5-Year First-Round Review: Skill Position Players (NFL Draft)

by Zachary Hanshew | @ZaktheMonster | Featured Writer
Apr 22, 2019

There’s no Saquon in this year’s RB class.

You may be playing in season-long leagues and starting your draft prep early by studying this year’s group of rookies. Maybe you play in a dynasty league and your rookie draft is approaching. Maybe you’re feeling nostalgic and want to comb through some recent draft picks. In any case, it doesn’t hurt to have some historical perspective to provide you a baseline of what the future may hold for the skill position players of the 2019 draft class. With the NFL Draft just a stone’s throw away, now is a good time to reflect on some recent draft selections and how they have fared in the NFL thus far. While each draft class is unique, it is still a useful exercise to take a look at a recent sample, determine if trends exist, and draw conclusions that will help us to better assess rookies moving forward. Here, I’m going to take a look at the immediate impact that first-round rookies made in their inaugural seasons as well as cumulative career numbers. All statistics are based on Standard scoring.

Mock Draft Contest: Win a FantasyPros subscription for LIFE >>

Quarterback

2019 Potential first-round selections: Kyler Murray (Oklahoma), Drew Lock (Missouri), Dwayne Haskins (Ohio State), Daniel Jones (Duke)
Needy teams: Arizona Cardinals (1), New York Giants (6), Denver Broncos (10), Miami Dolphins (13), Washington Redskins (15), New England Patriots (32)

Rookie Season

Year Players QB1 finish QB2 finish QB3 finish or worse
2014 Blake Bortles (3), Johnny Manziel (22), Teddy Bridgewater (32) 0 2 1
2015 Jameis Winston (1), Marcus Mariota (2) 0 2 0
2016 Jared Goff (1), Carson Wentz (2), Paxton Lynch (26) 0 1 2
2017 Patrick Mahomes (10), Deshaun Watson (12) 0 0 2
2018 Baker Mayfield (1), Sam Darnold (3), Josh Allen (7), Josh Rosen (10), Lamar Jackson (32) 0 2 3

 
We’ve seen 15 total QBs selected in the first round in the last five drafts. None of them finished as a QB1 in their rookie seasons, but nearly half put up QB2 numbers. Of the 15, eight finished outside the top-24 at the position, and seven finished QB2. That’s not a bad split, and it tells you that a lot of these guys were starters for at least part of their rookie seasons or at worst, solid fantasy streamers. Deshaun Watson‘s brilliant 2017 was cut short by a torn ACL, or else he would almost certainly have finished as a QB1 that season. Baker Mayfield only started 13 games in his rookie season but still managed to finish as QB16. Lamar Jackson finished as the QB28 in 2018 despite starting only seven games. It’s important to remember that QBs rarely have an immediate and consistent fantasy impact as rookies. The Cam Newtons and Andrew Lucks of the world are outliers, while the vast majority of signal-callers take some time to develop.

Career Stats

Year Players Number of Pro Bowl selections Number of games missed per season
2014 Blake Bortles (3), Johnny Manziel (22), Teddy Bridgewater (32) 1 6.2
2015 Jameis Winston (1), Marcus Mariota (2) 1 2.0
2016 Jared Goff (1), Carson Wentz (2), Paxton Lynch (26) 3 6.5
2017 Patrick Mahomes (10), Deshaun Watson (12) 2 (one MVP) 6.0
2018 Baker Mayfield (1), Sam Darnold (3), Josh Allen (7), Josh Rosen (10), Lamar Jackson (32) 0 1.8

 
Although these guys didn’t provide elite fantasy production as rookies, some of the names on this list have risen to the ranks of the NFL and fantasy football’s finest. Jared Goff led one of the best offenses in recent memory to a Super Bowl appearance in 2018, and Carson Wentz put his team in position to make a Super Bowl run with an MVP-caliber 2017 season. Patrick Mahomes was the 2018 MVP, and Deshaun Watson provided an overall QB4 finish in 2018. The class of 2014 was unusually weak, but we haven’t seen the best of Teddy Bridgewater yet due to injuries and his current role as Drew Brees‘ heir apparent. Winston and Mariota, taken as the top two picks in 2015, have failed to live up to expectations due to a combination of injuries and suspensions. The class of 2018 looks like it may be chock full of long-term NFL starters and great fantasy options.

