Top 100 Rookies For 2017: Pre-Combine

Travis May

The last time you heard from me here with DLF was around Thanksgiving.  And believe it or not, I was already talking about the dynasty top 100 rookies for 2017 way back then.

By now you’ve probably fully recovered from your various holiday food comas, spent some time with the family, and gone to the gym a few times since the New Year (and then maybe given up on that resolution thing, but at least you tried).  I hope you took home your dynasty championship(s) while you were at it too.

I somehow managed to win four championships this year (#blessed), and I hope to do some more winning in the near future.  But I won’t be winning at all if I don’t continue working to gain every edge on my league mates.

That’s why I took (way too much) time last fall to put together my top 100 rankings.  And that’s exactly why I decided to do it again before we enter into the brunt of NFL Draft season.

“But Travis, how does this even matter right now?  We don’t even know where these players will land yet.  Opportunity and landing spot will change everything!”

You’re right.  Well, you’re at least half right. Opportunity has proven time and time again to be the most important thing in all forms of fantasy football, not just dynasty.

However, if we just sit back and relax until the draft happens we’re faced with at least two problems.  One, we would then be forced to spend our time doing something besides fantasy football.  And two, if we as dynasty owners don’t familiarize ourselves with the skill sets of incoming rookies, we may improperly overvalue perceived opportunity and miss out on drafting the best players.

That’s the key. But’s let’s slow down.

I’m not saying my top 100 list is your magical ticket to dynasty championship land.  As I mentioned in my previous list, rankings are just one data point and one way we learn from each other and become better drafters.

Why do I have Noah Brown so high?  Why do I have Curtis Samuel so low?  Am I just wrong?  Or perhaps I know or see something that others don’t?

Let’s be real, by this time next year this rankings list may look awful.  But right now, it’s a snap shot of the players who I believe can best assist you in bringing home some dynasty championships sooner than later.

My hope is that you take a close look at this list, learn from it, and dig deeper into your own rookie rankings so that you continue building the best dynasty team you possibly can.

As always, feel free to reach out to me on the Twitter (@FF_TravisM).  I will gladly embrace being told that I am grossly undervaluing Brian Hill, ranking him 56th.  I’m always looking to learn from other owners in this great dynasty community we get to be a part of.


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Tier 1

1) Dalvin Cook – RB1, Florida State

Surprise!  Dalvin Cook is still sitting here all by himself at the top.  Back in November, according to many this was still a bit of a “hot take” (or “taek” for some reason on Dynasty Twitter).  However, it seems that many of Cook’s doubters have been coming around since then.


Well, when assessing a top tier prospect you generally like to see several things: elite physical traits, consistent production, intangibles (probably my least favorite term during draft season), and a decent track record of staying healthy.  Dalvin has all of these thing going for him.

By now, many already know that Cook ran for nearly 4500 yards and 46 touchdowns in just three seasons at Florida State.  Many are familiar with his pass-catching abilities.  He grabbed 79 receptions for nearly 1000 yards out of the backfield, by the way.  You may have even heard Dalvin Cook’s game-destroying speed compared to Chris Johnson or Jamaal Charles by many draft analysts.

But what really sets him apart is his severe lack of any red flags whatsoever.  What do I mean by that?

Most prospects have at least one easy go-to knock against them that will be repeated over and over throughout the draft process.

“Corey Davis never consistently played against tough enough competition.”

“Mike Williams broke his neck.” OR “Mike Williams struggles to create real separation in his routes.”

“Leonard Fournette sat out his bowl game.” OR “Leonard Fournette’s ankle problems may be chronic.”

There’s always something.  With Dalvin, there really isn’t.  Yes, he could possibly stand to improve in pass protection.  Every single incoming rookie running back needs to do that.  Yes, he’s not 6’1”, 225 pounds.  Not everyone can be built like Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson.

Dalvin is simply in a league of his own right now as far as incoming offensive rookies are concerned.  If he is drafted to a decent situation, this gap could widen even further.

Tier 2

2) Corey Davis – WR1, Western Michigan

3) Mike Williams – WR2, Clemson

4) Leonard Fournette – RB2, LSU

Last fall the second tier was a little larger.  Nick Chubb chose to go back to school.  And then JuJu Smith-Schuster started to show his human side far too often.  However, we’re still left with three really solid options here.

