2015 Fantasy Rookie Rankings/Tiers

Get prepped for your rookie drafts with Jeff Ratcliffe's rookie rankings and tiers. He ranks and provides insights and analysis for over 100 players on the offensive and defensive sides ...

| 2 years ago
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2015 Fantasy Rookie Rankings/Tiers


CFF-needs-inset-whiteThe Draft is over, and now it’s time for the fun to start. Dynasty league rookie drafts will be taking place as early as next week, so it’s important to reassess the fantasy landscape following what transpired in the draft and subsequent UDFA signings.

One of the biggest challenges for folks in dynasty leagues with IDP is how to combine your draft board. To help you out in that process, the following tiers contain both offensive and defensive players. However, I kept both separate for those who prefer to prefer to use the rankings that way or for those who only want to use the offensive tiers.

With fantasy football production being closely linked to opportunity and system, these rankings carefully consider those factors. If you’re curious how these players compare on even terrain, I recommend taking a look at my pre-Draft offensive and IDP rankings. Not every player from the following list is covered in the pre-Draft rankings, but there are more than enough to give you a good lay of the land.

Tier 1

Offense IDP
Rk Player Pos Tm
1 Todd Gurley RB SL
2 Kevin White WR CHI
3 Amari Cooper WR OAK
4 Melvin Gordon RB SD
5 Devante Parker WR MIA

 

The top tier is essentially chalk from how things stood before the Draft. Sure, you could shift things around slightly, but these players should be the first five selected in most rookie drafts. Gurley is the head of the class, and lands in a great spot in Jeff Fisher’s run-heavy offense. White and Cooper are in a dead heat, but the edge goes slightly to the player in the better offense.

Gordon gets the nod over Parker, but both players are clearly behind the top three. There are concerns as to whether Gordon will ever be a three-down back, but he’s in a great position to immediately contribute. Parker steps into a somewhat crowded depth chart, though his long-term fantasy outlook is strong.

 

Tier 2

Offense IDP
Rk Player Pos Tm
6 Nelson Agholor WR PHI
7 Dorial Green-Beckham WR TEN
8 Ameer Abdullah RB DET
9 TJ Yeldon RB JAX
10 Breshad Perriman WR BLT
11 Duke Johnson RB CLV
12 Tevin Coleman RB ATL

 

It’s all offense through the first 12 players, with Algholor and Green-Beckham topping the second tier. While Green-Beckham certainly has an elite fantasy ceiling, he’s an unproven commodity in a rebuilding offense. Agholor, on the other hand, steps in to Chip Kelly’s high-tempo offense and will be instantly fantasy relevant. While he may never be a WR1, Agholor has the potential to put up strong numbers in Philly.

Much like Green-Beckham, Perriman offers more of the unknown. He has the size/speed you want in an elite fantasy receiver and gets a great opportunity on a thin depth chart. However, dropped passes and a need for polishing up keeps him out of the top tier.

Then we have the running backs. Though all of similar fantasy potential in a vacuum, Abdullah tops the bunch thanks to a strong landing spot. The same can’t be said for Yeldon, but he’s a solid player on a team that actually ran the football somewhat well last season despite a lack of a true running back.

Perhaps the most frustrating landing spot is Johnson’s. With Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West already in house, it’s a crowded backfield in Cleveland. Johnson may initially only see third-down duties, but he’s the most complete back in a Browns uniform and has a solid long-term fantasy outlook. Coleman is an exciting player with a high ceiling in an offense that should pound the rock under Kyle Shanahan. Unfortunately, he starts his career closer to his floor than he is to his ceiling.

 

Tier 3

Offense IDP
Rk Player Pos Tm Rk Player Pos Tm
13 Jaelen Strong WR HST 1 Eric Kendricks LB MIN
14 Maxx Williams TE BLT 2 Stephone Anthony LB NO
15 David Cobb RB TEN
16 Marcus Mariota QB TEN
17 Jameis Winston QB TB
18 Devin Smith WR NYJ
19 Jay Ajayi RB MIA
20 Devin Funchess WR CAR

 

As we get into the second round of rookie drafts, uncertainties abound. Strong, Smith, and Funchess each offer high ceilings in their own ways. However, they all lack the immediate fantasy floors of the first six wide receivers listed.

Both running backs in this tier (Cobb and Ajayi) could be impact players in Year 1. While Cobb isn’t a specimen, he steps into a lackluster backfield in Tennessee and is arguably the best back in the stable. Injury concerns caused Ajayi to slip all the way to the 5th round, but he offers a good complement to Lamar Miller and has a three-down skillset should something happen to Miller.

