November is here which means it’s time to start turning our attention to the 2020 NFL draft. As if our attention was ever really diverted.
Truth be told, we here at DLF never truly take our eyes off the horizon when it comes to assessing tomorrow’s fantasy talent and this is evidenced simply by looking at our weekly content coverage. We fully understand whether you are gearing up for the playoffs or already out of the running, dynasty coaches are always interested in assessing next year’s class. After all, there’s never a guarantee that the stars of tomorrow are going to be selected highly, read that as in the first round, in fantasy rookie drafts. In recent years, there’s an expanding number of productive players coming out of fantasy rounds two, three and even four. Sometimes even beyond for those of you in deeper dynasty leagues.
Rookie mock drafts are all the rage once the off-season kicks off and it’s what keeps dynasty fun. There’s always a reason for excitement, regardless of your record, once the season comes to a close. Savvy dynasty coaches know how to assess their squads prior to the league trade deadline in order to make moves to set up their team(s) for the future. But it’s a moving target. No two drafts are the same and each year brings varying levels of depth for the incoming rookie class. It’s always a balance between assessing your team needs into the projected depth at those positions within the draft.
Many things will change between now and then. Declaration day will take place in January. The NFL Combine will begin on February 26th and Pro Days will begin shortly thereafter. And, of course, there’s still plenty of college football to be played, including bowl games and the college championship playoffs. Lots to be excited about. But much can happen in that span of time as well.
So, that all said, let’s take a closer look at my top 12 players for this upcoming rookie draft. I know you are just as excited as I am.
2020 Draft Class
I can’t remember a draft class so anticipated as is the 2020 class. Quite simply put, it’s got something for everyone. Looking for a running back? There appears to be tremendous depth and talent. Need a wide receiver? There’s arguably as many marquee names here as well. Have a deficit at quarterback and need developmental talent? Whether you play in super-flex (2QB) or a single-starter league, 2020 has intriguing talent at the position with multiple names who have the look of franchise players. Even the tight end position is shaping up well.
We all know that drafted situation is going to greatly impact the post-draft rankings but that in and of itself presents great opportunity as fantasy coaches often overweight starting situation over player talent. For those of you drafting at the end of the first round, it’s an ideal situation.
While we don’t yet know who may be returning to school, foregoing the 2020 draft altogether, it’s still easy to forecast this upcoming year as a bumper crop of intriguing talent making for a very deep fantasy draft. Keep it tuned to DLF as we go beneath the surface and read the fantasy tea leaves to help you make educated choices as the regular season ends and the off-season begins.
Top 12 (Part 1)
Before I jump into my too-early top-12, just let me say a few words about the list.
It’s still VERY early. A lot can happen, a lot will happen. While I have done enough research to have a degree of confidence with this list, there’s more work and tape review to come. This list isn’t meant to be used as a concrete ranking of the first round to be immediately actionable. Scoring format, team need and many other factors are going to come together toward determining how you will ultimately rank these players. My listing is simply an early assessment of who I expect to have the most fantasy impact and I can guarantee these players and their ranking within the class is going to change in the months to come.
The NFL Combine beginning in late February will be the first ‘official’ weights and measures for many of these players which will certainly impact this list. Until then, let’s all hope for maintained health for these, and all other, collegiate players as they set their eyes upon the NFL.
The following list is my first fantasy-based ranking of the 2020 draft class. Let’s get to the players!
1. Jerry Jeudy, WR Alabama
Jeudy is a technician on the field and a dynamic WR1 prospect for the next level. He’ll likely be the first non-quarterback skill position off the board in the first round and should be a coveted top-six selection, an important position for determining fantasy relevance. At Alabama, he should eclipse 1,000 yards for the second year in a row and has produced a total of 25 touchdowns in his three years, noteworthy in that he has only started the past two seasons.
Prior to the reception, Jeudy exhibits intelligence, finesse and dynamic is his routes. He possesses explosive lateral agility and the ability to stem routes at any depth. With the ball arriving near his frame, he’s a natural and confident hands-catcher and can climb the ladder or post up as needed to secure the reception. Once secured, he’s a force with the ball in his hands and runs more physically than his 192 lbs. would suggest.
Elevating a wide receiver to first-overall above a running back in a fantasy rookie draft is not something I take lightly but Jeudy has earned this ranking from me and he’s as certain a sure-thing at the next level at the position I’ve seen since Calvin Johnson, though not the physical specimen that Johnson was. I see little chance the junior elects to return for his senior season.
2. D’Andre Swift, RB Georgia
I love watching Swift run. He possesses natural vision and fluidity with the ball in his hands and displays patience to allow blocks and lanes to form before him while using his acceleration to capitalize when the time is right. He has an elite-level combination of lateral agility, speed and compact power to punch above his weight and his three-down ability is evident as he also possesses plus-level receiving skills out of the backfield.
Thus far in 2019, Swift has totaled 921 yards and seven touchdowns on 147 rushes (6.3 ypc.) while adding another 15 receptions, 172 yards and one touchdown as a receiver. In 2018, he managed 163/1,049/10 as a runner and 32/297/3 as a receiver. He doesn’t have much tread on his tires and is healthy as his collegiate draws to a conclusion. I fully expect him to declare for the NFL following this season.
I do have concerns about his measured height and weight. He will be considered undersized if he doesn’t hold to his listed size though my belief is that he’ll tip the scales closer to 208 lbs. Even at his listed size, many still consider Swift a tweener and I’ve seen him quite low on rankings. I will be forgiving of his weight as long as he can eclipse 205, a good foundation size for adding weight at the next level.
