, NFL ready on passing downs, and will be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. If you've got the 1.01, keep it. If you don't, make a strong effort to get it.
After Elliott, I expect the next five rookie running backs off the board to be Kenneth Dixon, Derrick Henry, Devontae Booker, Paul Perkins, and Jordan Howard. They may not be drafted in that order -- I think Henry has enough buzz to be the RB2 by ADP despite what looks like a rough landing spot in Tennessee. If drafting purely on upside, Henry should be your RB2.
I'm likely to be high on Dixon here. But I like the fit in Baltimore. The Ravens aren't shy about running the ball and have Justin Forsett entering his age-31 season. I like Buck Allen, but Dixon has similar upside as a pass-catching back. If things break right, Dixon could be an 18+ touch player soon.
I have Booker, Perkins, and Howard in my third tier, with no clear preference among them, and no one else with better than a fourth round grade. C.J. Prosise interests me but has work to do to become more than a passing down back. He'll have to develop well to beat out Thomas Rawls for more than a series here and there and the Seahawks added an intriguing Alex Collins late in the draft. Jonathan Williams caught the eye of many before his foot injury but lands on one of the more crowded depth charts in the league in Buffalo. Keith Marshall went in the seventh round to Washington, but could challenge Matt Jones for touches quickly.
I'm generally not high on change-of-pace backs. Deandre Washington could work his way into an 8-15 touch per game player in Oakland. I like him better than Tyler Ervin, who may struggle to be more than a special teams player in Houston, and Kenyan Drake.
I like LaQuon Treadwell over Corey Coleman in both the short and long term but won't argue with those who feel differently. Josh Doctson has a similar ceiling, but may take longer to work his way to the top of a more crowded depth chart. I would draft any of the three over Dixon and Henry today.
There's a mini-tier break after the top three. Michael Thomas, Sterling Shepard, or Malcolm Mitchell could become his team's WR1, but are more likely to be 100-110 target complementary players. I love Shepard, but his ceiling is capped next to Odell Beckham. Mitchell may finally break New England's string of disappointing draft picks at this position, but will have to be special to win a consistent 8-10 targets next to Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.
I'm interested to see how low I am on Will Fuller. I have worries about how he'll respond to press or bracket coverage and whether his quarterback will continue to throw to him if drops remain an issue. He's a boom-bust prospect next to DeAndre Hopkins. There is opportunity for Tyler Boyd in Cincinnati, but he'll likely never be more than an inconsistent third option in the passing game. I like Leonte Carroo's scouting report, but I'm wary of his destination. DeVante Parker is the likely long-term WR1 in Miami, Jarvis Landry is a target hound, and Jordan Cameron will also draw attention from Ryan Tannehill.
In the middle rounds, I'm drawn to the upside of Jordan Payton, Los Angeles' Michael Thomas, and Charone Peake. Payton plays faster than he times, Thomas has the skill set to develop into a WR1, and Peake could be a more well-rounded receiver than he showed at Clemson when he returns to health. There is lots of upside throughout this tier, with Rashard Higgins, Braxton Miller, Ricardo Louis and Demarcus Robinson also showing promise if they can refine their game.
This should be a strong class of fantasy tight ends. Unfortunately, it's rare for a tight end to be successful statistically in their rookie season. There are three potential exceptions this year. I have to list them separately, but they are essentially on the same line for me.
Austin Hooper has a strong chance to develop into Julio Jones' complementary option between the numbers, but Devonta Freeman will keep Hooper's target count from reaching Tony Gonzalez heights. Tyler Higbee is arguably the best receiver in this group but it will take time to sort out the Rams' messy depth chart. Hunter Henry has the best offensive situation but isn't a favorite to displace Antonio Gates until 2017 and beyond.
Jerell Adams has intriguing upside and I may not be the only one who tiers him near (or above) Nick Vannett. Emory Hunt covers small school college football in the Northeast very closely. He's compared Seth Devalve to Travis Kelce. There are durability concerns with the Ivy Leaguer, but you're looking for that kind of upside with your late round picks. Temarrick Hemingway and David Morgan are also developmental projects with upside as receivers.
