The NFL preseason is in full swing and rookies are seeing their first opportunities to carve early roles. Here are the key questions posed to the Footballguys staff:
Round 1 Rookie Draft Running Backs
The rookie running back class has been shaken since May. From the slow starts of Ronald Jones, Rashaad Penny, and Nick Chubb to injuries of Derrius Guice and Sony Michel. The typical rookie draft in mid-August looks significantly different than the week or two following the NFL Draft. Specifically at running back, what players have you been strongly reacting to with their first offseason of data points and what players have not budged in your values and rankings thus far?
Jason Wood: I haven't budget on three of those five guys. Guice remains an elite prospect and was winning over the team on- and off-the-field before tearing his ACL. He should be a powerhouse running back in 2019 without question. Penny and Chubb are in similar situations. Penny's injury isn't serious and I'll die on the "Chris Carson is just another guy" island, so Penny will be the feature back in Seattle in due time. Chubb was buried behind Hyde and Johnson the day he was drafted there, but I see no reason why he won't be the starter in 2019 and beyond.
That leaves Michel and Jones. In Jones' case, he's failed every test this preseason. Beat writers tend to be optimistic, yet it's hard to find a positive report about Jones. Meanwhile, Peyton Barber -- who is really just another guy himself -- has been stellar and clearly outplayed, out-practiced, and out-impressed Jones this month. Jones is no longer a priority dynasty commodity if he ever was. In Michel's case, his reduced outlook has less to do with his injury, and more with a deeper analysis into how hard it is for a Patriots running back to be fantasy relevant. I wrote up Sony Michel's outlook in a player spotlight, which clarifies my views. Michel was behind only Saquon Barkley in my pre-draft rookie rankings but is now No. 7.
Daniel Simpkins: I've seen Guice sliding to the back end of round one in some of my rookie drafts and I can't believe it. This guy has the talent to be worth the 1.01 in most rookie draft years. If I am a contender, I am making every effort to trade my 2019 first rounder to get into that 1.08 zone and snap him up if he drops. Tearing his ACL so early in the process gives him plenty of time to recover and be perfectly fine by next year.
Dan Hindery: When we have so few data points, it makes sense to adjust relatively aggressively. Especially since this tier of running backs was packed so tightly together to begin with and it doesn't take much to move up or down a few spots. Ronald Jones is the most concerning and the biggest faller for me because he simply hasn't looked good. Plus, his struggles as a pass catcher severely limit his fantasy upside. I've dropped him a couple spots to last amongst this group of running backs. I'm less concerned about Penny and Chubb because they haven't necessarily struggled, they've just been unable to immediately unseat two pretty talented veterans in Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde. Penny and Chubb's stock is down for me but not too drastically.
The two biggest risers are Royce Freeman and Kerryon Johnson. Freeman has seized the opportunity and ran with it in Denver. Devontae Booker and company haven't done much to fend him off in his push for the starting job. Kerryon Johnson will have a tougher time pushing LeGarrette Blount to the bench, but he looks good and he could also be a prime beneficiary of Detroit's improved offensive line play.
Andy Hicks: I tend to avoid overreacting to every little drama during training camp and preseason, especially regarding rookie running backs. Looking at each running back drafted in the first three rounds:
- Saquon Barkley - His first-round draft price isn't going away. While he hasn't done anything to warrant much movement, he has an uphill struggle to reach his draft slot given the generic rookie struggles and poor reputation of his offensive line.
- Rashaad Penny - I didn't have a high opinion of him anyway, but with Seattle having issues running the ball, he needs to prove he can play at this level. Chris Carson is the only back who has looked any good for the Seahawks recently and Penny will have to bide his time.
- Sony Michel - His pre-season injury has to have an effect on his rankings, if only for the fact that rookie mistakes are rarely acceptable for the Patriots. Given the crowded backfield in New England and versatility needed on a week to week basis, he has to be a risk in redraft leagues.
- Nick Chubb - Nick Chubb was always lower in my rankings than most. The Browns have brought in a good, but not great, option in Carlos Hyde and much like the quarterback situation, the Browns are going to let the rookies learn before putting them into full-time action.
- Ronald Jones II is one of the big talking points and while seemingly all the reports have been negative, we have seen reports like this almost every year. Generally, these early round players get eased into the mix sooner rather than later, whenever the coaching staff can trust them with various phases of the game plan. Helping Jones is the fact that guys like Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers are average at best. I was high on Jones heading into preseason and while he will drop a little, I am still likely to have him significantly higher than most.
