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The 6 Prospects I Want in Every 2016 Rookie Draft

You might have read the headline and thought, well, our draft only has 3 rounds. Or, didn’t you say we should trade out of this draft entirely? (Or you might have read the alternate headline and thought: This intro doesn’t make sense.)

Those are good points, but I love the rush of rookie drafts, so I’ll probably trade into this draft even though it’s a bad idea. Right now I have zero 2016 picks in my four main dynasty leagues combined, but last year I had zero picks heading into the RDL rookie draft and ended up adding 13 rookies.1

Even though I don’t like the top half of the first round and believe you should trade the 1.01 and Ezekiel Elliott, there are still plenty of intriguing players in this draft. These are the six guys I’ll be trading in to select this season.

* If you’ve already drafted, now’s the time to strike with veteran/rookie combo trades.

  1. Tyler Boyd

Boyd has been my favorite receiver for most of the draft process and is only eclipsed by Corey Coleman due to speed and draft pedigree. While many focus on Boyd facts that are notoriously non-predictive, RotoDoc broke out the superlatives for the Pitt prospect in his PACO evaluation, otherwise known as production, age, comps, and opportunity.

Boyd similar prospects

  1. Tyler Ervin

Ervin might be my favorite RB in the entire draft, and I’m not alone. In the time since I penned the first draft of this article, Justin Winn explained why Ervin is the best rookie bargain.

We put a lot of emphasis on a prospect’s athleticism after you adjust for weight, but I like my backs to be flat out fast or quick, preferably both. I prefer the unadjusted numbers for RBs because I’m obsessed with yards before contact and RB receptions, stats which are connected to raw athleticism.

Ervin isn’t blazing, but he is fast with a 4.41 forty. He was also the one of only two RBs to hit all the marks to make the 78 percent success node in Kevin Cole’s regression tree.2

Beyond athleticism, Ervin turned in such amazing production last year that he was a top five back in the RB Prospect Lab rankings even though he’s old (22.2) and light (192 pounds). He toted the rock 294 times last year and caught 45 passes. To put that in context, RotoViz infatuation C.J. Prosise carried 157 times and caught 26 passes.

Of course, Ervin is a lot smaller than Prosise, but FD explains why he’s a cheap way to buy shares in the Darren Sproles/Dion Lewis phenomenon. Ervin would be my favorite Profile 3 back in the last several classes.

I don’t love Ervin’s landing spot with the Texans, but I don’t mind it either. Using Ben Gretch’s excellent look at play calling trends for the AFC South, we know Bill O’Brien’s squads run more plays than the average team, most of which come in the running game. Moreover, his Houston RBs have averaged an 18 percent share of the passing targets. Unless you’re petrified by Braxton Miller, this could end up being a dream environment for Ervin.

Oh, I almost didn’t mention that Ervin is the best special teams player from this draft class, a factor which frequently leads to NFL success and should keep him uppermost in O’Brien’s mind.

  1. Wendell Smallwood

I recently examined Wendell Smallwood and came to the conclusion that he could be the next Profile 2 star.

Fantasy football is trending in the direction of Zero RB and reality football is trending in the direction of pass-catching backs. Profile 2 runners find themselves at the intersection of these two trends.

When using the Box Score Scout, we found his comps to include pass-catching backs like Duke Johnson, Javorious Allen, and Shane Vereen, and that, if you dared to dream a little, he could even be a poor man’s Jamaal Charles.

In our post-draft RotoViz rookie mock, Kenyan Drake went off the board at 2.01, Paul Perkins at 2.04, and Smallwood at 2.10. This isn’t to suggest the first two picks were poor or that Smallwood was definitely a bargain – he’s usually going to go in Round 3 – but this is how the three backs compare objectively.

Player Age Weight 40 3-cone Attempts Yards TDs Receptions Score
Wendell Smallwood 21.9 208 4.47 6.83 18.3 116.8 0.7 2 49
Paul Perkins 21.1 208 4.54 7.2* 18.2 103.3 1.2 2.3 47
Kenyan Drake 21.9 210 4.45 7.04 5.9 31.4 0.2 2.2 24

Smallwood is a better athlete than Perkins and possesses similar athleticism to Drake with far more production.

Moreover, while Drake and Perkins landed in excellent spots to push up their values, that value bump pales in comparison to the one Smallwood received. According to Kevin Cole’s RB opportunity scores, we know that Philadelphia presented the best opportunity and by a wide margin. This comes as no surprise since Ryan Mathews (28) has been on the trade block and Darren Sproles (33) continues to be a rumored cap casualty.

  1. Josh Ferguson

I’m obviously a little biased, but Ben Gretch’s post-draft piece on UDFA Josh Ferguson is the best article you’re going to read anywhere about Ferguson. It’s 1,500 words of genius, and you need to take the time to read it. I’ll just bullet a few of the high notes.

Ferguson caught 168 college passes and is going to a fast-paced team that should be better any time they remove Frank Gore from the field.

  1. Keith Marshall

Keith Marshall’s 4.31 forty at 219 pounds is otherworldly, and, perhaps not surprisingly, meaningful. He also posted the second best 18-year-old season in the entire class. Marshall’s travails since are well-documented. In fact, it would be difficult to find an NFL roster without at least three backs with better resumes. Marshall managed to end up on a team without any.

Matt Jones never broke 900 yards in college, never carried even 175 times, never scored more than 7 touchdowns, never caught more than 11 passes. He then went to the combine and earned a 38th percentile SPARQ by running a 4.58 forty and jumping 31.5 inches. His claim to fame is being incredibly agile for a big back.

Jones was then bizarrely drafted in the third round by Washington, whereupon he turned 144 rookie carries into a 3.4 yard average with five fumbles for good measure.

Marshall is basically an opportunity play, but a big, fast opportunity play.

  1. Alex Collins

Collins is the “if you’re only the third back in SEC history to gain 1,000 yards in each of your first three seasons but nobody notices, did it happen?” prospect of the 2016 draft class.

Collins disappointed at the combine, but he was a better pure rusher in college than all three of his Seattle committee opponents combined.

  1. Of course, our draft is a 7-round IDP extravaganza and a decent number of those were fairly unimportant defensive players, but I did add intriguing sleepers like Jamison Crowder, the future No. 2 in Arizona in J.J. Nelson, and impending superstar Stefon Diggs. As well as instant busts like Nelson Agholor.  (back)
  2. Interestingly, while other methods of analysis clearly indicate weight as a key factor, the regression tree did not.  (back)

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