Corey Davis is finally getting some credit from some big names in the NFL Draft world.  When you catch 331 catches for 5278 yards and 52 touchdowns people should probably start paying attention.  Western Michigan didn’t play Power 5 schools all the time, but Corey spent all four years flat out embarrassing defensive backs.  He may be the best route runner to enter the NFL draft since the 2014 class.  When you add his legit ‘WR1’ frame at 6’3”, 213 pounds it makes for one scary good wide receiver prospect.

In case you missed it, Mike Williams put on a show in the college football playoffs.  Six catches for 96 yards against Ohio State weren’t enough for this guy.  He then decided to grab eight balls for 94 yards and a score against one of the best college defenses ever assembled in Alabama.  Big Mike is an easy 6’3” and 225 pounds when he forgets to eat breakfast.  He is a virtual lock for a top-15 pick in the NFL draft.  The only concern may be his long speed.  The combine will tell us more.

Last (and maybe least) we have Leonard Fournette.  He is a destructive runner who should have no problem handling a large workload in the NFL.  If he breaks the combine like many believe he will it will be hard to grab Fournette with anything below the 1.03.  Pay attention to his agility drills at the combine though.  That’s where he definitely has room for improvement.

Tier 3

5) Joe Mixon – RB3, Oklahoma

6) JuJu Smith-Schuster – WR3, USC

7) Christian McCaffrey – RB4, Stanford

8) John Ross – WR4, Washingtonross

Don’t freak out.  I am fully aware of what Joe Mixon did three years ago.  This ranking is all about talent.  I’ll let NFL teams judge Mixon if they want to.  Mixon reportedly received a first-round grade on his NFL draft evaluation.  This is not surprise to me.  He has prototypical feature back size, elite speed and burst, and runs with a similar patience to Le’Veon Bell.  Joe Mixon could be the next big thing, or the next big hot mess.  We’ll find out which it is very soon.

McCaffrey could have sat out his entire final season at Stanford and he would still be considered an elite running back prospect.  He may never be a true feature back, but let’s take a look at the pass-catching backs on the final four NFL teams this year: Dion Lewis, Bell, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Ty Montgomery.  The NFL is all about the pass game now.  Christian McCaffrey could easily outperform all of our expectations very early.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is still just twenty years old.  Yes, he showed his struggles at times this past season, but he has plenty of time to grow into a dominant force in the NFL.

John Ross may end up being the second wide receiver taken in the draft this year.  His rise continues to amaze me.  If he runs a 4.4 or better at the combine, look out.

Tier 4

9) D’Onta Foreman – RB5, Texas

10) Isaiah Ford – WR5, Virginia Tech

11) Alvin Kamara – RB6, Tennessee

12) Malachi Dupre – WR6, LSU

13) Samaje Perine – RB7, Oklahoma

14) Wayne Gallman – RB8, Clemson

15) KD Cannon – WR7, Baylor

16) Dede Westbrook – WR8, Oklahoma

I’ve found myself shuffling the order in this tier more than any other over the past few weeks.  It seems like that shouldn’t be the case given the fact that every one of these prospects is incredibly unique.  The real problem is that this class is still very deep despite a few big names choosing to stay in school.

I couldn’t help but put D’Onta Foreman at the top of this list.  When a 250 pound actually has a choice between leveling a 187-pound defensive back and hitting him with the juke stick you have to pay attention.  I never thought I’d say this about any prospect, but he could be the next Jerome Bettis with a little extra wiggle.

Isaiah Ford is a player I’ve been defending for nearly a year now.  I’ll be writing a piece on him after the combine.  One weird thing about Ford is that real football people tend to love him, while fantasy people can’t stop fading him.  Take advantage of that.  We (as fantasy owners) are not real general managers for a reason.

Alvin Kamara is another name to watch during the combine in February.  He could end up having one of the best showings across all positions.  Many people downplayed Alvin’s pro prospects because he was buried behind Jalen Hurd for a while.  When given an opportunity as a starter this past season at Tennessee he certainly displayed massive potential.  Watch his game against Texas A&M if you get the chance.

The rest of the players in this top tier have been in this range for a while now.  It’s hard to rank DeDe very high though, since he’ll be nearly 24 as a rookie.  I may demote him by draft day.

