2017 Pre Combine Rankings
A look at our initial rankings for the 2017 rookies
With combine workouts cranking up tomorrow, I thought it would fun to share our in-progress Rotobahn rankings. Don’t get me wrong, we usually don’t adjust a ton based on the combine. It’s more about all the film that we’ll be watching between now and draft day. The combine is important for sure, but as we have said many times, it’s far from an end all be all. The data needs to be taken with a grain of salt—even from a data perspective. Think about it, do track stars run the same time over and over? No, some days they run less than expected. Some days, records are set. So we have this one snapshot to go on and it’s best if you view it as such. Game film is often a better indicator of speed, functional strength and agility. Pro days are also worth working into the mix.
My goal, as it is every year, is to have the rookie class as nailed-down as possible by NFL Draft day. That way, when landing spots start coming in, we can process things quickly and adjust the rankings accordingly—in time for you to use during your rookie drafts.
You’ll see some players listed in bold at each position. These are the players who are, in my opinion, in the first round discussion in rookie drafts. We could add a few more in the coming weeks, but this is the group right now. There are no quarterbacks on the list as yet, though the top three could have round one appeal in Superflex/2QB formats.
This is not a great quarterback class in terms of game-ready options. There’s not one guy in this class who I’d want starting for me next year on Sundays. Unless you play in a 2QB or Superflex league, I don’t think there are guys who deserve priority status in rookie drafts. The guy with the highest fantasy ceiling by our eyes is DeShone Kizer, who has both the arm and mobility to be a star if he can find more consistency. Mitch Trubisky has the best floor but is also on the inexperienced side and looks like he is a year or two away from being a frontline starter. DeShaun Watson is a great athlete for the position, but he misses too often and is a bit mechanical for our liking. He’s a block of clay with upside—not a player we’d consider in the early portion of the the NFL draft--like inside the top ten. Like a lot of folks, we are intrigued by Pat Mahomes, but do not view him as a guy who should play as a rookie. Chad Kelly has a strong skill set and a highly troubled off-field record. Jerod Evans is another guy who is interesting as a project. He’s very athletic and makes some good accurate throws but he’s also unconventional much of the time. I still have plenty of film to get through with these deeper guys and I am hoping that more film keeps coming out as it usually does between the combine and the actual draft.
We have a distinct top tier with the running backs. The top three are almost interchangeable in terms of how much we like them, but you are getting different things with each player. Any of them could be at the top of our board after the draft. Leonard Fournette, in particular, could jump up with a great landing spot. Carolina is a favorite spot of mine when it comes to Fournette. Dalvin Cook is probably the least landing-spot-dependent of the three and that’s why he gets the nod here. What Cook doesn’t need is a spot where he’ll get a lot of low quality volume. The Jets would be a good example of this. Christian McCaffrey is a special talent, but his body type may not be built for high volume in terms of carries. He could be outstanding as a lead back in a pass-first offense like Green Bay. Joe Mixon, as most everybody knows, has a truly reprehensible off-field incident, but he also has immense talent. We’ll have to see how the NFL deals with that and if he gets a decent opportunity. Make no mistake, his ability is first round caliber. Of course, when you do what he did, you have to wonder what kind of decisions he could make down the line. I’m not a psychiatrist or a sociologist for that matter, so I’ll tell you about his talent and the opportunity he ultimately gets. How to deal with his criminal past will be up to you. I’m not here to moralize.
Samaje Perine would probably be better known if not for Mixon, whom he shared touches with at Oklahoma. Perine is an NFL back all the way. He runs through tackles as well as any back in this class and he has an all around game to go with it. NFL teams are going to love him and he could really surprise some folks as far as how early he is taken. He is a complete football player and that includes some serious goal line chops. I really like this guy.
After the top five, you still have a whole lot of talented backs and they come in all shapes and sizes. You have power backs like James Conner and D'Onta Foreman (great name for a big back, right?), and you have some backs with more all-around skill sets like Marlon Mack, Jeremy McNichols, Matthew Dayes, Alvin Kamara and Jamaal Williams.
