There’s an overused saying that goes: ‘History is doomed to repeat itself’. You’ve definitely heard this phrase at least once in your lifetime; it is a cliche that the media, World History teachers, and parents love to use conversationally. In the context of fantasy football, this phrase often rings true as well. There are patterns that players and teams tend to follow and stick to, often enough that they become cyclical in nature.
We know that the Patriots can’t draft a wide receiver to save their lives. We know that the Raiders, regardless of who is running the team, will often take the fastest guy on the board. We also know that, with the superstitious nature of the fantasy football fanatic, there is a certain association with the numbers on the board and what they represent. While not all players are created equal, there is a meaning to where they are drafted, which program they are drafted from, and where they are ranked on the draft board.
At a certain point, these things become very arbitrary. However, if we’re basing our insight on the historical data, they do paint some rather vivid pictures of just what we can come to expect out of our prized rookie draft picks. Thus, we here at 3CoSports are prepared to bring to you an all-encompassing analysis from the last decade of dynasty league data, combining qualitative and quantitative elements to provide accurate profiles of the projected top-12 dynasty league rookies based on recent historical trends.
Top 12 ADP as of May 27th, 2020:
- RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
- RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
- RB J.K Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
- RB D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
- WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
- WR Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
- RB Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
- WR Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles
- WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
- WR Henry Ruggs, Las Vegas Raiders
- RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- WR Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts
From the data we have collected for this piece, we have determined that the minimum amount of points scored by a player to deem them as having had a ‘fantasy relevant’ campaign is somewhere between 143 and 144 standard scoring points in a season, although there will be some contextual elements that will also help determine some of our findings (for instance Sammy Watkins has had a good career according to these metrics, but when compared to several of the receivers from his own class, he is verging on ‘bust’ territory).
Here are just a few of our findings to provide a broader context of just how valuable and dependable 1st-round rookie draft picks have been this decade:
- The average top-12 rookie pick has a relevance yield of 45%, meaning that a typical first-round rookie draft pick will only produce a fantasy-relevant season about half of the time he’s in the league
- Back end picks have not boded well, as slots 9-12 have some of the lowest relevance yields → Contending teams should definitely sell their picks for playoff runs
- While there weren’t any TE’s or QB’s in this year’s top-12, tight ends have generally fared poorly with an extremely low yield rate, while QBs have generally fared pretty well (although 75% are no longer starting in the league)
So without further adieu, let’s take a look at this year’s top-12 and how they compare to their predecessors:
#12: WR Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts
With a relevance yield of just 13% this decade, the twelfth spot in dynasty drafts has been a sinkhole in general, not the most reassuring news for anyone who selected Pittman at that spot. Our all-decade player from this spot is former Panthers and Patriots wide receiver Brandon LaFell, who produced only two fantasy-relevant campaigns during his eight-year career. With notable washouts like Delone Carter (sorry, but who are you again?), Jonathan Franklin (I don’t remember him either), and Leonte Carroo (pretty sure I started this guy once, but I might be thinking of another Dolphins receiver from the Adam Gase era), the busts from this draft position have been generally disastrous. Recent history suggests that the curve will soon flatten, with young stars Courtland Sutton and Kyler Murray having gone in this range the last two seasons, a slightly more encouraging harbinger for owners of the younger Pittman.
As a whole, receivers have been one of the more consistent investments in dynasty league drafts, with a relevance yield of 46% this decade, a figure weighed down by the period between 2014 and 2017 when receivers yielded a 35% rate. The average career length for wideouts has been 4.8 years, over a year longer than the average running back, a sign that receivers are a safer long-term investment. Recent history suggests that the receiver position is experiencing a renaissance, with a 64% yield rate between the 2018 and 2019 classes.
The Colts have been in search of a consistent wideout to pair with Pro Bowler T.Y Hilton for almost a decade now, having spent premium draft capital on busts like Parris Campbell (although he will still have a shot at redemption), Philip Dorsett, and Donte Moncrief. Moreover, the Pac-12 conference has not been the place to find good NFL receivers in recent years, with disappointing early-round picks like John Ross, N’Keal Harry, and J.J Arcega-Whiteside having been selected in the last few seasons. However, there is a silver lining here, as JuJu Smith-Schuster (fantasy relevant in his first two seasons, hampered by injuries last year) a fellow USC product has been able to carve out a major role in the league. Like Smith-Schuster, Pittman is a jumbo-sized slot receiver who can also make plays on intermediate and deep routes. At 6’5, 235 lbs, he looks like a tight end size-wise but plays with nimble feet and flexible body control, two elements that many other receivers his size have lacked in their games (Dorial Green-Beckham is the prime example of this folly).
Pittman Jr. exploded onto the scene in 2019, hauling in 101 passes for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns, leading the Pac-12 in the first two categories. While he will be used as a true X-receiver in the Colts offense, he appears to be in line for some work in the slot as well, assuming 2019 2nd-rounder Parris Campbell continues to struggle with health and technique.
With veteran QB Philip Rivers taking the reins in Indy this season, it would appear as though the stagnant passing attack we saw last season may be a thing of the past, as the future Hall of Famer has thrown for 4,000+ yards in 11 of the last 12 seasons. Considering the mediocrity that was Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson last year, Pittman will be essentially walking into a starting role with the team, truly a golden opportunity for a young player like himself. While some have failed when paired with legendary quarterbacks (N’Keal Harry, Cody Latimer), others have become some of the league’s best all-around receivers (JuJu Smith-Schuster, Michael Thomas, Calvin Ridley). As far as late first-round picks go, Pittman’s ceiling is one of the highest in recent memory, although his floor as a big-bodied Pac-12 product is equally variable.
Ceiling: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers
A true WR1 when healthy, consistent possession receiver who can make plays at all three levels while also being able to rack up yards after the catch. Pittman could blossom in Indy, as he (like Smith-Schuster during the Antonio Brown days) should avoid seeing a defense’s top cover corner thanks to the presence of Hilton, while also benefiting from the gunslinging tendencies of Rivers.
Floor: Cody Latimer, Washington Redskins
A WR3 at best, a big body without the ability to win on contested throws with consistency. Cast aside by multiple teams only to still be picked up in the hopes of redemption due to draft pedigree. A serviceable blocker and return man who can keep a spot on a team’s roster, even without contributing as a pass-catcher. Fails in Indianapolis like many of the team’s draft picks in recent years.
Median: Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
A very low-end WR2 with touchdown-dependent production. Operates as a red-zone weapon primarily, with some big plays on deep throws mixed in. Underneath receiving is limited, whether by scheme or ineffectiveness in that role. Rivers’ version of Williams as a member of the Colts.
