Originally Published: May 6, 2016
Note: The rookie player reports are organized by our initial 2016 rankings, based on talent, opportunity, and situation. Below all the reports, we have long term dynasty/keeper rankings.
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
School: Ohio State| Ht: 6’0” | Wt: 225 | 40: 4.47 | Year: 3Jr | Drafted: 1st round, 4th overall
- Scouting Report: Upon studying the tape, it was apparent to us that Elliott is so far and above every other RB in this class. In fact, we think it’s fairto argue that Elliott is actually a better pro prospect than Todd Gurley – Gurley was more of a “freakish” athlete, but Elliott seems to have more polish and a better handle on the position overall. A two-year starter for Ohio State (playing behind Carlos Hyde as a freshman in 2013), Elliott ran for over 1800 yards and at least 18 TDs in each of the last two seasons, finishing his career with 592/3961/43 rushing (a ridiculous 6.7 YPC). He also caught 58 passes for 449 yards and another TD. Productive and balanced, Elliott was the star of the Buckeyes’ run to the national title in 2014, running for at least 220 yards and 2 TDs in the Big Ten Championship game and each of the two College Football Playoff matchups (that’s in each game). He followed it up with an amazing 2015 season in which he showed improvement in just about every area on film. In fact, it’s hard to find a single legitimate weakness in Elliott’s game when watching him. Elliott reads blocks well, navigates through trash at the point of attack, and changes direction very well. He’s both patient and decisive, making him a fine fit for zone or gap schemes. Elliott stops and starts on a dime with loose hips and elusiveness. He keeps his eyes upfield at all times, and is always looking to square his hips. He showed the consistent ability to slip tackles in the backfield, often with multiple moves before even reaching the line of scrimmage. Elliott does the “jump back” move very effectively, hopping backwards in the face of defender while still keeping his eyes focused on his next hole. He has great balance and recovery ability, thanks to his generally low center of gravity. As evidenced by his 4.47 40-yard dash at the Combine, Elliott has phenomenal breakaway speed for his size as well. His gigantic 10.25” hands also meant he didn’t fumble much, with just 4 in his whole career. And perhaps most impressive about Elliott is what he doesn’t when he doesn’t have the ball. He’s the best blocker we watched at his position, and that includes run blocking, because OSU ran a lot of designed QB runs. Elliott also sells play action very well, running to contact just as hard as he would with the ball in his hands. It led coach Urban Meyer to say Elliott is the best player he ever coached when he doesn’t have the ball, and we can see why. In all, we see very few questions Elliott will have to answer, at least on the field (aside from some below-average agility drills at the Combine). All in all, Elliott is a true three-down back who can block and catch the football, and his competitiveness is off the charts.
- Fantasy Analysis: In our Pre-Draft Rookie Report, when we first published our overall scouting report of Elliott, we mentioned that “if he lands in the right spot, he’ll be a top-24 fantasy selection.” Well… that was underselling him. Dallas is the spot for a back, behind the league’s best offensive line. It’s obviously fair to question the wisdom of Dallas using a top-five draft pick when this offense proved capable of resurrecting Darren McFadden’s corpse (4th in the NFL with 1089 rushing yards) and just signed the eminently capable Alfred Morris, but there’s no doubt Elliott’s three-down skillset can make him a true stud for the Cowboys for fantasy. Dallas certainly did not use this pick to use Elliott sparingly. In fact, it’d be foolish to do so, given Elliott’s blocking prowess and his solid receiving ability. Given how we viewed Elliott and how Dallas backs have performed the last couple years, he’s a lock for a top-12 redraft ADP, and there’s a serious argument to be made he should be the first RB taken in dynasty startups, even ahead of Todd Gurley. The recent track record of rookie RBs with these lofty preseason expectations is not good (Ryan Mathews, Trent Richardson), but we have to analyze Elliott on his own. What we see is a back without serious drawbacks to his game, in a situation that should magnify his strengths. The only questions we have are if the Cowboys view McFadden and Morris as necessary parts of their offense, but if that’s the case, why use the pick on Elliott in the first place?
2. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears
School: Indiana | Ht:6’0” | Wt: 230 | 40: N/A | Year: 3Jr | Drafted: 5th round, 150th overall
- Scouting Report: A downhill “track runner,” Howard has an exceptional feel for the outside zone game who gets downhill quickly, and he’s a punishing finisher – he always seems to run through contact, and falls forward when he does go down. After transferring to Indiana following the close of the UAB football program, Howard ran for at least 145 yards in each full game he played with the Hoosiers. But that “full game” qualifier is significant with Howard, as he’s had serious injury problems dating back to high school, including missing four games with knee and ankle problems at Indiana, and missing time last spring with an elbow injury (it’s worth noting he uses his arms violently when he runs). So we’re looking at an incredibly productive player who runs violently, but a player whose own style has taken him off the field, much like DeMarco Murray. And unlike Murray, Howard wasn’t a particularly productive receiver in college, catching just 24 passes in 32 games, though he showed the hands to be better than that in the pros. In all, Howard has the skills and big frame to be an excellent early-down runner at the next level – while he didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the Combine, he’s been clocked under 4.4 in the past (take with as grain of salt, of course, given his Pro Day time was just under 4.6), and his 122-inch broad jump in Indy was very impressive. Howard also took care of the ball, fumbling just 6 times on 671 career touches.
- Fantasy Analysis: Injuries and role limitations likely dropped Howard into the 5th round to the Bears, but he lands in an excellent spot for an instant fantasy impact. The Bears’ top back is currently Jeremy Langford, but the former college WR struggled to break tackles as a rookie and may be best deployed as a third-down type of back. While Howard may have some stylistic similarities to Ka’Deem Carey, the fact of the matter is that Howard is just a lot bigger than Carey. This is obviously a battle that has to play itself out in camp and the preseason, but we simply think Howard is a better player. Bear coach John Fox wants to run it, and Howard is likely his best option to do so. His fantasy upside may ultimately be limited because of his lack of third-down skills, but there’s a chance he and Langford form a pretty effective tandem.