Tier 5

17) Noah Brown – WR9, Ohio State

18) Evan Engram – TE1, Ole Miss

19) OJ Howard – TE2, Alabama

20) Deshaun Watson – QB1, Clemson

21) Jamaal Williams – RB10, BYU

22) Corey Clement – RB9, Wisconsin

23) Jeremy McNichols – RB11, Boise State

24) Elijah McGuire – RB12, Louisiana-Lafayette

Noah Brown should probably be higher on this list, but I just started this DLF gig.  I don’t want to go too bold too soon.  The editor of this piece probably thinks I’m crazy for putting him at 17 already.

But no really, Brown is a pro-ready prospect who just happens to be lacking in the production sample size department.  Many were surprised when he declared for the NFL draft after only accumulating 32 catches for 402 yards and seven touchdowns this past season.  In fact before this year, Noah only had one catch to his name in college.  But don’t let that stop you from drafting him.  He was set to become Ohio State’s primary deep threat in 2015 before a knee injury knocked him out for the year.  I’ll be covering Brown a lot more as the draft approaches.  In the meantime, just watch his Oklahoma game.

The war between Evan Engram and OJ Howard is generally won by Howard according to the masses.  Engram may have a greater immediate impact in the passing game wherever he goes.  That’s what I’m buying right now.  OJ Howard may be the most complete tight end in this class, but we’ll see soon enough.

Deshaun Watson had a “down” year, but still shredded Alabama’s defense in the national championship and nearly won the Heisman (if not for Lamar Jackson’s insane numbers).  Despite all of the noise, Watson will still be the first quarterback taken in this year’s draft.

Elijah McGuire is going to come into the NFL with a massive chip on his shoulder.  I likened him to Kenneth Dixon in November.  He very well may be the best receiver in this running back class (yes, you heard that right McCaffrey lovers).  Elijah won’t likely cost a second round pick, but he’ll be a steal in the third.

Tier 6

25) Cooper Kupp – WR10, Eastern Washington

26) Amara Darboh – WR11, Michigan

27) Ardarius Stewart – WR12, Alabama

28) Curtis Samuel – RB13/WR13, Ohio State

29) Kareem Hunt – RB14, Toledo

30) Taywan Taylor – WR14, Western Kentucky

31) David Njoku – TE3, Miami

32) DeShone Kizer – QB2, Notre Dame

33) Artavis Scott – WR15, Clemson

34) Carlos Henderson – WR16, Louisiana Tech

35) Marlon Mack – RB15, South Florida

36) Bucky Hodges – TE4, Virginia Tech

Wait, why is Ohio State’s “best” receiver ranked below Noah Brown?  It’s partially due to the fact that Curtis Samuel doesn’t really have a position.  He splits most of his time between the slot and running back.  You’ll hear comparisons to Ty Montgomery, Theo Riddick, Tavon Austin, and maybe even Percy Harvin for the next three months.  The truth is he may be a better athlete than all of them.  However, his ceiling may be capped and never truly realized unless he lands in the absolute perfect spot.

Cooper Kupp has been projected to be taken all over the place in the NFL Draft.  He could be a second round pick or go as late as the fifth.  It doesn’t matter.  Cooper Kupp’s route-running and strength attacking the ball are going to win him a starting wide receiver job sooner than maybe any other receiver in this tier.

I have faded Artavis Scott a bit since my last write-up.  Artavis is truly solid at what he does.  If he lands in the right spot I still believe he could emulate Jamison Crowder or Randall Cobb.  But sadly, after watching more of him, the upside potential for fantasy WR1 status is probably not there.

Kareem Hunt, Carlos Henderson and Marlon Mack are all small school guys that will be overlooked in the early rounds of the NFL draft.  All three could be seeing significant snaps by the end of their rookie seasons.

Tier 7

37) Donnel Pumphrey – RB16, San Diego State

38) Zay Jones – WR17, East Carolina

39) Travis Rudolph – WR18, Florida State

40) Chris Godwin – WR19, Penn State

41) Mitch Trubisky – QB3, North Carolina

42) Jordan Leggett – TE5, Clemson

43) Damor’ea Stringfellow – WR20, Ole Miss

44) James Conner – RB17, Pittsburgh

45) Chad Hansen – WR21, California

46) Amba Etta-Tawo – WR22, Syracuse

47) I’tavius Mathers – RB18, MTSU

48) Josh Malone – WR23, Tennesseepumphrey

I have found that it is impossible not to notice how scrawny Donnel Pumphrey is when I watch him play.  It’s absolutely mind-blowing that he’s stayed healthy enough to rack up more than 7400 (NOT a typo) scrimmage yards at San Diego State.  You could not pay me to believe that he’ll stay healthy or be given a feature opportunity at the next level.  That’s the only problem with taking him in the first three rounds of your rookie draft.