- Kerryon Johnson is going to have to break an unlucky streak that the Lions have drafting running backs since Barry Sanders, despite numerous high round picks. Outside of that, the Lions have other options should Johnson struggle, easing pressure on the rookie. He does deserve a rise in rankings, but his upside is going to be capped anyway given a new coaching staff, the Lions struggles running the ball and the presence of Theo Riddick and LeGarrette Blount.
- Derrius Guice was on my avoid list before he was injured and hopefully, a year rehabbing will help his maturity process.
- Royce Freeman has an open door for the starting role given the inadequate competition, but I have doubts on how much he can create on his own. If the Broncos can block and give him room and get production at quarterback, then he may be a riser worth paying attention to.
Chad Parsons: I am slow to react to higher pedigree rookies as a general rule. The Round 3+ rookie draft range is more situational by nature and worthy of shifting around to improve the odds of sticking on an NFL depth chart or carving a rookie year role. I do not ding players much for an early injury, so Derrius Guice moved at most one spot in my valuations and that is mainly for the lost year of age value in his prime more than an overt drop in production projection once he returns in 2019. Nick Chubb, Royce Freeman, and Kerryon Johnson have not moved as Chubb was in my Top 3 and I trust the talent long term. Johnson and Freeman were inside my Top 7 overall and their early flashes are not a surprise. One overarching point I would make is to not double count traits or attributes. Ronald Jones had questions regarding pass-catching exiting college. Now in August, some are dinging him again for showing growing pains in the area. The same thing applies to Sony Michel's durability, which was a struggle in college to stay on the field.
Justin Howe: I remain high on Guice, who tore his ACL nice and early and should be without limitations in 2019 camp. Beyond that, I'm still positive on Chubb, whom I see as the most talented back in Cleveland. Carlos Hyde is not only a mediocre runner (and exceptionally drop-prone receiver out of the backfield) - he's also an unreliable player, constantly beset by injury and never locking down featured duties. The fact that he ceded so many snaps to undrafted Matt Breida late last year was telling; that was Kyle Shanahan's first chance to play with a competently-quarterbacked offense, and he felt Hyde needed extra help. I wouldn't be surprised to see Hyde fall down the pecking order early and decisively.
I'm also coming around on Kerryon Johnson. The Lions' run game has been like a stagnant, smelly pond for years, and Johnson was the only real attempt they made to clean it up this offseason. LeGarrette Blount is a woefully inefficient back, and for all of his size, he's always been a ho-hum (sometimes poor) short-yardage back. This offense wants a featured guy, plain and simple. If that - and the rookie's impressive preseason - are any indications, the team likely views Johnson as a high-usage back off the bat.
Anthony Miller: Buying or Selling?
Anthony Miller was a red-hot name in training camp, rising from the earlier Round 2 of rookie drafts into Round 1. The drumbeat is a touch softer since the preseason started, but where is your value line stacking up the rookie class? Is it dangerous for dynasty general managers to project Miller with the WR2 role in Chicago this year?
Jason Wood: It's not a reach to project Miller as the No. 2 in Chicago this year, Taylor Gabriel isn't suited to a full-time starting role. Miller is WR6 in my current rookie rankings, and I think dynasty owners should remain intrigued. I'm not convinced Mitch Trubisky is going to amount to much, but it's early enough in his tenure, and Matt Nagy's, to give the Bears offense the benefit of the doubt.
Daniel Simpkins: I am skeptical of the belief that Anthony Miller will be an instant impact rookie. As I scouted him this summer, I saw a guy who just wasn't as athletic or refined as the hype suggested. People are also treating Kevin White as if he does not exist. While the coaching staff is different, the general manager that drafted White is still in power. Yes, he's been hurt, but banking on that happening a third time is folly. White has had more time to adjust to the NFL, has much better metrics than Miller, and will still be given a chance to compete for this job. Maybe Kevin White will move on to another team next year and give Miller more opportunity at that time.
Dan Hindery: Miller has seized the WR2 role in Chicago and it wouldn't be a massive shock if he made it a 1A/1B situation alongside Allen Robinson. The only concern with Miller is that there are a lot of mouths to feed in this Chicago passing game. In addition to Miller and Robinson, Trey Burton looks like an impact player and will take snaps and targets away from the wide receivers. Adam Shaheen is emerging at tight end as well. Plus, Tarik Cohen has often been lining up at wide receiver and will take targets from these other guys as well. Even if this offense makes a gigantic leap forward, some of these pass catchers are going to disappoint.
