As we near December and the end of the college football season, it’s time to start looking at the incoming rookie class, those players that can shape your roster for years to come. Whether you’re in the hunt for the playoffs or have been out of it for weeks now, there’s much to be gained by surveying the 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 2018 NFL Rookie Draft and fantasy rookie drafts that follow. I start with a quick top-ten of those players that I feel are best positioned for success at the next level. I then begin poring through tape, articles and as much available information as I can to ascertain toward building a profile on the top players within each position, culminating into a top 10, or so, for each discipline. More tape review and research will result in a top-30 overall ranking followed by a look at some players that exist outside the top-30 who have upside. Following the NFL Draft, the pool of players are reranked for fantasy purposes.
So, hop on board and follow along as I start this six month process. Best of all, it’s all included in a single, low-priced, membership to the largest dynasty community on the planet. Not only will you benefit from research topics like this, but you’ll also gain insights from 50 of the best dynasty players the Net has to offer through hundreds of articles annually and a community of thousands active and engaged dynasty coaches talking fantasy every day on the forum.
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, 2018 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 that plays a valuable piece, potentially as a cornerstone piece.
Secondly, the Internet, Twitter and fantasy community in general are awash by self-proclaimed experts and overnight sensations that 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 here 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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Coming out of 2017’s stellar class, many are now drooling over what they hope will be a similar talent pool. It’s safe to say that there’s a substantial halo effect in existence. But is it justified?
In short, while there’s talent to be had, this class is substantially behind that of 2017 outside of the two top names. That’s not to say that there won’t be impact players, but the marquee names just don’t support the first round as they have in the past. This is a draft where value will still be found in the first round and into the second round due to mid-tier depth, much like 2017’s class.
2018’s running backs hold a fair amount of intrigue with enough depth to provide value into the second round of fantasy rookie drafts. The two top names will be easy selections but, after that, it’s a muddy field that could present a minefield for coaches holding middle-first-round selections.
At receiver, there’s a significant lack of size from top names, meaning that drafted situation will play a large part of early-career success. Much like that of the running backs, size at the position outside of the top names does increase which will provide value into the second round but will also carry a large amount of risk.
At quarterback, there’s a lot of talent in the class and it’s a perfect year to be seeking a young slinger. Whether you play in a 2QB super-flex format or you’re looking for a young upside arm to stash behind a veteran on your squad, there’s something here for everyone. Recall, too, that quarterbacks fall in fantasy drafts – even in super-flex formats. Recent names like Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson and Jared Goff were all second round and beyond selections. If you’re drafting at the end of the first round or early in the second round, you’re going to have a shot a top arm if desired.
Before getting to my first top-ten, let’s take a quick look at the top 10 names on my board. Don’t worry, as we learn more about this class, my rankings and depth will grow as well.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State
2. Derrius Guice, RB LSU
3. Damien Harris, RB Alabama
4. Courtland Sutton, WR SMU
5. Calvin Ridley, WR Alabama
6. James Washington, WR Oklahoma State
7. Nick Chubb, RB Georgia
8. Bryce Love, RB Stanford
9. Sam Darnold, QB USC
10. Royce Freeman, RB Oregon
It’s no secret or surprise, nor should it be, that Saquon Barkley sits atop the list. Save some horrific injury, there’s virtually no way that another other rookie will be selected at the 1.01. Barkley is a transcendent three-down back that is the cornerstone player fantasy coaches dream about. A fair gap exists between Barkley and my 1.02, Derrius Guice. Guice is a fine big-play threat with the size I like for running backs. Not too heavy which can sap agility but with enough lower-body strength and frame to provide three-down ability and elusiveness. Barkley is my only tier-one player in this draft but Guice is an upside-talent topping the second tier.
Damien Harris, too, has size and while not as dynamic as Guice, the right situation will highlight his strengths to provide for a high ceiling. At number four, Courtland Sutton has the size and frame to produce at the next level but in watching his game, I don’t carry the same over-the-top enthusiasm that many others do. He’s still my top talent at receiver emerging from this draft class, but drafted situation will be a huge variable in his production and growth. I don’t feel he has the game or dynamic as, say, similarly sized Corey Davis in Tennessee. Calvin Ridley, at number five, carries some of that Amari Cooper maturity in his route running that will provide immediate upside. That, when combined with enough size to win in the air, makes for a situation whereby it wouldn’t surprise me in the least should Ridley end up being the top receiver out of this class a decade from now.
James Washington is my “riser” on the list and he could end up in the top five following more research and a solid NFL Combine performance. Three years of eclipsing 1,000 yards and finishing his collegiate career with career numbers is exactly what I like to see. Playing at State, his competition isn’t quite what I prefer and the Cowboys run a wide open offense that pads stats, but Washington has an NFL skill set that’s easy to like.
Nick Chubb doesn’t look the same returning from an ACL, but in the back half of the first round of fantasy drafts and now with more time between the injury, it’s a perfect setup for patient fantasy owners. I caution you not to sleep on him and strongly suggest watching his pre-injury tape. Chubb is better than this current ranking and I see this as injury induced. Bryce Love is exactly what he appears to be, a dynamic undersized threat that makes his living in space. Those lanes won’t be available in the NFL but I will say that Love has a larger base than I would expect from a back of his size, meaning that he can add size and strength at the next level. I’d like to see him closer to 210 lbs.
Sam Darnold remains my top quarterback on the board and he provides prototypical quarterback traits such that he should be considered in the back half of the first round if needed. The depth at quarterback in 2018 will provide an opportunity to wait until the second round but there’s nothing wrong with being the first to act to get your passer of the future as long as the situation provides upside. Anchoring this list is Royce Freeman out of Oregon. He’s a bowling ball of a back that remains me a lot of a young Jonathan Stewart but with a higher ceiling. Long speed will be my primary focus at the Combine.
Many players are just outside the top-ten and drafted situation will play a larger role for me than previous years and as we go further down the rabbit hole on this year’s class, we’ll take a closer look at the prospects.
Wrapping up, this is not a draft class that excites me to a great degree outside of the top two or three players and I’ve been unloading late first round picks if I’m able to acquire young and productive talent. This is a fine draft for adding second round selections as there’s a lot of mid-tier talent that will fall to winning teams to provide upside. Talent in fantasy rookie selections between 1.04 and 1.10 will be very subjective and moving picks for productive youth and later picks could provide significant opportunity.
If you are a team badly in need of young talent, I’d also be looking to move mid-first-round selections for productive players rather than spinning the draft wheel – allow another coach to take the risk.
I hope you enjoyed this first look! Stay tuned as we continue to highlight the 2018 class. Next up will be my top-10 running backs for the 2018 NFL Rookie Draft.
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You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff