I hate rankings. The difference between player X and player Y could be astronomically different than the difference between player Y and Player Z. This is why I decided to create tiers for the top 48 incoming rookie skill position players. I’m not a huge fan of this QB class, so I opted to just leave them out entirely. These ranks will include tiers of RB’s, WR’s, and TE’s. Without further ramblings, let’s get cracking!
Dalvin Cook RB, Florida State
Corey Davis WR, Western Michigan
Joe Mixon RB, Oklahoma
I know I am going to catch some flak for leaving out Mike Williams and Leonard Fournette in tier 1. I have watched multiple games for all of these prospects, and it is clear to me that these 3 players are the elite prospects in the class. On 1st and 2nd down, all three have different styles, but all three are high-end talents. What separates Mixon and Cook from Fournette, in my opinion, is the pass-catching ability that will allow them to be true 3-down backs in the NFL. Which round Mixon gets drafted in could potentially lower his stock, but if he gets drafted to start, he should be valued right up there with Cook.
Mike Williams is a very good prospect who is going to be a nightmare in the red-zone for the next decade. What separates Davis from Williams is the route-running and ability to create yards after the catch. When you look at the two prospects, you might expect Williams to be much bigger. In reality, they are actually about the same exact size. Williams may catch more touchdowns in his career, but Davis should easily produce more 1,000 yard seasons. He has many projected landing spots, but If you want to hear @DynastyFrank ‘s favorite spots, check out his inaugural piece for The Fantasy Authority right here for some interesting locations.
Mike Williams WR, Clemson
Leonard Fournette RB, LSU
Malachi Dupre WR, LSU
Christian McCaffery RB, Stanford
I spoke about Williams and Fournette a lot in my tier 1 description. They both have their flaws, but they are both extraordinary athletes who will be difference makers from day-1 in the NFL.
Dupre would be higher on most boards if he had the college production to match his tape and physical traits. If you can look past the fact that LSU was primarily a running offense with poor QB play, you realize he is probably the WR3 for this class. Dupre runs crisp routes, can jump over a house, and has solid hands. He reminds me a ton of AJ Green at Georgia. Give him an NFL weight room and NFL coaching and I think he can reach that level very quickly. I don’t think the difference between him and Mike Williams is as great as many perceive, as Williams’ hype is a little overblown given he was on the team that won the National Championship game with him in the spotlight. He helped with a huge performance in that game, and recency bias is a real thing.
McCaffery had tremendous success at Stanford, is extremely patient, and has great pass-catching ability. Fournette is the most physically gifted back in this class, (it really isn’t close) but McCaffery does all of the little things that make for quality running backs really well. Fournette isn’t as complete of a back as McCaffery despite having better physical attributes. I think (and I hate to say this) that if McCaffery wasn’t white, he might be getting more recognition as one of the top 4 backs in the class.
JuJu Smith-Schuster WR, USC
John Ross WR, Washington
KD Cannon WR, Baylor
Samaje Perine RB, Oklahoma
Kareem Hunt RB, Toledo
Elijah Mcguire RB, Louisianna-Lafayette
Elijah Hood Hood RB, North Carolina
OJ Howard TE, Alabama
David Njoku TE, Miami
Let’s talk about the receivers first. There are a few receivers who I considered putting into this group, but I feel that the three here are slightly ahead of those that make up my next tier. Each has multiple traits that will make them sought after assets at the next level.
Ross’ speed and start/stop ability are going to be heavily sought after. I think he ends up with as good an opportunity to lead this class in rookie targets as any other prospect because of how the NFL values deep threats. I wrote a full profile on him which you can read here if you want to learn more about the Washington product.
JuJu is super young, has excellent hands, runs above-average routes, and makes plays after the catch. He may be slower to develop, but he has proven that he can succeed against more experienced competition before, and I see no reason that won’t continue at the next level.
KD Cannon could use a little more development on his route-running, and I am curious to see his 40-time, but his vertical ability is right up there with the rest of this class. Read his full profile here.
The running back selections may surprise some people. I understand Perine probably won’t be a huge PPR threat, but if you need more evidence that his strength, power, and balance (all of which are second to none in the class) will translate to the NFL, watch this video of a similar player who had a standout NFL career: Michael Turner.
I don’t fully understand why nobody is talking about Elijah Hood. The guy has prototypical NFL size (6 ft. 220 lbs) runs with exceptional power, has instinctual vision, and isn’t completely inept in the passing game. He won’t flash with speed, but he will probably find his way into a starting NFL role in year 1 or 2.
Kareem Hunt has been on the rise for a while now, and really all it takes to understand this is a quick watch of some of his highlight clips. Hunt is agile, has excellent vision and agility, can catch passes, and has a knack for falling forward. Don’t be surprised if he ends up with a starting role somewhere and becomes one of the better backs in the NFL. The only concerns are that he showed up a little small (207 lbs) for the Senior bowl and played against lesser competition at Toledo. If he regains the weight (he played around 220 lbs in college) by the combine I think teams should feel comfortable taking Hunt on day 2 of the NFL draft.
