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With the NFL draft complete and the landing spots of the rookies known, here's a preliminary look at the Top 5 rookies for Fantasy Football redraft leagues.
The Jaguars are telling us they want to focus the priority of the offense. They clearly want to run the ball and feature Fournette. The Jaguars have been in the bottom of the league for several years in the run game, and a lot of it is due to the poor offensive line and game flow with the team constantly playing from behind. Those are still concerns, but Forunetthas great size and speed and will get the football. Fournette dominated in 2015 at LSU when he evaded the most tackles and was plagued by an ankle injury last season. Many will say Fournette won't catch the football much, but he wasn't asked to do it much in college. His value will come down to how he's used in the passing game for those in PPR formats. The Jaguars added Cam Robinson to the offensive line in the draft, and the defense is loaded with talent. If the offensive line improves, it will help Fournette, and he can pass protect, which could keep on the field for third downs. Look for Fournette to be drafted in rounds 2-3.
Shawn Childs: Last season the Jaguars ran the ball only 333 times from the RB position for 1274 yards (3.8 yards per rush) and five TDs. Their backs caught 77 passes for 555 yards and two TDs. Without having a clear picture of their offensive line or schedule. Let's set the early bar for at 300 touches (280 rushing and 20 catches). I'll give him 4.2 yards per rush, which is a conservative number if the Jaguars improve their run blocking. Fournette: 280/1176 yards plus 20 catches for 170. He has double-digit upside in TDs for me. The key for his value will be the Jaguars playing from the lead with better play on defense.
The Panthers desperately needed playmakers and took McCaffrey with the No. 8 pick overall. He can do it all and will have an instant impact for Fantasy. McCaffrey is especially good at running routes and can be split out wide. He will catch a lot of passes and will also be successful between the tackles. Jonathan Stewart is still there, but he's getting older and is injury prone. He won't prevent McCaffrey from playing a big role. The Panthers haven't thrown the ball to running backs much. Still, based on the draft pick one would think that philosophy changes when you make a selection like this. McCaffrey will likely go in rounds 3-4 and catch 50-60 passes.
Shawn Childs: The Panthers weren't the same team offensively in 2016. Was it Cam's right shoulder, his head, or even lack of playmakers at WRs? Their RBs had 362 rushes for 1451 yards (4.01 yards per rush) with 11 rushing TDs. The downside here is Carolina's backs only caught 44 passes for 369 yards and a TD on 69 targets. McCaffery had a great season in 2015 at Stanford where he touched the ball 382 times for 2401 yards and 21 TDs plus 45 catches. This isn't a third down back. Some have compared him to LeSean McCoy due to his open field ability and speed. McCoy gets the nickname "Shady" so Christian may earn the handle "daylight." When he see a hole, he is going to be explosive. I don't think the Panthers will write off Jonathan Stewart out of the gate, but I'm sure he limp his way out of the picture. The Panthers will throw the ball much more to the RB position in 2017, but Curtis Samuel will steal some of those targets as well. Christian's floor should be about 50 passes for 425 yards. Carolina should use him on sprint outs at the goal line with Cam controlling the TDs in the middle of the field. I have to believe over the whole season McCaffery gets a minimum of 200 rushes with his best success coming late in the year. The overall package of Newton will create more open space for him in the run game. I'll give him 4.5 yards per rush. Christian: 200/900 yards and 8 to 10 TDs plus 50/425 in the passing game. Again, this is an early interpretation of this offense.
3. WR Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
Davis is going to have an immediate impact with the Titans. We look for opportunity in Fantasy and Davis goes to a team where he will have it. He should be their top target and is a needed weapon for Marcus Mariota. The Titans needed a playmaker, and Davis is one. He is 6-foot-3, 209 pounds and a real good route runner. He creates separation and has good hands. Davis is good after the catch, too. The Titans will be a team that focuses on the run, but that shouldn't deter you from taking Davis. This is a good fit for his Fantasy value with a good quarterback getting him the ball and no major threats to take away targets from him. It won't be a surprise to see Davis reach 1,000 receiving yards this season. While the Titans tend to run in the red zone, it will help Davis get favorable matchups, and he's a force in the red zone. Expect him to go in rounds 6-7 of drafts.