The Chargers are currently saying Joey Bosa will play defensive end. Since they've primarily been a 3-4 team recently, that's not reassuring for Bosa, who weighed 269 at the combine. But the Chargers are also saying they expect Bosa to put on weight and want him to play at whatever weight he's most comfortable. That's a little more reassuring. Bosa is already technically sound against the run and has shown he can impact the pocket regularly despite not being a pure speed rusher. If the Chargers move to more 4-3 looks on base defensive downs or align Bosa favorably as a 1-gap player in their 3-4, there's hope for 8+ sacks and 40+ tackles. But don't count on it in year one.
Noah Spence is the draft's best pure edge rusher. The fit in Tampa Bay is excellent and the depth chart sets up favorably for a 700+ snap season. But Spence will have to be much better at shedding blockers and more interested in pursuing off the backside to generate enough tackles to have value in balanced leagues. Push him over Bosa in sack-heavy leagues.
Shaq Lawson, Leonard Floyd, Kevin Dodd, Emmanuel Ogbah, Carl Nassib, and others were drafted by teams who will likely use them primarily at linebacker, leaving the pickings slim again this year. What's left are a handful of 5-technique prospects with some upside. DeForest Buckner, Robert Nkemdiche, Jonathan Bullard, and Javon Hargrave could all see added value if their teams choose to move them inside in subpackages and give them more shots at the quarterback.
Keep Tyrone Holmes, Charles Tapper, and Ronald Blair on your watch lists. None will have value this year, but profile as strong development prospects.
This year's class of interior line prospects was strong and deep. Some were drafted to schemes where they'll be used as defensive ends. Others will be productive rotational players without much statistical upside. Sheldon Rankins is the only tackle I have with a draftable grade currently. He's a penetrating talent with pass rush upside who should see enough snaps to have value. While he's not in the same class as Aaron Donald or Geno Atkins, Rankins could have value next to Cam Jordan and Hau'oli Kikaha immediately.
Behind Rankins, there are many tackles worth following. Vernon Butler and Maliek Collins are potential 3-technique tackles with upside. Kenny Clark, A'Shawn Robinson, and Jarran Reed are potential adds in tackle-heavy leagues if they can earn enough snaps to hit reasonable tackle thresholds.
The injury situations muddying the picture for Jaylon Smith and Myles Jack are unfortunate. Both would carry mid-first round grades if fully healthy as stud every-down talents. Jack has been described as a faster Ray Lewis. That's a stretch, but Jack showed everything you want to see on tape before his injury. He plays with the downhill and physical nature of an inside linebacker and the fluidity and coverage ability of a safety. Smith wasn't as strong between the tackles, but his range and coverage ability were strikingly impressive before his injury.
Jack fell to the second round due to concerns about a degenerative knee condition. I've written about the uncertainty with Jack extensively on Twitter over the past two weeks, but the take home points are these: Jack is nearly back in condition after meniscus surgery last fall. There is a good chance he'll need microfracture surgery at some point in his career, but it's impossible to say whether he'll play two months, two years, five years, or longer before surgery is necessary.
Jack's immediate situation in Jacksonville looks crowded. It's likely the Jaguars will start Jack on the strongside, but he's likely the heir to Paul Posluszny at middle linebacker if his health holds out. And you can reliably project a healthy Jack alongside Telvin Smith in subpackages. I've downgraded Jack to a high second round grade due to alignment and durability questions. Multiple top ten fantasy linebacker seasons are within reach if his knee holds up and the Jaguars move him inside.
Smith wasn't expected to be drafted until the third day of the draft. The Cowboys, presumably with the strong blessing of their team physician, snapped Smith up in the early second round. Even though Dallas' team physician did Smith's surgery and is intimately involved with his rehab, don't immediately jump to the conclusion that Smith's injury isn't as severe as feared. Only four months into his rehab, Smith and his rehab team still have no way to know whether his peroneal nerve will fully recover. Smith has a long recovery ahead and the last few weeks are critical. Smith may make a remarkable recovery and get 95% of his nerve function back -- and never be the same player. The Cowboys are betting Smith recovers as Sean Spence did.
If Smith recovers, there is no better fit for him than the Tampa-2 like scheme run by the current Dallas coaching staff. On tape, Smith compares very favorably to Derrick Brooks, who played Smith's presumptive role to Hall of Fame levels. I gave Smith an early third round grade, which is crazy low for his upside and crazy high for his downside. If you look at the draft board horizontally, however, you'll again see that the late second through mid third round tiers are full of maybe and hope-sos. I freely admit I'm rooting for Smith more than most prospects over the years, but if I'm still holding a pick in that range, I'm taking the risk.
