The 4 Rookie Bargains You Should Target in Every Draft

RotoViz extensively covered the NFL draft with QB and TE models as well as multiple RB and WR models. During draft week, 24 writers penned 59 draft reactions. This week we released our rookie rankings. Twenty-two writers and dynasty owners ranked 60-plus rookies. This is a look at four rookies you should target in the first two rounds. Part 2 will focus on how to win your league by dominating Round 3.

Our rookie rankings and the rookie average draft position taken from the Dynasty ADP app agree on a top tier of Corey Davis, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Joe Mixon. If you have a later selection, it’s still possible to win your draft by trading down and attacking undervalued players.

John Ross

ADP 9.5    Our Rank 7.1

Ross and Mike Williams were selected at No. 9 and No. 7 respectively in the reality draft and are both arguably undervalued in rookie formats. Of the two, Ross has the stronger case. His 34 percent combined market share in 2016 dwarfed Williams’ 25 percent. The two have similar career numbers in terms of market share yards, and Ross was a far better TD-scorer despite his smaller size (27 percent to 19 percent).

Ross also possesses unique physical attributes. His combine record-setting 4.22 forty is well-documented, and his 37-inch vertical and 133-inch broad jumps help to confirm the otherworldly athleticism. By contrast, Williams showed himself as one of the least explosive jumpers (32.5, 121) before holding himself out of the other drills in favor of the more friendly pro-day experience.

Moreover, it’s hard to see a big difference in opportunity. Williams faces Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, and Hunter Henry. Ross battles A.J. Green, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, and Tyler Eifert. This is a draw, although Ross has less skill redundancy with his competitors.

Size is the only area where Williams owns an advantage, and this does matter, a fact which was controversial several years ago but is becoming less so.

NFL Draft Reaction: John Ross Goes to the Cincinnati Bengals

Zay Jones

ADP 15.1   Our Rank 11.4

Jones has definitely been a post-draft riser, but he probably hasn’t risen enough. Currently, he’s going behind Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt, and Samaje Perine. All three of these RBs were selected after him in the reality draft, ran slower than 4.5 at the combine,1 and face solid incumbents in the battle for playing time. This isn’t to say the runners don’t have value – I’ve selected all three backs in early drafts – but simply a record of serious red flags as well.

By contrast …

  • Jones blew up the combine. His 4.45 forty computes to a Freak Score of 60, and his 133-inch broad jump and 6.79 three-cone gave him a 94th percentile SPARQ.
  • He set records as a college senior, going off for 158 receptions and 1,747 yards.
  • He was drafted at No. 37 overall.
  • He landed in one of the best spots for immediate opportunity, and his long-term situation could be even better after Buffalo’s contract decisions signaled concern for Sammy Watkins‘ health.


Even though our rankings show Jones as solidly undervalued, I would argue that we’re still too low on Jones.2

NFL Draft Reaction: Zay Jones Goes to the Buffalo Bills

Curtis Samuel

ADP 18.1   Our Rank 11.8

I’ve been mildly skeptical of Samuel as a one-year wonder with questions about positional fit, but he’s become a clear bargain due to the overvaluing of Tier 2 RBs.

  • Samuel was the No. 40 overall pick in the draft, ahead of even first-tier runners like Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon.
  • He ran a 4.31 at the combine. Most of the other “speed” receivers in this year’s draft ran in the mid 4.4s.3
  • Currently at WR, the Panthers have an inefficient and overweight No. 1  in Kelvin Benjamin4 and an impending bust in Devin Funchess.
  • His closest comps are Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb.


Seven our writers ranked Samuel inside the top 10. He’s a bargain anywhere in the second round.

NFL Draft Reaction: Curtis Samuel Goes to the Carolina Panthers

Joe Williams

ADP 23.4  Our Rank 21.2

As Williams continues to go earlier in rookie drafts, the gap closes between our rank and ADP, but we’re almost certainly too low on the new 49er. After all, Williams was No. 4 in the RB Success Model yet slid to No. 11 in our rankings.

San Francisco traded up to select him, and the landing spot is excellent in terms of both opportunity and scheme. Kyle Shanahan consistently runs one of the most RB-friendly offenses in the NFL, and the 49ers have tried to distance themselves as much as possible from Carlos Hyde without burning that bridge completely.

In fact, when you consider Anthony Amico’s compelling argument against the rookie runners in the top five, it’s not out of the question that Williams will become a dark horse challenger to finish No. 1 in rookie RB points. He’s the only player I’ve landed in all five of my early rookie drafts.5

NFL Draft Reaction: Joe Williams Goes to the San Francisco 49ers

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I look at the 5 rookies to target in Round 3 to rebuild on the cheap.

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  1. I mention this because speed factors very heavily in RB projection, and the 4.5 threshold is especially meaningful. Kamara performed well in other drills, but Hunt and Perine are below average athletes for NFL runners.  (back)
  2. I have  Jones at No. 8 overall. The rankings article contains of our individual results.  (back)
  3. Although it pales in comparison to production, speed does matter for WR projection.  (back)
  4. 2017 Air Yards WR Countdown: No. 34 Kelvin Benjamin  (back)
  5. It required a costly trade-in to select him in our RSO contract league.  (back)
By Shawn Siegele | @ff_contrarian | Archive

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