Rookie Rankings

Fantasy drafts are being organized all over the country in August. Mock drafts are in full force as fantasy players envision their ideal roster. Redraft leagues make for a new start. Keeper leagues allow for plenty of opportunities to build on the present and future. You may have your strategy figured out. You may also find that your strategy gets completely disrupted within a matter of rounds early in your draft. Either way, some of the biggest unknown commodities for fantasy drafts are the new faces in 2017: Rookies.

Until an NFL rookie takes his first steps on the field, we're working off of collegiate accomplishments, situation, and opportunity. Let’s take a look at how those elements can help or hurt the top rookies heading into the 2017 season.

Leonard Fournette

Jacksonville Jaguars

The top running back off the board in the 2017 NFL draft is also the first rookie being selected by many mock drafters over the summer — and for good reason. The Jaguars struggled offensively in 2016 despite their above-average defense. The team drafted Fournette to pick up the slack that a struggling Blake Bortles gave the passing game. The Jaguars experienced a coaching overhaul throughout the 2016 season and brought on Tom Coughlin as the organization’s executive vice president shortly after.

Fournette was selected fourth overall in the draft, and he’ll be expected to serve as an offensive centerpiece for the team heading into the season. Fournette has the size, strength, and speed to make it all happen. He’s also a great blocker, which will only further encourage a lot of snaps in his rookie season. He’s been compared to the likes of Bo Jackson and Adrian Peterson. While no one should be drafting Fournette with such lofty expectations, it’s reasonable to expect low-end RB1 numbers from him out of the gate, making him the most appealing rookie in 2017.

Joe Mixon

Cincinnati Bengals

Mixon was drafted in the second round of the NFL draft by a team that has two serviceable running backs in Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Bernard has been the more exciting back as of late but is better-suited as a change-of-pace option who excels as a receiver out of the backfield. Hill started off strong in 2014 but has settled into a pedestrian 3.7 YPC over the past two seasons. Mixon was considered a first-round talent but fell in the draft due to off-the-field issues. He’s both shifty and bruising when he needs to be. He’s also an outstanding receiver when called upon, delivering the best of both worlds that Bernard and Hill can offer on a good day. Mixon has been compared to Le’Veon Bell. Despite the backfield competition, Mixon will see a healthy workload if his talent shines when he steps foot on the field in 2017.

Dalvin Cook

Minnesota Vikings

Cook was selected in the second round after the Vikings delivered a league-worst rushing performance in 2016. The team scooped up former Oakland Raiders running back Latavius Murray in March, but Cook is expected to be an immediate contributor for the struggling backfield in Minnesota. Cook has excellent vision and excels in the red zone. He struggled with ball security while at Florida State, and he tends to leave yards on the table at the point of contact. However, he’s a strong runner who can perform at a high level especially when his blockers are in place. Cook should see plenty of opportunity at the start of the season especially with Murray spending much of the summer recovering from offseason ankle surgery. He’s certainly worth a gamble as a low-end RB2.

Christian McCaffrey

Carolina Panthers

McCaffrey is understandably being drafted early in many fantasy mock drafts due to his first-round pedigree. McCaffrey, selected eighth overall, will be sharing backfield duties with Jonathan Stewart, who hasn’t eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the team since 2009 and is now on the wrong side of 30 in age. McCaffrey has excellent vision, good hands, and excels at all gears on the ground. He leaves some room to be desired in terms of size and durability at just over 200 pounds. His PPR value takes a hit as well, as no Carolina back has managed 30 receptions over the past five seasons. His red-zone usage is also a huge question mark in Carolina. Still, McCaffrey is being drafted within the top 40 picks of many mock drafts, according to His ADP is a bit rich at the moment. In fact, McCaffrey’s presence arguably makes Stewart the better value pick as he approaches the double-digit rounds in many mock drafts. Regardless, McCaffrey is an intriguing flex option to start the season with a limited ceiling to consider in PPR formats.

Kareem Hunt

Kansas City Chiefs

Hunt capped off his college career with an impressive 2016 season. He managed 1,475 yards rushing and 403 receiving yards along with 11 total touchdowns in his senior year. The Chiefs traded up to acquire Hunt in the third round. He’s above average in power and has impressive elusiveness for his size. Hunt will be competing with Spencer Ware, who fizzled on the back end of his 2016 season, and Charcandrick West. There’s a very good chance Hunt will be given the keys to the backfield to start the season, and the Chiefs have proved to be a team capable of producing quality running backs when the next man is called up.

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In the world of fantasy football, drafting rookies is always risky business, especially in re-draft leagues. Keeper leagues and dynasty leagues offer the benefit of deeper foresight for your investment. For everyone else simply looking to capture a strong rookie performance for one season, it’s a bit more difficult. Regardless of the collegiate accolades and the draft pedigree of a player, the reality is that we’re taking a gamble on an unproven Pro.

In 2017, we see a particularly strong class of running backs, but a very weak class of quarterbacks. With everyone excited about the 2018 class, most of this yea'rs quarterbacks are long-term projects. On the other hand, the top of this year's tight end class is looking paricularly interesting.

Let's take a look at each skill position, and consider which rookies are the best poised to become fantasy assets for your roster.

Quarterback Running Back Wide Receiver Tight End
1 DeShaun Watson Leonard Fournette Corey Davis O.J. Howard
2 Patrick Mahomes Joe Mixon John Ross David Njoku
3 Mitchell Trubisky Dalvin Cook Zay Jones Evan Engram
4 DeShone Kizer Christian McCaffrey Curtis Samuel Gerald Everett
5 C.J. Beathard Kareem Hunt Mike Williams Jake Butt
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