3. C.J. Prosise, Seattle Seahawks
School: Notre Dame| Ht: 6’0” | Wt: 220 | 40: 4.48 | Year: 4Jr | Drafted: 3rd round, 90th overall
- Scouting Report: With presumed Irish starting RB Tarean Folstoninjured in the opener and Greg Bryant kicked off the team, coach Brian Kelly moved the gifted Prosise from WR to RB prior to the 2015 season. Prosise dedicated himself to the position, and rewarded Kelly by gaining 1029 yards and 11 TDs on just 157 carries, an average of 6.6 YPC. Consider that he’s big – 220 pounds – and ran a fantastic 4.48 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He has the speed to get to the corner, which will be very useful for sweeps and off-tackle runs. When he gets into the open field, he’s hard to bring down because he uses his size well, and he can flat out run away from defenders. And given he’s a former WR, he offers a ton of options in terms of flexing him out or creative play design. While Prosise showed excellent feel for gap runs, he just hasn’t developed the instincts or vision to be a high-quality zone runner at this point in time. Prosise has the tendency to slow his feet with backfield penetration and in a muddied hole, which isn’t totally shocking given his lack of experience at the position. Another issue for Prosise’s transition is that he has a “third-down” skill set but virtually no experience blocking, which will limit his ability to get on the field barring great improvement this summer. And the biggest issue for Prosise is ball security – he fumbled 5 times on just 157 carries in 2015, runs too tall at times, and his 8.25” hands are comically small for the position. So what we have is a very gifted, competitive player who is still learning the RB position, but could contribute immediately on special teams and as a receiver, where he will consistently torch LBs and safeties. It’s easy to compare Prosise to another Golden Domer WR-turned-RB in Theo Riddick, but he’s more naturally powerful and, frankly, a much better runner than Riddick.
- Fantasy Analysis: With Marshawn Lynch retired and Fred Jackson still unemployed, the Seahawks have 62 RB targets to replace from those two alone. As mentioned in the scouting report above, Prosise has plenty of work to do to become an NFL-worthy three-down back (if he ever becomes one), especially in regards to pass pro and ball security, but one thing he can certainly do is catch the ball. As of now, he’s the best option in Seattle’s backfield to do that. The Seahawks have last year’s revelation Thomas Rawls presumably heading up the committee here and re-signed Christine Michael, while they spent two late-round picks on Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Clemson’s Zac Brooks at the position. Prosise has a unique skill set and was a high pick, which generally indicates the Seahawks have an idea in mind for him. A rotation of Rawls and Prosise would be both young and dangerous, while acknowledging that Prosise has work to do to actually win a job here. His upside is the major reason for this aggressive ranking, as is the fact that as impressive as Rawls was last year, he really has only a half season of success to his name, and is coming off a serious ankle injury.
4. Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens
School: Louisiana Tech| Ht: 5’10” | Wt: 215 | 40: 4.58 | Year: 4Sr | Drafted: 3rd round, 90th overall
- Scouting Report: To put it simply, Dixon is just fun to watch. The star of a wide-open Louisiana Tech offense that took off after Jeff Driskeltransferred in prior to the 2015 season, Dixon handled a whopping 889 touches in his college career. He racked up over 5000 yards from scrimmage and 87 TDs, while mostly making it through his career unscathed (he missed time in 2013 with a knee issue and some action in 2015 with an ankle injury). Here’s what stood out upon watching a lot of Dixon – he’s both elusive and competitive. So Dixon made it a point to try to make defenders miss on a consistent basis, but also wasn’t afraid to stick his nose into the muck and fight for extra yards. Dixon had more four-yard “wow” runs than anyone in this class, playing behind a pretty weak Tech offensive line. Often, Dixon had to make defenders miss just to get back to the line of scrimmage, and he did this with consistency in his college career. Dixon is skinny, which may be a concern for some teams, but he runs bigger, especially as a senior, when he flat out ran angry. Dixon doesn’t have great open-field speed, but he more than makes up for it with his loose hips and his ability to make defenders miss. There’s also some subtlety to Dixon’s movement, as he didn’t waste motion on his jukes, ensuring the smoothest possible transition to his next move. Indeed, Dixon has phenomenal body control, which is evident on film. And that’s not even describing Dixon’s best trait, which is his receiving (he’s likely the best pass-catching back in this class). Dixon lined up in the slot, and ran slants and screens out of the backfield. Dixon has exceptional awareness, and constantly works to get himself open in the passing game, never giving up on a play. This shows up in his running as well, as he’s patient with good vision, and just an “innate feel” for his position. In all, Dixon was a true foundation back in college, and has the skills to do the same in the NFL. He needs to improve as a blocker, which as we know can hurt his chances to get on the field, but he showed the willingness to get dirty in that area.
- Fantasy Analysis: Dixon went later in the draft than we expected, but while the Ravens’ backfield looks crowded, we like his chances to stand out at some point. Justin Forsett is now 30 and is coming off a serious arm injury, while we view Buck Allen as more of a rotational player who doesn’t play to his size. The biggest concern is that Allen’s presence will remove Dixon’s upside as a receiver, the same way Theo Riddick capped Ameer Abdullah’s fantasy ceiling in Detroit last year. But an optimist would view Dixon as the most well-rounded back here, on a team that invested in its offensive line as well (top-10 pick Ronnie Stanley). Unlike Allen, Dixon plays bigger than his size, and could well be a three-down back if given the opportunity in Marc Trestman’s offense. For now, he’s one of our favorite late-round depth picks in redraft, and a back-end first-round dynasty rookie pick.
5. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
School: Alabama| Ht: 6’3” | Wt: 247 | 40: 4.54 | Year: 3Jr | Drafted: 2nd round, 45th overall
- Scouting Report: Big men simply should not move the way Henry does. Despite a near 250-pound frame, Henry ran a 4.54 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, which is absolutely absurd. And his breakaway speed showed up on film, too, because he was near impossible to bring down in the open field after he got a head of steam. Henry simply can’t be brought down by a single tackler once he’s hit top speed. It’s the major reason he ran for an absurd 395/2219/28 in his junior year at Alabama, capturing the Heisman Trophy in a National Championship season for the Crimson Tide. It’s one of the reasons our favorite comp for him is Melvin Gordon. A large part of Gordon’s production at Wisconsin, as we mentioned last year, came on long breakaway runs through massive holes, one of the main reasons we ranked Gordon pre-draft lower than the consensus. We saw the same with Henry. We saw the tendency of Gordon to stop his feet at a muddied point of attack. We saw the same with Henry. While Gordon had explosive long speed, he took some time to accelerate and actually looked sluggish in the hole. We saw the same with Henry. There are more positives for Henry, of course. Henry showcased soft hands in college (though he wasn’t asked to do much, with just 17 career catches), which in addition to his strong protection skills will help keep him on the field in fantasy-friendly situations, though he’s not likely to do much outside of screens. Henry also wasn’t a fumbler, putting the ball on the ground on just 5 of his 619 career touches. And indeed, while he doesn’t have a ton of agility relative to his position (7.20 three-cone, 4.38 20-yard shuttle), he moves verywell for a big man. Any player Henry’s size will be hard to bring down, though he did go down a little easier in short yardage than we would like to see, and he struggled to get more than what was blocked against the best teams on Alabama’s schedule.
- Fantasy Analysis: Henry was the second running back drafted, which was generally expected. But he lands in a spot where his club, the Titans, has already invested resources, trading for DeMarco Murray this past off-season and signing him to a new deal. For now, that caps Henry’s fantasy upside, because as we saw in Philly last year, Murray is a good enough receiver that he can put up fantasy numbers even if he isn’t running particularly well. That’s also the area where Henry’s game lags behind most. The good news is Titan coach Mike Mularkey loves power/counter/trap gap elements in his run game, in addition to mixing in inside and outside zone. Scheme-wise, it’s a great fit for Henry, and the Titans have invested plenty of resources into the offensive line as well (top-10 pick Jack Conklin this year). But he’s not the kind of back we view as a “change of pace” – drafting Henry as highly as the Titans did indicates they want him to be their feature back at some point. It doesn’t appear likely this year, as Mularkey and Titan GM Jon Robinson continued to talk up Murray after the draft, but this is a pretty good fit for Henry overall.
6. Paul Perkins, New York Giants
School: UCLA| Ht: 5’10” | Wt: 208 | 40: 4.54 | Year: 4Jr | Drafted: 5th round, 149th overall
- Scouting Report: The focal point of UCLA’s offense the last three seasons, Perkins handled 701 offensive touches for the Bruins, gaining over 4000 yards from scrimmage and scoring 32 touchdowns. This was from a guy who wasn’t built like a traditional three-down RB, though Perkins made a concerted effort prior to his junior season to stand up more to the workload, putting on 12 pounds. The Combine measurements (5’10”, 208 pounds) suggest he kept that weight on, and on the right team, there’s no reason to think Perkins couldn’t be a “lead” back in the next level. Upon watching Perkins, the first thing that stands out is his elusiveness and balance. He has the “NFL trait” of being able to string several moves together at once. He also made defenders miss frequently in the backfield, which will come in handy at the next level. Perkins’ ability to pick the right hole on zone runs was an obvious trait, and that looks like his best fit for the next level; despite his smaller stature, Perkins really didn’t have much breakaway speed, and he’s far more of a side-to-side mover than a downhill guy. Perkins runs hard and won’t shy away from contact, but he doesn’t have the speed or size to consistently run through contact in the NFL. That said, he’s very dangerous in the open field, and he’s a great receiver, hauling in 80 passes in three seasons. Despite very small hands (9”), Perkins consistently caught the ball, and wasn’t a bad fumbler, putting the ball on the ground just 5 times in his career, and just once in 2015. Perkins is also a competitive, willing blocker, a huge positive for someone his size and skill set.
- Fantasy Analysis: Perkins is the newest part of a crowded backfield, but it’s crowded with mediocrity. Rashad Jennings is old and oft-injured, Shane Vereen plays a specific role, and Andre Williams stinks (he should be cut). Meanwhile, Perkins comes to the club with a track record of production, and even if he’s a bit undersized, that never stopped Frank Gore (a popular pre-draft comparison for Perkins). We’ve also seen Devonta Freeman comps out there, which make sense too, given Perkins’ receiving chops. Perkins has quite a bit of battling to do, including with Marshaun Coprich, an intriguing UDFA from Illinois State, but we don’t see enough talent in front of him that he should be held down for long. Perkins is only a 5th-round pick, but give his natural elusiveness, there’s plenty of reason to consider him the most appealing option here.
7. DeAndre Washington, Oakland Raiders
School: Texas Tech | Ht:5’8” | Wt: 204 | 40: 4.49 | Year: 5Sr | Drafted: 5th round, 144th overall
- Scouting Report: A productive back with so-so measurables, we loved watching Washington on film. The last two years at Texas Tech, he produced 3308 yards from scrimmage and 20 TDs on 492 offensive touches. Washington is a small back, but he’s built solidly. He runs tough, is willing to absorb hits, and he has the low center of gravity and balance to bounce off of poor tackles. He also had 124 catches in his four-year career, making him one of the most accomplished receiving backs in the entire class, and he showed excellent effort as a pass protector, which coaches will notice. The problems are his size and, as mentioned, his mediocre Combine tests, including a 4.49 40-yard dash, 7.03 three-cone drill, 4.20 20-yard shuttle. Washington also developed a fumbling problem as a senior, putting 5 balls on the turf after just 2 in his entire career before his senior season. Overall, though, he was a fun player to watch, and a legitimate tough guy who is just a bit undersized. You can see some Devonta Freeman in Washington.
