Fantasy Football: Zachariason's Pre-Draft Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings
The traditional draft analyst will study prospects through film. They'll watch players for hours and hours to help draw conclusions and figure out if someone's going to be special at the NFL level.
Me? I lean into data.
It's not that watching players isn't part of my process. It's just not the key part.
Are you surprised by this? I mean, you're on a site called numberFire. The word "number" is literally in the name.
But my process goes a little something like this: every January, I plug a boatload of information about college players into my database. Using those data points for each player, a model spits out scores for every prospect. Things like breakout age, yards per team pass attempt, and early-declare status are important for wide receivers, while total yards per team play and Body Mass Index (BMI) play a role for running backs. The end goal is to spot which players will be most successful in fantasy football across the first three years of their career.
After getting a score for each player, I'll subjectively alter the rankings list based on what my eyes and intuition tell me. So the model is the baseline, but it's not everything.
These rookie rankings are the result of that process.
1. Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Positional Rank: 1
My running back model focuses on three main production metrics: best-season total yards per team play, best-season reception share, and best-season total touchdown share. Among the 24 running backs who were invited to the "combine" (the combine didn't happen, but there was still an invite list) Najee Harris ranks third in total yards per team play, sixth in reception share, and fourth in total touchdown share. On top of that, he's got ideal size to be a workhorse at the next level, coming in around 230 pounds for a BMI around 30.
People may view Harris as this big-bodied bruiser, and while he can run through defenders, he's got some finesse to his game as a receiver. That skill-set combined with his size profile makes him a special prospect. The only downside for Harris analytically is his age -- he turned 23 in March -- but my model's found that age is less relevant at running back than it is at wide receiver. Harris should be a stud in the NFL during his rookie contract years.
2. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Positional Rank: 2
One of the bigger surprises during the Pro Day period over the last month or so was seeing Travis Etienne weigh in at 215 pounds. He's aware that playing around the 200-pound mark won't give him a long-lasting career in the NFL, which is a good sign of where his head's at, but considering he played closer to that mark in college, we shouldn't necessarily expect 215 pounds throughout his NFL career.
A running back's BMI does matter -- smaller backs typically don't produce as well in fantasy football. Seeing Etienne get to that mark and recognize the importance of weight was a plus, even if he doesn't reach that weight while playing in the NFL.
Aside from minor size concerns, things are looking good for Etienne. He's an electric receiver who can take any reception to the house, and that shows by his best-season 14.7% reception share, the third-best mark in this class. And on one of the best teams in the country, he maxed out his yards per team play at 1.91, which is sixth-best. The way we view D'Andre Swift as a dynasty asset could be how we look at Etienne when it's all said and done.
3. Ja'Marr Chase, WR, Louisiana State
Positional Rank: 1
To me, Ja'Marr Chase is a better wide receiver prospect than Harris and Etienne are running back prospects. The reason he's not ranked ahead of them is just the result of positional importance in fantasy football. It's tough to find truly elite wide receivers, sure. But it's also tough to be a truly elite wide receiver in fantasy football.
Chase is the real deal, though. He opted out of the 2020 college season, but the last time we saw Chase, he was outperforming teammate Justin Jefferson at LSU. Yes, that Justin Jefferson -- the guy who just broke the rookie receiving record in the NFL. Not only did Chase post better numbers in the same offense, but he did it as a Sophomore when Jefferson was a Junior.
Chase has a top-10 best-season yards per team attempt rate in this class despite playing with legitimate pros at LSU. That, along with a good breakout age and what's likely to be high-end draft capital, makes him an elite prospect. If Chase is a top-10 pick later this month, he'll end up as a 99th percentile wide receiver in my model. The only other wideouts with that high of a score since 2006, which is where things date back to in the database, are Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Julio Jones, and Calvin Johnson.
4. Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
Positional Rank: 3
Javonte Williams split a backfield with Michael Carter at North Carolina, and both players had fairly similar production during their best seasons, which was last year. Williams carried the ball 157 times to Carter's 156, and they both caught 25 passes. Carter edged Williams out in yards from scrimmage, but Williams is the better prospect for a multitude of reasons.
