2020 Top 100 Rookies (Pre-Combine): Top 20
Image Credit: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Jalen Reagor.

Hello and welcome to the final installment of my annual Top 100 Rookies series before the combine drills! If you’re new to the series, every year I put together 100 rookies entering the NFL draft and rank them based on the impact I believe they’ll have for fantasy football purposes (of course). So no, this is not just another “big board” or “where they’ll go in the real NFL draft” conversation. This is specifically designed for you to use as a data point in building your own rookie rankings for upcoming dynasty league rookie drafts. And of course, it’s here to help you learn a few fun things to make you sound smart among your friends as the NFL combine and draft are approaching.

And yes, the NFL combine results will certainly change these rankings a bit. But the goal here is to establish a baseline understanding of where these players should rank given what we know now and how they can help themselves in the coming weeks and months to help their draft and fantasy football stock.

I used to keep things limited to offensive players, but for those of you who are super nerds like me having some individual defensive players (IDPs) included definitely helps for your upcoming drafts too.

Some things to note as you read:

  • The position listed is where I believe they will play most frequently
  • “EDGE” players are typically 3-4 outside linebackers or pass-rushing 4-3 defensive ends
  • “DL” are typically DTs and DEs that will work exclusively between the 0 and 5 techniques on the defensive line
  • “LB” are the playmaking off-the-ball linebackers
  • Scoring format assumed is 1 QB, PPR and a balance between tackle heavy and big play (for the IDPs)

If you missed the first four installments:

If you have any questions or comments on these ranks find me on Twitter @FF_TravisM! But without further ado, here are the players currently ranked No. 1 to No. 20 in the 2020 Top 100 Rookies series!

20. K.J. Hamler, WR Penn State

Let’s start with the positive. Hamler broke out in his first collegiate action. He’s certainly got elite speed. And he can separate with ease on a wide variety of route concepts.

But this NFL combine week has been rough on him, and it doesn’t look like it is getting better. Hamler measured under 5 feet 9 inches and below 180 pounds, which places him in a pretty unfriendly receiver archetype for fantasy football upside. And to make matters worse he won’t be able to feature his elite speed due to a hamstring tweak. So there won’t be another chance for him to prove his worth until Penn State’s pro day. His stock is falling right now, but he’s still a likely candidate for early draft capital. That could save the day for his chances.

19. Tua Tagovailoa, QB Alabama

Tua was the clear QB1 in the 2020 NFL Draft class until his injury last fall, and once healthy could regain that throne. Why? For starters, like I mentioned last fall in my Devy Weekly series, Tua’s total body of work from a production standpoint crushes [checks notes] everyone in the history of college football. It’s like people just forgot that he logged 12.7 adjusted yards per pass attempt for his career. That’s the best of all time. Tua also threw 7.9 touchdowns for every interception in his career. That’s also the best of all time. And if Tua actually needed to play a full game once in a while his raw single-season stat totals would have been just as impressive as Burrow’s. Once healthy, Tua will end all doubt. The question marks with health and immediate return on value are the only things keeping him from a higher rank.

18. Joe Burrow, QB LSU

While Tua’s total body of work is better, Burrow boasts the best college football season in history. And yes, there are some that wonder why Burrow struggled in 2018 before turning into Superman. But as I mentioned last month, there’s plenty of context that explains Burrow’s developmental season. LSU was installing a brand new offensive philosophy with a quarterback who had never played a full game in college. And Burrow actually did improve significantly throughout the 2018 season, despite a weak overall yearly profile. Then, of course, he threw 60 touchdowns and won a national championship. Burrow is the safest quarterback in this class, and likely the safest in a few years to hit and hit early.

17. Zack Moss, RB Utah

Moss has been rising up rookie boards here lately as people look closer at his profile. He has consistently been rated by Pro Football Focus as one of the most elusive backs in college football. His three consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 scrimmage yards and a 70% or better backfield dominator are impressive. And now he weighs in at 223 pounds at the NFL combine too? What’s not to like?

Well, let’s just look at some of his comps given his implied capital via the Grinding the Mocks tool.

Obviously there aren’t many long-term studs listed here. That’s not to say Moss can’t do it. But unless he surprises and doesn’t test athletically like a backup this week we might pump the brakes just a bit before putting him inside round one of rookie drafts.

