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Best Landing Spots for NFL Rookies (Fantasy Football)

Apr 17, 2017

Dalvin Cook is likely to join a 2016 playoff team

With just under two weeks left until the NFL Draft, the misdirection and false predictions are at a feverish pitch. Teams and general managers have continued to leak false information trying to throw the public off the scent of the specific draft prospects they secretly covet. In the fantasy football world, our response to this cloak and dagger game is simple:

Who cares?

The only focus for fantasy football analysts is predicting the best landing spot for maximum statistical impact. Let’s take a look at the ideal landing spot for some of the top 10 offensive skill position players in the 2017 NFL Draft. (All statistical data from PlayerProfiler).

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Dalvin Cook (RB)

School: Florida State
Strengths: Broke Warrick Dunn’s all-time career Florida State rushing record in just three seasons. Great speed (4.49 40 yard dash time). Excellent vision and can burst quickly to the outside edge.
Concerns: Has a major fumbling issue (13 career fumbles; six fumbles last season). Had a disappointing combine, and comes with off the field baggage. Blocking is suspect.
Conclusion: Before the combine, many thought Dalvin Cook was the best all-around running back in this draft class. At 5’10” 210 lbs, he has the requisite size to contribute immediately on the NFL level. Besides the fumbling and off the field concerns, there are also injury questions about his labrum. For all those reasons, Cook has become one of the most polarizing draft prospects this offseason.

Best Fantasy Landing Spot: The best fantasy result for Dalvin Cook would be getting drafted in the late first round. This area is comprised of playoff teams that are looking for a slight running back improvement to get to a conference championship or Super Bowl. Some analysts are predicting Kansas City at the 27th pick, but I think the Chiefs are content with incumbent Spencer Ware. However, for a Green Bay Packers team that was one win away from the Super Bowl, the temptation will simply be too great. Ty Montgomery had a nice season, but with Eddie Lacy’s departure, they need a running back upgrade. The Packers will get that with Dalvin Cook as the 29th overall selection. Unless his blocking improves, he is only a bench fantasy running back in his rookie season, but his opportunity to contribute is best with quarterback Aaron Rodgers under center.

Leonard Fournette (RB)

School: LSU
Strengths: Strong powerful runner listed at 6’0″ 240 lbs. Finishes off runs aggressively. Ran 4.51 40-yard dash at combine. Has been productive every game he’s played in college, including his freshman year.
Concerns: Fournette’s 28.5-inch vertical jump at the combine was one of the worst running back performances in the last five years. Not elusive, which increases injury potential. Played on an injured ankle for most of junior season.
Conclusion: Fournette has an NFL body, but needs an offensive system that suits his running style. He was a completely dominant Division I running back that produced a 38.8 percent (82nd percentile) college dominator rating and averaged 6.5 yards per carry (84th percentile) throughout his LSU career. There just aren’t that many 240 lb running backs with 4.51 40 yard dash speed that produced against the most elite teams in college football. If Fournette is given the lead running back role behind even an average NFL offensive line, he has NFL Rookie of the Year ability.

Best Fantasy Landing Spot: Jacksonville could really use a running back, but it is highly unlikely Tom Coughlin picks one at the fourth spot. Given his powerful running style, Fournette is a perfect fit for the Carolina Panthers at the eighth pick. While there still are legitimate concerns about taking a running back in the first round, Fournette is the perfect player to backup the 30-year-old and injury-prone Jonathan Stewart next season. He would project to have a potential RB2 floor if Stewart were to ever get injured.

