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Top 40 for Fantasy – 2015 NFL Rookie Rankings

RotoExperts Staff April 27, 2015 12:05AM EDT
Sit back, grab a snack and get ready to dig in. There is a lot to digest, on top of whatever goodie you grabbed (I recommend some Swedish Fish). It’s time for the Top 40 2015 NFL rookie rankings by yours truly. As always, make sure you check back after the draft, as these rookie rankings will change depending where everyone lands. Until then, get your knowledge game on, as you learn about the upside and flaws of all Top 40 prospects.

Quarterbacks

As is the norm, rookie quarterbacks have more value if they have some rushing ability. It’s rare to see a rookie near QB1 status on passing alone. Last year, our best rookie was Derek Carr, and he only finished 20th thanks to just 87 rushing yards. Teddy Bridgewater threw for less yards and touchdowns, but averaged more FPPG (14.4 to 12.7) due to 209 yards and a touchdown rushing. In 2013, Geno Smith was terrible passing the ball (12 TDs, 21 INTs) but still finished 20th thanks to his rushing: 366 yards and six TDs. Robert Griffin III reached QB5 status with 741/8, Andy Dalton QB12 with 120/4 and Cam Newton QB3 with 706/14. Andrew Luck is the one “true passer” projected as a rookie QB1 based purely on passing, but even he chipped in 255/5 on his way to QB8, which was still 3.2 FPPG behind RGIII. Keep that in mind when drafting this year. Without a few rushing scores, it’s doubtful that any rookie quarterback will near QB1 status.

1. Jameis Winston – Winston is built for the NFL with ideal height, a thick frame and strong arm. Speaking of that arm, Winston does have a long delivery but offsets it with great velocity. Combining that velocity with quality touch on his passes allows Winston to squeeze the ball into small windows. Winston also handles pocket pressure well and is very accurate on run thanks to a great level of anticipation. Overall, Winston is a great prospect with reading coverage linebackers and off-field issues being his two biggest concerns. Winston could end up as mid-level QB2 if the Bucs do take him.

2. Marcus Mariota – There is no question that Mariota has terrific athleticism. The main question with Mariota is that he played in a shotgun spread formation, which allows for easier throws into bigger windows. Now, his above average velocity and accuracy in the middle and underneath portions of the field will help Mariota, but his downfield inconsistency is another concern. Add to that, Mariota needs a ton of work with out-routes, and unlike Winston, he’ll bail out too often and not keep his eyes downfield. However, Mariota is very dangerous on the run, and that ability alone will keep him in the mid-QB2 range and push him above Winston if he starts all 16 games as a rookie.

3. Brett Hundley – If talking purely NFL success and not Fantasy, I would like Hundley’s potential better. Hundley is extremely comfortable in the pocket and knows how to step up and work his protection. Like Mariota though, when Hundley takes off, he drops his eyes. On the positive side of comparisons, like Winston, Hundley is comfortable in pressure situations. People will look at the numbers, but his receivers (quality) and gameplan diminished the upside, and Hundley actually cut his interceptions from one in 41 attempts to one in 78 last year. There will be a longer development for Hundley, but don’t forget about him in 2016 and beyond.

Running Backs

I keep making the comparison with this year’s running back class and last year’s wide receiver group. There is only one player on the top tier instead of a few like last year, but it’s that second tier that is the true comparison anyway. Basically, all have plenty of upside with a few small flaws. The real importance lies in the landing spots. As with last year, you could have mixed up 6-7 names in a hat before the draft. The best ranking gauge didn’t come until we knew where everyone would play. The same goes for running backs in 2015, as everyone from No. 2 to 10 (possibly even deeper) could find themselves reshuffled and with a different rank after the draft. It’s going to depend on depth charts and scheme fits. No matter what, this is the best running back crop we have seen in a long time.

1. Todd Gurley – Gurley is a rare prospect, and if not for the injury concern, he’d likely be a lock for a Top 10 pick. Gurley has it all: size, speed, power, balance, vision. There is a reason Gurley has been compared to some of the all-time greats. Gurley will explode through the line, run through contact and break off the long run. He’s even a good pass catcher. If Gurley is 100 percent, he will be dynamic as a rookie and a RB2 at worst.