By the time we get to draft day, I’d be surprised if we aren’t sold on about 20 running backs in this class as being legit prospects. It's that deep and it’s a good year to have a lot of rookie picks—even in the deeper rounds. Here are just a few of the “honorable mention” guys who didn’t crack the top fifteen.
- Tarik Cohen, NC AT&T
- Wayne Gallman, Clemson
- Elijah Hood, North Carolina
- Justin Davis, USC
- DJ Pumphrey, SDSU
It’s a decent group of receivers without a clear standout. I’d be tempted to put John Ross at the top of the heap if not for his injury history, but when you combine that and his size together, there’s some reason to pump the brakes. We are fans of Mike Williams for sure though his lack of separation is certainly a concern. Corey Davis is our number one, but we’re probably not as high on him as some. He does just about everything well, but will have to adapt to playing good corners on almost every snap. Smith-Schuster is a guy we really like, but he needs to run respectably to solidify his ranking. Curtis Samuel is a player without a position to some extent, but man oh man, he can really play. And, unlike Braxton Miller, who we liked a lot last year, Samuel’s young enough to learn for a year or two and still have a lot of career left. I really like the idea of taking him late in round one or early in round two if you can afford to be be patient. Taywan Taylor has some special traits and we love the way he can gear up after the catch in the open field or out of a break. Watch this guy go get the football. It’s impressive. He’s also pretty good at some of the little things like working back to his quarterback. These are receivers we are already sold on, but we could add a few more pretty easily in the coming weeks as we complete our film work.
KD Cannon has some eye-popping athleticism. Amara Darboh has an NFL body and some strong game film to go with it. Malachi Dupre (awesome name) was stuck in a tough offense for a receiver but showed great big play potential. Cooper Kupp is intriguing but he played in a strange offense and that makes projecting him a tad more complex than the average receiver. We do not view him as a slot only guy and maybe not as a slot at all.
Here are a few of the “honorable mention” guys who didn’t crack the top fifteen.
- Darreus Rogers, USC
- Chad Hansen, California
- ArDarius Stewart, Alabama
- Zay Jones, East Carolina
- Chris Godwin, Penn State
- Stacey Coley, Miami
I have not seen a group of tight ends like this year’s group since 2010—the year Gronk and Jimmy Graham came out. There’s a whole lot of TE1 potential in this group and I flat out expect it of the top four guys, who all have big ceilings as offensive tight ends. OJ Howard is the total package. He could be the next great one. Evan Engram is a remarkable receiver and a solid blocker, though more than a bit undersized to be a true inline tight end. Of course, for fantasy, that’s probably a plus as he’ll probably be more of a big slot option. Engram also has the skill set to play outside like Gronkowski and Jordan Reed can. My player comp for Engram is a rich man’s Dustin Keller, whose career was ruined by a downright gross knee injury. Engram is more advanced than Keller was and has better hands too, so I think he produces better numbers as long as he is in a decent situation. Landing spot is big for Engram. I’d hate to see him misused as a typical tight end. David Njoku is a guy with a huge ceiling. I already have him projected as a first rounder in rookie drafts this year so do not be thrown by him at the three spot. He could easily jump over Engram if the landing spots dictate it. Jordan Leggett is a notch below the big three but still a notch above the rest of the pack, and it’s a strong pack this year. Leggett possesses a big fantasy ceiling with a plus size/speed combo and some good film as both a blocker and as a receiver.
The fun doesn’t end with the top four. Take Bucky Hodges for example. He’s got a TE1 ceiling though I see some development in his future. He’s a tweener in some ways—combining WR traits and TE traits. He could be a very nice add in deeper dynasty leagues—as long as you can afford to be patient. Patience will also be required for Jake Butt, who I like quite a bit but is coming off of an ACL injury suffered in 2016. The combine will be a big deal for Adam Shaheen, who played his ball at little known Ashland Univesity. This guy is a mountain of a man. He’s got some legit receiving chops and a basketball background. He’s yet another high ceiling talent at the position this year. We’ll be spending a lot of time on the tight ends over the next two months. It’ll be worth it. Trust me.
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