Running Back

2019 Potential first-round selections: Josh Jacobs (Alabama), Miles Sanders (Penn State), Darrell Henderson (Memphis)
Needy teams: Houston Texans (23), Oakland Raiders (4, 24, 27)

Rookie Season

Year Players RB1 finish RB2 finish RB3 finish or worse
2014 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2015 Todd Gurley (10), Melvin Gordon (15) 1 0 1
2016 Ezekiel Elliott (4) 1 0 0
2017 Leonard Fournette (4), Christian McCaffrey (8) 1 1 0
2018 Saquon Barkley (2), Rashaad Penny (27), Sony Michel (31) 1 0 2

 
The RB position is unique in that rookies can make an immediate impact as elite players in their first seasons. In each of the last four drafts, there has been an RB1 finish among first rounders. Gurley, Zeke, Fournette, and Saquon exploded onto the scene as rookies, and two of them finished as the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. There are no players of that talent level in this draft, and there are a lot of question marks surrounding the top backs in the 2019 class. There’s no Zeke or Gurley to be had, and it’s entirely possible that no RBs are selected in the first round at all.

Career Stats

Year Players Number of Pro Bowl selections Number of 1,000-yard seasons Number of games missed per season Double-digit TD seasons
2014 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2015 Todd Gurley (10), Melvin Gordon (15) 5 (one ROY) 6 1.9 6
2016 Ezekiel Elliott (4) 2 3 2.7 1
2017 Leonard Fournette (4), Christian McCaffrey (8) 0 3 2.8 2
2018 Saquon Barkley (2), Rashaad Penny (27), Sony Michel (31) 1 (one ROY) 1 1.7 1

 
The amount of talent and elite fantasy production among the names is incredible. Between the eight players selected in the first round over the last five seasons, there are 13 1,000-yard seasons, eight Pro-Bowls, 10 double-digit TD seasons, and a good deal of durability with less than 3.0 games per season missed cumulatively. This year’s draft, unfortunately, does not feature any backs with similar outlooks to the rookies of the past four seasons. The most likely back to garner a first-round selection this year is Josh Jacobs, though he still carries question marks into the draft and is unlikely to provide top-24 numbers as a rookie.

Wide Receiver

2019 Potential first-round selections: A.J. Brown (Ole Miss), D.K. Metcalf (Ole Miss), N’Keal Harry (Arizona State), Marquise Brown (Oklahoma), Hakeem Butler (Iowa State)
Needy teams: Oakland Raiders (4, 24, 27), New York Giants (6), Jacksonville Jaguars (7), Buffalo Bills (9), Green Bay Packers (12, 30), Tennessee Titans (19), Baltimore Ravens (22), New England Patriots (32)

Rookie Season

Year Players WR1 finish WR2 finish WR3 finish or worse
2014 Sammy Watkins (4), Mike Evans (7), Odell Beckham Jr (12), Brandin Cooks (20), Kelvin Benjamin (28) 2 3 0
2015 Amari Cooper (4), Kevin White (7), Devante Parker (14), Nelson Agholor (20), Breshad Perriman (26), Phillip Dorsett (29) 0 1 5
2016 Corey Coleman (15), Will Fuller (21), Josh Doctson (22), Laquon Treadwell (23) 0 0 4
2017 Corey Davis (5), Mike Williams (7), John Ross (9) 0 0 3
2018 D.J. Moore (24), Calvin Ridley (26) 0 1 1

 
Mike Evans and Calvin Ridley are only two of eight WRs to score at least 10 TDs in their rookie seasons. That’s an impressive feat, and Evans has managed to rack up 1,000 yards in all five of his NFL seasons, while scoring at least 12 TDs in a season twice. Evans and Odell are the only two rookies here who finished as WR1s in their rookie seasons. In fact, the WRs in this group overwhelmingly disappointed as rookies, despite some elite names among them. This year’s draft class presents the greatest group of talent among the skill positions, though the range of projected outcomes on many of the receivers is a mixed bag for sure.