2a. Duke Johnson – The first of the two Johnsons (back-to-back even) has good vision and the instinct to succeed at the NFL level. Where you truly see Johnson excel is his ability to stop and start again. Basically, Johnson can slam on the brakes to make defenders miss and has the burst to get going again quickly. He also has a nasty stiff arm… we’re talking NFL Gameday level (those and the jukes were devastating).GamedayJohnson just needs to be more patient as he seemingly goes all out/100 percent from the second he touches the ball. Plenty of upside for a RB2 here.

2b. David Johnson – The other Johnson can be a RB2, despite the negativity you may hear. The complaint in that Johnson might need to be an H-back, but I think that passing game ability is what makes him so good. David Johnson is basically a receiver who’s also a running back, not a “pass-catching running back.” He’s a big boy at 6’1″ 230 lbs but is still quick enough with a steady/smooth speed, which will let teams get creative. Johnson can line up in the backfield or out wide. He’s not just a great pass catcher, as Johnson is powerful and hard to bring down, and he brings a good burst to hit the hole. He’ll be a nightmare for linebackers from day one no matter where he lands.

4. Melvin Gordon – People want to throw out Jamaal Charles and Matt Forte as comparisons, but Gordon doesn’t match them in vision or instincts. That’s significant for NFL level success, and Gordon needs holes from his offensive line, as he isn’t great at creating them himself… or even not running into the backs of his linemen if they’re off their gaps. Gordon will sometimes force/press a hole (that might not even be there anymore) instead of cutting back. In addition, Gordon had just 19 receptions last year, while Corey Clement, who wasn’t on the field even half the time Gordon was, had 14. Gordon does have excellent vision, quickness and acceleration, is quite talented in his own right and is good in pass protection, but the few small problems listed keep him from being higher than five. It’s as I said at the top. This class is so deep that a few small issues knock you down a peg, where in most other years, Gordon would be the No. 1-2 RB prospect.

5. Mike Davis – Davis is physical and can power through contact thanks to a good low base. He ran a 4.38 40 at his pro day, which some will dismiss because it’s a pro day, but even if Davis ran a 4.48 at the combine, we’re talking about 5’9″ 215-plus pound specimen doing that. When you watch Davis on the field, you see his speed, as he gets to the edge and makes quick cuts to the hole. Davis will burst through a crease but also show patience in allowing holes to open. The more I watched Davis, the more he grew on me, and if given the opportunity, Davis could easily be a RB2.

6. Jay Ajayi – Ranking Ajayi is tough, but so is he. In fact, he’s a rather physical runner that excels on inside runs. However, how much of a problem is that knee going to be? If Ajayi were 100 percent healthy, I’d feel more confident about his being my No. 3-4 running back ahead of Gordon. Ajayi has a good blend of vision, balance and quickness. While he doesn’t have elite speed, Ajayi is elusive and makes good cuts, especially when he gets squared up to the line of scrimmage. Ajayi does need to work on passing game and ball protection, both of which may keep him off the field early.

7. Ameer Abdullah – Abdullah has a nice muscular and compact build, which helps him be surprisingly powerful, as most people just see his excellent quickness and balance. He gets to the hole quick and has great lateral quickness. The surprising power is helped by Abdullah keeping his pads low, which also helps him bounce off tacklers. He can get to the edge with a good burst and then reads the field well but lacks elite long speed. I don’t do player comparisons too often because we can get hung up on those, and often there isn’t a perfect example, but I see a lot of Ahmad Bradshaw here.

8. T.J. Yeldon – Yeldon is a smooth runner with good cutting ability, seen in his one-cut runs where he bursts up-field. There is deceptive speed with Yeldon, and he has good vision and patience. However, Yeldon runs a bit upright, which has led to his ball security issues, and he isn’t the best at getting to the edge.

9. Tevin Coleman – Similar, and even worse than Gordon, Coleman isn’t patient for holes to develop or great at making his own. He’s great at slicing through them when there, but Coleman is a straight-line runner. Coleman is adept at lowering his head/pads and can get to his top speed quickly. However, Coleman doesn’t make tacklers miss enough and will often go down on first contact.

