Pre-combine fantasy teaser

Joey Cartolano breaks down his top 20 fantasy rookies heading in to the NFL scouting combine.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Pre-combine fantasy teaser

The evaluation of college prospects is one of if not the most important skills necessary to achieve sustained success in dynasty fantasy football. It is a months-long process that involves a healthy amount of subjective analysis and hearsay in the media. There is so much time between the college season, the scouting combine, the draft, and when owners will actually be on the clock with rookie draft picks that it easy to second guess yourself and lose sight of your initial evaluation on a player.

That is why I find it beneficial to create rankings at several steps in the draft process as more information becomes available, and prior to the combine is the first step. Right now, all we have to go on is film study and players’ collegiate statistical output, which should be the primary basis for evaluation anyway. Having your February impressions of these players in hand helps to paint a more complete picture of them later on, and prevents you from overreacting to future steps in the process like a slow 40-yard dash time or a higher than expected draft position.

Here are my top 20 rookies to watch heading into the scouting combine.

1. Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Ohio State

In a passing-driven age where this writer has repeatedly preached building dynasty teams around young wide receivers, it seems strange to have a running back top my rookie ranks for the second straight year. However, the former Buckeye has earned this slot after putting up 3,699 yards and 41 touchdowns on 562 combined sophomore and junior year carries (6.6 YPC). While Elliot is not a transcendent athlete like Todd Gurley, he has the capability to be a strong fantasy asset at the pro level. Our top rated pass-blocking back this past season, Elliot has the potential to be a three-down back out of the gate.

2. Laquon Treadwell, WR, University of Mississippi

Treadwell is not as close to Amari Cooper as Elliot is to Gurley, but I still consider him the clear top fantasy receiver in this class, especially given his age. The 20-year-old junior bounced back nicely from a gruesome leg injury that ended his sophomore year, reeling in 82 grabs for 1,152 yards (14.1 YPR) and 11 touchdowns. His timed speed (40-yard dash) has been a point of discussion in the scouting community of late, and he reportedly will not run at the combine, making his pro day an important measuring stick in that regard.

3. Josh Doctson, WR, Texas Christian University

I’ve gone back and forth on Doctson and Corey Coleman in these rankings numerous times. In a vacuum, I like Doctson’s skillset more, but Coleman had a similar (if not superior) production profile at a full year-and-a-half younger. Listed at 6-4, the senior is a jump ball and red zone monster with excellent sideline awareness who has averaged 16.3 yards per catch while scoring 25 touchdowns over the past two years before a wrist injury cut his 2015 season short. At one point, he had at least two touchdowns in six straight games this past year. He fits the mold of a prototypical No. 1 NFL receiver.

4. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor

Most rankings you’ll see will have Coleman over Doctson, and by the time we have combine numbers and draft position, I could too. At 21 years old (22 in June), Coleman used his immense speed and quickness to torch the Big 12 to the tune of 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns on 74 receptions (18.4 YPR). Despite being listed at under six feet, Coleman can win at any level of the field and is a legitimate red zone threat. In Baylor’s offense, Coleman ran  a limited route tree, which could be a hurdle at the pro level.

5. Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State

Not to be confused with fellow receiver prospect and namesake from Southern Mississippi, this Michael Thomas seems to be one of the more polarizing skill position prospects among the dynasty community early in the process. His statistical output (56 receptions for 781 yards and nine touchdowns) leaves a lot to be desired, but is skewed by OSU’s anemic 2,455 yards total passing output in an offense where he wasn’t asked to do much downfield. Whenever he was asked to, he showed strong body control along the sidelines and an ability to win jump ball situations. His speed scores at the combine will be telling, but he is dripping with upside regardless.

  1. Sterling Shephard, WR, Oklahoma

Similar to Coleman and Doctson, I have waffled on Shephard vs. Thomas, but eventually went with the higher physical ceiling in Thomas. If you are looking for a high floor, you can’t do much better than the 5-10 senior from Oklahoma, who projects as an immediate contributor from the slot. Despite the fact that he primarily lined up in the slot, Shephard averaged 15.0 yards per receptions this year and 19.0 his junior year, showing that he is capable of big plays, especially after the catch in the open field. He’ll be a safe pick in the middle of the first round of rookie drafts in the spring.

7. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

Easily the most polarizing high profile player in this class, Henry is starting wars on Twitter over whether he is going to be a bust or not. The warning signs are obvious with an oversized back who ran behind a dominant Alabama offensive line in college, but I ultimately think he is closer to fellow Heisman winner Mark Ingram than he is Trent Richardson. You don’t set the type of statistical records he did (395 attempts for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns) simply because of the people blocking for you. While concerns of him being able to consistently create on his own are legitimate, it is overshadowed by how dominant he is when he does have a lane. His upside in the passing game is limited, but at this point in rookie drafts his scoring potential is well worth the plunge in a relatively thin class at running back.

8. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh

I am seemingly lower on Boyd than most, but there is no doubt he is a formational-versatile playmaker for whom NFL coaches will be able to design specific plays. At 6-2, he has the ability to line up both in the slot and the backfield and excels after the catch. My concerns with him stem from a lack of downfield playmaking, something which is glaringly reflected in his low 10.2 yards per catch in 2015, down from 16.2 the year before.

9. Leonte Caroo, WR, Rutgers

Caroo might be higher on this list if not for a domestic violence arrest in September that earned him a two-game suspension. He has since been cleared of the incident, however, and he reportedly made a good impression to team scouts at the Senior Bowl. On the field, Caroo displays stellar per catch efficiency, never averaging less than 17.0 yards per catch in any of his three years, including a 20.7 average on 39 receptions this season. He also had a ridiculous collegiate touchdown rate, finding the end zone on 29 of his 122 career receptions (23.7 percent).

10. Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana

A transfer from the now infamously nonexistent UAB program, Howard stepped right into the B1G Conference and thrived while shouldering the load for Indiana in 2015, putting up 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns on 196 carries (6.2 YPC). A bigger back listed at 230 pounds, the 21-year-old cracks my top 10 due to the scarcity at the position.

11. Tajae Sharp, WR, University of Massachusetts

12. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech

13. Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State

14. Michael Thomas, WR, Southern Mississippi *Not invited to combine*

15. Aaron Burbidge, WR, Michigan State

16. Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State

17. Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas

18. Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame

19. Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina

20. De’Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State

Follow Joey on Twitter @PFF_Joey

Joey Cartolano has been contributing dynasty, redraft, developmental and DFS content since 2013. He also makes regular appearances on PFF Radio's Dynasty Slant.

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