Throw Up The Dynasty Sign
If you're a hardcore fantasy football player and you're not in a dynasty league, I'd highly recommend joining one or starting one this season.
To be brief, the idea behind a dynasty league is that you keep your entire team from year-to-year, and your draft consists of the incoming rookies, much like a real life NFL team. Not only are you trying to win this year, but you're looking to win for many years to come. Sure, there will be good years and bad years but you have a long offseason to trade assets and draft picks to get your team in the best position to win each season.
I prefer this method over redraft leagues because I like knowing that I have "my guys" and don't have to lose them each year if I don't want to. When a group of guys lead you to a championship, it's always a bit disappointing to me that I have to start from scratch again. Dynasty leagues - much like daily fantasy sports - has really started to grow in popularity in recent years as it keeps fantasy football a focus over a whole calendar year, not just 5 months of it.
Let Me Get This Straight, Wait, I'm The Rookie?
One of the big items in every dynasty league calendar is the rookie draft.
The rookie draft can set your team up for long-term success when you hit big on a pick like David Johnson or Odell Beckham. However, your team can be sent into rebuild mode if you took Cordarrelle Patterson or Montee Ball.
But like most rookie drafts - much like the NFL Draft - you're looking at a 50/50 shot to hit correctly. Jordan Howard was going early 3rd round in some rookie drafts a year ago and is now a top-30 overall player in dynasty startups. However, Laquon Treadwell was a consensus top-3 overall pick in rookie drafts, now you could probably get him cheaply after a rookie season where he didn't play much.
Like the stock market, values change week-to-week. How you feel about a player's fantasy hopes may change based on what team drafts them. For example, Samaje Perine was largely an afterthought in the pre-draft process, now he's considered a top-15 player in rookie rankings based on his potential for immediate playing time in Washington.
This year, I believe there's an elite top-6 tier with solid depth as we get through the second round. Most dynasty leagues have already conducted their rookie draft - most are set up to be run within a couple weeks after the actual NFL draft - but some may be happening in June or you're looking to get a head start on potential keeper selections for your redraft league.
Here is my personal top-10 dynasty rookie rankings. Remember, this is ranked with the long-term outlook, not just for 2017.
1. WR Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans
With the fifth pick in the draft, the Tennessee Titans took their WR of the future in Corey Davis. If you didn't see Corey Davis play in college, take a look at the 5 minute video below. Better yet, go to 1:30, the guy Davis is leaving in the dust on his way to the end zone ran a 4.6 at the combine.
Not only does Corey Davis have the size/speed to be a fantasy stud and a future WR1, he goes to a perfect situation with promising young QB, Marcus Mariota, who is only 23 years old. If Davis pans out, these guys could conceiving play together for the next 10-12 years. He steps into a situation where he has established veterans like Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker to take the pressure off of him as learns the NFL game but can still be a big play factor as a rookie.
In dynasty, I tend to lean WR over RB because of longevity. Most RBs are pretty much maxed out by 30, where you can see WRs be productive into their mid-30s. I'm not expecting Davis to be a WR1 out the gate in 2017, but I see WR3 production as a rookie who could become a top-5 fantasy WR down the road as he and Mariota grow together. I wouldn't fault you for going RB here but Davis's upside enough for me to take him 1.1 and I believe he'll be the best fantasy player out of this class.
2. RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
Dalvin Cook was my #1 overall player up until the draft, but I dropped him down a spot as I believe Davis fell into a better situation. However, I still believe Dalvin Cook will be the best RB in this class.
I know most believe Fournette is the guy - and understandably so - but the fact that Cook is a better pass catcher than Fournette (and the majority of dynasty leagues are PPR) gives him the edge for me.
Cook's situation isn't great in the short term as Minnesota offensive line has struggled and they have a crowded backfield with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon already in the building. However, the Vikings traded up to get Dalvin Cook and based on what I saw in college, is the most talented back of the Vikings on the roster.
When I see Cook play, he reminds me a lot of Jamaal Charles (not necessarily the same speed, just running styles). His sub-par combine doesn't scare me much and I believe he'll take over the lead back role in Minnesota by midseason. With his big-play ability and playing in a system that likes to feature it's running backs, I see Cook a regular among the top RBs in the future.
3. RB Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
Leonard Fournette has all the makings of generational RB. I mean, how many people on the planet can run 4.5 at 240 pounds? I'd bet it's not many.