16. Patrick Queen, LB LSU

Queen came into college as a jack-of-all-trades playmaker. He could play running back, cornerback, safety, and outside linebacker. All LSU knew is that they needed to sign this former top-300 recruit and get him on the field. However, perhaps due to that lack of a clear specialty, Queen didn’t see the field much early on. It took an injury at linebacker and a spectacular nine-tackle performance against Alabama in 2018 to earn his place at linebacker. But since that game, Queen has dominated. In the last 19 games he’s totaled 127 tackles, 17.5 for loss, 5 sacks, and a few passes defended too. Queen’s motor and range to make plays anywhere on the field will get him drafted Round 1 and on an NFL field right away in a Will linebacker slot.

15. Kenneth Murray, LB Oklahoma

If you like linebackers that make plays on just about every snap, Kenneth Murray is your guy. He’s totaled 257 tackles, 29.5 for loss, 8.5 sacks, and six passes defended over the last two seasons. That’s the second most productive off-the-ball backer in this class behind only Evan Weaver of California.

SeasonGamesSoloAssistsTotal TacklesTFLSacksPasses DefendedForced FumblesFumble Recoveries
Career4017614932536.59.5612
20171336326871011
201813718415512.54.5201
2019146933102174400

And as you can see, unlike Patrick Queen, Murray didn’t waste any time getting on the field. Murray has the experience and smarts to perhaps be the “green dot” guy on an NFL defense here soon.

14. Chase Young, EDGE Ohio State

If it weren’t for the Bengals needing a quarterback, Chase Young would almost assuredly be the first selection in this year’s NFL Draft. But why, you might ask? Even though Young won’t be participating in drills this week, he has elite level athleticism and ideal size and length. He led the nation in sacks last fall with 16.5. His sack total of 30.5 over the last three years is second to only Curtis Weaver among all early entry edge rushers this year. And his college pressure percentage on pass rushes is pretty near off the charts. Don’t hesitate to take this elite edge defender early, regardless of his landing spot.

13. Justin Jefferson, WR LSU

Jefferson is perhaps the only top receiver in this class without a long history of early implied NFL Draft stock. But don’t let that fool you. As Blair Andrews outlined last week, Jefferson is the only receiver in this class to check every single box. And like I talked about last fall, he’s been an elite producer for quite some time. Plus, Jefferson looks like the perfect modern slot receiver at 6 feet 1 inch and 202 pounds. He’s big enough to be physical with thicker defensive backs, but also quick enough in route adjustments to beat shifty slot corners. Not to mention he has some gorgeous comps if he’s drafted top 50 like we think he will be:

If Jefferson cleans up his athletic profile (poor in high school), he has potential to be a first round pick in the twenties range.

12. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB LSU

Yes, it took him a while to break out, but Edwards-Helaire’s 2019 was an explosion of excellence. He racked up nearly 1900 scrimmage yards, snagged 55 receptions, and posted an impressive 80% backfield dominator. Yes, we typically like to see a more complete resume, but just like Miles Sanders last year, Edwards-Helaire just needed the opportunity. Once it was his, CEH went off.

And some are worried about his height since he measured in at 5 feet 7 inches and change. But thankfully he still weighed 207 pounds, giving him a solid BMI (good to see). And when you plug his production profile and size into our RB Prospect Lab here, you get some fun first-three-season production comps too:

If you’re unfamiliar with that tool, I highly suggest you try playing around with it. It shows how players have produced historically given virtually any mix of profile variables.

11. Henry Ruggs, WR Alabama

Two months ago I attempted to tackle the ever important question with Ruggs,”Is he more than just speed?”

The short answer is yes.

A longer answer is that the best part of his profile is certainly speed, but he’s shown glimpses of much more. And the harsh truth with Ruggs is that his production profile is pretty gross. He does miss most important adjusted production thresholds that we typically like to see from receivers. In fact, he has just about the worst Adjusted Production Index of any receiver in this class.

However, there’s still hope and perhaps some reason for optimism. He’s going to be drafted early. He’s going to wow at the NFL combine. And players like Ruggs do tend to have a few splashy games with big plays even if they aren’t consistently producing for fantasy football. Ruggs could rise higher than this here very soon, but for now his profile dictates a late first value.

10. Laviska Shenault, WR Colorado

Shenault likely has the most confusing story of production by the numbers among all wide receivers in this draft class.

