Last week I listed off my top-six rookies for 2017. The backlash on my ranking Leonard Fournette didn’t come as much of a surprise, but I was taken aback by was how personally some folks seemed to take it. I was even accused of being sensational in order to get clicks!
To be clear, my rankings are just that: mine. I am sharing them because people find it interesting, not because I am trying to convince you of anything. If you disagree, that is fine by me. If you agree, that’s great too. I’m just here to entertain and inform to the best of my abilities.
The other thing that struck me was the folks who said my rankings are making them doubt their own. If I could give just one piece of advice on rookie drafts, it would be to take the guy you like. It is your team and you have to live with it. I don’t have any information you don’t on these players. I just happen to have a bit of time to do some studying and a platform to share my findings. None of that makes me Nostradamus.
As with last week I will using my patent pending THANKSOBAMA prediction metric (read here for details). Double blind independent studies have shown it to be more accurate than Mel Kiper Jr.’s cousin’s dog.
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1.07 – John Ross, WR Washington
I’ve been back and forth on this one, but ultimately I feel like he is the only remaining receiver to have top-15 upside. This isn’t to say I see him as the next Steve Smith, but the oft made comp of DeSean Jackson isn’t out of line in the least. To get there Ross will need to find a way to stay healthy. He will also need to learn to beat the press, clean up his routes, and win the occasional jump ball. On his side will be some pretty heavy draft capital, 4.22 wheels, a polished deep game, and pro-ready slant route.
THANKSOBAMA prediction: Ross has a better rookie year than the similar Will Fuller, before going on to be a streaky top-35 fantasy receiver with week winning upside.
1.08 – JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR University of Southern California
Smith-Schuster has become a bit of a polarizing guy. I suspect much of this has to do with the almost certainly incorrect perception USC can’t turn out an NFL caliber receiver. More fair criticisms center on a lackluster combine and a 2016 statistical falloff from an excellent previous season. His combine numbers were hardly surprising when you see JuJu on tape. Smith-Schuster plays very much like Michael Crabtree, or any number of other physical receivers who win on technique, power, and footwork.
I don’t know that I see a future NFL number one here, but Smith-Schuster has the potential to be a very good number two. His floor is higher than Ross, but the ceiling is much lower. On the right team, JuJu could be a fantasy WR2.
THANKSOBAMA prediction: JuJu becomes a discount DeAndre Hopkins who settles in as a nice, boring WR3 in dynasty.
1.09 – D’Onta Foreman, RB Texas
I am open to the possibility this ranking is evidence I got sucked in by Foreman’s pro day showing. A 94th percentile weight-adjusted speed score is quite the aphrodisiac. What is weird about Foreman is he plays like a smaller back. For better or worse, there is some T.J. Yeldon to his game. Both players have very good feet and aren’t the most physical runners despite what their size would have you believe. If Foreman can get a bit of violence to his game, this could be a really nice get late in the first round.
THANKSOBAMA prediction: Foreman proves to be an above average big-back who posts a few top-15 running back seasons that tease of more but never quite gets there.
1.10 – Evan Engram, TE Mississippi
I may be taking the easy way out at the end of my top-12 by listing (SPOILER ALERT) three straight tight ends, but there isn’t a running back or wider receiver I like well enough to move them up. Landing spots in the draft could easily change that, but for now we have what we have.
In a historically athletic tight end class, Engram fits right in. At 6’3” and 234 pounds, he ran an astonishing 4.42 40 to go with strong showings in the vertical, three-cone, and short shuttle. His size gets him compared to Jordan Reed, but I think that is selling Engram’s athleticism short. It is also an affront to Reed, who is a much smoother and more natural than Engram.
There is oodles of upside here, perhaps more than Howard, but the youngster needs to learn to block enough to stay on the field. He could also use a bit of a mean streak, as safeties and linebackers muscled him around at times.
THANKSOBAMA prediction: A future top-three tight end who ends up as the featured pass catcher on his team.
1.11 – O.J. Howard, TE Alabama
Howard is the most complete tight end in this year’s class. He is a plus route runner with the athleticism to play all over the field. The Alabama product is also a far better blocker than the players who form the bread part of this tight end sandwich. Howard still needs a bit of work, especially in pass pro, and there are questions concerning his lack of target volume in college. None of that worries me too much, as I see Howard as the safest tight end option in this draft.