McGuire might just be my favorite back in the whole class. He does everything well despite not having world-beating athletic ability. He reminds me a ton of one of my all-time favorite players: Brian Westbrook. His agility, vision, and receiving ability are among the best in the class. Small school competition will be a concern just like with Hunt, but his completeness as a back should land him in a nice position on an NFL team.
This tier has the first 2 tight ends. Howard doesn’t have the stats to back it up, but I think he is going to be a top-5 tight end in the NFL very quickly. His talents as a pass-catcher and blocker are both outstanding. Tight ends generally take time to acclimate, but with the blocking ability Howard shows on tape, he should see plenty of action as a rookie.
Njoku is a world-class athlete for the tight end position. He is a little raw, but he is just 20 years old. With some NFL coaching, he could also be a top-5 tight end for years to come. The big difference between Howard and Njoku is blocking ability which will likely allow Howard to see the field more as a rookie. It can be argued that Njoku has the higher ceiling of the two, however.
Wayne Gallman RB, Clemson
James Conner RB, Pittsburgh
Curtis Samuel WR/RB, Ohio State
Cooper Kupp WR, Eastern Washington
Isaiah Ford WR, Virginia Tech
Ryan Switzer WR, North Carolina
Zay Jones WR, Eastern Carolina
Taywan Taylor WR, Western Kentucky
Chad Hansen WR, Cal
Evan Engram TE, Ole Miss
If you aren’t counting Curtis Samuel as a true running back, I think Gallman and Conner are the only ones who deserves to be in this tier. Gallman’s shiftiness will find it’s way onto an NFL team. Samuel should be used like Percy Harvin or Tyreek Hill at the next level. The difference for him is that I actually liked what I saw from Samuel as a route runner. I am intrigued to see if he stays as more of a receiver that just takes some snaps from the backfield. The combine will have a big impact on his draft stock as someone in that type of role needs to be a top-flight athlete.
James Conner will make the headlines for being a cancer survivor, but he is a bulldozer at 240 lbs. He has surprising long speed and a nice spin move. Expect to see success from him in an early down role.
Kupp, Ford, Switzer, and Jones I like to group together because, despite being different shapes and sizes, they all have one thing in common: artistic route-running ability. I have long said that route-running is the biggest indicator of whether a receiver will translate to the next level, so despite none of these guys being superior athletes, these will be four names that you will hear impressive things about in camp from coaches and will make an impact in year 1.
Switzer reminds me a lot of Wes Welker, and I think he can step into that role in the NFL very quickly. Kupp is the biggest of the group, but probably also the slowest. He probably has the best hands of the group though and does a nice job of high-pointing the ball. He probably has the highest ceiling of the four. Jones and Ford, I feel are similar players except for the fact that Ford is probably a little faster. Jones is probably the best route-runner of the class, but Ford is close behind him. I see all of these receivers as worthy WR2s in the NFL.
Taywan Taylor seems like a small school version of KD Cannon sans the jumping ability. Taylor is also a commendable route runner. His production for the last 2 years was stellar, and I believe that his route-running process will allow a smooth transition to the next level. Hansen does a little of everything well but isn’t quite first-class at any individual skill. The Cal product’s combine will likely move him up or down out of this tier.
Evan Engram is one of the best receiving tight ends I have ever seen. He will likely just play a “big slot” receiver role in the NFL as he doesn’t have prototypical size and struggles with blocking duties. He is yet another player who I am very excited to see perform at the NFL combine.
D’onta Foreman RB, Texas
Jamaal Williams RB, Bringham Young
Jeremy McNichols RB, Boise State
Matt Dayes RB, NC State
Alvin Kamara RB, Tennessee
Dede Westbrook WR, Oklahoma
Josh Reynolds WR, Texas A&M
Chris Godwin WR, Penn State
Damore’ea Stringfellow WR, Ole Miss
Jehu Chesson WR, Michigan
Jordan Leggett TE, Clemson
Jake Butt TE, Michigan
There are 2 names amongst this group of running backs that will likely surprise. The two are D’onta Foreman and Alvin Kamara because many experts have them ranked much higher. In Kamara’s case, I wrote a profile on him (which you can find here) and talked about him on The Dynasty Life Podcast. (episode in reference here) In both of these places, I voice my opinion that Kamara is merely a 3rd-down back at the next level, and probably not a high-end one either.
Foreman is a guy that I also think is being severely overrated because of his numbers at Texas. When you break him down, you see a guy who runs with very little power considering he is probably the biggest back in the class. He was virtually nonexistent in the passing game and doesn’t have the superb vision. The surprising thing that stands out about him is that he is deceptively fast for a guy who pushes 250 lbs. He also shows patience despite not having the best vision. He has a lot of physical tools, so if he can adjust the way he uses them, he does have potential to be a successful NFL running back.
