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.
**This board reflects my personal drafting philosophy. I prioritize upside over floor within tiers and I'm willing to accept a higher bust risk in all rounds. I also 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.
The draft board is designed to be read both 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 keep the number of players with a given draft round grade to a reasonable total.
Positional commentaries can be found after the draft board.
|M Gordon||K White|
|A Abdullah||D Parker|
|T Coleman||N Agholor|
|TJ Yeldon||B Perriman|
|J Winston||M Williams|
|2||M Mariota||Du Johnson||J Strong|
|P Dorsett||E Kendricks|
|D Cobb||D Funchess|
|J Ajayi||C Conley||S Anthony|
|3||Da Johnson||V Beasley|
|D Smelter||D Fowler||P Dawson|
|J Robinson||J Hardy||B McKinney|
|M Davis||T McBride||S Thompson|
|4||M Jones||K Bell|
|R Greene||L Collins|
|Z Zenner||J Ryan|
|J Allen||J Crowder|
|T Montgomery||O Odighizuwa||B Dupree|
|D Davis||H Kikaha|
|5||B Hundley||J Langford||D Waller||C Walford||P Smith|
|B Petty||C Artis-Payne||H Anderson||S Ray|
|G Grayson||K Williams||T Flowers|
|T Rawls||L Williams|
|6-FA||M Brown||S Diggs||B Bell||T Waynes|
|T Williams||D Lewis||J Heuerman||D Shelton||K Alexander||M Peters|
|A Hill||J James||M Brown||J Hicks||E Rowe||I Campbell|
|S Mannion||C Harper||T Kroft||G Jarrett||M Edwards||L Mauldin||K Johnson||C Geathers|
|T Siemian||S Days||D Davis||J O'Shaughnessy||C Davis||D Hunter||N Orchard||J Collins||J Tartt|
|C Bonner||V Mayle||R Anderson||E Goldman||F Clark||M Golden||D Smith||J Sample|
|T Davis||M Pruitt||J Phillips||A Armstead||E Harold||B Jones||A Amos|
|T Lippett||AJ Derby||X Cooper||Z Smith||R Wilson||D Smith|
|B Heeney||J Richards|
|D Wilson||C Thompson|
***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 my version of this draft board.
THE BIG PICTURE
As I started entering names into a spreadsheet by position and round during the draft, I felt like this draft class was going to be deep. The running back and wide receiver classes were known to be strong pre-draft and lots of defensive ends and linebackers were being drafted to fits that would likely get them a fourth round grade or better.
Then I started putting the draft board together. And I really struggled with what to do with the skill position players after the mid-2nd round. That’s not to say there aren’t players I like in the third and fourth rounds here, but there aren’t any players I see as high priority mid-round selections.
That makes this year’s draft strategy clear. Use your later round picks to move up to get a top 25-30 player you like, acquire veteran talent with upside, or trade them for future picks.
If you’ve read this feature in the past, you know that’s a common theme here. I was hoping I wouldn’t recommend the same this year, but I was disappointed in the landing spot or draft position of skill position players like Mike Davis and David Johnson and Zach Zenner and Devante Davis and Kenny Bell and Tre McBride and James O’Shaughnessy and Brett Hundley. That’s nearly a full round of players in disappointing immediate depth chart situations.
As always, you may feel differently. As rookie ADP settles out, you may discover your favorites are available with those fourth and fifth round picks. In that case, hold and take your shot.
Unless there’s an Andrew Luck caliber talent available, I’ll slot the top tier of quarterbacks at the end of the first round / early second round lines. That’s built on a preference for skill position talent while recognizing that the top tier of quarterback generally holds the same value as the late second or early third tier of running backs and wide receiver.
This year is no exception.
I like Jameis Winston over Marcus Mariota, but it’s a slim difference. Neither project as elite quarterbacks that will overcome offensive scheme, coaching, or surrounding cast concerns. But both could hit a low QB1 ceiling in 2-3 seasons. If you’re not excited about the skill position talent on the board and see Winston or Mariota as the best player available, I’d recommend shopping the pick rather than reflexively taking the quarterback.
