Fantasy Impact of 2017 Draft Prospects
By: Jason Cabrera
We’ve now made it to April, deep in the heart of the NFL off-season. With most big names off the free agency board, minus some very notable exceptions who will likely have to wait, all eyes now turn to the crown jewel of the off-season, the draft. If you listen to the podcast you know that this is my absolute favorite time of the league year (other than the actual games, of course). This is the time when every single franchise is undefeated, every team has a chance to improve and every fanbase is ready for the renaissance of their beloved team because of that one perfect draft strategy their GMs and Coaches will deftly employ which will awe the Football world. Truly there is endless amounts of optimism this time of year as struggling teams look to take that positive step and contenders look to add to their bristling arsenals.
Now nothing kicks off a good renaissance/arsenal building like new talent and this coming draft is loaded with it particularly at Tight End, Defensive Back and Running Back. So, I decided (admittedly, at the urging of one Griffin Palmer) to give a quick rundown on a few of my favorite incoming rookies, where they might be a good fit or where they might land, and what their 2017 Fantasy impact may be. I’ll cover my favorite prospect at each fantasy -relevant position, then name a possible sleeper pick. I will be covering Tight Ends, Receivers and Running Backs. I thought about covering the Quarterbacks, but honestly, I don’t think any of these guys are going to be Fantasy contributors this year, so we’ll skip them. But let’s start with a position that has lots of potential for an upgrade after a horribly down season.
This Tight End class is the deepest in recent memory, maybe the deepest ever in terms of athleticism. At the combine more Tight Ends ran a sub 5.00 40s than ever before, and that was just the beginning of the show of ability that was paraded before salivating scouts and excited fans. I am looking for complete tight ends who can catch just as well as they block, who have good size and speed as well as a fearless alpha type attitude. Also, needs long arms and a natural catching ability that translates whether it be in space or tight windows. With this position, we start at the top with the highest rated TE on the board.
My top pick: O.J. Howard, Alabama
This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, especially if you listen to the show; Howard has been touted as a playmaking monster since he was a high schooler. The Crimson Tide prospect has the size at 6’6”, 251 lbs and athleticism running a 4.51 40 along with top performances in the bench, cone and shuttle drills that makes him one of the only “sure thing” position players in the draft this year. His numbers with the Tide were not gaudy by any means, but that is pretty universally understood to be the fault of the scheme run in Bama. His breakaway speed and explosiveness make him a scoring threat from anywhere on the field while his height, jumping ability and excellent hands make him a red zone weapon of mass destruction. He is also a good and willing blocker, making him the most well-rounded tight end in the draft. Favorable comparisons have been made to Greg Olsen only more athletic, which means in the right scheme on the next level, Howard could become that rare TE that is also the first option in the passing game. There hasn’t been someone with this potential at TE since Gronkowski was drafted, so it is understandable why he is viewed as a safe pick in the top of the first round.
I expect to see Howard come off the board in the first 15 picks for sure and the top 10 is not at all unreasonable. I’d put his over/under at picks 4 through 16. He should fit in well with most NFL teams, but teams that are in a good position to nab him, barring a trade, and have real need at the position would be the Jets (6), Saints (11), Cardinals (I’d be ecstatic at 13), and Ravens (16). I expect him to land with the Saints where he would be an upgrade on Coby Fleener and give Drew Brees a Jimmy Graham type target again, and we remember exactly what THAT looked like.
Fantasy wise, this is one of the few players that I am confident will have impact from day one depending on what team he ends up on. Wherever he goes he will be an immediate offensive contributor, but if he lands with someone like the Saints he’s going to be a difference maker. This is one rookie you should keep a very close eye on moving forward.
My Sleeper pick: Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas
I really like this dude! Jeremy Sprinkle, who, unlikely as it may seem, does NOT have the most unfortunate last name in this draft (sorry Mr. Butt), is a complete tight end who can do it all. He has very good blocking skills using extremely long arms and good instincts, while also being able to utilize those long arms to high point catches in the red zone. This is a guy can be on the field for every down and be effective across the middle as well as in the red zone. Sprinkle has a good motor and is not afraid to take punishment in the middle of the field. At 6’5”, 251, he has elite size for the position, though he could still stand to add some muscle to that massive frame, which means with NFL strength coaches getting their hands on this guy, he could end up being a real force to be reckoned with in the future. Meanwhile, he is deceptively fast, posting a 4.69 40 at the combine.
