Flash Forward: A 2017 Rookie Draft Preview

Ryan McDowell

With the 2016 NFL Draft now in the books, it’s time to take an early look at the potential class of 2017. After reviewing my past Fast Forward mock drafts, I am reminded 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 2017 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.

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The epidemic around the NFL is that there are just not enough franchise quarterbacks to go around. Of course, that often leads to teams overpaying or overdrafting average talents. This year, we saw three star caliber signal callers enter the league as first round picks and it remains to be seen if they can live up to their draft position. Next season looks to be somewhat similar. There’s a star in the making in Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who could easily be the top pick in the draft. After Watson, there are other quality options like Brad Kaaya (Miami), Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), Chad Kelly (Mississippi) and Luke Falk (Washington State.) Not all of these guys will hit, but they are all being talked about as possible first round NFL Draft picks and even if half of this group turns into a fantasy asset, 2017 should be a much better year to look for a quarterback.

Running Back

While I have seen as many as five or six running backs sneaking into the first round of dynasty rookie drafts this season, the real deal will be next year, when an infusion of talent at one of the league’s weakest positions will change the paths of many dynasty (and NFL) teams. Along with some of the players I’ll discuss later, there are also talents like Samaje Perine, Jalen Hurd, Wayne Gallman, Corey Clement, Joe Mixon and more. If your dynasty team is weak at the running back position, the 2017 class should change that, even if you have only second round picks.

Wide Receiver

As it stands now, and plenty will change, the 2017 class does lack depth at the receiver position. That was aided when a couple of high profile juniors chose to return to school follow the 2015 season, but the class still lacks the high profile depth of that historic class of 2014. Beyond the names I’ll discuss later, other players to watch include Jordan Villamin, Artavis Scott, Allen Lazard, Courtland Sutton and Travin Dural.

Tight End

With the annual lack of production from young tight ends finally being accepted by the dynasty community, I think it will be a rare event to see a tight end land in the first round of dynasty drafts. Even in a relatively weak 2016 class and the top tight end, Hunter Henry, landing in a nice spot in San Diego, he’s still coming off the board in the early to mid second round at the earliest. The class of 2017 will provide some players who will challenge this thought though, as we saw three of the top third year tight ends return to school. The trio of Bucky Hodges, OJ Howard and Evan Engram all have big time potential and should be valued in the same range as Eric Ebron was entering the league a couple of years ago. If one of those players is drafted to a tight end needy team sporting a good offense (think Green Bay) he could crack the top 12.

1.01- Leonard Fournette, RB LSU

There will be quite a bit of competition and discussion about this top pick. For now, LSU running back Leonard Fournette has to be the favorite to be the top drafted player in 2017. If it plays out that way, it would be the third consecutive season in which a running back acts as the top player in the class, which could be a sign of the NFL and dynasty leagues trending back towards the stud running back. Fournette has an ideal combination of speed and power and while he is entering the league older than his peers, he should have a long NFL career.

1.02- Juju Smith-Schuster, WR USC

While I view Fournette as the most likely player to be the top pick, it’s wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster of Southern Cal who is my top ranked devy player. Smith-Schuster is not a burner, but possesses adequate speed, along with great hands and solid route running. In short, he does everything well, or well enough at least. I expect Smith-Schuster to be chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft, though with the quality depth at the top, he could fall anywhere in the top five picks of dynasty drafts. Smith-Schuster’s value and draft spot could actually be hurt after a pair of junior receivers returned to school. Before that, he was viewed as easily the top receiver available in the 2017 class.

1.03- Nick Chubb, RB Georgia

While the competition for the top spot will be fierce, it could’ve been legendary if not for the sever knee injury suffered by Georgia running back Nick Chubb. Chubb entered the 2015 season viewed as the top devy asset after a surprising freshman season that saw him take over for an injured Todd Gurley. Chubb was continuing that frenzied pace until his injury that cut his season short. There was even a concern the injury could signal the end of his career. Recent reports about Chubb’s road to recovery have been positive, but we won’t know anything for sure until he sets foot on the field. I still expect Chubb to miss some time this season, but am hopeful he can play some meaningful games in the latter half of the year. If Chubb can’t return to full strength, there’s a chance he could bypass the draft and remain in Athens for his senior season.

