Footballguys has 14 staff members ranking the rookies for your dynasty rookie drafts. One of the biggest strengths of our staff is that we have a diverse group of thinkers who approach fantasy football from every conceivable angle and background and apply their experience and knowledge to the task in their own unique way. This leads to a lot of diversity in rankings, which in turn leads to a diversity of perspectives about players' futures and how to evaluate them.
We asked our rookie rankers to explain their metholodogy in creating rookie rankings and give their reasons for some of their rankings that fall far away from the norm. Here are the results:
I start with intense film study of the entire rookie class during the months of January through April. The most important things to look for are whether this player's style of play will translate to the NFL (possessing good enough physical tools, precise execution, intensity and consistency among other things), and whether their skillset is fantasy-friendly (good hands out of the backfield, red zone proficiency, playmaking ability, and long speed among other things). Before the draft, I rank the players based on these factors. In addition, this period is important for gathering information about the player's durability, character, and other characteristics that are not observable on film.
After the draft, my rankings then change based on destination and draft slot. Draft slot can confirm or deny concerns about a player pre-draft (such as Eddie Lacy's durability or Da'Rick Rogers' character), and it also demonstrates the level of commitment and evaluation of quality that a team has applied to a player. Destination is important for determining short and long-term opportunity, fit / role, and quality of surrounding offense.
As news from OTAs / minicamp / training camp / preseason rolls in, the rankings will continue to evolve and incorporate what we are learning about this group.
One of the best aspects of fantasy football is the opportunity to outthink NFL personnel men. We all love to second guess every move by the league's front offices and also seem to have a conveniently short memory when it comes to our own mistakes. Dynasty leagues add a much needed element to our hobby in that it allows us to test our assertions through a longer lens, which is fitting considering NFL drafts shouldn't be graded for at least three years after the names are called at Radio City Music Hall.
When I'm evaluating rookies, it's important to strike a balance between the impact they're likely to have immediately with the potential for greatness over the course of their career. I pay a LOT of attention to team depth charts and coaching tendencies. A running back may be the most talented player on film, but if he's drafted to a team with a young, franchise runner that's going to weigh against him. In general, I try to balance expected roles and talent, with an eye toward what I think a player can do in a 3-year window. The only position I handle differently is quarterback, because I believe a quarterback's value is tied to a much longer window.
Over the past two years, I have developed a rookie projection system based on analytics. College production, physical attributes, and finally draft position are combined in proportion to their predictive strength at each skill position. That formula produces a score for each player, which drives the initial rankings of NFL rookies. With the state of rookie contracts and the high-level of control an NFL team has over a rookie's early years, situation is absolutely a factor. In terms of draft position, each position has a different value curve in terms of success rate by draft round. The initial investment by a franchise will dicate how many chances an underperforming or slow-developing player will receive.
The historical value of rookie picks include a steep drop-off after the first few selections. That hit-or-miss nature means the later picks are all about upside and potential ceiling. Drafting a receiver that has a ceiling of WR40 or a running back that may develop into a role player means they will clog up the back-end of fantasy roster. I do not believe in addressing team needs through a rookie draft as few develop into weekly starters in their first season. Regardless of the roster composition, a best player method is used in developing the positional and overall rookie rankings.
My methodology of ranking rookies is broken down into three sections, each of which are critical components of an overall assessment. I look at these three areas, with one being the most important or vital factor in determining a player's fantasy worth as a rookie:
- An assessment of the player's skills and abilities from his college game. This also includes injury history.
- Opportunity – Does the player have an opportunity to make an impact right away? Where does the player fit in the pecking order of involvement? Where does the player fall on the depth chart?
- The team that drafts him – this includes coaching staff, past history of success (or failure) drafting a particular position.
In my opinion, talent wins out and therefore is the biggest indicator for me. Without talent, opportunity and the team that drafts you, means nothing. The opportunity that is presented is a big factor. A player may not be the best in his rookie class at his position, but if he is going to see an abundance of snaps, targets or carries, he has value. That may be more value than a player who has greater athleticism and skills, especially if the more athletic player is blocked on the depth chart. Lastly, the team that makes the selection is also something to take into consideration. Certain teams have a history of success as well as failures at certain positions. For example, the New England Patriots have struggled to draft quality wide receivers lately. The Bengals have found it difficult finding a top notch running back, or the Jets inability to draft a franchise quarterback. Conversely certain teams or coaches have a knack for producing talent, like Mike Shanahan's ability to find the right running back for his system. Or Andy Reid's ability to groom productive quarterbacks. The team and coaching staff should not go unnoticed when ranking players.