After the top two players, there’s little value in this position. If you’re going to stash a player for 1-3 years, it may as well be Brett Hundley. Bryce Petty and Garrett Grayson are the only other draftable options on the board. Those three are worth consideration toward the end of the draft, but none are in my top 50.
Todd Gurley is my #1 overall rookie. As I’ve shared on our live podcasts, I’m not concerned about his ACL injury. It was an isolated tear (no damage to the meniscus, cartilage, or other ligaments) and his rehab has gone extremely smoothly thus far. Isolated ACL injuries don’t carry the concern they once did – for good reason – and Gurley’s draft position is clear evidence of that. The Rams will bring Gurley along slowly during the offseason and may choose to start him on PUP in training camp. But I think there’s a strong chance he’ll start the season on the active roster.
Melvin Gordon is a strong enough prospect to consider in the same tier as Kevin White and Amari Cooper. Matt Waldman has me fully convinced of Ameer Abdullah’s value and I’m comfortable drafting him in the mid-first round.
I may be underrating Duke Johnson, but I’m not sure he’ll push Isaiah Crowell aside quickly. David Cobb and Jay Ajayi are just second round picks for me. Cobb’s situation is strong, but he’s probably not talented enough to keep Tennessee from adding to their depth chart in future years. Ajayi’s film is impressive, but 24-year old underrated starter Lamar Miller and an arthritic knee condition can’t be ignored.
Full disclosure: I’ve wavered for two days on David Johnson, Josh Robinson, Mike Davis, Matt Jones, and Zach Zenner. Davis and Johnson and Zenner are talented but aren’t in great situations. Jones and Robinson are in better situations, but may not be talented enough to be long term values if they work their way atop their respective depth charts. If you see one of these players as clearly more valuable than the rest, move them into the late second, early third on your board.
Thomas Rawls, Malcolm Brown, and Trey Williams are undrafted free agents worth tracking. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen ugly depth charts. The hope here is that one or more show some upside on film during the preseason and are move to a more attractive situation late in the preseason.
I have Kevin White over Amari Cooper by the slimmest of margins. I have no argument with anyone who sees Cooper as the #2 overall rookie pick. But I don’t see Cooper over Gurley. DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, and Dorial Green-Beckham are also packed relatively tightly. Agholor is in the best immediate situation, but all three of these players have a WR1 ceiling.
The second and third tiers are full of unknowns. I think Devin Smith can grow into a WR1 – but that’s a tough sell in New York right now. I think Chris Conley has WR1 potential – but that’s a tough sell in Kansas City right now. I’m probably going to be higher than most on DeAndre Smelter, who has top 20 upside but will almost certainly redshirt this year. Lots of my favorite analysts were high on Tre McBride and Kenny Bell. Unfortunately, both are in horrid situations to start their career. Another favorite, DeVante Davis, didn’t get drafted.
Wide receiver upside drives the third and fourth rounds of rookie drafts for me. Last year, I was excited about the potential of Allen Robinson and Donte Moncrief and Paul Richardson and Jarvis Landry and Martavis Bryant in that range. I’ll draft Smith and Conley and Smelter and hope to hit, but I won’t hesitate to move those draft picks this year if a worthwhile offer comes along.
Maxx Williams is the only tight end I’m willing to pay market price for this year. Clive Walford is likely to go before I’m willing to draft him. I can’t convince myself Blake Bell or Jeff Heuerman or Jesse James will blossom into above replacement level talents.
Rookie tight end production is almost universally poor. Though the other positions aren’t stocked with mid to late round value, I’m not spending a pick in that range on a player who might hold a little value in 2-3 seasons.
I’ve listed nine players in the late round – free agent range. This is essentially a watch list for the next 3-18 months. I think Danny Shelton, Malcom Brown, Grady Jarrett, and Carl Davis may have rosterable value as soon as this season. But none are worth a draft pick except in the deepest of leagues with the most favorable of defensive tackle scoring.
