After so much analysis and prognostication, the rookies are finally seeded onto their NFL teams. And despite their pre-draft hype and hopes, what matters most is the situation they find on their new team. That gives us a more realistic starting point. Several rookies will disappoint while others will miss significant time from injury. But at least a few will provide fantasy value for 2017… and maybe a significant advantage.
1. RB Leonard Fournette (6-0, 240 – LSU) Jacksonville Jaguars 1.04
Consensus best back in the draft and chosen in the exact same 1.04 spot as Ezekiel Elliott last year. Fournette brings in three-down ability and steps in as the starter. Rushed for 1,953 yards as a sophomore and finished with a 6.2 yard per carry average at LSU.
Unlike Elliott, Fournette ends up with a poor offensive line on a team that hasn’t ranked better than 28th in rushing yards for the last three years. He’ll get every opportunity to have a good rookie year in an offense that is still being rebuilt.
2. RB Christian McCaffrey (5-11, 202 – Stanford) Carolina Panthers 1.08
McCaffrey could be the best rookie fantasy back but that means the Panthers must change their style of offense – which they clearly intend to do. The ex-Stanford star exemplifies all-purpose. He’s a great rusher inside and out, accomplished as a receiver and is a devastating returner.
His 3,864 all-purpose yards set the NCAA all-time single-season record. Offensive coordinator Mike Shula uses a committee backfield with Jonathan Stewart as the primary back. How McCaffrey is used will be a departure from the past and he is pure potential in this offense. Most interesting is that McCaffrey is dangerous as a receiver and yet the Panthers ranked No. 32 in running back receptions for the last two seasons. McCaffrey should help redefine the offense this year.
3. RB Dalvin Cook (5-10, 210 – Florida State) Minnesota Vikings 2.09
Cook lasted until Day 2 and provides the Vikings with great value for a position in need. The Vikings were usually Top 5 in rushing with a healthy Adrian Peterson but plummeted to only No. 31 in rushing yards last year. Cook was a three-year starter in college and is a complete back who should contribute as a receiver as well.
He leaves Florida State with their single-season school record for rushing yards (1,765 yards) and career rushing mark (4,464 yards). The Vikings added Latavius Murray to the backfield though he is still recovering from ankle surgery. Cook should carve out a significant role as a rookie. His success will rely on how well the Vikings have upgraded their offensive line.
4. WR Corey Davis (6-3, 209 – Western Michigan) Tennessee Titans 1.05
The first wideout drafted, Davis comes in as a four-year starter with the all-time FBS career record of 5,278 receiving yards. He improved each season for Western Michigan. Davis combines elite receiving skills with outstanding measurables in size and speed.
He lands with a Titans squad that is making over the receiving corps and will get every chance to become the No. 1 wideout there. Marcus Mariota needs more than tight end Delanie Walker to become the primary threat and Davis will take over that role as early as this year.
5. WR Zay Jones (6-2, 201 – East Carolina) Buffalo Bills 2.05
Jones was a four-year starter and ended with a ridiculous 158 catches for 1,746 yards last year for the NCAA single-season reception record. He can play in any wide receiver spot and offers a very mature, polished addition to the Bills offense. Jones runs exacting routes and can make the difficult catch.
As if his accomplishments and talent were not enough, he lands in a very attractive situation. The Bills acquired him to help complement Sammy Watkins and assume the spot once held by Robert Woods. He’ll get every chance to become a starter this year though in the long-term he is limited by Watkins as the primary receiver.
6. RB Joe Mixon (6-1, 226 – Oklahoma) Cincinnati Bengals 2.16
Mixon could end up as a huge value for the Bengals after most teams removed him from their draft boards due to his assault on a woman from 2014. He is a devastating inside runner that can shed tackles and then break away for a long gain. Only his legal situation kept him from the first round since he is considered an every down back with rare abilities for his size.
The Bengals love to run and even last year ranked No. 5 in rushing attempts. Giovani Bernard is coming off an ACL injury and is mostly the third down back anyway. Jeremy Hill is in his final contract year and disappointed for the last two seasons. Mixon has a shot at playing time as a rookie and may end up with a major role.