Jamaal Williams out of BYU is getting some buzz and should impress with his speed at the combine. The thing that worries me about him is his weight. He has the tools to be a 3-down back, but at just a hair over 200 lbs, I worry about his durability. If he comes in at the combine and weighs over 215 and still flashes speed and agility, I have no problem moving him up a tier.
McNichols is going to make a worthy complementary back at the next level. He displays favorable vision and pass-catching prowess.
Dayes is another superb pass-catching back. He shows decent agility and hands. He is deceptively big weighing in over 210. If Dayes can bulk up a smidge more, an NFL team may give him some opportunities on early downs as well
This tier of receivers features a lot of guys who are far from complete, but display transferrable NFL traits and have the upside to be solid complimentary receivers at the next level.
Westbrook is a speedster who could stand to add some weight to his slight frame. Godwin, Stringfellow, and Reynolds are bigger receivers with superb ability on 50/50 balls.
Jehu Chesson is a speedy receiver who makes plays on 50/50 balls and has quick feet. If he can add some weight and perfect his route tree, he has big-time upside. For some reason, many will talk more about his teammate at Michigan Amarah Darboh, but after a lackluster senior bowl, Darboh is further down my rankings.
Go ahead and picture a prototypical NFL tight end. You just pictured Jake Butt and Jordan Leggett. They are fine tight ends who excel at most of the little things that tight ends need to do to be up to snuff in the NFL. Their upsides aren’t as high as Howard or Njoku, but they can easily step right in and be starters on teams in year 1.
Joe Williams RB, Utah
Ardarius Stewart WR, Alabama
Noah Brown WR, Ohio State
Fred Ross WR, Mississippi State
Bucky Hodges TE, Virginia Tech
Joe Williams is fun to watch. The guy is a speed demon but could stand to put on 10-15 lbs. If he does that, he could potentially be a sleeper in this class that makes an impact in year 2 or 3. His speed and proven track record of production will get him drafted regardless.
Fred Ross has great after the catch ability and runs fresh routes. His speed may hold him back a little, but he is a solid all-around receiver otherwise.
Noah Brown is interesting because of his utter lack of involvement in Ohio State’s offense pretty much ever. The guy has 33 catches in his career, 32 of which came in 2016 as a redshirt sophomore. At 6’2″ 220 lbs, he is a physical specimen who had a breakout game against Oklahoma this year. His combine results will affect his draft stock a lot. If he impresses, he could become a hot topic come April.
Ardarius Stewart is another big guy who has nice straight line speed, but his agility and route running are lacking. He is definitely more of a project, but some team will see his measurables and take a chance on him probably late day 2 or early day 3.
Bucky Hodges is probably higher on some boards because of his athletic ability. If you throw on a highlights video of the former Hokie, it rapidly becomes blatantly obvious that Hodges is a premier athletic specimen. However, if you watch a few of his games, you see a player who is extremely raw as far as blocking and route running go. Butt and Leggett are more refined in both of these areas which is why they get the tier bump over Hodges. Bucky has the potential to surpass them after he receives some NFL coaching.
Marlon Mack RB, USF
Amarah Darboh WR, Michigan
Darreus Rogers WR, USC
DeAngelo Yancey WR, Purdue
Artavis Scott WR, Clemson
Plenty of people will look at Mack’s stats and highlights video and rank him higher than I have him. The speed and agility are evident, but I see a guy who is undersized and has terrible vision. I actually think he has more of a receiver’s build, so by the .001% chance that you are reading this, my dude, investigate a positional change.
A classic possession receiver, Yancey wasn’t even invited to the combine but has a chance to impress as a day 3 pick. His upside is limited due to his athletic constraints, but he could be solid as a WR3 in the NFL.
Amarah Darboh reminds me a lot of former LSU receiver Rueben Randle. That’s not a positive comment. He has the skills and mold of a possession receiver, but as I alluded to earlier, Darboh doesn’t seem like the worker-type that will impress coaches. For a player who is a likely mid-late round pick, he needs to be a coaches pet to see the field.
Rogers is a guy who doesn’t have a lot of publicly available game tape. He didn’t dominate in any of his four years in college. His hands and high-pointing ability stand out, but other than that I didn’t see anything jumped off the screen. His athletic traits may not get him very far.
I was unimpressed by Clemson’s other receiver, Artavis Scott. His speed and after the catch ability are what put him on draft scouts’ radar, but his route tree is limited. He also didn’t show anything special on film in terms of high-pointing catches. Senior Bowl rumors were of Scott not being a hard worker like a Zay Jones or a Cooper Kupp, and all of those factors combine to leaving him at the back end of my top 50.
I would ideally like to do a follow-up article where I assess the stocks of these players post-combine, and even again once landing spots are determined. For some of the later tiers that are a lot larger, actual combine numbers can help separate them as prospects. A positive performance in the 3-cone drill and 40-yard dash could bump some of these players up a tier, and conversely, poor performances could do the opposite.
I am more than happy to discuss my opinions on individual players and why I ranked them in each tier. If you feel the urge to do so, you may reach out to me on Twitter @leagueedge and I would be delighted to have a conversation.
Thanks for reading!