What Now? – Rookie Ranking Recap

Jeff Haverlack

williamsAnyone following me for any length of time knows that my favorite part of the dynasty game is all things rookie-related.  From countless hours of film review, player analysis, talent scoring and rankings, it’s this part of the game where I feel I have the most to offer our premium members and readers.

I’ve never been afraid of being incorrect or flat out wrong, it comes with the territory.  But nor am I afraid to pat myself on the back for accuracy.  It is through this objective analysis of my results that I constantly hone my skill and attempt to improve to any degree that I can.  Through those efforts I know I’m doing right by those that follow us here at DLF.

Each year when I survey the fantasy landscape for emerging rookie reviews as we near the NFL Draft, it’s the same thing every year.  A few well known pundits share their information and the hype-train leaves the station at break-neck speed.  Following the experts’ analysis, fantasy analysts rush to throw their support and/or criticism into the fray often times mindlessly parroting what they’ve heard elsewhere without any substantial film review to support their position.  I’ve said it from the beginning here at DLF:  be very careful who you choose to follow when assembling your own rookie rankings.  It’s imperative that you not only choose wisely but then evaluate the results to ensure some level of accuracy.  No ‘expert’ will approach 100% (not nearly) with their analysis, but to be sure, there are some much better than others.  And each will have their own strengths and weaknesses.

For myself, my accuracy tends to be best at the wide receiver position.  Quarterback review is something I enjoy and I have been pleased with my results overall but in this area, I usually suggest that fantasy leaguers not get bogged down in too much analysis and, instead, focus more on the drafted position of rookie quarterbacks.  NFL teams spend a lot of money and time scouting quarterbacks and arm-chair analysts like us, putting our ego aside, will not find a secret formula that the true experts have missed.  Ranking of the quarterbacks overall (when combined with other positions) is another story however. Running back analysis, having not been particularly pleased with my accuracy levels is something I’ve adjusted in the past couple of years.  Now focusing far more on skill-sets required within the NFL and projecting those needs to the incoming rookie runners has given me far better results.  Combine that with the fact that NFL production does not necessarily equate to fantasy production and that has materially changed my reviews and projections.  I’ll notate this below in the reviews of certain players.

Most of all, when choosing who to follow, just make sure they do their own work, put in their own time and aren’t afraid to swim upstream, against the current of popular belief, rather than simply parroting the beliefs or rhetoric of others.  A vast amount of what I see and hear from the fantasy analyst community can be ignored in my opinion.  There are many good minds in our space but also far too much blind following as well.

What follows here is a look at my last set of rookie rankings from August, at least through the top 20 or 30.  Being that we’re over half-way through the NFL season, we have a good idea who is marking their territory in the NFL and who is falling short.  I’ll objectively review my performance noting my hits and misses in addition to answering the question of “what now?” for each. Through this effort, we’ll see if I had a good year of review or if, perhaps, I fell well short of my own expectations.  And with any luck, I can help you with a decision or two regarding your own rookies.

For reference, here are my rookie rankings as recently updated through week twelve of the season.

Now let’s look back at my rankings as they were in early August, starting with my top rated rookie and continuing down the list:

1.  Todd Gurley, RB STL

If not for Gurley’s collegiate ACL injury, he likely would have been first off the board in all formats, he was that good!  Now fully healthy and producing at a high level, he’s been as advertised and he’s only 21.

What Now?

Absolutely nothing.  Enjoy his production for the next eight to ten years and pray he can stay healthy

2.  Amari Cooper, WR OAK

I wish I could see that I was somehow prescient with these first two picks.  Fact is, both Gurley and Cooper were 1A and 1B and I wouldn’t argue either one being on top of the list depending on team need.  Cooper, like Gurley, has been as advertised and is displaying pro-caliber route running, hands and skills beyond his years.  He should remain a true WR1 for a decade or more.

What Now?

Again, like Gurley, nothing need be done here unless you wish to acquire him in trade.  Good luck as both these players will be extremely expensive.