One of those reasons is size. At North Carolina's Pro Day, Williams weighed in at 212 pounds, and that was smaller than we expected. Given his height, he's got a totally normal BMI for a potential workhorse in the NFL.
Williams is also just a more impressive rusher than the smaller-built Carter. He sheds tackles at an elite rate -- he actually broke the Pro Football Focus (PFF) record for broken tackles per attempt this past year.
There's some concern about Williams' athleticism after running a 4.55 at his Pro Day, but a number like that at his size isn't that big of an issue. We've seen plenty of successful backs underwhelm while running their 40.
5. Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida
Positional Rank: 1
One of the main ways to find breakout tight ends in fantasy football is through athleticism. Among the tight ends to outperform their fantasy average draft position's expectation by 70 or more PPR points over the last decade, their average height-adjusted Speed Score (height- and weight-adjusted 40-yard dash times) ranked in the 86th percentile.
Kyle Pitts has that athleticism and then some.
At 6'6'', 245 pounds, Pitts can and will play both wide receiver and tight end at the NFL level. That's one of the things that makes him different than highly-touted tight ends we've seen historically. Yes, someone like Vernon Davis -- who went sixth overall back in 2006 -- was a freak athlete. His measurables were at least semi-comparable to Pitts'. The difference (aside from length) is that Davis didn't have the same type of wide receiver profile that Pitts does coming out. Realistically, if Pitts were strictly a wide receiver entering this draft, he'd still be a high-in-demand prospect.
An issue you can run into with tight ends in fantasy football is that they can be utilized wildly differently from team to team. But if a team is taking a chance on Pitts within the top handful of picks of this draft, you have to imagine that they'll have a plan to utilize his receiving skill-set. He, right now, should be easily ranked as a top-five dynasty tight end.
6. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Positional Rank: 2
Last year's running back class was good. This one...not so much. You've got three prospects who could all go fairly early in the draft, and then there are a whole lot of question marks.
At wide receiver, that's not necessarily the case.
I've got Rashod Bateman as the second-best wide receiver in the class right now, but you could make the argument that five other wideouts could take that honor. At this moment, Bateman just seems the safest bet to succeed as a pro. Of the 50 "combine invites" (again, there was a list of invites even though the combine never happened) this year, Bateman ranks fifth in best-season yards per team pass attempt and eighth in best-season receptions per game. He's also got one of the better breakout ages in the class after seeing 37% of Minnesota's passing yards go his way as a Sophomore in 2019. And that was while playing alongside Tampa Bay Buccaneers' receiver Tyler Johnson.
One issue with Bateman was his Pro Day weigh-in. He came in at just 190 pounds, when he was listed 20 pounds heavier throughout his collegiate career. One reason for this could've been a scary battle with COVID-19, but regardless, he's clearly smaller than anticipated.
The good news is that his smaller-than-anticipated frame came with an 85th percentile 40 time. And even if he's smaller in weight, he still plays with physicality to go along with a great route-running skillset. To me, his closest comparison is Keenan Allen, which is a reason to be optimistic about his fantasy football future.
7. Terrace Marshall, WR, Louisiana State
Positional Rank: 3
Terrace Marshall being seventh on this list is probably the most controversial thing you'll see, but hear me out. Everyone's rightfully excited about Ja'Marr Chase, but in that same 2019 LSU offense, Marshall low-key was keeping pace with Chase and NFLer Justin Jefferson. In the fourth game of the season against Vanderbilt, Marshall broke his foot. He played just a little over one half of that game. Through that point in time, he had just one fewer reception than Jefferson, and he found the end zone one additional time. Chase missed a game across those first four and was outperforming Jefferson and Marshall, but it wasn't by some insane degree.
This past year with Jefferson and Chase gone, Marshall balled out. His full-season numbers don't look ideal because he opted out after playing seven games, but across those seven contests, Marshall accounted for about 28% of LSU's receptions, 33% of the team's yards, and 59% of their receiving touchdowns.
Meanwhile, in a wide receiver class that lacks size, Marshall has it. He's 6'3'' and weighed in at 205 pounds at his Pro Day. And he tested well athletically.
