The NFL draft season is officially upon us, but we’ve been in serious information-gathering mode for months now. Our Joe Dolan and Tom Brolley watch tons of college football each fall, and they’ve studied plenty of tape – we’ve included plenty of links for you to watch these prospects too. But we also lean heavily on our friends and sources around the league who not only watch more college football than we do, but they also closely scrutinize these pending rookies’ college tape.
While we’re a fantasy site and these players’ worth in our world won’t be clear until after the draft, we still like to stack these guys against each other based almost entirely on talent and their potential as they transition to the pros. We also break the players up into tiers in an effort to offer more insight into how they project to the NFL and the fantasy world.
Once the draft takes place on April 28-30, then it will be a lot easier to rank the rookies for the 2016 season – and we will in early May. We’ll also reset our long-term outlooks and re-rank the players for keeper and dynasty leagues.
Note: These players are ranked more so for their long-term value and potential, so these rankings aren’t for just 2016. Once the draft takes place, we’ll rank all rookies for both this year and the long-term.
1. Carson Wentz
School: North Dakota State | Ht: 6’5” | Wt: 237 | 40: 4.77 | Year: 5Sr
Before the last month or so (and heck, even still), you might have said “Who? From WHERE?” regarding Wentz. After studying Wentz, we were left with a lot more answers than we had questions. In essence, we feel Wentz would have been successful at any program, not just FCS North Dakota State. And frankly, North Dakota State isn’t just any FCS program. Including his redshirt freshman year, Wentz leaves a program that has won five consecutive national titles. Though he was a starter in just the final two of those years (23 games in all), Wentz showed all the polish of a player who had been a grizzled veteran. At NDSU, Wentz played in a pro-style, diverse offense. He has experience in both the shotgun and under center, and he had the freedom to audible at the line of scrimmage. Wentz showed exceptional recognition of defensive packages, and his audibles often led to big plays. Wentz read defenses pre-snap and made quick decisions after the snap, especially when presented with an iso route. In all, Wentz threw 45 TDs to just 14 INTs in his college career, and from what we studied, half of his INTs were off of deflected passes. He was a player who simply took care of the football. At 6’5” and 237 pounds, Wentz has the frame to stand tall in the pocket, and he used it, showing effectiveness with bodies around him (though NDSU was a great team in his time there, his line wasn’t particularly strong). Wentz stares down the gunbarrel when making throws, which is a critical NFL trait, and he showed fantastic touch on just about every possible throw. While he did take some bad sacks in his career, consider the sample size of these plays is higher than we’d like because his line wasn’t particularly great. So overall, Wentz shows no truly alarming tendencies when it comes to pressure. And while he’s huge, he can also move. He rushed for 1028 yards and 13 TDs in college, and he tested extremely well in the 40 (4.77 seconds), three-cone (6.86 seconds), and shuttle run (4.15 seconds) at the Combine. Wentz also showed resilience, missing eight games with a broken throwing wrist as a senior, but returning for the National Championship game and playing well. As for the negatives, we do have to consider Wentz’s level of competition and his lack of experience – again, he started just 23 games in college, and it wasn’t in the SEC. Wentz’s accuracy lacks at times, especially when he tries to uncork a laser throw, when his lower-body mechanics are off and his leg can lock up. But Wentz improved his lower-body issues from his junior to his senior year, which suggests he’s aware of his problems and worked his tail off to get better. Wentz has a good arm, but not a great one, and it shows up when a ball he really tries to sling goes awry. However, that’s about it. There have been some comparisons to Andrew Luck, and we see why that fits, but it’s wise to consider Wentz a less athletic version with an arm that isn’t as good. That may mean he’s not a generational talent, but there’s nothing wrong with being a complete QB prospect in a pretty interesting class. With his mental ability and balanced skill set, Wentz is almost certainly the most pro-ready QB in this draft class, and also the player with the highest overall ceiling at the position.
