2015 Dynasty Rookie Tiers: Pre-Draft
Draft week is here and that means the time to rank the incoming rookie class objectively without knowing where they will be playing is growing short. I find this to be a critical part of playing in dynasty leagues because I am a big believer in talent over situation long-term. Running backs are more volatile due to landing spots than any other position, but a good opportunity is still never a guarantee for success (see Sankey, Bishop).
I’ve found that this version of my rankings (as opposed to pre-combine and post-draft) often is the most accurate in hindsight, which lends credence to the strategy of drafting the most talented player available regardless of position or situation. The cream always rises to the top, so it’s important to have a firm grasp of how you feel about these players before our perception of them is altered by the team that takes them. With that in mind, here are my tiered top 20 rookies for dynasty purposes as we head towards draft night.
- Amari Cooper (WR, Alabama)
- Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia)
With Gurley passing his combine medical re-check for his injured knee, it has become increasingly clear that he and Cooper stand alone at the top of this draft in terms of offensive skill position players for dynasty leagues. Aside from both of their talent, which is obvious and immense, what really pushes these two above the rest is their relative age. Cooper turns 21 in June and Gurley does the same shortly after in early August. For comparison’s sake, the next two consensus ranked players at their positions, Kevin White and Melvin Gordon, are both already 22, with White turning 23 in August. That two year gap is massive in a dynasty format.
I’m sticking with Cooper as my No. 1 overall player after what can only be described as a stellar draft season. His agility numbers at the combine (6.71 3-cone drill, 3.98 short shuttle) confirm what is obvious on tape: he has elite short-area quickness that helps make him the clear best route runner in this class. His 4.42-second 40-yard dash was better than most expected and is also in an elite range. And all this is after a season where he had over 200 more yards than the next closest major conference receiver (Tyler Lockett) during a brutal SEC schedule where every defense knew he was getting the ball from an inaccurate quarterback. He is the safest pick in the draft, fantasy or otherwise.
It is a testament to Gurley’s massive natural talent that his stock never wavered from first round consideration despite a torn ACL. These days, it’s rare for a running back to be taken in the first round; it hasn’t happened since 2012. His ability to make tacklers miss is otherworldly, as illustrated by his extremely high marks in PFF’s elusive rating. I give Cooper the edge for the time being because of Gurley’s injury status, the volatility of the running back position, and the greater impact a good landing spot has on backs compared to receivers. These two could easily flip in my rankings depending on the teams that draft them.
- Kevin White (WR, West Virginia)
- DeVante Parker (WR, Louisiville)
- Melvin Gordon (RB, Wisconsin)
If not for White’s age relative to Cooper, he could be in my first tier. The former West Virginia Mountaineer was the star of the combine, running a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at a rocked up 6’3” with a 36.5” vertical leap. A junior college transfer, White burst onto the scene this year with 109 receptions for 1,447 yards (13.3 YPC) and 10 touchdowns after securing just 35 catches in his only other year at the school. He has the ability to win in both the short game and contested situations; jump balls are his biggest advantage over Cooper. But his small body of work and age keep him firmly behind his Crimson Tide counterpart for me.
After two stellar years catching passes from Teddy Bridgewater, Parker missed the first seven games of the 2014 season with a foot injury. Upon his return, however, he put up an absurd per game average of seven receptions for 142 yards and 0.83 touchdowns over six games. He ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash at 6’3” with the same 36.5” vertical as White. He could be a top 10 pick.
Gordon had a season for the ages in his final year as a Badger, coming within 41 yards of Barry Sanders’ single-season NCAA rushing record of 2,628. He briefly held the single-game yardage record with his performance against Nebraska. If it weren’t for his lack of experience in the passing game, he would be right there with Gurley. He can catch, but how he holds up in pass protection is somewhat of a mystery and will go a long way towards determining his NFL future.
- Dorial Green-Beckham (WR, Oklahoma/Missouri)
- Jay Ajayi (RB, Boise State)
Both of these players come with major red flags but also have the talent to offset that risk with huge reward. In particular, Green-Beckham possesses massive upside at 6’5”, 237 lbs. with wheels (4.49-second 40-yard dash at the combine). A red zone and jump ball monster, “DGB” averaged 14.7 yards per catch and reeled in 17 touchdowns in his freshman and sophomore years at Missouri before being dismissed for off-the-field conduct. It is that conduct that makes the recently turned 22-year-old such a risk. He has the skill set to step in right away and contribute in the red zone. If he goes in the first round, I’ll likely bump him up a tier.