We also have the top tight end (Williams) and the top two quarterbacks in this tier. None of the three players have an elite fantasy profile, though all will be fantasy factors in their respective careers. Think immediate QB2 for Mario and Winston with long-term backend QB1 potential. Williams may have a bit of a learning curve, but he has the potential to be a mid-pack TE1 in the long-term.

And the first IDPs of this year’s class make an appearance – Kendricks and Anthony. Just a brief word on how to use these tiers/rankings: While visually the IDPs are listed at the top, that’s not how I’m suggesting to draft. Instead, consider all of these players as one tier and then draft accordingly. In this case, I’d like consider Kendricks around the same time as Ajayi and Anthony at the back end of the tier. Both players have solid IDP profiles, though neither offers a Kuechly-esque outlook.

 

Tier 4

Offense IDP
Rk Player Pos Tm Rk Player Pos Tm
21 Phillip Dorsett WR IND 3 Dante Fowler DE JAX
22 Sammie Coates WR PIT 4 Vic Beasley DE ATL
23 Chris Conley WR KC 5 Paul Dawson LB CIN
24 Tyler Lockett WR SEA 6 Denzel Perryman LB SD
25 Josh Robinson RB IND 7 Shaq Thompson LB CAR
26 David Johnson RB ARZ 8 Landon Collins S NYG
27 DeAndre Smelter WR SF 9 Randy Gregory DE DAL
28 Kenny Bell WR TB

 

In the fourth tier, we see even more unpredictability at the wide receiver position. Dorsett and Coates both enter crowded depth charts. However, the fact that they also landed in prolific offenses pushes them to the top of the tier. Conley and Lockett land at the opposite end of the spectrum, but both players can ball and should have an opportunity to contribute in Year 1.

Smelter tore his ACL in December and looks likely to be redshirted in 2015. That said, he’s a prime time athlete who could be a big play dynamo when he returns to the field. While Bell doesn’t fit the basketball team profile of the rest of Tampa’s receivers, he does give them a player who can take the top off a defense. His upside is intriguing.

It’s tempting to put Robinson even higher. Like Cobb, he enters a thin depth chart. Unlike Cobb, he’s nearly guaranteed to start the season behind one of the better running backs in recent history – Frank Gore. Robinson has a Gore-like skillset and could impress if he gets on the field. Both he and Johnson would be priority running back targets in the third round of rookie drafts.

As offense starts to dry up, it’s time to consider IDP. Fortunately, the top two edge rushers – Fowler and Beasley – landed in 4-3 defenses and avoid the dreaded “OLB” tag. Both have immediate eight-sack potential and should be double-digit sack guys in the near future.

Update – Fowler tore his ACL at Jags rookie mini-camp on May 8th and is done for the season. Tough break for the exciting young player. He can be removed from rookie draft boards, though I know some might still want to take a shot on him in the late rounds. This isn’t the worst strategy if you can stash Fowler in an I.R. spot. Just don’t expect to get anything out of him until 2016.

Dawson is one of the most polarizing IDPs in this year’s class. Sure, he’s not the most fluid athlete, but his abilities on the field are hard to deny. In some ways, he reminds me a lot of Chris Borland. But don’t get too carried away with that statement. I mean Borland at the college level. The landing spot isn’t the best, but Vontaze Burfict’s microfracture surgery in the offseason has a notoriously difficult recovery process. Because of his tackle-machine profile, I’m going to do my best to roster Dawson in all dynasty leagues and would gladly take him before Perryman and Thompson. That said, both players also offer good IDP value. Thompson is essentially Thomas Davis Jr., and Perryman could find himself in an every-down role as early as this season.

Safeties typically don’t find their way into my top 10 very frequently, but it’s hard to deny the fit and opportunity for Collins. The Giants essentially had no safeties entering the draft, so he’s a near lock for an every-down role with a chance of seeing nickel snaps a linebacker. With the Giants tackle-friendly home stats crew, there’s potential for immediate DB1 production.

That leaves Gregory, whom I grappled with where to rank. The landing spot is ideal, as Dallas lacks edge rushers and he gets a “DE” designation. But Gregory’s off-field issues are a bit of a concern. Still, with the dearth of fantasy-relevant defensive ends, Gregory is worth a pick at the backend of this tier.