#11: RB Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The running back position has been a true coin flip for the first round of rookie drafts this decade, with a 49% yield of fantasy-relevant campaigns, nearly a 50/50 shot at booming or busting. Last season we saw all three running backs from the top twelve ADP finish with fantasy-relevant numbers, as Josh Jacobs, David Montgomery, and Miles Sanders all took over as the lead back for their respective teams, performing admirably in that role. The once dead investment in the position has rebounded in recent years, as the fantasy-relevant yield rate had jumped from 30% between 2010 and 2013 to 60% (2014-2017) and eventually 61% (2018-2019), with productive running backs continuing to be churned out from various college programs.
Unfortunately for Buccaneers rookie running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, neither of the programs (Illinois and Vanderbilt) he has suited up for have produced any of these successful backs, with busts like Mikel LeShoure and Zac Stacy being prime examples of the mediocrity churned out by these schools. On the brighter side, the 11th spot in dynasty drafts has a fairly decent history of producing successful players, with a 39% yield rate that would be 46% without former Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham taking up real estate in this range. With names like Deebo Samuel, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Calvin Ridley, and Alshon Jeffery having been drafted at this spot on average, Vaughn finds himself on the right side of history. However, the running backs taken at this position have been less than stellar, with a couple of busts (C.J Prosise and Marcus Lattimore) and a pair of middling backs (Shane Vereen and Tevin Coleman), slightly troubling for any who believes Vaughn to be the next big thing in Tampa Bay.
Far from the typical Vanderbilt back, Vaughn is a gritty runner with enough burst to pick up big gains in the open field. He ran for over 1,000 yards in his two seasons as the starter for the Commodores, impressive numbers when considering he was running behind the 128th ranked offensive line in the nation (out of 130) in 2019, a unit that garnered the worst run-blocking grade of any Div-I school. Somehow, despite running against SEC (and previously Big 10) defensive fronts with little help from his blockers, Vaughn managed to average 5.8 yards-per-carry for his career, a truly impressive feat. While he is a bit on the older side (already 23 years of age), that may not be such a bad thing for Vaughn as he joins the now Tom Brady led Buccaneers offense, which should favor his age and experience over younger players like Ronald Jones and Raymond Calais.
Given Brady’s reliance on throwing to his running backs (the Patriots offense produced three top-20 PPR backs from 2017-2019, James White 2018-19 and Dion Lewis 2017), Vaughn will have a great opportunity to collect fantasy points if he can win the passing down role out of camp. A capable pass-catcher, Vaughn (who caught 41 passes these past two seasons) will be challenged by the incumbent starter, 2018 second-rounder Jones (we’ll talk about him a lot in this piece) as well as veteran Dare Ogunbowale for these checkdown opportunities.
While the Buccaneers appeared to have missed big on their last early-round running back selection (Jones), the front office has been generally successful when it comes to finding capable fantasy contributors, having drafted Doug Martin (2011) and Charles Sims (2014), who each had fantasy-relevant seasons during their tenures. As far as SEC running back products go, it’s unclear where Vaughn falls based on recent history, due to Vandy’s inability to produce any draft-worthy players this decade. While third round SEC backs like Alvin Kamara and Kenyan Drake have managed to scrape together solid NFL careers, others like Matt Jones and Tre Mason have been complete washouts.
As the potential lead back on a high-powered offense, Vaughn’s situation compares more favorably to Kamara’s, as it’s unlikely that teams would choose to focus on stopping him in their gameplans with the various receiving threats that the Bucs offense boasts.
Ceiling: Doug Martin, N/A
An RB1 upside on a loaded offense, middling option on his bad days. Contributes equally on the ground and in the passing game, big-play upside keeps him around the league for a while. A guy in the right place at the right time, he takes lemons and turns them into lemonade.
Floor: Montario Hardesty, N/A
An early-round pick who proves why he wasn’t taken before other guys. Limited upside leads to a brief, unspectacular NFL career. Should Vaughn lose out to Jones in a competition for the starting role, this could easily be him within a couple of years, given the sheer amount of running back talent in the 2021 draft and beyond.
Median: Sony Michel, New England Patriots
A RB2 on good days, the lead back for a productive offense who can be very touchdown-dependent as a member of an RBBC. Lack of passing down work severely limits upside in comparison to other players, especially on an offense that appears to be as prolific as Tampa’s does on paper.
#10: WR Henry Ruggs, Las Vegas Raiders
Coming in at the tenth spot we have one of the most polarizing players from this year’s rookie class, speedy former Alabama wideout Henry Ruggs. The Raiders had their pick of the crop in regards to the wide receiver position with the 13th overall pick in this year’s draft and elected to take the fastest player in the draft (typical Raiders) over more polished players like Ruggs’ college teammate Jerry Jeudy and former Oklahoma star CeeDee Lamb. The 1.10 spot has been rather kind to dynasty owners in recent years, with a 43% relevance yield. Moreover, this spot has produced numerous productive fantasy assets at the wide receiver position in recent years, with guys like Torrey Smith, Keenan Allen, Allen Robinson, Tyler Boyd, and Christian Kirk having been taken in this range this past decade. While last year’s average pick at this spot Hakeem Butler has yet to make an impact in the NFL, he still has a few more years to redeem himself.
As for the player himself, there is good reason to be optimistic about Ruggs upside as an NFL player. The three Alabama receivers to be taken in round one of the NFL Draft this decade have all been quite successful (Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, and Calvin Ridley), although the last time the Raiders took one of them (Cooper in 2015) the team found it difficult to use them effectively. However, the most appealing factor working in Ruggs’ favor is not his unparalleled athletic profile ( here have been numerous great athletes to grace the league with their presence before quickly flaming out) but rather his opportunity to immediately take the reins as the Raiders WR1 upon entering the league.
Last season, the then Oakland Raiders passing attack ran almost exclusively through converted receiver turned tight end Darren Waller, who led the team in target share (23.8%), receptions (90), and receiving yardage (1,145), the first Raiders pass-catcher to surpass the 1,000-yard threshold since Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree in 2016. The wide receiver spot was a barren wasteland for the 2019 iteration of the Raiders, with their two leading receivers being journeyman Tyrell Williams (42 catches for 651 yards and 6 touchdowns) and 2019 fifth-round pick Hunter Renfrow (49 catches for 605 yards and 4 touchdowns), with neither of these options presenting the team with a realistic WR1. Ruggs should immediately slot in at the top of the depth chart for Las Vegas (still not used to that), while Renfrow and Williams will look to hold off newcomers Bryan Edwards and Nelson Agholor for their starting roles.
Despite the immediate opportunity to start and lock down a feature role in his new team’s passing game, there remain some very real concerns about Ruggs as a player. While his 4.27 forty yard dash was certainly an impressive display of pure speed, recent history suggests that Ruggs’ speed may betray him, as every wideout who ran a sub 4.3 forty this decade has been a bust at the pro level, with names like Dri Archer, John Ross, Marquise Goodwin, and J.J Nelson having had a very difficult time translating their speed to production. While Ruggs did display some terrific hands (a trait that many of these ‘speed guys’ lack) as a member of the Crimson Tide (72% career catch rate with only one drop in his final season with the program), his overall production in college did not scream future NFL superstar, with career-highs of 741 receiving yards, 46 receptions, and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore. This can be explained to a degree by the fact that Ruggs was simply one part of a powerful machine at Alabama, a machine that helped to churn out current and future NFL talents like Calvin Ridley, Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Irv Smith Jr, Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris, and Damien Harris, all of whom took their pieces of the pie as featured weapons in the Crimson Tide’s offense from 2017-2019.