Christian McCaffrey (RB)

School: Stanford
Strengths: McCaffrey was a complete combine standout. He had an 81st percentile 4.48 40-yard dash time and a 97th percentile 10.79 agility score. McCaffrey was responsible for over half (50.7 percent) of Stanford’s rushing yards and touchdowns over his three-year career. He will be one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL as soon as he steps on the field in September.
Concerns: Only completed 10 repetitions of 225 lbs in the bench press. He is undersized compared to the prototypical NFL running back (5’11” 202 lbs). Stanford had a strong offensive line, so just how much credit do we give McCaffrey?
Conclusion: He’s a quintessential NFL “satellite back,” but can he really be as good as Brian Westbrook? The answer is absolutely yes. All Christian McCaffrey did in college was produce, and then backed up his production with a fantastic combine workout. He could be a great third-down NFL back, while also returning punts and kicks. McCaffrey is too athletic and efficient to ignore. In a pass-first league, Christian McCaffrey is NFL draft gold.

Best Fantasy Landing Spot: Two destinations jump off the page for Christian McCaffrey. The Denver Broncos will certainly be tempted at the 20th pick, especially with general manager John Elway’s connection with McCaffrey’s father Ed. However, I think the offensive line need will be too great and Denver will pass. This puts McCaffrey in perfect line for the 27th pick to Kansas City. Ware is the short yardage back, and Charcandrick West has failed to impress. With Alex Smith at quarterback and Jamaal Charles released, the Chiefs badly need another offensive weapon. McCaffrey fills that role perfectly and could be a very valuable fantasy commodity if punt/kick returns count in scoring.

Joe Mixon (RB)

School: Oklahoma
Strengths: The best three-down running back in this draft class. Mixon has speed to burn, both straight line and change of direction. Great pass catcher out of the backfield.
Concerns: He is the biggest character concern in the draft because of well-documented domestic violence issue. At 6’1″ 228 lbs, Mixon is not as compact as other running backs in the class. Can he run effectively between the tackles at the NFL level?
Conclusion: Mixon comes from an elite program (Oklahoma) and had incredible college production despite sharing time with fellow running back Samaje Perine. If not for the major domestic violence issue, Mixon would be an early first-round draft pick. The talent is unmistakable and Mixon brings a potential All-Pro ceiling, but which team will take the chance and absorb the public criticism?

Best Fantasy Landing Spot: Do not fall for the Cleveland smoke screen. The Browns need help at many positions, but running back is not one of them. Isaiah Crowell finished 15th among all running backs in total fantasy points with an anemic passing offense. Duke Johnson is an elusive third-down back who had the second best juke rate at the position. Given the baggage that comes with Mixon, he will only go to a team that needs a quality running back to “move up a level.” The ideal fit is Indianapolis at the 46th pick. Good team that needs a running back badly, and an owner who believes in second chances with Jim Irsay. With Frank Gore turning 34 this year, Mixon could potentially start for an explosive offense. If that happens, he is an automatic RB2 in all fantasy formats.

Corey Davis (WR)

School: Western Michigan
Strengths: Has great size (6’3″ 205 lbs), route-running ability, and was incredibly productive at Western Michigan. Davis is the all-time FBS record holder in career receiving yards (5,068).
Concerns: Davis never ran the 40-yard dash at the combine because of an ankle injury that required minor surgery. Many scouts doubt his ability at the NFL level since his main competition in the MAC conference is well below that of the Power Five conferences. Without participating in the combine or at Western Michigan’s pro day, those questions have gone unanswered.
Conclusion: The range on Davis’ potential draft spot is large. It is difficult to see a top 10 team selecting a player that did not compete regularly against top 25 defenses. However, it is clear that Davis is the best all-around receiver in the draft, and there are many small school wide receivers that have succeeded in the NFL. Besides the legendary Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State), Marques Colston (Hofstra), Vincent Jackson (Northern Colorado), and Terrell Owens (Chattanooga) all had great NFL careers despite playing against perceived inferior competition. Davis had a 96th percentile 51.6 college dominator rating at Western Michigan, meaning he was responsible for over half of the receiving yards and touchdowns during his college career. Translation? He impacted the college game as a freshman, which answers any questions about playing in the MAC conference. Davis is the top wide receiver prospect in this draft.

