The arrival of NFL Draft season brings with it many things that we as dynasty owners thirst for, including transactions in the NFL and our own dynasty rookie drafts. As we dive into our rookie drafts, it is our nature as dynasty players to compare the current crop of rookies to the previous year as a way to gauge the potential value of draft picks and the players they will soon become. Another exercise many complete as during a rookie draft is to look forward to the rookie class a year down the road. This is often done as owners contemplate trade current picks for future value.
With this in mind, I thought it would be a fun exercise (and hopefully a useful tool) to rank the past two rookie classes, along with the potential rookie class of 2016, from a dynasty perspective.
My ranking methodology will be simple. I’ll rank my top 75 players from the rookie classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016 as I value them today. This means the potential rookies from 2016 are at a bit of a disadvantage since they are a year away from an NFL roster and are of course, more of an unknown asset. Ranking this same group on talent alone without factoring in team situation or NFL Draft position would look quite different. Also, as often as I make adjustments to my rankings, things could change quickly by the time this series concludes. Finally, I will admit if I performed this task ten more times, I would come up with ten differing lists.
In this edition, I’ll rank the middle group of 25 players leading up to my top 25 rookies, sophomores and draft eligible devys.
- Christian Hackenberg, QB PSU
After a breakout freshman season for Penn State, quarterback Christian Hackenberg struggled in his second season, but how much of that can be placed on the shoulders of a weak offensive line compared to Hackenberg’s own faults? That question will be answered during his junior year, which is also likely his final college season. Hackenberg has a chance to be the top overall draft pick in the 2016 draft and has been the center of a rumored reunion with Bill O’Brien, current head coach of the Houston Texans. Expect to hear Chip Kelly/Marcus Mariota type stories about these two for the next ten months.
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- Bucky Hodges, TE VT
Virginia Tech tight end Bucky Hodges is a player that grabbed my attention late in the 2014 season and hasn’t let go. He has the chance to be the top tight end of a fairly weak tight end class in 2016 and his athleticism and measurable has him moving quickly up the devy ranks. Based on this ranking, I’d take him right now over most other tight ends from the past two rookie classes.
- Marqise Lee, WR JAX
Jaguars’ wide receiver Marqise Lee is a difficult player to rank following his up and down rookie season, which saw him miss time due to an ankle injury. He’s behind Allen Robinson on the crowded Jaguars’ depth chart, but will have a chance to emerge with a larger role. At this point, he could go either way over the next year.
- Jerick McKinnon, RB MIN
Playmaking running back Jerick McKinnon is a player that most others in the fantasy industry like more than I do, though I still appreciate the talent. I have my concerns if McKinnon can be an every down back, or even on the field enough to make an impact in fantasy box scores. With Adrian Peterson now set to return in 2015, McKinnon’s value is in question.
- Jameis Winston, QB TB
As expected, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made quarterback Jameis Winston the top pick of the 2015 NFL Draft and I absolutely love the landing spot for the former Seminole. I think Winston will be able to make a smooth transition to the league on the field, but it’s off the field where the concerns come about. If Winston can mature and leave his troubles in the past, he can be a fantasy starter for years to come.
- Isaiah Crowell, RB TB
The dynasty stock of Browns’ second year back Isaiah Crowell was sky high until April’s NFL Draft when Cleveland added versatile runner Duke Johnson, formerly of University of Miami. Crowell is a talented back himself, but has a checkered past to overcome. More concerning is the fact that even after the Browns’ cut ties with Ben Tate last season, Crowell failed to grab hold of the job.
- Phillip Dorsett, WR IND
The Colts’ selection of former Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett late in the first round of the NFL Draft was a surprise to many, given the depth the team already possessed at the position. Dorsett’s addition has many speculating the team might be preparing for the departure of star TY Hilton next off-season. I’m not sure I buy that, but I can see Dorsett and Hilton playing alongside each other. My main concern is I see Dorsett as having more of an impact for the Colts than he does for dynasty owners.
