For a select few of us who are especially obsessed with this fantasy football thing, the rookie drafts of our dynasty leagues are what we most look forward to each year. Whether it’s searching for unbelievably esoteric stats or pretending to be an NFL scout on Twitter, rookie draft season has something for all of us degenerates.
A couple of notes before we get into the rankings: Firstly, it pretty much always makes sense to trade down in this year’s draft if you can acquire a similar or higher pick in next year’s draft. This class lacks blue-chip talent, and it’s likely the majority of these players will see their dynasty value fall from its current level in the next year. My first tier being six guys deep tells you all you need to know about this class. Insert your preferred “next year’s class will be better” cliché here.
These rankings assume PPR scoring and prioritize players that are likely to increase in value this year – in other words, they assume a win-now mindset. However, I’d personally use these rankings no matter the competitiveness of my team, assuming the trade market in my league is relatively liquid.
Without further ado, let’s get to the rankings.
Tier One: Potential Bellcows and my Wide Receiver Man Crushes
1. RB Miles Sanders (Philadelphia Eagles) – Sanders offers the best mix of athleticism, college production, and first-year opportunity in the class. There is no real blue-chip running back to be had here, but had he not attended the same school as Saquon Barkley, there’s a chance Sanders would be viewed as the consensus 1.01. Don’t let the Doug Pederson committees of years past scare you away; the Eagles haven’t had a back with a skillset nearly as complete as Sanders’ in all of Pederson’s tenure. Moreover, Jordan Howard hasn’t been efficient since his rookie year and will never see the field on third downs. The Eagles essentially spent a fifth-rounder on him, so fantasy gamers shouldn’t assume the Eagles favor him over Sanders, who they spent a higher pick on even after acquiring Howard. Sanders should be an easy high-end RB2 in a loaded Eagles offense this year as soon as he captures a reasonable rushing share. Those concerned about any perceived fumbling problem should remember the exact same criticism being levied at Sony Michel last year. As a high-variance event, 5 fumbles across 220 carries for Sanders last season isn’t worth concerning oneself over, especially when Sanders blows away his closest competitors at the position athletically. I feel similarly about Sanders in pass protection; though he ranked 77th in pass blocking efficiency according to Pro Football Focus, this is a skill that most rookies have to improve on in order to make the jump to the NFL level. Furthermore, the Eagles will often be asking Sanders to leak out on third downs to utilize his excellent receiving skills, so I see this criticism as missing the forest for the trees. The fact of the matter is that Sanders landed on the offense with the most stable QB situation and most weapons out of the top 3 RBs, and the holes one can poke in his profile aren’t nearly as glaring. Sanders is an imperfect 1.01 for sure, but it’s not a particularly difficult choice for me.
2. RB Josh Jacobs (Oakland Raiders) – Continuing with the RBs with significant first-year opportunity, Jacobs and his first round draft capital have to come next. With terrible athleticism and minimal college production, he honestly terrifies me long-term in a dysfunctional organization that over-drafted him. That said, he should accrue value this year, given he has the backfield mostly to himself. His receiving skills should crowd out competitors like Jalen Richard, allowing him the safest opportunity share in year one of any rookie. I’d probably look to trade Jacobs after this year, but he makes the most sense at this spot from a value standpoint as the only RB selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
3. RB David Montgomery (Chicago Bears) – Montgomery rounds out the trio of running backs with the opportunity to win a featured role in their rookie year. He lacks Sanders’ athleticism and Jacobs’ draft capital, but he was at least productive at Iowa State and showed competence on all three downs. Tarik Cohen will cut into Montgomery’s receiving work significantly, limiting his ceiling, but as long as he fends off Mike Davis, Montgomery will be a much safer short-term investment than any of the top receivers in the class. This is another player that I’d consider selling high on after this year if things work out for him.
