3 Rookies We’ve Ranked Too Low
We just released our 2017 Post-Draft rookie rankings, where 23 RotoViz contributors ranked the rookies 1-50 (or even deeper in some cases). The composite rankings are great because the provide a bit of a wisdom of the crowd approach to rookie ranks.
However, we certainly don’t all agree, which is the best part about this, because now we get to talk out our differences. I’m going to highlight three rookies — one RB, one WR, and one TE — I think our staff composite rankings are too low on, and present my case for those players.
Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts
RotoViz Rank: 19.3 — My Rank: 12
Marlon Mack is someone I fell in love with prior to the NFL draft, because he’s incredibly similar physically and athletically to Joe Williams. And, I’m really high on Joe Williams. Like really high.1 Using Kevin Cole’s combine metrics that matter for RBs, we see just how similar the two are.
Now consider that Mack has a few extra advantages over Williams. First, Mack has a larger body of work, having rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons at USF. Next, Mack’s landing spot is arguably better for opportunity, where he ranks second among all rookie RBs in rushing opportunity. So while I gushed over the landing spot for Joe Williams, Mack’s landing spot in Indianapolis is as good, if not better.2 Third, Mack far exceeds Williams in collegiate receiving stats. Mack averaged 1.8 receptions per game over his career, including 2.33 in his final season, compared to only 1.0 per game for Williams in his final year. That’s part of the reason he comes in ahead of Williams in the RB prospect lab.
I expect Mack to grab a majority of the receiving workload as the year progresses, and to spell veteran Frank Gore for one or two series per game. And who knows, if Gore finally hits the age cliff, Mack might just gain the featured back role over career backup Robert Turbin.
Chad Hansen, WR, New York Jets
RotoViz Rank: 39.9 — My Rank: 25
Hansen went 141st overall to the New York Jets and slots into a team that has ample opportunity available with the departure of Brandon Marshall. Add in Robby Anderson‘s recent arrest and Eric Decker‘s rehab, and only Quincy Enunwa looks to be a sure-fire Week 1 starter.
The Jets also drafted wideout ArDarius Stewart, but Hansen and Stewart share vastly different profiles and should play different roles on the field.
Stewart measures in at five-feet-11 inches and 204 pounds. Hansen is a full three inches taller, but at a similar weight. Stewart was a YAC monster who lined up all over the field, while Hanson almost strictly lined up out wide and frequently won contested jump balls. With Enunwa the only certain Week 1 starter, that seems to favor Hansen more than Stewart thanks to Enunwa’s high slot percentage, even after the Decker injury.
If Decker isn’t ready for opening week, and if Anderson gets suspended for Week 1 (unlikely, as his situation will probably take some time to play out) or cut (possible), who will line up out wide for the Jets? Charone Peake and his -1.68 Phenom Index score? Or possibly the 5-foot 10-inch UDFA Jalin Marshall? Oh, he’s suspended too. Hansen probably fits the bill the best.
Finally, the age-adjusted production also favors Hansen. Looking at their career trajectories, we see that both ended up better than their age-adjusted expectation in their final seasons, but Hansen did so a full year younger. That gives Hansen a Phenom Index score of 1.47 compared to 0.34 for Stewart.
The combination of opportunity, production, and situation is why I’m higher on Hansen than my peers.
Jordan Leggett, TE, New York Jets
RotoViz Rank: 46.7 — My Rank: 37
Dear God what have I done? Two Jets? Yeah, call me crazy, but I love me some opportunity.
Yes, the Jets have barely touched the position in recent years, but incumbent Austin Seferian-Jenkins is yet again in trouble and will sit out the first two games of the 2017 season. New Jets offensive coordinator John Morton used to coach the TE position at Oakland, and the Jets spent plenty of time with O.J. Howard and Evan Engram at the Senior Bowl, so they are certainly invested in improving the position.
Leggett’s collegiate profile isn’t elite, but it’s also not terrible. Ignoring draft position for a moment, if we just look at the combine measures that matter for TEs in combination with production, Leggett’s comps are pretty interesting.
What I’m particularly enamored by, is his touchdown production for someone who had to compete with Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, and even future stud Deon Cain at Clemson. By comparison, Travis Kelce put up similar raw TD and yardage numbers, but dominated the market share, on that 2012 Cincinnati Bearcats team that featured only Kenbrell Thompkins.
Obviously, I’m not saying he’s Travis Kelce, especially athletically, but I don’t think he’s as far away from Kelce in production as it appears. Had Kelce played on a team with a top-three WR in his class, a fringe NFL WR, and another likely future NFL contributor we might be talking a different story about his market share numbers.3 Kelce only really had a fringe NFL WR to contend with.
If we add in draft position and strength of schedule (both to somewhat simulate the fact that he played harder competition, and also to show he likely faced more NFL-level competition for targets on his own team), the range of comps still aren’t terrible.
Leggett will likely be an NFL-level starter at some point in his career, and Phil Watkins’ TE model agrees, putting him over the 15 percent threshold where his model shows most of the long-term starters come from.
If we compare Leggett to some other TEs that we ranked ahead of him, here’s what we get:
- Adam Shaheen went to a crowded TE position on the Bears with Zach Miller and Dion Sims.
- Jake Butt is coming off an ACL tear that also included nerve damage. Are nine months enough for a full recovery?
- Bucky Hodges went to Minnesota with Kyle Rudolph coming off a career year.
Leggett might have the most direct route to targets among that group of TE prospects.
Leggett is a late round upside dart throw, and if our rookie ranks are an indicator of rookie dynasty ADP, I’d grab him a bit sooner than his late fourth round cost, hoping he can turn those first two games as the likely starter at TE into a full-time gig as a rookie.
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- I mean, we did just pass Prop 2 in Nevada… (back)
- Additionally, Alvin Kamara ended up with a slightly better landing spot according to Kleinheksel’s metric, but Kamara weighs the same and had a slower 40-yard dash, and far inferior rushing production, which is why he ends up with half of the success probability of Mack’s in Kevin Cole’s RB success model. (back)
- Or we might not, who knows. It’s a hypothetical, but one we can entertain at least. (back)