Here are some preliminary rookie rankings for the 2014 class before the combine. A few notes:
- These rankings are meant for standard 12-14 team start 1 QB, 2 RB, 3-4 WR, 1 TE leagues. In special formats like 2QB or 1.5 PPR for TE, I would bump players at those positions up significantly.
- I only have two tiers this year because I see the dropoffs being a little more flat than in a typical year. There isn't a huge, huge difference in value between say...the #10 pick and the #18 pick in my opinion. That will probably change after the combine.
- I would expect some of the unlisted/fringe prospects to eventually make a push for inclusion in the top 24. Guys like Charles Sims, Terrance West, and Robert Herron could have a decent case for it in May depending on what happens in the NFL draft.
1. WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson – Watkins doesn't have a huge frame, but he's big enough and his straight-line speed is excellent. I view him as a cross between Julio Jones and Mike Wallace. He can take short passes the distance, he's tough enough and strong enough to function in the possession game, and he has the vertical explosiveness to go long. I value him as a top 10-12 dynasty WR right out of the box.
2. WR Marqise Lee, USC – Lee isn't the biggest target and he has some consistency issues with his hands, but he plays stronger than his listed dimensions and has a rare degree of initial quickness, fluidity, and agility. He's going to be uncoverable as a slot weapon on short-intermediate routes thanks to his route running ability and he has enough speed to sneak deep as an outside receiver. I think he's a safe bet to become a solid NFL player and I value him as a top 15-20 dynasty WR from day one.
3. RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State – He's big, he's fluid, he has nimble feet, and he can catch the ball. Is he a GREAT talent? Probably not, but his overall skill set is similar to that of Eddie Lacy and LeVeon Bell. If he goes to a team with a wide open opportunity, he should be able to yield a rookie season much like theirs. That makes him an attractive commodity in FF.
4. RB Jeremy Hill, LSU – Hill is a bit like Hyde in some ways. Both are bigger backs with surprising foot quickness. Hill may actually be a bit more dynamic with potentially a higher ceiling. He has little man feet on a big frame and displays surprising long speed. He can catch the ball and grind out tough yards. He's ready to produce top 10-15 RB seasons right away. So if he goes to a team that will give him a starting opportunity, expect solid results. There is some character risk based on his past.
5. RB Lache Seastrunk, Baylor – Seastrunk is a fast and athletic back who will appeal to teams seeking a home run hitter. Although he has a solid and compact frame, he does not run with a lot of thump. He's more of a speed back than a pounder or a juker. However, I think he shows enough elusiveness to run between the tackles. Add that to his electric big play ability and he should be a dynamic starter in the NFL. He will have to answer questions about his durability, character, and pass catching skills.
6. WR Allen Robinson, Penn State – A gifted natural receiver with great body control, fluidity, and initial quickness. Robinson isn't the strongest or the fastest, but he “knows how to get open” with subtle moves to set up defenders and create space. He's also a natural when the ball is in the air and in his hands. He can make circus catches in traffic and he transitions to running after the catch very well, showing good elusiveness for a tall player. Though not a dominant “on paper” athlete, I think he has a high floor and a pretty high ceiling. He should at least be an Eric Decker type in the NFL and could top out as something like a taller Reggie Wayne.
7. WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M – Evans is one of the toughest players in this draft for me to evaluate. His production was excellent and he has a tall frame with great range. He has good top speed and was able to make many big plays on screen passes despite not looking like the most evasive open field runner. I have some nagging fear that he doesn't possess enough quickness or agility to get open in the NFL, so I'll be watching him closely in the receiving drills at the combine to assess his movement skills. For the time being I'm slightly down on him relative to average, but I think he has a high ceiling and he's a player that could move up in future editions of this list.
8. TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina – Ebron looks like one of the safest skill prospects in this draft. Although he's often compared to Vernon Davis, he's not as fast, but a better and rangier pure receiver. The player he reminds me of is Kellen Winslow Jr. As long as he can stay healthy, I think he's a lock to become a solid starter with the upside to potentially become a Pro Bowl type. I value him as a top 6-7 dynasty TE based on his combination of security and upside. However, TE is a devalued position in many FF formats, so that's why he's at the bottom of my first tier.
9. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State – A tall target with imposing strength at the catch point. Benjamin makes some great highlight reel grabs and also flashes a little bit of open field YAC ability. Given his imposing frame and big play skills, Benjamin has a very high ceiling if he hits. However, he seems like a boom-or-bust proposition. He's almost too long-legged for his own good (suspect initial quickness), he has consistency issues with his hands, and he's old relative to his draft standing. I sort of doubt that he's really going to hit big, but if he does the value could be tremendous.