Fournette is your old school, north-south, punch-you-in-the-mouth style of runner. The Jags took him 4th overall for a reason and I expect him to be the focal point of this offense immediately. This offense will want to keep Bortles turnovers down and allow him to take shots downfield to Allen Robinson off of play-action. As we saw with Ezekiel Elliott last year, a strong running game can not only do wonders for an offense but it can help a talented Jags defense stay fresh late in games.
The Jaguars currently have Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon in their rotation so there's a chance that Fournette isn't the featured back right away. I'm not overly concerned by the competition as they are holdovers from the previous regime. Fournette wouldn't have been drafted as high as he was if they didn't believe he could carry their offense.
My personal concerns, is that Fournette hasn't been much of a factor in the passing game during his college career. If he's playing primarily on 1st and 2nd down, I feel it really caps his long-term upside. That said, he should still be a 20+ carry a game type of player and be the goal-line back, making him a strong choice at the top of your rookie draft.
4. RB Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
I'm not going to discuss Mixon's off-the-field issues as they are well documented, but I will say he fell into a great situation for his fantasy outlook. If it weren't for his off field concerns, many draft analyst felt he could've went before McCaffrey in the top-10, so talent isn't the issue here.
Jeremy Hill is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is coming off two sub-par seasons. Giovanni Bernard is coming off an ACL injury so there's uncertainty on when he'll be ready to go this season. Even at 100%, Bernard as shown he's not someone the Bengals feel comfortable giving the ball to as a feature back. Which brings us to Joe Mixon.
Mixon could step in immediately as the third-down back if Gio is slow to return from injury and then take over the early-down work once Hill leaves in free agency (I'd be surprised if they re-signed him after drafting Mixon). The Bengals have a history of taking guys with checkered backgrounds (Adam Jones, Burfict, etc.) and giving them a platform to have successful careers.
Mixon has arguably the most upside of anybody in this draft due to his talent and situation. What keeps him below the other three is that I personally am a bit concerned that one off-the-field incident could stick him with an indefinite suspension. While there's safer options behind him, Mixon has the home run type of upside that could immediate change your fantasy future.
5. RB Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
As a player, I love Christian McCaffrey. In college, he was explosive when he got the ball in his hands and incredibly versatile as he played special teams and some WR. Many scouts and analyst have been on record that he's as good as any WR when it comes to running routes. This is a big edge when you think of his prospects in PPR leagues when you think of guys like Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson who can line up out wide and catch as many passes as they do.
He's also shown to be an electric kick returner he averaged 28.9 yards per kick return as a Sophomore and scored two touchdowns as a returner in his career. The Panthers need to protect Cam Newton and getting the ball out of hands quickly via hand off or passing to his running back is one way to do that. You don't draft a RB in the top-10 if you don't plan on using him early and often.
The reason why he's below some of the other guys for me is two things, 1) his landing spot, 2) his college workload. Jonathan Stewart is nearing the end of his solid NFL career so I'm not concerned about that, I'm more worried about how the Panthers will use him.
The Panthers have historically been a north/south type of running team and McCaffrey is best used outside in space. McCaffrey isn't likely to ever be their goal line back at 202 lbs, thus capping his TD upside. And the Panthers drafted Curtis Samuel out of Ohio St., who quite frankly, does a lot of the same things McCaffrey does. Samuel is expected to play slot WR but I was hoping to see McCaffrey line up out there when he wasn't in the backfield.
Lastly, the workload he received in college. In three years at Stanford, McCaffrey had 731 touches (rushes and catches) and that's not including his work as a kick/punt returner.
The upside with McCaffrey is tantalizing and he's worthy of being selected anywhere in the top-5 of your rookie draft. My personal concerns keep him down just a bit on my list. To separate players in this talented class, you have to be a bit picky. I would be ecstatic to land McCaffrey with my 1.5 pick.
6. WR Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
If you watched the National Championship game, you saw Mike Williams look unstoppable at times with his size and catching ability against talented Alabama defense to the tune of eight receptions, 94 yards and a touchdown. Now he arrives in a situation with one of the better QBs in the league, Philip Rivers, who is known for taking shots downfield.
The upside is capped a bit with the amount of competition around him, Keenan Allen returning from an ACL injury, third-year ascending talent, Tyrell Williams, future Hall of Famer, Antonio Gates, and TE of the future, Hunter Henry. Also, there's questions on how long Rivers will play as he's entering his 14th season so you're not sure how that impacts his outlook long-term. That said, Allen hasn't been able to stay healthy, Gates is likely in his last season and he has the size (6'4", 218) to be a red zone threat immediately.