All of these factors come into play when I formulate my rookie rankings. Over the course of rookie camps, OTAs, training camp and preseason I may decide to elevate or lower a player or players based on feedback that I'm receiving about the player, the team, the situation or a combination of the three. I try to look long term with a rookie, but at the same time it's difficult for me to provide a high ranking if the player needs time to develop, learn the position or wait for a spot on the depth chart to open up. Some people rank more to this effect, but I'm more of a "What can you do now?" type of evaluator. My rankings will reflect that.
I strongly believe that NFL front offices are much smarter and better at this than I am and that the draft is a relatively efficient marketplace. As a result, I allow draft position to heavily influence my rankings. Using draft position as a starting point, I'll adjust because my own risk tolerances will be different than an NFL franchise's; for example, I'll move "character concern" players up a bit, because if they flame out, I can just cut them, while NFL franchises are on the hook for millions.
After draft position, the other big factors I look for in a rookie (especially a rookie 3rd rounder or later) are upside and something I like to call "urgency". Upside is self explanatory - if a player in the third round or later cannot dramatically outperform his draft position, he'll never see my starting lineup. "Urgency" refers to how quickly we will gain more information about the player in question. Roster spots are valuable, and the longer you hold a player, the greater your opportunity cost in terms of what else you could have been doing with that roster spot. I prefer players where we'll get a good idea quickly what they're made of, so I'm not left tying up a roster spot indefinitely waiting for them to develop.
My “formula” for lack of a better word looks something like this:
(Raw Talent + Opportunity) / Team Factor = Rookie Value
First I look at the class as a whole from a strictly film standpoint. Since I watch a lot of these players closely, I have some very specific ideas about them by the time their drafted. Before we even get to Radio City, I have already got them slotted in my head as to where I think their raw talent is. This includes intangibles such as injury history, off the field issues, and ceiling or floor.
Of course, once you get drafted, it's a matter of adding in that opportunity factor. Who is in front of them? What are the chances they see the field? When they do where will they be in the pecking order for touches?
It's similar to what I call the Team Factor, but more centered on the player himself. For Team Factor, I'm also considering the type of offense the player has been plugged into, where he was selected and all the other little things that matter once you're on a team.
One word about including draft position in the actual draft — it may all depend on the player and the team. While it's more likely a first round running back will see the field before a third rounder, we've seen first rounders sit or struggle (David Wilson) and occasionally see mid to late rounders start. So it's a case by case basis but still important.
This draft I came in with three outside factors that definitely affected my rankings. First, it's not a strong quarterback class and one I wasn't willing to draft with a first round pick — even E.J. Manuel. I have a lot of concerns about Manuel, who will likely start this year which you will see in the comments on the rankings soon.
Second, I was going to rank Marcus Lattimore high. It's a case by case basis — you have to have a strong team to do this — but if you can sit him and he stays healthy, he may be the best back in the draft.
Third, I didn't love where the running backs landed in many cases, but like the chances of early production by wide receivers. Receivers struggle in many cases their first couple of years, but while this class lacked a firm elite talent, it has some very good players and to me they look like they landed in spots to contribute early in their careers.
Dynasty player values - especially for rookies - are not just about talent but also opportunity. First-year players are committed to their franchises for at least three - probably four - or more years with that organization. Even the best talents cannot surpass a stacked lineup of contracted veterans ahead of them and get adequate playing time for fantasy relevance. Don't believe me? Every original owner of Michael Turner knows exactly what I am talking about, as do Aaron Rodgers owners. Sure the value eventually comes - but how long must you wait for it to materialize? Talent and opportunity matter, almost at a 50-50 split.
With that in mind, I look at all the different components for both talent and opportunity to rank the rookies. Talent comes from better evaluators than I, from Matt Waldman, Sigmund Bloom, Jene Bramel and others here on the staff to the Mike Mayocks and Rob Rangs of the world. Adding upon that is their NFL Draft spot, which does matter when 32 teams pass on a guy for several rounds or move up to get his services. Opportunity factors in next with the team's depth chart, plus his environment (offensive line for a running back, quarterback and other targets as a receiver or tight end). Even the best talents can languish in bad locations. Putting all of those factors together plus my own take on what I have seen on a player gives me my ultimate Top 40-50 rookie list.
