In the wake of the NFL draft, the fantasy focus is annually on rookies. And that makes sense as we’re getting talented players in brand new landing spots. I ranked the top-20 rookies for 2017 production here and chatted with prospect expert Matt Freedman about the rookie running back class here. I also looked at veteran winners in this space last week.
This week’s focus is on the veterans who lost value during the draft:
1. Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard, RB, Bengals
If we exclusively look at talent, there’s a strong case to be made that Joe Mixon was the best running back in this class. Based on athletic measurables and college production, he’s a better runner than Hill and a better pass-catcher than Bernard. The Bengals knew they needed running back help after watching Hill perform at a well below average level in each of the last two seasons and watching Gio Bernard tear his ACL in November. It’s certainly well within the range of outcomes that Mixon becomes the featured back in Cincy, with Hill and Gio in backup roles. I ranked Mixon second in this rookie class for 2017 fantasy production.
2. Latavius Murray, RB, Vikings
I was already low on Latavius as he moved from Oakland’s top two offensive line to Minnesota’s shaky one. Even with the additions of Riley Reiff (free agency), Mike Remmers (free agency) and Pat Elflein (third-round pick), this is still a unit that could struggle badly again. Latavius, who could only muster 4.04 YPC last year compared to 5.91 for teammate Jalen Richard and 5.36 for DeAndre Washington, also has talent concerns. Although the Vikings signed Murray to a three-year, $15M deal, they clearly aren’t sold either. The contract can void after one season and the Vikes traded up in the second round to select Dalvin Cook. They also still have Jerick McKinnon on the roster. There will be a camp competition for the starting role, but my prediction is that Cook will lead a committee.
3. Cam Brate, TE, Bucs
It’s easy for the Bucs to say they love Cam Brate and they’re still going to use him a ton. But taking O.J. Howard at No. 19 overall tells a different story, especially from a pass-catching standpoint. As noted by ESPN’s Mike Clay, the Eagles led the league in two TE sets on passing plays last year at just 38 percent. Teams simply don’t use multiple tight ends in the passing game often, especially when you have Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson hogging targets. It’s unlikely Brate or Howard will turn into anything more than TD-dependent punts this season – I ranked Howard 17th among rookies for 2017 fantasy production.
4. Odell Beckham, WR, Giants
Odell averaged 10.6 targets per game last year, 10.6 in 2015 and 11.0 as a rookie in 2014. That’s due in part to the fact he’s had no help in the passing game – his complements have been a washed up Victor Cruz, a rookie in Sterling Shepard, an underperformer in Rueben Randle and a host of sub-par tight ends. Eli Manning was often forcing the ball to Beckham, even when covered. That shouldn’t be the case this season after the Giants added a reliable possession receiver in Brandon Marshall and used the No. 23 pick on pass-catching tight end Evan Engram. Overall market share for Beckham projects to regress, as well as red-zone market share. Even if the Giants want to talk about using Engram as a traditional in-line tight end, they’re likely to realize that’s a misuse of his skill set. They’re far more likely playing coy while planning to eventually unleash Engram a la Jordan Reed.
5. Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
Despite often outstanding play, the Saints have repeatedly made it clear they don’t love Mark Ingram. As noted by PFF’s Scott Barrett, Ingram’s 4.65 YPC over the last three seasons is second only to Le’Veon Bell’s 4.80 (minimum 350 attempts). Ingram has also been among the league leaders in missed tackles forced, YAC per attempt and other efficiency metrics. However, Ingram has never gotten more than 226 carries in a season and averaged just 12.8 carries per game last year – losing work to 29-year-old journeyman Tim Hightower. So with the Saints adding Adrian Peterson for some big-back work and moving up in the draft to select pass-catching RB Alvin Kamara, there’s little room for Ingram’s volume to increase now.
6. Rishard Matthews, WR, Titans – Matthews was quietly excellent with Ryan Tannehill in 2015 and stepped up as Marcus Mariota’s go-to target in 2016. The efficient playmaker finished last season as PFF’s No. 18 WR among 119 qualifiers. So I’m very hesitant to assume rookies Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor are going to overtake Rishard on the target totem pole, but we have to adjust his market share down at least some.
7. Tyrell Williams, WR, Chargers – The Gazelle was a revelation last year as Keenan Allen went down Week 1 and Travis Benjamin labored through much of the year. Unfortunately for Williams, Allen (ACL) is expected back healthy, Hunter Henry/Antonio Gates are back and there was already depth in Dontrelle Inman/Benjamin. Then the Chargers surprisingly used the No. 7 overall pick on Clemson WR Mike Williams. As I noted in the “winners” version of this article, Philip Rivers has an arsenal to work with this year instead of the concentrated target tree which featured Tyrell last year.
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