3.  Kevin White, WR CHI

2015 has been a wash for the dynamic young receiver due to a stress fracture in his lower leg.  It’s a bad blow for the rookie but the good news is that with continued rest the injury shouldn’t linger into 2016.  Odds are he won’t play in 2015, but we’re more concerned about his long term value.  He’s got the size and big play ability to be a dynamic WR1 threat.  Matched with Alshon Jeffery across from him on Sundays, there’s a lot of potential here.

As my third ranked rookie, it’s a ranking I still stand by due to a size-speed dynamic that can’t be taught.  He has monster upside.  As for my ranking and accuracy, only time will tell.

What Now?

It’s an interesting situation.  I’d be a buyer of White if I can get him for any sort of diminished value.  Looking at the 2016 draft class, I still value White easily in the top five due to potential.  If you can secure him for a late first round pick or aging player to a competitive team here in 2015, do so.  If you are holding White, there’s plenty to be excited about next year.  It will be a bonus if we get to see him this year, but don’t hold your breath.

4.  Melvin Gordon, RB SD

This one is a bit of a mystery to me.  I did have some concerns with Gordon as a rookie, but none that I felt significantly reduced his value in fantasy.  For me, it wasn’t if Gordon would be a fantasy producer in the NFL but, instead, would it be as a RB1 or RB2?  My top concern was his lack of pass-catching experience which then puts more emphasis squarely on his ground game productivity. When this occurs, the margin for error shrinks drastically.

What has followed is a very disappointing performance through nine games.  Gordon has yet to rush for more than 88 yards (week two) in any contest and is averaging a paltry 3.6 ypc. average. Through eleven games he’s hauled in 22 receptions and lost three fumbles.  With any measuring stick, it’s been a very poor performance.

What Now?

There’s no doubt that, at least for 2015, my ranking of Gordon as the fourth best rookie isn’t cutting it.  I don’t necessarily believe it was a poor ranking at this juncture and he’s still young enough to capture significant upside but a running back that doesn’t turn heads quickly (Montee Ball) won’t get an unlimited number of chances to show.  Gordon’s value is down and I’d be buying far more than I would selling, but he’s not an active target for me unless I’m competitive now, deeper at the position already and can acquire him for a later first round pick.  If you are currently an owner of Gordon, there is little option other than holding in hopes of a better year in 2016 or a late spark this year.

5.  Devante Parker, WR MIA

Parker, much like White above, is concerning mostly due to injury.  I was higher on Parker than most of my peers due to his catch radius, ability to high-point the ball and game speed.  I still favor Parker’s tangibles as much as I do White and, at one point, had he and Parker as 2A and 2B on my rookie receiver rankings.  Fitting that they have both struggled with injuries.  My most significant flag for Parker was, indeed, his injury history.  Given the nature of these past injuries, my hope was that they wouldn’t follow him into the NFL.  With many players, it’s not the nature of the injuries themselves as much as it is the player’s routine and random occurrence.  My fear here is that this may be an issue with Parker.

What Now?

As my R5 (Fifth ranked rookie), he has to slide down the list until he can stay on the field and produce, neither of which has he been able to do yet.  With White, I won’t knock him down on value until he doesn’t produce on the field.  Parker doesn’t receive that same treatment from me.  I still believe he has immense talent and the ability to be a better pro receiver than he was at Louisville, but he’s now clearly in “show me” mode.

Parker remains one of my favorite players from the 2015 draft.  As such, I am acquiring him wherever I can but I will not overpay for him.  A very late first round pick, aging depth talent or perhaps even with a high second round selection would all be scenarios in which I would acquire Parker.  If I was deep at receiver and owned Parker and could move him for a late first rounder, I would consider it.  Otherwise, no reason to panic here yet as experience and time should allow him to establish more of a field presence.  I’ll give him at least through 2016, and most likely 2017.

6.  TJ Yeldon, RB JAX

Many had Yeldon much further down on their lists but I’ve always loved his game when projecting it to the NFL.  He’s one of those backs that I felt would have a better NFL career than collegiate due to his run-style, body and down hill ability with a level of lateral agility that projects well to the next level.  He hasn’t been ultra-productive early in his career but he’s picking up steam, blocks well, catches well out of the backfield and can churn out tough yards in the gaps.  He’s a perfect fit for what Jacksonville needs.