XX

Gurley is the best RB prospect in some time. Photo Credit: moral definition

10. Karlos Williams – Originally a safety – you can see why at 6’1″ 230 lbs – Williams will make people think “short yard powerhouse” at first glance. That is until they realize Williams ran a 4.48 40 and has a terrific burst. Williams has good cutting ability and the open-field moves to make defenders miss. The instincts and vision are there and he gets north quickly, but Williams never hit his peak at FSU. While appealing, Williams’ need for development might make him a short-yardage back at first, but in the right offense, the touchdown potential would give him a solid floor.

11. David Cobb – Cobb has the size and body frame for the NFL and is a rather physical runner. He’ll fight for every yard and is tough to bring down. Cobb isn’t explosive or great at bouncing outside, but he has plus ability in his vision, hands and burst. Cobb also shows good patience and balance when the ball is in his hands.

12. Malcolm Brown – People are quick to forget that Brown was one of the best high school prospects in the nation, but ended up playing for some weak Longhorns teams. He has the three S’s: size, strength, speed and Brown won’t go down on first contact often, especially if it’s not a full wrap-up. Brown uses his vision and balance to cut through holes and always keeps his legs moving. Brown should be on every “sleeper” list.

13. Jeremy Langford – Everyone got excited after the combine, but Langford plays slower than his workout times. Langford doesn’t have great acceleration, especially when trying to get back up to speed after a hit. Langford has good size and a pad level to help work through contact, but he’ll never be a battering ram. His real strength is in his receiving ability and moves, as Langford is better at making defenders miss… although he can get happy feet. Langford is a good all-around back; he just doesn’t have a high ceiling.

14. Cameron Artis-Payne – C.A.P. Can I call him CAP? With the Avengers sequel coming out, I’m going for it. So, CAP is terrific at attacking holes and evading defenders thanks to superb vision and cutback ability. As with Langford, he can lower the pads to break a tackle, but he’ll never plow through tacklers. Artis-Payne, oops, I mean CAP, lacks top-end speed and has ball security issues, but he can break off a big gain now and then, which helps his NFL outlook.

15. Rasheed Williams – Who? That’s what I asked when Jayson Braddock (of Houston sports radio, SportsGrid and RotoExperts) mentioned him, so don’t feel bad. I don’t have Williams as high as Braddock (No. 6), but I believe much of what I’ve seen thanks to Jayson – enough that Williams makes my Top 15. Williams is another big boy in this list at 6’1″ 215 lbs, and as Braddock said, he flashes great open-field movement/skills. Heck, I’ll just show you what he said about Williams.

“His skill set is dynamic no matter what 11 defenders you place on the field. He has Reggie Bush-type movement skills but he’s 6’1″ 215 lbs. Gale Sayers said, ‘Give me 18 inches of daylight; that’s all I need.’ Williams instantly made me think of that quote upon watching him. He has game-breaking speed and agility. His film reminded me of two players that I’ve watched in my life: Bo Jackson on Tecmo Bowl and Ricky’s high school film in Boyz N the Hood.” 

Williams is likely to go undrafted and end up buried, but as with Isaiah Crowell last year, all you need is opportunity.

Few Others: Matt Jones, Dominique Brown, Josh Robinson, Javorius Allen

Wide Receivers

This class is close to last year’s in level of talent, but it’s not quite as elite, and people will overrate rookies because of it. We do have a few receivers who could finish as a WR2, heck, maybe even a WR1, but you should expect the amount of overall success we saw last year. As with last year’s group, a lot will also depend on landing spots. Several of the receivers shuffled spots in my rankings post-draft due to opportunity and usage – just as will be the case this year, as mentioned with the running backs. Just don’t overdraft these prospects thinking we’re definitely getting another Odell Beckham, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews. As good as this class is, that amount of success just isn’t normal.

1. Kevin White – White has and is everything you want in a receiver. The only complaint people have is that he was a “one-year wonder.” But what a wonder he is. White has the rare combination of size, speed and quickness. White easily gets separation whether it’s using his quickness to beat press coverage or his speed to get over top downfield. White makes the contested catches, corners struggle to stay with him out of his breaks and safeties just can’t keep up. He’ll high point a ball, work back to the quarterback and finds open space. As I said, White brings everything to the table and has true WR1 potential… maybe even as a rookie.

