By: Kyle Richardson (Twitter: @krich1532)
The Top 10 Rookies for 2017
53 man rosters are set and we have our first clear picture of the 2017 season. And yes, I mean first clear picture. The rookie hype gets out of control from the time Mr. Irrelevant is picked to the time we reach final cuts and even into week 1. Every young running back is taking over the lead job, just like Jeremy McNichols who was on his way to unseating Doug Martin shortly after the draft. Oh yeah, he was just released. Every wide receiver looks like the next WR1 for his team, just like Cooper Kupp. Well, the Rams traded for Sammy Watkins. Whatever the case may be, almost every rookie after the draft looks like he’s headed to significant playing time and will be the next big thing. Now that things have cleared up and some of the post draft hype has settled down, we can accurately depict what each rookie will look like in 2017.
I’m here to help you find instant gratification, so for redraft leagues or rookies you can count on to help you win now. Just because I don’t include a player on this list, doesn’t meant I don’t think he is a good long term prospect. This is about finding Sterling Shepard, Ezekiel Elliott or Michael Thomas and passing on Corey Coleman, Laquon Treadwell and Tyler Boyd for those that need the wins and points to secure a championship in 2017.
10) DeShone Kizer: QB, CLE
One of our FFDynasty260 writers, Jesse Hiatt, mentioned some interesting stats in his “Buy Low, Buy Now” article when it comes to the Cleveland Browns and their QB’s, or lack thereof, over the years. Only twice have the Browns had a QB start 15 or more games in the last 15 years. Well, they have handed the keys to the 2017 season to Kizer and I was quite surprised to say the least. I was a big fan of Cody Kessler in that offense, a guy that won’t win you a ton of games but won’t lose a ton either. It’s obvious that the Browns want Kizer in there because they feel like he can win them a ton of games.
I want to step on the brakes right now and slow this down a little. Let me be clear, Kizer is not leading the Browns to the playoffs this year and he’s not winning rookie of the year either, but what he could do, is offer you solid value. If you decided to wait on a QB in your draft, Kizer is a late round grab, especially in your dynasty drafts. The Browns are not that good and will be throwing the ball a lot. If they want Kizer to take the job, they are going to give him every chance this year. They want him to help bring the same excitement to Cleveland that Dak Prescott brought to Dallas last year. Two completely different situations though, so don’t expect that. I’m starting to think Kizer starts all 16 games for the Browns this year and is a fringe top 20 QB based on volume alone. If the Browns actually did something right for once, and got a steal in Kizer, then he could see more upside than that.
9) Alvin Kamara: RB, NO
Why do I like Adrian Peterson so much this year? Because Sean Payton seems to hate Mark Ingram so much. I mean, Ingram lost touches last year to Tim Hightower, a guy that the 49ers just decided to cut. If Ingram can’t run away as lead back with Hightower behind him, how is he going to do that with future hall of famer Peterson on the team. Actually, at this point, I think Ingram needs to be more worried about Kamara than AP. The Saints have always seemed to utilize pass catching backs in their offense, whether it be Darren Sproles, Tim Hightower or someone else, and those backs always seem to make some sort of impact. Add on the fact that Willie Snead was just suspended for 3 games, and this could be the opening Kamara needs to solidify himself as an important part of this offense. Hightower finished as RB39 last year in PPR formats. Kamara isn’t going to be you RB1 or RB2 in 2017, but he could be a great flex start based on the matchup.
8) Kenny Golladay: WR, DET
The hype train was officially speeding off the rails for Golladay after his 2 TD performance in week 1 of the preseason against the Colts. When people ask me about Lions WRs, Matt Stafford or Eric Ebron I use part of the same explanation every time. The Lions play a very tough schedule this year and will not be very good. There is a going to be a multitude of opportunities for Stafford to throw the ball and he has plenty of weapons to help out. Anquan Boldin was a big red zone presence for the Lions last year, and while many think those targets go to Ebron, I think they go to Golladay now. The Lions will run three WRs a lot this offseason and I trust Golladay’s hands in the red zone more than I trust Ebron’s. The potential TD upside puts Golladay into a flex play by itself, but If Marvin Jones doesn’t bounce back or deals with more injuries this year, then Golladay could become a WR2 in no time. He is a great late round flier for those who went RB early and now need to fill there WR slots.