This presents us with a bit of a Catch-22 in regards to Ruggs’ college production, as he definitely saw a handful of targets siphoned away from him by the team’s other playmakers, while also seeing much softer coverage than he may have on a less loaded team due to the attention that teams needed to pay to his teammates. It also helped that Ruggs was paired with two quarterbacks who would go on to be top two round selections in this year’s draft (Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts), who could both keep defenses honest with their arms as well as their legs.
Given the history of uber-athletic wide receivers who have been overdrafted by teams obsessed with workout numbers, Ruggs would appear to be a prime bust candidate on paper. His case is not helped by the fact that the Raiders have a well-established history of reaching on fast guys (Darrius Heyward-Bey (2009), Jacoby Ford (2010), among countless others) and being burned by them. Yet Ruggs is not the typical speed burner we have seen bust at the NFL level. Like Tyreek Hill, Ruggs can make tacklers miss in the open field with ease, while also possessing the strength and grit to bowl over them when he needs to. Ruggs’ game tape suggests that like Hill, he has the bounce and strength to overcome his size limitations on contested catches, a trait that will make him much more dangerous than the Philip Dorsett’s and John Ross’s of the world as a deep threat. Ruggs may be the most combustible draft pick we have ever seen, as he new era skill set could either lead to a Hall of Fame-caliber career or one that leads to multiple firings in the Raiders organization. Ultimately, it will be up to the Raiders to develop him as a wideout, a prospect that does not bode well for the 2020 first-round pick….
Ceiling: Demaryius Thomas, N/A
WR1 upside with a QB who knows how to use him, a freakish athlete who wins with unparalleled speed and physicality. Plays the position like an NBA point guard trying to collect a triple-double (if you’re imagining Russell Westbrook you’ve won). A unicorn who will be among the most fun players to watch in the league.
Floor: Stephen Hill, N/A
An unbelievable athlete with little to no grasp on how to be an NFL receiver. Washes out after a few seasons due to an utter lack of experience playing the position and an inability to grasp the technical aspects necessary to stay on the field. Causes many front office members and coaches to lose their jobs and tarnishes the (second) Gruden era Raiders indefinitely.
Median: Sammy Watkins, Kansas City Chiefs
Occasional WR1/2 performances sprinkled in, mostly disappointment as the pseudo WR1 for a middle of the road passing attack. Perpetual breakout candidate with just enough production to keep collecting paychecks and investment in dynasty leagues. For every triple-digit receiving yardage performance, there are four single point games. A true boom or bust candidate who is seen as a disappointment by most.
#9: WR Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
An extremely productive 2019 campaign thanks to a revamped LSU offense led to Jefferson’s rise up the draft boards these past few months, as the shifty slot receiver displayed incredible technique and concentration in his final season with the Tigers. A known commodity even before the rise of Heisman Award-winning passer Joe Burrow, Jefferson made the leap from toolsy former three-star recruit to College Football legend in this past calendar year, ultimately landing with the Minnesota Vikings with the 22nd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, as a direct replacement for the departed Stefon Diggs.
As the 1.09 on our board, history tells us that Jefferson has a 75% bust rate, with former 1.09 ADPs like Will Fuller, Stephen Hill (puked in my mouth a little writing that name), Justin Hunter (round two of baby barfing), Montario Hardesty, and (gulp) John Ross weighing down the total relevance yield. There have been a couple of gems taken in this range, although they both belong to the Green Bay Packers, with receivers Randall Cobb and Davante Adams having each registered four fantasy-relevant campaigns in their careers. Based on college production, we believe that Jefferson is more in line to resemble the careers of the latter two players, especially seeing as how he will be walking into a starting role with his new team, one that we saw work wonders for the previous tenant (Stefon Diggs remember?). Jefferson’s 2019 campaign was a doozy indeed, with a stat line of 111 receptions, 1,540 receiving yards, and 18 touchdowns. To put those numbers into context, Jefferson found himself on a rather exclusive list of players to haul in 110+ receptions and 17 or more touchdowns in a season, with names like Davante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, and Justin Blackmon (who could have been great without his off-field issues).
While Jefferson certainly made strides as a player, he had some help that led to these eye-popping numbers. According to our friends over at Pro Football Focus, 69% (nice) of Jefferson’s targets were deemed ‘accurate’, a category where he held a commanding lead in relation to his fellow draft-eligible receivers, with the next highest percentage being 62% (Laviska Shenault, believe it or not). 109 of Jefferson’s 111 receptions came from the slot in 2019, as he ran 575 of his 583 routes from this position. A true playmaker in this capacity, Jefferson forced 24 missed tackles as the team’s slot receiver, the second-highest mark in the nation. Catching 111/134 targets (roughly 83% catch rate), Jefferson was one of the most efficient receivers in all of college football, although he was certainly aided by the fact that the Tigers offense featured the best quarterback in the nation (Burrow), a host of other dynamic pass-catchers (Ja’Marr Chase, who might actually be a better player than Jefferson), Terrace Marshall, and fellow 2020 first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire), and a brilliant play-caller who now finds himself in the NFL as an offensive coordinator (Joe Brady). It’s a bit concerning that the majority of Jefferson’s production came out of the slot, as he may not be used in the same role for a Vikings offense that deployed Adam Thielen in this role for most of his career. Whether Thielen moves outside will be a big factor in Jefferson’s learning curve as he looks to make an impact at the NFL level.
LSU has had a good history of developing talented and productive NFL wideouts, with far more success stories (Odell Beckham Jr., D.J Chark, Jarvis Landry) than outright busts (Rueben Randle). The Vikings on the other hand, have not been as successful drafting SEC receivers with first-round picks, having whiffed on both Laquon Treadwell (2016 selection out of Ole Miss) and Cordarrelle Patterson (2013 selection out of Tennessee) this decade. While the team has hit big on flyers like Diggs (2015 fifth-round pick) and Thielen (undrafted in 2013), the track record of first-round duds concerns us a bit. At 6’1, 200 lbs, Jefferson is nearly identical to Thielen size-wise while also playing very similar stylistically. It is quite possible that this duo could become quite redundant unless one of them can be deployed effectively in the Diggs role as a field stretcher. It will be very interesting to see how Minnesota’s passing game looks this season as they attempt to integrate Jefferson’s strengths into the WR2 role.
Ceiling: Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
A fantasy football WR1 who gets by thanks to great hands and an unrivaled ability to get open on short and intermediate routes while also possessing enough size and speed to pick up yards after the catch. A PPR machine whose production may be buoyed by some cheap, short-yardage passes. Points are points at the end of the day though.
