Usually rookies don’t have a major fantasy impact but the 2016 rookie class was an exception. Last year among FLEX players the top three rookies; Ezekiel Elliot was 2nd, Jordan Howard was 12th and Michael Thomas was 24th. All three had great rookie years and all three are expected to be top 15 picks in most fantasy leagues. While Elliot was a first round pick, Howard and Thomas were fifth and second round picks respectively. I gave my expectations for the first round rookies now I’ll give you ten rookies selected after round one that you should keep an eye on this draft season.
1.) RB – Joe Mixon – Cincinnati Bengals (48th overall)
This pick puts both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard on watch as Mixon has the ability to be a three down back early in his career. Don’t be surprised to see Hill either traded or released before the season starts. Mixon should be named the starting running back after the preseason whether Hill is moved or not. Assuming Mixon is the starter, he jumps into low-end RB1 status. He should be drafted no later than the fifth round in redraft leagues and should be the first non-first round running back in dynasty leagues.
Dalvin Cook is so smooth. Look at him protecting the ball in traffic at the end. pic.twitter.com/P7X3S5Zo8T
— J.R. (@JReidDraftScout) May 24, 2017
2.) RB – Dalvin Cook – Minnesota Vikings (41st overall)
The Vikings traded up to grab Cook putting a priority on getting him, so don’t expect Cook to sit behind Latavius Murray on the depth chart. Cook has three down ability and is dangerous after the catch. With an improved but still weak offensive line, look for the Vikings to take advantage of Cook’s open field ability with a solid catch total. Cook should be considered a solid RB2 in standard leagues with a little more value in PPR leagues. He should be drafted in the sixth round range in redraft leagues and should be considered the fourth best rookie running back in dynasty leagues behind Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey and Mixon. 3.) WR – Zay Jones – Buffalo Bills (37th overall) Don’t discount the Bills declining Sammy Watkins’ fifth year option having an affect on Jones’ value. Jones might be the team’s number one wide receiver next year or sooner if Watkins gets hurt again. Jones finished his college career as the all-time FBS receptions leader, so we know he can handle a high target workload. With good size and speed along with a lack of other playmakers outside of Watkins, Jones should be a mid to late round flier you target starting in round ten in redraft leagues. In PPR leagues Jones’ potential high target level should make his value more in the eighth round range, for me. For dynasty leagues Jones is my third favorite rookie receiver only behind first rounders Corey Davis and Mike Williams. If Watkins leaves as a free agent and Jones takes over as the number one receiver in 2018, he will have a high value and a high ceiling. Rarely should you handcuff wide receivers, but with Watkins’ injury history, handcuffing him with Jones would be a smart idea.
4.) RB – Jamaal Williams – Green Bay Packers (134th overall)
A really solid pick both for the Packers and for fantasy players. Williams should have the inside track to win the “main workhorse” back role with the Packers whether he is the designated starter or not. Ty Montgomery is expected to be the catching back and that hurts Williams’ value in PPR leagues. However, the Packers were one of the worst teams running the ball last year and will need to balance out the offensive attack to take pressure off Aaron Rodgers. Williams should be a solid option for fantasy owners in your FLEX spot or first running back off the bench. Don’t expect a 1,000 yard season from Williams, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he gets 800 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. His value to me in redraft leagues is the 13th round and PPR leagues he should be valued a round or two later. For dynasty leagues, Williams’ isn’t a must have, but depending on how deep your rookie draft is, he might be worth a look.
