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Tue Dec 31st 2019

Re-ranking the First Round of the 2019 Rookie Class

Early Hits and Misses from the Rookie Class

Now that the 2019 fantasy season is over, it's a great time to do some personal assessment of your teams and yourself as a general manager.  One of the things I like to do this time of year is re-rank the rookie class and compare it with where I had the rookies ranked last year before the rookie draft.  It can be humbling but, so is fantasy football, especially dynasty leagues. If you're willing to look at your hits and misses, however, you can learn from the past and become a better evaluator of talent and opportunity. 

I took on this task this week.  Here my current list of the top 12 rookies compared to where I have them ranked last May before my rookie drafts.  I'll try to be honest about my hits and misses along the way and what I learned from this process.

1. A.J. Brown (previously #4)

  • I consistently had A.J. Brown as my #1 rookie wide receiver even before the NFL draft.  His landing spot in Tennessee concerned me, because of their run-first philosophy and poor quarterback play from Mariota.  I believed in his talent, so I still kept him as my top wide receiver last year, and now I look pretty good for doing so.  The way he ended the season with Tannehill at quarterback proved he was who I thought he could be.  While I had the top three running backs ranked ahead of him before rookie drafts, I now would rank him ahead of all of them.

2. Josh Jacobs (previously #1)

  • I was lower on Jacobs than most analysts leading up to the NFL draft, but after Oakland drafted him in the first round, I moved him up to the #1 spot in my rookie rankings based largely on his draft capital and opportunity to be the starting running back from day one in Oakland.  Jacobs was drafted #1 in all but one of my rookie drafts, so it was not a particularly sharp ranking by me.  He was the consensus #1 ranked rookie last year.  Draft capital and opportunity do make a difference in ranking rookies.  It did here.  Jacobs averaged 15 points per game before getting injured at the end of the season, making him a top-twelve running back in average points per game.  He's going to be great for several more years.

3. Miles Sanders (previously #2)

  • I was right to have Sanders ranked #2 going into rookie drafts last year.  I ranked him higher than most analysts and was able to draft him on several teams as late as the 6th to 8th pick in the draft.  I had him ranked ahead of Josh Jacobs leading up to the NFL draft until Oakland drafted Jacobs, so I believed in his talent more than Jacobs.  I still consider him to be more talented, but he's on a team that likes to use multiple running backs, so I do have him ranked just one spot behind Jacobs, as I did before rookie drafts last year for the same reason.  He showed what a playmaker he can be the last few games of the season with Jordan Howard injured.  He carried fantasy teams in the playoffs, and he could have done even more if Philadelphia's coaching staff was not insistent on using Boston Scott so much too.  That's just what they do in Philadelphia.  That said, Sanders is firmly established as the leading running back in Philadelphia for years to come. 

4. D.K. Metcalf (previously #10)

  • I'll admit to being wrong about D.K. Metcalf.  I was not sure that he could be more than a deep-threat and red-zone target in an offense that prioritizes the run, but he turned into much more.  I should have paid more attention to his draft capital and Pete Carroll's success in evaluating talent.  It's not like I had him ranked out of the first round, but having him as the #10 rookie before rookie drafts meant that I was not going to be able to draft him because he was drafted before the 10th pick in all of my drafts.

5. Terry McLaurin (previously #28)

  • Here we see the biggest jump in the rankings so far, but it's not because I was wrong.  I was higher on McLaurin than most analysts.  I just was not high enough on him.  Because I had him ranked as an early third-round pick, I was able to draft him on several of my teams.  He was a starter and a star from his first NFL game.  He had a bit of a lull in the middle of the season when Washington made the switch to Dwayne Haskins at quarterback, but by the end of the season, he was playing like he did at the start.  He would certainly get drafted in the first round if we had a rookie draft today.

6. Kyler Murray (previously #12)

  • I'll admit to being a little skeptical of Kyler Murray and the Kliff Kingsbury offense in Arizona.  I still had Kyler ranked as a first-round rookie pick before rookie drafts, but he was drafted before pick #12 in all of my leagues.  His size and the offensive experiment in Arizona is what caused me to rank him lower than other analysts.  I was wrong to do so.  He did not miss any games with injuries, even though he ran the ball 93 times for 544 yards, and he finished the season as the #7 ranked quarterback.  I've moved him up to my #6 ranked dynasty quarterback already.  I should have had him ranked about #6 in the rookie drafts, which about where he was drafted in most of my leagues.