I use a loose formula for ranking rookies. First and foremost, I lean heavily on where the player is drafted by the team. I always assume the team has performed their due diligence on a player in order to know who is a great fit for the offensive scheme, and the team culture. The opportunity cost of the pick, and dollars spent on the player, should help a talented player play sooner and get every opportunity to prove himself. In general, I tend to value quarterbacks and tight ends higher than most others. This is because I see the cream rising sooner than later and a solid rookie pick in the third round of the rookie draft could be worth a first round pick in just a few weeks. In addition, these two positions value intangible skills which are sometimes overlooked in the evaluation process. Talented running backs and wide receivers are sometimes overdrafted in rookie drafts because of size, speed, or college production ... traits that do not automatically translate to the NFL. This pushes me toward quarterbacks and tight ends even more.
At quarterback, I weight heavily a chance to walk in and start. If we take a look at Manuel this year, he will be given the reins early on in Buffalo. While I may not think he has elite passing skills, the Bills loved Manuel and his ability to develop. The future of the new regime is now tied to the rookie passer. This is not the same for Geno Smith.
It is similar for the running back position. Few backs play a minor role as a rookie and then explode to fantasy stardom. Yes, it happens ... but is more of an exception than the rule. We usually know who has a bright future before the weather gets cold. So, while talent is very important, so is opportunity. Dynasty owners do not like burning roster spots waiting for backs like Jonathan Stewart to get his chance. For this reason, I will have a talented player like Christine Michael lower than others. Lynch and Turbin are both talented, so much so that the first round pick many are spending on Michael is too expensive for my taste.
For the wide receiver position, I like to look at the draft spot and situation. But, the rookie receivers this season are grouped tightly for me. The individual rankings at the position will change often in the coming weeks. I could make a case for as many as ten receivers to be the one with the best career at the professional level.
At the tight end position, I tend to value the athletic, undersized tight ends highest. These are the types of players who should make the most fantasy impact.
I rank rookies very similarly to how I rank all fantasy players. Talent + Opportunity = Fantasy Gold. We had a nice picture of the talent part of that equation in the weeks and months leading up to the draft with scouting reports on just about every fantasy-relevant rookie in the league. The opportunity part is only now beginning to sort itself out.
Players with paths of little to no resistance to starting roles are more attractive than players who appear to be entrenched in committees right away. Below are some players who I've ranked higher or lower than most of my fellow-staffers. In the descriptions as to why I've ranked them where I did, I'll shed more light on my thought processes and ranking methodologies.
Ranking dynasty rookies, especially right out of the gate is as much about gut feeling as it is having a specific system or formula. For me, it comes down to a lot of different factors, but it starts with a combination of talent and opportunity. Since I don’t have the bandwidth to watch of ton of game film like some of the other guys, I start by reading up on players the week before the draft. How do they grade, how are they trending and how well did they perform during the combine and on their pro days.
After the draft, I look at where a player was drafted. If an NFL team spent a 1st or 2nd round pick on a player, they are looking for him to contribute immediately. That feeds into a player’s opportunity – where do they rank on a team’s depth chart and who is in front of him. Guy who were drafted high, have higher talent and have the opportunity to contribute compared to the players around him will be ranked higher on my draft board because they will probably contribute immediately.
In the early rounds, I am looking at guys who will contribute immediately and have an impact. Will this guy start or be part of a starting committee? Can this guy crack the line-up sometime this season? These are guys that fantasy players will want to target early. Position does factor into it, if only because running backs have such a short shelf-life, and it’s hard for dynasty and keeper teams to be successful without a solid group of running backs. High talent, immediate impact wide receivers will find their way into my top picks, but I know from experience that it’s hard to build a strong dynasty teams without a strong running back corps.
Quarterbacks and tight ends are a bit more difficult to rank. For Quarterbacks, you have to look at the talent that they have around them. A solid quarterback with a poor offensive line or poor pass catchers will have a tough time making an impact and I’ll rank them a bit lower because of it. If a quarterback is more of a project player or is stuck behind a starting quarterback that isn’t going anywhere, I’ll downgrade the rookie quarterback as well. I have a hard time ranking a Tight End very high, regardless of their talent level. In most leagues, you’re only starting 12-16 tight ends a week compared to 24-32 or more running backs. Unless you inherited a team with a tight end deficiency or you’ve been riding an older veteran that has retired, your team probably has a serviceable tight end already. Drafting a stud TE1 won’t have as big of an impact on your team as drafting a strong RB2. The player may be worth a lot to your team, but taking them in the first round is passing up talent that will have a bigger impact.
