Mon Apr 5th 2021
Five Late-Round Rookies I Like
Rookies I Like More Than Most Analysts
Earlier this off-season, I wrote about rookies I like more than most analysts. At that time, I focused on players likely to be drafted in the first and second rounds of rookie drafts. Today I will write about players I like more than most analysts that will likely be drafted by in the third and fourth round of rookie drafts.
I don't look at other analyst's rookie rankings during the off-season except for when I check in to see where we have differences for articles such as this. When I do, I always look first to the pros at Dynasty League Football (DLF) because they are the best group of analysts and have composite rankings. I like to see where my independent rankings compare with their group rankings to understand which players I want more than their expert analysts.
After weeks of listening to and reading from many full-time draft analysts and adding pro-day results into my evaluations, I have modified my rankings a fair amount. So have the pros at DLF. Here is a list of the late-round players I like more than the analysts at DLF.
In many of my leagues, I have traded away my first and second-round rookie picks. These are the players I hope will fall to me in the third or fourth round.
- As of April 1st, Amari Rodgers was my 20th ranked rookie, while he was DLF's 27th ranked rookie. I was shocked to see that the pros at DLF see him as a third-round pick, while I have him valued as a middle of the second-round pick. Rodgers played all four years at Clemson, where he amassed 2144 yards receiving in one of the most competitive wide receiver schools in the country. He's a well-rounded athlete with the build of an NFL running back at 5' 9" and 212 lbs. Many more NFL teams look to draft positionless players, and Rodgers is just that. While he'll primarily excel as a slot receiver, he can be used in the running game and on punt returns, which he did at Clemson. At the Senior Bowl, he took reps at the running back position and had four catches and a touchdown as a wide receiver. I moved Rodgers up in my rankings after hearing more about his work ethic and leadership in an interview he gave on the Move The Sticks podcast. Rodgers reminds me most of Hines Ward, and he could have a long career as a versatile weapon for whichever team drafts him just as Ward did in Pittsburg. In my rankings, Rodgers is at the end of a rankings tier ahead of the smaller running backs in the class (Kenny Gainwell, Michael Carter), second-tier tight ends (Pat Freiermuth and Brevin Jordan), and second-tier quarterbacks (Trey Lance and Zack Wilson). In comparison, DLF's analysts have all of these players ranked ahead of Amari Rodgers. That's where we disagree.
- As of April 1st, Javian Hawkins was my 27th ranked rookie, while he was DLF's 36th ranked rookie. Hawkins is a lightning-fast explosive playmaker. In his last two years at Louisville, he averaged 121 total yards per game and .8 touchdowns per game. He could have added to that total, but he opted out midway through the season to prepare for the NFL draft. He trained hard because he performed well on his pro day, running a 4.44 40-yard dash and a 6.96 three-cone drill. Those speeds confirmed what his tape already showed - he's quick and fast - but is he too small for a significant role in the NFL? He weighed in at 182 pounds, which was also expected. As I've written before, this class is loaded with underweight running back prospects, but Hawkins is my favorite one under 200 pounds. One of the lessons I've learned in recent years is to pick high upside players in the third and fourth round of my rookie drafts - the type of players that will prove themselves quickly with big plays or not. If they don't flash early, I can drop them, but I'd rather have a player that has the athleticism to pop than wait on a third or fourth-round player that is buried on a depth chart. He'll never be an every-down back in the NFL, but he'll have the opportunity to make big plays for a team. I'll draft him earlier than most analysts.
- As of April 1st, Josh Amatorbhebhe was my 32nd ranked rookie, while he was DLF's 84th ranked rookie. DLF's ranking completely surprised me! Apparently, I will be drafted Imatorbhebhe in all of the leagues. He's a third-round draft pick in my eyes for the same reason Javian Hawkins is - he's an exceptional athlete. He initially signed with Southern California before transferring to Illinois. While he was relatively unproductive in college, he did do one thing really well - catch touchdown passes. In his junior season, he caught nine touchdowns, which was 27% of his total catches. He's a large man at 6' 1" and 223 pounds, and he would have had the highest recorded vertical jump in the history of the Combine if there was a Combine this year. His verticle jump on his pro day was 46.5 inches. His verticle jump and proficiency catching touchdowns will get NFL teams very interested in him, and dynasty managers should be too. I would be surprised to see Imatorbhebhe get drafted later than the fourth round of the NFL draft. If he's drafted later than that, I will drop him in my rookie rankings, but I don't think I'll have to do that. I think the pros at DLF will be moving him up in their rankings instead.
- As of April 1st, Shi Smith was my 35th ranked rookie, while he was DLF's 49th ranked rookie. I see Smith as an end-of-the-third-round prospect, while DLF analysts view him as a top-of-the-fifth-round prospect. Smith started moving up my rookie rankings after he was a standout in the Senior Bowl practices. Daniel Jeremiah reported that he had some of the best catches in practice and believed Smith could be a productive starting slot receiver in the NFL. I liked him more after his Senior Bowl performance when he led the American team in receiving yards. His style of play and college stats don't stand out in any profound way, but they lead me to believe he could be a solid contributor to an NFL team. He combined for 2204 yards receiving his four years at South Carolina but only had 13 touchdowns. He'll need to make his way in the NFL as a slot receiver that compiles catches and yards underneath, not as a touchdown scorer. Unlike the upside I see in Hawkins and Imatorbhebhe, I see Smith as a solid contributor to an NFL team with a high floor but a low ceiling for dynasty managers. If he gets drafted to a team that has three or four solid receivers on their team already, he will move down in my rookie rankings, but if he's drafted to a team with a need for a slot receiver, I'll keep him where I have him now near the end of the third round.
- As of April 1st, Marlon Williams was my 36th ranked rookie, while he was DLF's 58th ranked rookie. Again, I have Williams ranked as an end of the third round prospect while the DLF analysts see him as a later fifth-round pick. I have to confess that I'm a bit biased against Central Florida's wide receivers after having such confidence in Tre'Quan Smith several years ago. His inability to shine with the pass-happy Saints caused me to be less excited about Gabriel Davis last year, but he had an excellent rookie season with the Bills. I'm making myself more open to believing in the solid wide receivers UCF is pumping out each year. Williams was a contributor all four years at UCF but became their leading receiver last year, catching 71 passes for 1039 yards and ten touchdowns. His strength is his size and toughness. He's not the fastest or quickest wide receiver, but he can box guys out with his size and strength. Multiple times on film, he would run over defensive backs or power over the goal line while trying to be tackled. He often looked like a pinball bouncing off of would-be tacklers. He's a big target in the red-zone too. He's a prototypical X wide receiver and could thrive on a team that needs size and toughness in their wide receiver corps.
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