Rookie Drafts Galore: Comparing the Round 1 Results of 6 Expert Drafts
As the embers of the 2017 NFL draft still smoldered, dynasty leagues fired up rookie drafts of their own. Over the last couple of months, I’ve taken over teams in Chad Scott’s Faked Goods league and Ryan McDowell’s Hyperactive format. Both of these leagues have two conferences, giving us four drafts to peruse. Meanwhile, we began drafting in multiple RotoViz leagues.
Last Thursday, we looked at Round 1 of the RotoViz Dynasty League (RDL) sponsored by MyFantasyLeague and a day later we delved into the big RB run in Round 2. We also used the weekend to draft in the RotoViz contract league for Reality Sports Online (RSO).
Instead of just one Round 1 to analyze, we’ll look at all six, and then I’ll break the rookie order down into mini-tiers.
The Rookie Drafts
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
If you’re in a competitive PPR league, you should expect Davis to go off in the top spot. He landed at No. 1 in each of the six drafts as a simultaneously safe and high-upside pick at fantasy’s most valuable position. Even though Mike Williams and John Ross were surprise top-10 reality selections just a few picks after Davis went at No. 5 overall, the former Western Michigan star is without peer at his position.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
Fournette and McCaffrey split the No. 2 selections down the middle. Although Davis was the clear first choice, Fournette is also making noise as a potential top pick. I had the No. 1 selection in the Hyper draft and turned down a huge offer of Mark Ingram, Kelvin Benjamin, and Donte Moncrief. I counter-offered later and discovered the trade proposal had been made to grab the new Jaguars bell cow. Fournette sports red flags in terms of his landing spot, overall athleticism, and pass-catching prowess, but a reality selection of No. 4 overall re-invigorated the pre-combine comparisons to Bo Jackson and Adrian Peterson. He’s not anywhere close to that kind of athlete, but you’d pounce on even a thin echo of either player.
McCaffrey also went to a controversial location – you can see doubts about his fit in Carolina reflected in his fall to No. 6 in Active – but his athleticism, production, hybrid profile, and draft status argue for an immediate presence in fantasy’s second RB tier with Melvin Gordon and Jordan Howard.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Mixon was the favorite here with three selections in the No. 3 position. His prospect profile puts him right below Fournette in the RB Success Model, and his pass-catching ability gives him more upside. And that’s before you consider the goal line opportunities Jeremy Hill has benefited from in the Bengals offense.
Cook was selected as high as No. 3 overall and went ahead of Mixon in half of the drafts. The former Florida State star fell after the combine and hasn’t regained his momentum like Fournette. Whispers of injuries and off-field issues helped further torpedo his draft stock and landed him in a quagmire with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon. Likely the best pure runner in the draft, he still has plenty of advocates who are excited to take the mini-discount.
Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
That a big-bodied WR coming off a signature performance in the national championship game could go No. 7 overall in the reality draft and then fall outside the first five fantasy selections would be shocking without context. It’s both a testament to the depth of RB talent in this draft and a sign that fantasy owners maintain skepticism about the way his production tends to be overstated. At these prices, Williams isn’t a bad pick, even for critics.
Of course, we could be similarly surprised about Ross. How does a combine record-breaker and No. 9 overall reality pick go at No. 12 in the Active draft?1 Again we see concerns about true production, and in both cases owners are frustrated that Williams and Ross were drafted into loaded depth charts.
Howard has been the clear top TE. Going no later than 1.10, he was selected ahead of Evan Engram and David Njoku every time. When you consider the relatively close draft slots, the similar levels of athleticism, and the better age-adjusted production for the other two, this looks like an exploitable opportunity. Trading down even a few spots in a rookie draft can often net considerable future value.
2017 NFL Draft Reaction: Mike Williams Goes to the Los Angeles Chargers
2017 NFL Draft Reaction: John Ross Goes to the Cincinnati Bengals
2017 NFL Draft Reaction: O.J. Howard to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Evan Engram, TE, New York Giants
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Engram and Smith-Schuster were both selected in five of six drafts. While rookie TEs are poor bets historically, Engram is the best option to break that mold and provide Jordan Reed value in the near term as a catch-first player.
Smith-Schuster remains a cult favorite to a large part of the fantasy world. We remember his 2015 as the best non-Davis season by any WR in this draft. He was my pick in 17 RotoViz Writers Reveal Their Favorite NFL Draft Selections.
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
Zay Jones, WR, Buffalo Bills
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
Curtis Samuel, WR, Carolina Panthers
Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Njoku is the youngest and highest-upside TE in the class but probably requires patience as the Browns sort out their QB situation. He was selected three times and was quickly off the board in Round 2 otherwise.
Jones absolutely destroyed records in his final season and then took the draft process by storm, impressing at the Senior Bowl before showing a level of athleticism that surprised draftniks and belied his 11.1 yards per catch. The final stroke to his offseason coup de grace was landing on a barren WR depth chart in Buffalo where he could conceivably challenge Jarvis Landry’s early career receptions record.
Kamara, Samuel, and Hunt usually fall into Round 2, but they also have their fanatics and will occasionally go much earlier. Kamara was consistently the No. 4 back in the RotoViz Scouting Index and would be a bargain at these prices even if you didn’t know the Saints had paid a king’s ransom to move up and take him as their next Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles.
Beat writers frequently mentioned Hunt as a priority target in a our draft preview series on RotoViz Radio. His rookie stock spiked when visions of Brian Westbrook caused Andy Reid to trade up in Round 3. Hunt’s limited speed (4.62) and weak college schedule make him a controversial choice in both reality and fantasy, especially after he failed to impress in the RB Dominator Ratings.
2017 NFL Draft: David Njoku Goes to the Cleveland Browns
2017 NFL Draft: Zay Jones Goes to the Buffalo Bills
2017 NFL Draft: Alvin Kamara Goes to the New Orleans Saints
2017 NFL Draft: Curtis Samuel Goes to the Carolina Panthers
2017 NFL Draft: Kareem Hunt Goes to the Kansas City Chiefs
Samaje Perine jumped in at No. 10 in Goods.
How to Play It
- If you want Corey Davis, you’ll likely need to pay a lot to get there. 2015 undefeated RDL champion Charles Kleinheksel swapped Julio Jones for Will Fuller and the 1.01.
- If you have a favorite RB prospect, you may need to move up to get him. Fournette, McCaffrey, and Mixon can all go very high in any specific draft. If you have the 1.02 and a relatively flat board, you can potentially win your draft simply by moving down a couple of spots.
- Williams and Ross are solid trade-in targets for owners who do not have first round picks but can benefit from the disillusionment of owners who were hoping to grab an RB at 1.06.
- If you play in multiple leagues, try to keep an open mind about the second wave of RBs and WRs. Be willing to both move down and diversify your portfolio. I’m skeptical about Kamara after his extremely low score in both the RB Prospect Lab and RB Success Model, but I selected him at 2.07 in the RDL. In the Hyper draft, I borrowed a page from Amico and Freedman and selected Samuel at 2.06.
Good luck drafting everybody. We’ll keep you up-to-date as rookie drafts play out over the next three months.