- Fantasy Analysis: As we mentioned in the Pre-Draft rookie report, there were a good number of backs in this class like Washington, and for our purposes, the major distinguishing feature would be landing spot. All in all, Washington has a good one, behind a very good and underrated offensive line. The Raiders clearly had designs of playing a third-down back with Latavius Murray last season, but Roy Helu was a massive bust, and Oakland realized just rolling with Murray was their best option in the backfield. But Murray was generally inefficient as a receiver and left plenty of yards on the field, and Washington should have an opportunity to compete as a rookie for a pretty sizeable role, with Helu and Taiwan Jones. Murray played 65% of the Raiders’ offensive snaps last year, so there is plenty of room to reduce his role (and the Raiders likely want to, because we’re told he frustrated coaches last year). Washington played a lot bigger than his size, and we’ve seen far less talented players become feature backs, and very good for fantasy. This is a very intriguing player, and a good spot for him for to produce.
8. Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos
School: Utah | Ht:5’11” | Wt: 219 | 40: N/A | Year: 5Sr | Drafted: 4th round, 136th overall
- Scouting Report: Booker was incredibly productive at Utah, with 3395 yards from scrimmage and 23 TDs on 640 touches in just two years with the Utes after transferring from American River Junior College. He was particularly effective as a receiver, catching 80 passes in two seasons (23 games, before a torn meniscus ended his senior season early). Booker also showed the ability to make defenders miss in the backfield and in the open field, and while he’s not a particularly powerful guy, he does lower his shoulder and run hard. But Booker has several major issues. He has small hands, at 8 5/8”, and he fumbled a whopping 9 times on his 640 touches. He tends to default to carrying the ball in his left hand, even when it should be in his right, and NFL defenders can exploit that. Booker also stutters his feet when he hits the line, missing some holes, which makes him feel like more of a gap scheme guy than a zone runner. However, he also didn’t have great explosive traits on film, so some coaches may worry about Booker’s ability to hit the hole with the velocity needed for power running, especially in short yardage. And while Booker has some shiftiness and very good balance with the ability to use jump cuts, he’s had to gear down when changing direction.
- Fantasy Analysis: While we think Booker should have no problem passing Ronnie Hillman as the top back behind J. Anderson in Denver, we should note a couple of things. First of all, at 24, Booker is an old rookie. He’s only eight months younger than Hillman, and 15 months younger than Anderson (both guys were free agents for the first time this past off-season). Second of all, his 640 touches in two years at Utah are more than Anderson has had in his two years at Cal in college and his three pro seasons combined. While others viewed Booker as a true three-down back in the NFL, we have some concerns about that, but there’s no doubt he can catch some passes and elude tackles, and if he gets a chance, he can be a sustainer. He’s a better player than Hillman, but we don’t think he’s as good an all-around back as Anderson is. The point is, he’s going to get snaps, and his pass-catching ability will make him interesting in PPR leagues.
9. Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
School: Alabama | Ht:6’1” | Wt: 210 | 40: 4.45 | Year: 4Sr | Drafted: 3rd round, 73rd overall
- Scouting Report: Drake was a rotational player in college, and he’ll be the same in the NFL. He’s a big, angular kid with explosive downhill ability (4.45 40-yard dash, 123” broad jump). While he isn’t as laterally agile as you might hope, he showed the ability to move around the formation and haul in passes. He also doesn’t have a ton of mileage on him, with just 279 offensive touches and 22 TDs in his four-year career with the Crimson Tide (his junior year was cut short with a broken leg after five games). And Drake never improved on his spectacular sophomore season, in which he posted 829 yards from scrimmage and 9 TDs on just 104 touches. That said, he added the return game to his arsenal in 2015, so he can do a lot of things. Drake needs to be put in a position to succeed, because he stutters his feet in traffic, went down too much on first contact, and had a bad tendency to try to bounce runs to the outside. Drake also had a terrible fumbling problem, with 7 on just 279 offensive touches, despite huge 9.75” hands. But he can move all around the formation and contribute on special teams, which makes him a very interesting player at the next level.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Dolphins made Drake the third RB off the board in the Draft, and while many expected Miami to add a back in this class, we were surprised Drake was that back. We liked Drake quite a bit on film, but as a big back who is best deployed as a rotational/package player, he has similarities to Damien Williams, who is also on the roster. Presumed lead back Jay Ajayi is also a very good receiver, so at this point it’s tough to handicap Drake’s fantasy value. What we can say is that no one in this backfield is in anyway proven (well, Daniel Thomas is proven to be awful), and even if Drake isn’t the prototypical three-down back, he has size and receiving ability, with explosive traits. We don’t doubt he’ll have fantasy value at some point, because there should be an open competition here.
10. Tyler Ervin, Houston Texans
School: San Jose State | Ht:5’10” | Wt: 192 | 40: 4.41 | Year: 5Sr | Drafted: 4th round, 119th overall
- Scouting Report: Ervin is explosively fast, and it shows on tape – he ran a 4.41 40 and produced a ridiculous 39” vertical and 130” broad jump at the Combine in Indianapolis. There is powerin his legs, and he shows it. The problem is that Ervin is tiny, at 5’10” and 192 pounds, and it’s hard to make up for that frame in the NFL, no matter the mentality. But regardless, Ervin is tough. The former CB has played just two full-time years at RB, but he handled 339 touches in 2016, posting 1935 yards from scrimmage and 15 offensive TDs. And despite his frame, he was a decisive, determined downhill runner. An experienced kickoff returner, Ervin runs like he’s returning kickoffs, finding a hole and hitting it with instant velocity. He’ll lower his shoulder into defenders and fight for extra yards. And in the open field, he can both make defenders miss and simply run by them. San Jose State coaches utilized Ervin’s versatility, too, moving him all around the formation. He’s a natural receiver with ease of transition to running, and he can absolutely smoke LBs and safeties on routes. Ervin caught 87 passes in his career, and he has the skills to be a PPR beast at the next level. It’s just the frame that limits him. He gives effort as a blocker, but can be trucked by blitzing defenders. And as tough as he is, he simply isn’t big enough to consistently bounce off tacklers. He also had some injury problems at SJSU, including a shoulder in 2012, and a high-ankle sprain that cost him virtually all of 2013, leading to a medical redshirt year. Still, there’s a ton to like. He’s a little more downhill than Darren Sproles, and he’s a much better natural runner than Theo Riddick. Consider him a combination of the both for a good comparison.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Texans spent big money on Lamar Miller this off-season, and the plan is certainly for Miller to be their lead back. That said, Arian Foster is gone, and the players on the roster behind Miller are completely underwhelming (Alfred Blue, Jonathan Grimes, Kenny Hilliard). Ervin may not be a handcuff in the traditional sense, but he has the skillset to be the back who plays the most in a rotational role behind Miller, with the advantage of being able to play on special teams as well. Those in return-yardage leagues will likely love Ervin this year, while he could have sneaky PPR value as well.