2. Jared Goff
School: California | Ht: 6’4” | Wt: 215 | 40: 4.82 | Year: 3Jr
Goff’s been well regarded for quite some time, but upon watching him, we think he’s more of a “subtle” QB prospect than one who really jumps off the page. That’s not a bad thing, however, because his film had more staying power the more we watched. A full-time starter in all three of his seasons at Cal, Goff threw for 12,195 yards with 96 TDs and 30 INTs in Sonny Dykes’ spread offense (Goff started 37 games). The key for Goff is that while his production improved from 18 TDs in 2013 to 43 in 2015, we also saw improvements throughout his career in the subtleties of the position. In particular, Goff got consistently better in manipulating the pocket to create throwing space, while also going through his progressions. This really showed up on third downs and in the red zone, where Goff absolutely excels – coaches will love this about him, because he takes care of the football in the most important situations. Though he’s got good height at 6’4”, Goff looked skinny in college, until he put on weight to register at 215 pounds at the Combine. Ideally, he’ll keep that weight on in the pros. Goff is athletic enough to make plays on the run, though he doesn’t have Carson Wentz’s ability to move. Goff has a solid arm (our guy Greg Cosell compared it to that of Matt Ryan), and it’s gotten better throughout his career, so there’s a chance it becomes a great arm in time. And while Goff’s accuracy was poor at times, like Wentz he showed proper touch on just about every throw, including excellent fades and deep balls. Indeed, Goff’s a tougher study than Wentz because he almost always played out of the shotgun, and because of the system, he gets away with really poor lower-body mechanics. But Goff has also improved his upper-body mechanics in his three years at Cal, making himself into a fluid “body-thrower,” so he’s shown the willingness to dedicate himself to limit his weaknesses. Like Derek Carr coming from a similar college system a few years ago, Goff will have to rebuild his footwork, but Carr has shown it’s possible to do quickly. Goff also had some deer-in-headlights moments in his career, because he got hit a lot (he had throwing shoulder surgery in 2013). Moreover, Goff had small hands at the Combine (9 inches), potentially the cause of his issues with fumbles and bad weather at Cal. Ideally, Goff will be working on all these things from the bench. In our mind, he needs time to sit, to rebuild his feet and to learn to throw with anticipation, which he didn’t consistently show in college. Goff generally played for bad teams with poor talent around him in college, so he isn’t “a winner” (whatever that means), but there’s plenty to work with here (remember his third-down and red-zone efficiency). Hopefully, a team will be patient with him, though we understand that’s not often the case these days. Our guy Fran Duffy compared Goff to Jake Plummer, and at his best you can see sort of a combination of Plummer and Carr in his game. It just may take time for him to reach that ceiling, and if he plays too soon on a bad team, he may never reach it.
3. Paxton Lynch
School: Memphis | Ht: 6’7” | Wt: 244 | 40: 4.86 | Year: 4Jr
Lynch is a freak. He’s 6’7”, 244 pounds, and can move, running a 4.86 40-yard dash in Indianapolis and tallying 687 rushing yards and 17 rushing TDs in his college career (remember, college stats remove sack yards from rushing totals). Of the top QB prospects in this class, he has the strongest arm on film. He also needs to sit and learn the QB position at the next level, potentially for a while, which is very uncommon of early QB picks these days. Lynch got by on pure physical ability in college, throwing for 8865 yards with 59 TDs and 23 INTs in 38 games at Memphis. He finished his career with a season that, statistically, was by far his best – 66.8% passing, 3778 yards, 28 TDs, and 4 INTs in 2015. But Lynch’s season was one of two halves. On film, his first half of 2015 was phenomenal. Early in the year, Memphis coaches called an aggressive gameplan against all levels of competition, letting it loose down the field and having Lynch take advantage of his excellent deep ball (he consistently made bucket throws). But in the second half of the season, Memphis got far more conservative, calling slants and screens almost exclusively. Lynch’s season culminated with an awful bowl performance against Auburn, While no official reports ever surfaced, it’s fair to consider that Lynch may have been injured, as he did mention at the Combine that teams found potential issues with his throwing shoulder and a knee. In all, Lynch is a physical specimen with an excellent arm and above-average movement skills. He throws with fantastic touch, though his accuracy is especially inconsistent, especially compared to Carson Wentz and Jared Goff (who aren’t elite in this department either). Like most prospects these days, Lynch played in a spread system in college, but unlike Goff, he didn’t really show a ton of improvement as a pocket passer throughout his career. He has poor footwork and a longer delivery, things that affect his accuracy negatively and need to be cleaned up in the pros. Lynch makes quick decisions, but he often stares down receivers, which he also needs to work on. Lynch has the physical traits of a first-round pick, but in terms of pro readiness, he’s far behind Wentz and is lagging behind Goff. Ideally, Lynch will sit for at least a year behind a vet. If a team gets impatient, he could struggle immensely and never recover. He’s a boom-or-bust prospect, but one with the physical skills to become a dominant fantasy asset in the right situation.