Career Stats

Year Players Number of Pro Bowl selections Number of 1,000-yard seasons Number of games missed per season Double-digit TD seasons
2014 Sammy Watkins (4), Mike Evans (7), Odell Beckham Jr (12), Brandin Cooks (20), Kelvin Benjamin (28) 5 15 2.7 5
2015 Amari Cooper (4), Kevin White (7), DeVante Parker (14), Nelson Agholor (20), Breshad Perriman (26), Phillip Dorsett (29) 3 (Cooper only) 3 (C00per only) 4.2 0
2016 Corey Coleman (15), Will Fuller (21), Josh Doctson (22), Laquon Treadwell (23) 0 0 5.1 0
2017 Corey Davis (5), Mike Williams (7), John Ross (9) 0 0 4.5 1 (Williams only)
2018 D.J. Moore (24), Calvin Ridley (26) 0 0 0 1 (Ridley only)

 
The 2014 WR class is one of the most talented groups at that position in many years, and it has featured some eye-popping numbers over the last five seasons. That group easily outperformed all other draft classes listed here while missing the fewest games, The 2015 class was fairly weak outside of Amari Cooper, and Kevin White and Breshad Perriman missed the entire 2015 season due to injuries. The 2016 class features Will Fuller who has flashed at times, though injuries have kept him from reaching his full potential. The rest of the receivers in his class have largely been busts. Mike Williams had a breakout campaign in his second season, but Corey Davis is yet to live up to his top-five expectations. Last year’s group of D.J. Moore and Calvin Ridley is a strong one, and I expect both players to take a step forward in 2019.

Tight End

2019 Potential first-round selections: Noah Fant (Iowa), T.J. Hockenson (Iowa), Irv Smith Jr (Alabama), Jace Sternberger (Texas A&M)
Needy teams: Jacksonville Jaguars (7), Buffalo Bills (9), Denver Broncos (10), Green Bay Packers (12, 30), New England Patriots (32)

Rookie Season

Year Players TE1 finish TE2 finish TE3 finish or worse
2014 Eric Ebron (10) 0 0 1
2015 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2016 N/A N/A N/A N/A
2017 O.J. Howard (19), Evan Engram (23), David Njoku (29) 1 (Engram only) 2 0
2018 Hayden Hurst (25) 0 0 1

 
There have only been five TEs selected in the first round over the last five seasons. Evan Engram made the biggest impact as a rookie, but O.J. Howard looks like one of the next great NFL TEs if he can stay healthy. Eric Ebron went 10th overall in 2014 but aside from his 13-TD season in 2018, he’s been largely a bust. David Njoku has a bright outlook moving forward, while Hayden Hurst could have trouble seeing the field in 2019. This year’s group of TEs is one of the best in recent memory, and any of them selected in the first round could push for a TE1 finish if they land in an ideal situation.

Career Stats

Year Players Number of Pro Bowl selections Number of 1,000-yard seasons Number of games missed per season Double-digit TD seasons
2014 Eric Ebron (10) 1 0 1.4 1
2015 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2016 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
2017 O.J. Howard (19), Evan Engram (23), David Njoku (29) 0 0 2.3 0
2018 Hayden Hurst (25) 0 0 4.0 0

 
The tight end position remains extremely volatile in the NFL, and last year the gap in production and consistency between the “Big 3” (Ertz, Kelce, Kittle) and the rest of the pack was cavernous. There are some tight ends, however, who have shown how great they can be given the opportunity. Evan Engram is the only TE on the list who finished in the top 12 at his position as a rookie. He achieved some lofty stats because Odell Beckham Jr missed 12 games that season, and OBJ isn’t on the 2019 Giants roster. Engram may be a sneaky good fantasy pick at TE this year as a prominent target for Eli Manning. O.J. Howard has had some dominant stretches in his short time with Tampa Bay, but injuries have hindered his production with eight missed games in two seasons. If he can stay healthy, expect a big season. Eric Ebron was a TD-machine last season, catching 13 of them from Andrew Luck. With Jack Doyle healthy and another big body in Devin Funchess to compete for red zone targets, it’s unwise to view Ebron as the top-five option he was in 2018. Hayden Hurst looks like a bust already, having been outshined by third-round rookie Mark Andrews in his rookie season.