Floor: Marquise Lee, New England Patriots
WR3 on his best days, a highly-touted college player whose success was a product of a stacked college offense. Average across the board, heavily dependent on chemistry with his QB and the game script for fantasy production. An average NFL player at the end of the day.
Median: Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati Bengals
A true WR2, essentially a glorified slot receiver who moves the chains effectively while consistently reeling in a high volume of passes each season. Not going to blow your mind, but a guy you’d be happy to have on your dynasty team for a decade. Don’t expect too many big plays, but appreciate the PPR boost.
#8: WR Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles
At our 1.08 spot, we have 2020 Eagles first-round pick Jalen Reagor, a man who many believed to be the best athlete from this receiver group ahead of such names as Henry Ruggs and CeeDee Lamb. The 1.08 position in dynasty league drafts has been a true 50/50 success rate for fantasy owners this decade, with half of the players having yielded fantasy-relevant seasons. There are some massive success stories, such as Golden Tate (8 fantasy relevant seasons and counting, a model of consistency), Alvin Kamara (three consecutive campaigns with relevant yields to begin his career, arguably the best pick of the 2017 NFL Draft), and D.J Moore (a strong start to his career with 2/2 fantasy-relevant campaigns). There are also some truly abominable busts from this range, such as Montee Ball (once thought to be the ‘next big thing’ for the Broncos during the Peyton Manning era) and Kenneth Dixon (who infamously lost the competition for the Ravens starting running back spot to discarded former Browns draft pick Terrance West).
Given how barren the cupboard was for the Eagles at the end of 2019, the selection of a wide receiver was all but certain with the 21st pick in this past April’s draft. Many were surprised when the team elected to use their selection on Reagor, an unpolished Big 12 product whose stock was boosted by incredible workout numbers and game tape that showed him exposing soft coverage time and time again. PlayerProfiler graded Reagor’s ‘burst’ score (a measure of acceleration more than straight-line speed) in the 99th percentile, a better mark than guys like Tyreek Hill (94th percentile) and Odell Beckham Jr. (78th percentile) registered. While his 4.47 forty yard dash at the NFL Combine was underwhelming, Reagor was able to redeem himself with an unofficial time in the 4.2 range at his virtual Pro Day. Judging from his game film, it’s very clear that the TCU product has speed that translates to the gridiron, so his workout numbers simply verified that aspect of his game.
There are some troubling elements of Reagor’s game that will certainly need to be ironed out if he hopes to become a successful NFL receiver. Reagor dropped 9 of his 92 targets in 2019 as he took a nosedive across the board, with his reception totals (down to 43 as a Junior from 72 as a Sophomore), yardage totals (down from 1061 to 611), and touchdown numbers (less concerning but still down from 9 to 5) being cut in half. There is an explanation for Reagor’s statistical crater, as TCU’s quarterback play was about as bad as it could be in 2019. According to PFF, only 30.7% of Reagor’s targets were considered ‘accurate’ which, when compared to LSU’s Justin Jefferson (69% accurate target rate), shows just how tough it was to manufacture touches for Reagor. Despite subpar QB play across the board for his college career, Reagor managed to put up solid career numbers for the Horned Frogs, hauling in 148/284 targets for 2,274 yards, and 22 touchdowns in three seasons as a starter. This presents a bit of a quandary for us fantasy analysts as it’s unclear how Reagor will adjust to playing with actual NFL caliber signal-callers instead of inaccurate college QBs who forced the ball to him most of the time.
At 5’10, 205 lbs, Reagor resembles a young Tyreek Hill out on the field, as he plays with explosiveness and power that is quite rare for a player his size. While the Big 12 will never be confused for having the best defensive reputation, there were certainly moments where the young playmaker looked the part of an NFL receiver. Yet, like a younger version of Hill, Reagor is far from an NFL-ready wideout at this stage in his career. It will certainly take some time for the TCU product to learn the complex route-running necessary to dominate as a true receiver, although he should see touches early on as a gadget player with home run potential.
Unfortunately, history has not been too kind to these gadget players, with notable busts like Tavon Austin and Cordarrelle Patterson failing to develop into anything more than viable return specialists. While it’s clear that Reagor possesses much better body control and hand technique than these two players, his development is still behind many more polished products from his draft class. Reagor’s college pedigree does him no favors either, as TCU has produced only busts (Josh Doctson, Kolby Listenbee, Josh Boyce) at the receiver position this decade.
There is a bit of a prejudice against Big 12 receivers, as only Dez Bryant, Josh Gordon, and Tyler Lockett have panned out at the NFL level this decade, but Philadelphia ignored this when they took a chance on Reagor. But maybe taking a chance was exactly what the Eagles had to do. After drafting ‘safely’ for the last decade, Philly has had very little success when it comes to finding talented wideouts, having spent premium draft capital on ‘NFL-ready’ players like Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, and J.J Arcega-Whiteside only to come up empty-handed. By taking on a high-upside player like Reagor, the team broke their typical mold, so it remains to be seen whether going against the grain will benefit them in the long run or lead to a rebuild. Instead of settling for plug-and-play starters like Justin Jefferson and Michael Pittman Jr, the Eagles are betting their future on the playmaking abilities of Reagor, who will have an immediate opportunity to start for a team that may be without Alshon Jeffery (lisfranc injury) for most of the 2020 season. While some may see Reagor’s skill set as being redundant for a team that already features DeSean Jackson (the quintessential deep threat), the Birds may very well get the last laugh if their 2020 first-round pick can hone his skills.
Ceiling: D.J Moore, Carolina Panthers
A WR1 who picks up most of his points after the catch. A high-upside scorer who can be shutout in certain circumstances but will usually deliver at least one big play per game. A great asset for any dynasty league team.
Floor: Tavon Austin, N/A
A WR3 at best, nifty gadget player capable of scoring the occasional 60-yard touchdown but will mostly be relegated to special teams duty. Should see most of his success on Jet Sweeps, End Arounds, and Screen passes. A fun bust, but a bust nonetheless.
Median: Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
A WR2/3 who can occasionally erupt for some monster performances. Production is at the mercy of his team’s QB and of course, the game script. A consistent contributor with nice upside week-in and week-out. A nice flex starter and an excellent guy to have in leagues with big play bonuses.
#7: RB Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
Akers, a former five-star recruit, was the biggest victim of Florida State’s collapse following the departure of championship-winning head coach Jimbo Fisher. Based on dynasty league history, Akers’ bad luck may very well follow him to the pros, as the 1.07 draft slot has yielded a 22% relevance rate, the lowest rate registered beside the 1.12 spot (13%). This rate is made even more concerning by the fact that the entire list from this decade is buoyed by the success of Michael Thomas, whose four fantasy-relevant campaigns keep the number from being even lower. With infamous running back busts like Ben Tate, Daniel Thomas, David Wilson, and Royce Freeman taking up these spots in recent years, it would appear as though a hex has been placed upon the 1.07 ADP.