4. Connor Cook
School: Michigan State | Ht: 6’4” | Wt: 217 | 40: 4.79 | Year: 5Sr
There’s plenty to like about Cook on film. Unlike a good number of QB prospects, Cook had freedom at the line of scrimmage in operating a pro-style offense, and he showed the ability to set his protections and call audibles pre-snap. After the snap, he showed solid to excellent pocket movement, which coaches will absolutely love. Cook also seemed oblivious to pressure, keeping his eyes downfield with the rush around him, using his eyes to move and manipulate defenders, all while under pressure. He showed consistent improvement in these areas, and in some respects he may be more “pro ready” than anyone else in the class in that department. While Cook won’t provide consistent fantasy value with his legs, he does well enough throwing on the move. He has solid touch, and as a decision-maker, he improved throughout his career. On the downside, Cook exhibits poor footwork, leading him to be an “arm thrower” on far too many occasions. That’s a concern for anyone, but Cook’s arm strength is just decent, and it becomes poor when he doesn’t step into throws. Cook will take awful risks at times, and to this point he isn’t a particularly good anticipation thrower. Cook also struggles with ball placement, limiting YAC for his receivers far too often. Cook threw 74 TDs to just 22 INTs in college, and by every measurable account, he was “a winner” – he led Michigan State to a 34-4 mark as a starter, including a Rose Bowl victory as a sophomore and a College Football Playoff appearance as a senior (though he played poorly in the latter after returning from a throwing shoulder injury). So it’s a little troubling that Cook wasn’t named a captain as a senior, and there are plenty of reports out there that suggest he isn’t particularly well liked by teammates or coaches. Whatever you feel about that, a winning QB not earning the respect of his teammates would be a major concern for any NFL GM looking to draft him. In all, Cook is comparable athletically to another Michigan State QB in Kirk Cousins, but there are plenty of questions about how he’ll adjust to an NFL locker room. He also has plenty to work on as a passer, so he’d be best served learning for a year or two, but he has the skills to stick in the NFL for a long time. He just doesn’t have the upside of some of the other players in this class.
5. Christian Hackenberg
School: Penn State | Ht: 6’4” | Wt: 223 | 40: 4.78 | Year: 3Jr
We doubt there will be a more polarizing prospect than Hackenberg in this year’s draft, perhaps at any position. If you watched Hackenberg’s best 50 throws from his time at Penn State in succession, you’d be convinced he’s the best QB prospect in years. If you watched his worst 50, you’d think he was completely undraftable. Obviously there’s some degree of that with any prospect, but it’s just heightened significantly with Hackenberg. As a freshman under Bill O’Brien, Hackenberg played in a more pro-style offense with a lot of under-center work and multi-step drops. He performed very well, completing 58.9% of his passes, while averaging 7.5 YPA with 20 TDs (all would end up being career-highs) and 10 INTs. The last two years under James Franklin’s spread system, Hackenberg struggled. He threw just 28 TDs to 21 INTs over 26 starts, playing mostly out of the shotgun behind an atrocious offensive line. The system also “allowed” Hackenberg to play with horrendous mechanics, something that’s common in these spread offenses. Hackenberg has awful footwork and lower-body mechanics, but has the arm to make up for it so he never really worked his way through it. Because of this, his accuracy is poor at best, often throwing behind receivers in stride, limiting YAC. While he has arguably the best arm strength of any prospect in this class, the accuracy is just too scattershot to really trust it. While Hackenberg’s legs won’t scare defenses, he actually threw better on the run because it forced him to reset his mechanics, and the results were generally good. On the upside, Hackenberg showed incredible mental toughness and strength, often staring down the gun barrel with pressure in his face. Sure, he had several games when he looked shell-shocked, but few QB prospects in recent years have taken as many hits as Hackenberg, and that’s not all on him. Remember he did all this the last two years in an offense that did not fit him, without the control at the line of scrimmage that he desires, either. And despite all this (and reports to the contrary), we’ve heard Hackenberg did not throw his coaching staff under the bus in team interviews, which has become uncommon from Penn State players who were recruited under O’Brien and watched the team struggle under Franklin. In all, Hackenberg needs a ton of work after playing in an offense that broke him. More likely than not, he won’t become anything more than a backup, because so few QBs who struggle the way he did in college ever pan out. But coaches who look at his physical traits may see a Jay Cutler kind of player, and that will get him drafted. He must sit for a few years if he’ll ever have a shot at being a good NFL QB.