Sprinkle will likely go in the middle to top of the fourth round though some have a third-round grade on him. Look for teams like the Broncos, Ravens or Colts to look hard at this guy to help add a solid piece to their team. The Titans might also be in the market if they don’t take one of the elites with one of their two first round picks. My thought would be the Broncos in the fourth. This is a position that has been lacking for them recently and it would be nice to give their young QBs (whichever ends up under center) a security blanket to throw to.
Fantasy wise, this guy is a bit more average for a Tight End, which means you likely won’t see really good production out of him until his third year which is when most hit their breakout year, though it does depend on which team he ends up on. He will also be looking to add bulk and that may change how he approaches the game a bit. Deep drafts or dynasty leagues might look to add this guy in late rounds, but he will likely be a waiver wire guy. However, if he is available on the wire and lands with one of the aforementioned teams, might be worth a look!
The wide receivers in this class are an interesting mixed bag. You’ve got superhuman speed with the 4.22 40 of the new combine king John Ross, and the size and strength of 6’4”, 220 pound Mike Williams. With Receivers, I tend to look for the right tool for the job. For instance, my Cardinals are looking for a large red zone threat, so they’d likely be more apt to look at Mike Williams as opposed to another burner of which they have several including recently signed Harvey Binford who ran a 4.22 40 in a track meet before moving to Football. WRs are like Defensive Backs (or songs on your playlist): you can never have too many good ones. So, while there are several teams that are needy at the position, every team should be looking to possibly add quality options whether for right now or upside players for the future. There are three outstanding prospects in this year’s class that will likely go in Round 1, and as I already mentioned two of them in Williams and Ross, for my top choice we look at the third.
My top pick: Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Corey Davis is a good mix of size and speed who is the all-time leader in major college football in receiving yards (5,285), 1500 of that coming in 2016 alone, while also scoring an outstanding 19 touchdowns in that year. He dominates the red zone contesting 50/50 balls with top flight vertical leaps and challenging Corners to stop him if they can. There is some concern because he has not run a 40 yet, but to me, Game Speed is much more important than underwear speed, and on “tape”, this guy is plenty fast.
As I mentioned, many teams will be looking to add depth as well as top weapons for their offenses to employ in their 2017 campaign. Davis figures to be a much sought after commodity and will likely go in the top 20. His over under figures to be between pick 5 and 25. Teams with need who could pull the trigger are plentiful, but the ones who figure the in the best position are the Jets (6), Panthers (8), Redskins (17) or Lions (21). All of these teams have a lack of talent at Receiver and would benefit from any of the top three guys on the board. The best fit in my estimation would be the Lions, but I don’t think he’ll drop that far. I place him with the Panthers who I believe won’t get a shot at the Running Back they want, so will instead address their depleted Receiver corps by adding Davis who will give them a nice target for Cam Newton to toss to besides Greg Olsen.
Fantasy wise, Davis is going to likely start if he’s picked up by the Panthers or an equally WR needy team. He’s going to provide red zone help along with a 3rd down conversion ability. I’d expect him to be a mid to late round pick up in Fantasy drafts, but that is completely team dependent.
My Sleeper pick: Zay Jones, Eastern Carolina
I could have gone a lot of ways with this, reaching deep into the draft for upside names like Krishawn Hogan or Malachi Dupre, but this is a Fantasy site and I wanted to look for a player that could show up in a big way on the stat sheet THIS year, so I decided to go with Zay Jones out of Eastern Carolina. The first thing that jumps off the stat sheet is this guy’s measurable: 6’2”, 201 pounds, 4.45 40 yard dash, 133” broad jump. He has the prototypical size speed and athleticism for the NFL. He also set the NCAA career record for receptions (399) and single season record in receptions in 2016 (158) to go with his 8 TDs. That’s what you see on the stat sheet, and that is all impressive, but what jumped out at me was what I saw on video. He did everything in college: short routes, deep routes, he even passed for scores which shows that they were trying to get the ball into his hands as much as possible. He’s got no problem with high volume, obviously, and shows a willingness to elevate his game to his competition (there’s a highlight of him breaking about 6 tackles before the seventh guy finally wrestled him to the ground with the help of everyone on the team except maybe the mascot). This is a high character guy who loves to compete.