There’s more bad news for any Akers owner to digest, as he shares the dishonorable distinction of being one of the few backs to average less than five yards-per-carry for his college career to be taken in the first round of rookie drafts. The other names on that list?
- Ben Tate (4.9 yards-per-carry at Auburn)
- Montario Hardesty (4.3 yards-per-carry at Tennessee, who thought this guy would be good?)
- Delone Carter (4.8 yards-per-carry at Syracuse)
- Marcus Lattimore (4.8 yards-per-carry at South Carolina, never played in the NFL due to injuries from college)
- Kerryon Johnson (4.8 yards-per-carry at Auburn)
- David Montgomery (4.8 yards-per-carry at Iowa State)
Yeah, not exactly the guys you want to be compared to.
To be fair, Akers was not dealt the kindest hand by the football gods, as he was forced to run behind the second-worst graded offensive line in the nation as a Junior. Even as he ran behind an anemic Seminoles line Akers produced, accumulating 1,369 total yards and 18 touchdowns in 2019. The former five-star recruit finished his collegiate career as FSU’s sixth all-time leading rusher, ahead of guys like Devonta Freeman and Chris Thompson, who benefitted from playing for the team during the Fisher era.
As a whole, FSU backs have been successful in the NFL, with Freeman, Thompson, and Dalvin Cook succeeding while others like Karlos Williams (the one who ate himself out of the league, remember?) and Lorenzo Booker busted after finding early success. In general, ACC backs have been rather hit or miss, with some success stories (Lamar Miller, James Conner) and some not so successful stories (David Wilson, Ryan Williams, Andre Williams — maybe it’s something about guys with Wil- surnames?).
Not to pile on, but we still have some more concerns to express regarding Akers’ NFL outlook. While we saw how successful Todd Gurley was as the bellcow for the Rams offense (before his knee went kaput), the Rams have expressed a desire to employ the dreaded committee approach with the position going forward. With 2019 third-round pick Darrell Henderson and veteran Malcolm Brown competing for touches, it’s quite possible that Akers, even if he earns the starting role, will have his fantasy upside capped by the offense’s distribution of touches. Should Akers not lock down a steady role in the passing game, his immediate upside will be almost nonexistent, given the high-volume passing attack that the team has employed since Sean McVay took over. Given the Rams’ poor draft history at the RB position this decade (Henderson, Tre Mason, Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy, Daryl Richardson) outside of Gurley (a generational talent), the odds of Akers becoming a true RB1 are extremely low at this point.
Ceiling: Melvin Gordon, Denver Broncos
A low-end RB1, high-end RB2 depending on who else is on his team. Like Gordon, Akers is a multi-faceted back with prototypical size and speed. If the Rams offense chooses to deploy him in a similar manner to Todd Gurley, he could be a fantasy football superstar, although it’s more likely than he would be used in a committee-type role that would still manufacture a decent amount of touches for him, especially in the red zone.
Floor: Ben Tate, N/A
An all-around talented back who can’t manage to put the pieces together at the NFL level — floats around the league for a few seasons due to an impressive college pedigree but eventually gets phased out.
Median: Ryan Mathews, N/A
A guy who can be really good when the rest of his team is really good, or a total disaster when everyone else is off their game. Averages out as an RB2 for his career but will frustrate owners to no end while also being their saving grace some weeks. A truly polarizing asset.
#6: WR Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
Jeudy has been on the NFL radar since the day he stepped foot in Tuscaloosa, joining Nick Saban’s program as a five-star recruit in 2017. Just one year later Jeudy would win the Biletnikoff Award (which goes to the best receiver in the nation) as a true sophomore. The Broncos made Jeudy their first-round selection in the 2020 Draft despite the presence of ascending star Courtland Sutton and 2019 first-round tight end Noah Fant on their roster. Jeudy may very well be the most pro-ready receiver we have seen in decades, as he runs his routes with an effortless shake, making him virtually unguardable even when facing the top corners in the nation. While the 1.06 spot in rookie drafts has been generally unfavorable, with major busts like Arrelious Benn, Mikel LeShoure, and Bishop Sankey, Jeudy is easily the best talent we have seen in this range, thanks to a historically deep class of playmakers. The 1.06 position has not been all bad in recent years, with middling talents like Sony Michel, Mike Williams, and Sterling Shepard preceding last year’s consensus 1.06, A.J Brown. While the 37% relevance yield may not look great, the sheer amount of busts at this spot from 2010-2014 really weighed the percentage down as a whole. From this spot on, the players drafted have earned a relevance rate of 57%, which compared to the 33% yield for the back half of the draft, shows that draft position matters a lot.
Like Henry Ruggs, Jeudy is in good company as a product of the Crimson Tide, with the successes of the previous three Alabama first-round receivers (Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, Calvin Ridley) speaking for themselves. These three players have combined for a relevance yield of 93.75%, which adds to Jeudy’s case as the safest prospect in this class. Moreover, the Broncos have had a good deal of success drafting wideouts early this decade, with three Pro Bowlers (Sutton, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker) overshadowing a couple of busts (Cody Latimer, Carlos Henderson). Given Jeudy’s polished route-running tree and experience playing in big games against some of the best defenses in the NCAA, we tend to believe that he will continue Denver’s reign of dominance when it comes to drafting pass-catchers.
There are a few nitpicky concerns that we have about the former first-team All-American. For starters, he is a bit undersized at just over six feet, weighing in just under 200 lbs. While there have been plenty of successful ‘undersized’ receivers taken in the first round of rookie drafts (Ridley, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks) there have also been some outright busts (Tavon Austin, John Ross, Philip Dorsett, Corey Coleman, Will Fuller) who simply lacked the strength to win against bigger, more physical NFL defensive backs.
As talented as Jeudy is, his performance in college was definitely boosted by the fact that he was paired with two of the most accurate passers in Crimson Tide history, playing with Tua Tagovailoa (career completion rate of 69.3%) from 2017-2019 and Jalen Hurts (career completion rate of 63%) from 2017-2018. In comparison, Jeudy’s new QB, former Missouri signal-caller Drew Lock, had a career completion rate of 57% in college, although that mark improved during his late season stint as the Broncos starter in 2019 (64.1%). Should Lock fall back into his inaccurate ways, life could be made harder for Jeudy in Denver’s passing attack, as he will also have to compete for targets with the likes of Sutton, Fant, as well as fellow rookies K.J Hamler and Albert Okwuegbunam (Lock’s college teammate who caught 17 of Lock’s 99 touchdown passes for the Tigers).
Aside from those two very minor concerns, Jeudy appears to be primed for NFL success, as he joins a very young offense, led by a live armed gunslinger. As the Broncos look to keep pace with the high octane Chiefs offense in the AFC West, they’ll need to lean on Jeudy as the go-to option in the passing game for this next decade.
Ceiling: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
A perennial WR1 in fantasy. A one-of-one. While Jeudy lack’s the size and physicality of Jones, he does possess some devastating route-running abilities that could allow him the same level of fantasy dominance. Play style-wise, you might liken him more to a guy like Antonio Brown.