Arguably, he could be ranked in as highly as the R3 should we redraft these rookies now, although he’d still likely be a selection closer to fifth.

What Now?

At one point in early rankings, Yeldon was my second ranked rookie runner, behind only Gurley.  Gordon’s dynamic with the ball in his hand, coupled with a few of the top receivers available moved him to the R6, a ranking I still took some heat for.  His ranking here is solid and he has good upside.  I don’t see Yeldon as a high-value RB1 back but as a young upside RB2, there’s a lot to like here.  I suspect he’s only going to get better as it now appears Blake Bortles is coming into his own as a passer and has receiving weapons to occupy opposing defensive secondaries.

Yeldon is a good acquisition target for those needing lower-value running back depth an his upside outweighs his downside in my opinion.

7.  Breshad Perriman, WR BAL

It’s been an odd year for the rookies.  Believe it or not, in my primary and longest-running dynasty league I drafted Gurley (1.02), Kevin White (1.04), Breshad Perriman (1.07) and TJ Yeldon (1.12).  To say that I’ve been disappointed in my rookie receivers is an under-statement but being in the middle of a small rebuild project, I’ve got time on my side.  Perriman reminds me a lot of Julio Jones on the field though, as we haven’t seen him on the field yet for the Ravens, the comparison is unfair and fading quickly.  Suffering a PCL injury on the first day of training camp followed by surgery, we now have to wait until 2016 to see how he performs.  At only 22 years of age, there’s plenty of time for Perriman to make his mark.

What Now?

The ranking, as my R7, is completely up in the air.  His dynamic and potential is immense but he’s mired in one lengthy PCL recovery process and, as coach Harbaugh has said, “the clock is ticking”.  The Ravens need him now!  Being completely objective, it’s only potential and opportunity that supports Perriman’s value here.  Even so, there’s little way that he’s selected as the R7 and likely would fall out of the first round altogether.  Time will tell and you can acquire if you’re looking for an upside rookie value pick or hold if you, like I have, already selected him in the later first round of your rookie draft.

8.  Nelson Agholor, WR PHI

The first rookie that I felt most were too high on.  In fact, I own him in no leagues due to what I believed to be far too much hype without enough justification.  The primary catalyst for upside in my estimation was Agholor’s drafted situation, into Chip Kelly’s offense.  But even given that, I still didn’t see enough to suggest immediate intrigue or upside such that I’d be willing to risk a higher selection.

As the latest USC Trojan to hit the NFL, following in the footsteps of both Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, many saw elite route running and speed in Kelly’s system that could pay immediate dividends.  For myself, I still saw a receiver no better than Woods or Lee landing into an offense that not only tends to spread the ball around, but has shown no proof yet of featuring a receiver to suggest WR1 upside.  Given the three USC receivers, I ranked Marqise Lee higher and Agholor in a dead-heat with Woods, ever-so-slightly favoring Woods.  Thus far, this has been an accurate representation.

What Now?

I’m not buying.  If you currently own, you likely have to stand-pat and hope that Agholor recovers from his recent injury woes and can string together productive games to end the season.  Kelly’s system is still intriguing even without being well established and Agholor’s speed and route running is sufficient enough to keep him in the NFL for years to come.  At this juncture, 2016 looks to be the best bet for a greater role and production.  Ranking-wise, while some continue to stand by Agholor, I see him as a mid-to-early second round pick.

9.  Dorial Green-Beckham, WR TEN

DGB’s value swung wildly in rookie drafts depending on whether selecting coaches were enamored with his size and skill-set or scared off by his lack of field-time and off-field issues.  Given talent alone, he has the ability the headline all 2015 rookie receivers but given recent issues with high-profile receiver Josh Gordon there was also enough to seriously deflate his value.  To their credit, the Titans have been bringing DGB along slowly and it now appears he’ll be given every opportunity for significant snaps over the second half of the season.

What Now?

I had seen DGB selected in the middle of the second round and as early as fifth overall.  As mentioned previously, on talent alone, a high first round grade is not out of the question.  Even now, without the production to justify it, I believe his value is secure as the R4 or R5.  His size, speed and hands all translate well to the NFL and it’s been all quiet on the character front early in his professional career.  Originally, I had Green-Beckham ranked as my R7 but lowered him following the draft on Perriman’s and Agholor’s situations. I would be acquiring DGB if in need of a young upside receiver with a price anywhere in the second half of the first round and potentially higher.  I recently traded away Darren McFadden for DGB on a team in rebuild mode.