Other factors that I consider when adjusting my rankings include: Does the team have a new coaching staff that is looking to correct mistakes in the past? Are the veteran players in front of the rookie coming off a bad season? Does the player’s skill set fit better in the system than it may have with other teams? Do the other players on that team at that position have injury problems? Will a high-talent player have to wait a season or two before getting their chance to contribute?
It’s definitely not a perfect system, but I feel like it gives me a framework to really evaluate how much a rookie can help your team.
Sigmund Bloom Outliers
RB Johnathan Franklin, GB (Staff Avg: 12.2 / Bloom Ranking: 6)
My general take on Lacy vs. Franklin and why I prefer Franklin is here. Lacy and Franklin were basically even in my pre-draft rankings, and even though Lacy went two rounds before Franklin, the fact that three teams took another back over him because of medical concerns is scary. Packers GM Ted Thompson traded up for Franklin, something he rarely does. The last two players he traded up for were 2012 rookie revelation Casey Hayward and aspiring hair model Clay Matthews. Franklin is a high character player with much better hands out of the backfield and a slashing style that should fit perfectly in Green Bay.
RB Montee Ball, Den (Staff Avg: 8.5 / Bloom Ranking: 13)
Ball's talent on film was frankly underwhelming compared to his collegiate production. He hasn't demonstrated great pass-blocking or receiving ability, and he's not a special runner in terms of size, speed, elusiveness, or vision. While the Denver offense can produce great running back numbers because of Peyton Manning and company, John Fox rookie running backs rarely live up to expectations. For that matter, Fox's use of running backs in general has been consistently vexing for fantasy owners. Manning also has strict expectations about pass blocking before he trusts a back to line up beside him regularly. Let someone else take him in the first round of your rookie draft.
WR Corey Fuller, Det (Staff Avg: 37.5 / Bloom Ranking: 27)
Fuller is a former track athlete who transferred from Kansas and really only got his football feet under him last year at Virginia Tech. He has bonafide deep speed, and his ball skills and hands are excellent for a track convert. Detroit's pass offense led the league in attempts last year, and all of the candidates to be their WR2 to begin this season are either hurt (Ryan Broyles) or mediocre (Nate Burleson, Mike Thomas). With Calvin Johnson keeping safeties and defensive coordinators occupied, Fuller should see single coverage against an opponent's weaker corner if he can get on the field. His combination of talent and opportunity is easily worth a third-round rookie draft pick.
The Patriots preferred Dobson to Boyce in the draft, but Boyce should emerge very quickly as the better receiver once his foot is healthy. Dobson has spectacular leaping ability and body control to make the difficult catch, but his hands and ball skills are inconsistent on easy catches. He was only the third-leading receiver at Marshall last year. Boyce is faster, and he has much better hands and consistency in his game. He was TCU's leading receiver by far last year on a run-first team. He also has the skillset to fill in for Danny Amendola in the slot if Amendola continues to struggle to stay healthy. Pass on Dobson in the second and take Boyce in the third.
Jason Wood Outliers
RB Eddie Lacy, GB (Staff Avg: 6.3 / Wood ranking: 1)
I can't tell you that Lacy's injury history doesn't scare me, but year in, year out we see running backs get hurt and lose roles. It's part and parcel with the position. With that said, Lacy showed the Packers enough to spend a second round selection on him – which is well within the area when a general manager expects a significant contribution. I know a lot of people think highly of fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin – and I like him too – but Franklin is a fourth-rounder and too small to be a feature back. That's an important consideration because Packers head coach Mike McCarthy much prefers a feature back approach to a committee situation. As long as Eddie Lacy is healthy, he's going to get the chance to be the Packers solution to a moribund running game. He has ability and a clear path to opportunity, which makes him an easy choice as my top rookie pick in dynasty drafts.
