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With the 2014 NFL Draft now in the books, it’s time to take an early look at the potential class of 2015. I recently took a retrospective look at a year old 2014 rookie mock and learned much about the way the value of these young players can change over a full season. Some of the top players, running backs especially, saw an extreme drop in dynasty value, while a large number of running backs and wide receivers bypassed the top quarterbacks in terms of value. Some of these are difficult to predict a year out, while some have been factored into the 2015 version of the dynasty rookie mock draft.
Before we get to the picks, let’s take a quick glance at the overall strength of each position.
Most dynasty players expected the quarterback class of 2014 to be one of the strongest in recent memory. Instead, a surprise decision by Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and the annihilation of Teddy Bridgewater’s value through over-analyzing led to a weaker than expected class. The good news is dynasty owners in need of a quarterback should have some very good options in 2015. Along with Mariota, who has already said he expects to declare for the NFL Draft following his redshirt junior season, there are a collection of other quarterbacks who could be first round picks, such as Jameis Winston of Florida State, UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Bryce Petty of Baylor. As we have recently been reminded though, just because an NFL team values a quarterback as a first round choice does not mean dynasty owners will follow suit.
All we’ve seen and heard over the past two or three years is how the NFL no longer values running backs, and that idea has carried over to dynasty leagues where teams often build around young wide receivers or stud quarterbacks and tight ends, with the running back position often being put on the proverbial back burner. This theory has been given credence by the lackluster free agent running back classes in recent years, as well as the fact no running backs have been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft in either of the past two years. This could all change in 2015 as a stacked class of runners are set to hit the league and reclaim the first round draft position in both the NFL Draft as well as your dynasty rookie drafts. There could be as many as five or six running backs who could enter the league valued higher than any back from the past two classes. Considering the surprising success of the running back group in 2013, that is saying a lot.
Next year is likely to be the year where wide receiver is not the focus of the first round of most rookie drafts. As I’ve mentioned, and you’re likely well aware, 2015 will be the year of the rookie running back. That does not mean there will be a complete lack of wide receiver talent. In fact, the class of 2015 should compare well to the 2013 group in that there will be some solid depth, but lacks top end talent. It’s difficult to judge the depth of a class a year away, but there are already a solid list of nearly ten receivers who could make a splash in 2015. Among the players who just missed out on the first round are Nelson Agholor, Jaelen Strong, Sammie Coates and Devante Parker. Each of these players has already compiled some impressive college resumes and it would not be a surprise if any ended up as first round rookie picks in dynasty leagues.
After back-to-back strong classes at the tight end position, next year looks like an absolute wasteland at the position. The best tight end prospect from the class of 2015 was just moved to wide receiver, but more on him later. At this point, I don’t see any prospects who could crack the first round of the NFL Draft or dynasty rookie drafts. Of course, last year, very few saw breakout seasons from Eric Ebron or Jace Amaro coming either.
Now, on to the draft. Here’s a quick look at what your 2015 rookie draft might look like.
1.01 – Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
Although Todd Gurley entered the 2013 season in a close race with Alabama running back TJ Yeldon as the favorite devy running back, he now clearly owns that title and is the hands down favorite to be the top overall pick in dynasty rookie drafts in 2015. What’s really impressive is he reached this status despite missing some time last season due to injuries. Gurley is a big powerful runner, yet also has the ability to play with the attributes of a smaller back. Matt Waldman, author of the annual Rookie Scouting Portfolio, compares Gurley to another tall back, Larry Johnson.