7) Leonard Fournette: RB, JAX
Not many people agree with me, but I am not a fan of Fournette, either long term or short term. I have written about him in past articles and won’t go into all the detail I’ve shared then, but it worries me that Fournette couldn’t even run for 100 yards COMBINED in two seasons against Alabama. He also missed time last year with lingering injuries. I always hear the argument that Fournette is the lead back and is a fantasy asset due to volume. I can agree that he will see a lot of volume this year, that is the only reason I list him on this list at number 7. There is a difference between quality and quantity, and just because he will see a lot of quantity, doesn’t mean he will have the type of quality touches that lead to fantasy football success. He has an awful QB under center that didn’t even have the starting job locked down until about a week ago.
It’s also clear that Bortles does not have the trust of the front office, the coaching staff, or even his teammates. Defenses are not going to worry about Bortles beating them, so they are going to look to stop the run. The Jaguars will need to throw the ball, because they will bad…again, and I don’t see them controlling the game by running the ball, because there will be nowhere to run. When was the last time you saw a sub .500 team control the game by running the ball against 8 man boxes? I’m not going to buy those shares, but he offers some upside amongst the rookies, just because of the volume.
6) Dalvin Cook: RB, MIN
In fantasy football, you won’t always be right. I know that, and one thing I will always do, is admit when I am wrong. Well, about 8 weeks ago I was very wrong about Cook. I didn’t even list him in my top 10 rookies because I didn’t see a clear path to carries. I still expected free agent signing Latavius Murray to carry a bulk of the workload and Cook to see some progression as the year goes on. That isn’t the case now and Cook seems to be the workhorse this year. Cook has some extraordinary skills, but I am not a fan of the situation. The Vikings did improve the offensive line, but was it really enough to help Cook become a top fantasy running back? As a team, they only averaged 3.2 yards per carry and 75.3 yards per game on the ground. Let’s add the fact that Sam Bradford is the QB for the Vikings as well. He can’t stretch the field and keep men out of the box.
Rookie running backs typically need help, and Cook doesn’t have enough of it. The good news, is that the Vikings have a good defense and will probably try to control the game through the run game and defensive play. I also believe that Cook will play a major role in the passing game. Bradford has the skill set to help running backs in the passing game because of his short yardage accuracy. Cook has great agility, the ability to make plays in space and run past linebackers. Cook probably holds a little more PPR value this year than standard. As of now, he’s kind of the same boat as Fournette, he will get the volume, but the quality won’t be as good as I like.
5) Corey Davis: WR, TEN
Outside of Joe Mixon, who we will talk about later, Corey Davis has the most talent in the 2017 draft, and boy did he land in a great spot. I cannot wait to see Davis and Marcus Mariota connecting over the next several years. It’s going to take a year or two before Davis shows us the WR1 numbers we draft him for, but 2017 will still show good results. The Titans are going to run the ball and run it well. They have one of the best offensive lines in football and two good running backs to handle the load. That is a great problem to have, but can take away from some of the value Davis could have, had he landed with a more pass happy offense.
All signs pointed to Davis being the WR1 for the Titans in 2017, but I believe that will be Eric Decker after adding him late in free agency. For those arguing that Decker takes away from Davis, I highly doubt that. Decker takes away from Delanie Walker, whose average target in 2016 was barely 10 yard past the line of scrimmage. Walker and Decker will control the middle of the field while the defense respects the running game, leaving plenty of room on the outside and deep for Davis to burn the defense. Rishard Matthews won’t take anything away from Davis, so don’t worry much about him. Expect another step forward for Mariota this year and a budding relationship with Davis.
4) Zay Jones: WR, BUF
The Bills had one hell of an offseason. Tyrod Taylor was the starting QB, then he wasn’t, then he was, and now apparently Nathan Peterman is ready to start. GM Doug Whaley was fired, as well as the entire scouting department. They brought in Anquan Boldin who abruptly retired a week later (and apparently wants to come out of retirement now to play for New England.) On top of that, they traded Sammy Watkins to the Rams for a defensive back, then turned around and added Jordan Matthews. The only reliable thing in buffalo this year will be LeSean McCoy, and that’s if he stays healthy for 16 games.