Andy Hicks: It is not really dangerous as the competition is hardly earth-shattering in Chicago, but a new coach, an inexperienced quarterback and new options at receiver is hardly the recipe for instant success, despite what happened with the Rams in 2017. Miller has the talent and opportunity to be a great dynasty receiver, but he is far from a sure thing.
Chad Parsons: I have exactly zero shares of Anthony Mille across my 30+ dynasty leagues. While I think the later second round of rookie drafts is suitable for him, Miller routinely was in the top half of Round 2 in May and is now rising into Round 1 with more regularity. I see Kevin White as more of a challenge for Miller to overtake for strong snaps than most. White is healthy (finally) and a former top-10 pick. Those players get plenty of chances to prove their worth during a rookie contract. Plus, Allen Robinson was paid WR1 money and Trey Burton was paid TE1 money in free agency this offseason. Plus, we are assuming the Bears are a Rams-like rising tide offense to support most of these weapons. Color me skeptical Miller justifies his surging valuation once the season hits.
Justin Howe: Miller can be safely plugged into that No. 2 role, as quickly as right now. Additions Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel are much more specialty options than candidates to hog targets, and Miller is already reportedly a slot demon. That said, expectations must be tempered. Simply receiving volume doesn't make you especially fantasy-sexy. The Bears should throw noticeably more than they did last year, but that's because there's nowhere to go but up; Trubisky averaged a paltry 27.5 attempts per start. Even cemented as the No. 2, it's hard to project Miller beyond around 70 targets and a 50-700-5 line. That's barely draftable on its face, and the 2018 upside doesn't seem to be there.
What stands out among the early performances of the rookie quarterbacks? Sam Darnold and Josh Allen look to be on the early (maybe Week 1?) starting track. Is that a good thing for their development? Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen are on the 'sit and wait' track. Does that matter for long-term dynasty value? Lamar Jackson looks like a developmental project, albeit a high-upside one. Is he clearly behind the rest on your quarterback board?
Jason Wood: It makes no difference for long-term dynasty value. We can pull together a litany of examples of great quarterbacks who had to sit for a while, and those who got starts as rookies. We can also find examples of revered rookie quarterbacks that never amounted to much regardless of when they got their first shots under center. It has no relevance as long as the quarterbacks aren't being put behind a horrendous offensive line. David Carr was pounded behind a terrible Texans line and never recovered.
To that end, Josh Allen's potential status as a Week 1 starter scares me. The Bills didn't have a great offensive line last year and lost three starters from that team without viable replacements. My dynasty rankings for the rookie signal callers haven't changed at all since the preseason began; nor should they have.
Daniel Simpkins: I am in the camp of letting your quarterbacks sit and learn behind established veterans. The adjustment to the NFL is tough anyway, but the quarterback position may be the hardest to learn of all skill positions. We've seen so many quarterbacks ruined long-term because their teams threw them to the wolves before they were ready. I value Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen, and Baker Mayfield higher than Darnold and Allen in part because their teams are taking a more measured approach with their development. In fantasy terms, I actually value Lamar Jackson the highest of all of these options because of his rushing upside in addition to his ability to work from the pocket.
Dan Hindery: The value of Lamar Jackson varies greatly by format. Based upon early returns, he looks like the biggest project and the only one who isn't virtually guaranteed of a starting job. His volatility makes him tough to bank on in Superflex leagues. However, in single quarterback leagues, the extreme depth at the position means the focus should primarily be on upside. Jackson still has the most fantasy upside of this group even if he is the least likely to develop and should still be drafted right near the top of this group.
Assuming Allen and Darnold quickly earn the starting jobs, it is nothing but a positive indicator. Mainly because it indicates they have immediately earned the respect of their teammates and trust of the coaching staffs. Baker Mayfield would be in the same boat but for the strong play of Tyrod Taylor and Cleveland's fear of repeating past mistakes.