SeasonGamesRecRecYdsRecYPRRecTDRecMSRecYdsMSRecTDMSRecDominator
Career27149194313.04100.260.290.250.27
20177716824.0000.050.080.000.04
2018986101111.7660.430.460.460.46
2019115676413.6440.250.300.250.28

As a true freshman, Shenault did virtually nothing. Then heading into his sophomore year there was some buzz about him getting an extensive role. But did anyone see over 1,000 yards in nine games coming? Probably not. And it turned out he could rush the ball from a wildcat quarterback role too? It was like we had died and gone to wide receiver prospect heaven with his 46% dominator and 71st percentile Adjusted Production Index. But then last season happened.

At times, he was outproduced by a UDFA talent Tony Brown. His touchdown efficiency came back down to earth. And then he to cap it all off he heads into draft season with a strange nagging groin injury. Despite all this though, at 6 feet 1 inch and 227 pounds, Shenault looks like a beast and will still likely see real draft capital. Let’s just hope he stays healthy and ends up being 2018 Shenault, not 2019.

9. Isaiah Simmons, LB Clemson

There hasn’t been an off-the-ball linebacker prospect this good in quite some time. And he may actually be the most versatile prospect of all time on the defensive side of the ball. Simmons logged more than 100 snaps at five different defensive positions last fall. He racked up over 100 tackles, 16.5 of which went for a loss. He wrapped up eight sacks. And on top of that he showed elite coverage skills with 11 passes defended in total. Simmons is the ultimate chess piece for a defense and should see tackle totals in the hundreds annually in the pros.

8. Tee Higgins, WR Clemson

Higgins is an interesting player to project to the pros. On the one hand, he’s a former high-pedigree recruit with elite ball-tracking ability. He’s a huge X receiver that should be able to instantly dominate physically in the NFL. But on the other, he isn’t going to wow with speed or elite separation, and his production profile is definitely less than perfect. He’s essentially “average” from an Adjusted Production Index standpoint. But again, just like Ruggs, he’s likely in line for solid draft capital that should smooth his profile out. As long as he avoids red-flag numbers at the combine, Higgins is a lock for the first-round in rookie drafts.

7. Cam Akers, RB Florida State

And speaking of locks. Akers is a lock to impress across the board at the combine and always has been. He logged a 4.41 forty, 41-inch vert, and 60th percentile agility testing score as a high school kid. And yes, everyone was ecstatic about him even then. Akers was the consensus top overall RB prospect three years ago, a top-10 recruit in the nation. But if you’ve been paying attention for long, you already know his college production story was far from perfect.

SeasonRuAttRuYdsRuTDRuYPCRecRecYdsRecTDRecYdsMSRuAttAdjMSRuYdsAdjMSRuTDAdjMSrbDominator
Career5862874274.906948670.060.590.620.600.63
2017194102475.281611610.050.500.500.390.56
201816170664.392314520.040.530.630.750.66
20192311144144.953022540.080.740.780.740.74

This looks rather inefficient if you’re familiar with typical high profile running back production, but this was with one of the worst offensive lines in all of college football. It was with Akers essentially being given a net zero yards before contact on an eight-game charted sample. And still Akers posted an impressive 74% backfield dominator and 8% receiving yard market share in his final season. Once he tests as a 90th percentile athlete this week he could be in Tier 1 for many.

6. Jerry Jeudy, WR Alabama

“He never broke out!”

“He wasn’t even the most productive WR on his team last season!”

“His BMI comes in under what we like to see given historical thresholds!”

Stop it. All of it. Jerry Jeudy won the Biletnikoff Award in 2018 for being the best receiver in football for a reason. He’s going to be taken inside the top-20 picks of this years NFL Draft. He breaks ankles as a route runner. His Adjusted Production Index is in the same range as AJ Brown’s was last year (60th percentile or so). Jeudy is easily a top-three receiver in this class.

5. CeeDee Lamb, WR Oklahoma

Heading into 2019, Lamb still had something to prove from a production standpoint. He had functioned as the second receiver for Oklahoma when Marquise “Hollywood” Brown was still there. Yes, he almost hit a 20% dominator as a true freshman. And he did post nice raw numbers in year two, showing he could separate throughout the route tree and win contested catches. But his 2019 performance was what lifted his profile into a special category. If Lamb puts up even average numbers at the Combine we’re looking at a player with a 90th percentile Adjusted Production Index, decent breakout age, and solid draft capital. He’s perhaps the safest receiver selection in the entire draft with elite upside to go with it.