- Devin Funchess, WR CAR
New Panthers’ receiver Devin Funchess is a player that fantasy owners have a widely varying opinion of, and I’ve swung both ways when it comes to how I value the former tight end. There are some similarities between Funchess and his new teammate, Kelvin Benjamin. This should be good news considering the success of the latter and considering Funchess is often falling to the second round of rookie drafts, he presents a solid value.
- Jaelen Strong, WR HOU
Like Funchess, Jaelen Strong is another rookie whose value has slipped since the end of the college football season. I really like his landing spot though as I think he can see some early meaningful playing time for Houston, following the departure of Andre Johnson. Also like Funchess, Strong is routinely falling to the second round of rookie drafts, making him a nice risk to take.
- Jarvis Landry, WR MIA
Jarvis Landry was a bit of an afterthought in comparison to some of the other wideouts in the class of 2014, but he proved to be a reliable option for the Dolphins and fantasy owners. Landry was surprisingly the sixth highest scoring rookie receiver and the Dolphins chose to move on from Mike Wallace and Charles Clay this off-season. With a commitment to Ryan Tannehill and the passing game, Landry should continue to play a major role in the Miami offense.
- Cody Latimer, WR DEN
Lost in all of the hype of the rookie class of 2014 was Denver wide receiver Cody Latimer, who barely saw the field playing behind Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas. Now, Welker and Thomas are gone and Latimer is expected to play a much larger role in the potent Broncos’ offense.
- Rashard Higgins, WR CSU
Colorado State wide receiver Rashard Higgins is yet another tall college wideout who put up video game type numbers in 2014. After a solid freshman season, Higgins exploded for nearly 100 receptions, 1,750 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. I’d love to see Higgins add some weight before he hits the NFL, but he has a chance to be a first round pick in both the NFL Draft and dynasty rookie drafts.
- Duke Johnson, RB CLE
At first glance, the landing spot for Duke Johnson was not a good one as he will have to compete for touches with Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, but the early buzz on Johnson has been very positive and there’s no reason to think he can’t lead the team in touches. I have my concerns about the Browns’ offense in general, but if I’m choosing one, I want Johnson.
- Corey Clement, RB WIS
The Badgers of Wisconsin have developed a reputation for churning out running backs, though to date, those dominant college backs have not fared well in the NFL. I expect Chargers’ rookie Melvin Gordon to buck that trend and current Badgers’ starter Corey Clement could be next in line. With Gordon gone, he should be the centerpiece of the offense and a solid second round NFL Draft pick next spring.
- Ameer Abdullah, RB DET
I’ll admit a little bias in this ranking of new Lions’ running back Ameer Abdullah. I share many of the concerns you’ve already read and heard from others. Can Abdullah stay healthy? Can he carry the load at just 5’9” and under 200 pounds? I know he improved on his fumbling issue throughout his Nebraska career, but that has to be considered as well. In the end, there are just too many issues to convince me to invest heavily in Abdullah.
- Tevin Coleman, RB ATL
Tevin Coleman is another rookie back who, like Abdullah, landed in a presumed ideal spot where he could see lead carries from day one. Steven Jackson is gone from Atlanta and they even let pass catching back Jacquizz Rodgers walk, leaving just second year runner Devonta Freeman to compete with Coleman. I view Coleman as the more well-rounded of the two and expect him to carry the load for the potent Falcons’ offense.
- Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE TB
Tampa Bay’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins is easily my top ranked tight end of the three rookie classes being considered for this exercise. While he didn’t break out during his rookie year, and again, few rookie tight ends do, he performed well enough for me, and the Bucs to have confidence in him going forward. While he clearly has his supporters in dynasty circles, I was surprised to see ASJ land as the TE5 in our recent June dynasty ADP.
- Marquez North, WR TENN
Much like Wisconsin running backs, wide receivers for the University of Tennessee have a recent track record of dominating at the college level, only to disappoint once on an NFL roster. Justin Hunter, Da’Rick Rogers, Robert Meachem and Cordarrelle Patterson are all examples of this ugly trend. Unlike some of the other college wideouts mentioned in this series, Marquez North lacks the eye-popping statline, but he does have the ideal size and solid ball skills that puts him on the map of devy owners. Maybe it will be North who changes this trend of Volunteer receivers in the NFL.
