Amani Cooper. Melvin Gordon. Todd Gurley. Who sits atop the rookie fantasy draft board?
“It depends” seems like a cop-out, but this is not a question with a single clear-cut answer.
What can be agreed upon is that those three will be the first pick in virtually all rookie fantasy drafts. And while personal opinion certainly factors into the mix, there are specific reasons and situations where one of the aforementioned trio is the better option.
Here’s a rundown of the scenarios in which each elite rookie is the optimal fantasy pick.
Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders
Cooper is unquestionably the most NFL-ready receiver; if he brings to the table what Mike Evans or Odell Beckham Jr. brought last year he’ll be an immediate fantasy factor. Plus, wide receivers have longer pro careers than running backs so Cooper could be a fantasy fixture for a decade—more than twice the length of the typical NFL running back.
For Cooper the scales will be tipped by two key factors. First, is Derek Carr a superstar NFL quarterback on the rise—or at least talented enough to lift the Raiders out of the AFC West basement and make Cooper a consistently productive receiver? Also, is your roster screaming for a running back, to the point that you’ll give up longevity for a quick fix at the position?
Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers
It’s not even a given that Gordon is the top running back in this draft class. However, he’s the best running back not coming off major knee surgery and unlikely to start his rookie season on the PUP list, which gives him a leg up in the competition. Gordon also has the easiest path to carries, as the Chargers let Ryan Mathews depart via free agency and neither Branden Oliver (3.6 yards per carry last year) nor Donald Brown (2.6 yards per carry) are the solution.
Where Gordon might be found lacking fantasy-wise is in the pass catching department. Not only was it not a large part of his collegiate game, the Chargers still have Danny Woodhead; if healthy, Woodhead should handle most of the third down work. On the bright side, his presence allows Gordon to ease into the pass-catching—and pass protection—portion of his NFL role. Bottom line, Gordon projects to be a 250-carry back in an established offense who’ll start from Week 1—something you don’t always have the opportunity to get your hands on.
Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
Were this draft held in that short window between when Gurley returned from his NCAA suspension and when he blew out his knee, this discussion most likely wouldn’t be happening. A healthy, question-free Gurley would draw comparisons to Adrian Peterson as a potentially dominant NFL running back, and no fantasy owner could pass that up.
The Rams believe enough in Gurley’s rehab that they made him the 10th overall pick. And Jeff Fisher knows how to use a physical running back; on his watch Eddie George posted eight straight seasons of 300-plus carries, averaging 1,519 yards from scrimmage and almost 10 touchdowns a year over that span. Taking Gurley first means you have as much faith in his recovery as the Rams—as well as the patience to wait for potential productivity in case that recovery includes a stint on the PUP list or an initial season easing into Tre Mason’s gig.