Let’s make one thing clear right at the start. There is no single correct rookie ranking. There are a multitude of factors that have yet to be determined, and every rookie has a shot to be the next Adrian Peterson or the next Tavon Austin. However, many of the rookie rankings I see online are missing two essential components that, if included, would make the rankings far more helpful as a guide. For experienced dynasty owners, feel free to skip these next sections and go straight to my rankings.
The first essential component that should be included with rookie rankings is tiers. Tiers are a far more useful tool than strict numeric rankings. You may prefer one player over another, but not all value differences are equal. For example, I prefer Todd Gurley over Ezekiel Elliott, but I would not add a significant amount to Elliott to acquire Gurley. On the other hand, I much prefer Aaron Rodgers to Matt Ryan, and I would need at least a first-round rookie pick in addition to Ryan to part with Rodgers. In the same way, there are certain rookies for which I would pay a significant amount more to acquire than I would for others, even if they are close in my rankings. It’s important to identify where these tiers cut off for you.
Before introducing the second essential component, it’s important to always remember that rookie fever is real. Everyone wants the shiny new toy, and sometimes this can temporarily cloud an owner’s judgment. It’s important to remember that sometimes, no matter how much you want a rookie, it may be more valuable to trade away that pick for an established veteran player. Therefore, the second essential component that should be included with rookie rankings is a suggested veteran that you might be able to acquire for the price of that rookie’s draft pick. With all this said, let’s get to it. Here are my top prospects for 2018 rookie drafts. These rankings are for PPR leagues that start one quarterback.
As ADP and the vast majority of dynasty trades will reflect, there is clearly a one-player top tier in this year’s rookie class. While there are still minor concerns with this player, overall he is the best all-around offensive prospect and has a chance to become an elite fantasy producer.
1.01 | Saquon Barkley
I know, right? It’s absolutely shocking that Barkley is my top rookie. The only knock on Barkley as a running back prospect is that he will bounce a run outside at times. However, this can be said of many backs when they first enter the league, and Barkley certainly has the athleticism to succeed even when he does. Barkley has demonstrated enough skill as an inside runner, and on the runs when he does find the hole, woe be to any linebacker who over pursues Barkley or misses the tackle, because Barkley will be off to the races and into the end zone with his top-end speed. He is a good enough pass protector that the Giants can use him as a true three-down back, and his fluid route running and excellent hands combined with his elusiveness after the catch give him the chance to become a top dynasty asset. Barkley’s talent justifies the inflated price of the 1.01 pick this year.
Alternative: Alvin Kamara
There are dynasty owners out there who are overcome with the prospect of finding the next elite fantasy player. Barkley may very well exceed even the loftiest of expectations, but Kamara has already shown enormous talent and is in a very good situation to produce elite fantasy numbers, particularly given Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension to start the season.
Both of the following running backs have good talent and early opportunity to be the lead back for their respective teams. Neither belongs in the elite tier above though, as Barkley has a clear advantage in both pass-catching and elusiveness after the catch.
1.02 | Rashaad Penny
The Seahawks shocked everyone by selecting Penny with their 27th overall pick. However, many teams reportedly had Penny graded as the top running back prospect behind Barkley. Seattle has expressed that Penny will be a three-down back, and he certainly has the size to play that role. He is a strong and patient runner, and while Seattle’s poor offensive line is a concern, Russell Wilson’s threat as a runner and the replacing of Tom Cable with Mike Solari as the offensive line coach are mitigating factors. Penny has room to improve running routes and catching the ball, but he’s an adequate enough receiving back to not come off the field on third downs. Outside of Barkley, Penny has the highest chance to become a workhorse back and fantasy RB1 in PPR leagues.
Alternative: Leonard Fournette
Nagging ankle injuries are a concern, but Fournette is an elite running back on a very good Jaguars team. He has the top-end speed to break a long touchdown on any given play, and he was a fantasy RB1 last year despite missing three games. Jacksonville’s superb defense will provide Fournette many run-heavy game scripts, and he is a safe bet to be a solid fantasy RB1 once again in 2018.
1.03 | Derrius Guice
The precipitous fall of Guice during the NFL Draft doesn’t concern me as much as it seems to concern others. Since when is NFL Draft order a prerequisite for fantasy success? Of course, the later rookies are selected by NFL teams, the steeper the climb they face to attain fantasy success. However, Washington drafted Guice in the second round, a very different scenario from him being a Day 3 pick or an undrafted free agent. To me, Guice is the best pure runner regarding vision and power. It’s true that lack of pass-catching experience and the presence of Chris Thompson will likely be a barrier to Guice being a three-down back. That said, note that I said lack of pass-catching “experience” and not “skill.” Guice showed enough hands and route-running in his college tape and at his pro day to demonstrate potential as a receiver. As the primary runner who will still get some opportunities in the passing game, not unlike Fournette last season, Guice can still be a solid fantasy RB2 with upside.