7. Deebo Samuel (previously #6)

  • I got this one right.  He was my #3 ranked rookie wide receiver before the draft.  I like his skills and play better than McLaurin and Metcalf, but would rank him behind those players if we drafted today because Kyle Shanahan is too sporadic in how he calls games.  Sometimes he would feature Deebo and give him five to eight touches, but other times he would only get 2-4 touches in a game.  Shanahan drafted Deebo way before he scouts though he should be drafted, which showed me Shanahan had in mind a specific way he could use Deebo's skills.  He has done that well, but it varies too much game to game.  I still love that I was able to draft Deebo in several leagues because of how high I had him ranked, and I regret giving him up in a trade I made in an unsuccessful attempt to make a super bowl run in one league.

8. Devin Singletary (previously #29)

  • Here is another one that I got wrong.  I had eight rookie running backs ranked ahead of Singletary before rookie drafts.  Today I'd only rank two ahead of him.  He never broke out to the degree that Jacobs or Sanders did, but he did do enough to show that he be the lead back for years to come in Buffalo.  He scored 11.4 points per game, leaving him just outside the top 24 running backs for the year.  While he compiled ridiculous stats in college, it was with Florida Atlantic and against weaker competition. I held that him against too much and should have let his college production speak for itself.

9. T.J. Hockenson (previously #7)

  • Here is one where I am still choosing to hold on to what I believed before the season started.  Tight ends take longer to develop than other positions, and Hockenson battled injuries all season and had back-up quarterbacks throwing him passes for half the season.  His only breakout game in week #1 was enough to keep me believing that he will be a top-12 tight end in years to come.

10. Noah Fant (previously #14)

  • I had a bigger gap between Hockenson and Fant before rookie drafts than I do today.  I felt like Fant was not as complete of a tight end as Hockenson and would not be on the field as much on running downs.  I also did not like the quarterback situation in Denver with Flacco and the rookie Drew Lock.  I was right about Flacco, but by the end of the season was wrong about Drew Lock (more on Lock in my next article).  Fant did not get the kind of volume I'd like to see in year one (just 40 receptions), but he did have two tight end-one weeks showing what he can do if targeted more often.  I assume he will be in the years to come.

11. Daniel Jones (previously #51)

  • I was wrong on Daniel Jones, but then again, so was everyone else.  With all of his fumbles and interceptions, Jones still finished the year as the #13 quarterback in average points per game.  He's should only get better from there.  I like the weapons he has around him too with Engram, Shepard, Tate, Slayton, and, of course, Barkley.  I thought the Giants gambled by drafting Jones with the 6th pick in the draft and that he would ultimately be a bust.  I want to say the lesson I learned is to put more stock in draft capital with quarterbacks, but we've seen first-round quarterbacks bust about as often as they hit, so I am not sure what I learned here except to say that I was wrong.

12. Darius Slayton (previously #62)

  • Here is the biggest surprise on my list.  Darius Slayton was not drafted in most of my leagues, let alone held through the last round of cuts before the season started.  He landed on most teams via the waiver wire this year, and I now I would draft him in the first round of rookie drafts if we did them today.  He scored the 5th most points among rookie wide receivers this year, just behind the wide receivers listed ahead of him in this list.  I'm a little concerned that his breakout came in the middle of the season when Shepard was injured.   When Shepard and Tate were healthy, Slayton's snap counts went steadily down.  That said, Tate is past his prime.  Slayton could replace him next year.  On top of that, Slayton has a skill set that none of the other receivers have in New York.  He is their deep-threat and best red-zone target.  He has a fellow rookie at quarterback in Jones, so they have many years to play together and build chemistry.  I missed on Slayton, but so did everyone else.  Those who added him to their teams mid-season added a first-round draft pick, in my opinion.

There were several hits and several misses in this draft class, and there were some that simply held their value steady throughout the season.  It's like that most years.  It's good to take an honest look at the rookie class and try to learn from my successes and failures in evaluating players' talent and opportunities, and to realize sometimes everyone gets it wrong on players.

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