I have Darron Lee slotted between Jack and Smith. Lee has speed and range, but he's not as physical as you'd like and his coverage ability doesn't always match his athleticism. On tape, he looked like a 4-3 weak side linebacker who would be most productive if kept clean and allowed to pursue. In New York, he'll be a 3-4 inside linebacker. While we are years removed from default fears over 3-4 fronts limiting upside, there's still reason to be concerned when flow-and-chase talents go to defenses where they'll have to shed blocks frequently. However, the Jets aren't your usual 3-4 front, with Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, and Leonard Williams making it extremely difficult for offensive lines to get to the second level. And Lee will have David Harris playing a Bart Scott like role next to him. I have concerns with Lee, but he's a fine second round pick.
Deion Jones profiles as an every-down weak side linebacker, but may not have a long career unless he cleans up some technical issues. I'm not sure what to think of Su'a Cravens. His tape was alternately disappointing and exciting and he's less of a 3-4 inside linebacker than Lee. He'll start as a subpackage linebacker. Whether he'll grow into a 3-4 weak inside linebacker or strong safety remains to be seen. Washington has now given him a defensive back jersey number and expecting him to compete at safety. Reggie Ragland was as impressive between the tackles as Jack, but has little chance to earn an every-down role. Scooby Wright and B.J. Goodson have major deficiencies, but were productive college players and have strong depth chart opportunities.
Josh Perry needs to be more physical but his measurables are good and Manti Te'o may not be in San Diego in 2017. After a season in an NFL weight program, Nick Vigil could turn his speed and instincts into an every-down role and make IDP owners forget the slower and less instinctive Paul Dawson. Blake Martinez is the latest inside linebacker to track in Green Bay. Jatavis Brown will apparently work with the linebacker group in San Diego, but could be a Deone Bucannon/Mark Barron type player in time.
There are a handful of rush linebackers to track, led by Shaq Lawson and Leonard Floyd. Lawson's ceiling is hard to peg, but he could become a Terrell Suggs type player. I don't know what Floyd is yet. He's an athlete with pass rush upside, but those types don't always translate to NFL and fantasy production. Kevin Dodd and Kyler Fackrell head my rush linebacker watch list. I'm not a fan of Carl Nassib despite his college production last year.
Jalen Ramsey will play outside on base downs and come inside on passing downs. That's a strong recipe for fantasy production. Teams won't avoid him with Prince Amukamara on the opposite side, so the rookie corner rule will be firmly in play. The only downside here is the exceptional sideline-to-sideline range the Jaguars could have with a healthy Myles Jack and Telvin Smith.
The rest of this year's class have free agent / watch list grades. Eli Apple, Mackenzie Alexander, and Will Jackson have the best combination of run support ability and ball skills. Kendall Fuller may join them if his knee recovers.
There are two safeties with draftable grades, but as many as ten players in this class could have DB2+ value in time. Keanu Neal, who was drafted to play a Kam Chancellor-like role for Dan Quinn, and Karl Joseph, who will play in the box behind a questionable group of off-ball linebackers in Oakland, should have your attention after the mid-third round.
Since publishing, Washington has assigned Su'a Cravens a jersey number for defensive backs and strongly hinted he'll compete to start at safety while working in as a dime linebacker. If Cravens earns both roles and plays full time while classified as a defensive back, he'll have DB1 upside immediately. I've moved him from the linebacker tiers to the top line of the safety tier. He can be considered as early as the late second round.
Jeremy Cash went undrafted but landed in Carolina after strong competition for his services as an undrafted free agent. The depth chart at safety is favorable for him, but he'll have steep competition for tackles and isn't more than a priority watch list candidate. The same goes for Darian Thompson, Miles Killebrew, Vonn Bell, and Sean Davis, who could all see snaps early this year. K.J. Dillon is the next Houston safety with upside and Justin Simmons interests me as an in the box player in Denver.
Follow and ask questions on Twitter @JeneBramel. Reading the Defense will be a regular feature this offseason with free agent commentary, draft prospect previews, tier discussion, links to our offseason IDP roundtable podcasts and much more. Subscribe to The Audible on iTunes or download our IDP podcast here.