 

Tier 5

Offense IDP
Rk Player Pos Tm Rk Player Pos Tm
29 Justin Hardy WR ATL 10 Jake Ryan LB GB
30 Mike Davis RB SF 11 Owa Odighizuwa DE NYG
31 Matt Jones RB WAS 12 Benardrick McKinney LB HST
32 Darren Waller WR BLT 13 Bud Dupree OLB PIT
33 Zach Zenner RB DET 14 Shane Ray OLB DEN
34 Buck Allen RB BLT 15 Preston Smith OLB WAS
35 Cameron Artis-Payne RB CAR 16 Hau’oli Kikaha OLB NO
36 Tre McBride WR TEN 17 Kwon Alexander LB TB
37 DeVante Davis WR PHI 18 Henry Anderson DE IND
38 Clive Walford TE OAK 19 Ibraheim Campbell S CLV
39 Ty Montgomery WR GB 20 Leonard Williams DL NYJ
40 Jeremy Langford RB CHI
41 Rashad Greene WR JAX
42 Brett Hundley QB GB
43 Karlos Williams RB BUF
44 Jamis Crowder WR WAS

 

We’re now through 37 players in the first three tiers, which puts us in the fourth round of rookie drafts. From this point, I’m purposely deeper to allow for some draft day flexibility. Tier 5 has 27 more players, which is enough to get you in to the sixth round.

At wide receiver, Hardy is likely to replace Harry Douglas in Atlanta, Waller is a massive human being and probable Ravens’ red zone target, McBride is a polished small schooler on an underachieving depth chart, Davis is a big and physical UDFA who arguably fits the Riley Cooper role better than Cooper does, Montgomery gets Randall Cobb comparisons, Greene runs great routes and joins a young receiving corps, and Crowder could earn the slot receiver job for Washington.

There are also plenty of fliers at running back. Davis has loads of talent, but will be stuck behind Carlos Hyde. Jones lacks Davis’ talent, but has a much easier depth chart to navigate. Zenner is a SPARQ score freak UDFA who is far down the Lions’ depth chart. Allen and Artis Payne both have less athletic ability that Zenner, but also enter into better situations for fantasy purposes. Langford has blazing speed, and could open the season as the Bears’ No. 2. There’s a crowded house in Buffalo, though Williams has an intriguing fantasy profile and is worth a later-round flier.

Just one more quarterback and tight end make the list in Tier 5. Walford is an explosive player who figures to play move tight end, but Mychal Rivera already plays that role for the Raiders. Regarded by many as undeveloped, Hundley steps into an ideal situation with the Packers. Don’t expect him to play any time soon, but his athletic chops suggest the potential for long-term fantasy value. He has taxi squad written all over him.

On the defensive side of the ball, we have several interesting situations. Ryan lands in a great spot. The Packers were so hard up for help at inside linebacker last season that they actually attempted to convert Clay Matthews. Ryan could be a Week 1 starter. I wouldn’t go that far for Odighizuwa, but he’s one of the better edge rushers in the draft and gets a “DE” designation for fantasy purposes.

Some may have McKinney ranked higher, but I’m just not buying it. Sure, he’s a physical specimen, but he never displayed the ability to stay on the field in passing situations at the collegiate level. He’s a two-down thumper.

We then have a cluster of outside linebackers – Dupree, Ray, Smith, and Kikaha. All were productive in college, and all unfortunately get the “OLB” fantasy designation. In most IDP scoring systems, their long-term fantasy ceilings are in the LB3 range.

Capping this tier are two defensive linemen and a safety. Anderson may be one of the most underrated players in this entire draft. He was wildly productive at Stanford and landed in the perfect spot for his skillset. He’s not a transcendent talent like J.J. Watt, but he does have the potential to produce viable fantasy numbers.

Williams dropped significantly from my pre-Draft rankings, and this is based solely on who drafted him. With Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson proven starters, Williams isn’t likely to see more than rotational snaps. However, there’s a chance he gets a “DT” designation, in which case he moves to the top of this tier. Lastly, Campbell is in one of the better IDP situations, and could be fantasy relevant early in his career.