RB Montee Ball, Den (one of five staffers with Ball 10th or lower)
There are a few other Footballguys with lower rankings for the bruising former Wisconsin Badger, but I have him ranked 10th overall among all positional rookies – which is admittedly low. There are really three issues I have with Ball. One, while HIGHLY productive in college it's hard to get past the potency of that system and the fact that few backs from that system have turned into good pros. Two, his collegiate workload was monstrous. Three, and most importantly, he's playing on a John Fox-coached team with Peyton Manning at quarterback. I see next to no way Ball is going to be given a major role this year if the Broncos can help it, because he'll have to be an exemplary pass protector AND convince Fox to trust a rookie – something he's been loath to do as an NFL head coach. I'm also very high Ronnie Hillman – last year's draft choice – and believe he can be an every down impact player.
QB Tyler Wilson, Oak (Staff Avg: 32.7 / WOOD Ranking: 20)
Heading into the 2012 college football season, I believed Wilson was the most compelling pro prospect at the quarterback position. The soap opera at Arkansas derailed Wilson's trajectory a bit, but it did nothing to diminish his NFL future, because the skills are omnipresent. Wilson is hyper accurate, with excellent ball placement. His arm strength may not be elite, but it's better than many current NFL starters. He's not going to be forced into a dink and dunk scheme. He's shown good pocket awareness, impeccable mechanics, and a quick delivery. Add all those tools to the fact he's been drafted by the Oakland Raiders, and I see a quarterback that could easily be starting as early as Week 1 and certainly has a shot to be the opening day starter in 2014 unless Matt Flynn emerges as a franchise passer this year.
QB Ryan Nassib, NYG (Staff Avg: 61 / Wood Ranking: 39)
I was crushed when Jerry Reece chose Nassib in the fourth round. Not only because I'm an Eagles fan and hate to see the Giants add a quality young player, but also because it put Nassib's chances of making an instant impact moot. There's no question that the Giants drafted Nassib in order to groom a credible backup to Eli Manning. Manning is still in his prime and has been durable, meaning Nassib could hold a clipboard for years. But in dynasty leagues, you can't underestimate the value of holding onto TALENT at the quarterback position. The league has evolved and young quarterbacks are being asked to play at the highest level immediately. As a result, it's entirely feasible Nassib will be a hot commodity in a season or two simply by performing well in camp and preseason. I sincerely believe that Nassib will be an NFL starter for some team within a few years, and in the meantime I'm happy to have him on my bench just in case Manning gets hurt and Nassib gets the call.
Jeff Pasquino Outliers
WR Aaron Dobson, NE (Staff Avg: 24.5 / Pasquino Ranking: 16)
Dobson should have the inside track for the X-receiver spot for New England, a position held by Brandon Lloyd last season. Lloyd had 130 targets last year, and if Dobson can see only 60-70% of those targets, he should contribute well to the Patriots' cause in his rookie campaign. Dobson will compete with fellow rookie Josh Boyce for snaps, but with Boyce injured right now (broken foot), Dobson's sure-handedness (he did not drop a ball last year) and basketball background will give him the early edge to start this fall. Dobson had modest touchdown numbers last year at Marshall (just three scores) despite a career high 57 catches and 679 yards, but his 2011 totals (49 receptions for 668 yards and 12 touchdowns) plus his strong performance in the Senior Bowl along with a solid NFL Combine all caught the eye of the Patriots to snatch him up in Round 2 of the NFL Draft.
TE Jordan Reed, Was (one of five staffers with Reed 36th or higher)
One person I really listen to when it comes to evaluating players is Greg Cosell, who just effused praise when it came to Jordan Reed. Cosell compared him to Aaron Hernandez, which is high praise for sure. Others (such as Rob Rang) saw the positive comparisons between Hernandez and Reed as well, which stands out among tight ends not named Eifert or Ertz this year. Reed is not a big blocker, but he is a classic move tight end, which is all the rage now in today's NFL. The Redskins will find ways to get him open and get mismatches in coverage, and young quarterbacks love big, effective tight ends who can dominate the middle of the field – so look for Reed to become a favorite target for Robert Griffin III. Fred Davis is still penciled in as the starting tight end for Washington, but he is coming off of a ruptured Achilles tendon and has a four-game drug suspension on his record. Add in that this is Davis' last year of his contract, and I see Reed moving in as the top tight end for the Redskins no later than next fall.