6. Jacoby Brissett
School: North Carolina State | Ht: 6’4” | Wt: 231 | 40: 4.94 | Year: 5Sr
Brissett’s gotten less hype over the last couple years than a couple of his draft classmates who played on better teams, but we actually view him as one of the most intriguing prospects coming out of school this year. Brissett originally enrolled at Florida, but after not playing in his first two seasons, he transferred to North Carolina State, where he started 26 games the last two years. Brissett’s stats were remarkably similar in his two years with the Wolfpack, completing 59.9% of his passes for 43 TDs and just 11 INTs overall. While his numbers were consistent, it was his play-to-play tape that’s likely going to make him a project in the NFL. Like most QBs these days, Brissett did very little under center work in college. He has a very good arm with a quick release, and he showed the ability to go through progressions. He’s an “easy thrower” who can sling it from different arm angles. Additionally, while Brissett isn’t a great mover (4.94 40, 4.53 20-yard shuttle), he’s a very competitive runner who can escape hits in the pocket, fights for extra yardage, and can be an asset at the goal line. But Brissett struggles with his lower-body mechanics, and we saw very little “anticipation throwing” on film. Brissett often doesn’t see throws that are there, and when he does, he can be erratic because his mechanics mess up his throwing platform. Brissett also took several bad sacks, suggesting his internal clock isn’t where it needs to be, leading to a lot of fumbles as a junior (he cleaned this up as a senior). In ways, Brissett is a far less polished version of Jameis Winston, and our wager is coaches will see that on film. He needs time to sit and learn the subtleties of his position, but Brissett has the size and skill set to be a starter in the NFL.
7. Dak Prescott
School: Mississippi State | Ht: 6’2” | Wt: 226 | 40: 4.79 | Year: 5Sr
If Prescott was in last year’s QB class, there’s a chance he would have been valued as the #3 prospect, behind only Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Instead, he’s buried in 2016, in the middle of a group of similar developmental prospects. But there is a chance one team views him far better than others, depending on how much work teams feel he needs. In many ways, Prescott is a similar prospect to Brett Hundley last year, when Hundley was a fifth-round pick to the Packers out of UCLA. Prescott’s just more polished and was more successful in college; a three-year starter at Mississippi State, Prescott improved his completion percentage every year (topping out at 66.2% in 2015), while throwing 70 TDs to just 23 INTs in college. He took his team to as high as #1 in the country in 2014, and has developed a reputation as an excellent leader. But there are plenty of things Prescott needs to work on. First of all, he may have the worst “touch” of any perceived top QB in this class. He has a strong arm, but he shows little feel on a down-to-down basis for the kind of velocity a given throw needs. He has scattershot accuracy as a result. Prescott is also very poor in the pocket; he doesn’t process things quickly, and as soon as he feels pressure, he drops his eyes and looks to run. Many of Prescott’s big plays in college were of the broken variety, and that can’t be counted on in the NFL. All in all Prescott is an excellent athlete (2609 rushing yards and 44 TDs in college) with a solid set of physical tools to work with. But he’ll need to learn the nuances of his position, for which he’s shown just about no feel to this point. He’ll also have to answer questions about a March DUI arrest, which is a significant slip-up for a player whose stock can plummet because of that kind of incident.
8. Cardale Jones
School: Ohio State | Ht: 6’5” | Wt: 253 | 40: 4.81 | Year: 4Jr
Just one year ago, Jones shocked many when he announced he would return to Ohio State for his junior year, after taking over late in the 2014 season for an injured J.T. Barrett and leading the Buckeyes to a national championship. Jones proceeded to beat out Barrett and now-WR Braxton Miller for OSU’s starting QB job, which turned out to be the high point of his 2015. The sample size got larger on Jones, and he ended up getting benched for Barrett, torpedoing his draft stock in the process. In all, it’s amazing Jones could have been a first-round pick had he come out last year in a weak QB class. Cardale started only 11 games at Ohio State, finishing his career with 2322 passing yards, 15 TDs, 7 INTs, 617 rushing yards, and 4 rushing TDs. No doubt, he has impressive size and athletic ability (keep in mind he was injured during his 4.81 40 at the Combine). Jones is a strong-armed passer who can drive the ball to all areas of the field, and he shows nice touch at times, as well. He’s not afraid to take hits, which makes him an effective read-option QB. Jones also made good decisions most of the time, and showed a willingness to throw the ball away and play another down (he of course made some bone-headed throws, but he doesn’t have a ton of experience). That said, Jones has zero feel at all for playing in the pocket, and he’s a frequent committer of the cardinal sin of QBing – turning his back to the line of scrimmage and leaving the back of the pocket. Jones’ lower-body mechanics are awful, seriously affecting his accuracy and ball placement, and he throws with zero anticipation (he’s a “see it, throw it” passer, which doesn’t really work in the NFL). Most of all, Jones got benched because he left A TON of plays on the field – he simply didn’t execute Urban Meyer’s offense the way it was called, and it’s an offense that makes things pretty easy for QBs. Are these things Jones can learn with experience (remember, he has only 11 starts in college)? Whatever the case, he was very hard to watch in 2015, after tantalizing with his skill set in his brief run in 2014. He needs a lot of work, but his skill set will get him drafted.