3. Travis Etienne, RB Clemson
Etienne was playing closer to 203 lbs. but said he expected to play near 210 lbs. during the 2019 season. I’ll give him credit for the completed goal though he does appear to be a bit below this weight currently. We’ll find out all too soon. This said, he has good lower-body mass which provides a solid foundation for his runs.
He’s been productive in all three years at Clemson, totaling 176/1,463/21 (8.3 ypc.) as a rusher in 2018 including the post season. As a receiver in 2018, he managed 10/65/1. In 2019 thus far his rushing line is 137/1,214/13 (8.9 ypc.) and he’s been utilized more as a receiver, producing 22/215/2 on the year.
He’s not the fluid runner that is Swift above and I do have lingering questions about his long speed though not enough to lower his ranking. He’s a long strider without much of a second gear, but his first gear reaches maximum speed very quickly. He utilizes his patience and block-vision to allow the seam to develop before choosing it and getting downhill. Once to the second level, he’s difficult to bring down and Etienne isn’t found falling backwards on many runs.
His usage as a receiver in 2019 is encouraging, answering some of the concerns I had following 2018 but he remains a work in progress in this area. Should D’Andre Swift not measure up as expected during the Combine, Travis Etienne could very well compete with my fourth ranked player below for top back off the board.
4. Jonathan Taylor, RB Wisconsin
Taylor is every bit of his listed 219 lbs. in my eyes. Thickly built lower body provides tremendous drive though it doesn’t seem to reduce his agility at the line of scrimmage. He utilizes a combination jump-step, more of a slide-step, to come off blocks toward his chosen gap, then using his acceleration to get to the second level.
At Wisconsin, he’s been tremendously productive in all three years producing 1,977 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2017, 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2018 and has 1,259 yards and 15 touchdowns thus far in 2019, all totaling just less than 7.0 ypc. over his career to that of 6.1 ypc. In 2019. While not a prolific or natural producer out of the backfield as a receiver, like Travis Etienne above, he’s more than doubled his previous two years of production here in 2019, totaling 18 receptions, 151 yards and four touchdowns on the season thus far.
Taylor represents as a typical one-cut zone-scheme downhill runner with the ability to produce yards after first contact. Long speed is a question but my biggest concern with Taylor is his Wisconsin career. A majority of Taylor’s long runs are produced with little opposition from would-be tacklers, either having taken poor angles or cleared out by blocking. As such, he does carry some next-level risk. Many Wisconsin backs produce well collegiately but against lesser competition, most recently, James White, Montee Ball and, most recently, Melvin Gordon. Taylor clearly doesn’t possess the dynamic that does Melvin Gordon but is a different style of back, arguably just as well-suited for the NFL.
When I look at my top six rankings here, Taylor's ranking is the one I feel will be the most fluid
5. Ceedee Lamb, WR Oklahoma
Things start getting more interesting at this point in the first round of fantasy drafts. But there are still some fantastically talented rookies in the pool, any of which could easily be the top player within their position five years from being drafted.
Another junior in our field and like all others listed, CeeDee Lamb is expected to declare and should be a first round selected receiver. Lamb nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards as a freshman, ultimately totaling 983 yards and 13 touchdowns. As a sophomore he produced a 65/1,158/11 line followed by a 46/807/7 line thus far in 2019 with three games remaining. Given current averages, he’ll produce similarly to his sophomore season to finish his Oklahoma career.
He has the physical presence of a true WR1 at the next level with a long-legged power plant capable of doing damage by stacking defensive backs with deceptive speed or over the middle utilizing his acceleration. He’s not a speed demon in any sense. He possesses natural and confident hands, dropping very few passes with the ability to climb the ladder, utilizing his length to bring down contested catches. He also turns in some matrix-esque catches. I’m hoping to see a hand size greater than 10”.
I’m curious to see his long speed, measured height and am concerned with upper-body strength off the line of scrimmage. A receiver of his build will need to be able to create separation off the line in order to maximize his assets. This can be developed at the next level but I’d like to see it displayed on tape and through commitment prior to the NFL Combine. I’ll be looking more at this as I scout him further on tape.
6. Laviska Shenault Jr., WR Colorado
At his expected size, he’s an extremely intriguing height/weight specimen at receiver.
Shenault possesses a combination of physicality and speed which should ensure he remains in first round discussions for the NFL Draft. Should he run anywhere close to 4.50 in the 40 at the Combine, he could well challenge for the second receiver off the board, leaping CeeDee Lamb. That said, Shenault could drop due to a poor 2019 campaign having produced 45 receptions, 621 yards and only three touchdowns, largely due to sub-par and inconsistent quarterback play. In 2018, he tallied an 86/1,011/6 line, leaping onto the scene as a sophomore.
He’s not a pure leaper though he does have the ability to get vertical when needed. His lower leg drive and mass make him extremely difficult to bring down from inferior angles. While he doesn’t possess significant suddenness in and out of his breaks or with the ball in his hands, he carries enough dynamic along with extremely capable hands and strength to be a force at the next level.
At the NFL Combine, I’ll be watching his long speed and his vertical jump to better gauge his athleticism and explosion. I’ll also be watching his gauntlet drill to ascertain just how natural a ‘hand-snatcher’ he is.
This ends part one of my two-part series looking at the top-12 rookie prospects for the 2020 NFL Draft. When looking at my list, I continue to see an extremely deep class which could stretch well into the second round. But as is the case every year, While part two will be available shortly, the players highlighted there are nearly as intriguing as those listed in this installment. It’s for that reason, so many of us are excited about 2020.
I hope this first look gets your juices flowing and you’re as excited as I am about the off-season to come. Stay tuned as we're only just getting started!
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