Analytically, Marshall checks a lot of boxes. He's still just 20 years old, he's an early declare, his production was strong, and that production looks even better with just a little bit of context. He also showed that he can play all over the field -- according to PFF, Marshall's quarterbacks had a perfect passer rating when throwing his way over the last two years when he was lined up on the outside. During his final season, though, he took on the slot role for LSU -- the same one Justin Jefferson played as a Junior -- and played 73% of his snaps from the slot.
Outside of Ja'Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall may have the most potential to be a true alpha in this class. That's why he's ranked where he's ranked.
8. Devonta Smith, WR, Alabama
Positional Rank: 4
It's understandable if you think Devonta Smith is one of the best -- if not the best -- wide receiver in this class. Once the draft is over, it wouldn't surprise me if he jumps to the WR2 spot in my post-draft rankings. With that being said, even though he had what appears to be a flawless 2020 Heisman-winning campaign, his profile isn't all butterflies and rainbows.
We've seen 53 wide receivers drafted in the first round since 2006. Of those 53, 13 weren't early-declare receivers -- they played four years in college. And among the 13 non-early declares, just 5 were able to post a single 1,000-yard season. The only non-early declare to post multiple 1,000-yard seasons was Dwayne Bowe.
This isn't everything, but it's something. Of course Devonta Smith could've declared early last season. But he didn't. And that's the information that we have to work off of. Traditionally, non-early declare wideouts drafted in the first round bust at a higher rate. That intuitively makes sense, since early declares are likely more talented at football, hence the reason they're leaving early for the NFL.
That's a red flag to Smith's profile.
As is his size. A wide receiver's BMI is less important than a running back's BMI, but it does still matter. And we just haven't really seen a wide receiver with Smith's size-production combination. Just to give you some context, Smith's estimated BMI is 22.4. Over the last 15 years, we've seen just two wide receivers with a BMI under 25 -- so significantly lower than Smith's -- get selected in Round 1 of the NFL Draft (Marquise Brown and Calvin Ridley).
We just don't have a strong comparison for Smith.
As a result, to me, he's just a volatile prospect. What we saw in college is a very polished receiver whose size didn't seem to matter. There's a real possibility that translates. There's also a possibility that the question marks in his profile are question marks for a reason. That's why, today, I'm having a difficult time giving him the benefit of the doubt and placing him ahead of other well-rounded wide receiver prospects.
9. Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama
Positional Rank: 5
Really, it's not hard to make an argument for Jaylen Waddle as the second-best wide receiver in this class. During his Freshman campaign at Alabama, he competed for targets with Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Irv Smith Jr., and the aforementioned Devonta Smith. The only player to finish with more receiving yards than Waddle -- who, again, was a Freshman -- in that offense was Jeudy.
Waddle's Sophomore season was a disappointment, where he watched his three wide receiver teammates jump him in receiving yards. He ended up playing, per PFF, 143 fewer snaps than he played as a Freshman, and that played a role in his lowered production. But getting on the field tells us a player is good, so we shouldn't necessarily excuse the Sophomore season.
Ruggs and Jeudy then were selected in the first round of last year's draft, and in 2020, Waddle broke his ankle after playing four games. During those four games, though, Waddle caught 25 balls for 557 receiving yards and 4 scores. Through that period of time, Devonta Smith had 38 catches for 483 yards and 4 touchdowns.
The reason I spelled out Waddle's journey is because the additional context is necessary when looking at his production profile. He's got a negative stat score in my model because of how his collegiate journey went, and among the 10 first-round wide receivers since 2006 with a negative stat score, exactly zero of them have hit. But when you consider the fact that he outplayed legitimate NFL wide receivers as a Freshman, that he was outpacing a Heisman-winning wide receiver in receiving yards before an injury, and that his work as a returner is top-notch, it's very easy to see how Waddle can buck the negative stat score trend.
10. Elijah Moore, WR, Mississippi
Positional Rank: 6
It's hard to find a better production profile in this wide receiver draft class than Elijah Moore's. He captured over 36% of Ole Miss' receptions in each of his last two seasons as a Sophomore and Junior, he averaged almost 11 receptions per game during his final season, his yards per team pass attempt rate ranks eighth-best in the class, and his 54.5% best-season touchdown share is fourth-best. He's got a smaller build at just 5'9'', 178 pounds, but he plays with a lot of toughness.