Huzzah! We finally have a draft where a handful of top edge prospects will be classified as play defensive ends.
But don’t get overly excited. There’s not a high ceiling tackle threat in this group yet. Vic Beasley and Randy Gregory have mid double digit sack upside, but 40 solo tackles may be a stretch for both. Dante Fowler looks like a High Floor DE2 prospect to me. I’m not sure he’s a great fit as an every-down LEO.
There are two mid-late round flyers worth considering here. I loved Owa Odighizuwa’s film. If the hips hold up and he wins more often than he did in Senior Bowl practices, he may grow into a top 15 fantasy option. And I will not be surprised if Trey Flowers develops into another Rob Ninkovich if Bill Belichick sticks with a 4-3 front for a few years. Henry Anderson is also draftable. He has an outside shot at Calais Campbell or Sheldon Richardson production.
I’m going to be low on Leonard Williams. He’ll be a rotational player this year and still needs to develop a consistent pass rush. His career trajectory could match that of teammates Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson, but it will take Williams the same 2-3 seasons it took those guys to reach that ceiling. Don’t overpay.
Last year’s depth was very good, but it was hidden early. Preston Brown, Chris Borland, Avery Williamson, Christian Jones, and Anthony Hitchens needed injuries to develop into fantasy options last year. This year’s depth is more readily apparent.
However, there may only be two rookie off-the-ball linebackers ready for an every-down role on opening weekend. Eric Kendricks was my favorite prospect this year and I love the fit with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota. Stephone Anthony should beat out David Hawthorne with a solid camp. I think Kendricks has Top 10-15 upside in the long term. Anthony has a similar ceiling, but a lower floor in tackle heavy leagues. Those in big play leaning scoring systems should move Anthony up alongside or ahead of Kendricks. If Anthony can unlock his inner Karlos Dansby, there’s 85-90 solo, 6-8 sack potential in him.
The next tier is deep but each player has a major flaw. Denzel Perryman needs to be clean to make plays and may not be effective enough in subpackages to run up big tackle numbers. Paul Dawson has athleticism and freelance concerns. He’ll be compared to Vontaze Burfict, and is similar in the boom-bust sense. The Texans plan to ease Benardrick McKinney into an every-down role. After watching his college tape, I’m not sure he’ll ever be an every-down fit. Shaq Thompson went to a crowded depth chart to play alongside two rangy, fundamental veterans. His immediate upside is limited.
Try to sneak Jake Ryan onto your roster with a spare fifth round (or later) selection. I’m not a huge fan of Ryan’s game, but I think he’ll get a look at inside linebacker in Green Bay – and soon.
I’m like all four edge linebackers in the mid round tier, but you need patience and a sack-heavy scoring system to roster one immediately. Preston Smith may end up being the most cost-effective option here.
I’ve given Kwon Alexander a watch list grade, but he may quickly become a priority add if/when Bruce Carter disappoints and/or is injured.
The rookie corner rule used to be easy. Find the rookie who’s starting opposite a stud corner and profit when teams pick on the unproven rookie by targeting the second receiver. It’s not that simple anymore. Offenses spread the field with multiple receivers and have multiple ways to generate mismatches. Rookie corners are still valuable, but the variance is higher.
I’m not planning to draft a corner this year, but I’ll add Marcus Peters, Eric Rowe, or Jalen Collins as deep roster or taxi squad stashes if I have the space and they go undrafted in my leagues.
On the surface, this safety group is beyond ugly. I’m not as high on Landon Collins as others, but it’s a strong back seven situation. There’s enough upside to consider him in the fourth round. I’d have likely slotted Damarious Randall and Eric Rowe in that range, too, but both are going to play corner for their new NFL teams.
That leaves a handful of good, but not great, talents who may need time to get the snaps they’ll need to produce enough stat volume to hold fantasy value. Put Ibraheim Campbell, Clayton Geathers, Jaquiski Tartt, Adrian Amos, Derron Smith on your watch lists. James Sample and Cedric Thompson also have my attention, but lower ceilings.
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.
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