Floor: Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans
A low-end WR1 on good days, WR2/3 on the bad days. Consistently gets open and produces but lack of physicality limits upside against grittier corners. Prone to disappearing acts, especially when he starts taking hits. Remains a valuable fantasy asset due to his upside.
Median: Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
A consistent low-end WR1/high-end WR2. Doesn’t wow you with anything but can be counted on to anchor your fantasy team week in and week out thanks to elite route running and consistency. Not the most exciting guy, but a great piece for any dynasty team to build around.
#5: WR CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
Heralded by many draftniks as the best receiver in this year’s class, Lamb will be joining a Cowboys offense that already features two of the best young receivers in the NFL (Pro Bowler Amari Cooper and former Colorado State star Michael Gallup). While picking Lamb with the 17th overall selection may have been a bit of a luxury for a team with glaring holes in the secondary, the Oklahoma standout was easily the best player on the board and more importantly, Dallas was able to keep him from falling into the hands of their division rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. At 6’3, 195 lbs, Lamb bears a strong resemblance to DeAndre Hopkins as a player, combining elite body control (for those contested throws) with smooth running abilities that make him a monster before and after the catch.
The 1.05 spot in rookie drafts has been historically kind to most fantasy owners, with a 56% relevance yield. In the last decade, exactly 50% of the players drafted in this range (on average) have been wideout, with some being stars (Demaryius Thomas, Odell Beckham, D.K Metcalf (on his way to stardom at least) and others being less successful (Devante Parker (until 2019), Greg Little). Lamb will be given a special opportunity off the bat, as he is expected to take over as the slot receiver in Dallas to begin his career (a role that Randall Cobb managed to revive his career last season), catching passes from Dak Prescott (who finished second in the league with 4,902 passing yards in 2019) while Cooper and Gallup draw tougher cornerback matchups on the boundary. It’s clear that Lamb is a quick learner, as he managed to tally over 800 receiving yards in each of his collegiate seasons while playing with three different quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts). The sky’s the limit for Lamb in Dallas, as long as his college dominance can translate to the pro level.
History has not been kind to Big 12 receiver products, as the conference has produced very few hits (Dez Bryant in 2010, Tyler Lockett in 2015) and a whole lot of misses (Josh Docston, Kevin White, Justin Blackmon, Corey Coleman, Tavon Austin). Whether it’s due to the high-volume passing offenses or the lackluster secondaries, there’s something about this conference that holds back very talented receivers from becoming stars at the NFL level. Looking at the Sooners directly, there are many players who went from record-setting college superstars (Ryan Broyles, Dede Westbrook, Sterling Shepard) to average-below average professionals. While the Cowboys have generally had success finding talented receivers in the draft this decade (Bryant, Gallup, longtime WR3 Terrance Williams (a Baylor product, Big 12 represent!), and undrafted free agent Cole Beasley), one has to wonder whether the team has been diligent or just plain lucky.
Lamb suffers from a similar critique that guys like Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, and Justin Jefferson have garnered from us, as he played with three of the most accurate QBs in college football history for his entire run with the Sooners (Mayfield (career completion rate of 69.8% at OU), Murray (69.8% as well at OU), and Hurts (69.7% at OU)) while also lining up alongside future NFL stars like Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown, Mark Andrews, and future NFL draft pick Charleston Rambo. By seeing a consistent stream of accurate targets in a wide-open passing offense littered with other viable playmakers, Lamb was able to really maximize his utility for the Sooners.
In general, taller receivers have been the biggest boom or bust candidates in these drafts, as some of the all-time greats from this decade (Julio Jones (6’3), A.J Green (6’4), Hopkins (6’3), Demaryius Thomas (6’3), Michael Thomas (6’3), Allen Robinson (6’3), Mike Evans (6’5), Bryant (6’3), Davante Adams (6’3), Alshon Jeffery (6’4)) have been big bodies while some of the biggest disappointments (Dorial Green-Beckham (6’6), Jon Baldwin (6’4), White (6’3), Parker (6’3), Doctson (6’3), Corey Davis (6’3), Stephen Hill (6’4), Justin Hunter (6’5)) have also been on the taller side. Each of these guys was once projected to be dominant NFL players like Lamb, now it will be up to him to manifest his own destiny.
Ceiling: DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
A perennial fantasy WR1 doesn’t matter who his QB is, he’s gonna produce at a high level. One of the few receivers worth selling the farm for in a trade, he becomes one of the premier players of the 2020s.
Floor: Kevin White, N/A
A perennially disappointing former Big 12 star who can’t win against NFL coverage. Becomes one of the biggest busts of the ’20s, another punchline for NFL meme pages to pull out when trashing the Cowboys.
Median: Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
A WR1 on his best days, a WR2 the rest of the time. A superior talent with the occasional disappearing act, still a great player to build around in a dynasty league. Will ebb and flow with his QB to some degree, but generally will persevere when paired with a subpar signal-caller.
#4: RB D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
At the 1.04 spot, we have the latest attempt by the Detroit Lions to create a functional run game, former Georgia Bulldogs star D’Andre Swift. Interestingly enough, this 1.04 spot has produced many successful NFL players, with a 58% relevance yield, the third-highest overall percentage. 70% of the players taken in this range this decade have been running backs, some being major league busts (Jahvid Best, Ryan Williams, Rashaad Penny), some huge success stories (Melvin Gordon, Christian McCaffrey), and some just being average NFL backs (Eddie Lacy, David Montgomery).
While it may not be the best sign that Swift is the fifth Lions running back taken in the first round of dynasty league drafts this decade (Best, Mike LeShoure, Ameer Abdullah, and Kerryon Johnson preceding him), it’s quite possible that the fifth time will be the charm for the team as they look to finally surround quarterback Matthew Stafford with a viable battery mate. Given the successes of his former UGA teammates in recent years (Nick Chubb and Sony Michel), it would appear as though the Dawgs know a thing or two about developing NFL-caliber running backs.
Swift, a third-down back with an uncanny ability to find holes in the defense, is a very Alvin Kamara-esque type of modern running back. He’s gonna be an extremely valuable checkdown option in the passing game, while also providing the team with some explosivity in the run game. At 5’9, 215 lbs, Swift combines a lower center of gravity with the thickness you need in a true three-down back. His 73 catches across three seasons as a member of the Bulldogs patented running back committee show that he is quite capable of coming in immediately to take on passing down work for a pro-style offense. Despite playing a prominent role for the team in all three seasons he spent with the Dawgs, Swift enters the NFL without the same wear-and-tear as guys like J.K Dobbins and Jonathan Taylor, having only toted the ball 440 times despite playing in countless big games. He’s about as good of an all-around back as there is in this class, although he doesn’t blow you away in any one area, a true jack-of-all-trades, master of none type. Yet while he would appear to be an ideal candidate to take over as the Lions three-down workhorse, there is a good reason for concern.
