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 ...
2015 Fantasy Rookie Rankings/Tiers
The 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.
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.
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.
|13||Jaelen Strong||WR||HST||1||Eric Kendricks||LB||MIN|
|14||Maxx Williams||TE||BLT||2||Stephone Anthony||LB||NO|
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.
|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|
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.
|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|
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.
|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.
Jeff Ratcliffe | Director of Fantasy
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Director of Fantasy at Pro Football Focus. He produces all of our projections and is 2016's second-most-accurate ranker 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.