Projecting the 2017 Rookie Draft First Round and Where They Fit in the Dynasty Top 100
Recently I published my midseason dynasty rankings, looking at the top 50 in Part 1 and 51 to 100 in Part 2. Many leagues currently have a moratorium on trades, but others have no such limitations. Our evaluations of players likely to go in the 2017 NFL draft are obviously preliminary, but making informed trades requires some sense of future value. In Part 3, I’ll provide my initial first-round projection for next summer’s rookie drafts and also slot them into the top 100.
Evaluators have many different methodologies for projecting players. We will revisit and expand on our draft research this offseason, but my WR evaluations largely rest on final season market share, breakout age, draft status, and whether a player declared early. RB evaluations are based on receiving ability, speed, and draft status.
I follow the work of respected draft experts on many sites to get a sense of where players might go in upcoming drafts. (One good example is a recent piece by SI’s Chris Burke that seemed to reflect both scouting opinion and on-field results.) Obviously many unknowns exist at this time.
A threat to go in the first 10 picks of the reality draft next spring, Cook could debut in the dynasty top 10. He continues to climb in the ACC record book with a sterling body of work that contains 4,166 rushing yards, 46 total touchdowns, and 73 receptions. He burst on the scene immediately as a freshman with 1,211 yards from scrimmage and hasn’t slowed down.
1.02 JuJu Smith-Schuster
Smith-Schuster has endured an odd, injury-plagued campaign where he struggled before Sam Darnold was inserted at quarterback. He then exploded with two 100-yard, 3-TD games against the Arizona schools, but back spasms and blowout victories have kept him from rolling up the stats over the last month. A controversial final year could see him go as late as the fourth WR drafted.
A top recruit from the 2014 class, Smith-Schuster immediately impressed with 700 yards as a true freshman opposite first-round pick Nelson Agholor. He backed that up with 1,454 yards and 10 TDs as a sophomore. This age-adjusted production puts him well ahead of Mike Williams and John Ross.
1.03 Corey Davis
Davis is going to go down as one of the better college players ever.1 Davis posted 941 yards and six TDs as a freshman, more impressive numbers when you realize that Western Michigan threw for barely over 2,500 yards and managed 12 passing TDs. That season landed him at No. 6 on the list of most precocious receiving seasons of the last decade. He followed that up with 1,408 yards and 15 of his team’s 26 TDs. After an injury-plagued junior campaign with only 1,429 yards, he’s rebounded as a senior with 1,202 yards in 11 games and 16 of his team’s 27 TDs. Blessed with an alpha receiver frame, Davis could solidify himself in the first round with a solid combine.
1.04 Leonard Fournette
Fournette inspires strong feelings in draftniks. Many consider him to be the clear No. 1 prospect in a loaded draft. Others are more circumspect, wondering about the way his traits will translate and concerned about chronic injuries.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound specimen recorded 2,206 yards from scrimmage as a sophomore after an elite freshman season. Games like his 16-carry, 284-yard, 4-TD demolition of Mississippi help demonstrate the physical dominance that has most draft observers projecting him to follow Ezekiel Elliott as a top-10 reality pick.
1.05 Christian McCaffrey
After re-writing the record books with 2,664 yards from scrimmage in 2015 amid what should have been an easy Heisman win, McCaffrey has suffered through injuries and a Stanford slump in 2016. Although his raw stats are down, McCaffrey has actually raised his yards per carry to 6.3 this season and managed 14 TDs on a low-scoring Cardinal squad.
With 98 receptions and counting, we could be looking at a Le’Veon Bell type weapon in PPR leagues.
1.06 Mike Williams
Among the three big-bodied headliners at WR, Williams is the flashiest and frequently leapfrogs the other two in scouting-based evaluations. He’s also tricky for the market share approach due to the players with whom he shares receiving responsibilities at Clemson. Unlike Smith-Schuster and Davis, he didn’t make a splash as a freshman, but that’s not a surprise playing behind Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Of course, he then caught fewer passes and scored fewer TDs than fellow draft prospect Artavis Scott in 2014.2
After losing his junior season to injury, he’s roared back with 1,014 yards in 11 games in 2016. Unfortunately, that pales when placed in context. He’s only responsible for 28 percent of the receiving yards and has pulled in only seven of 32 TDs, trailing teammate Deon Cain in that category.
Most of this will be moot if Williams torches the combine and goes in the first 15 picks of the reality draft, but keep in mind that most first-round busts of recent vintage come in toward the bottom of the market share spectrum.
1.07 Royce Freeman
Caught in the midst of Oregon’s freefall and hampered by injuries, Freeman’s raw output has slipped as a junior. He’s still averaging 5.6 yards per carry and has 20 receptions. The Duck roared to over 3,700 yards from scrimmage in his first two seasons and isn’t allergic to the receiving game with 62 career catches. At 5-foot-11, 230 pounds and with some questions about his speed, it’s possible he falls into the Jeremy Hill/Carlos Hyde tier. His elite age-adjusted numbers would suggest something more.
1.08 Nick Chubb
When Todd Gurley went down in 2014, true freshman Chubb replicated the same freakish level of explosion with 1,547 yards on 7.1 yards per carry. Throw in 18 impressive receptions and Chubb hit 1,760 yards from scrimmage and 16 TDs. He upped his efficiency to an absurd 8.1 yards per carry in an injury-shortened sophomore campaign that saw him play in only six contests. That foreshadowed a 2016 season that’s become a slog. He’s doubled his carries from 92 to 185 and only managed 153 more yards. There’s still time to rehabilitate his image during the pre-draft portion.
1.09 Courtland Sutton
It’s a little surprising that Sutton isn’t generating more enthusiasm. The SMU star quickly emerged with a 49-863-9 line in his redshirt freshman season, strong numbers in a poor passing offense. His 2016 market share numbers (42 percent yardage, 47 percent TDs) dwarf those of Mike Williams and John Ross, and at 6-foot-4, he sports a No. 1 wide receiver body.
1.10 D’Onta Foreman
Foreman is a late-bloomer with a likely one-dimensional skillset, but the 249-pounder’s junior season has been remarkable. Having racked up at least 100 yards rushing in every game, Foreman reached the 250-yard mark in three of his last five contests.
1.11 Samaje Perine
Perine is going in the opposite direction, but almost anything would have been a disappointment after a freshman season with 1,712 yards and 21 TDs. His 2016 has been marred by injuries, but he’s expected to be an elite early-down hammer in the NFL at 235 pounds.
1.12 John Ross
The buzz around Ross suggests he’ll be a first-round pick this spring, but his size (173 pounds) and resume don’t quite comply. Ross made his main contributions on special teams during his first two seasons (579 total receiving yards) and missed his third due to injury. Currently he sits at 33 percent of his team’s receiving yards, solid numbers but not the level that would eliminate concerns. On the other hand, he’s scoring TDs at a frantic pace, and his exploits could see him drafted not long after Mike Williams.
Where Do They Fall?
I’ve made a few adjustments to the dynasty rankings based on recent developments and with an eye to promoting high-vol players. This is a projection of where the 2017 rookies will slot in after next year’s draft. Some of these valuations may be high, but the top 100 is littered with players from the 2015 and 2016 classes, many of whom have lesser resumes and/or have yet to perform at the NFL level.3 Young players tend go early in startup drafts and hold their value over the course of the first year. (Whether they deserve those rankings is another question.)
Let me know how you would rank the prospects, which players you consider to be the most glaring omissions, and where you’d place them compared to current veterans.