Alternative: Travis Kelce
The recent concussions have kept Kelce’s price down, but with the prevalent threat of retirement from Rob Gronkowski, Kelce is my dynasty TE1. Kelce averaged 15.6 points per game (PPG) last season, over a full point per game more than the next best fantasy tight end, Zach Ertz. That same 15.6 PPG would’ve made Kelce the WR11 in 2017, but startable in your tight end spot, making him an elite fantasy option.
The following running backs and wide receivers are talented and should contribute immediately for fantasy owners, but will face competition for touches. This is a deep tier, and I would pursue opportunities to trade down within this tier if any of your league mates really want “their guy” when you’re on the clock.
1.04 | Sony Michel
No one expected New England to draft Michel late in the first round, but here we are. Yes, the unpredictable nature in which Josh McDaniels and Bill Belichick deploy their running backs is scary, but it’s unpredictable only when the running back screws up. My main concern is Michel’s fumbling, but this can easily be overcome with good coaching. Beyond that, there really aren’t any glaring concerns. Michel is a disciplined runner who will get the yards offered to him, but with the ability to make cuts and accelerate when he finds holes. He’s also a pretty polished pass protector, which is essential for third down snaps given the importance of protecting Tom Brady at this point in his career. I expect Michel to immediately be the 1A to Rex Burkhead‘s 1B in this offense starting Week 1. While there’s the risk of a fumble or missed blocking assignment putting him in the doghouse, the upside is enough for me to put him at the top of this third tier.
Alternative: Allen Robinson
If you’re scared away by the risks involved in drafting any of the remaining first-round rookies, then Robinson is a nice pivot. He’s still recovering from an ACL tear, but he will be the clear primary receiver in what should be an exciting offense headed by Matt Nagy. As such, Robinson should see targets early and often, making him a prime candidate to bounce back to WR1 status in PPR leagues.
1.05 | Nick Chubb
Chubb is a patient runner with burst and the ability to make great cutbacks. It’s almost bittersweet watching and writing up Chubb because he was an absolute monster before his serious knee injury and multiple ligament tears in 2015. Were it not for that, I firmly believe Chubb may have been my top overall rookie above even Barkley in this class. That said, Chubb’s recovery and 2017 production were beyond impressive. While he may not have elite elusiveness at this point, he’s still a very good runner in what should be a rising offense with plenty of receiving weapons to keep defenses honest. Much like Guice, Chubb was rarely used in the passing game in college, and Duke Johnson will likely take his place on a lot of third downs. Regardless, Chubb has the talent to usurp Carlos Hyde early in the season as the primary back on first and second downs and become a consistent fantasy producer.
Alternative: Jordan Howard
The best-case scenario for Chubb might be to become what Howard already is, a pure runner who is a solid fantasy RB2 with RB1 upside. Howard won’t catch many passes with his struggles and the presence of Tarik Cohen, but he follows his blockers well and generates yards after first contact. He should score plenty of touchdowns as well in an up-and-coming offense paired with a top-10 defense.
1.06 | Calvin Ridley
Ridley is the best route-runner in this class. He makes sharp breaks to separate from defenders, has elite speed to stretch the field, and gains yards after the catch with his shiftiness. The only knocks on him are his struggles against press coverage and the prevalence of drops due to mental lapses. Despite that, Mohamed Sanu is a reliable but unexciting receiver, and Austin Hooper has yet to show many flashes in his first two years in the league. With Julio Jones demanding the attention of opposing secondaries, there is a decent chance Ridley could exploit defenses as the second receiving option behind Jones and produce immediately as a fantasy WR3 in his rookie year.
Alternative: Sammy Watkins
I’ve never actually been a Watkins truther, but pairing him with Patrick Mahomes and a shoddy Kansas City secondary is the perfect storm for a true breakout (I covered this more in-depth here). Tyreek Hill’s blazing speed will shift safety coverage his way, but Watkins is also a fast and strong deep ball specialist. With projected pass-heavy game scripts, Watkins should get plenty of chances at long touchdowns with Mahomes’s cannon of an arm.
Dissecting Round One of Your Rookie Draft: Part 2 can be found here!
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