10.  Ameer Abdullah, RB DET

As the preseason and early regular season games unfolded, I had wondered if I was too low on Abdullah.  Truth be told, I had the diminutive back ranked in the early teens until the drafted situations of other rookies forced my hand in upgrading him.  Following his week one performance where he tallied 50 yards on seven carries to go with 44 yards on four receptions, I remember remarking to fellow DLF Partner, Ken Kelly, that I was fearful that my analysis may have failed me in his case.    Instead, what has transpired is much more of what I expected.

Abdullah does have greater inside running ability than many his size but I haven’t seen the commitment or ability on those runs to suggest that he’s anything more than a third down change-of-pace back in the NFL.  Combine this with the fact that NFL teams are featuring up to three backs in any given game and a role playing back like Abdullah has more downside in his game, than upside in my estimation.  In PPR formats, there is opportunity but he will need to show the ability to not only receive out of the backfield but also carry the ball upwards of eight times for greater fantasy viability.  Mix in the fact that Detroit has been a wasteland for inconsistency at the running back position and I have stayed away.

What Now?

Nothing has changed with my thoughts on Abdullah.  I don’t own him in any leagues nor do I feel that he’s compelling enough for me to change my opinion.  He’s a fringe runner that will require a system that can feature him out of the backfield in the passing game and an offensive line that can spring him with his remaining carries, neither of which Detroit can offer.  That all said, Abdullah is style a style of runner that, if the stars align, could greatly outproduce my rankings.  I won’t be owning him anywhere while waiting for that to occur.

11.  Devin Funchess, WR CAR

Funchess is off to a slow start even with WR1 Kelvin Benjamin starting the season on IR.  Averaging a paltry single catch per game until the past two games, Funchess has struggled to separate and has battled a case of the drops through the first half but things appear to finally be turning for the big target.  After scoring his first career touchdown vs. the Packers in week nine, it’s been said that  his offensive role could increase.  I’m dubious about his productivity increasing in this his first year, but there’s plenty of opportunity with Cam Newton at the helm.

What Now?

His early R11 ranking seems a bit high given the performances of a few rookies below him on my board but it’s not out of the question.  He’s better ranked in the mid second round with upside and could well outplay this ranking in time.  Funchess hasn’t shown a dynamic yet that suggests a breakout from his current performance but there’s no questioning his speed, size and ability to come down with the tough catch.  Consistency and route running will be needed if any upgrade is to exist in the future.  He’s a solid hold on your roster but without enough intrigue to be an acquisition target.

12.  Phillip Dorsett, WR IND

Another popular riser on draft day as Dorsett found his way to the Colts.  Averaging not quite two receptions a game, Dorsett struggled to find a consistent role behind other targets of Andrew Luck before eventually fracturing his lower leg in week seven.

What Now?

Dorsett reminds me of T.Y. Hilton but with an even greater lateral dynamic.  My primary question with Dorsett’s drafted situation was related to enough balls being present to make for a consistent level of fantasy productivity – that question still stands.  I can’t shake my gut feeling that Dorsett does possess significant upside.  As my R12, the value still seems appropriate.  Much like Funchess above, there isn’t a burning need to either acquire or trade away Dorsett at this juncture.  He’ll return to the field in all likelihood prior to the end of 2015 but expectations should remain low.

13.  David Cobb, RB TEN

I have been quietly high on Cobb for some time.  I don’t see him as a dynamic back that can take over a game but an upside two-down running back that can be productive between the tackles with just enough angular speed to get to the outside.  My initial ranking was a bit aggressive as the R13 but when reviewing tape notes, I couldn’t justify anything lower.   He’ll be returning from a calf injury shortly and has yet to see the field as a pro, but opportunity abounds.

What Now?

The Titans’ run-game is in a massive state of flux with Bishop Sankey not taking a step and Antonio Andrews now picking up the slack.  When Cobb does return, there will be ample opportunities to carve out an ongoing role.  He’s got the size and NFL skill-set to be a difference maker.  He’s a great buy-now candidate although his stock is on the rise.  If you own him already, he’s about to get his chance so there’s no reason to be looking to sell.

14.  Jaelen Strong, WR HOU

Strong has seen limited action this year as he learns the system and awaits his turn.  My ranking as R14 is fair if not a tad high.  He has reeled in a total of three receptions, two of those going for touchdowns in the same week vs. Indianapolis.  Expect Strong to get more action down the stretch as the Texans’ playoff hopes fade.

What Now?

Nothing to do here as this is the typical trajectory for young receivers in the NFL.  They all don’t show up and take the league by storm like Amari Cooper.  Instead, rookies normally need 2-3 years to learn the system and playbook while waiting for the game to slow down.  Strong has looked capable in his limited time and he’s got plenty of upside.  Hold or acquire him at his current value here.

15.  Tevin Coleman, RB ATL

Much hyped out of college, Coleman found his way to a fair landing spot in what seemed, at the time, to be the perfect location for early playing time.  Following a nagging injury, Devonta Freeman erupted and Coleman hasn’t seen many snaps since.  It’s the perfect example why you don’t want to come off the field and miss time due to injury.  Where once Coleman was one of my top sleepers for 2015 pre-draft, each new tape review sessions gave me further concerns about his ability to run in between the tackles and through arm tackles.  Focusing less on highlight videos, Coleman’s shortcomings became rather clear.

What Now?

At the time, I believed that this R15 ranking was too low and that he’d surely outplay it in time.  But given the players ahead of him, I couldn’t justify a move up.  As it stands, this ranking is about right and I’m glad I stuck to my tape review rather than fall for siren’s call of the fantasy community that he was a top eight selection.  If he can develop lower body strength to drive through would-be tacklers below the waist, he’s got gifts that can be used.  The issue now is whether or not he’ll have an opportunity to show it given Freeman’s continued success.

His value isn’t great enough to be a seller and I’d be buying as a Freeman owner.  Because of his drop in value, there will be too much of a gap between buyers and sellers for deals to get done here. Hold on.

Going to speed things up here a bit …

16.  Jameis Winston, QB TB

This ranking is far more a mechanism of most fantasy quarterbacks falling in drafts, unless you play in a 2QB/Super-Flex format.  Winston scares me a bit as far as talent but I believe he has outplayed this ranking and should be a top 13 or so selection as it stands.  He started slowly, but he’s picking up the game and it’s starting to show.

What Now?

Nothing.  If you drafted him it’s because you needed a young quarterback.  He’s got plenty of upside to keep holding here.

17.  David Johnson, RB ARI

Much like Abdullah above, Johnson was a fast-rising darling of the fantasy community due to his size and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.  This combination did force me to move him up my rankings as he should get a chance to carry the load at some point in the future.  Film review reminded me of a stiffer and less dynamic James Starks.  Immense talent out of the backfield but a stiff-hipped angular runner otherwise.  Head Coach Bruce Arians is famous for not pressing young players into action unless absolutely needed and Johnson is no exception.  He has seen red zone action for his size and versatility with some level of success.

What Now?

There’s enough talent here to continue to hold Johnson on your roster and this current R17 ranking is fair.  I still don’t see an every down player but he’s got the size to get a chance at some point early in his career.  This alone warrants holding onto him as that is the best you can hope for with young runners.

18.  Marcus Mariota, QB TEN

Much like Winston, his ranking is more of an indictment of the fantasy game than that of his talent.  I actually now have Mariota higher in my positional rankings due to what he showed early in the season.  I see much of the same that I saw while at Oregon and that intelligence should translate well.

What Now?

Continue to hold.  Once Dorial Green-Beckham is fully established, the Titans could have a nice young offensive stable.

19.  Ty Montgomery, WR GB

Montgomery showed well enough at training camp and in the pre-season to leap-frog sophomore receiver Jeff Janis on the depth chart.  Jordy Nelson fell to an ACL tear and Davante Adams missed time as well to allow Montgomery to find the field.  In limited time, he’s scored twice on 15 receptions.

What Now?

