Just like that, after month’s of anticipation and planning, the NFL Draft is done. Every year brings us a few surprises and this was no different. Now we turn our evaluation lens on rookie class and where they fit with their new NFL teams. With that framework mind let’s take a look at three rookies I’m fading.
The first wide receiver selected, at No. 25 overall by the Baltimore Ravens, offers tantalizing play-making ability with his speed. Just how fast he is could not be confirmed as Brown was unable to participate in drills during the NFL Combine or Oklahoma’s Pro Day due to a Linsfrac injury he sustained in the Big 12 championship game. A recent study of football and rugby players with this type of injury found:
“Although professional NFL athletes return to play at a high rate (83%) following Lisfranc injury, their league participation and performance is significantly decreased on return. Ligamentous and bony injuries have similar prognoses; however, offensive players show greater declines in performance compared with defensive players.“
It seems the Ravens felt comfortable enough with the risk to select Brown. Perhaps their own team history with the injury (Brent Urban and Jimmy Smith come to mind) was the deciding factor. Still, injury concerns are just one piece of this puzzle.
From a production standpoint, Brown played one season at a junior college before transferring to Oklahoma. While he eclipsed a 1,000 yards in each season, he wasn’t the only show in town for Lincoln Riley’s offense. Brown failed to record a season with a dominator rating (Average of ReYdsMS and ReTDMS) above 30% and never broke out. If you’re an OG RotoViz reader, then you already know Breakout Age is the Skeleton Key. Last year, Anthony Amico dug a little deeper into the research and found that top-100 picks who never broke out have an 11% chance of producing a fantasy relevant season within their first three years in the NFL. Those are long odds on any level, much less when coming into a run-first offense.
Lamar Jackson took over for Joe Flacco and led the Ravens to the playoffs. While the rushing game carried them, Jackson struggled as a passer. Of his 164 attempts, only 23 traveled at least 15 yards. Should we expect improvement from Jackson as a passer with a full off-season to training and learn the entire offensive system? Sure, I’m on board with that. However, bringing in Mark Ingram doesn’t do anything to change the run-first perception for this offense.
With all of those factors in mind, Brown is attainable in the mid to late first round of dynasty rookie drafts. If you draft him with visions of DeSean Jackson in your head, you may have better odds playing the lottery. For Brown to succeed so much has to go his way: he has to overcome his injury, his size limitations (166 pounds), not breaking out in college, and his role on a team with projected limited pass volume. His acquisition cost isn’t too high, but given the factors weighed against him I’m looking at Andy Isabella and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in a similar draft spot.
Samuel slotted right after Brown and N’Keal Harry as the third wide receiver selected, going to the San Francisco 49ers at pick No. 36. On the surface, it’s somewhat of a head-scratcher. The 49ers signed Jordan Matthews during free agency and return George Kittle, Dante Pettis, and Marquise Goodwin. The skill sets for Pettis and Samuel do share similarities, including special teams production. Samuel returned four kickoffs for touchdowns as a Gamecock while Pettis in the NCAA leader with nine punt return touchdowns. Samuel’s sim scores from the Box Score Scout include some RV hopefuls from recent draft classes and show a wide range of outcomes.
Hasan Rahim did the deep dive on Samuel ahead of the Draft and lays out his production concerns because like Brown, he never officially broke out. He is also on the older side for a prospect, having already turned 23. In terms of future production, Blair Andrews found that WRs who enter the league at an older age are at a distinct disadvantage compared to their younger peers.
The 49ers also drafted Jalen Hurd in the fourth round. A former Tennessee running back who transferred to Baylor and converted to wide receiver adds another potential hurdle for a significant target share as a rookie. Taking over for the departing Pierre Garcon in the slot role for Kyle Shanahan’s offense should be a good thing, I’m just not certain Samuel can capitalize on it given his spotty college production and age.
Ridley was the second University of Georgia wide receiver selected, with Mecole Hardman a surprise second-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bears selected Ridley at pick No. 126 in the fourth round, adding to an already deep wide receiver room. They signed Cordarrelle Patterson and Marvin Hall in free agency to complement starters Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and 2018 rookie Anthony Miller. The same production-based arguments for Samuel apply to Ridley, as he too never broke out. Despite declaring early for the NFL Draft, Ridley will also play his rookie year at age 23.
Another red flag for Ridley is his athletic profile. From our Combine Explorer, the only area that Ridley eclipses the 50th percentile in is the broad jump. His 40-yard dash and three-cone falling below the 30th percentile shows his athletic limitations in a league that is focusing more on getting athletes in space to make plays. If you’re a long-time reader of the ‘Viz, you already know production is what matters at wide receiver. However, let’s compare him to another Chicago rookie that you can get for free instead of wasting a third-round rookie pick on Ridley.
Emanuel Hall going undrafted was a bit of a surprise. As Drew Lock’s top option, he never topped 1,000 yards or broke out but did average over 22 yards per reception his final two seasons. Hall is easily the superior athlete of the two as we can see from the combine explorer. Hall was more productive and is a full year younger than Ridley despite playing all four years at Missouri.1 If you’re going to take a chance on one of these Chicago rookies, skip Ridley during the draft and pick up Emanuel Hall for free.