Best Fantasy Landing Spot: For fantasy purposes, it would be tremendous to see Davis selected fifth overall to a Tennessee team that is on the verge of making the playoffs. In addition, after Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta talked about the top wide receivers in the draft and only casually mentioned Corey Davis, it is clear he has a myriad of potential suitors. He could even go earlier to Buffalo at the 10th pick overall but certainly will never fall past the Ravens at the 16th spot. Any of those three teams would provide an optimal fantasy opportunity for Davis to be at least a WR2 in 2017.

John Ross (WR)

School: Washington
Strengths: Blazing fast speed (4.22 40 yard dash). Can be devastating off a slant route with home run potential. Top level elusiveness and a big-play kick returner.
Concerns: Smaller sized wide receiver with injury history. Not strong at point of contact, will defensive backs just jam him? Is he a complete football player or just a one-trick pony?
Conclusion: Just how important are the workout metrics? That is the key question when assessing John Ross. His second team AP All-American production last year was incredible: 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns. But Ross is small and only had one really productive college season. The popular comparison is DeSean Jackson, but he was much more impressive over a three-year longitudinal career than Ross was in just one full season at Washington.

Best Fantasy Landing Spot: The ideal comparison is Tyreek Hill. The best way to use Ross on the next level is as a “gadget guy,” as a kick returner and wide receiver used in post and slant routes. Ross is not an every-down wide receiver, yet is being drafted as such. He’s a shiny new toy that will appeal to the Dallas Cowboys at the 28th pick, or serve as Brandin Cooks’ replacement with the New Orleans Saints at the 32nd pick. Both of those explosive offenses provide John Ross his best fantasy landing spot.

Curtis Samuel (WR)

School: Ohio State
Strengths: Superior athlete who shined at a top college football program. Ran a 4.31 40-yard dash (100th percentile), and has an 119.9 SPARQ-X score (99th percentile). Was first team All-American this season as an All-Purpose player.
Concerns: Is he a running back or wide receiver? Samuel is a body catcher who needs to improve his hands. Played in option style offense at Ohio State, will that translate to the NFL? At 5’11” 196 lbs, is he Percy Harvin or just an athlete without a position?
Conclusion: These types of hybrid players are appearing in NFL drafts with more frequency. Head coaches are going to start to create opportunities for great athletes like Samuel to shine. He is only 20 years old and possesses an 110.5 height-adjusted speed score. Curtis Samuel is a great athlete from a legendary Ohio State program, which means he had to share touches with other fantastic athletes. It is hard to produce at a consistently high rate when you are playing at a top college program due to the competition. If he can add some size, his NFL impact could be similar to Reggie Bush.

Best Fantasy Landing Spot: There are many teams that could produce a golden fantasy opportunity for Curtis Samuel, especially in his second round draft range. The perfect fit would be the Los Angeles Chargers at the 38th pick. Samuel could step right in for the departed Danny Woodhead and keep the high powered Chargers offense rolling. With quarterback Philip Rivers, the return of Keenan Allen, and Hunter Henry’s development, Samuel could work the slot and intermediate routes while taking an occasional handoff. He could play running back and wide receiver in an explosive offense with little to no pressure. The Los Angeles Chargers are the ideal fantasy landing spot for an athlete of Samuel’s ability.

Mike Williams (WR)

School: Clemson
Strengths: Great size. Long arms and strong hands make him the perfect red zone target. Williams is a true hands catcher, keeping everything away from his body. He produced against top competition.
Concerns: His workout metrics are simply average. Williams’ 40-yard dash time was only 4.59 (32nd percentile), and his burst score was even worse (24th percentile). Could he just be a great collegiate player?
Conclusion: In order to be an NFL player, you first have to look like an NFL player. Mike Williams does that better than any wide receiver in this draft class. Williams was a second-team Walter Camp All-American and caught 84 passes for 1,171 yards and 10 touchdowns for the National Champion Clemson Tigers. He produced more highlight reel catches than any receiver in this draft. I would be more concerned about the lack of quality metrics if he didn’t play at one of the top college football programs in the country.