11. Keith Marshall, Washington Redskins
School: Georgia | Ht:5’11” | Wt: 219 | 40: 4.31 | Year: 4Sr | Drafted: 7th round, 242nd overall
- Scouting Report: A much-heralded back coming out of high school, Marshall entered the University of Georgia in the same recruiting class as some scrub named Todd Gurley. Unfortunately, Marshall’s injuries in college were a far bigger problem than those of Gurley. After an impressive freshman year in 2012 in which he posted 117/759/8 rushing (6.5 YPC), Marshall tore his ACL in 2013, and couldn’t get back on the field in 2014 because the injury didn’t heal the way doctors wanted. In all, he played just eight games in 2013 and 2014, gaining just 376 yards on 77 offensive touches (4.9 YPT). However, Marshall rebounded with a fairly healthy senior year, posting 68/350/3 rushing as he helped fill in for another injured Georgia star, Nick Chubb. Still, Marshall needed an impressive Combine to put him squarely on the NFL radar, and he absolutely accomplished that, blowing away all other RBs with a blazing 4.31 40 time, absurd for a guy his size. But that’s really Marshall’s most marketable trait at this point (and consider his 30.5” vertical was poor). On the field, he remains raw and tentative. He doesn’t always play to his speed, his vision is poor, and he’s not a great blocker. However, he can be moved around the formation, and despite catching just 24 passes in college, he showed the base skills to do it on a consistent basis at the next level.
- Fantasy Analysis: Marshall has a lot of development ahead of him, but this relatively aggressive ranking is based mostly on opportunity. Washington seems committed to giving second-year back Matt Jones their lead back role, though Jones is coming off a largely disappointing rookie year. Third-down back Chris Thompson is a bit player, and the only other back on the roster is Mack Brown, who may or may not be the 64-year-old former Texas football coach. Marshall has explosive traits and measurables, but has a serious injury history and is raw because of it. For now, he fits the profile of a guy who can be a better pro than college player, and he could well have an opportunity to show it this year.
12. Kelvin Taylor, San Francisco 49ers
School: Florida | Ht:5’10” | Wt: 207 | 40: 4.60 | Year: 3Jr | Drafted: 6th round, 211th overall
- Scouting Report: Taylor could well have a very successful NFL career, but no one right now is going to mistake him for his father, Fred. Like Arkansas’ Alex Collins, Taylor was an SEC back who had a decent bit of statistical success in his career, and then followed it up with just an awful Combine performance. Taylor posted awful scores with a 4.60 40, 32” vertical, and 113” broad jump, and his 8.25” hands are tiny. And he really only had one full year as a starter, posting 259/1035/13 rushing (4.0 YPC) in Jim McElwain’s first year with the Gators. On the positives, like Collins, Taylor’s on-tape performance was far more impressive. Despite his poor timed speed, he showed the ability to get to the edge and get downhill. While Taylor’s speed isn’t great, he gets to his top speed quickly and maintains it. He sticks his foot in the ground and drives through defined gaps, and when he gets into the open field he can make defenders miss, showing his naturally quick feet. He also lined up all over the formation, and despite catching just 17 passes as a junior, he looks like a guy who can provide a lot of value in that area. Taylor also never had a ball security problem, as he never fumbledon 510 touches at Florida, so his small hands apparently weren’t an issue. On the downside, he doesn’t run through contact despite running hard, and he was inconsistent at best as a blocker. In our mind, Taylor looks like an undersized runner who would succeed most in a gap scheme and on third downs, though he needs to improve as a blocker to get a consistent role there.
- Fantasy Analysis: While his measurables were poor, on tape, Taylor has the second-best running skillset on the Niners’ roster, behind Carlos Hyde. There’s a ton of competition for snaps here, with solid vet Shaun Draughn, second-year man Mike Davis, and journeyman DuJuan Harris. But again, in terms of pure running skillset, we like Taylor the best of these guys. We’d anticipate Draughn opening the year as the #2, given his balanced abilities and reliability, but Hyde has an injury history (including foot problems last year, which can linger), and we’d bet Taylor gets a shot in Chip Kelly’s scheme in the event Hyde goes down again.
13. Josh Ferguson, Indianapolis Colts
School: Illinois | Ht:5’9” | Wt: 198 | 40: 4.48 | Year: 5Sr | Drafted: UDFA
- Scouting Report: On film, Ferguson looked like another back in this class, Florida’s Kelvin Taylor, but he tested much more impressively at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Ferguson ran a 4.48 40-yard dash, posted a decent 34.5” vertical, and a good 120” broad jump, which may separate the two prospects on some boards (as it did on ours). A versatile back whose best trait is his downhill running style and receiving ability, Ferguson runs tougher than his tiny frame. And with 168 receptions in his five-year college career (he got a medical redshirt in 2011 because of a hamstring injury), he’s as experienced in that department as anyone else in this class. But Ferguson never handled a full workload, topping out at 146 carries and 196 overall touches in 2014, though he did average 18.4 touches per game as a senior, missing three games with a shoulder injury. Ferguson excelled in Illinois’ spread offense, showing a good change of direction and the ability to make defenders miss (he especially likes the spin move). When a hole presented itself, Ferguson got downhill with velocity and wasn’t afraid of contact. Ferguson was phenomenal catching screens, and despite his size was always willing to stick his nose into a blitzer. On the downside, Ferguson’s lateral quickness doesn’t show up in the short area as much as you’d like for a back his size, and though he’s a tough runner, he’s simply not big enough to consistently break tackles. Additionally, Ferguson fumbled an astounding 11 times in his career, though 7of those came on 196 touches in his junior year (he had just 1 as a senior). In all, Ferguson looks like a very nice change-of-pace back with explosive traits.