2a. DeVante Parker – It’s really a coin-flip between Parker and Amari Cooper. Parker is already polished as a receiver and stands 6’3″ with a 33 1/4″ reach, giving him a great catch radius. Parker is very quick, running in the 4.4 range, and is very smooth in his movements. Parker has great body control and run-after-the-catch ability. His best asset is knowing how to snap off routes for body position, and it’s a near-elite skill thanks to his use of various speed levels. At worse, Parker is an immediate red zone threat and could push for WR2 value.

2b. Amari Cooper – Cooper is the safer option over Parker, and that’s why I can see the Raiders taking him over White. Cooper has the size/speed combination teams want in a receiver, and he presents mismatch opportunities as a result. His hand-eye coordination is terrific, and if you want a comparison in that one area, think Odell Beckham.

http://31.media.tumblr.com/f2db388b7ea6bf3a132f80a8b3de5d3c/tumblr_mry186puha1s9iu38o1_500.gif

Just don’t expect those insane one-hand catches, as he drops a few at times. Cooper is an outstanding and clean route runner, but he’s often grounded. Cooper prefers to attack the ball on the ground, similar to how Hines Ward used to. NO, I am not saying he’s Hines Ward, just to be clear. Cooper can be a WR2 as a rookie and arguably has the highest floor.

4. Dorial Green-Beckham – There is a ton of upside with DGB, and he has the three S’s you want in a receiver. DGB creates a lot of separation downfield thanks to hit quality route breaks. He’ll win a lot of 50-50 balls thanks to his leaping ability and knack for high-pointing the ball. Green-Beckham can break tackles or use his speed to pull away from defenders. While he needs some work on the receiver route tree, the bigger concern is obviously the off-field concerns.

5. Devin Smith – Smith is one of the more polarizing receivers in the draft class along with Jaelen Strong and Chris Conley. The naysayers point to his per-game volume, but I’m looking at that offense and Smith’s per reception production – 32 receptions, 886 yards and 12 TDs. Woah. Smith has good size and outstanding speed, and will be an immediate deep threat. In fact, worst-case scenario is that Smith is only a deep threat, although he’s already a better tracker than several deep-threat guys in the NFL. In fact, Smith is the best downfield ball tracker in the class. Smith also has the quickness to be press coverage and great body control in hitting the brakes. Smith does need to improve his underneath route running and concentration, but Smith could be a steal for a NFL team and your Fantasy squad.

6. Nelson Agholor – I compared Agholor to Anquan Boldin in that I think he’ll be a great 1B receiver (or exceptional No. 2) but he’s not quite a 1A option. Agholor is quick, but lacks top-end speed and size. He makes up for that in his route running, which is NFL ready and very crisp. Agholor is also willing to work the middle and adjust to the quarterback – qualities needed to succeed in the NFL. The concerns with Agholor are that needs to improve his hands a bit and might have already peaked.

7. Rashad Greene – Greene is great over the middle with a smooth style, good speed and reaction time/IQ. On top of that, Greene is one of the best rookie receivers at changing directions, which helps him create space. Greene’s downfall is in his lack of aggression with contested catches. He loses too many and often lets the ball come to his body.

8. Breshad Perriman – The good thing about Perriman is as with Parker, the “worst case” scenario still brings plenty of upside. Worst case, Perriman is a good downfield and red zone threat. Obviously, running in the 4.2s will make you a nice deep/9-route option. While the big-play and touchdown upside is nice, Perriman is as inconsistent as they come. Dropped passes, poor routes, slow breaks, lacking “attack the ball mentality”… and oh, did I mention the route running issue? Perriman could easily be a 2016 and beyond target.

9. Devin Funchess – Funchess’ (that sounds funny… Funchess-es… es… es) combine did nothing to squash the concerns that he won’t succeed as a receiver and would be better suited as a tight end. On the positive side, being 6’4″ with a 38.5″ vertical and 82 5/8″ gives Funchess a huge catch radius. Although, that just reinforces the concerns with his drops and losing more contested balls than you want from someone his size.

10. Phillip Dorsett – Dorsett is another speed guy with a 40 in the low 4.3 range, and will take the top off a defense. Like Smith, he tracks the ball well too, but needs more route work in comparison. Dorsett also body catches often, which leads to drops, but he’s not afraid of contact.

