2019 NFL Rookie Draft: Dynasty First Look

Jeff Haverlack

Normally I like to get this series our starting in late November each year.

The 2019 draft class is an odd bunch and so dependent on this year’s underclassmen with many decisions still looming.  An earlier entry allows dynasty coaches to get a jump on the assessment of the incoming class and, potentially, trade preparations.  But as I mentioned, the last weeks of the college football season were critical for that assessment and even as I write, some top names are still undeclared for the 2019 NFL Draft.  While I still would prefer to get this into your hands earlier, it’s far more important to make sure I’m as accurate as possible.

Regardless, it’s time to start looking at the incoming rookie class more closely, those players which can shape your roster for years to come.  Whether you brought home the championship, barely made the playoffs or were out of the running early, there’s much to be gained by surveying the incoming rookie class, its depth and the potential impact in fantasy.

What follows is my annual kick-off, of sorts, to the process leading up to the 2019 NFL Rookie Draft and fantasy rookie drafts that follow.  This first part is a very general look at the overall depth of the class toward gauging potential value and impact.  Following, I then begin poring through tape, articles and as much available information as I can to ascertain individual player value toward building profiles on the top players within each position for each discipline.  More tape review and research will result in a top-30 overall ranking followed by a look at some players that which outside the top-30 who have upside.  Other expanded rankings will follow based on results of my research.  Following the NFL Draft, the pool of players are re-ranked for dynasty purposes.

So, hop on board and follow along as I start this process.  This is why you play dynasty!

Just a few thoughts before we get started:

First and foremost, as should be the case in every year, do NOT get carried away.  Keep your head in the game and realize that while there are certain to be impact rookies in any class, 2019 included, it’s very difficult to build a winning team with rookies as the foundation.  A large majority bust outright and many others  barely escape mediocrity.  But a keen eye, mindful selection and a little luck can net you a long term asset, potentially as a cornerstone player.

Secondly, the Internet, Twitter and fantasy community in general are awash with self-proclaimed experts and overnight sensations who sell their own version of snake oil.  Every year, the community falls in love with rookie prospects and the ‘research’ that follows starts with the love affair first and backs into the research and rating as opposed to the other way around.  Choose who you follow very carefully and steer clear of the expert-du-jour or be prepared to pay the price.  In many cases, you have to pay the price ($), up front, anyway.

Lastly, resist the urge to make research more complicated than it needs to be.  Keep it simple! Find a site or individual that puts in the work, mix in your own thoughts/needs and don’t forget that NFL coaches and their staffs are paid a lot of money to get decisions correct.  You don’t need a 100 page document, high priced service or a seat at the Combine to be successful with your draft picks.  I’ve researched and read just about every available document looking for an edge and I can tell you, honestly, size or price will likely not materially improve your results.  They may look great on paper but doesn’t necessarily equate to greater accuracy.

We here at DLF have been doing we what do since 2006 and many of us have been researching much longer than that.  We hope you agree that we have quietly become a trusted source over the years and we certainly stand by our results.

Let’s get to work!

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2019 Draft Overall

Without having an accurate crystal ball to see how it all turns out, we’re left to judging the depth of a class, and its prospects, by what we see on the surface.  It’s no different than any other year, but my first analysis of 2019 finds other years possessing far more intrigue than this year would seem to present.

Each year I like to perform a stratification of the incoming class toward determining the depth across the positions which ultimately yields my overall assessment draft rankings.  As would be expected, no two drafts are the same, each possessing individual strengths and weaknesses and differing depths of talent.  For 2019, I see a tremendous amount of risk across three of the four positions of quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end and very few marquee names.  In holding a high draft selection, an owner wants to know that use of the pick is going to yield a good opportunity for a dynasty-level producer for a longer period of time.  The stratification of drafts usually yield a number of headlining names to occupy the first three-to-four draft selections, followed by the next group of four-to-five players which are second-tier names within the class, finally yielding another tier of six-to-ten players which round out a good portion of the first two rounds.  Beyond that number, we enter the territory of ‘best-guess’ based on research as to who will be difference makers at the next level.  The depth of each class shrinks or extends this stratification.

2019 shows very few marquee level players at the top and a draft fraught with risk.  I’ll get into the individual positions here shortly but my early assessment is not promising.  This, of course, does not mean the 2019 draft class won’t possess impact players at the next level and this type of draft can be used to your advantage in fantasy, which I’ll get to in a moment, but this is not the year to be excited about high draft selections with the hope of it being a foundational class.

If I were to compare this class to that of a previous one, 2019 reminds me a bit, at best, of 2014, a class very weak on running back talent, possessing one strong tight end, almost no quarterback intrigue but with a number of potential upside receivers.  I say “at best” because 2014 gave us Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr and Brandin CooksDavante Adams was also universally a second round fantasy selection.  The headlining running backs were Carlos Hyde and Bishop Sankey.  For what it’s worth, I do believe 2019’s running back class clearly carries more value and upside than that of 2014 but this year’s wide receivers will be hard-pressed to match 2014’s production to date.

Let’s go briefly into each position before wrapping up the initial assessment and determining how fantasy owners should prepare accordingly.

Quarterbacks

There’s no getting away from the fact that 2019 is a poor year for the quarterback position and its prospects almost entirely rest on the dynamic Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State) who has yet to declare.  All indications are he will declare and in so doing will immediately jump to the top of rankings.  Oregon’s Justin Herbert, once the top ranked prospect for 2019, announced he’ll be returning to school and will join what appears to be a very good group of quarterbacks for the 2020 NFL Draft.  Beyond Haskins, Drew Lock, Daniel Jones and Will Grier mix in with other names to form this weak income class.