Andy Hicks: Whatever the rookies are doing now is irrelevant for what will happen in September. Any who sees the field in the first few weeks is in for an experience that is almost impossible to prepare for. Quality defensive players they have not seen and before they start carrying injuries for the remainder of the season. Scars incurred here can last a career. Starting a rookie quarterback requires trust in the individual and patience by an organization to let a veteran to have the first shot. While Josh Allen and Sam Darnold may be the best options for week one for their respective teams, letting Nathan Peterman or Josh McCown/Teddy Bridgewater take the opening week(s) are going to be better for the rookies' development. Letting Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen sit is easier when the starters are better quality than what the Jets and Bills have, but it is the right thing to do. If their teams are winning, great, if not, the pressure is less on the rookie to win immediately.
Lamar Jackson requires a coaching staff that needs to understand what he brings and tailor a playbook that suits him. None of this square peg in a round hole nonsense that require players to fit a system. He has the biggest bust likelihood, but his upside is also uncapped.
Chad Parsons: Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen have looked fantastic and I have been pleasantly surprised by Sam Darnold in his early small sample. One of the interesting rookie draft valuations this offseason was Josh Allen, the No. 7 pick in the NFL Draft, being regularly available in Round 4 of rookie drafts (start one quarterback) and in Round 2 of quarterback premium leagues. From a historical valuation standpoint, Allen was/is a tremendous value. I am not a fan as an evaluator and think the odds are on Allen to not be a long-term success. However, the odds are too good to pass on the draft pedigree with Allen heading into his rookie season.
Justin Howe: I'm glad the Jets seem to be giving Darnold very little to chew at once. I like his talent, but he's exceptionally young, and I sincerely doubt his ideal future receiving corps is in place. I'm expecting him to start at least 13-14 games, barring injury, but I don't think he'll average more than 28-30 throws. That'll make him a virtual non-factor in 2018, but his dynasty value looks static to me.
Jackson is behind the rest by a strong margin in terms of my real-life NFL expectations. I think he's behind the pack as a passer on a Tim Tebow/Blaine Gabbert level, and I don't think he'd complete half his throws if he started Week 1. But when we evaluate these guys, we have to realize they're all still unknowns - Darnold and the rest have about the same faceplant odds as they did before the preseason - and Jackson boasts the highest theoretical upside. He'll always be able to tack 3-12 rushing points onto an otherwise forgettable fantasy day.
The Rise of Chris Warren
What are your thoughts on Chris Warren? The Raiders running back has been one of the bright spots of the rookie class in the preseason regardless of position. The depth chart is deep for the Raiders at running back, but tell the story of Warren being successful or not as a dynasty assets this season based on if you believe or not.
Jason Wood: My perspective here starts with a contrarian view of the Raiders. I think they're on the cusp of being the worst franchise in the league. Giving Jon Gruden a 10-year contract after a generation in the announcing booth was eyebrow-raising. Since Gruden took over, he's done nothing to calm my fears and that starts with hiring Greg Olson as the offensive coordinator. Olson has been an OC multiple times and he's been awful in every case. He's probably the worst veteran coordinator with a job. So I'm already at the low-end for Marshawn Lynch, thus I have zero interest in drafting the No. 3 (or 4) tailback on that roster.
Daniel Simpkins: I could tell a story in which both Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin, who are older backs, go down to injuries and Warren becomes the bell-cow in an offense that is run-centric. We have narratives like this one play out every year. Even if Lynch and Martin stay healthy, I see a path for Warren to matter next year when Lynch's contract is up and Martin is a free agent. I've talked myself into it--I think I'm going to go right now and add Chris Warren in all my leagues in which I have a roster spot.
Dan Hindery: Warren has quickly become a favorite of John Gruden. He still has a lot of work to do in the passing game but he is a sledgehammer. There is a serious opportunity for him to emerge as the starter in Oakland when Marshawn Lynch retires. However, it is always dangerous to project running back depth charts too far out into the future when a player isn't an elite talent. It is just as likely that the Raiders will draft a back early or sign a starter in free agency.
Andy Hicks: Chris Warren is a dangerous player to trust. The Raiders do have depth at the position, but his first task is to make the final 53. A key fumble or a missed block can easily plummet a player of his status from coaches favorite to early cut. A practice squad is ultimately not out of the realm of possibility as well. It is a fantasy to project him as next years starter. He has to earn playing time this year and do well enough to get a roster spot next year, where there will be another free agent and draft class. Anything on top of that is gravy.