9. Jeff Driskel
School: Louisiana Tech | Ht: 6’4” | Wt: 234 | 40: 4.56 | Year: 5Sr
Fans of Florida Gators football may be laughing at Driskel’s presence in this article, but we feel Driskel was a victim of poor coaching under Will Muschamp. He showed what he was capable of doing after transferring to Louisiana Tech, and then turned heads with the single-best combine performance from any QB (4.56 40, 122” broad jump, 4.25 20-yard shuttle). In all, Driskel threw for 4026 yards with 27 TDs and 8 INTs at LA Tech in 2015, far better numbers than he ever had going in and out of the lineup at Florida. Driskel arrived at Louisiana Tech and immediately commanded the respect of coaches and teammates. He was named a team captain after spring practices for his only year with the Bulldogs, so it’s not surprising he’s earned a reputation as a great leader. Soon, coaches put a lot on Driskel’s plate. No QB in this year’s class had more five-man protections in front of him on a consistent basis. The Tech coaches were clearly comfortable with Driskel’s ability to get the ball out quickly and to understand he had limited time to throw the ball. Driskel made consistent anticipation throws into tight windows, and showed all-around good accuracy in the short to intermediate areas, though he doesn’t always show proper touch and doesn’t have elite arm strength. Because Driskel was primarily in the shotgun, he got away with faulty lower-body mechanics, but that’s not uncommon for most QB prospects these days. Driskel was awful in a bad offense at Florida, but he’s an excellent athlete who showed his potential at Louisiana Tech. He needs to sit for some time, but he does have the skills and leadership abilities to stick in the league.
10. Nate Sudfeld
School: Indiana | Ht: 6’6” | Wt: 234 | 40: N/A | Year: 4Sr
The brother of preseason legend TE Zach Sudfeld, Nate’s not too shabby a player himself. A three-year starter at Indiana (and parts of his freshman year too), Sudfeld threw 61 TDs to just 20 INTs in college, including 27 TDs and 7 INTs as a senior. Sudfeld sees things clearly in the passing game, works the pocket, and can manipulate defenders with his eyes. While Indiana was predominantly a screen and slant-based system, Sudfeld made all those throws with anticipation and accuracy. Sudfeld has a crisp release and a good arm, and he shows plus touch on the throws he was asked to make. While he’s not a great athlete, he’s not incapable of picking up yardage on the ground. However, he didn’t throw a good deep ball at all, which is why Indiana didn’t often ask him to do it. Sudfeld also had no pre-snap responsibilities at all, and had the tendency to drop his eyes and stare at the rush. All in all, though, Sudfeld is a big body with decent athleticism who consistently took care of the football, putting up numbers on a generally poor Indiana team. He likely doesn’t have the high-end ability to be a great starter in the league, but he should stick around as a backup for a while.
11. Kevin Hogan
School: Stanford | Ht: 6’3” | Wt: 218 | 40: 4.78 | Year: 5Sr
Some teams may love Hogan depending on what they’re looking for. An experienced leader who has been a full-time starter for three seasons, and has started for parts of four seasons, Hogan’s intelligence clearly shows up on film. Hogan had autonomy at the line of scrimmage in David Shaw’s Stanford offense, and he made NFL-level plays in every single game. The problem is that his limited physical tools rob him of the potential that his mental ability would otherwise give him. Hogan has a long, loopy side-arm release (like a slower version of Philip Rivers), and his arm strength is average at best. So on film, when Hogan makes mistakes, it’s often because he simply doesn’t have the ability to drive the ball to where he knows it should go. While Hogan can move a bit as a runner (1249 yards and 15 TDs rushing in his career), the only reason he’s being compared to Andrew Luck is the school he went to – Luck is just far more physically gifted. But many teams will like what Hogan can do mentally, where he is simply far more advanced than many prospects are coming out of college.