TE Tyler Eifert, Cin (tied for third lowest staff ranking)
Tyler Eifert is considered to be one of the top two tight ends for this year's crop of rookies (along with Zach Ertz), but that does not mean that I have to love his fantasy outlook regardless of where he lands. The fact that Eifert was picked in the first round by the Bengals does mean that they really like him, but that doesn't mean he will be as productive as he would have been if he had landed in a more favorable situation like the Jets, the Raiders, Tampa Bay or even Buffalo. Eifert finds himself with a good quarterback in Andy Dalton, but I still think Cincinnati will keep Jermaine Gresham as the top starter this season and work Eifert in as their second option this year, with a camp battle between the two in 2014 in Gresham's last year under contract with the Bengals. Considering the other weapons either in their first (Giovani Bernard) or second season (Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu will battle to be the second wide receiver), the second tight end will be low on the food chain for targets. With so many other Top 12 fantasy tight end options around the league, I would hesitate to use a first round selection on Eifert in a rookie draft.
QB E.J. Manuel, Buf (Staff Avg: 15 / Pasquino Ranking: 18)
When I think of fantasy production, it takes a while for me to get all the way down to "Buffalo Bills quarterback" as a good idea when it comes to fantasy starters. E.J. Manuel was highly touted entering the 2013 NFL Draft, and Buffalo stepped up to the plate and took him in the first round – not at their original draft pick, but after moving down in the selection order. Manuel has the raw skills to become a productive fantasy quarterback with the dual threat of both throwing and running, much like a Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, or Colin Kaepernick – but Manuel does not just fall into a situation with a team that has tons of talent at the skill positions (or offensive line) to support a young quarterback. Manuel will compete with veteran Kevin Kolb to start at some point in 2013, and Manuel will likely earn that position at some point this year – but until the Bills develop another wide receiver aside from Stevie Johnson and also find a viable tight end to at least give Manuel two or three more options in the passing game, I would much rather have at least 20 other quarterbacks for my fantasy franchise for the foreseeable future.
Will Grant Outliers
WR Mark Harrison, Chi (highest staff ranking)
Harrison is an interesting pick from a dynasty prospective. He wasn't chosen in the draft, but he landed on a team that is in desperate need of improvement at the wide receiver position. His numbers last season at Rutgers were nothing to get excited about, but he has good size and speed and was a standout at this year's combine. With Devin Hester moving back to punt and kick returns, Chicago has three solid wide receivers and a bunch of other guys. If Harrison can improve on his dropped passes, he will have plenty of opportunity to make Chicago's roster and produce.
RB Le'Veon Bell, Pit (Staff Avg: 5 / GRANT Ranking: 2)
The Steelers had some challenges at running back last season, and no one really stood out as a guy that they could count on from week to week. Bell brings that battering ram size and style that Pittsburgh fans know and love. The starting job is his for the taking, and he should be able to secure that spot before the first regular season game. In a season where no running backs were chosen in the first round, a rookie RB that will probably start is hard to pass up.
RB Montee Ball, Den (Staff Avg: 8.5 / Grant Ranking: 5)
Cecil Lammey just wrote a great article about why rookie running backs don't flourish under John Fox right out of the gate. However, the Broncos have a lot of question marks at running back, and with Peyton Manning under center and one of the best receiver corps in the league, it's not as if Ball is going to be facing eight men in the box every week. The Broncos have Ronnie Hillman, but he's not a guy who is going to handle 200+ carries a season. Ball could step into a starting role on a team that could be the Super Bowl favorite this season.
WR Keenan Allen, SD (Staff Avg: 11.5 / Grant ranking: 14)
Allen has the physical skills to be a solid NFL receiver. But when San Diego drafted him in the third round this year, he didn't land in a situation that gives him much upside. San Diego's passing game took a huge hit last season, and they feel like a team that has already peaked and they are on a downward slide. With Malcom Floyd, Denario Alexander, and Vincent Brown ahead of him on the depth chart, by the time Allen is in a position to make an impact, the Chargers could be a completely different team.
Ryan Hester Outliers
WR Tavon Austin, StL (Staff Avg: 2.6 / Hester Ranking: 8)
I can't argue with Austin's speed and athleticism, but his projected ceiling is being described as similar to the ceiling realized by Wes Welker. While Welker is a PPR machine – and Austin certainly could be – I don't see Austin being able to match Welker's best seasons, mainly because the St. Louis offense isn't as potent as New England's. I don't believe we'll look back at the St. Louis offense as one of the best multi-year offensive units in NFL history like we can say for New England during Welker's prime.