That small build is likely the reason he almost exclusively played the slot in college. Pro Football Focus charted him with a slot snap rate of 78% during his final season, and only 38 of his snaps were against press coverage.
The risk fantasy managers will run into with Moore is that he'll be forced to play the slot and only the slot in the NFL. That would limit his overall upside in fantasy, unless he can land in a high-powered offense with a lot of passing volume. It does seem like there's enough there to think that he can develop and play more on the outside, though, similar to what we've seen with Tyler Lockett in Seattle.
11. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Positional Rank: 7
Rondale Moore may be the toughest wide receiver to prospect in this year's class. As I've noted, in my model, I take the best season from a player within three major statistical categories. With Moore, those three seasons are all coming from his Freshman campaign, which is wild.
Using those Freshman numbers, he still pops as one of the best prospects in this draft class. And he's still part of the group of pass-catchers who could end up being the second-best wide receiver in this class once the draft is over. The reason he's listed as low as he's listed is a combination of his size and how a team may view him at the next level. It certainly has nothing to do with what he does with the ball in his hands -- he's arguably the most athletic and dynamic player in the draft.
Similar to Elijah Moore, though, Rondale Moore took the majority of his snaps from the slot in college. During his beastly first year of college, he played over 91% of his snaps from that area of the field, per PFF. In his two other seasons that were cut short to injuries, we saw him out wide on just 67 snaps combined.
This is the main reason landing spot could go a longer way for a prospect like Moore than someone like Devonta Smith. If Moore finds a creative offense that can push the ball vertically, then he'll have a chance to be this Curtis Samuel-T.Y. Hilton hybrid. If that landing spot is with a franchise and coaching staff that's more vanilla, then Moore will stay put in my post-draft rankings.
12. Tylan Wallace, WR, Oklahoma State
Positional Rank: 8
Just 11 wide receivers in this year's class were able to hit a best-season yards per team attempt rate of 3.0 or better. Tylan Wallace was one of them. If you take those players and filter them by a breakout age under 20 years old, Wallace is in pretty good company, where he sits alongside Rashod Bateman, Elijah Moore, Isaiah McKoy, and Tutu Atwell. McKoy's coming out of Kent State, so he played at a smaller program, and Atlwell weighed in at just 155 pounds at his pro day. That's why the two of them aren't getting more love.
Production's not the issue for Wallace, and that's a big, big plus. The red flags are more so the fact that he didn't declare early, and that his Pro Day measurables weren't all that inspiring. Explosion is a big part of his game, but he didn't test that way. It's true that athletic testing isn't the biggest deal in the world, but it's at least something to note for Wallace, especially since he played a down-the-field role in college, ranking fifth in deep-ball catches in 2020.
He should be a Day 2 pick, though, and his production profile is good enough to where he can be an asset in fantasy football.
13. Dyami Brown, WR, North Carolina
Positional Rank: 9
Speaking of deep-ball numbers, Dyami Brown had them at North Carolina. This past season, Brown was second in deep-ball yards and seventh in average depth of target, giving us a yards per team attempt rate of 3.08. That was a top-10 number in the class. Brown had back to back seasons with at least 20 yards per reception -- he's a big play waiting to happen.
There's concern that he won't be more than a one-trick pony at the next level, but we at least know he's got some role to play. If he can develop more, there's a chance we've got a Will Fuller-type pass-catcher in Brown.
14. Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida
Positional Rank: 10
To be completely honest, Toney should be lower on this list. The reason he's ranked here is because of probable draft capital, with plenty of mocks placing him in the first round. That alone should make him an intriguing enough option.
But, man, the profile really isn't there. Toney has a negative stat score in my model -- it's below average -- and of the 10 wide receivers with a negative stat score in the model who were drafted in the first round since 2006, exactly zero of them have been true, sincere hits. We saw some production out of Kelvin Benjamin, and Ted Ginn Jr.'s had a nice career, but none of them were year in, year out starters.
Toney's got a double whammy in that he's not an early declare, either. That, as I showed earlier, gives him a far worse chance to hit in the NFL.