Potential Franchise Backs
1. Ezekiel Elliott
School: Ohio State | Ht: 6’0” | Wt: 225 | 40: 4.47 | Year: 3Jr
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 fair to 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 (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. Late in 2015, he called out Meyer and his staff after a loss to Michigan State (NFL coaches may not like that much), then was cited in December for driving with a suspended license (though Elliott said he didn’t know his license was suspended, which is believable). Elliott also had a poor 32.5” vertical at the Combine and didn’t participate in the agility drills, but we feel teams will overlook that. All in all, Elliott is a true three-down back who can block and catch the football, and his competitiveness is off the charts. If he lands in the right spot, he’ll be a top-24 fantasy selection as well, because he has that kind of skill set. We absolutely love him, and we’re certain he’ll be a first-round pick in next month’s NFL Draft, which will make him almost definitely the most highly coveted asset in rookie dynasty drafts.
2. Kenneth Dixon
School: Louisiana Tech | Ht: 5’10” | Wt: 215 | 40: 4.58 | Year: 4Sr
To put it simply, Dixon is just fun to watch. The star of a wide-open Louisiana Tech offense that took off after Jeff Driskel transferred 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. While his size isn’t ideal (though he gained weight even after the Combine to try to assuage concerns), for certain teams that like to spread it out a bit more, Dixon can absolutely be a 300-touch type of back. Even if he lands in a committee early in his career, his pass-catching alone could make him fantasy relevant.
Future Fantasy Starters
3. Jonathan Williams
School: Arkansas | Ht: 5’11” | Wt: 220 | 40: N/A | Year: 4Sr
It may be a surprise to see Williams ranked this high, because he 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. Again, Williams is willing to hit holes, but he’s always on the lookout for a cutback lane. 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 Collins in 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 coaches will drool over. 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. His medicals will be scrutinized over, and he needs to clean up his very shaky ball security, but Williams is a player we liked more the more we watched him. He has a shot to be an excellent NFL back.
4. Derrick Henry
School: Alabama | Ht: 6’3” | Wt: 247 | 40: 4.54 | Year: 3Jr
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 also the reason – ridiculous as it may sound – we’re a little trepidatious about his transition to the NFL. While Henry has seen many fair comparisons to LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Jacobs because of his uncommon size for the position, we’re actually going to use a different comp – 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. Now, Gordon was still a first-round pick, and he had to deal with a poor offensive line, which led to an awful rookie season. Hopefully, the latter is not the case 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 very well 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. In all, we view him as a player who needs a very specific fit to reach his statistical potential – a gap-predominant team with a very good line. If he lands somewhere like that, he could be a perennial 1000-yard, 10-TD type of rusher. But beyond the perfect fit, for fantasy, we think he’ll be a TD-dependent player who doesn’t do a ton as a receiver.
5. Paul Perkins
School: UCLA | Ht: 5’10” | Wt: 208 | 40: 4.54 | Year: 4Jr
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, as he showcases on this incredible run against Stanford. 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. If you squint, there’s some Frank Gore in his game, and we’d imagine tape-junkie coaches will love him the more they watch him. He just doesn’t have the breakaway speed you like from a guy his size, but he has most everything else.
6. C.J. Prosise
School: Notre Dame | Ht: 6’0” | Wt: 220 | 40: 4.48 | Year: 4Jr
It speaks to just how gifted an athlete Prosise is that we’re regarding him this highly as a prospect despite the fact that he’s playing running back for just a year. With presumed Irish starting RB Tarean Folston injured in the opener and Greg Bryant kicked off the team, coach Brian Kelly moved Prosise from WR to RB. 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. When a hole presented itself, Prosise showed the ability to hit that hole with velocity and surprising power. 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. In that way, he’s more Jeremy Langford. Prosise has a lot of learning to do, but he has the size and skills to be a difference-making three-down RB.
7. Alex Collins
School: Arkansas | Ht: 5’10” | Wt: 217 | 40: 4.59 | Year: 3Jr
If you’re someone who likes athletic measurables, you can likely skip to the next blurb. 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 Williams in 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. Those who love the film may have Collins a lot higher on their boards. We’re trying to balance everything here, and Collins is going to have to answer for his brutal Combine showing. But we did love watching him actually play football.