 

Tier 6

Offense IDP
Rk  Player Pos Tm Rk Player Pos Tm
45 Thomas Rawls RB SEA 21 Marcus Peters CB KC
46 Terrell Watson RB CIN 22 Trey Flowers DE NE
47 Malcolm Brown RB SL 23 Nate Orchard OLB CLV
48 Stefon Diggs WR MIN 24 Jordan Hicks LB PHI
49 Garrett Grayson QB NO 25 Eric Rowe CB PHI
50 Austin Hill WR SEA 26 Danny Shelton DT CLV
51 Dezmin Lewis WR BUF 27 Clayton Geathers S IND
52 Bryce Petty QB NYJ 28 Danielle Hunter DE MIN
53 Synjyn Days RB DAL 29 Lorenzo Maudlin OLB NYJ
54 Darius Davis WR SF 30 Arik Armstead DE SF
55 Trey Williams RB WAS 31 James Sample S JAX
56 Vince Mayle WR CLV 32 Mario Edwards DE OAK
57 Jeff Heuerman TE DEN 33 Adrian Amos S CHI
58 Tyler Kroft TE CIN 34 Trae Waynes CB MIN
59 Titus Davis WR SD 35 Ramik Wilson LB KC
60 Jesse James TE PIT 36 Ben Heeney LB OAK
61 Blake Bell TE SF 37 Jaquiski Tartt S SF
62 James O’Shaughnessy TE KC 38 Frank Clark DE SEA
63 Sean Mannion QB SL 39 Eli Harold SF OLB
64 Terrence Magee RB BLT 40 Za’Darius Smith OLB BLT
65 J.J. Nelson WR ARZ 41 Demarious Randall S GB
66 Adrian Coxson WR GB 42 Byron Jones CB DAL
67 DeAndre Carter WR BLT 43 Damien Wilson LB DAL
68 Rasheed Bailey WR PHI 44 Malcom Brown DT NE
69 Jean Sirfrin TE IND 45 Grady Jarrett DT ATL
70 Tyrell Williams WR SD 46 Steven Nelson CB KC
71 Bud Sasser WR SL 47 Jalen Collins CB ATL
72 Josh Harper WR OAK 48 Carl Davis DT BLT
73 Tyler Verga RB IND 49 Kevin Johnson CB HST
74 Dominique Brown RB TB 50 Derron Smith S CIN

 

At this point, we’re already 64 players deep. Ideally, you’ll be able to sit back and pluck value the first five tiers. However, the savvier leagues require a deeper draft board. I’m not going to go through player-by-player in this tier, but I would like to give some general thoughts on rookie draft strategy, especially later in drafts.

Throughout the entire rookie draft, prioritize offense over IDP. It’s much easier to work the IDP waiver wire in-season. That being said, if you’re well into the Tier 6 offensive players, but some of the Tier 5 IDPs remain on the board, go with the defensive player.

In this year’s draft, you’re going to want to load up on running backs and wide receivers. If you’re debating between a tight end and a wide receiver/running back, the tie should go to the latter player. On the defensive side of the ball, the priority order is off-ball linebacker > defensive end > edge outside linebacker > safety = defensive tackle = cornerback.

Lastly, don’t simply draft for need. If you need a quarterback, and you have the last pick in the first and second rounds, don’t reach for Winston/Mariota with your first pick because you’re afraid neither player will be there for your second. You’re sacrificing value and hand delivering a player to the person after you in the draft order. In this case, either trust your board and take the top player or try to trade back to a spot where you feel the quarterback you want will still be there.

Of course, every league is different, so you can’t just blindly apply this strategy to all leagues. Knowing the draft tendencies of your league mates is paramount. If you know that and put a strong draft board in place, the rest is easy.

 


Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven and DFS junkie of PFF Fantasy.  

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| Director of Fantasy

Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is one of the most accurate rankers in the fantasy industry. Jeff also is the host of our show on SiriusXM fantasy sports radio and is one of the main hosts of our Fantasy Slant podcast.

  • Hoosiers99

    Discounting year 1 from a dynasty prospective, I’d have Phillip Dorsett a tier or two higher. This is Hilton’s final year under contract, and Indy will soon make Luck the highest paid player in the league. The demand for Hilton will be large and could be too steep for the Colts. It’s probably 50-50 he’s in Indy for 2016. Andre Johnson is decline and has been injury prone. He could be a 1-and-done. Duron Carter is nothing more than a lottery ticket/project. There is a very realistic chance Dorsett is a starting WR for Andrew Luck in just a year or two. Enormous upside in dynasty.

  • Drew B

    Hi Jeff, heads up that in 2015 fantasy football leagues hosted on espn, yahoo, cbs, and others get a national ranking and league wide prizes from StatChat.com Hoosiers I can’t wait to see Dorsett come into his own too