One of the reasons I ranked Austin behind three other players at the position is that I prefer receivers who make plays on the perimeter and can win the 50/50 balls in the air against leaping defenders. These are the players who make the long-yardage plays and get the most red zone opportunities. That's why players like Cordarrelle Patterson and DeAndre Hopkins are ranked ahead of Austin in my rankings.
RB Johnathan Franklin, GB (Staff Avg: 12.2 / Hester Ranking: 7)
Both Franklin and Eddie Lacy had their values drop when they were drafted by the same team. But in an offense as potent as Green Bay's, there could be plenty of touches, yards, and touchdowns to go around. Franklin is a better pass catcher and has a track record of being a durable back. Lacy has both of those things working against him.
WR Markus Wheaton, Pit (Staff Avg: 18 / Hester Ranking: 9)
With Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders, Pittsburgh has found success in drafting third-round receivers. A former track star in college, Wheaton certainly fits the mold of the young, speedy playmakers drafted by the Steelers in recent memory.
He's a more polished route-runner than your typical rookie, and the Pittsburgh depth chart at wide receiver isn't very deep. Those two factors play a significant role in my ranking of Wheaton. Also playing a role is the fact that he's very similar in skill and stature to Santonio Holmes (Wheaton is 5'11 and 189 pounds; Holmes is 5'10 and 185 pounds).
Wheaton has talent and a path of little resistance to significant playing time this season. I wouldn't be surprised if he were to overtake Sanders as the starter opposite Antonio Brown at some point this season or next offseason.
RB Marcus Lattimore, SF (Staff Avg: 14.7 / Hester Ranking: 24)
Lattimore's talent isn't the reason for this ranking. When healthy, he possesses the size, speed, and skills to be a top-flight NFL running back. The problem for me is the when healthy that will be written or said in front of many statements regarding Lattimore.
Because I dont typically use injury history as a huge determining factor in my evaluations as fantasy players, there's a bigger reason why Lattimore's ranking is low for me. San Francisco's depth chart is full of talented backs.
Even if Frank Gore is ready to take a step back by 2014 when Lattimore returns to full health, Kendall Hunter will likely be the starter. Add LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon as specialty backs (James for his receiving ability and playmaking in space, Dixon for his short-yardage skills), and Lattimore may be buried on the depth chart for a while.
CHAD PARSONS Outliers
QB Geno Smith, NYJ (Staff Avg: 21.9 / Parsons Ranking: unranked)
Geno Smith fell dramatically in the NFL draft. He eventually landed with the Jets in the early second round. First off, second round quarterbacks have a very low success rate. The Jets are a franchise that can be toxic to young players and realizing their fantasy upside. Prior to the draft, I had Smith as a late second round rookie pick in the 18-24 range overall. That was assuming he was a top-10 NFL draft pick. With a work-in-progress set of surrounding weapons and a coaching staff that has proven little in terms of producing fantasy-viable players, Smith falls down my rookie board. His upside is limited and it may be two or three years before he gets to that limited production, sapping a roster spot along the way.
RB Christine Michael, Sea (Staff Avg: 19.6 / Parsons Ranking: 7)
Christine Michael was drafted by one of the better franchises in the NFL, the Seattle Seahawks. The fact that they drafted Michael in the second round despite having Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin speaks volumes about the talent of Michael and their best-player-available approach. In a draft class that featured no backs in the first round and a muddy mess of situations, Michael's value lies in his talent. Athletically, Michael is probably the most-gifted in this class. Despite being categorized as a big back by BMI, he has above-average straight line speed for his size and is one of the more agile and explosive runners in the past few seasons. Without clear-cut better backs this year, Michael's oozing athleticism moves up the board. Marshawn Lynch is a 27-year-old power back, so Michael's opportunity could come sooner than many think.
WR Aaron Mellette, Bal (Staff Avg: 38.6 / Parsons ranking: 19)
Aaron Mellette was one of my favorite receivers in this class entering the NFL draft. His 6'2 and 217-pound frame paces some of the more impressive frames. His speed and drill times are slightly above-average for his size. With his high-level production added in, Mellette is one of the strongest receiving prospects drafted in the later rounds in the past decade. Mellette lands in Baltimore, one of the prime locations to see early playing time. With Anquan Boldin out of the picture, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are the penciled-in starters. With a strong summer, Mellette can progress into regular playing as a rookie. For a receiver likely to be a fourth round rookie pick, Mellette is a strong target.
