With the NFL draft in the books, rookie draft season is upon us. Today, Shawn Siegele examines Round 1 from a couple of experts drafts. He’ll break down all of the picks, providing advanced stats and player commentary, as well as helping you access our rookie rankings, prospect tools, and draft research.
Evaluating the picks from two conferences in the same league is one way to know you’re getting contrasts in player evaluation as opposed to simply seeing differences in format. The Faked Goods rookie draft takes place immediately after the real thing concludes, offering a window into the instant reactions from top players.
I’m in a loaded Goods division with RotoViz contributors like Tyler Buecher and Peter Overzet, and friends to the site like Rich Hribar, Kevin Zatloukal, Mocker, and Greg Smith. They didn’t disappoint.
1.01 Josh Jacobs/Josh Jacobs
Jacobs was the first selection in both leagues, which perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise as the first player selected in the reality draft at the foundation positions of running back and wide receiver. It’s more of a surprise when you consider that Jacobs might have been the ninth RB picked in the 2018 draft. You can use the reloaded Dynasty ADP tool to see that Kerryon Johnson went off the board at 1.09 in last year’s bumper crop.
Jacob Rickrode’s fantastic series on rookie hit rates illustrates how quickly we can go from ecstasy to despair with these young players. This is especially worth considering in a draft where even the early first-rounders would have been outside the top 10 a season ago.
Jacobs doesn’t have the production or the athleticism of a traditional first-round running back, but he does have that Alabama pedigree to go with the type of well-rounded profile that’s so coveted by fantasy owners. This week’s unfortunate Achilles injury for Isaiah Crowell may explain Jacobs’ leap to the top spot. Already locked into a heavy early-down workload, the rookie now projects for more carries than all but a few veteran backs.
Jacobs ranks No. 2 in our staff rookie rankings, but no individual drafter had him higher than No. 3.
1.02 N’Keal Harry/N’Keal Harry
Here’s the star of the draft. N’Keal Harry is a bigger, more productive JuJu Smith-Schuster landing in an offense that has a gaping hole where Rob Gronkowski used to be. Michael Dubner brings you the Box Score Scout comps for each of the first-round rookies, and Harry’s are an embarrassment of riches – Mike Evans, Alshon Jeffery, Allen Robinson, and Michael Thomas, just to name a few.
Harry was a unanimous choice at No. 1 for our team.
1.03 Miles Sanders/Miles Sanders
Sanders was a standout in the RB Prospect Lab, and he’s the one RB from the early-round workhorse group who’s actually a plus athlete.
When you’re above average in speed, agility, and explosion, you’ve got plenty of three-down potential, and Sanders’ production background confirms that thesis. He may lose some early between-the-20s touches to Jordan Howard, but those are carries you don’t necessarily want on your back’s legs anyway.
While Sanders slotted anywhere from No. 2 to No. 9 in our overall rankings, our dynasty coordinator, Curtis Patrick, has Sanders as his No. 1 RB.
1.04 A.J. Brown/David Montgomery
Brown is easily the most controversial rookie in our rankings, and that was reflected in the two drafts. Overzet selected Brown at No. 4 – a good deal according to four of our rankers who had Brown as their No. 2 overall player – but he slipped to ninth in the other conference, more in line with ranks from Patrick and T.J. Calkins (who had him as a borderline first-rounder at No. 12).
If the 2019 WR prospect group was a combine simulcam race, Brown would have been the guy who stayed right there in Harry’s shadow almost to the line.1 Getting drafted by the Titans is the equivalent pulling your hamstring on the second trial.
The Titans finished last season dead last in expected fantasy points (reEP) to WRs at only 24.8 per game. To put that in context, the Steelers averaged almost twice as many. If anything, the Titans now appear even more committed to the run after Derrick Henry’s late-season explosion.
It’s also a weird depth chart with former top-five pick Corey Davis coming close to a breakout with 186 points and yet being a clear disappointment to reality fans and fantasy owners alike. The optimistic take has Marcus Mariota finally channeling his inner Patrick Mahomes.2 The pessimistic viewpoint sees two not-quite-No. 1-WRs cannibalizing what little passing points remain in a run-oriented offense.
1.05 David Montgomery/Darrell Henderson
The Faked side of the draft starts with four RBs in the first five picks. This was supposed to be the class that finally resurrected the WR position – at least before we discovered NFL teams mostly agreed with analysts on the state of D.K. Metcalf’s on-field performance – and it’s the worst RB draft since at least 2014.