Detroit currently boasts a rather deep backfield, with third-year backs Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough near the top of the team’s depth chart and 2019 sixth-round pick Ty Johnson still around as a change of pace option. Lions GM Bob Quinn and Head Coach Matt Patricia have both gone on the record as being in favor of the dreaded committee approach at the running back position, a death blow for a young back’s fantasy outlook. While Swift is undoubtedly the team’s best option on passing downs, QB Matthew Stafford has not been near as reliant on check-downs as he was when the team featured Theo Riddick as their third-down back (Riddick had 53+ catches in four consecutive campaigns).
Even if Swift manages to revive the Riddick role in the offense, the best fantasy finish that Riddick had come in 2015 as the RB18 in PPR formats. Should the larger backs on the team (Johnson at 6’, 215 lbs or Scarbrough at 6’2, 235 lbs) box out the smaller Swift from red zone and short-yardage work, he will become exclusively dependent on high-volume target shares in the passing game (which features Pro Bowler Kenny Golladay, veteran Marvin Jones, and 2019 first-round pick T.J Hockenson) and big rushing plays from beyond the opponent’s 20 yard line to produce at a high level. Should he fail to lock down a true three-down role in the team’s backfield, Swift owners may soon come to regret investing premium draft capital into him. However, while many running backs have come to die in Detroit, Swift is probably the most NFL-ready player we have seen the team bring in at the position.
Ceiling: Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets
RB1 upside as a true three-down back for an offense that leans heavily on him in the passing game. An absolute monster in PPR formats, the backbone of a winning dynasty team for multiple seasons.
Floor: Bishop Sankey, N/A
A complete non-factor, skilled pass-catcher in college who couldn’t hack it as a lead back at the pro level. Pass-catching abilities mask deep flaws as a ball carrier. Another resident of Detroit’s running back graveyard.
Median: Gio Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Change of pace/pass-catching back who sticks around thanks to great work in the passing game. An RB2-RB4 depending on other backs on the roster, not the greatest player on earth, but longevity and consistency prevent this pick from giving you nightmares.
#3: RB J.K Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
Former OSU standout J.K Dobbins may be the ultimate test of patience for a dynasty league owner, as he has the chance to one day become the lead back for the most successful run-heavy offense in NFL history. Right now, however, he is being blocked by a former Pro Bowler (Mark Ingram) who still has a lot of gas left in the tank. While it may not be until his third season in the league, there is an RB1 season in Dobbins’ future as long as the Ravens continue with their current philosophy on offense. This long term upside is what has led to Dobbins’ rise up the draft boards into the 1.03 ADP spot.
The 1.03 spot has yielded a 54% relevance rate this decade, with almost all of the backs taken at this juncture having been brought into similar situations as Dobbins (C.J Spiller, Joe Mixon, Nick Chubb, Miles Sanders), eventually climbing up the depth chart to become the respective ‘bellcows’ for their teams. There’s a lot to like about Dobbins as a player, especially in regards to his fit with the Ravens. While he’s not the best pass-catcher in the world (only 71 receptions in three seasons with the Buckeyes, solid numbers but nothing special), Dobbins is still proficient in this area, while also packing quite the punch as a runner. While Dobbins did not participate much in the NFL Combine (only participated in the bench press, doing 23), Dobbins is well known as an extraordinary athlete He thrives in offenses centered around the RPO and, wouldn’t you know it, that is exactly how the Ravens run their offense. (That sound you hear is people who didn’t draft Dobbins at 1.03 screaming in agony.)
At 5’10, 220 lbs, Dobbins is about the exact size you want in a running back; sturdy enough to take a bunch of shots, while not being oversized enough that it would force him to run too upright. He comes from an OSU program that has developed a pair of very successful NFL players this decade (Carlos Hyde and Ezekiel Elliott) both of whom Dobbins models his game after. Dobbins’ phenomenal vision in the open field should make him an ideal fit in the Ravens run-option offense, as he shouldn’t be asked to do too much in pass protection (one of his weaker areas) while farming open lanes like an 8-year-old on a 24 hour Minecraft binge. His durability can’t go unnoticed; throughout his three years at Ohio State, he didn’t miss a game while starting 40/42 of those games. His 106.2 yards per game and 5,104 all-purpose yards are both second-best in Buckeyes’ history. In conclusion: Dobbins was a stud. The question is: can that production transfer over to the NFL?
While Baltimore has tried and failed with numerous running back prospects this decade (Justice Hill (who looks like the odd man out with the addition of Dobbins), Kenneth Dixon (lost the starting gig more times than anyone I can recall), Javorius ‘Buck’ Allen (great name, awful NFL player), Lorenzo Taliaferro (a blip on the radar in the mid 2010’s), and Bernard Pierce (the original Ray Rice contingency plan from 2014), the current iteration of the team is by far the best fantasy situation a rookie has seen from the organization in a long, long time. Lamar Jackson and Dobbins have the opportunity to bring opposing offenses to their knees, so don’t be surprised if Dobbins is the team’s starter (sorry Mark Ingram) by the end of the 2020 regular season.
Ceiling: Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
A mid-low tier RB1 who dominates in an offense tailor-made to his strengths. Will occasionally has off weeks due to the team’s reliance on Jackson, Ingram, and others in the running game, but presents a solid floor and limitless ceiling week-in and week-out.
Floor: Mikel Leshoure, N/A
A former Big 10 bellcow turned washout who displays no real skills at the pro level. Fails to make an impact, being outshined by other talents on the roster. Flames out after a few seasons on the roster bubble.
Median: Carlos Hyde, Seattle Seahawks
The definition of an average NFL running back, can take the heat working between the tackles and becomes a very solid RB2 during prime. Held back by lack of elite traits but still manages to win dynasty league owners a decent amount of games. Doesn’t achieve greatness but doesn’t disappoint either.
#2: RB Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Taylor was the best player on the field for almost his entire college career, plowing through elite Big 10 defenses with ease all the while keeping Wisconsin relevant in the polls. While many would argue that Taylor should be the 1.01 in rookie drafts, his average draft position at the time we are writing this piece is behind Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
That may not be bad news for Taylor owners, as the 1.02 spot in rookie drafts has been good to most owners this decade, with a 61% fantasy relevance yield. The running backs taken in this range have been very good in general, with far more successes (Ryan Mathews, Mark Ingram, Doug Martin, Gio Bernard, Leonard Fournette) than busts (Derrius Guice, who still has time to redeem himself).
There are a lot of things to love about Taylor, starting with the team that drafted him. The Colts offensive line was graded in the top third of the league by PFF while boasting a top-five rushing offense that featured middling talents like Marlon Mack and Jonathan Williams as the lead back at certain points in the season. Adding a truly dominant talent like Taylor to the equation sounds like the perfect recipe for an RB1. Consistency has been the key to Taylor’s success thus far, as the former Badgers star put up the most combined rushing yards between his Freshman and Sophomore seasons of any back in NCAA history while setting the record for most games of 200 or more rushing yards (12). Moreover, Taylor belongs to a select group of college backs to average 6.5 of more yards-per-carry, a group that consists of names like Ezekiel Elliott, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon, and Melvin Gordon, with only a few of egregious busts (Jahvid Best, Guice, and LaMichael James, the former two having dealt with severe injuries upon entering the league).