4. Jalen Reagor, WR TCU

At first glance, Reagor’s college production looks just as confusing as Shenault.

SeasGamesRecRecYdsRecYPRRecTDRecMSRecYdsMSRecTDMSRecDominator
Career37143215315.06210.200.260.350.30
2017133357617.4580.120.180.290.23
2018126796614.4280.300.370.470.42
2019124361114.2150.200.250.330.29

But then you realize that Reagor suffered through six horrible college quarterbacks. How horrible? Well he saw one of the lowest “catchable” target rates in the nation last fall. And despite throwing the ball 33 times per game, the TCU quarterbacks could barely manage 200 passing yards per contest in the Big 12.

Despite that, Reagor still broke out as a true sophomore and finished with a 64th percentile Adjusted Production Index for his career. Oh, and Reagor squats over 600 pounds, benches 400, and has been clocked running a 4.29 forty. He attacks the ball with his hands at the point of catch. He runs a full route tree. And can win at all levels of the defense. After he kills the NFL combine scouts will finally catch up to him just like they did D.J. Moore a couple of years back.

3. J.K. Dobbins, RB Ohio State

Many might not remember this, but Dobbins dropped 200 yards from scrimmage in his first college game. He went on to set Ohio State freshman records for both rushing and yards from scrimmage. And when it was all said and done Dobbins had more rushing yards than former Buckeyes like Beanie Wells, Carlos Hyde, Eddie George, and Ezekiel Elliott.

Yes, there were some bouts of inconsistency for him as a sophomore. And yes he could clean up his decision-making and patience at the line of scrimmage, but Dobbins is still an elite running back prospect. Everyone knew this dating back to his high school years when he ran a 4.45-forty and a 99th percentile SPARQ athletic score. He’s going to run a sub-4.5 forty and jump out of the building at 209 pounds this week. And when he’s taken inside the top-50 of the NFL Draft, it will be impossible to get this guy past the midpoint of Round 1 in rookie drafts.

2. D’Andre Swift, RB Georgia

While D’Andre Swift’s athletic profile likely won’t impress quite like Dobbins’, but he’s still a fun prospect that projects to be selected early in the NFL Draft. And if he is, his comps look pretty promising.

His career receptions per game numbers are only eclipsed by Vereen on this list. And some forget that he actually posted a higher receiving yard market share than Sony Michel and Nick Chubb when they were all three on the same team.

Swift’s contact balance, decisive cuts, and above-average athleticism are going to earn him a starting role early. And with his best comp looking at final year numbers being a Miles Sanders with better receiving skills, there’s a lot to like.

1. Jonathan Taylor, RB Wisconsin

At this point, Jonathan Taylor should be the undisputed 1.01 for everyone that plays fantasy football. Why? Let’s just recap his career leading up until now.

As a high-school student, Taylor ran a 4.42 in the forty, and he was an elite producer even then (3,000 yards in his final season). Leading into his freshman year, his Wisconsin teammates had already given him the nickname “beast mode” for his relentless, unstoppable running style. And even though he didn’t have the perfect recruiting pedigree, Taylor stole the starting job right away. Then he posted this production profile:

SeasRuAttRuYdsRuTDRuYPCRuAttAdjMSRuYdsAdjMSRuTDAdjMSrbDominator
Career8775806486.620.540.600.540.52
20172701794126.640.480.590.480.35
20182872009157.000.570.590.500.31
20193202003216.260.580.620.620.68

And yes, for those keeping count, that’s good for [checks notes] the most yards from scrimmage per season in college football history.

After this week there will be no questions about his athleticism. After his final season, there were no longer any questions about his receiving ability. And there should be no question about how big a lead he should have on all other prospects this season. He’s the closest thing to a Saquon Barkley that this class has to offer.

And that’s all folks! Hope you enjoyed the series! I’ll be looking at all these players again as the NFL Draft approaches. And if you missed prior articles in this series, check them out here:

Find me on Twitter @FF_TravisM if you have any questions. And keep living that Dynasty Life!

Image Credit: Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Jalen Reagor.
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