8. Jordan Howard
School: Indiana | Ht: 6’0” | Wt: 230 | 40: N/A | Year: 3Jr
Howard is a specific type of runner, but if a team is looking for that kind of player, they’ll love him. To make things simple, it’s easy to view Howard as a DeMarco Murray type of back. He 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 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 track 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), 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. Again, if Howard lands in the right spot, there’s a chance down the road he becomes a fantasy star. He just needs to stay on the field, which is a major concern.
9. Tyler Ervin
School: San Jose State | Ht: 5’10” | Wt: 192 | 40: 4.41 | Year: 5Sr
We’re fully aware this ranking could end up looking foolish. 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 power in 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 is so much to like about Ervin that we’re excited to see where he lands in the Draft. 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.
19. Devontae Booker
School: Utah | Ht: 5’11” | Wt: 219 | 40: N/A | Year: 5Sr
This will probably be our most “controversial” pre-draft ranking, as 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. Teams that run spread offenses may view Booker as a great fit as a third-down back, but he has to work on his protection to get on the field, and that’s without mentioning his awful fumbling issue. After watching him, we had a lot of questions about his ability to transition to the league unless he’s used properly.
11. Kenyan Drake
School: Alabama | Ht: 6’1” | Wt: 210 | 40: 4.45 | Year: 4Sr
It’s not outrageous to think that some NFL teams (some, not close to all) will have Drake on their boards higher than his more famous and far more productive teammate, Derrick Henry. Of course, it comes down completely to what teams are looking for. 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 broke 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 role player at the next level, much like he was behind Henry at Alabama.
12. Josh Ferguson
School: Illinois | Ht: 5’9” | Wt: 198 | 40: 4.48 | Year: 5Sr
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 7 of 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. As a pure runner, he’s a better fit for gap schemes, but teams will love his experience as a receiver and in the return game.
13. Kelvin Taylor
School: Florida | Ht: 5’10” | Wt: 207 | 40: 4.60 | Year: 3Jr
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. 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 fumbled on 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. He also made McElwain absolutely lose his mind with a throat slash last year, which doesn’t mean a whole lot (we’re sure he learned his lesson) but is fun to watch anyway.
14. DeAndre Washington
School: Texas Tech | Ht: 5’8” | Wt: 204 | 40: 4.49 | Year: 5Sr
Insanely productive at Texas Tech, Washington’s draft stock is likely to take a bit of a hit because his Combine test performances were just okay for his size. But we loved watching Washington. 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 runs tough, 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. Where (and if) he gets drafted comes down to how teams value his tape and production with regards to his poor measurables. There are a lot of guys like him in this draft class, and differentiating between them is pretty tough.
15. Keith Marshall
School: Georgia | Ht: 5’11” | Wt: 219 | 40: 4.31 | Year: 4Sr
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. Marshall’s got to stay healthy above all, but his pure speed is likely enough to get him drafted in the chance he can tap into it just a little bit in the NFL.
16. Daniel Lasco
School: California | Ht: 6’0” | Wt: 209 | 40: 4.46 | Year: 5Sr
It will be the NFL Combine that throws Lasco onto teams’ radars, because in general he had a pretty unspectacular college career. 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 up the 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, and his explosive speed will get him drafted. He’s more of a project than anything else, though.
17. Peyton Barber
School: Auburn | Ht: 5’10” | Wt: 228 | 40: 4.64 | Year: 3So
The cousin of former Cowboy RB Marion Barber, Peyton decided to enter the NFL Draft despite a lack of experience to help his mother, who he said is homeless. On film, there are skills that translate to the next level as a short-yardage/handcuff type of runner. A big back with powerful legs, Barber also has underrated quickness in the short area, though he’s not going to make defenders miss in the open field. After playing behind Cameron Artis-Payne in 2014, Barber was Auburn’s lead back in 2015, posting 237/1016/13 rushing (4.4 YPC) on a pretty bad Tiger team. He’s a back who always falls forward on contact and is difficult to bring down on the first hit, and when a hole is presented to him by the play strcture, he hits it. On the downside, his vision/decisiveness was merely OK, and while he gives effort, his blocking is inconsistent. In all, Barber looks like a pure gap-scheme backup, given his lack of instincts or a second gear, but his physical nature should land him on a roster.