4. WR N’Keal Harry (New England Patriots) – Harry has been my top-rated prospect in this class for months, and his good showing at the NFL Scouting Combine in conjunction with his landing with Tom Brady in the first round make it tough for me to rank him below all three of the RBs above him. The fact of the matter is that wide receivers very rarely have full breakouts in their rookie seasons. The position has a much steeper learning curve when it comes to adjusting to the speed of the NFL, and as such, receivers are much less likely to increase their value in year one, so I’ve tentatively placed Harry here. Don’t let the minicamp reports of Stephon Gilmore smothering Harry scare you off; if he’d been burning Gilmore, one of the best corners in the league, the hype for him would be out of control right now. Trust in Harry’s impressive production from a young age and enjoy watching him grow into a star at the tail-end of Brady’s career.
5. WR Parris Campbell (Indianapolis Colts) – Campbell certainly won the landing spot lottery in this year’s NFL draft. The opportunity to immediately challenge for snaps in the slot and catch passes from one of the league’s best QBs in his prime will do wonders for Campbell’s production. I can excuse away the lack of elite college production based on the amount of target competition he faced in Ohio State’s offense, and I’m interested to see what kinds of plays the Colts draw up for him and his 4.31 wheels. I suppose his downside is him becoming a faster Cordarrelle Patterson, but the ceiling he offers has me consistently targeting him in the first round of rookie drafts.
6. RB Darrell Henderson (Los Angeles Rams) – For starters, I’m convinced that in a vacuum, Henderson is a better player than both Josh Jacobs and David Montgomery. Unfortunately, football isn’t played in a vacuum. As a good athlete and as one of the most efficient runners in NCAA history, Henderson’s value hinges pretty much entirely on the health and workload of Todd Gurley. If Gurley is injured early in the year, Henderson immediately becomes the most valuable player in the class, but if Gurley goes out and carries the ball 20 times while looking great in week 1, Henderson will lose a lot of his intrigue very quickly. We own our players for life in dynasty, however, and the possibility of stepping into a featured role in one of the NFL’s best offenses at any moment warrants the spot in tier one. There’s also a very real chance Henderson carves out a role similar to Alvin Kamara in his own rookie year. Either way, Henderson is not for the faint of heart.
Tier Two: Even Tighter than the First
7. WR D.K. Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks) – Metcalf has had one of the strangest journeys as a prospect that I can remember. Both the love and the hate for this guy have gone full circle about four times since the end of the college football season (anyone remember when he was being hailed as the next coming of Calvin Johnson after running the 40 at the Combine, only for all of Twitter to collectively dunk on him when his times in the agility events came out?). As it stands now, Metcalf has incredible size-adjusted speed, an acceptable level of production given he was sharing the field with the next prospect on this list, and one of the better situations for a WR prospect in this class. Tyler Lockett is the only established receiver that will command significant volume from Russell Wilson, so Metcalf will get the opportunity to improve some of his technical shortcomings quickly.
8. WR A.J. Brown (Tennessee Titans) – I’d call him the more polished, more productive, less athletic version of Metcalf if their styles of play were at all similar. I’d much rather start a franchise with Brown, but the landing spot has to downgrade him slightly. Be prepared for him to not do much in his rookie year while trapped in Tennessee. Savvy owners will trade for him next offseason at a discounted price, since Brown as a prospect far outpaces his competitors in this tier. Situations can change quickly, especially with the crop of QBs entering the NFL draft next season, so don’t feel terrible about selecting Brown towards the end of the first round, even if his value is likely to go down in the short term. (What an awful draft class this must be for me to say that so early)
9. WR Andy Isabella (Arizona Cardinals) – Yeah, I’ll take the unbelievably productive deep threat with 4.31 speed that’s paired with Kyler Murray in an air raid system, please and thank you. Christian Kirk will soak up a ton of snaps in the slot this year, but Isabella is expected to be the third receiver in this offense by all accounts from the Cardinals beat. I expect Isabella to make enough splashy plays in his rookie year on this ascending offense to build some hype this year. He’s as good a bet as any of these receivers to increase in value, and he’s also currently underrated. His size and level of competition at UMass are knocks on him for sure, but he turned in great performances even when facing tougher defenses. Against Georgia, he recorded 15 receptions for 219 yards and 2 TDs. Isabella is a steal in the second round, being superior in production, athleticism, and immediate situation to many of the wideouts going above him.