With many NFL teams in dire need at the position, you can still expect at least three quarterbacks to be selected in the first ten overall selections but that is not the same thing as saying there are three quarterbacks with top-ten talent.  When Haskins declares, he’ll be far and away the best talent at the position, at least until I finish my research.

Running Backs

Fantasy rookie drafts still run through the running back position and 2019 would seem to have no true first-tier players at the position but a very wide band of tier-two and tier-three players. Perhaps as many as seven or or eight names could, arguably, compete to be first off the board in fantasy.  In this way, 2019 looks a bit like  2008 or even 2018, save Saquon Barkley who was the 1.01 selection in almost every draft.

Yet undeclared Joshua Jacobs (Alabama) sits at the top of this class at the position but has competition from David Montgomery (Iowa St.) and Rodney Anderson (Oklahoma).  Even fellow teammate Damien Harris (Alabama) sits atop some rankings at this juncture.  For my money, Jacobs is the closest thing to a marquee name at the position for 2019.  Should he return to Alabama, which is a possibility in that teammate Harris is headed to the NFL, we will be left with a broad group of names vying for top-off-the-board and a lot of risk at the top of fantasy drafts.  And of course, I would be remiss in not mentioning that no position is more affected by the draft than that of running backs.  Top names going to poor situations (Rashaad Penny) always shape the draft.

What I do like about 2019’s incoming running backs is the size distribution for the top names.  The top echelon possesses players with prototypical NFL size, in my research that being at or greater than 212 lbs. as a rookie.  Running backs do tend to gain muscle mass in the years following their rookie season.  While there is lack of marquee names, 2019 does carry size which can increase the intrigue as the draft unfolds.

Remember, with running backs especially, talent usually percolates to the top over a longer period of time.  Resist the temptation to prioritize starting situation for an inferior talent.  I don’t expect any of this year’s runners will be drafted within the NFL’s first round.

Wide Receivers

The strength of 2019’s rookie class.  The problem with this is that the receiver position, in most cases, is the hardest to project for fantasy production to the NFL.  Much like the running back class, however, the size of the top names is impressive and they carry dynamic enough to provide a level of excitement.

Much like 2014, when receivers dominated the first round of fantasy rookie drafts, 2019 projects rather similarly.  D.K Metcalf (Ole Miss), Kelvin Harmon (NC State) and N’Keal Harry (Arizona St.) headline this class but are closely followed by JJ Arcega-Whiteside (Stanford) and A.J. Brown (Ole Miss).  As mentioned previously, all these receivers unofficially stand at or greater than 6’1″ and are north of 210 lbs.  The next tier of names also carry great size and enough intrigue to provide value and upside well into fantasy’s second round.

The NFL Combine is going to play a major role in this year’s receiver rankings.

Tight End

I typically don’t spend much time on tight ends when researching as very few at the position transition well into the NFL.  This year, Noah Fant is a name worth noting, perhaps the only one.

With many NFL teams needy at the position, Fant will likely hear his name called in the draft’s first round and should be a near-immediate starter.  Fantasy prospects of tight ends are nearly impossible to project but much like Vernon Davis (2006) and Eric Ebron (2014), Fant has the skills and measureables to be a difference-maker early in his career.

I rarely draft tight ends for the reasons mentioned above, always preferring to let other coaches crack that nut and take the risk.  Should Fant fall into the early second round, given my early projections, I’ve already seen enough to believe he could be a worthwhile risk.  More on him in future articles.

Summary

I am not excited about the prospects of the 2019 rookie class.  If pressed, my interest is peaked about the wide receivers and I reserve the opportunity to be more excited following my future rounds of tape review.

The wide receivers carry the size and, in many cases, the production against quality competition which can translate to the next level.  But, as is the case with every draft, only a fraction of these players will go on to be household names in fantasy.  Running back depth is solid but far from spectacular, not what high-draft-pick fantasy owners need as they look to rebuild or bolster flagging rosters.  In today’s NFL, where teams often employ three runners in different capacities and roles, transcendent talent is the best path to consistent and noteworthy fantasy production.  In the absence of this, it’s difficult to get excited about any prospect.  Again, I’ll reserve my final assessment until much later but this class has a lot of ground to make up in my process.

At the quarterback position, with the exception of Haskins, I’ll punt and allow others to take the risk.  Needy 2QB format players don’t have the luxury of waiting and there are open starting positions which could provide upside.  But this year looks to be a crap-shoot at best.

At tight end, Noah Fant appears to be the real deal at a position that offers a high degree of risk.

In final summary, if you are a top performing team holding late first round or second round picks, you should be excited.  In drafts with little top talent but a wide band of second-tier players, fantasy coaches often migrate to the best starting situation over better talent, pushing names down who would otherwise be selected more highly.  It ten or twelve team leagues, top teams are going to have access to players who provide solid upside and not necessarily equivalent to their fantasy drafted slot.

If you are holding higher draft picks, though it’s still very early in my research, my recommendation would be to move these selections for known production or trade back to acquire more later selections unless you are receiver-needy and are unable to generate trade interest for younger upside receivers already producing.  There is time, however.  Draft fervor begins picking up shortly after the Combine and armchair analysts will be quick to anoint these unproven rookies the “next”.  Capitalize on this fervor where and when you can to maximize the value of high(er) draft picks.  There is no need to over-react to what you are reading here at this point.

Even in the best and deepest of years, draft picks are a risky proposition; 2019 looks to be even riskier.  In the near future, I’ll begin breaking down each of the positions to separate the contenders from the pretenders.  If you’ve followed me in the past, you know full well I’m not afraid to call it exactly as I see it, even if it flies in the face of popular opinion (Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, Courtland Sutton, etc.).

Stay tuned ….

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jeff haverlack