Shawn Childs: The most impressive thing about Corey Davis on draft day was the high praise from long-time NFL WR Steve Smith. He knows what it takes to have success in the NFL, and he painted an impressive picture of this young man in my eyes. Corey was TD machine (46 over 39 games) over his last three seasons at Western Michigan. Last year the Titans WRs only caught 160 passes for 2141 yards and 16 TDs on 280 targets, which was a huge improvement over 2015 (130/1665/11 on 239 targets). Marcus Mariota is a very good QB with a solid feel in the red zone, but Tennessee is going to have success rushing the ball in close. Their WRs should get a few more chances in 2017 putting Davis in a position to get about 40 percent of the WR targets (about 120 targets if the WRs have 300 targets). The patterns the WRs run downfield will lead to a shorter catch rate for Corey. If he catches over 60 percent of his chances, Davis should finish with over 70 catches for 1000+ yards and a team-high in receiving TDs. If Richard Matthews can catch nine TDs in 2016, Corey has a chance at double digits this season.
4. RB Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
We all know the issues with Joe Mixon and why he slipped in the draft. He was suspended for the 2014 season at Oklahoma for punching a woman on video. Mixon could be the best running back in this class, and he has a real good shot to emerge as the main back for the Bengals. When you take a running back in the second round, especially with Mixon's potential off the field issues, it indicates he's going to be a key piece of the offense. Many teams didn't have Mixon on their draft boards at all. Jeremy Hill is a free agent and hasn't been good the last two seasons, and Gio Bernard is coming off a torn ACL. Mixon is 6-foot-1 and 228 pounds with good vision and explosiveness. He can catch the football and like most rookie running backs will need to show he can pass block at the pro level. Mixon will go in rounds 6-7 in early drafts, but I see him rising as we get closer to draft day.
Shawn Childs: At age 23, Jeremy Hill appears to be past his prime, or maybe he just needs a change of scenery. Over the last two seasons, he gained 3.6 and 3.8 yards per rush. This was well below his breakout success in 2014 (222/1124/9). The injury (torn ACL) to Giovani Bernard in 2016 and the lack of upside of Hill led to the Bengals taking a swing on Joe Mixon. Over his freshman and sophomore seasons at Oklahoma, Joe gained 2921 combined yards on 365 touches with 65 catches and 26 TDs. His skill set should work well on passing downs until Gio returns to the field and his overall game has much more explosiveness than Mr. Hill. In 2016, Cinci ran the ball 400 times from the RB position leading to 1585 yards and 14 TDs. Also, their backs caught 77 passes for 655 yards and a TD on 99 targets. There is a huge opportunity for a RB here if one man gets the bulk of touches. Mixon comes with some off the field baggage, which has run its course for the Bengals. There's a lot to like here, and the opportunity is much better than most would believe. Joe clearly has 50+ catch upside if Bernard has a slow recovery from his knee issue. I'll say it this way, Mixon is a better version of Hill and Bernard combined. He will command the ball. Something along the lines of 250 touches for 1300+ yards with 10+ TDs and 50+ catches seems like a fair starting point. Do I dare say he outpoints both Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey?
5. TE O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Howard is extremely talented and dominated at times in college. He's going to help the Buccaneers more in reality than fantasy. Cameron Brate is still there, and Howard's arrival hurts the value of Brate. Rookie tight ends tend to struggle and take the time to acclimate to the NFL. It's one of the more difficult positions to learn. At 6-foot-6 and 251 pounds, he's a major mismatch for the defense. Howard is an excellent blocker. He has excellent balls skills and is excellent after the catch. Jameis Winston does look for the tight end often, so that could help Howard, who is a TE2 going into draft day.
Shawn Childs: O.J. Howard could be the TE that gets overvalued in 2017. I know he has talent based on the limited tape I've watched and his scouting report. He's not a lock to get all the TE snaps after Cameron Brate played well last year. Winston will look for the TE (78/824/11 on 113 targets in 2016), so there is a winning opportunity if Howard emerges as the lead option. Alabama didn't need him to win, and they weren't a high-profile passing attack. O.J. caught 83 passes for 1197 yards over his junior and senior seasons, but he only scored five TDs. In the high-stakes market, I'd like to own a top TE plus land Howard as a TE2 with upside. His name is going to draw attention, but the cloudiness of his opportunity could be a positive to keep his draft value down. The bottom line with Tampa is that Mike Evans is going to be a high volume WR. DeSean Jackson tends to be an injury prone deep threat with 60 to 70 catch ability. This leaves a tremendous opportunity for the TE to be the number two option in the passing game. My feeling could change in a month or so when I have more research under my belt. Let's set his bar in range with his last two seasons at college with a slight bump in TDs (55/625/5).