Chris Godwin and Damor’ea Stringfellow play very similarly to me.  They both could end up being red zone monsters with their aggressive mentality.  Their tendency to read, adjust, and snatch the ball away from a defender are a lot of fun to watch.  However, I’m not sure either project well beyond a possible Dwayne Bowe career arc.

Chad Hansen, Amba Etta-Tawo and I’tavius Mathers all had absolutely crazy seasons this past year, statistically.  However, with the limited the sample size and mid to late round draft projection the fourth round of rookie drafts seems about right.  If any of them land in a place with a clear path to opportunity they’ll probably go as early as pick 25.

Tier 8

49) Elijah Hood – RB19, North Carolina

50) Josh Reynolds – WR24, Texas A&M

51) Ricky Seals-Jones – WR25, Texas A&M

52) Fred Ross – WR26, Mississippi State

53) Travin Dural – WR27, LSU

54) Jehu Chesson – WR28, Michigan

55) Jake Butt – TE6, Michigan

56) Brian Hill – RB20, Wyoming

57) Joseph Yearby – RB21, Miami

58) Ryan Switzer – WR29, North Carolina

59) Brad Kaaya – QB4, Miami

60) Joe Williams – RB22, Utah

I like to call this group the old, bad or injured tier.  That may be a little harsh, but it’s just the truth.

Elijah Hood had himself an injury-plagued Junior season at North Carolina, so he decided to stay another year.  Nope!  He changed his mind and decided to ride his lowered draft stock into the pros early.  I admittedly need to watch more of Hood, but he needs to get and stay healthy if he wants any chance at snaps early on in his NFL career.

Josh Reynolds has been the best wide receiver for Texas A&M and there really isn’t much debate.  He’s actually scored 30 touchdowns in just three seasons.  People sometimes forget that he’s around 6’4”.  Watch for him to impress in February too.  His teammate Ricky-Seals-Jones is also a massive person, but could easily run as slows as 4.7 in the 40-yard dash.

Travin Dural and Jehu Chesson have appealing attributes for NFL wide receivers, but are missing critical production to go with that.  They’ll both be drafted, and potentially given a solid shot to play, but have both truly disappointed in the last year.

Brian Hill is a running back that many analysts have been warming up to lately, but I have no idea why.  Hill flashes greatness at times, but it’s not quite enough to be ranked higher than this.  Against BYU specifically, there were times where he struggled to churn out three yards against five or six man fronts.  His inconsistent vision (to say the least) is very concerning.  Hill simply leaves a lot of yards on the field and it doesn’t take very long to notice this.

Ryan Switzer’s resume at North Carolina was solid before this season, but adding 96 catches in one season generally catches the attention of NFL scouts.  Switzer will probably never function as anything more than the third option in an NFL passing attack, but he could be solid in that role for many years to come.  Drafting for flex play guys isn’t sexy, but it can win championships.

Tier 9

61) Darreus Rogers – WR30, USC

62) Justin Davis – RB23, USC

63) Stacy Coley – WR31, Miami

64) DeVeon Smith – RB24, Michigan

65) Matthew Dayes – RB25, NC State

66) Devine Redding – RB26, Indiana

67) Jeremy Sprinkle – TE7, Arkansas

68) Gerald Everett – TE8, South Alabama

69) Patrick Mahomes – QB5, Texas Tech

70) Jerod Evans – QB6, Virginia Tech

71) Speedy Noil – WR32, Texas A&M

72) Gabe Marks – WR33, Washington State

Darreus Rogers should probably be higher than this.  His catch radius and consistency in his route-running caught my eye every time I watched JuJu Smith-Schuster.  There are actually some people who believe Darreus is the better of the two.  That’s not the case.  But since defenses were normally game-planning to stop JuJu and the USC run game that left Darreus with some solid opportunities.  He’ll barely get drafted, but he’s most definitely worth a stash to fill out your roster.