At one point recently, Ajayi was rising up both real and fantasy draft boards due to his three-down back potential. Since, medical concerns about his knee have reportedly made some teams remove him from their board altogether. Some of this may be a smokescreen from teams hoping the Boise State product falls to them, but his knee has been the subject of scrutiny for some time now. The news is particularly concerning when you consider that the soon-to-be 22-year-old had 678 carries in his three college seasons, including 347 this past year. His receiving ability for a 221-lbs. back is top notch; if healthy he is arguably the second best back in the class behind Todd Gurley due to his versatility in the receiving game combined with a powerful running style.
- T.J. Yeldon (RB, Alabama)
- Tevin Coleman (RB, Indiana)
I’ve grouped these two backs together because they both are high upside talents who could definitely leap frog Ajayi if they go to the right situation. Yeldon started putting up monster stats from the word go in Tuscaloosa with 1,100 yards, a 6.0 yard-per-carry average, and 12 touchdowns in his freshman and sophomore years. He’s an adept receiver that can contribute right away on all three downs. His combine numbers (4.61 40, 7.19 3-cone) were nothing special, but it’s evident in watching him that the fluidity of his movements help negate any lack of elite timed speed.
Coleman has that high-end track speed, which he confirmed at his pro day. Due in large part to playing the same conference as Melvin Gordon, Coleman may have had the quietest 2,000-yard rushing season ever. He sustained an elite 7.5 yards-per-carry average over a large workload (270 carries), mostly due to a propensity for home run touchdowns. A tall back at 6’1” who sometimes runs too upright, Coleman reminds me of Darren McFadden (with both his strengths and weaknesses), but he isn’t going to cost you nearly the draft capital that McFadden did coming out. He could be a late-first-round steal in dynasty leagues if he goes to a favorable situation.
- Breshad Perriman (WR, University of Central Florida)
- Devin Funchess (WR/TE, Michigan)
- Jaelen Strong (WR, ASU)
- Nelson Agholor (WR, USC)
I’ve grouped these players together because, much like the two running backs ahead of them, they have high-end upside but also some flaws to overcome. Perriman is an absolute physical specimen at 6’3” with a 40-time in the low 4.2’s but has inconsistent hands. Funchess is a monster at 6’5” but is caught somewhere between wide receiver and tight end after transitioning from the latter the past couple years. Strong’s biggest strength, jump balls (as evidenced by a huge 42” vertical leap at the combine), will translate well to the NFL, but his route running needs to improve to consistently get open at the next level. Agholor has the ability to line up all over the formation and get open effectively, but is a little under-sized at 6’0”, 198 lbs. If he goes to a coaching staff that knows how to take advantage of his versatility, he would get a bump in my ranks.
- Devin Smith (WR, Ohio State)
- David Cobb (RB, Minnesota)
- Ameer Abdullah (RB, Nebraska)
- Duke Johnson (RB, Miami)
Smith only had 33 catches in 2014, but he made the most of them with an insane 28.2 yards-per-catch average, good for 931 yards with 36 percent of his catches (12) going for touchdowns. He’ll need to prove he’s more than a deep threat in the NFL, though. Cobb does not possess any singular special traits but can do everything well enough and has the size to handle a large workload. He is a sneaky pick to lead all rookies in production out of the gate if he goes to the right spot. Johnson and Abdullah can contribute both in the air and on the ground but are unlikely to ever become feature backs with their size limitations. If I had to gamble on one it would be Abdullah, but his massive college workload (813 career carries) hurts his value.
- Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon)
- Sammie Coates (WR, Auburn)
- Maxx Williams (TE, Minnesota)
I think Winston will be the better real-life quarterback, but for long-term fantasy purposes I am taking the potential that comes with Mariota’s legs. Coates is the definition of a boom-or-bust prospect with terribly inconsistent hands attached to a body that has every physical trait you could want in an NFL receiver. Williams disappointed at the combine but is still far and away the No. 1 tight end in this class.
Honorable mention: Phillip Dorsett (WR, Miami FL); Jameis Winston (QB, Florida State); Tyler Lockett (WR, Kansas State); Zach Zenner (RB, North Dakota State); David Johnson (RB, Northern Iowa)
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