The RB-heavy start leads naturally to one of two conclusions: 1) The RBs are being wildly overdrafted. 2) The WRs are an epic disappointment, a fact compounded by non-passing teams like the Ravens and Seahawks hording some of the pre-draft favorites.
My guess is that it’s a little bit of both. 2018 rookie ADP had eight RBs in the first nine picks, and many drafts started with all of those backs going before D.J. Moore. We’re a long way from a final verdict on the class, but the four best non-Saquon picks may end up being Moore, Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk, and Courtland Sutton.3 The running back position has returned to the overvalued status it enjoyed from 2010 to 2015.
While this could be 2014 for the RBs, it’s not likely to be 2015 for the WRs where five of the six first-round picks at the position were Kevin White, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Breshad Perriman, and Dorial Green-Beckham. But the WRs are disappointing, and that opens the door for more RBs here.
Big picture issues aside, David Montgomery finds himself in an odd and potentially unenviable situation of being a cult savior for Bears fans and fantasy owners everywhere despite being a third-round pick and the fourth RB taken in a bad RB draft. That’s before considering that he’s a sub-T.J. Yeldon athlete covered up by possibly the NFL’s best receiving back in Tarik Cohen.
On the plus side: The Bears are on the verge of having an elite offense, which gives him a key edge on Jacobs. He’s also revered for his tackle-breaking ability, and it was the uncanny ability to maintain balance through contact that turned Kareem Hunt into a short-lived legend in Kansas City.4
1.06 T.J. Hockenson/T.J. Hockenson
Hockenson was the star of my post-draft look at 3 Players the Box Score Scout Loves. He was the Hawkeyes’ blocking TE to Noah Fant’s flashy receiver, but he was also the better receiver in key categories, gaining 26% of Iowa’s receiving yardage in his final year. Drafted in the top 10, the Lions are expecting him to be their Travis Kelce.
1.07 D.K. Metcalf/Noah Fant
1.07 was where the superhumans went off the board. D.K. Metcalf earned our top Freak Score since Stephen Hill, while Noah Fant joined the Mike Gesicki tier of almost impossible TE athletes who are nonetheless still looking up at Vernon Davis.
Gesicki may be the top athletic comp for Fant, but even while fighting Hockenson for looks, the Iowa star was productive enough to have George Kittle, David Njoku, and Kelce as closer all-around comps in the BSS.
As for Metcalf, if you refuse to look up his comps, then at least you spare yourself the disappointment.
1.08 Mecole Hardman/D.K. Metcalf
Hardman is either an incredibly difficult evaluation or a perfectly easy one, depending on how you define it. His actual production puts him in the UDFA basket, but a late position change in college renders this less useful than in most cases. He’s also an early declare with big time speed, and those are both big positives for smaller players. Despite his lack of production, a few of Hardman’s comps are still pretty tasty, as Matt Wispe outlines in 3 Rookie WRs to Target After the Draft.
Blair, Curtis, and I all capitulated in the face of the Mahomes Effect. We each ranked Hardman at No. 5 overall, perhaps with too much optimism that he can replace Tyreek Hill’s volume and explosiveness. This is a team that should lead the NFL in scoring for a decade, yet suddenly doesn’t have much at the skill positions after Kelce. It’s hard to remember the last time a rookie entered a situation quite this good.
John Lapinski held the line, ranking him No. 14, behind players who were impact college performers.
1.09 Andy Isabella/A.J. Brown
Rich Hribar plucked Isabella off the board at 1.09. It’s hard not to love this pick from the perspective of our rankings. None of our rankers had him below No. 6 overall.
Speed isn’t a good NFL indicator when it comes to big receivers, but it’s vital for players who come in below 200 pounds. Isabella isn’t Hill or Marquise Goodwin, but his 4.31 speed places him at the top of the next tier of NFL blazers.
Isabella was also ridiculously productive, having almost notched a 50% Dominator Rating as a senior. Crazy production with blister speed gives him some pretty exciting comps.
The concern for Isabella is that his numbers through his first three seasons would not have put him in the conversation to be a second-round draft pick, and that’s relevant because early declares absolutely crush four-year players in the transition to the NFL.
Consider some of the trendy Day 2 picks from the last two seasons who played four years in college. Where do you have Michael Gallup, James Washington, and D.J. Chark compared to where you had them a season ago? Where do you have 2017 studs Zay Jones and Taywan Taylor?
Sadly, this is where.
If you haven’t read The Wrong Read: No. 53 that talks about early declare, go back and read it before you draft Isabella. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into.5
And then go draft him anyway.6 He’s going to be a star in Kliff Kingsbury’s Air Raid.