1.02 – Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin
A year ago, it was Gurley and Alabama running back TJ Yeldon who were neck and neck in the running to be the top player in the class of 2015. While Yeldon fell off the pace a bit over the last year, Wisconsin runner Melvin Gordon claimed his spot. Gordon surprised everyone by opting to remain in Madison for another season and bypassing the NFL Draft, where he was expected to be the top running back chosen. His decision left a deep class, but one that was considered relatively weak at the top. This won’t be the case next year, when Gordon is the favorite to be a first round pick in the NFL Draft and the current option to be drafted immediately after Gurley in most dynasty rookie drafts. With James White off to the NFL and the New England Patriots, Gordon should see the majority of touches, but there’s another talented back in sophomore Corey Clement. Expect another year of committee attack from the Badgers, which can only help both backs as they won’t enter the leagues with an outrageous number of carries before the even take an NFL snap.
1.03 – Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper burst onto the scene as a freshman as he broke the school record for receiving touchdowns and quickly rose to the top of many devy draft boards, my own included. His stock dropped a bit during his sophomore season as his production dipped, but the early spring reports have been glowing and Cooper is the favorite to be the top wide receiver drafted, both in the NFL and in dynasty leagues.
1.04 – Mike Davis, RB South Carolina
South Carolina running back Mike Davis didn’t dominate early in his college career like many of the other players on this list, but he more than made up for it during his strong sophomore season, which saw him rush for nearly 1,200 yards and score eleven touchdowns. He also proved he can play a role in the passing game, hauling in thirty-four balls for over 350 yards. Davis is a stock power back at 5’9”, but also has surprising speed. Davis is flying a little under the radar as many only consider him the third best back in the SEC, but expect another outstanding year from Davis, which likely lands him in the second round of the NFL Draft.
1.05 – Karlos Williams, RB Florida State
One of the most intriguing prospects for 2015 is another who bypassed the NFL Draft, with good reason. Running back Karlos Williams arrived at Florida State as a hard hitting safety and a five star recruit, but following a couple of years at safety, Williams was transitioned to running back, a position he had also played in high school. Although it’s somewhat difficult to judge, Williams’ position switch saw a huge success. He did remain third on the Seminole depth chart last season, behind current NFL rookies Devonta Freeman and James Wilder, but that is no knock on Williams, who is expected to carry the load for Florida State in 2015. Even in limited time as the third back, he still managed 730 rushing yards and eleven scores in 2014. Williams really has it all when it comes to the traits needed to be a successful running back. If anyone can crack the top two, it’s Williams.
1.06 – TJ Yeldon, RB Alabama
Crimson Tide running back TJ Yeldon was among the most valuable devy players a year ago, but after a lackluster 2014 season, which often saw him being outplayed by either or both of his backups, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, his value plummeted. It really wasn’t so much about Yeldon’s struggles, though he did deal with some fumbling issues. The loss of dynasty and devy value can really be attributed to the success enjoyed by Henry, specifically at the end of the season. This left a bad taste in the mouths of dynasty owners when it comes to the once lofty expectations for Yeldon. They began to ask themselves if he was really anything special. The amazing talent coming into Alabama has to be strongly considered when trying to figure out this situation and the futures of the players involved. Basically, Henry is the hot new thing when it comes to Alabama football, just like Yeldon was during Mark Ingram’s final season. With so much talent in the backfield, and even more arriving in the form of true freshman Bo Scarbrough, Alabama will surely continue to use a committee approach, but I expect a bounce back season from Yeldon. What worries me more is the growing trend of Nick Saban coached players entering the league with a long list of (often unreported) injuries. This alone will lead me to draft another player in a close call.
1.07 – Dorial Green-Beckham, WR
You’ll probably notice the lack of school accompanying the name of wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. That’s because Green-Beckham was recently dismissed from the University of Missouri football team and his future school has yet to be determined. There have been rumors that he would land at Eastern Illinois, a Division 1-AA school for football. Of course, this means he would be eligible to play immediately according to transfer rules. This is a similar path traveled by former Tennessee Volunteer Da’Rick Rogers when he was sent packing from Knoxville prior to his final college football season. Other reports have him simply sitting out the season as he awaits his opportunity to enter the 2015 NFL Draft. Of course, this all stated with Green-Beckham’s continued off-field troubles, which have recently involved run ins with the law over drugs and burglary. It was the final straw for potentially the most talented receiver in college. Given the recent news surrounding other troubled players like Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon, and the fact that Colt Lyerla and Isaiah Crowell were not even drafted despite being among the most talented players at their position, this is probably too high for Green-Beckham. It seems there is always one dynasty owner willing to gamble on the top talent and Green-Beckham certainly has that. Talent alone would land him in the top ten of the 2015 NFL Draft and might be enough to earn him the 1.01 draft spot in rookie drafts. Instead, he continues to make mistakes, which could put a premature end to a promising career.