THANKSOBAMA prediction: Howard is the rare tight end who gets early opportunity, something he parlays into a consensus top-six ranking this time next year. Ultimately he settles in as a mid-TE1 in the vein of Delanie Walker.
1.12 – David Njoku, TE Miami
You could order these three any way you wanted and I wouldn’t complain. For me, Howard is the safest bet to be a really good player and Engram is the most likely to reach his considerable ceiling, but Njoku is the one guy with truly elite upside as a pass catching tight end.
The key for Njoku will be if he can develop as a blocker, route runner, and football player in general. There were several instances in my film work where he looked mechanical, as though he was thinking his way through things instead of just going out and playing. That is fixable, and at 21-years-old in July, there is plenty of time to sort it all out.
THANKSOBAMA prediction: It takes a few years for him to get going, but when he does, Njoku finds himself as a solid TE1.
Just Missed (in no particular order)
- I like Curtis Samuel as an athlete and football player, but I’m not sure what position he will play. Based on all sorts of historical evidence, the NFL isn’t be sure either. Unfortunately, that has proven to be near-universal death knell for players of this ilk. I can’t put him in my top-12, but I’d be happy to have him at the top of the second with the hope some NFL team figures out how to use him.
- Alvin Kamara is intriguing, but I am leery of over-committing to a guy we think can do it but who never has. That said, he’s my current 2.01, and in many leagues, I would take him as early as 1.09. If he lands well and Foreman doesn’t, Kamara could easily end up my RB5.
- Kareem Hunt plays a style of ball I really enjoy. Aptly compared to Kenneth Dixon, another player I like, Hunt is very well rounded in all facets. Unfortunately, with draft capital concerns and the uphill battle to playing time that comes with them, without knowing where he is going to go in the draft, I can’t put him any higher than my RB7.
- Chris Godwin’s size and athletic profile (95th percentile SPARQ, 89th percentile height-adjusted speed score) are very attractive, making him a darling of the draft community. Still, he has some developing to do to be more than just a speed guy. Pending landing spot, I’d prefer him at the top of the second, but I could see myself snagging him any time after the 1.08.
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So with Ross we get someone better than Will Fuller and someone who’s a top 35 receiver?…. I’ll use my 1.07 on someone with better prospects than that…thanks anyway…
The reason I am still taking him there despite my prediction is the upside he carries. And fwiw, if every 1.07 ever drafted was a player you could start every week, that would be an insanely massive victory.
Sorry- I’m late getting back to you on this Jeff- my only point is that Ross is one of those kind of players you either believe in or not. But based on injury history and only one year of serious production, I agree the gap between his ceiling and his floor is unusually large. So if you believe in him, you draft him at 1.07, and you’ll be right or you’ll be wrong, but drafting him and then predicting his future (if that’s what the Thanksobama prediction is) to be so modest, just seemed a bit incongruous to me- that’s all. We may not know who they are now (and unlike you I’m in the fortunate position of not having to publicize my predictions!), but its likely they’ll be several receivers in this draft who have actual futures brighter than the one you describe for Ross.
So the question is why I would draft a guy I think will be a WR3 at 1.07, right? The answer is because I’m wrong a lot (like, a way lot). I recognize his considerable upside, and to me, even though I am not predicting he reaches it, the shot at a top-15 receiver overrides some degree of the uncertainty I have about the player.
You may have noticed that of the 12 players I talked about the last couple weeks, only a few were predicted to be outside of the top-10 at their position. Yet we know fairly certainly half of these guys will end up roster cloggers. I guess my point is, I’m not so arrogant as to suggest I know what the outcome for any player will be, but I do know upside when I see it. Sometimes that chance at a shooting star is worth grabbing for, and in this case, I think the 1.07 is a reasonable place to do it.
Hopefully that explains things a bit better!
That’s great… who do you have in mind? It’s not like OBJ’s grow on trees.
I wouldn’t mind having one of those trees.
This year is so loaded with talent compared to last year. The first 2 rounds, especially the 1st, can go a lot of different ways.
Thankfully the draft next week will help straighten some things out.
As far as Ross goes, I think he’s the clear 1.07. Time may prove that he was just as good or better a prospect than the original top 6. I want to say this draft might be 7 deep at the top and if you can get 1 of them or multiplies, you’re sitting pretty. If I need a WR at 1.07 I love ross there.