10. WR Odell Beckham, LSU – Beckham is a tricky player to gauge because I like him for NFL purposes, but I don't know if his game will translate to FF production as well as some other players. He's slightly undersized for a potential #1 WR and his punt return exploits won't count for anything in most FF leagues. However, he's a great athlete with a high floor who should become a major contributor to his NFL team. It may be as more of a #2 WR/return specialist than as a 130+ target per year WR.
11. WR Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss – Moncrief has the height/weight/speed of a #1 NFL receiver, but he doesn't play like one. He's inconsistent as a possession receiver and lacks great initial quickness. He's more of a loping runner than a compact/agile athlete. His hands are spotty at times. He never dominated in college despite his talent, but I think he can be more productive at the next level than he was at Mississippi. He's a very dangerous deep threat thanks to his speed and size. He reminds me of a better version of Cowboys WR Terrance Williams and would be an ideal #2 receiver with a QB who likes to go long. That could result in a FF career somewhere along the lines of Torrey Smith and Mike Wallace.
12. WR Davante Adams, Fresno State – He's not incredible in any way, but he's solid at pretty much everything. In that regard he reminds me a little bit of Hakeem Nicks as a draft prospect. Big, but not huge. Fast, but not a burner. Athletic, but not freaky. In a dream scenario he could end up making an impact like that of Roddy White or Nicks, but he may end up being just a decent #2 target. I'm a little less certain on his athletic ability than some of these other receivers, so I'll be watching him closely at the combine to see what's under the hood.
13. RB Devonta Freeman, Florida State – Freeman has the type of skill set that should translate into NFL serviceability, if not more. He's deceptively strong with a compact frame that yields a lot more tackle breaking power than you'd think just looking at his listed weight. He has a nice burst of speed. He can catch the ball. He's a little bit straight-linish as a runner and he struggles to make the second cut once he gets up to full speed, but he does flash some ability to pick his way through traffic. I don't think he's an awesome talent who will demand a starting job wherever he goes, but he should be able to get on the field and contribute. Possibly as a starter in the right situation.
14. RB Tre Mason, Auburn – Mason is a compact runner with deceptive power, decent quickness, and good fluidity. Although he doesn't really have a lot of flashy qualities, he was a very effective grinder at the college level. I'd feel a bit better about his NFL potential if he were a bit more special physically, as he lacks rare explosiveness or size. However, he's solid and could be a serviceable NFL starter.
15. RB KaDeem Carey, Arizona – A poor man's LeSean McCoy. He doesn't have the conventional bottom-heavy RB body type, but he compensates with his good foot quickness. He's a shifty and slippery runner who can handle a big workload. There's a lack of special athletic tools and that may limit him to a backup role in the long term in the NFL. As with most of these second tier backs, landing spot will be a crucial variable in his FF value. As his opportunity goes, so goes his value.
16. RB Andre Williams, Boston College – Williams is a unique talent with some different qualities compared with the rest of this RB class. He's not as versatile as most of the other top backs, showing suspect elusiveness as a runner and minimal potential as a pass catcher. He's more of a classic two-down pounder. He has a hulking frame and deceptive speed with long strides that chew up turf. If he goes to a team that will commit to getting him the ball, he could end up making a Brandon Jacobs type of impact. I think he might be a little underrated. However, he lacks avoidance skills and will most likely have a short shelf life.
17. WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon State – Very explosive and athletic. Cooks is lightning in a bottle with legitimate track speed and good quickness. However, he's also acutely undersized, so there are going to be questions about his usage. He might not fit the mold of a high volume target. He'll never be a great red zone threat and with guys this little you've got to question their ability to take a hit. If he ends up being a top 10-12 rookie pick, I'm unlikely to be a buyer. I don't mind the gamble in the 12-25 range though on the chance that you end up with something like a DeSean Jackson or Antonio Brown.
18. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – Is he a disaster waiting to happen? He was a star in college, but he'll have a huge target on his back in the NFL and he won't be able to get away with a lot of things that worked for him on Saturdays. Manziel is extremely mobile with great improvisational skills as a runner and passer. He plays with fearlessness and will not shrink away from the big moment. Of all the three quarterbacks projected to go in the first, he looks like he has the most superstar potential. On the other hand, he also looks like a massive bust risk. He's not that big and his reckless style could get him into trouble against NFL defenders. Although he has a decent arm, his pure pocket passing ability is questionable. He will float passes, hold the ball too long, and sometimes just chuck it up for grabs. I see him as something like a Jeff Garcia, Doug Flutie, or Jake Plummer type of player. He won't be a conventional pocket passer, but if a team surrounds him with the right players then he can potentially be successful. He will have to stay focused and put in the work. I think he would really benefit by spending a year on the sidelines ala Mike Vick. If he's rushed into game duty too quickly, there's a significant chance he could go into a permanent tailspin. Despite the obvious risk, he has an appealing upside and that's the main thing I'm looking for in a developmental dynasty QB, so I'll roll the dice here.
19. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington – Talked about as a possible top 10 overall pick in the offseason, ASJ simply doesn't have the raw explosiveness to warrant such a high selection. He doesn't break big plays and isn't very fast, but I like his chances of having a moderately successful career as a big body power forward type. He has a huge frame, he's nimble for a big man, and he has good innate receiving skills to come down with difficult grabs. I see his NFL outlook falling somewhere between Martellus Bennett and Antonio Gates. Like Ebron, his ranking on this list suffers from the relatively low value of the TE position in most FF leagues. He also has some minor character red flags to answer.
20. RB Bishop Sankey, Washington – A jack of all trades and a master of none, Sankey is yet another RB in this draft who can do a little bit of everything. I rate him a little below some of the others because he looks less dynamic to me. I don't think he's going to be one of the 20 most talented backs in the NFL, but I think he's talented enough that if he goes to an open situation he could make some noise. So as with many of the other backs this year, keep a close eye on who drafts him and what their depth chart looks like.
21. TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech – Amaro put up huge stats in Texas Tech's pass-happy offense as a glorified slot WR. Given that he's a receiving specialist and that those are in vogue at the TE position in the NFL, it's possible that he'll end up being a lot more valuable than this ranking would suggest. We saw what happened with Jordan Reed last year. Amaro is a totally different style of player than Reed though. He's taller and bigger, but a lot less agile. He has somewhat sloppy movement skills. He's not elusive in the open field and won't be a big threat after the catch. He had a pretty modest YPC and really isn't the dynamic athlete that you might think looking at his raw stats. However, if he goes to a team that will utilize him as a pure receiving specialist, there's definitely the potential for a big FF output. So even though he doesn't totally pass the eyeball test for me, I can't rule him out.
22. QB Blake Bortles, Central Florida – Bortles has the NFL look with a big frame, decent mobility, and adequate arm strength. Whether or not he has the mental talent of an elite QB is a little more questionable. His 2013 stats were outstanding, but he seemed more comfortable working the outside of the field than the middle. Screens and short WR hitches padded his numbers a little bit. When working the clogged middle, he was less consistent with his decision making and ball placement. He does show some innate ability to evade the rush though and I think he has the right mental toughness and demeanor that you want in a leader. I think there's something interesting to work with here, but at the same time I don't see him as an obvious elite innate passer. He's right in the middle between Jake Locker and Andrew Luck, which could make him comparable to Ryan Tannehill. A physically gifted developmental project with fringe top 10 upside, but probably not Pro Bowl potential.
23. QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville – Bridgewater offers a contrast in styles compared with Bortles. He's not as good of an athlete and might not have as high of a ceiling, but he's a more polished product with arguably superior mental talent. He makes good decisions, shows good poise under pressure, and can improvise when things break down. He always seems calm and in control. However, his arm strength is nothing spectacular and he has a thin frame for the NFL. I see him as more of a rhythm/touch passer in the mold of Chad Pennington than a real gunslinger like Brees. There's a chance that he could grow and develop over time as Tom Brady did. I like the fact that the mental components all seem to be there, but ultimately my sense is that he lacks a huge upside and will top out as a more of a mid-level player than a real mega star.
24. WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt – Matthews had a great college career and is a little more athletic than he might appear at first glance. He's a tall, skinny technician with a little bit of vertical speed and downfield game. I don't think he has the look of a future #1 NFL target, but in the right offense maybe he can be a productive #2. There are other players out there with more upside, so he's a prime candidate to slide down the board in future editions.
RB Terrance West, Towson
RB Charles Sims, West Virginia
RB Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State
RB Storm Johnson, Central Florida
RB Tim Flanders, Sam Houston State
WR Robert Herron, Wyoming
WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
WR Cody Latimer, Indiana
WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson