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Sat May 2nd 2020

10 Rookies Who Moved Up In My Rankings After The NFL Draft

How draft capital and opportunity changed my rookie rankings

Several evaluation points shake up rookie rankings in the offseason. Mild changes occur during the practice reports leading up to the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. Slightly more significant changes take place after the NFL Combine. Drastic changes can be made after the NFL Draft when we learn what the NFL teams think about the rookies based on their draft capital and what opportunities rookies have based on the depth charts of the teams that drafted them. Draft capital and opportunity are the final and most definitive last step in rookie evaluation, and thus rookie rankings.

Generally speaking, I don't let draft capital and opportunity shake up my up the top of my draft board too much, but the back half of my board changes quite a bit after the NFL draft. With that said, here are the ten players that climbed up my rankings after their NFL teams picked them.

Cam Akers

  • Akers moved up from #8 to #4 in my rankings. The Rams' willingness to take Akers with their very first pick in the draft even though they had plenty of other team needs, including offensive line, makes me believe they intend to make him their feature back. The chose Akers ahead of J.K. Dobbins too, so there is something they like about Akers compared to Dobbins. Darrell Henderson, their third-round pick last year, had every opportunity to prove that he was the next guy up in LA last year while Gurley was battling injuries, but Malcolm Brown outperformed him. The Rams showed what they think about Henderson by drafting another running back a year later with a higher draft pick. The offensive line is a concern for sure, but Akers is used to playing well behind inferior lines. It can't be worse than what he experienced at Florida State. Several analysts that I trust said that they believe Akers is still developing as a running back, and we've yet to see the best of him. I believe McVay can bring out the best in him.

Michael Pittman

  • Pittman moved up from #19 to #12 in my rankings. His draft capital and opportunity are perfect. The Colts loved him enough to take him as the second pick in the second round, and they have an enormous void at their WR-2 spot. Add to that the fact that their WR-1, T.Y. Hilton, is nearing the end of his career, and Pittman can soon become the WR-1 in Indianapolis. Parris Campbell, who they drafted last year, is a better fit in the slot and is not a fit to become a top-targeted wide receiver in the NFL. Several analysts I trust, including Greg Cosell, spoke glowingly about Pittman this week. He was steadily rising up my rankings before the NFL draft. This perfect landing spot makes him a first-round dynasty pick, in my opinion.

Ke'Shawn Vaughn

  • Vaughn moved up from #22 to #17 in my rankings. Everyone hoped that Tampa Bay would draft one of the top five rookie running backs in this class. Instead, they drafted the 6th best in the third round. This has caused some analysts to move Vaughn into the first round of rookie drafts, ranking him as a top-12 player. That's way too high, in my opinion. I love the landing spot in Tampa Bay, but the draft capital was not high (being drafted in the 3rd round), and he has to compete a third-year running back, Ronald Jones, that's the same age and still has upside. Vaughn is praised for his pass blocking, which is needed to keep Tom Brady healthy. Tampa Bay also strengthened their offensive line in the draft. Those were reasons to move him up as high as #17 in my rankings, putting him in the middle of the second round, but not at the back of the first round like other analysts think.

Joshua Kelley

  • Kelley moved up from #34 to #23 in my rankings. He's a guy I'll be drafting a lot a the end of the second round. Kelley has been steadily rising up my rankings at every turning point. He was a standout at the Senior Bowl, showed well at the Combine, and now lands in a great spot on the Chargers who have a history of using two running backs effectively. Ekeler's lead role is secure, but Kelley could compete with Justin Jackson to become the RB-2 in LA. The more I watched Kelley's film, the more I liked his style of play. He has a solid build and excellent balance. He scored 25 touchdowns in his two years at UCLA and could become the red-zone running back in LA above the more dynamic but slightly built, Ekeler. He's also a high character and high competitor guy, moving his way up from a smaller school at UC Davis to UCLA. He works hard and takes football seriously, and that means something to me.

K.J. Hamler

  • Hamler moved up from #29 to #25 in my rankings. I was not as high on Hamler as other analysts, but when the Broncos drafted him with the 14th pick in the second round, I had to move him up. The draft capital was impressive, showing that the Broncos have plans to use his unique skill set, but his opportunity is blocked by Courtland Sutton and the other rookie they drafted in the first round, Jerry Jeudy. I'm also not convinced that Drew Lock can make the most with these weapons after only starting five games. I was generous with Hamler because of the draft capital, but that's about the only reason I moved him up. I doubt I will be drafting him any of my leagues.

Devin Duvernay

  • Duvernay moved up from #40 to #26 in my rankings. Duvernay was drafted a round and a half later than Hamler, but his opportunity is perfect in Baltimore. He's on a high-powered offensive led by Lamar Jackson. Miles Boykin did not prove to be a starter. Marquise Brown did but battled with injuries like he did in college. Duvernay could step into a starting role from day one. Baltimore is one of the teams I trust the most in the draft. Their scouting department usually gets their picks right, even when they're against conventional wisdom. Like me, as a dynasty owner, they heavily value college production and drafted two guys with 100-catch seasons last year in Duvernay and a sixth-round pick, James Proche.

Antonio Gandy-Golden

  • Gandy-Golden moved up from #33 to #27 in my rankings. This is a modest move up in my rankings. Still, when Washington drafted Antonio Gibson as a running back instead of a wide receiver in the third round, it kept an opportunity open in the wide receiver position in Washington. The Redskins are littered with unproven second-year guys (except for McLaurin, who broke out as a rookie). Gandy-Golden will compete with Kelvin Harmon and Steven Sims for the WR-2 spot. I like his chances as much as theirs. I'm still a Kelvin Harmon truther, but I'd be willing to draft Gandy-Golden in the third round in case I am wrong on Harmon. He's full of upside and is a high-character guy, which means a lot to me. His competition level will increase enormously since he played at Liberty University. Still, his Combine measurables put him in the same class as all of the other wide receivers drafted in the middle rounds of the NFL draft.

Anthony McFarland

  • McFarland moved up from #36 to #30 in my rankings. McFarland was one of the first running backs I watched on film this February. He was ranked a lot higher than this when I first ranked players based solely on film. His lack of production in college and injury history made me move him pretty far down my board. That said, I like his landing spot because he is behind another oft-injured running back, James Conner. I learned this week that there are family connections between the Pittsburg and Maryland coaching staffs, so Pittsburg had better intel than anyone about McFarland, and they chose to draft him in the fourth round. It's a crowded and young backfield behind Conner too, with Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell, but McFarland will have every chance to win the change-of-pace role if not beat Conner out entirely by the end of the year. 

Adam Trautman

  • Trautman moved up from #41 to #31 in my rankings. Trautman remained my number one ranked TE in an inferior class, but I moved him up quite a bit after landing in New Orleans, who traded up to get him. Trautman played at Dayton, so it's hard to compare him to players from Division One schools, but he dominated his competition and was one of the top performers at the Combine. The Saints are another one of the scouting departments that I trust the most, and they traded up for Trautman. Jared Cook is on the back end of his career with no one behind him primed to take his place. Its also likely Drew Brees's last year, but the recent signing of Jameis Winston makes me believe Trautman could be the target of another good quarterback that loves to throw touchdowns to tight ends.

Quintez Cephus

  • Cephus moved up from #45 to #36 in my rankings. Landing spot and Matt Waldman contribute the most to this jump in my rankings. Matt Waldon, of Rookie Scouting Portfolio fame, has been calling Cephus one of his best sleepers of the draft, and he landed on a team with a fantastic quarterback and an aging WR-2 in Marvin Jones. Cephus could quickly become a starting wide receiver in three-receiver sets as early as this year. He could take the role of Marvin Jones to complement their WR-1 Kenny Golladay in the years to come. He was not very productive in college and had a poor Combine, but he has the size and potential to become more than what we've seen so far, if only because Matt Waldman thinks so.

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