Rookie and Sophomores and Devys, Oh my! (Part One)

Ryan McDowell


The arrival of NFL Draft season brings with it many things that we as dynasty owners thirst for including transactions in the NFL and our own dynasty rookie drafts. As we dive into our rookie drafts, it is our nature as dynasty players to compare the current crop of rookies to the previous year as a way to gauge the potential value of draft picks and the players they will soon become. Another exercise many complete as during a rookie draft is to look forward to the rookie class a year down the road. This is often done as owners contemplate trade current picks for future value.

With this in mind, I thought it would be a fun exercise, and hopefully a useful tool, to rank the past two rookie classes, along with the potential rookie class of 2016, from a dynasty perspective.

My ranking methodology will be simple. I’ll rank my top 75 players from the rookie classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016 as I value them today. This means the potential rookies from 2016 are at a bit of a disadvantage since they are a year away from an NFL roster and are of course, more of an unknown asset. Ranking this same group on talent alone without factoring in team situation or NFL Draft position would look quite different. Also, as often as I make adjustments to my rankings, things could change quickly by the time this series concludes. Finally, I will admit if I performed this task ten more times, I would come up with ten differing lists.

Before we get to the actual list, here are the players that didn’t quite make the cut: Alfred Blue, Paul Richardson, OJ Howard, Allen Hurns, Branden Oliver, Justin Hardy, Kareem Hunt, Terrance West, Trevone Boykin, Cameron Artis-Payne, Tyler Lockett, Conner Cook, Andre Williams, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Chris Conley.

  1. Javorius Allen, RB BAL

The Ravens added rookie Javorius Allen and he should get an early opportunity at playing time behind Justin Forsett. While Forsett’s 2014 campaign was impressive, he could lose some touches to the bullish runner from Southern Cal.

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  1. Derek Carr, QB OAK

Derek Carr has the Raiders’ starting quarterback job locked down for the foreseeable future and even with added weapons at all skill positions, namely rookie receiver Amari Cooper, Carr still has a long way to go and is nothing more than a fantasy backup at this point.

  1. Evan Engram, TE MISS

The athletic tight end from Ole Miss, Evan Engram, has shot up my rankings lately as I’ve gotten to see a little more of him. I expect him to be my second ranked rookie tight end in 2016. The dynasty community seems to be figuring out young tight ends take a year or two before they begin to produce, which could keep Engram in the second round of rookie drafts, as it did to Maxx Williams this year.

  1. Bishop Sankey, RB TEN

I have never been a believer in Titans’ running back Bishop Sankey, whose value was propped up by his team situation a year ago, yet still flopped with little competition. The Titans added another back in David Cobb this year, so Sankey will have to really fight for his role.

  1. Devon Johnson, RB MAR

I’m intrigued by the big running back from Marshall, Devon Johnson. Even more interesting than his big frame is the fact that 2014 was his first full season at running back. A repeat performance in 2015 will have NFL teams and dynasty owners interested as well.

  1. Devin Smith, WR NYJ

Entering draft season, former Ohio State receiver Devin Smith was a player that dynasty owners and analysts had a love/hate relationship with, and I am one who was never a big believer in Smith. When he ended up with the Jets, which further solidified my opinion.

  1. Tre Mason, RB STL

A couple of months ago, Rams running back Tre Mason would’ve been much much higher on this list, but the addition of rookie Todd Gurley changes things in a hurry. Once Gurley is fully healthy, and it’s unclear when that will happen, Mason becomes another talented backup runner.

  1. Sammie Coates, WR PIT

Steelers’ rookie Sammie Coates is a player I just can’t figure out. He does a lot of things well that could lead to fantasy relevance, but also has some glaring flaws that may keep him from seeing the field. In the end, I trust the Steelers’ recent history of drafting quality receivers.

  1. James Conner, RB PITT

University of Pittsburgh running back James Conner exploded in his second season, totaling over 1,800 total yards from scrimmage and scoring 26 touchdowns. It’s hard to ignore this production from Conner, but at 6’2” and 250 pounds, I wonder if he’s too big, not to mention his lack of activity in the Panthers’ passing game.

  1. Cardale Jones, QB OSU

Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones is a huge wildcard for a variety of reasons. He’s no lock to even win the Buckeyes’ starting job considering some stiff competition from JT Barrett and lacks experience at the college level. With that said, he has some major upside and could end up being a top five overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

  1. Charles Sims, RB TB

Buccaneers’ running back Charles Sims seems primed for a larger role in his second season as former star Doug Martin continues to struggle. If Sims does manage to earn the starting job, or even the lion’s share of a committee attack, I’ll be looking to sell him in my leagues.

  1. Josh Doctson, WR TCU

I’ve seen many devy leaguers and draft scouts who are very high on Texas Christian wide receiver Josh Doctson, but I have my doubts. Along with his thin frame, he’s also much older than most receivers in his class. While that’s not a deal breaker, it could knock him down a spot or two, as it did last year with Kelvin Benjamin.

  1. Tajae Sharpe, WR MASS

UMass wide receiver Tajae Sharpe is on of those size/speed combination receivers that fantasy owners have come to obsess with and in his junior season in 2014, he nearly doubled his yardage and touchdown numbers from the previous season. He is not yet a household name but has a chance to rise up draft boards as his dominator rating at a mid-level school should be off the charts.