11. Jaelen Strong – Obviously, I’m much lower on strong than most, and while Strong is a big receiver with good physical skills and quickness, I don’t see much more than a potential red zone threat. Now, that did help Kelvin Benjamin produce WR2 value, but Strong would need to be a team’s No. 1 WR or primary red zone option to sniff Benjamin’s point production. Strong needs a lot of route running work, including better breaks out of his routes. He also doesn’t have great speed to create separation (on-field play, ignore the 4.4 40) and that’s an issue if you’re supposed to be a possession receiver.

12. Justin Hardy – Hardy isn’t extremely fast, nor does he have great size (5’10”), but Hardy does have nice hands (10″) and has the receiver IQ to track balls and/or adjust on the fly. That said, Hardy is just average when it comes to his route running skill and isn’t the best at getting back up to speed, but he does show the ability to find weak spots in the defense.

13. Kenny Bell – Bell has some of the best off-the-line moves, which helps him gain separation quickly. Bell is a great route runner and will win contested balls, but his hands need improvement – still drops too many. His blocking ability will help him get on the field quicker than some, but Bell needs to bulk up as he gets thrown off his route too easily.

14. Sammie Coates – The hands! Dear Lord, the hands. Coates has the three S’s – actually, a terrific size/speed/strength combo and can get going quickly, but his hands are wildly inconsistent.

http://i.imgur.com/5HbN5.gif

Coates shows good IQ in adjusting to balls, but his route running – mainly his breaks – need work. Coates is good at using his size but would be better if he attacked with his hands instead of letting the ball come into his body.

15. Jamison Crowder – Crowder looks to be a nice, quick slot receiver in the NFL. He’s fast, but not exceptionally fast to take the top off a defense, which he would need due to his small size (5’8″ 185 lbs). Crowder is good after the catch, and that ability added to his quickness could lead to his being used in the return game.

16. Tyler Lockett – Lockett is another nice slot prospect, as his speed and breaks make him difficult to cover. He’s also good at varying his speed, especially with double moves and stopping/starting. Lockett has his fair share of highlight catches and can beat the defense deep at times, but he has small hands and will body-catch the ball.

17. Ty Montgomery – It’s hard to make out how Montgomery will be used, but if a team is smart, they’ll find a way. He’s a multi-threat weapon that can lineup everywhere and has amazing acceleration. Montgomery is hard to tackle and will snatch the ball out of the air with those 10 1/8″ hands. While he has issues with drops, they’re a bit overstated. Montgomery would be a terrific return man, but only being used in that facet would severely dampen his Fantasy outlook.

18. Tre McBride – McBride can get open with regularity thanks to his quickness and solid route running, but he drops too many open passes. That’s weird because McBride is great at winning contested balls. Coming from a smaller school could easily have McBride drafted later and buried on a depth chart, but he does have long term upside with his solid all-around skills.

19. Chris Conley – Here he is… the combine darling. Conley bested all receivers in the 40 (4.35), bench (18), vertical (45″) and broad jump (139″). So why isn’t he a Top 10 receiver? Conley needs a ton of work. And that’s not an overstatement. He’s very raw and no more than in his route running (or lack thereof). Right now, Conley can get downfield/over top of a defense and could have some success with slants and outs, but he also needs to fight through contact and judge passes better. Conley has upside, but it’s down the road.

20. Tony Lippett – You hit Lippett after the catch, and there is a good chance he doesn’t hold on to the ball. Lippett is tall, has big hands, and he’ll get open quick thanks to his breaks and quick feet. However, he doesn’t have the needed bulk, and there has been talk about moving him to cornerback.

Tight Ends

Just ignore the tight ends. Rookie tight ends rarely make an impact, and neither player is an elite-level prospect that could break out. I am covering the two best prospects, but it’s more for keeper/dynasty purposes and long-term thinking.

1. Maxx Williams – Williams has all of the tools to become a TE1, eventually. He is a great athlete with good size (6’4″ 249 lbs) and is a natural receiver that attacks the ball with his hands. Williams does need some route work, but makes tough catches and has the speed to get open. There were some concerns after his combine performance though with a few whispers about his attitude/desire to push himself.

2. Clive Walford – Walford is a step behind Williams, but he’s likely the only other tight end you need to know. He shows soft hands catching the ball and will snatch it out of the air, but we’ve also seen concentration drops. Walford shows good acceleration but doesn’t have top-level speed and is almost fullback-like.

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