I think Montgomery warrants a higher grade given what he’s shown thus far.  The third receiver in Green Bay can be productive and Montgomery will be the next-man-up once aging veteran James Jones departs.  He’s a solid buy here before he gets an upgrade on the depth chart.

20.  Duke Johnson, RB CLE

Simply put, Johnson has outplayed this ranking and while I liked him more than Abdullah for long term value, his selection by Cleveland wasn’t something I could ignore.  He’s shown the ability to churn out good yardage in the passing game and has shown flashes on the ground as well.  He’s a tweener as far the ability to provide every down work and, much like Abdullah, he’s going to be primarily a third down and specialty back.  If he can show continued toughness, he can begin to chip away on early down work as well.

What Now?

Buy.  I like what I’ve seen and so has the Cleveland coaching staff.  Terrance West is long gone and Isaiah Crowell looks somewhat one-dimensional.  His third down work is enough to be intriguing but his developing early down potential gives him more value.  I like him much closer to the R10 ranking, perhaps even as high as R8.

Listing ten more very briefly

21.  Maxx Williams, TE BAL

Just hasn’t shown enough yet and he’s had opportunities.  This ranking continues to be fair.

22.  Matt Jones, RB WAS

Has likely outplayed this RB22 position.  Looks like Washington favors Jones over Alfred Morris, who is in a contract year.  Jones is likely valued as a high second round selection based on his play thus far.

23.  Karlos Williams, RB BUF

One of my new favorite backs but I didn’t expect him to produce like he has, clearly.  Williams is squarely in first-round territory when looking back.  I would have never projected anything close with the stable of runners that the Bills possessed.

24.  Jeremy Langford, RB CHI

Heading into 2015, Langford was my favorite sleeper of any position.  Look at any ‘expert’ write-up and few gave him any opportunity to produce.  True he hasn’t to any great degree just yet, save one game, but that one game showed his potential.  Spartan runners are gritty, tough and can do it all.  Langford is no different.  I would have ranked him much more highly if I didn’t feel that he could be had in the early third round of rookie drafts.  Either way, I still feel he’s far better than the R24 seen here and should be near the bottom of round one.

25.  Chris Conley, WR KC

About right.

26.  Javorius Allen, RB BAL

Allen seems to be fading but should get another chance in ’16.  Hold.

27.  Sammie Coates, WR PIT

Pittsburgh is patient and collectively does a very good job with player evaluation.  Hold Coates here even with him showing next to nothing in 2015.

28.  Cameron Artis-Payne, RB CAR

29.  Jay Ajayi, RB MIA

I’m not a buyer of Ajayi simply due to his bone on bone condition.  I just don’t see his career being long enough or productive enough to clog a roster spot.  That said, now back on the field he’s looked good.  At Boise St. he looked like a more nimble and agile Marshawn Lynch so if he’s able to prove the critics wrong, he’s a solid role player.

30.  Brett Hundley, QB GB

31.  Thomas Rawls, RB SEA

Another exciting rookie that has risen from anonymity.  Gone is Robert Turbin and Christine Michael which shows the faith and expectation that the Hawks have for Rawls.  With Lynch likely to retire following this year, the sky may be the limit.

41.  Stefon Diggs, WR MIN

Diggs has erupted on the scene and is now likely a first round selection should this rookie draft redone.  He’s got the size and skill dynamic to continue his production but I’m not ready to anoint him as anything more than an exciting young rookie.  Remember last year, too, that Charles Johnson rose to WR2 status for the Vikings.  Now that Diggs is well known, how will defenses scheme for him?


Once again we see that the standard hype of the pre-rookie-draft period gets ahead of itself.  Furthermore, even following the draft, when surveying the rookie landscape is much easier, there hasn’t been a lot of production from this class outside of a few select members,

As long as there will be rookie drafts, however, there will be rookie draft analysis. As I begin diving in for another six months of research, film review and prognostication I hope you’ll be along for the ride.  Whether your dynasty teams are competitive or not, it’s always a great time to start looking toward next year.  Coming up shortly I’ll be forecasting 2016’s class with my “first look” article. Stay tuned!

Follow me on Twitter: @DLF_Jeff


jeff haverlack