7. WR John Ross (5-11, 188 – Washington) Cincinnati Bengals 1.09
Ross was little used until his senior year when he turned in 81 catches for 1,729 yards and 17 scores for the Huskies. He missed 2015 with a torn ACL and there are some injury concerns with the smaller wideout. But he had a solid showing in 2017 and then dropped jaws when he ran for an NFL Combine record 4.22/40.
Ross will make a nice complement for A.J. Green as either the No. 2 or No. 3 receiver for the Bengals. His deep speed should open up the field for Green and the others, and provide a chance for a long score on every play. That likely means inconsistency but he can earn a bigger role than just a deep threat with a good showing in the preseason.
8. WR Mike Williams (6-4, 218 – Clemson) Los Angeles Chargers 1.07
This huge and accomplished Clemson star comes off a National Championship season with 98 catches. Williams is the prototypical possession receiver with the size to come down with almost any pass in traffic. He offers enough speed to be dangerous after the catch.
His talent and draft slot suggests an early starting role. But the Chargers are already stocked with Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams. That depresses the first-year outlook though the Chargers history of wide receiver injuries cannot be ignored. Williams has a bright long-term look but will need a great training camp or injuries to allow him enough workload for a big rookie season.
9. RB Kareem Hunt (5-10, 216 – Toledo) Kansas City Chiefs 3.22
The Chiefs traded up to snag Hunt who is dangerous in traffic and has the moves to make the first tackler miss. He rushed for over 1,400 yards twice in his career and doubled as a capable receiver. A lack of speed dropped him into the third round but he’s expected to be at least a good back-up with a shot at becoming more.
The Chiefs already feature Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, but there’s still room for Hunt to show up in games. Notable is the Chiefs losing Jamaal Charles and without him, they fell from Top 5 in rushing scores for three years to only No. 31 for 2017. The roles of Ware and West are not set in stone.
10. WR Cooper Kupp (6-2, 204 – Eastern Washington) Los Angeles Rams 3.05
The Rams desperately needed to upgrade their receivers and grabbed Kupp to mix in with an otherwise mediocre set of wideouts. While he only played in the Big Sky Conference, Kupp ended as the all-time leader in Football Championship Subdivision history. He owns the all-time record in receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and receiving touchdowns (73). Over all four years, he never caught fewer than 93 passes. Small school competition with gargantuan results.
The Rams were below average in wideout production in all five seasons with Jeff Fisher as head coach. Even the selection of quarterback Jared Goff failed to spark a turnaround in 2017. New head coach Sean McVay intends to improve offense and Kupp will figure in prominently.
11. RB D’Onta Foreman (6-0, 233 – Texas) Houston Texans 3.25
Started for one year with the Longhorns and finished with 323 carries for 2,028 yards and 15 touchdowns as the Doak Walker Award winner in 2016. Had almost no role as a receiver and is a pure north-south rusher with some speed. He is a big back that is still developing in all other facets apart from inside power rushing.
The Texans are already set with Lamar Miller but former sixth-rounder Alfred Blue is in his final contract year. Foreman will take over the #2 role behind Miller who missed a few games last year. Foreman did not run at the NFL combine because of a stress fracture in his foot but is not expected to require surgery or be limited this summer.
12. RB Marlon Mack (5-11, 213 – South Florida) Indianapolis Colts 4.37
Mack did not come off the board until the end of the fourth round but he lands in a potentially advantageous situation. He leaves South Florida as their all-time leading rusher after topping 1,000 yards in each of this three seasons. That included scoring 15 touchdowns last year and six of those went for over 40 yards each. He’s most dangerous in open field where his elusiveness allows for big gains.
Mack will play behind Frank Gore but offers a speedy complement that will see work as the No. 2 back. Mack also can contribute as a receiver. Gore will be 34-years-old and is the oldest starting running back in the league. He has been durable but hasn’t topped 3.9 yards per carry for the last two years. Either an injury to Gore or a big showing in the preseason could allow Mack to become a definite fantasy sleeper.