The NFL Combine is complete and most rookie drafts are less than two months away. It’s the time of year when savvy owners begin to see their personal draft boards come into focus. While NFL fit and draft pedigree will significantly shuffle a typical board, having studied these players in depth and having them sorted in terms of talent and upside will give a fantasy player a decided advantage. I’ve created a list of my top six rookies to aid fantasy owners as they consider these questions. This exercise should also be helpful in breaking ties in favor of the more talented player if these athletes find similar landing spots or are drafted in the same zone of the NFL Draft.
These rankings assume default PPR scoring and stock settings. Also note that these spots are not necessarily where I would take these players in rookie drafts -- I am ranking them according to how I like them stacked next to one another and then I am using this information to trade and move up or down my rookie drafts accordingly. I am a firm believer in exploiting the market and moving down to gain additional draft capital when I think a superior player will still fall to me later. I am also in favor of moving up in short-bench leagues, or when I feel a talent has the chance to establish himself as a top option in the league for a very long time.
SAQUON BARKLEY, RB, PENNSYLVANIA STATE
Thoughts: Barkley as my top prospect will be no surprise to those who have been tracking the dynasty landscape for a while. Of all the running backs in this class, Barkley is the one who has the best blend of metrics, skills, and college production. As my friend Austin Lewis put it, Barkley’s game is more stylistically similar to LaDainian Tomlinson than to guys like Todd Gurley or Leonard Fournette. I would just add that Barkley is not at this stage as capable as Tomlinson was as a pass catcher, but the capacity to improve in that area is there. It’s likely Barkley will be selected within the top ten of the draft, so workload will not be an issue. An ideal fit for Barkley would be somewhere with a competent offensive line. Within the top ten teams, Cleveland and Oakland are the teams I feel best fit that bill.
NICK CHUBB, RB, GEORGIA
Thoughts: This is where my board will begin to deviate from consensus. While I like Guice, I believe Chubb to be a superior prospect by a small margin. Some are worried about Chubb’s knee, but the 2017 tape suggests that he has made a successful recovery. Though neither were often utilized in the pass game of their respective programs, Chubb shows more natural acumen than Guice when he is asked to receive. He can also flip his hips to create problems for closing defenders in a way that I’ve not seen Guice to be able to do. He displays great patience to let the play develop and then cut and go. I also see balance as a hallmark of Chubb’s style. After a solid performance at the Combine, Chubb is likely to go in day two of the Draft. He and Guice may swap places in my ranks if Guice is taken in day one of the Draft as some are projecting, but for now, Chubb wins out on talent.
DERRIUS GUICE, RB, LOUISIANA STATE
Thoughts: Guice, like Fournette before him, is a bit stiff in the hips. He also has a few more holes in his game than Barkley or Chubb. Most notably, I feel like Guice seeks out contact and doesn’t yet understand how to preserve his body. It doesn’t mean I think he’s a bad prospect. Far from it! Guice is a violent runner who creates yards after the initial collision. Leaving Guice in the open field is dangerous, because he can find another gear and break away for a long score. He is creative in a way that some of the other backs in this class aren’t in that he pairs the ability to cut and weave with his superb vision to elude defenders. Guice has drawn comparisons to Marshawn Lynch in terms of playing style, and I think those are warranted.
ROYCE FREEMAN, RB, OREGON
Thoughts: Freeman, in my mind, is not that far off from Guice and Chubb, yet current ADP data suggests he’s going almost a full round later than the pair. Perhaps his stellar Combine will wake some dynasty owners up to his true value. Freeman often gets knocked by draft pundits because of his lack of breakaway speed, but I feel that is vastly overrated in the NFL, where runners seldom have the opportunity to win a footrace in the open field. His footwork and natural fluidity as a runner shine. He pushes piles, is a competent pass catcher, and has balance and vision that rival any one of Chubb, Guice, or even Barkley. The reason that Freeman did not end up in the same tier as Guice and Chubb for me is his need to improve his blocking ability. Some coaching staffs are dogmatic about the blocking prowess of their young runners. If Freeman were to land with such a team, I could see him not getting off the blocks as quickly in the NFL as the others. Still, Freeman presents an excellent bang-for-buck proposition for dynasty owners. He’ll likely creep up the board ahead of post NFL Draft rookie drafts. Until then, enjoy getting Freeman in the early- to mid-second round of your dynasty draft.
RONALD JONES, RB, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
Thoughts: From a skills standpoint, I love Ronald Jones. As far as dynamic and electric play, he rivals any back of this class. His slashing, elusive style draws Jamaal Charles comparisons from the scouting community. Jones himself has admitted he has modeled his game after Charles’. The two reasons I personally do not have more excitement over Jones is that I do not see him as a natural pass catcher at this stage of his development and I am concerned about him being a bit light at 205 pounds. I want to see Jones look in passes and not body catch so much. I also want to see him gain more weight so he is more likely to hold up to the rigors of the NFL. If he can do these two things, I have little doubt he’ll be making an impact for fantasy teams for years to come.
SONY MICHEL, RB, GEORGIA
Thoughts: I’m not as enamoured with Michel as some, but I acknowledge he’s a very competent runner in a very deep class. A superior version of Tevin Coleman is a comparison often used for Michel that I feel is accurate. Better than average vision and the ability to accelerate quickly are trademarks that pop off his tape. He can go from east-west runner to north-south runner in a single step, which is very attractive. His pad level is often correct and earns him extra yardage after contact. On the down side, I see a back who needs to work on catching the ball with his hands and not his body. Michel does, however, show the basic competencies in this area that suggest he can improve. Remember, Tevin Coleman was also incomplete in this area coming out of Indiana and has really come along in the past two years. Work ethic is not a question with Michel and I am very confident he’ll put in the work to improve.