The plus side is that Toney's athletic. There's no doubt that he can be electric with the ball in his hands. Banking on that translating to the next level -- at least for fantasy purposes -- is a high-variance move, though, which is why he's not ranked higher as a potential first-round selection.
15. Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Southern California
Positional Rank: 11
At first glance, Amon-Ra St. Brown looks like a pretty damn good prospect. He caught 60 balls for 750 yards as a Freshman, and he followed that up with a 77-catch, 1,042-yard Sophomore season. That gave him a pretty elite breakout age, depending on your definition.
His market share numbers don't look as favorable. Over his three collegiate seasons, St. Brown never saw more than about 25% of his team's receptions and yards, and he also never led his team in receiving. He played second fiddle to Michael Pittman Jr. during his first and second seasons and, in 2020, Sophomore Drake London had more receiving yards. Without Pittman this past season, St. Brown's receiving yard and reception shares both went down. And it just so happened to occur when he moved from playing roughly 89% of his snaps from the slot in 2019 to 28% in 2020.
Those are bad signs analytically -- that he can't be a true alpha in an offense is a real concern. The profile is sturdy enough elsewhere, but the ceiling may be capped for St. Brown.
16. Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson
Positional Rank: 1
Look, if quarterbacks meant more to fantasy football, then Trevor Lawrence -- the best prospect since Andrew Luck -- wouldn't be ranked as a mid-range Round 2 rookie pick. If you're playing in superflex leagues, for instance, then he's the 1.01. Don't overthink it.
Lawrence enters the league with three years of starting experience and an adjusted yards per attempt rate that got better with each season after being a top recruit in the country as he exited high school. He's got the right size at 6'6'', 213 pounds, and he'll be able to give fantasy football managers some love with his legs after rushing for 943 yards during his three years at Clemson. In 2019, he went for 563 ground-game yards. Projected to be the first overall pick, Lawrence should be a stud as a pro.
17. Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State
Positional Rank: 4
We have a pretty good idea about who the top three running backs selected in the draft will be, but there's a question at the four spot. It may not be Trey Sermon, but I do think he offers the most three-down upside of the remaining backs in the class.
Sermon's production profile is lacking after failing to be a true workhorse for Oklahoma during the first three years of his collegiate career. He then transferred to Ohio State and split a backfield with Master Teague, and when he eventually grabbed hold of the workhorse role there, he was productive. We watched Sermon shred Northwestern for 331 yards on the ground during the Big Ten Championship, and he followed up that performance with a 193-yard day against Clemson in the college football semifinal.
It wouldn't be surprising to see a team fall in love with what he did in those big games, especially since this class is lacking both in depth and size. On the size front, Sermon is 215 pounds, making him one of the few combine invites to hit that mark. He may not do anything spectacularly well, but he's a solid back who could carry a big workload in the right spot.
18. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Positional Rank: 2
One of my favorite stats about Justin Fields comes from numberFire's own Jim Sannes, who found that 87.6% of Justin Fields' attempts last season came against top-50 defenses according to Bill Connelly's SP+ method. Fields' average opponent rank was 24.6, which ranks as the toughest that we've seen from any quarterback that's been drafted since 2010.
Per Sannes, despite this schedule, Fields ranks in the 74th percentile in adjusted yards per attempt among first-round quarterback selections since the turn of the century.
He can sling the rock. And he's proven to have done it well against tough competition.
If you've watched any Fields, then you know he's also got a rushing component to his game as well. He averaged almost 48 rushing yards per game this past season, and he ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. It would not surprise me at all if he ends up being the best fantasy quarterback from this draft class.
19. Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
Positional Rank: 5
Memphis has been giving us running back after running back over the last few drafts. It started in 2019, when the Rams took Darrell Henderson in the third round while the Cowboys selected Tony Pollard in the fourth. And then last season, Washington snagged Antonio Gibson in the third.
Kenneth Gainwell is next up.
Like the Memphis backs before him, Gainwell brings a lot of versatility to the field. He has the second-best reception share among backs in this class, and during his last collegiate season -- which came in 2019 after opting out of 2020 -- he led all Memphis players (which includes Antonio Gibson) in rush attempts by a large margin.
