The combine is in the books and we are just getting our first tastes of NFL free agency. It is a very busy and very exciting time for the NFL and by extension us dynasty owners. In order to help you sort out at least some of this, I got together with 11 of DLF’s finest to put together a rookie mock draft for you. The goal isn’t to tell you ADP or the exact rankings of these rookies (after all, we have ADP and rankings lists for those things!), but rather give you an idea of what could happen if a rookie draft was held today. We also hope to give your rookie process a kickstart if you are just starting to get into the 2017 draft class.
For this mock, we did three rounds with twelve teams. We assumed PPR scoring and traditional lineups (so not a 2QB or superflex league). All of the drafters were asked to give a brief intro to their selection, and I’ll be providing some additional thoughts on each one as well. Keep in mind it is very early in the process. There are going to be opinions shared in this mock which will completely change in the next few weeks and months. There will be players selected in the top 36 who go undrafted in most rookie drafts this summer, and there might be some future first rounders we didn’t draft. It happens when you are doing things like this early, but that is a part of the fun! Enjoy!
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3.01 – James Conner, RB Pittsburgh
Doug’s thoughts: Much like my pick of Godwin, once you get to the third round, it’s very much pick your flavor. I am higher on Conner than some of the other running backs. Part of that is his story, part of that is his talent. For a man who had cancer 18 months ago, his performance at the combine was quite good and he is still rounding back into football shape. I think Conner could be a steal if his body blossoms following his recovery.
My thoughts: The third round has arrived, which means there isn’t such a thing as a reach anymore. Especially not when we are doing this in March and the mock is only three rounds long. It is really a pick your favorite kind of deal right now. Conner is a player you really, really want to be successful if you look at his story. He is a hard worker who could be a chain mover and a short yardage specialist at the next level. He has great size and can run with power to get the tough yards. He could be a great goalline guy.
3.02 – Wayne Gallman, RB Clemson
Bill’s thoughts: I was on the fence with Wayne Gallman. He’s kind of this years version of Paul Perkins. He’s just “okay” at everything. I think he can fit in and contribute. In an injury situation he could be a short term starter. I’m not looking for a home run picking him. In retrospect, I should have rolled the dice with a player that has more upside.
My thoughts: A distant third in Clemson’s offensive trifecta the last few years, Gallman probably didn’t receive the attention he would have on a different team. I don’t think he has great vision or instincts, but he does have decent size and athleticism. He will get what is blocked for him and tends to fall forward even if he doesn’t make a ton of people miss or break a lot of tackles. He will be a quality backup for a team in transition or behind an often injured starter.
3.03 – Isaiah Ford, WR Virginia Tech
Joseph’s thoughts: Ford ran slower than expected at the combine (4.61), but should still be a productive pro despite mediocre athleticism. Ford possesses terrific body control, strong hands, and attacks the ball in the air. He profiles best as a complementary option in the passing game, but has a decent ceiling if he lands in a favorable location. Teams that could use a player like Ford include the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, and Pittsburgh Steelers.
My thoughts: Ford was very productive over multiple seasons at Virginia Tech. He has great body control and tracks the ball well on a variety of routes. I was a little surprised he didn’t test better at the combine, because he sure plays faster and seems to move better than what the drills would suggest. This could mean that he’s already maximized his technique and might be near his ceiling, which would be a bad sign for his long term upside. One thing he will need to do is add a little muscle to his frame to avoid being pushed around at the NFL level. If he does that, he could be a decent third receiver on a NFL team.
3.04 – Cooper Kupp, WR Eastern Washington
Matt’s thoughts: Kupp didn’t help himself with his combine performance but it’s hard to ignore his production on the field. He runs crisp, savvy routes and can win both on the ground and in the air. Likely a slot player at the NFL level, Kupp’s foot speed, and quickness make him feel like a smaller receiver than he is. Kupp knows how to press corners to the point where they flip their hips and run upfield while Kupp snaps off a deep curl or comeback. His work ethic and motor will make him a coach favorite.
My thoughts: There is a lot to like about Kupp. He is the record holder for career receptions, yards, and touchdowns at the FCS level. He also has great bloodlines and the work ethic to be a pro. He also might have some of if not the best set of hands in this entire draft class to go along with that work ethic. On the other side of the coin, his speed and explosiveness are merely adequate for an NFL receiver. He also doesn’t have a whole lot of room for growth in his technique, meaning he could already be maxed out. There will also be some transition time as he goes from FCS defenses to NFL defenses. He’s definitely worth a shot in the third round of rookie drafts though.
