Fantasy football mock drafts: Valuing the rookies in a vacuum

Jeff Ratcliffe recaps a fantasy football mock rookie draft, with the PFF Fantasy team making their selections and evaluations before this week's NFL draft.

| 1 month ago
(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Fantasy football mock drafts: Valuing the rookies in a vacuum


Send a tweet out about rookie rankings before the NFL draft, and you’re invariably going to get a dozen or so immediate responses that go something like “tough to evaluate before the draft” or “landing spot changes everything.” And of course it does, but the argument that you can’t evaluate rookies before the draft falls a bit flat. It’s the one time that you can actually look at everyone on an even playing field.

The PFF Fantasy staff recently did just that in our pre-draft rookie mock. The rules are simple: 12 teams, six rounds, non-snake. Here are the results:

Round 1

ChristianMcCaffreyStanfordUPDATED

1.01 Tyler Loechner Christian McCaffrey, RB
1.02 Michael Moore Leonard Fournette, RB
1.03 Mike Castiglione Dalvin Cook, RB
1.04 Daniel Kelley Corey Davis, WR
1.05 Joey Cartolano Mike Williams, WR
1.06 Brandon Marianne Lee John Ross, WR
1.07 Dan Schneier O.J. Howard, TE
1.08 Scott Barrett Joe Mixon, RB
1.09 Walton Spurlin JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR
1.10 Pat Thorman Chris Godwin, WR
1.11 Jon Moore Curtis Samuel, WR
1.12 Jeff Ratcliffe Alvin Kamara, RB

It was a bit of a surprise to see McCaffrey’s name come off the board with the first pick, but he’s had a meteoric rise in fantasy circles since the combine. McCaffrey is an ultra-polished received, but the major concern I have here is whether he’s going to see a full workload as a runner at the next level.

Interestingly, a receiver doesn’t go until pick No. 4. Some have critiqued my pre-draft rookie rankings for having Davis and Williams ahead of the top running backs in the class, but the logic is pretty simple. In dynasty leagues, the top receivers have a longer shelf-life than the top running backs. Receivers can play well into their 30s, whereas running backs rarely hang around that long. So, unless there’s a rock star running back like Ezekiel Elliott in the class, I tend to lean receiver at the top of my rookie board. Davis and Williams are good values here.

With all of that said, this is the year to load up at running back in your dynasty leagues. I was very happy to see Kamara fall to me at the end of the round. He’s unproven as a workhorse and may never be a 20-plus-touch guy, but Kamara is dynamic and explosive. His skill set translates to a high fantasy ceiling.

Round 2

(Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

2.01 Tyler Loechner Carlos Henderson, WR
2.02 Michael Moore Zay Jones, WR
2.03 Mike Castiglione David Njoku, TE
2.04 Daniel Kelley Kareem Hunt, RB
2.05 Joey Cartolano Evan Engram, TE
2.06 Brandon Marianne Lee D’Onta Foreman, RB
2.07 Dan Schneier Dede Westbrook, WR
2.08 Scott Barrett ArDarius Stewart, WR
2.09 Walton Spurlin Samaje Perine, RB
2.10 Pat Thorman Jeremy McNichols, RB
2.11 Jon Moore Isaiah Ford, WR
2.12 Jeff Ratcliffe Jamaal Williams, RB

This is one of the greatest tight end classes we’ve seen in recent memory, and three have gone in the first two rounds of our mock. Like receiver, the shelf-life is much longer at tight end than at running back. However, you also have to wait a lot longer for a return on investment. Running backs can often pay Year 1 dividends, whereas tight ends will often take several years before they hit. But Howard and Njoku are special talents. There’s a good chance we see both go in the first round of rookie drafts next month, so getting Njoku here is a nice snag.

Five more running backs come off the board and all of them have the chance to make a fantasy impact in 2017. Hunt was our top-graded back in 2016 and forced a massive 98 missed tackles. Foreman is a big back coming off a breakout year where he topped 2,000 rushing yards. Perine has a bit of Michael Turner to his game and has the size to handle a full workload at the pro level. McNichols has a solid all-around game and has drawn comps to Pierre Thomas. Williams is a grinder with ideal size for the position.