  1. Jace Amaro, TE NYJ

Jets’ tight end Jace Amaro had a relatively quiet rookie season, and as I mentioned earlier, that’s to be expected from most young tight ends in recent years. I like Amaro’s talent a lot, but I don’t have faith in his situation considering he will be the third or fourth option and the Jets’ have questions at quarterback.

  1. Devonta Freeman, RB ATL

With veteran Steven Jackson holding tight to the starting job a year ago, rookie Devonta Freeman didn’t get the carries many expected and his role in 2015 is cloudy following the addition of rookie back Tevin Coleman. The Falcons are expected to use a committee attack and Freeman has a chance to increase his value in 2015.

  1. Matt Jones, RB WAS

Much like Allen in Baltimore, Matt Jones is a rookie back being propped up by his landing spot, not to mention his surprising third round draft spot. We can assume Jones slots in directly behind starter Alfred Morris and while I don’t expect him to overcome Morris as the starter, there has already been talk of a committee in the nation’s capital. If Jones claims a larger role than expected, his value could skyrocket.

  1. Elijah McGuire, RB ULL

Elijah McGuire, running back for the Ragin’ Cajuns of University of Louisiana-Lafayette, is a big play waiting to happen. With an ideal frame for a running back, 5’11” and 198 pounds, McGuire burst onto the scene as a true freshman and averaged over eight yards per carry. Last season he saw starter’s carries for the entire season and still tallied 7.6 yards per carry, and was also heavily involved in the passing game, totaling over 850 receiving yards through two seasons. He’s a player I could see really moving up my rankings over the next year.

  1. Eric Ebron, TE DET

You may have noticed my devaluation of the tight end position, and that continues here with the top tight end from the 2014 class, Eric Ebron, coming in at fifty-eighth overall. Ebron struggled in the Lions’ pass heavy offense, yet is still being relatively highly valued in startup dynasty drafts. For now, he gets the pass that most rookie tight ends would get, but he has to prove he can play the position in 2015.

  1. Maxx Williams, TE BAL

Another tight end, this time the tops of the 2015 rookie class, Maxx Williams. Williams had no contenders for this title and was a smart pick by the Ravens on day two of the NFL Draft. With Dennis Pitta’s career in jeopardy, Williams could see a large role from day one.

  1. David Cobb, RB TEN

I’ve already mentioned Titans’ rookie running back Cobb and after what we saw from Sankey during his rookie season a year ago, I really like Cobb’s chances to play a significant role in the Tennessee offense. I’m not necessarily a huge fan of Cobb’s natural talent, so if he does become a player who sees a huge spike in value, I would be looking to deal him for a profit.

  1. Marcus Mariota, QB TEN

Another Titans’ rookie, this one is more of a high profile player, second overall pikc quarterback Marcus Mariota. I like Mariota as a player, but there are some concerns about his transition to the league. When also considering the conservative Titans’ offense and the devaluation of the quarterback position as a whole, Mariota lands surprisingly low on this list.

  1. Jay Ajayi, RB MIA

Like Mason, running back Jay Ajayi would’ve been much higher on this list just a couple of months ago. Entering draft weekend, Ajayi was viewed by most in both fantasy football circles as well as the NFL Draft community as the third ranked running back. Instead of being a high day two selection, reports of a bum knee caused the former Boise State runner to plummet to day three where the Miami Dolphins took a shot on him. Depending what you think of current starter Lamar Miller, this could be a good or a bad situation for Ajayi. I am worried that the Dolphins never seemed fully committed to Miller, evidenced by the fact that he has only eclipsed 20 carries in a single game once in his career.

  1. David Johnson, RB ARI

Much like Jones in Washington, David Johnson is a player I have become fond of due to his situation and competition for touches. In Arizona, Johnson will compete with third year back Andre Ellington for touches and simply, I think Johnson is a better player. Considering Ellington’s injury history, Johnson is yet another running back in the class of 2015 who could quickly gain dynasty value.

  1. Leonte Carroo, WR RUT

Many expected Rutgers’ wide receiver Leonte Carroo to make the leap to the NFL following his junior season, but he instead chose to return to New Jersey for his final season. After a strong sophomore season where Carroo became well-known for making big plays, Carroo exploded in 2014 and displayed a well-balanced game, eclipsing 1,000 receiving yards and hauling in ten touchdowns. Carroo may end up as an under the radar receiver in what looks like a deep class of pass catchers. When Carroo falls to the second round of dynasty rookie drafts, he’ll present an excellent value.

  1. John Brown, WR ARI

Cardinals’ second year wide receiver John Brown was one of the biggest surprises of the 2014 season and has been highly discussed this off-season. He easily overshadowed and outplayed the more hyped Michael Floyd and, like Carroo, developed a reputation for being a big play threat. To continue to gain dynasty value, Brown must develop his all around game and become a threat on all parts of the field, which I expect him to do. Now is the time to buy Brown in dynasty leagues.

In the next edition of this series, I’ll cover the next 25 players from the rookie classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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