1.04 – Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State

Another talented running back expected to be part of the 2017 class is Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. For a while last off-season, it appeared as if Cook might never again suit up for the Seminoles, as he was dealing with a serious allegation. As often happens, that quickly seemed to go away and Cook didn’t miss a beat on the field, besting his impressive numbers from his freshman season. Cook is not quite in the same tier as Fournette and a healthy Chubb, but he’s not far behind and would certainly be worthy of being a top five rookie draft pick

1.05 – Mike Williams, WR Clemson

Clemson’s next receiver prospect, Mike Williams, was expected to be part of the class of 2016 until he suffered a serious neck injury in the season’s opening week. The injury kept Williams out for the remainder of the season and kept him in college for another season. Recent reports have Williams back at full strength and he’ll be an integral part of the Tigers’ stacked offense. He’ll battle Smith-Schuster to be the top receiver drafted in both the NFL and dynasty leagues.

1.06 – Corey Davis, WR Western Michigan

After a collection of running backs at the top of the draft, we’re now in the middle of a wide receiver run and Western Michigan’s Corey Davis could be next off the board. Davis came to the forefront of the mind of devy players thanks in large part to our own Nick Whalen trumpeting his abilities and he became a staple at the top of devy drafts last off-season. Many were disappointed when he chose to return to school as he was set to contend with Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson and Corey Coleman to be the top receiver in dynasty leagues and he should be in contention again in 2017.

1.07 – Malachi Dupre, WR LSU

Here’s one more receiver before the second tier of running backs take over. Malachi Dupre arrived at LSU as one of the top rated receivers out of high school but has been a bit of a disappointment. This is largely due to the subpar quarterback play that seems to haunt the Tigers every season. Dynasty owners might also be scared off by the disappointing play of LSU wide receiver (not named Odell) in the NFL. If Dupre is forced to endure another quiet year, he’ll be a value at this point in rookie drafts, or even later.

1.08 – Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford

Stanford’s running back Christian McCaffrey burst onto the scene in 2015, proving he belonged among the top running back prospects in college. His consistent eye-popping numbers earned him a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. I’ll be watching closely to see if McCaffrey can come even close to duplicating his 2015 numbers following the departure of quarterback Kevin Hogan and other key members of the Cardinal offense. If he can, he’ll be a first round in both the NFL and dynasty leagues.

1.09 – Royce Freeman, RB Oregon

While he’s been somewhat overlooked due to the impressive performances of many of his fellow juniors at the running back position, Oregon’s Royce Freeman has a ton of upside. As a key part of the Ducks’ offense, he’s had the chance to put up video game numbers through the first two seasons of his college career. Looking at the available players for the 2017 class, I see Freeman as the end of this tier, as the final three players are sure to change over the coming year.

1.10 – Bo Scarbrough, RB Alabama

Like I said, I see Freeman as the end of a tier, so it’s time to take some chances on a couple of players I like. With Derrick Henry off to the NFL, we’re due for another Alabama running back to step up and become the next superstar Heisman contender. That player could be none other than Bo Scarbrough. Scarbrough has had a rough time at Alabama so far, dealing with a knee injury, but his spring game performance has the college football world buzzing. A strong 2016 season could put him in the mix with the other draft eligible backs in this class, but as a redshirt sophomore, it’s far from a sure thing that Scarbrough declares for the 2017 draft.

1.11 – James Washington, WR Oklahoma State

One wide receiver that has not yet hit the mainstream is Oklahoma State’s James Washington and even though he is far down most ranking and draft projections, I see him as a player who could take a big step forward in 2016. Considering that lack of depth I mentioned in the wide receiver group, dynasty owners would be searching for another option after the top four and the big play ability of Washington would surely be appealing.

1.12 – Elijah Hood, RB North Carolina

While there are many potential candidates for this final spot, I really like what I’ve seen from North Carolina’s Elijah Hood. He earned first team All-ACC honors as a sophomore, rushing for over 1,400 yards, yet with players like Fournette and Chubb stealing all the headlines, Hood remains under the radar. This could certainly continue in the coming season, even with another big season, making Hood a value in the late first or early second round.


ryan mcdowell