When looking at Wisconsin running back products, two names from this decade standout. The first being Montee Ball, who like Taylor operated as the sole catalyst for the program’s run-heavy offense in the early 2010’s, setting the record for most career rushing touchdowns in college football history. By the time he entered the league, Ball was working off of fumes, as he lasted just two seasons with the Broncos before being cut. The man who replaced Ball as the Badgers lead back, Melvin Gordon, has had a much more decorated NFL career, with 4,240 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns thus far in his career. While Taylor’s game has shades of both players, he has inevitably drawn more comparisons to Ball, as both players rushed for over 5,000 yards in their decorated collegiate careers. History suggests that these 5,000-yard college rushers are doomed to fail in the NFL, given the lack of success experienced by guys like Ball, James, Donnell Pumphrey, Justin Jackson, Royce Freeman, and Myles Gaskin.
While Taylor should immediately take over as the Colts primary ball carrier, his upside will be limited if he is unable to secure a role in the passing game. Taylor’s 42 receptions in college are the least for a rookie draft first-round pick with 900+ touches since 2010. With proficient pass-catching backs like Mack and Nyheim Hines on the roster, I would expect the stone-handed Taylor to be taken off the field for most passing downs. Considering the fact that newly minted starting quarterback Philip Rivers completed 38% of his passes to running backs in 2019, Taylor would be missing out on some serious fantasy point opportunities should he be taken off the field on these downs. Indianapolis has not been the best when it comes to drafting running backs this decade, with underwhelming busts like Mack, Hines, and Delone Carter being taken by the team with premium draft capital.
Should the team feed Taylor like the Badgers did, he may very well become one of the best backs in the league. However, if Taylor’s workhorse role in college leads to him wearing down faster than his peers, his name may soon become synonymous with the term ‘bust’.
Ceiling: Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
True Fantasy RB1, with 1.01 redraft potential year-in and year-out. A workhorse back who blows up would-be tacklers like they’re made of tissue paper, Taylor becomes a one-of-a-kind star behind the best young offensive line in the NFL. Colts ‘run the damn ball’.
Floor: Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
Fantasy RB3 when he gets goal-line work, gets displaced by a better pass-catcher who outperforms him.
Median: Jordan Howard, Miami Dolphins
Average RB2/3 that sticks around for a long time pounding the ball for 3-4 yard gains. What you see is what you get. Could do better but could also do much worse.
#1: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
The 1.01 in 2020, Edwards-Helaire was the first running back off the board this year, having been taken with the 32nd pick in the first round by the Kansas City Chiefs. It’s hard to find a player more primed for success, as the Chiefs offense should immediately create a path for the LSU product to become an RB1 in fantasy. The 1.01 spot has been everything it’s cracked out to be, with a 69% (nice) fantasy-relevant yield rate. There have certainly been some misses (Trent Richardson, Tavon Austin, Sammy Watkins, and Corey Davis have certainly sent some dynasty owners to therapy), but there have simultaneously been some league-winners taken at this spot (Dez Bryant, A.J Green, Todd Gurley, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Josh Jacobs).
There’s a lot to like about CEH, as he combines elements of Mark Ingram, Jacobs, and Alvin Kamara’s games to become the optimal archetype for an NFL running back. LSU has produced a lot of moderately successful NFL backs (Leonard Fournette, Jeremy Hill, Spencer Ware, Stevan Ridley) who didn’t possess the electric receiving skills that Edwards-Helaire displayed. At 5’7, 210 lbs, Edwards-Helaire is a bowling ball on wheels when he hits the open field, becoming almost impossible to tackle due to his low center of gravity. While Joe Burrow and Joe Brady got most of the attention for LSU’s offensive renaissance last season, the emergence of CEH as a viable pass-catcher out of the backfield, while also operating as a hammer in the running game allowed the Tigers offense to become truly unlocked. Chiefs HC Andy Reid has reportedly compared Edwards-Helaire to his former running back Brian Westbrook, a fantasy dynamo in the mid-2000s, going as far as to say that the 2020 first-round pick may be even better than the former Eagles star.
We saw how viable a true bellcow back can be in fantasy from the Chiefs offense when the team employed Kareem Hunt from 2017-2018, as Hunt scored 525.4 PPR points in 27 games as the team’s starter. In the wake of Hunt’s release in late 2018, the team began employing a committee approach led by replacement level back Damien Williams, who still managed to score 226 PPR points in 16 games as the team’s starter since. While he may be paired with Williams in a one-two punch to begin his career, Edwards-Helaire will likely take over as the team’s bellcow by the end of his first season. Given the fantasy successes of Hunt, Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware, and Damien Williams as the lead backs during the Andy Reid era, it would appear as though the CEH will be walking into an RB1 career.
There are a handful of concerns about Edwards-Helaire that are worth mentioning. First off, the success rate of backs from 5,000+ yard passing offenses has not been the best this decade, with only Joe Mixon and Doug Martin being very successful. Fortunately for Edwards-Helaire, he will likely be playing in a scheme quite similar to the one run by LSU in 2019, as the Chiefs offense is about as pass-happy as one can find in the pros. Moreover, the young back has only one real season as the lead back for an offense, a plus, and a minus when taking into consideration the fact that he may not have the same wear-and-tear that high usage backs like Jonathan Taylor have picked up from playing a ton of downs in college. Lastly, the Chiefs have had their fair share of misses in the draft when it comes to running backs, having used premium draft capital on the likes of Dexter McCluster, Knile Davis, and De’Anthony Thomas.
All-in-all, there are few players who get presented with an opportunity as golden as the one Edwards-Helaire has. To be able to join an organization with a top-tier head coach (Reid), offensive coordinator (Eric Bieniemy), QB (Patrick Mahomes), wide receiver (Tyreek Hill), and tight end (Travis Kelce) is a once in a lifetime type of opportunity. There are certainly a lot of mouths to feed on the Chiefs offense, but if they hope to defend their Super Bowl victory, they’re going to need to re-establish the ground game. Other than a serious injury, there’s no justifiable reason why Edwards-Helaire should not have an excellent NFL career with multiple RB1 fantasy finishes.
Ceiling: Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
A perennial RB1 who can pick up points as a receiver and as a runner. A product of an extremely efficient and prolific offense.
Floor: Sony Michel, New England Patriots
A lower end RB2 whose well-roundedness doesn’t translate from college to the pros. Gets points due to touch share, but fails to impress very much.
Median: Mark Ingram, Baltimore Ravens
A low-end RB1, high-end RB2. A relatively average player who ebbs and flows with the success and direction of the offense.