DeVeon Smith and Matthew Dayes both scream late-round pick.  They were solid college running backs with zero elite attributes.  If given an opportunity as a handcuff they could both bring value because they’re both technically sound.  They both probably don’t have the physical gifts to carry an offense though.  They start the “meh” range of running backs for me in this class.

Patrick Mahomes is such a fun player to watch.  His deep ball and trick shot throws remind me of Matthew Stafford.  However, his pocket awareness and ability to abandon play design remind me of a mix between Johnny Manziel and Alex Smith (which is strange, I know).  Alex Smith sees ghosts and Manziel just wants to play backyard football.  Patrick Mahomes does both.  He could succeed at the next level, but he’s really just a project with an insanely awesome arm.

Jerod Evans isn’t the same passer that Mahomes is, but his athletic ability could put him in position to be a backup for Cam Newton or Russell Wilson.  That doesn’t project well for his fantasy future, but in his limited time with Virginia Tech he’s shown real big-time clutch genes.

Tier 10

73) Jerome Lane – WR34, Akron

74) Shock Linwood – RB27, Baylor

75) Aaron Jones – RB28, UTEP

76) James Quick – WR35, Louisville

77) DeAngelo Yancy – WR36, Purdue

78) Chad Kelly – QB7, Ole Miss

79) Trent Taylor – WR37, Louisiana Tech

80) Billy Brown – WR38, Shepherd

81) Kenny Golladay – WR39, Northern Illinois

82) Mack Hollins – WR40, North Carolina

83) Chris Carson – RB29, Oklahoma State

84) LeShun Daniels – RB30, Iowajones 1

This is my “shoot for the stars” tier.  All of them could go anywhere from the fourth round to completely undrafted.  All of them probably deserve an opportunity.

Jerome Lane is a converted linebacker who could be a steal late in the draft with his physicality and surprisingly developed route-running.

Shock Linwood could end up being a decent change of pace guy for a long while.  However, I get more of a Kelvin Taylor vibe than Justin Forsett.

Aaron Jones has a chance to be my darling late-round steal.  He packs a punch for a slightly undersized running back.  He catches passes more than many realize too.

DeAngelo Yancey reportedly represented my alma mater (Purdue) fairly well in preparation for the East-West Shrine game here recently.  He’ll probably need a specific team to fall in love with him to get drafted, but that’s sad.  He vastly improved his route-running and deep game this past season.  Keep an eye out for where he lands if he is indeed an undrafted free agent signing.

LeShun Daniels’ teammate Akrum Wadley (2018 prospect) probably has the better shot at a long NFL career, but don’t sleep on him.  LeShun may get labeled as a plodder if he doesn’t show well at the combine, but he’s more than that.  He’s gotten faster in the past year.  Let’s see if that trend continues.

Tier 11

85) Josh Dobbs – QB8, Tennessee

86) Davis Webb – QB9, California

87) Pharaoh Brown – TE9, Oregon

88) Josiah Price – TE10, Michigan State

89) Marcus Cox – RB31, Appalachian State

90) Boom Williams – RB32, Kentucky

91) Michael Rector – WR41, Stanford

92) Quincy Adeboyejo – WR42, Ole Miss

93) CJ Beathard – QB10, Iowa

94) Nathan Peterman – QB11, Pittsburgh

95) Dare Ogunbowale – RB33, Wisconsin

96) Jahad Thomas – RB34, Temple

97) DeAngelo Henderson – RB35, Coastal Carolina

98) TJ Logan – RB36, North Carolina

99) Adam Shaheen – TE11, Ashland

100) Seth Russell – QB12, Baylor

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations!  You now know more prospects than at least half of your league mates.

Quincy Adeboyejo has amazing footwork for someone who projects to be a mediocre backup in the pros.  However, he can get bullied and thrown off his route at times when playing physical corners.  With that said, he could have the highest “upside” of any player in this tier.

Michael Rector made the list because every time I watched Trenton Irwin (potential 2018 draft pick at WR) he made a great play or two.  Rector can get deep, but knows just enough of the route tree to work underneath too.  He will defy expectations if given a shot.

CJ Beathard and Seth Russell aren’t projected to be drafted very high (if at all), but could and should be absolutely free to acquire at quarterback.  If you’re in a deeper superflex league those are two names you should know.

And that’s all folks!  I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it.  Find me on Twitter @FF_TravisM.  Good luck in your drafts!