Chad Parsons: Chris Warren has done everything he can to make the Raiders roster. The interesting angle is by the Raiders unleashing Warren in the preseason, there is no chance of them being able to sneak him onto the practice squad. Warren will have to make the 53-man roster. I am fine using a roster spot on Warren in deeper dynasty leagues (think nearing 30 spots or more), but in more shallow leagues, he is a tough hold. Without a clear 'one-injury-away' avenue to the starting role, there are better running back bets for those short roster formats. That said, I love the tape he has put together and think he has lead back potential down the road, pending a depth chart breaking his direction.
Justin Howe: The depth chart is deep with names, but I don't think most of them will matter in two weeks. Gruden loves versatile, do-it-all backs, ones who handle a lion's load and don't sit often. And neither Washington nor Richard fit that bill; I don't foresee Gruden keeping bit players and specialists in his rotation. (I'm also leery on the love for Doug Martin, who's one of the league's least-efficient backs. But if you were looking at Martin in dynasty circles, then you'd have a root cause to explore anyway.)
Warren certainly looks like a worthy preseason pickup. He's being given whole chunks of games to himself, and he's obviously producing with them. There's a nonzero chance Gruden quickly tires of managing Lynch's and Martin's conditioning issues and just plugs in a bell cow prospect.
Rookie Value Plays
Who is the lower-valued rookie (think Round 3 or beyond of a typical rookie draft) you support in the first 12-18 months of their NFL career to emerge as a stronger value than their cost?
Jason Wood: Bo Scarbrough and John Kelly. Both sit behind two of the few 300+ touch workhorses in the league and won't be asked to do much as rookies. Both are also power runners and lack the multi-dimensional skill sets that have become en vogue, particularly among fantasy football enthusiasts. But both showed viable skill sets if used correctly, and I could see either being an every-week fantasy starter if the team's No. 1s (Elliott and Gurley, respectively) suffered major injuries.
Daniel Simpkins: Jordan Lasley is someone I'm intrigued within this range. He's a strong metric prospect, he's more refined at this stage than you would think, and getting to work with Lamar Jackson in practices and build rapport will be an extra feather in his cap when he gets his shot. I believe that will come more toward the 18-month range than the 12-month range, but I'm willing to wait in deep leagues where I have the roster space.
Dan Hindery: D.J. Chark Jr is a nice third-round target. He has reportedly been the most impressive receiver in Jaguars camp. Despite the positive reports and Chark being a second-round pick in the NFL Draft, he hasn't garnered much in the way of fantasy buzz because of the Jaguars crowded wide receiver room and relatively low-volume pass attack. These concerns are entirely valid. However, there are valid concerns about the fantasy prospects of all of the players available past the second round. At that point of the draft, I prefer to gamble on a talented player with a 2nd-round pedigree over the Day 3 NFL picks who landed in better spots.
Andy Hicks: Dan Hindery took my answer here in D.J. Chark Jr. Why he is forgotten is baffling. It is not like he has pro bowlers and all stars ahead of him on the depth chart either. Marqise Lee is an NFL quality WR2 or WR3. Donte Moncrief is on a hope for the best one year deal, but he was a failure with the Colts and doesn't look like he will turn it around here. Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole did great when all the other receivers fell down last year, but they are better suited as depth options. Every year there seems to be a rookie in the 60-90 area that is totally forgotten at receiver or running back and Chark looks like that guy in 2018.
Chad Parsons: The rookie quarterbacks and tight ends are great places to start when options like Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, and (sometimes Baker Mayfield and Dallas Goedert) are there in Round 3 and Hayden Hurst and Josh Allen are there in Round 3-4. For the running backs, I like what I have seen from Chase Edmonds who looks to have the Arizona RB2 job locked down and John Kelly looks like he can challenge for the RB2 job of Malcolm Brown's for the Rams early. Chris Warren deserves mentioning for deeper leagues. I generally fade wide receivers in this range. On the tight end front for future development, Ian Thomas has looked like a potential future starter behind Greg Olsen in Carolina.
Justin Howe: DaeSean Hamilton continues to fall into Rounds 3 and 4 of rookie drafts, as dynasty leaguers flock to upside and 40 times. But Hamilton is already plugging in as the Broncos' WR4, with last year's draftnik darling, Carlos Henderson, likely slipping out of their plans. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders look likely to leave town next year, as the team is clearly prioritizing youth and will have a franchise passer in place by then. Hamilton and Courtland Sutton will likely enter 2019 as high-volume starters, and Hamilton brings the effortless route-running chops that have made Sanders valuable. He's not a burner, but there's a smooth, long-legged stride to Hamilton's game that creates separation where his jets can't.