Why not have him ranked higher if he outproduced a higher-end NFL running back, then? Well, the simple answer is that he weighed in at just 201 pounds at his Pro Day. Unlike the size-speed freak we saw in Gibson last year, Gainwell could walk into a capped ceiling at the NFL level.
He should be a strong receiving back, though, and who knows? Maybe a team gives him more love on the ground than I'm currently projecting.
20. Michael Carter, RB, North Carolina
Positional Rank: 6
As I noted earlier, Michael Carter had more yards from scrimmage last season than teammate Javonte Williams. Unlike Williams, though, Carter isn't a 210-plus pound, tackle-breaking machine. Size is definitely a concern -- Carter's just 5'8'' and weighs 201 pounds. We don't see workhorse backs with that type of size profile very often at all.
How a running back tests athletically isn't the biggest deal in the world, but for a smaller player like Carter, you'd ideally like to see some speed. Unfortunately, he didn't show that off at his Pro Day, running a 4.50 40. That slower-than-expected 40 to go along with his smaller frame is giving off Devin Singletary vibes, which isn't exactly something we should be striving for in our rookie drafts. We should be shooting for a little more upside.
But Carter isn't bad. He competently shared a backfield with a good prospect in Javonte Williams, and he's got good pass-catching ability, too. There's a chance we see him have more of a Giovani Bernard (another North Carolina guy) type of impact at the NFL level, where he's someone who shares a backfield and can have decent receiving seasons.
21. Tamorrion Terry, WR, Florida State
Positional Rank: 12
Tamorrion Terry is one of just a handful of bigger wide receivers in this class. He's a little over 6'2'' and weighs close to 210 pounds, and he ran a sub-4.5 40-yard dash at his Pro Day.
On the production end, things look solid. He had a breakout Sophomore campaign in 2019 where he accounted for over 34% of Florida State's receiving yards and almost 40% of the team's touchdowns, but this past year was a little rough while dealing with a knee issue. If we don't use the knee as an excuse for his lack of Junior-year production, then that change in trajectory is a red flag. If we understand that the 2020 season was different for him, then it's easy to see how he may be an underrated prospect within a class that lacks size.
22. Zach Wilson, QB, Brigham Young
Positional Rank: 3
It seems like Zach Wilson will be the Jets' new quarterback, and it makes sense. In Jim Sannes' article on which quarterbacks are statistically superior in this year's draft class, Wilson came in at the two spot after playing a good number of games and showing off really good efficiency during his final collegiate season. The downside is that he didn't face many good defenses, but as Sannes noted, Wilson's adjusted yards per attempt against top-50 defenses was second-best in this class. So when he did face them, he performed well.
Wilson won't give us the rushing boost that we'll see from Justin Fields, and he's not as polished of a prospect as Trevor Lawrence, but he's got a reasonable shot to be a starter for a long time in the league. And that's not always easy to find in a dynasty league.
23. Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State
Positional Rank: 4
If you'd prefer the more volatile, higher-ceiling fantasy asset at quarterback around this area of the draft, then you could opt for Trey Lance. It really just depends on your risk tolerance and team build. But Lance will be just 20 years old when his name is called later this month, and he brings a rushing side to his game that should end up being the best of anyone in this class, including Justin Fields. During his one full season as starter, Lance ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. That cheat code element should boost his fantasy totals even if the passing numbers aren't there.
Because of his inexperience and the type of competition he faced, there's less of a floor with Lance than some of the other quarterbacks in this class. But if it all comes together, from a fantasy perspective, he could end up being a steal.
24. Chuba Hubbard, RB, Oklahoma State
Positional Rank: 7
Had Chuba Hubbard entered the draft last year, we'd likely be viewing him a lot more favorably than we do today. My model takes the best seasons from each statistical category that it looks at, and because of Hubbard's insane 2019 Sophomore campaign where he tallied nearly 2,300 yards from scrimmage, he ranks top in the class in total yards per team play. He doesn't have an ideal frame, though, and he ended up with a weight-adjusted 40 time that was nothing more than ordinary. If his draft capital is higher than expected, then he should rise on this list post-draft. As of now, he doesn't seem to be a can't-miss running back with specific special traits.