10. WR Deebo Samuel (San Francisco 49ers) – As an older prospect stepping in to a shallow receiving corps, Samuel could, in theory, lead the rookie WR class in targets this year. The pairing with Jimmy Garoppolo certainly doesn’t hurt either. However, Samuel’s similarities to Dante Pettis give me pause. Both are versatile and can play slot or flanker, and Samuel is a superior athlete, but it’s tough to bet on him overtaking a second-year player that plays an incredibly similar role to him. Perhaps Kyle Shanahan will get creative with the pair, and the situation isn’t much different from Isabella’s, but unlike Isabella, Samuel is properly valued right now, which explains the gap in my enthusiasm between the pair. The four receivers in this tier are all incredibly close for me, and I wouldn’t fault anyone who orders them differently.
11. RB Justice Hill (Baltimore Ravens) – Hill serves as another example of my win-now philosophy in action, pushing RBs up the board. Hill’s speed and receiving skills make him an ideal change-of-pace and satellite back at the NFL level. Baltimore will be run-heavy this year, and Hill will get ample opportunity to outshine the plodding Mark Ingram on limited carries. I envision a timeshare based on Hill’s smaller stature and Ingram’s seniority, but his upside is a Phillip Lindsay–esque role. Dump-off targets may be harder to come by if Lamar Jackson continues scrambling on every single play, but Hill’s year-one opportunity is nonetheless superior to the players in the next tier.
12. QB Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals) – The clear 1.01 in Superflex formats, but in reasonably-sized leagues that start only one QB, I just can’t justify investing at the position before all other rookies with clear year-one opportunity are off the board. Kyler himself is as close to a sure thing as you’ll get in this draft, with the Cardinals setting him up for success with a variety of weapons and an offensively-minded head coach. His rushing ability also grants him a nice weekly floor.
Tier Three: You’ll Have to Wait a Year
13. TE T.J. Hockenson (Detroit Lions) – Pretty much everything you could ask for in a tight end prospect. Top-10 draft capital, high production while competing with another first round tight end, and the size both to stay in the game as a blocker and be a useful weapon in the end zone. The Lions even lack a dedicated threat in the middle of the field. Unfortunately, history shows that tight ends take at least as long as wide receivers to develop, and first-year breakouts are exceedingly rare. If you have a need at the position, I wouldn’t fault a higher selection, but in general, it doesn’t make sense to draft tight ends in the first round of rookie drafts from a value maximization standpoint. George Kittle and O.J. Howard were still very reasonably priced after their rookie seasons. Hockenson has the talent to flash this year, but the Lions are likely to be a run-heavy team with Darrell Bevell calling the offense, so I wouldn’t necessarily reach.
14. WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (Philadelphia Eagles) – Arcega-Whiteside is definitely an intriguing prospect, possessing good size that will help him in the red zone along with impressive speed. Long-term, the pairing with Carson Wentz could be incredible. Unfortunately, Wentz has tons of weapons already, including the similarly big-bodied Alshon Jeffery and Dallas Goedert. Jeffery’s body is certainly older than he is and Goedert is only in his second year, but it’s tough to see Arcega-Whiteside breaking through this year, hence the lower tier. I predict he’ll be a screaming buy during and after the season.
15. WR Marquise Brown (Baltimore Ravens) – If you’re interested in players with high draft capital at a discount, here’s your guy. I understand many scouts think highly of Brown, and targets are available for him in theory, but production for him this year requires us to project an enormous leap forward for Lamar Jackson. Recall John Brown, a similar deep threat, being essentially deleted from the offense once Jackson took over last year. That uncertainty in combination with the injury robbing us of testing numbers for Brown means I’ve dropped him here. Once again, most likely a guy you should buy next offseason.