Lots of targets will be available in Buffalo. They don’t have a good team and will be playing from behind a lot in their division, except for when they play the Jets. Zay Jones seems to be in line for a majority of those targets, regardless of who throws him the ball. It will be interesting to see where Jones plays. He profiles more as a slot receiver to me, just like Matthews, but I figure he will be playing on the outside quite a bit. Garbage time targets and TDs can be a glorious thing in fantasy football. I think Jones may be a benefactor of that in 2017.
3) Christian McCaffrey: RB, CAR
It’s been awhile since anyone was excited about a Panthers RB. For several years now, it’s been the same old story as Cam Newton takes away the value of RBs who play with him. Jonathan Stewart will still continue to see the bulk of carries in Carolina, but he has had injury issues during his career. Stewart has started 13 games each of the past two seasons, but three games may be all McCaffrey needs to take over. I’m still not going to guess if McCaffrey has the ability to be an every down back moving forward in his career, but remember we are only talking about 2017. For those of you that play in PPR leagues and/or leagues that count special team’s numbers, McCaffrey could be a great mid round stash. He’s going to catch balls out of the backfield, he’s going to get a decent amount of carries and he’s going to see time on special teams, an area that he can be electrifying.
I think the Panthers may finally convince Newton to change his ways, becoming more of a pocket passer than a runner. While that transition may take time and may have some growing pains, that affects the receivers more than the running backs. In fact, I think the Panthers may need to lean on the running game in order to help Newton become a better pocket QB. Moving the ball with the run game and using McCaffrey out of the backfield will help to open up the receivers and allow Newton more time to find them. Draft McCaffrey with confidence, even in redraft formats, but don’t jump and don’t expect a RB1. As long as we agree to those terms, you shouldn’t be disappointed.
2) Joe Mixon: RB, CIN
Joe Mixon is the best player in the 2017 draft class. The only reason people aren’t more excited about him, is because of Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. There is enough room for all three of these running backs to get work. Bernard and Hill will hurt some of Mixon’s value to start, but Mixon is way too talented not to run away with this job by the halfway point. Hill is going to get looks at the goalline and Gio will see work on third downs, but Mixon will be the guy in between all of that. Hill has been subpar since his great rookie campaign, but the Bengals won’t be waiting much longer for him to find that magic again. Hill’s attempts per game actually went up from 13.9 to 14.8 last year, but he did so much less with those carries seeing his yards per carry drop from 5.1 in 2014 to 3.8 in 2016.
The Bengals offense is going to be so good. Andy Dalton has more weapons around him than years past and that only helps to make everyone better. Let’s just talk about the elephant in the room for a second, Mixon has a checkered past. The Bengals would not have wasted a second round pick on a guy with that kind of baggage if they did not believe he couldn’t become their full time back. Mixon will be the guy before too long and will produce fantastic numbers to go with it.
1) Kareem Hunt: RB, KC
Earlier in the article, I mentioned that I had Dalvin Cook outside my top 10 in my rookie rankings a few weeks back. Since I was man enough to admit I was wrong then, I’m going to gloat a little now! On that same list, Kareem Hunt was number 5. Man, did people let me hear how “wrong” I was at that time. Well, here we go. Hunt is in charge of the KC backfield and he is ready to roll. Did you know Hunt never had a fumble in college? Never. In 4 years. Let’s add that running backs tend to perform well under Andy Reid. Even Spencer Ware was able to put together RB16 numbers last year, good enough for a RB2 finish. I believe Hunt is more talented than Ware and will put up better numbers than Ware did last year. Even though Alex Smith isn’t the type of QB that will help stretch the field for the run game, Tyreek Hill will be the guy that helps Hunt succeed.
Tyreek Hill had an All-Pro season as a rookie in 2016, and enters this year as the WR1 for the Chiefs. Now let’s not be mistaken, I am not a Hill fan, but that is for a different article. However, teams will have to prepare for Hill this year, either from the backfield or out wide. Hill could create enough of a distraction that Hunt will have more opportunities to succeed. Now, let’s throw another wrinkle in this. Maybe something happens to Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes can take over, this offense could really open up and be a lot to handle. I was excited for this pick months ago, but now my excitement is through the roof. If you’ve been following along since the draft, hopefully you listened to me about Hunt.