- Fantasy Analysis: We were surprised that Ferguson wasn’t drafted, but given his size, injury history, and fumble problems, it does make some sense. What we do like, however, is that he landed in a great spot to contribute if he impresses in camp. The Colts seem set on going with Frank Gore as their lead back, but Gore was generally inefficient as a receiver last season (58.6% catch rate, 4.6 YPT). And the competition for third-down reps for Ferguson is a cornucopia of mediocrity – Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman, Trey Williams, and Tyler Varga. The Colts could always add a vet, but for now, we view this as a pretty ideal landing spot for a talented UDFA.
14. Wendell Smallwood, Philadelphia Eagles
School: West Virginia | Ht:5’10” | Wt: 208 | 40: 4.47 | Year: 3Jr | Drafted: 5th round, 153rd overall
- Scouting Report: An intriguing bit player with good measurables, Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing as a junior. He totaled 238/1519/9 rushing with 26 receptions for the Mountaineers as a junior, finishing his college career with 68 career catches. But he fell in the Draft for multiple reasons – first of all, and obviously most importantly, Smallwood was once arrested for allegedly witness tampering in a murder case, with the charges eventually dropped following a guilty plea (for what it’s worth, Smallwood has admitted mistakes and claimed he was hanging around the wrong crowd). On the field, Smallwood didn’t really play to his timed speed and struggled to create his own yardage, but can move all around the formation, catch passes, and contribute in multiple ways. He’s more a pure downhill guy, who runs tough. He has some similarities to Bishop Sankey, and ideally could be viewed as a bigger, less explosive De’Anthony Thomas.
- Fantasy Analysis: Mark down the Eagles as yet another team that we’re surprised didn’t draft a back higher. Smallwood is a local-ish kid, which may have helped, but we didn’t view him on film as an early-down type of back, mostly because he’s not big enough for his skill set. The Eagles lack a three-down guy outside of Ryan Mathews. That said, Smallwood had some stylistic similarities to De’Anthony Thomas, which we’re betting new Eagle coach Doug Pederson Mathews has injury issues and Darren Sproles is now in his mid-30s, so there is a very good chance that Smallwood gets on the field as a rookie. He’ll compete with Kenjon Barner for the #3 RB job this summer, but could be well above that ranking by midseason.
15. Jonathan Williams, Buffalo Bills
School: Arkansas| Ht: 5’11” | Wt: 220 | 40: N/A | Year: 4Sr | Drafted: 5th round, 156th overall
- Scouting Report: Williams didn’t play in 2015 after suffering a broken bone in his foot prior to the 2015 season. But going back and watching Williams’ junior tape closely, it was very difficult to dislike what he brought to the table. In all, Williams is “a grower” because he doesn’t have standout athleticism, but the areas in which he succeeds are subtler. A decisive runner who gets downfield immediately when a hole presents itself, Williams looked like a strong fit for both zone and gap schemes on film. He has deceptive speed and wiggle for a big guy, and he uses his long arms effectively to fight his way through traffic. Williams always battles for extra yardage, and he rarely goes down on first contact. He also was part of a committee with Alex Collinsin college, so he doesn’t have a ton of mileage on him (just 432 touches and 2666 yards from scrimmage). Also keep in mind that Williams was the Razorbacks’ choice in short yardage when they had both he and Collins available. Williams’ effort showed up on tape when he was asked to block, as he even effectively blocked defensive linemen 1-on-1 at times. That said, his competitiveness has led to fumbles – 10 on just 406 college carries. That’s a major issue, though Williams showcased solid hands in the passing game (however he wasn’t asked to do it much, with just 26 receptions in college). In all, Williams has the vision, decisiveness, and balance to be a very good NFL back. He’s good in short yardage and he’s capable of creating yards for himself. He’s a solid protector and a good receiver, which makes him a good bet to handle three-down roles at the next level.
- Fantasy Analysis: Williams was our #3 back pre-draft, so we obviously think this is a phenomenal value for the Bills. The issue in projecting him for fantasy is how crowded the Buffalo backfield currently looks, with LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, and Mike Gillislee all impressing at points last year. As such, the rookie Williams, coming off a foot injury, will have to battle for carries. We view him as extremely gifted and equipped for that, so he’s a very good dynasty pick. Plus, if McCoy and Karlos continue to have injury problems, we wouldn’t rule out Jonathan becoming a popular waiver-wire pickup at some point. With an impressive preseason, he could rise these rankings rapidly – he’s a pure I back who ran a ton of pro-style runs in college, and will transition beautifully to this offense. He’s a more natural three-down back than Karlos.
16. Alex Collins, Seattle Seahawks
School: Arkansas| Ht: 5’11” | Wt: 220 | 40: N/A | Year: 4Sr | Drafted: 5th round, 156th overall
- Scouting Report: If you’re someone who likes athletic measurables, you likely weren’t a big Collins fan. Collins had an atrocious showing at the NFL Combine in Indy, turning in a weak 4.59 40-yard dash, and absolutely horrific showings in the vertical jump (28.5”) and broad jump (118”). But if you lean more toward the tape and production side of evaluating prospects, Collins gives you a lot to like. A durable player in his three years at Arkansas, Collins ran for over 1000 yards in each season, totaling 665/3703/36 rushing in his career. And remember, he did that while splitting time with Jonathan Williamsin his first two seasons, before running for 1577 yards and 20 TDs as the full-time starter in 2015. Collins is built like a classic three-down back, with thick legs, a thin waist, and a strong upper body. He uses an effective stiff arm, and is extremely difficult to bring down up high – you must tackle him at a good angle. Despite his poor showing in the explosion drills at the Combine, Collins hit the hole hard on film, almost like he expected to get hit, so he could fight through the contact. Collins has good lateral agility in the hole and utilizes jump cuts effectively, so he can be a little more elusive than you might think upon first glance. Collins also runs with a shorter strides and a high knee kick, which can make him tough to corral. Additionally, Collins had some excellent moments in pass pro, including leveling Alabama DT A’Shawn Robinson in 2015 and now-Tampa LB Kwon Alexander as a sophomore. However, Collins didn’t seem to get to the perimeter as well as he hit it up on the interior, which might make him a poor fit for outside-zone dominant schemes. He also had horrific problems with ball security. He fumbled 15 times in college, and caught just 27 passes in his career.
- Fantasy Analysis: Collins joins a crowded backfield, one that also added the intriguing J. Prosise in the 3rd round. For now, there doesn’t appear to be a space for Collins to contribute, behind Thomas Rawls, Christine Michael, and Prosise (the Seahawks also drafted Zac Brooks from Clemson in the 7th round). But keep in mind Rawls is coming off a serious injury, Michael has never been trustworthy, and Prosise is a rookie who has played just one year at RB. It might not be immediate, but there’s a tangible window for Collins to make an impact as an early-down runner if Rawls can’t get back to full health (or he comes back to earth, given he has only a half season of track record to his name).
17. Marshaun Coprich, New York Giants
School: Illinois State | Ht:5’8” | Wt: 207 | 40: 4.47 | Year: 4Sr | Drafted: UDFA
- Scouting Report: If production is what you want, it’s hard to find more than what Coprich did at Illinois State. A full-time player the last two seasons with the Redbirds, Coprich ran for 2274 yards in 2014 and 1967 in 2015, winning the Missouri Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Year both seasons. Coprich also showed soft hands those two seasons, catching a total of 33 balls. On film, Coprich was a competitive runner who rarely went down on first contact despite his size (owing to his low center of gravity balance). He showed quickness in the hole and burst tothe hole, and the ability to run away from defenders. This burst showed up in Coprich’s solid 4.47 40-yard dash at the Combine. However, he tested very poorly in other areas, most significantly his awful 7.26 three-cone and 4.58 20-yard shuttle. It makes you go back and question the tape, since Coprich (unlike, say, Alex Collins) was putting up big numbers against inferior competition. Coprich also has a major red flag on his resume, a spring 2015 arrest for selling marijuana to an undercover cop (he pleaded guilty and was reinstated to the Redbird football team). However, after the arrest Coprich rededicated himself to football, and garnered an invite to the NFL Combine.
- Fantasy Analysis: Coprich’s poor measurables and off-field issues led to his falling out of the Draft, but he landed in a pretty good spot to compete for a job. While the Giants’ backfield is crowded, there’s no dominant players here. It appears that Coprich’s best chance to stick on the roster would be if the Giants carry four RBs; Andre Williams may well get cut, but it appears unlikely the Giants will let any of Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, or fifth-round pick Paul Perkins But given Jennings’ age and injury history, Coprich would be well suited to give a good impression in camp, so he’s available in the reserves. He was productive as both a runner and receiver, so there’s a nice potential fantasy skillset here.
18. Daniel Lasco, New Orleans Saints
School: California | Ht:6’0” | Wt: 209 | 40: 4.46 | Year: 5Sr | Drafted: 7th round, 237th overall
- Scouting Report: Lasco had a generally unspectacular college career, but whew, that Combine performance. In all, Lasco played in just 41 games at Cal, handling 396 offensive touches. But he missed five games as a senior with ankle and hip problems, and missed multiple games with a shoulder injury in 2013. In all, his strong 2014 junior year (1471 yards from scrimmage, 14 TDs) was by far the outlier for Lasco, accounting for over 60% of the production he garnered in his college career. However, Lasco blew upthe NFL Combine, running a really fast 4.46 40, but also registering a spectacular 41.5” vertical jump and a broad jump of 135”, the latter of which was the best ever recorded by a running back. But he came up well shy of that in agility drills – a really bad 7.22-second three-cone drill and a poor 4.26-second 20-yard shuttle. Lasco plays like that, too, on film. He’s a see-it, hit-it runner with true breakaway speed, plus the ability to get to the edge. But he doesn’t run with a whole lot of physicality, he runs too upright, and his lateral wiggle in a short area is non-existent. If a hole didn’t present itself, he would look to bounce to the outside. Lasco was a solid receiver as a junior, but he caught only 4 passes as a senior, as it wasn’t a huge part of his game, even though the Golden Bears did put him into motion at times. In all, Lasco is an athletic freak who overall doesn’t have a great feel for his position. But he has special-teams experience, explosive speed, and solid pass-protection skills.
- Fantasy Analysis: The Saints are absolutely loaded with RBs – Mark Ingram, Tim Hightower, J. Spiller, Marcus Murphy, Travaris Cadet, Vick Ballard – so there doesn’t appear to be a lot of room for Lasco to make an immediate impact, but on film he was certainly a player who showed he needed to develop and hone his natural skills quite a bit. It’s not a shock in the least to see the Saints take a shot on an athletic freak like Lasco, and if an opportunity for him to play would arise, we’d have to take a good look at him. That opportunity just isn’t here yet, but there’s a solid chance Spiller isn’t on this roster come Week One, and then we’d have to reevaluate, based on how Ingram and Hightower look. We’d like to see Lasco catch the ball in the preseason, because he didn’t do much of it as a senior at Cal.
19. Dwayne Washington, Detroit Lions
School: Washington | Ht:6’2” | Wt: 226 | 40: 4.44 (Pro Day) | Year: 4Jr | Drafted: 7th round, 236th overall
- Scouting Report: A big back and former WR with downhill speed and very good hands/route-running ability, Washington wasn’t used a ton as a “traditional” RB in college for the Huskies (yes, Washington went to Washington) – his career-high in carries was 132 as a sophomore in 2014, and in 2015 he had just 47 carries in eight games, playing behind stud freshman Myles Gaskin. Washington mostly lined up in passing situations, and was used all around the formation. Given his size and role, there were some similarities in his game to Charles Sims, though he was way more specialized than that in college. Since he didn’t touch the ball a whole lot, it was also a concern he didn’t consistently stay healthy in college, and he’ll need to show he can contribute as a special teamer to stick on a roster. But he’s big, fast, and a potential matchup nightmare, and coaches tend to love guys like that.