25. Nico Collins, WR, Michigan
Positional Rank: 13
Nico Collins' production profile isn't otherworldly -- he's actually got a negative statistical score in my model. The reason to buy into him more than other later-round rookie draft wideouts is that he has a different size and athleticism breakdown than what we're finding from other wide receivers in this class. He's 6'4'' and weighs 215 pounds, and he ran a weight- and height-adjusted 40-yard dash that placed him in the wide receiver 90th percentile. When a player doesn't have ideal production -- although Collins did have a sub-20-year-old breakout age -- you'll need him to win and beat out his wide receiver competition in other ways. If his athleticism transfers, that could be a way.
26. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Positional Rank: 2
We weren't able to see Pat Freiermuth test at Penn State's Pro Day, but given that it's Penn State, I'm confident he would've tested well. That's what we've seen from other Nittany Lions over the last decade at least.
Freiermuth isn't a Kyle Pitts-like tight end where a team may move him to wide reciever, but his receiving profile was solid at Penn State. He had about a 20% reception share during his best season, and his top-season touchdown share maxed out at an impressive 38%. With a breakout age under 20 years old, he's got a production profile that places him in the upper percentiles at the tight end position. In the right spot -- like most tight ends -- Freiermuth could be a worthy tight end asset in fantasy football.
27. Jaelon Darden, WR, North Texas
Positional Rank: 14
There are a lot of slot receivers in this year's draft class, but one that I'd be targeting later in your rookie drafts is North Texas' Jaelon Darden. Yes, he played at a smaller school, and, yes, that matters. But he wasn't just above average against lesser competition. He wrecked teams. Per my model's statistical categories, his best-season receptions per game rate is fourth-best in this class, his best-season yards per team pass attempt is eighth, and his best-season touchdown share is tied for first. He did all this while lining up in the slot, according to PFF, on 91% of his snaps throughout his collegiate career.
Considering his slot role in college and his 5'9'', 174-pound frame, Darden's unlikely to move away from the slot in the NFL. That's fine as long as the right team takes him. And if the right team takes him, given his overall profile, he could be a PPR machine.
28. Brevin Jordan, TE, Miami
Positional Rank: 3
We saw a more efficient Brevin Jordan with each season at Miami as the Hurricanes used him more down the field. He averaged just 9.0 yards per reception as a Freshman thanks to a low average depth of target, but that rose to 14.1 and 15.2 during his Sophomore and Junior seasons, respectively. Jordan was used all over the formation -- including the backfield -- and he was utilized early and often, giving him an elite breakout age of just a little over 18 years old.
If there's one knock, it's that he didn't test amazingly well athletically at his Pro Day. As I alluded to earlier, being an athlete is a big deal at the tight end position for fantasy football. If he's more of an average one, we may not see the gaudy numbers that we see from some tight ends in the league.
29. Kylin Hill, RB, Mississippi State
Positional Rank: 8
Kylin Hill is my favorite sleeper at running back in this year's class. He's 5'10'', 214 pounds, so the size is right to handle a lot of touches at the NFL level. He has a top-five max-season reception share in this class at 13.3%, and that's pretty impressive given he's not some 200-pound back. And even last year, where he played just three games, he caught 23 balls. That was in a pass-heavy offense, sure, but even when you adjust for that, it still comes in at an 18.5% reception share.
Whether he catches passes at the next level or not, that type of production shows intent. They were trying to get Hill the ball. That's one of the reasons why reception share has signal within my model.
Let's just hope a team signs up and drafts Hill earlier than expected so that he's able to see touches early on in his career.
30. Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Oklahoma
Positional Rank: 9
If you look at Rhamondre Stevenson's statistical profile without context, things don't look great. He has the lowest best-season touchdown share in this class, and his reception share is fifth-worst. That's not what you're looking for.
The thing is, Stevenson transferred to Oklahoma after playing at a junior college, and then was suspended at the tail-end of his first season there. That bled into his final season. But during that final campaign, when Stevenson was active, his touchdown share was 22% and his reception share 15%. Those numbers are far more acceptable, especially his reception share, which is impressive for a back who weighed in at 230 pounds at his Pro Day.
Again, this draft class isn't filled with big backs. Stevenson is that, though. A team may be interested in that kind of profile, raising Stevenson's draft capital and fantasy potential.