- Donte Moncrief, WR IND
Rookie receiver fever has been a very real thing over the past year, but one player whose value has taken a hit in recent months is Donte Moncrief of the Colts. Just this off-season, the Colts have added Andre Johnson and Phillip Dorsett, along with a project receiver, Duron Carter. This doesn’t mean Moncrief is a lost cause, but it is reason to be concerned about how the Colts feel about Moncrief’s progress and potential.
- Pharoh Cooper, WR SC
Entering the 2014 college football season, I could not wait to watch the South Carolina offense. After all, they featured one of the expected top running backs and receivers for the upcoming NFL Draft, namely Mike Davis and Shaq Roland. Well, Davis looked pedestrian and Roland couldn’t even finish the season before parting ways with the Gamecocks, but it was sophomore receiver Pharoh Cooper who took over the offense and looked like the future pro. Cooper is an undersized playmaker that reminds me of Percy Harvin and I can’t wait to see how an NFL team makes use of him.
- Teddy Bridgewater, QB MIN
While the overall value of quarterbacks in dynasty leagues is fading, Vikings second year starter Teddy Bridgewater is gaining value. Based on our most recent dynasty ADP, he’s up to QB7 after just one season. During his rookie year, Bridgewater finished as QB22 despite only starting 12 games. He has the upside to be a solid fantasy starter for the next several years and the Vikings have added weapons to the passing game in Mike Wallace, along with the return of running back Adrian Peterson. Expectations for Bridgewater and the Vikings’ offense are sky high for 2015.
- Jordan Villamin, WR OREG ST
In his first season of college football, Oregon State wide receiver Jordan Villamin wasted little time in making a name for himself, developing a reputation for making the big plays. After all, not only did Villamin lead the team in receiving touchdowns, but those six touchdowns had an average length of nearly 50 yards. I haven’t even mentioned Villamin’s beastly frame of 6’4” and 240 pounds. The one concern I have with Villamin is that he may opt to stay in school for a third season after redshirting his first year on campus. We might have to wait until the 2016 NFL Draft to grab him.
- De’Runnya Wilson, WR MSU
Yet another devy wide receiver on this list is Mississippi State’s De’Runnya Wilson, who also has a build reminiscent of some of the top receivers in the game today. At 6’5” and 215 pounds, Wilson did not dominate the SEC from a statistical standpoint, but he made his presence felt on a run heavy offense. Wilson did make headlines for all the wrong reasons early this off-season as he was arrested for drug possession. We’ll see if this is something he can overcome in the coming months.
- Carlos Hyde, RB SF
The future looked bright for former Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde a year ago. He’d been drafted to a perennial contender in the NFC West and was slated to play behind running back Frank Gore, whom many expected to leave the team after the 2014 season. That’s just what happened, but so did much of the coaching staff, including head coach Jim Harbaugh. There is some concern going forward with the 49ers faithful and rightfully so considering the changes on the coaching staff and multiple surprise retirements. Can Hyde overcome all of these factors to become a fantasy starter? If so, he will quickly gain value and rocket up rankings such as this.
- Martavis Bryant, WR PIT
The final player siting just outside my top 25 is Steelers’ second-year receiver Martavis Bryant, who burst onto the scene midway through the 2014 season. With much of the attention of dynasty owners on other rookie wideouts like Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham, those who weren’t seeing the field were quickly brushed aside, including Bryant who didn’t see the field until Week Seven of the regular season. Once he did though, he got our attention. From Week Seven through Week Sixteen, Bryant was the WR28 in PPR leagues, making him a solid WR3, and that included the Steelers’ bye week. Bryant also showed he has ability to put up impressive numbers even with Antonio Brown also playing his typically large role. In Weeks Eight through Ten, Bryant averaged 23 fantasy points per game and was the WR4, while Brown was the WR3 over the same three-week stretch. Once considered a poor landing spot for receivers, the Steelers have become known as one of the top wide receiver drafting teams in the league, including the addition of Sammie Coates in the 2015 NFL Draft.
In the next edition of this series, I’ll complete my ranking of the top 75 from the rookie classes of 2014, 2015 and 2016 with my top 25 players.
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