1.10 Marquise Brown/Kyler Murray
Marquise Brown has the second-best projection in this class according to my WR model, and he also slots in ahead of Kirk and Sutton from a year ago. Unfortunately, that projection doesn’t include opportunity. Brown slides after landing with a Baltimore Ravens team that ranked 31st in WR reEP and dead last in efficiency after Lamar Jackson took over.
The Ravens finished ahead of only the aforementioned Titans in per-game volume. I’ve also included the two highest-volume teams from that time frame to emphasize the contrast, and it’s brutal.
This combination of elite profile and dreadful landing makes his evaluation difficult. It’s not a surprise that he’s featured in Wispe’s receivers to buy and also on Ryan Bobbitt’s 3 WRs to Fade in Dynasty After the Draft.
1.11 Parris Campbell/Parris Campbell
Parris Campbell led the Buckeyes in receiving as a senior, but he never officially broke out. Late breakouts and non-breakouts underperform their draft positions, with Campbell expected to score similarly to players otherwise selected a full round later.7
Of course, if we’re going to apply the Mahomes Effect to Hardman, we should apply the Luck Effect to Campbell.8 Unfortunately, Donte Moncrief would disagree. The Colts have gone the ultra-athletic, underperforming route in the draft before and not just with Moncrief.
This may look like Campbell’s results from the Combine Explorer, but it’s actually Phillip Dorsett, the Colts’ first-round selection in 2015.
On the other hand, Campbell is even more athletic than Dorsett,9 and it’s always a mistake to pick a single, similar past player and cast aspersions. The problem for Campbell is that his full resume suggests a career more like Dorsett’s than what the Colts have in mind.10
But you do have to like Campbell in Indianapolis, and Curtis explains the positive elements of his profile in breaking down his victory over Isabella in our WR Tournament.
1.12 J.J. Arcega-Whiteside/J.J. Arcega-Whiteside
Although lacking in raw stats, Arcega-Whiteside is a market share monster with elite comps.
Leonte Carroo’s inclusion should give you at least a little pause. The four-year player posted silly final-season numbers that ultimately didn’t translate to Sunday.12 Arcega-Whiteside spent his freshman year watching from the sidelines, learning the scheme, adjusting to college. If that season is included in his stats, the career numbers don’t look as impressive.
How to Play It
Interesting players dot the first round, but the value of these picks is poor in relation to other drafts. The early second round is a different story. Hardman, Isabella, and Brown went in the first four picks of Round 2 on the Faked side, while Fant, Henderson, and Murray went 2.01-2.03 in Goods. Those players are strong values in that range, and you should aggressively target the early second in trades.
As you prepare for your draft, make sure to stay current with our rankings, follow trends in ADP, and continue your research with tools like the Box Score Scout and series like the Wrong Read, Rookie Hit Rates, and Players to Buy and Avoid.
Looking for great PGA coverage and an NFL coupon? Get our advanced PGA tools, plus strategy breakdowns and ownership projections from PGA guru Matt Jones when you purchase a PGA pass.
- In this analogy, the race represents their overall profile, not their speed, so that’s perhaps unnecessarily confusing. (back)
- High stakes champion Monty Phan tells everyone that he’s drafting Mariota everywhere, then hints that it’s all an elaborate pump-and-dump. It’s not. Monty can’t get enough Mariota. (back)
- Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are obviously still in the mix, but they suddenly face a ton of competition for touches in general and high-value touches in particular. (back)
- Kareem Hunt has replaced Arian Foster as the go-to comp for non-athletic RB prospects, but it’s helpful to keep in mind that a few exceptions don’t invalidate speed as the key indicator for RBs. On the flip side, if you’re buying yards after contact, that may be the last stat you want to spend money on. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming Wrong Read from Blair Andrews on the topic. (back)
- A receiver’s experience level when he makes the jump plays a huge role, and it’s one draft position doesn’t capture. (back)
- Cooper Kupp stayed in school for four years, and he’s lighting the world on fire. (back)
- Have I convinced you to check out the Wrong Read, yet? (back)
- If we’re going to give one blazing, unproven WR the benefit of the doubt, we should be fair in applying it. (back)
- Take the leaping numbers above and give them a good boost. (back)
- By the same token, just because Hill panned out for the Chiefs doesn’t mean Hardman will as well. We’re likely way too high on him. (back)
- Harry and Jacobs clearly separated themselves in tiers of their own. (back)
- The Dolphins traded into No. 86 to select him in 2016, but Carroo immediately disappeared down the depth chart. (back)