Best Fantasy Landing Spot: Mike Williams’ low graded workout metrics will scare away teams like Cincinnati and Buffalo from drafting him in the top 10 overall. Corey Davis rates as a better all-around prospect, but at 6’4″ Williams gives a needy team a legitimate red zone threat. No team needs that more than Tennessee, who will draft him at the 18th pick. The Titans are the perfect fantasy landing spot. They possess a strong offensive line, franchise quarterback, have great running backs, and an underrated slot receiver in Rishard Matthews. The Titans are the perfect fantasy fit for Mike Williams, who would project as a solid WR3 next season.

O.J. Howard (TE)

School: Alabama
Strengths: Spectacular athlete. Workout metrics are exceptional. Has long arms and 10″ hands which make him a wide receiver in a 6’6″ 251 lb frame. Would be a difficult cover matchup for linebackers and is too big to be covered by cornerbacks.
Concerns: Why did Howard not produce more at Alabama? Does he have the desire and motor to be an effective blocker? If not, are teams paying a first-round price for the next Eric Ebron?
Conclusion: It’s tough to genuinely worry about such a gifted athletic freak like Howard, but there are legitimate concerns. His college dominator at Alabama was only 15.2 percent (38th percentile). Howard wasn’t on the field as much during his senior season, why? If Howard can’t dominate on Alabama against inferior competition, why would he project to be an All-Pro tight end? Regardless, it’s hard to get away from a 4.51 40-yard dash (97th percentile), a 123.9 height-adjusted speed score (98th percentile), and an 11.01 agility score (97th percentile).

Best Fantasy Landing Spot: The best fantasy landing spot for any rookie is on a team he can play right away. The best spot for Howard would be the Buffalo Bills at the ninth overall pick. Charles Clay just hasn’t produced for the Bills, and the only real offensive weapon in the passing game is Sammy Watkins. Having a strong pass-catching tight end is a priority on a run-first offense like Buffalo. It’s hard to envision any team spending a top 10 draft pick on a tight end, but Howard’s athleticism is worth the pick. If the Bills get shy, another great fantasy option would be at number 12 to Cleveland. Gary Barnidge will be 32 years old and failed to repeat his 2015 career year.

David Njoku (TE)

School: Miami
Strengths: One of the most athletic players in this year’s draft class. Njoku performed very well at the combine, ranking second among all tight ends in the broad jump, third in the vertical jump, and eighth in the 40-yard dash. He was the national high jump champion clearing seven feet. Njoku has performed at an incredibly high level despite being relatively new to the tight end position.
Concerns: Needs to work on blocking, which is where his inexperience shows the most. Njoku’s eight dropped passes over the last two seasons is a major concern, and his route-running is very raw.
Conclusion: David Njoku rates as the best tight end in the 2017 draft class. His athleticism is incredible, and he can break a touchdown from anywhere on the field. Njoku produced a 132.1 (97th percentile) burst score and a 10.3 (92nd percentile) catch radius, but the best statistic for Njoku? He is still only 20 years old.

Best Fantasy Landing Spot: History says that rookie tight ends don’t have an immediate impact in the NFL. That trend will end with David Njoku. Teams such as Buffalo, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay could all use an offensive weapon like Njoku, but I predict they don’t have the guts to pull the trigger. Buffalo (10th pick) and Cleveland (12th pick) would both select O.J. Howard first, if they pick a tight end. Tampa Bay, while intrigued, already has Cameron Brate who led the position with eight touchdowns. Njoku will fall to the New York Giants at the 23rd pick who will add the final piece to a powerful passing offense. With Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and now Njoku, the Giants will cause NFC East defensive coordinators many sleepless nights. With tight end fantasy production being so bunched last season, Njoku could potentially be a borderline TE1 by mid-season.

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Mike Randle is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @FtsyWarriorMike.

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