Jones will likely go in the 2nd round unless someone absolutely loves him enough to grab him in the bottom of the 1st, which is not outside the realm of possibility: he is going to add a boost in professionalism to whatever locker room he steps into. He’ll have to prove he can beat NFL corners off the break and show better blocking skills at the next level, but he should get a lot of work depending on where he goes. Teams that he would fit will in are the Saints, Cardinals and Falcons. The Saints or Falcons could reach for him in the bottom of the 1st, but I think he’ll slip out of the first end up with the Rams. They have lost some weapons, and Goff needs someone with good upside to go to, so I see this as a positive move for the Rams if they address their offensive line.
For Fantasy, he will end up as a starter on the right team and I believe will win a starting job even on the wrong one. Look for him to be a high possession guy and red zone threat making him a WR2 with upside. Looking at later rounds, but could end up being a gem starting around mid-season.
This has been said to be a very deep RB class in talent and athleticism. Though they underwhelmed at the combine as a whole, there were some bright spots like Fournette’s ridiculous 40 yard dash. Now with RBs, I tend to lean toward what I see on film more than in the combine. How a runner reacts to blockers, do they explode through openings, can they catch; these are what I base my findings on more than anything else. I also tend to prefer larger backs with athleticism over smaller ones. With that in mind, here’s probably the most surprising choice of this article.
My Top Pick: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
OK, let me start by saying this: I do not in any way condone what Mixon did to get himself arrested. Anyone who can’t control themselves and takes a swing at anyone, let alone a young woman when you’re a 6’1, 225 pound athlete is at best suffering from anger or mental issues and at worst and a cowardly bully. But he was 18 years old when it happened. It was a while ago, he apologized and he has said to have matured in that time, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “What? Not Leonard Fournette?” Fournette is going to be great, no question. But I am more excited about Mixon for a few reasons. He is a large back, taller than Fournette at 6’1” as well as faster recording a 4.40 40 yard dash, is shiftier and has better pass catching ability. He has great balance and ball skills, can go between the tackles or cut it outside and is an excellent route runner. He is also patient, allowing blocks to develop before exploding through the opening and is a strong finisher. This is the kind of every down back that teams are looking for and figures to be a really good back for years at the next level. I don’t throw THIS particular compliment out much, but watching him reminds me of David Johnson, so take that for what it’s worth.
His personality flaws are concerning, but talent wise, Mixon is undeniable. Were it not for those concerns I would say Mixon would be the second RB off the board, but given how things are I would expect him to go somewhere in the second round. Look for teams like the Packers, Panthers, and Giants to look his direction. My pick for Mixon is the Packers. This would be a nice fit for him and give Rodgers a new target in the passing game as well. A combination of Ty Montgomery and Joe Mixon would be very difficult to game plan for.
I think this guy comes out as a contributor immediately, depending on the team. He is an every down guy who will get points on the ground, through the air and can also run back kickoffs if the team wishes. Again, depending on where he goes, he may not start, but I think anywhere he is he will eventually going to win the job and be a nice piece on your team.
My Sleeper Pick: D’Onta Foreman, Texas
As mentioned, this year’s running back class is very deep, and the fact that this guy is likely to go in the middle of the 3rd round is a perfect example of this. D’Onta Foreman is 6’0”, 233 pounds and runs a 4.45 40, so excellent size and speed for the position along with very quick feet and shiftiness that could make him a very nice featured back in a league that has several teams that are in sore need of one. He has good balance for his size and explosiveness on the second level. His primary knock is that he doesn’t run between the tackles as often as he should, something that he will have to become comfortable with in the NFL. Otherwise, he is dynamic and a powerful runner who has a knack for finding space to run.
He is projected to go in the middle of the 3rd round and could be a target for several teams that need talent at the position. His fits with teams like the Bengals, Eagles, Colts and Redskins, and all of those teams are in good position to pick him up. I could see either the Skins or Colts taking him (the picks are back to back). Since I have chosen one for everyone, I will say the Colts pick him up as they will choose first. With this pick they grab the heir apparent to Frank Gore who will get the chance to learn to be a more complete back behind one of the greats, and I do like that marriage.
He’s going to be a depth pick in fantasy, at worst going as a Flex, at best an RB2 with upside. Look for him in the middle to late rounds.