3.05 – Jeremy McNichols, RB Boise State
Mike’s thoughts: Jeremy McNichols was my final selection. He can sink his hips which allow for him to make jump cuts and change direction. He also has great vision and can scan the field quickly to help him make solid decisions. He will take on tacklers without hesitation. McNichols can get to the corner and has solid balance. He is a pass catcher and can play out wide. Even though he isn’t hesitant with taking on tacklers, McNichols can go down easy. According to NFL.com, he only gained 2.1 yards after the first contact. He is fast, but not explosive. Not having a strong base to get through the trash, McNichols will struggle to be a high average yardage eater. He can break one for distance, but not enough to up his yards per carry. McNichols put the ball on the ground too many times in college, and that needs to improve pronto. McNichols is skilled and can play in a variety of formations, and has the talent to be an every-down back or play well enough to be in a committee and contribute. He may not be the stud out the gate, but give a few years, and he could pay off in dividends.
My thoughts: McNichols is a player I’ll be watching for on draft day. His ability to catch passes out of the backfield is one of the best in this draft class. He also had great vision and instincts when rushing the ball to go along with decent size. His speed and athletic ability are also decent for a running back. What he doesn’t have is any ability to break a tackle. He plays more like a 5’9” receiver at times, going down on first contact instead of trying to lower his shoulder and power through. As Mike mentioned, he also has some ball security issues that will need to be fixed. With massive hands like his, there shouldn’t be an issue there.
3.06 – Taywan Taylor, WR Western Kentucky
My thoughts: Taylor is one of those guys who could be a beast out of the slot at the NFL level. He was ultra-productive during his time in college, posting multiple seasons of 85+ receptions, 1400+ yards, and 17 touchdowns. He is phenomenal after the catch and has the suddenness which makes defenders look lost at times. Defenses knew he was the only option at Western Kentucky, and they still couldn’t stop him. Some might point to the level of competition, but go watch the film against a nearly NFL quality defense when they played Alabama. He definitely looked the part of an NFL receiver in that game!
It isn’t all flowers and daisies when looking at Taylor though. As much as I like him, I still understand that his production was largely a product of their system at times. He also isn’t a hands catcher, which is a bit of a concern and can sometimes lead to drops. Along with catching with his hands, he needs to refine his route running a bit, as do most college receivers. Overall though, I think he is a great value at this point in the draft, especially if he lands on a high volume passing offense.
3.07 – Noah Brown, WR Ohio State
Travis’s thoughts: Noah Brown is a little bit of an unknown among dynasty owners. However, the real football writers and scouts I have heard from absolutely love him. Brown’s career was derailed by an injury in 2015. Then in 2016 the gimmicky Ohio State offense seldom relied on its outside receivers to win games. With that said, Noah Brown is a former four-star recruit who scored a touchdown every 4.5 receptions for Ohio State. He is an above average route runner who destroys in contested situations. Imagine a slightly bigger Michael Crabtree. That’s Noah Brown.
My thoughts: An NFL team who looks at Brown is basing their decision on two things, size and potential. At 6’2” and over 220 pounds, he definitely has the frame. He has also shown some spectacular flashes, such as four touchdowns in one game early in the year. He has a good set of hands and isn’t shy about using his body to position himself and to break tackles after the catch. The big glaring issue with Brown is his lack of production. Travis mentioned the injury in 2015 and the lack of production in 2016, but that doesn’t quite cover it. He had 33 catches total during his time at Ohio State, which means his technique is behind the curve.
3.08 – DeShone Kizer, QB Notre Dame
Scott’s thoughts: Kizer has the tools to compete for a starting spot in the NFL (size, strong arm). Combine wasn’t very good. I don’t like QBs who have issues with accuracy, footwork and decision-making. Still, Kizer has enough tools to develop if he responds to coaching. Not exciting at 3.08 but not much left either.
My thoughts: Unlike the top spot, Kizer is the easy choice for the third quarterback in this year’s draft class for the vast majority of people. At 6’4” and 230 plus pounds, Kizer definitely looks the part of an NFL quarterback. He will also make some throws that definitely have NFL quarterback written all over them. On the other side of the coin, his mechanics are terrible which lead to some accuracy issues. He also makes some very poor judgement calls, perhaps trusting his arm a little bit too much. This will only get worse against faster and smarter defenders at the next level. In some ways, he reminds me a little bit of Jay Cutler with the big arm but poor decisions, except he might be a little bit worse in both categories.