James Brimacombe Outliers
WR Da'Rick Rogers, Buf (Staff Avg: 28.9 / Brimacombe Ranking: 38)
Da'Rick Rogers almost didn't make my Top 40 because I feel the Bills already invested heavily in both Woods, and Goodwin, who I have ranked 11th and 24th overall in my rookie rankings. I love Rogers' talent and think he has a legit chance of making the final roster, but there are still too many question marks for me at this point, and I will wait and see how he performs in training camp and the preseason to move him ahead of the likes of Woods and Goodwin.
As far as the rookie tight end position goes, my rankings were influenced by a mix of talent and situation. Kelce going to the Chiefs was more than an ideal situation for him. He now goes to an Andy Reid team that loves using the tight end, and has the talent to be a Top 10 fantasy tight end by as early as next year with only Tony Moeaki and Anthony Fasano in front of him. Jordan Reed is in a similar situation in Washington as he only has Fred Davis who is coming off an injury and Logan Paulsen who has been underwhelming when given opportunity. With Robert Griffin leading that offense, he still hasn't found his security blanket in the passing game, although we saw glimpses with it with Garcon last year. I believe Reed is someone that Griffin can rely on because of his strong catch ability, and feel he is worth taking in late second / early third rounds of rookie drafts. Tyler Eifert is the most polished and fantasy ready of this year's rookie tight end class, but he has Gresham right there beside him and plays in an offense that demands targets to A.J. Green and one that now has a PPR stud in the making in Giovani Bernard. I ranked Kelce 15th and Eifert 16th, so I couldn't fault you in taking either one.
Adam Harstad Outliers
RB Eddie Lacy, GB (third lowest staff ranking)
This is a perfect storm of factors. I'm a big believer that NFL scouts are a lot better at evaluating talent than I am, so for them to let Lacy almost fall out of the second round entirely, that's a huge concern. It's especially troubling that Green Bay almost seemed reluctant to take him, trading back from their original pick and taking him later. Green Bay then turned around and paired him with another talented rookie (who they traded up to get). Plus Green Bay is not the greatest situation - it's been years since they've had a 100-yard rusher, and Harris is still around to nibble at the edges of everyone's workload. Lacy has question marks surrounding his talent, his health, his durability, and his workload. He has far more questions than I have answers.
This is mostly market-driven. Right now, the wide receiever market is insane. It's stacked. I can not recall a time where there were ever this many young, insanely talented receivers who already had a proven top-12 track record. That depth trickles down through the entire position, and it makes it really hard for rookie wide receivers to stand out in comparison. The rookie quarterbacks this year are terrible, and the running backs are all flawed (which explains how just one player from the two positions combined managed to go in the first round). Meanwhile, there is a lot of opportunity at tight end. The league is using its tight ends more and more each year, but right now there are only a small handful of difference makers at the position. There's a large void that the rookies are going to have a chance to fill. When I look at rookie tight ends, it's hard to tell how each team will wind up using them, so I like to gamble on guys in potentially explosive situations and hope one of them hits big. Upside is the name of the game at the tight end position, because if you don't wind up with a difference-maker, there's very little room separating the rest of the league. Reliable low-end TE1 production is always available cheaply as a fallback if your gambles fail, so take a few big swings and hope you connect on a home run. Guys like Toilolo and Escobar are gambles I like because they play in explosive, pass-first offenses with a track record of heavy tight end usage.
RB Zac Stacy, StL (Staff Avg: 17.7 / Harstad Ranking: unranked)
Not a whole lot to this one. He got drafted on day three by a team that already has two running backs who I think are both better. I'll be listening hard for any positive camp buzz, and quick to move him up in response, but for now there are other guys who I think have a clearer path to fantasy relevance.
WR Quinton Patton, SF (Staff Avg: 25.1 / Harstad Ranking: unranked)
Again, this is another one that probably makes more sense inside the context of my overall dynasty rankings. Of all the staffers, I'm the second highest on Michael Crabtree in dynasty. I'm the fourth highest on A.J. Jenkins. I'm still a Vernon Davis fan, and I'm by far the highest on Vance McDonald. Given all that, I have a harder time seeing Patton carving out enough of a role in San Francisco. Moreover, San Francisco has shown itself reluctant to play rookies (zero starts by rookies last year), which hurts Patton's urgency, and the 49ers have so much talent that there'll be a huge roster crunch just trying to make the 53-man roster.