Check out all of our NFL Draft Scouting Reports >>


SubscribeiTunes | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | SoundCloud | TuneIn | RSS

Zachary Hanshew is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Zachary, check out his archive and follow him @zakthemonster.

What's your take? Leave a comment

1Saquon Barkley (NYG)RB
2Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)RB
3Christian McCaffrey (CAR)RB
4Alvin Kamara (NO)RB
5Melvin Gordon (LAC)RB
6DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)WR
7Davante Adams (GB)WR
8David Johnson (ARI)RB
9Le'Veon Bell (NYJ)RB
10James Conner (PIT)RB
 View All Rankings 
11Julio Jones (ATL)WR
12Todd Gurley (LAR)RB
13Joe Mixon (CIN)RB
14Odell Beckham Jr. (CLE)WR
15Travis Kelce (KC)TE
16Michael Thomas (NO)WR
17Nick Chubb (CLE)RB
18JuJu Smith-Schuster (PIT)WR
19Dalvin Cook (MIN)RB
20Antonio Brown (OAK)WR
21George Kittle (SF)TE
22Mike Evans (TB)WR
23T.Y. Hilton (IND)WR
24A.J. Green (CIN)WR
25Marlon Mack (IND)RB
26Keenan Allen (LAC)WR
27Amari Cooper (DAL)WR
28Derrick Henry (TEN)RB
29Adam Thielen (MIN)WR
30Sony Michel (NE)RB
1Mike Trout (LAA)CF,DH
2Christian Yelich (MIL)LF,CF
3Mookie Betts (BOS)CF,RF
4Nolan Arenado (COL)3B
5J.D. Martinez (BOS)LF,RF
6Max Scherzer (WSH)SP
7Ronald Acuna Jr. (ATL)LF,CF
8Cody Bellinger (LAD)1B,CF
9Alex Bregman (HOU)3B,SS
10Trevor Story (COL)SS
 View All Rankings 
11Javier Baez (CHC)2B,3B
12Justin Verlander (HOU)SP
13Francisco Lindor (CLE)SS
14Jacob deGrom (NYM)SP
15Paul Goldschmidt (STL)1B
16Gerrit Cole (HOU)SP
17Trea Turner (WSH)SS
18Bryce Harper (PHI)CF,RF
19Jose Altuve (HOU)2B
20Chris Sale (BOS)SP
21Jose Ramirez (CLE)2B,3B
22Freddie Freeman (ATL)1B
23Manny Machado (SD)3B,SS
24Charlie Blackmon (COL)CF
25Blake Snell (TB)SP
26Adalberto Mondesi (KC)2B,SS
27Trevor Bauer (CLE)SP
28Rhys Hoskins (PHI)1B,LF
29Whit Merrifield (KC)1B,2B
30George Springer (HOU)CF,RF
1Anthony Davis (NOR)PF,C
2James Harden (HOU)PG,SG
3Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)SF,PF
4Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)C
5Kevin Durant (GSW)SF,PF
6LeBron James (LAL)SF,PF
7Stephen Curry (GSW)PG,SG
8Nikola Jokic (DEN)PF,C
9Damian Lillard (POR)PG
10Russell Westbrook (OKC)PG
 View All Rankings 
11Victor Oladipo (IND)PG,SG
12Paul George (OKC)SG,SF
13Joel Embiid (PHI)PF,C
14Kawhi Leonard (TOR)SG,SF
15Chris Paul (HOU)PG
16Jimmy Butler (PHI)SG,SF
17Kemba Walker (CHA)PG
18Kyrie Irving (BOS)PG,SG
19Ben Simmons (PHI)PG,SF
20Jrue Holiday (NOR)PG,SG
21Rudy Gobert (UTH)C
22Andre Drummond (DET)PF,C
23John Wall (WAS)PG
24Kyle Lowry (TOR)PG
25Khris Middleton (MIL)SG,SF
26Donovan Mitchell (UTH)PG,SG
27Bradley Beal (WAS)SG
28Kevin Love (CLE)PF,C
29Draymond Green (GSW)PF,C
30LaMarcus Aldridge (SAS)PF,C
Follow the Pros!

Follow us on Twitter @FantasyPros for exclusive advice and contests