5.) RB – Joe Williams – San Francisco 49ers (121st overall)
Don’t take head coach Kyle Shanahan’s push to draft Joe Williams with little value. After general manager John Lynch removed Williams from the team’s draft board Shanahan wanted Williams put back on and got his wish. Not only was Williams added to the board on the third day of the draft, but then the team traded up in the fourth round to select him. Shanahan probably compares Williams to Tevin Coleman, who he coached in Atlanta. Williams is dangerous in the open field and should get plenty of touches on the ground and in the air. Remember, Shanahan just signed a fully guaranteed six year deal, he’s going to be the coach for a while, so he is going to want to play “his guys”. The other options on the depth chart are either Carlos Hyde, who is injury prone, or a bunch of average runners who will be competing for a roster spot in camp. Williams very well may be the starter sooner than later, and when he does he will be in line for a big work load. In standard leagues he is worth a look starting in the 13th round. PPR leagues he has some extra value as the 49ers should be trailing in most of their games this season and Williams could easily have 40 plus catches. I would consider taking him starting round nine. In dynasty leagues, if you are looking for a sneaky back that others are ignoring, Williams is your guy.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) May 25, 2017
6.) RB – Alvin Kamara – New Orleans Saints (67th overall)
Clearly this was a player the Saints targeted. They traded away their 2018 second round pick to the 49ers in order to select Kamara. Expect the Saints to focus more on the run this year after adding Adrian Peterson in free agency to go along with Mark Ingram. Kamara should be used in a Reggie Bush like role when he was with the Saints. Kamara will be the third down back and be a focal point in the passing game. Bush had 88 catches as a rookie and while Kamara isn’t expected to get that many, he should be in the 60 catch ball park. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kamara has more catches than rushes this season. Starting in the 13th round is where Kamara should be considered. In PPR leagues Kamara’s value goes up dramatically and should be considered starting in round nine. For dynasty leagues Kamara should be the fifth running back taken after Fournette, McCaffrey, Mixon and Cook. The Saints could very easily move on from Ingram and Peterson this offseason making Kamara the starter in 2018.
7.) RB – Kareem Hunt – Kansas City Chiefs (86th overall)
Expect a training camp battle between Hunt and Spencer Ware. Whoever wins the starting job should be in line for a heavy workload, but if Hunt loses the starting gig don’t expect him to be glued to the bench. Hunt is the most talented runner on the roster and should get on the field as a change of pace back. Anyone who drafts Ware should handcuff him with Hunt. If Hunt wins the starting role he is in the low end RB2 range and should be drafted in the 9th round range in both standard and PPR leagues. If he loses the starting job, he should be drafted in the 14th round range unless he is your handcuff for Ware; then I would suggest taking Hunt in the 11th round range.
Rob Kelley is taking the first snap in the running back drills. Samaje Perine is fourth after Chris Thompson and Mack Brown. pic.twitter.com/YmuipwziG8
— John Keim (@john_keim) May 24, 2017
8.) RB – Samaje Perine – Washington Redskins (114th overall)
Much like the Chiefs, the Redskins will have a training camp battle for the starting running back job. Perine and “Fat Rob” Kelley will duke it out, but both will get touches. Assuming Perine wins the job, he is a low-end RB2 otherwise his value is very limited. If Perine loses the starting job his value is capped as the handcuff to Kelley, or in deeper leagues as a FLEX. For dynasty leagues he is a risky pick as the Redskins could easily split the touches between both players, and with both players equally as good in the redzone, the touchdowns could end up split 50-50. 9.) RB – James Conner – Pittsburgh Steelers (105th overall) Everyone knows Conner’s feel good story and what he has overcome is nothing short of amazing. However, Conner’s fantasy value is limited to Le’Veon Bell’s handcuff status, except in very deep leagues where Conner could be a FLEX option. If you draft Bell in the first round of your draft, you should put a priority on grabbing Connor as early as the 11th round range. In dynasty leagues Conner has very little to no value.
10.) RB – D’Onta Foreman – Houston Texans (89th overall)
Much like Conner, Foreman has overcome his own personal adversity. Foreman’s infant son passed away during the 2016 season while at Texas, and Foreman’s fantasy value is very similar to Conner’s. Outside of being a handcuff to Lamar Miller, he has very little value. Again, in deeper leagues he could be a solid FLEX as Foreman might get some goal-line touchdowns. If you take Miller and target Foreman as a handcuff, you can probably get Foreman in the 14th round. For dynasty leagues Foreman has no value.
Usually rookies don’t have much of an impact on your fantasy team, but all ten of these players could be key pieces to winning a fantasy championship this season. Don’t be scared to draft rookie running backs as they have the easiest transition from college to the NFL; plus more NFL teams use rookie runners verse seasoned veterans. Remember when selecting your players, it’s not just how many points they scored last year, but how likely are they going to help you win this week and this season. It’s all about the matchups.