Williams reminds me of Alshon Jeffrey, not the fastest guy on the field but someone who can high point a deep ball to make contested catches and be a dynamic red zone threat. He may be the most NFL-ready of any WR in this class due to the competition he faced in college, as well as, the system he played in, and I expect him to be a cornerstone WR you can build your dynasty team around.
7. WR John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals
This is the part of the draft that I believe you begin to see some separation.
The NFL talent evaluators thirst for speed at all positions. Well, John Ross set a new NFL Combine record in February with a blistering 4.22 40, and you can't teach that. Ross was then selected 9th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals to help take some pressure off of A.J. Green and help open the field for Tyler Eifert over the middle.
It's a great landing spot that can see immediate dividends as the deep threat in this offense. I personally see a lot of DeSean Jackson in his ability to break a game open with one play. He could also start Week 1, which only enhances his value as he could be a factor right away. That said, Ross comes with plenty of red flags, durability.
Ross has torn his ACL in his left knee, his meniscus in his right knee and has had shoulder surgery all while in college. There's a concern that he could be a good player but is always having to deal with injuries. As they say, you're greatest ability is your availability.
I believe the amount of talent Ross has makes him worth taking a chance on in the 1st round of your rookie. After the top tier of players is off the board, no one has more upside behind them than Ross. Just have to be ok with the injury concerns that plagued him in college.
8. TE O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tight Ends historically offer much in their rookie seasons, which for me, pushes them down the draft board a bit as you're basically punting one full season.
According to NFL.com Senior fantasy Analyst Michael Fabiano, since 2007, only four of 148 TEs drafted have finished in the top-12 in fantasy points their rookie season. FOUR.
This year brought in a solid group of TEs led by O.J. Howard, Evan Engram and David Njoku. I believe Howard will be the best of the bunch with his size (6'6", 250 lbs) and speed (4.51 40). Howard just oozes upside and his ceiling is similar to Greg Olsen. He's also paired with a good young QB in Jameis Winston that he'll be able to grow with throughout his career.
His size will make him a good bet to be consistent a touchdown scorer, however, playing with Mike Evans will likely keep him from ever having big reception and yardage totals as a secondary option in the passing game.
9. RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
This is a situation where the landing spot is instrumental in a rookie's value.
Kamara went to the perfect spot for a passing catching back. Head Coach Sean Payton has gotten quality fantasy seasons out of Darren Sproles, Reggie Bush, and Pierre Thomas in this pass catching role. On top of that, the Saints traded up to get Kamara showing that they believe he's a great fit for what they want to do.
The Saints have Mark Ingram, who is 28 and seems to always be in-or-out of Sean Payton's doghouse, and Adrian Peterson, who is 32 and has only played in 20 games the last the three seasons combined, currently in their rotation. Both will be used more in a 1st and 2nd down, between-the-tackle roles, leaving Kamara to do his work in the passing game.
In a PPR setting, this gives Kamara immediate value as someone who could catch 50+ passes as a rookie. If he can produce while behind two veterans, his role could grow into a feature back in 2-to-3 years.
While his size and lack of time as a feature back in college has me concerned he'll ever be a RB1 in fantasy, he's a guy you can draft as a rookie and potentially use as a flex during the season. There is enough upside for Kamara in this offense that I think he's worth the plunge after the elite players are gone.
10. RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
Andy Reid is a coach that's had success with running backs throughout his career getting quality fantasy seasons from Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, and Spencer Ware. Kareem Hunt is the first RB the Chiefs have drafted since they took Knile Davis in the 3rd round in 2014.
That stat and the fact they traded up for Kareem Hunt has me sold in on his long-term fantasy prospects. Jamaal Charles was let go in the offseason and Spencer Ware's production slowed down last season as the year went along, giving Hunt an opportunity to be in the rotation as a rookie.
If he's productive early, he could settle into a featured back role as early as the end of this season. Andy Reid has historically been a one-back coach as he doesn't like to use committees. This is important from a fantasy perspective with so many teams using two-to-three backs throughout a game.
If this class wasn't as deep at the running back position, Hunt would likely be higher on this list due to landing spot. However, I expect Ware to be giving at least another year to be the lead back so I think Hunt is more of a long term grab at the end of the first round.