Round 3

(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

3.01 Tyler Loechner Taywan Taylor, WR
3.02 Michael Moore Cooper Kupp, WR
3.03 Mike Castiglione Chad Hansen, WR
3.04 Daniel Kelley James Conner, RB
3.05 Joey Cartolano Ishmael Zamora, WR
3.06 Brandon Marianne Lee Mitch Trubisky, QB
3.07 Dan Schneier Patrick Mahomes, QB
3.08 Scott Barrett KD Cannon, WR
3.09 Walton Spurlin Deshaun Watson, QB
3.10 Pat Thorman Malachi Dupre, WR
3.11 Jon Moore Josh Reynolds, WR
3.12 Jeff Ratcliffe DeShone Kizer, QB

Quarterbacks are likely to start coming off the board in the third round of this year’s rookie drafts and the top four are picked almost in sequence here. There really isn’t a standout in the class, so it’s more a matter of picking your poison. Trubisky is a one-year wonder who didn’t play in a pro-style offense, but has the tools to succeed in the NFL. Watson had massive success at the college level, but questionable decision-making led to 30 interceptions over the last two years. Mahomes and Kizer both have high ceilings, but enter the league more on the developmental side of the spectrum.

Other than quarterbacks, there were seven wide receivers and just one running back selected in this round. It’s a bit surprising given the depth at running back and tight end, but it also means that there’s plenty of value to be had in the second half of the mock.

Round 4

(Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

4.01 Tyler Loechner Donnel Pumphrey, RB
4.02 Michael Moore Ryan Switzer, WR
4.03 Mike Castiglione Marlon Mack, RB
4.04 Daniel Kelley Jake Butt, TE
4.05 Joey Cartolano Elijah Hood, RB
4.06 Brandon Marianne Lee Wayne Gallman, RB
4.07 Dan Schneier Josh Malone, WR
4.08 Scott Barrett Joe Williams, RB
4.09 Walton Spurlin Bucky Hodges, TE
4.10 Pat Thorman Brian Hill, RB
4.11 Jon Moore Keon Hatcher, WR
4.12 Jeff Ratcliffe Robert Davis, WR

And the value starts to fly off the board in the fourth round. It’s rare to find talent capable of returning immediate fantasy value this late in rookie drafts, but Mack, Williams, and even Hill are guys who could potentially surface on the fantasy radar this year. Butt and Hodges aren’t likely to be immediate fantasy standouts, but their long-term value is very appealing. They’re both nice gets here.

The two players at the top of the round come with a lot of question marks. Pumphrey was prolific at the college level, but he lacks the size to hold up to a full workload at the pro level. That being said, he’s continually proved doubters wrong throughout his football career. Switzer caught 96 balls last season, but his profile as a slot receiver who lacks physicality bodes poorly for future fantasy success.

Round 5

(Eric Francis/Getty Images)

5.01 Tyler Loechner Gerald Everett, TE
5.02 Michael Moore Brad Kaaya, QB
5.03 Mike Castiglione Justin Davis, RB
5.04 Daniel Kelley Chad Kelly, QB
5.05 Joey Cartolano Mack Hollins, WR
5.06 Brandon Marianne Lee Travin Dural, WR
5.07 Dan Schneier Jordan Leggett, TE
5.08 Scott Barrett Aaron Jones, RB
5.09 Walton Spurlin Shelton Gibson, WR
5.10 Pat Thorman Jalen Robinette, WR
5.11 Jon Moore Elijah McGuire, RB
5.12 Jeff Ratcliffe Jonnu Smith, TE

The tight end value continues in Round 5, with a potential future TE1 coming off the board at the top of the round in Everett. A former basketball player, Everett has a bit of Antonio Gates to his game. Leggett is more of a plodder type, but he was successful at Clemson and has prototype NFL size. Smith is a bit of a wild card, but his athleticism and comp to Delanie Walker gives him an intriguing fantasy profile.

Round 6

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

6.01 Tyler Loechner Amara Darboh, WR
6.02 Michael Moore Matthew Dayes, RB
6.03 Mike Castiglione Davis Webb, QB
6.04 Daniel Kelley Adam Shaheen, TE
6.05 Joey Cartolano T.J. Logan, RB
6.06 Brandon Marianne Lee Taylor McNamara, TE
6.07 Dan Schneier Corey Clement, RB
6.08 Scott Barrett Artavis Scott, WR
6.09 Walton Spurlin Jehu Chesson, WR
6.10 Pat Thorman Jerome Lane, WR
6.11 Jon Moore Fred Ross, WR
6.12 Jeff Ratcliffe Michael Roberts, TE

Not to harp on the tight ends, but two more potential future fantasy starters go in the final round in Shaheen and Roberts. Shaheen is another converted basketball player with a high long-term ceiling, and Roberts graded out as our top tight end in 2016. We also see nice value picks with Darboh, Webb, and Logan. Darboh isn’t a future No. 1 type, but he has good speed and certainly could surface as a WR3 down the road. Webb is our No. 5 ranked fantasy quarterback in this year’s class, but he’s the eighth player taken at the position in this mock. Logan isn’t an every-down type, but he ran sub-4.4 at the combine and offers upside as a PPR back.

| 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.

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