3.09 – Dede Westbrook, WR Oklahoma
Mo’s thoughts: Why a player who compiled an 80 /1,524 /17 stat line only projects as a third round pick – both in real life and in our mock rookie draft- is a bit of a mystery. Westbrook feasted on his Big 12 rivals last season, averaging 6.1 receptions, 145.6 yards, 1.77 touchdowns per contest, over the nine-game conference schedule. He went over 100 yards in eight of those nine games and achieved over 20 yards per reception in all but one tilt.
His size may scare some teams off. As a 5-foot-10, 178-pound slot receiver, Westbrook will have to prove his toughness all over again in the pros. Yet, his dominance out of breaks and after the catch should help him minimize his exposure to contact. Dynasty owners who miss out on John Ross can use a mulligan on Dede, and not suffer a tremendous drop-off, if any. Depending on their actual NFL landing spots, Dede Westbrook could very well outpace Ross in fantasy production right out of the gate.
My thoughts: When I picked Taylor at 3.06, I almost went with Westbrook. It is hard to pass on the Heisman finalist and Biletnikoff Award winner, especially in the third round. He was highly productive at one of the bigger programs in the country, and he showed decent athleticism to go along with his blazing speed. So why is he in the third round? I think it is a little bit of the Tavon Austin effect. There are a lot of similarities between the two in terms of size, speed and production. Austin hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, so I think every player with a similar profile since then has always been devalued. Maybe Westbrook will break the mold.
3.10 – Bucky Hodges, TE Virginia Tech
Adam’s thoughts: Slightly surprised to see him here after the TE’s flew off the board early, especially after his insane combine. The 6-6 two hundred and fifty seven pounder ran a staggering 4.57 second 40 yard dash, good enough for 91st percentile speed at the position. He also added a 98th percentile(!) broad jump and a 96th percentile vert. This showcases his burst potential off the line. While he is a bit raw at the position and has short arms, Hodges at the end of the third is my favorite pick of the three, sign me up for the giant man.
My thoughts: I love this pick in the third round, because at this point it is all about upside. Sure, there is a pretty good chance he won’t amount to much of anything in the NFL, but that is true of pretty much everyone in the third round so why not swing for the fences! Hodges is an athletic freak as Adam mentioned. He is also super raw as a converted quarterback. His route running needs a lot of work and he isn’t a natural catcher of the football. If an NFL team can coach him up and get him to work on those things, he could be a diamond in the rough. Think Jimmy Graham kind of upside here.
3.11 – Amara Darboh, WR Michigan
Jeff’s thoughts: Darboh is an easy player to root for at the next level. He lacks elite ability across most skills but is a solid player with a great heart and he put together an impressive combine performance. I was hoping to see Darboh run in the high 4.5s and he surprised with a 4.45 to go along with a good vert (36”) performance as well. Darboh lacks route and speed dynamic in his play but he’s got relatively large hands, good NFL size and is a gritty player on the field. He’s deceptively fast and shows physicality in his play and in the right situation, could develop quickly. He’s my ideal sort of receiver target in the third round in an Anquan Boldin mold. He’s raw but with upside.
My thoughts: Kind of like James Connor, Darboh is one of those players you really hope can put together a long career in the NFL. Born in war torn Sierra Leone, he emigrated here as a child. He had solid production while at Michigan, but I felt he was likely a priority free agent after the draft or a very late round pick. A better than expected combine might have him hearing his name a round or two sooner. He plays hard, has great size and will work to be better. He has some work to do and isn’t the most natural receiver, both with his routes or when catches the ball, but I’m rooting for him.
3.12 – Jake Butt, TE Michigan
James’s thoughts: I mentioned how strong the tight end class is earlier, and that means players who might usually be strong picks have started to fall down. I don’t believe Butt would have been ignored this much if he hadn’t have torn his ACL in December’s Orange Bowl, but I’m banking on his return to full health. NFL teams will value Butt more than some of the more athletic, pass-catching tight ends in the class, and if dynasty owners have patience (and deep rosters), investing in him could pay off.
My thoughts: It really is too bad that Butt torn his ACL. Not only will it likely cause issues for his rookie year and set his development back, but I would have loved to have some numbers on him. My guess is he would have been very average in most ways. That isn’t a bad thing as an inline tight end with plus hands, but it does mean he isn’t going to be a super star. I think his upside is with the mass of other tight ends who are in the fringe TE1 range in fantasy leagues. I don’t know that he’ll ever get there, but it is going to take a lot of patience to find out.
That’s it for our first extended look at a mock draft this year. We will be back with another go around as we get closer to the draft. Who are your picks for players who will rise up boards and fall down them?