1.08 – Devin Funchess, WR Michigan
Like Williams mentioned above, another player who is going through a position change is Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess, who played tight end for the Wolverines through his first two seasons. The change won’t be all that drastic for Funchess, who often lined up on the outside throughout his Michigan career, especially last season with the arrival of a more traditional in line tight end, Jake Butt. With the move to wide receiver, expect Funchess to see even more targets and post a career year in what is expected to be his final college season. One other thing to love about Funchess is his youth. When the 2015 NFL Draft rolls around, Funchess will very likely hear his name called in the draft’s opening round and he’ll only be twenty years old at the time.
1.09 – Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
I mentioned earlier that quarterbacks often find themselves falling in rookie drafts as dynasty owners prefer to take a shot on a running back or wide receiver in traditional start one quarterback leagues. Another reason for this is the current depth at the quarterback position, where any of the top fifteen quarterbacks could provide owners with solid starting numbers on a weekly basis. With all of that being said, it seems that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has something special. He reminds me of a cross between Cam Newton and Daunte Culpepper, which is a pretty good thing when it comes to fantasy football numbers. As I mentioned above with Green-Beckham, the current concerns for Winston are happening off the field, as he’s had more than one brush with the law this off-season. So far, these incidents are very minor in nature, but NFL teams could view this as an unsettling pattern.
1.10 – Jay Ajayi, RB Boise State
Another running back who is staying mostly under the radar is Boise State’s Jay Ajayi. In his second season for the Broncos, Ajayi broke out and led the team with over 1,400 yards rushing and eighteen touchdowns. Like Gordon and Williams, Ajayi is yet another player who opted against entering the 2014 NFL Draft and unlike the others mentioned, it could end up hurting him. If he declared for the 2014 draft, Ajayi had a chance to be the top back drafted, but instead he’ll be just one of the large group of quality backs and with Gurley, Gordon, Williams and others, has almost no chance of being a first round draft pick and certainly not the top running back off the board. The good news is that Ajayi is talented enough to be a lead back in the NFL and will make a solid second day pick a year from now.
1.11 – Stefon Diggs, WR Maryland
Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs is just one of many talented underclassmen who dealt with serious injuries last season. Diggs suffered a broken leg that cost him the remainder of the regular season and also kept him out of action for the spring practices. Diggs is often cited as an explosive playmaker and if you watch him in action, you’ll know why. The big question for Diggs, who thrives due to his top end speed, is how his game will translate to the NFL. Though he is listed at 6’, there are questions about how legitimate that measurement really is, but we’ll find out for sure at the NFL Combine in February. Diggs is somewhere between Tavon Austin and Brandin Cooks. He’s easily bigger than Austin, but does not play with the force of Cooks.
1.12 – Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
I’ll go ahead and say it. A second quarterback being selected in the first round of rookie drafts will almost certainly not happen, but I had to give Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota some credit. I’ve already mentioned the surprising decision he made to return for his redshirt junior season, as well as the statement he made basically declaring this upcoming season to be his final college season. If you look at a 2015 NFL mock draft, and there are quite a few of them out there, you’re likely to find Mariota’s name at the top of the list. He’s considered to be the safer quarterback prospect, ahead of Winston, but for dynasty purposes, I’d still rather have Famous Jameis.
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