16. RB Damien Harris (New England Patriots) – Never forget that Sony Michel has a bad knee. The Patriots backfield is crowded as usual this year, but it’s worth taking a stab on a piece of it at the price of a second-round rookie pick. For his part, Harris managed to outproduce Josh Jacobs at Alabama, so that should count for something. He’s essentially a handcuff and you won’t see me getting overly excited about him as a player, but the draft capital and the offense he’s on make him the smart pick at this spot.
17. TE Noah Fant (Denver Broncos) – The landing spot is the main thing separating Fant and Hockenson in my rankings. Fant put on an absolute clinic at the Combine and was just as productive as Hockenson, but the idea of some combination of Joe Flacco and rookie Drew Lock throwing to Fant doesn’t inspire excitement. There’s a decent chance the Broncos draft a better QB next year and Fant instantly becomes his favorite toy, but I think it’s pretty safe to wait a season before buying into him.
18. WR Mecole Hardman (Kansas City Chiefs) – A very fast player that looks a bit like Tyreek Hill… on the same team as Tyreek Hill. I was fully onboard with Hardman in the first a couple of months ago, but recent reports have pointed towards a short suspension, and the Chiefs seem content to keep Hill on the roster. Combine that with Hardman’s rather low production at Georgia, and you’ve got a player that could struggle to break out early in his career. The possibility of catching passes from Patrick Mahomes is certainly interesting, but Hardman no longer belongs in the same tier as the better prospects in this class.
19. WR Miles Boykin (Baltimore Ravens) – Boykin could conceivably open the season as the third receiver in Baltimore, with only Willie Snead and the aforementioned Marquise Brown ahead of him. Considering he’s an absolute athletic specimen and measures 6 foot 4, he could fill the gaping hole the Ravens have at the X position. As I said earlier, the QB situation isn’t ideal, but Boykin has the right mix of draft capital, athleticism, and opportunity to potentially break out at some point in the next couple of years.
20. RB Devin Singletary (Buffalo Bills) – Another handcuff on a far inferior offense to the one discussed previously. Singletary produced very well at Florida Atlantic, but he’s undersized and tested terribly at the Combine. You should be skeptical of players that play well against inferior competition, but then show a lack of athleticism, as they will often struggle to acclimate to the speed and size of NFL defenses. Singletary has some draft capital invested in him and a possible path to carries, though, so he ekes out a spot in the tier.
Tier 4: Four high-upside RB handcuffs in a row
21. WR Diontae Johnson (Pittsburgh Steelers)
22. QB Dwayne Haskins (Washington Redskins)
23. WR Hakeem Butler (Arizona Cardinals)
24. RB Dexter Williams (Green Bay Packers)
25. RB Ryquell Armstead (Jacksonville Jaguars)
26. RB Ty Johnson (Detroit Lions)
27. RB Bryce Love (Washington Redskins)
28. TE Irv Smith (Minnesota Vikings)
Tier 5: Wild Speculation
29. WR Gary Jennings (Seattle Seahawks)
30. RB Alexander Mattison (Minnesota Vikings)
31. RB Mike Weber (Dallas Cowboys)
32. RB Trayveon Williams (Cincinnati Bengals)
33. RB Benny Snell (Pittsburgh Steelers)
34. WR Terry McLaurin (Washington Redskins)
35. QB Daniel Jones (New York Giants)
36. QB Drew Lock (Denver Broncos)
37. RB Darwin Thompson (Kansas City Chiefs)
38. RB Tony Pollard (Dallas Cowboys)
39. WR Dillon Mitchell (Minnesota Vikings)
40. WR Jalen Hurd (San Francisco 49ers)
Feel free to hit me up on Twitter @QBLRyan with any questions about the rankings. I wish everyone good luck in their rookie drafts!
(Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)