- Fantasy Analysis: Washington’s a unique talent, but his injury history and general lack of experience as a back led to his dropping to the 7th round. In Detroit, he’ll compete for a roster spot with Zach Zenner and Stevan Ridley, and even if he makes the team, he’ll have to compete for targets with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. That said, though, Washington was one of the last players we watched in the pre-draft process, and we came away believing that there’s a definite role for him in the NFL. It’s just hard to see him contributing for fantasy given all the roadblocks.
20. Darius Jackson, Dallas Cowboys
School: Washington | Ht: 6’0” | Wt: 221 | 40: 4.40 (Pro Day) | Year: 4Sr | Drafted: 6th round, 216th overall
- Scouting Report: Jackson had only one productive year at Eastern Michigan (208/1088/14 rushing, 21/201/2 receiving as a senior) and wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine. Had he been, he’d have been a big story – he had a ridiculous pro day in which he ran a 4.4 40 with a 133” broad jump and a 41” vertical. The athleticism is absurd, but the tape isn’t. On film, Jackson looks more like a lower-case Darren McFadden, a straight-line runner with a second gear. Jackson doesn’t have a low center of gravity, so he’ll absorb a lot of hits, and his vision is sub-par. Moreover, he doesn’t run with the authority in the short area that you’d like to see. All in all, Jackson has the size, athleticism, and pass-catching ability you look for, but simply lacks feel and instincts for his position.
- Fantasy Analysis: Jackson will become very interesting if the Cowboys cut/trade Darren McFadden or Alfred Morris, but for right now he’s buried behind Ezekiel Elliott. There may be a place for Jackson to contribute as a pass-catcher if Lance Dunbar (knee) isn’t ready for the 2016 season, but he has a lot of work to do. As of now, he’s a lot of athlete, but not a whole lot else.
Below, we rank this year’s rookie class based on long-term potential for the next few seasons.
- Ezekiel Elliott (Dal, 21) – A well-rounded back in an incredible situation, there’s a case to be made for Elliott to be the #1 overall dynasty back immediately.
- Derrick Henry (Ten, 22) – There’s a chance Henry is Tennessee’s lead back by midseason if DeMarco Murray plays the way he did last season, though he lacks upside as a receiver.
- C.J. Prosise (Sea, 22) – A converted WR, Prosise has been a running back for just one season, but should play immediately as a third-down option in Seattle’s offense as he develops.
- Kenneth Dixon (Bal, 22) – A well-rounded, tough-nosed back, Dixon’s a better player than Buck Allen and could be the Ravens’ #1 by the end of the season if Justin Forsett doesn’t rebound.
- Paul Perkins (NYG, 21) – The Giants’ RB depth chart is crowded, but it’s crowded with mediocrity. Perkins is an instinctive back who plays bigger than his size and could get carries early.
- Jordan Howard (Chi, 21) – A classic “track runner,” Howard should immediately threaten for early-down work in Chicago’s thin backfield.
- Jonathan Williams (Buf, 22) – Williams could be a fifth-round steal if he proves he’s healthy, but he’s currently part of a very crowded backfield.
- DeAndre Washington (Oak, 23) – Ideally, the shifty Washington will play on third downs early in his career, putting Latavius Murray in a much better place to succeed on early downs.
- Devontae Booker (Den, 24) – An older prospect with a ton of mileage on him, Booker wasn’t as high on our draft board as others had him, but he’s instantly a better option than Ronnie Hillman behind C.J. Anderson.
- Tyler Ervin (Hou, 22) – The Darren Sproles comps for Ervin aren’t outrageous, because he’s an explosive and versatile back who plays bigger than his size.
- Kenyan Drake (Mia, 22) – Drake’s an intriguing rotational back with special-teams and receiving value, but never showed the ability to be a true bell cow.
- Kelvin Taylor (SF, 22) – Though not nearly as big or gifted as his father Fred Taylor, Kelvin should have the opportunity to assert himself as Carlos Hyde’s top reserve as early as this year.
- Alex Collins (Sea, 22) – Collins is a strong, well built back with a great feel for his position, but is a sub-par athlete and is in a crowded backfield.
- Wendell Smallwood (Phi, 22) – Smallwood is a versatile and athletic flex-him-out option with some similarities to a lower-case De’Anthony Thomas, but he plays smaller than his size (no pun intended).
- Keith Marshall (Was, 22) – Once recruited almost as aggressively as Todd Gurley, Marshall is an oft-injured but incredibly explosive back with a chance to be a better pro than college player.
- Josh Ferguson (Ind, 23) – Though undrafted and oft-injured, the versatile Ferguson should have a shot to make the Colts’ roster as a third-down back behind Frank Gore.
- Daniel Lasco (NO, 23) – An athletic freak who set the Combine record at RB in the broad jump, Lasco was nonetheless an oft-injured one-year wonder at Cal.
- Marshaun Coprich (NYG, 22) – Insanely productive at small-school Illinois State, UDFA Coprich should have a shot to make the Giants’ roster in camp.
- Dwayne Washington (Det, 23) – A big kid who has very nice receiving skills, consider Washington something like a lower-case Charles Sims.
- Darius Jackson (Dal, 22) – A MAC-school athletic specimen who got drafted because of his pro day, Jackson’s tape was less impressive than his measurables.
- Aaron Green (LA, 23) – The UDFA Green doesn’t have exceptional measurables, but his tape is impressive because he’s capable of making defenders miss.
- Russell Hansbrough (TB, 22) – Comparable to Ronnie Hillman, Hansbrough is undersized but explosive and competitive, with good vision.
- Peyton Barber (TB, 21) – The cousin of Marion Barber, Barber’s strength also lies in short yardage, but he may struggle to make this club as a UDFA.
- Tra Carson (Cin, 23) – Carson’s tape won’t wow you, but he’s a big back with third-down skills, comparable to a Benny Cunningham type.
- Zac Brooks (Sea, 23) – A phenomenal pro day put Brooks on the radar, but he was often injured and rarely produced at Clemson, so merely a project.
Source: Fantasy Guru
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