18. Tra Carson
School: Texas A&M | Ht: 5’11” | Wt: 227 | 40: N/A | Year: 5Sr
Carson played one year for Chip Kelly at Oregon before transferring to A&M prior to his sophomore season. Though generally durable throughout his college career, Carson didn’t run at the NFL Combine in Indy because of bone spurs, so we’re left mostly with his tape to evaluate him. What we’re left with is a solid RB who should stick in the league because of his size and versatility, but doesn’t really blow us away with anything. Carson’s a decisive one-cut downhill guy, basically the blueprint for a classic zone runner. Carson runs high, which is an issue, but in college he was strong enough to run through contact. Additionally, Carson showed surprisingly good hands and route-running ability as a senior, hauling in a career-high 29 passes while also occasionally being flexed outside in the spread offense (he won’t be that guy in the NFL, however). The problem is that he doesn’t have a second gear, and he can’t really get to the edge with any consistency. Additionally, he never really carried a full load in college, topping out at 271 touches in 2015. He’s a solid receiver and willing blocker, however, and also fumbled just 4 times in his career. He has the power and third-down traits to stick as a reserve at the next level.
19. Aaron Green
School: TCU | Ht: 5’10” | Wt: 203 | 40: N/A | Year: 5Sr
Green transferred to TCU from Nebraska after his freshman year, perhaps because he realized he wouldn’t be getting a ton of work behind stud Ameer Abdullah. It’s funny that was the situation, because on film Green kind of looks like a “less good” version of Abdullah (right down to the small hands, actually). He came alive his last two years at TCU, totaling nearly 2500 yards from scrimmage and 23 TDs on 408 touches. Though Green had just 40 catches in college, he showed the ability to consistently catch the ball with soft hands and transition upfield. And unlike Abdullah, Green’s small hands weren’t an issue for him with ball security – he fumbled just 3 times in his entire college career. The problem for Green is that he’s not anywhere near as tough an interior runner as Abdullah, and while he’s laterally quick, we have questions about his long speed and vision. Additionally, he was not good as a blocker from what we saw. Green’s a bit of a “sleeper” because he didn’t get a Combine invite, but he does have the quickness to draw interest from NFL teams as a receiving specialist.
20. Marshaun Coprich
School: Illinois State | Ht: 5’8” | Wt: 207 | 40: 4.47 | Year: 4Sr
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 to the 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. His poor measurables and the arrest may be enough to leave him undrafted, but his college production will likely land him in a camp regardless.
1. Laquon Treadwell
School: Mississippi | Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 221 | 40: NA | Year: 3JR
Treadwell said at the Combine that he models his game after Dez Bryant, and Mike Mayock repeatedly compared Treadwell to Alshon Jeffery during NFL Network’s Combine telecast at the end of February. Treadwell is certainly built very similar (6’2”, 221 pounds) to those WRs and has similar athletic ability, which makes him a nightmare for smaller CBs on the outside. At the Combine, Treadwell decided not to run the 40-yard dash – he ran a disappointing 4.63 at his pro-day – and he tested well below average in the broad (9’9”) and vertical jumps (33-inches). However, he showed off his strong hands and his impressive ball skills in the drills. Also, his route running – he might be the best slant runner in the draft – and imposing physical stature makes up for his average athletic skillset. Treadwell does have some trouble separating from quicker CBs, but his large catching radius and strength to shield defenders away on contested passes makes up for it. He’s also a beast to bring down in the open field after the catch, and his competitiveness on the field is one of his best attributes. Treadwell is already a good possession receiver and a dangerous red-zone threat, and he has the ball skills and route running to become a better downfield threat. He suffered a gruesome broken fibula during his sophomore season in 2014, which required surgery. He shed 25 pounds after the injury and played better the further he got away from his injury in 2015, finishing the year with 82/1153/11 receiving. His average measurables are a little scary, but he plays faster on tape and is extremely competitive with the ball in the air. Treadwell has the skillset, competitiveness, and talent to easily develop into the best X receiver in this class, and if he can play more consistent he certainly has the most upside of any WR in this year’s class.
2. Josh Doctson
School: TCU | Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 202 | 40: 4.50 | Year: 5SR
Doctson might be the best all-around receiver in this year’s class, and he showed off his great combination of size and speed at the Combine. He looks smooth in just about everything he does on the field, and he likely locked himself in as at least a top-40 pick with his performance at the Combine. Heck, there’s a good chance he slides into the backend of the 1st round and is a top-25 pick. He ran a solid 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, but he impressed most with his jumping ability. Doctson and Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard topped the class with 41-inch verticals, and Doctson finished second to only Auburn’s Ricardo Louis in the broad jump with a leap of 10’11”. He certainly uses his leaping ability to win plenty of contested passes in the air. He also showed off his ball skills and great hands – and big ones at nearly 10 inches – during position drills. He put up massive numbers his last two seasons at TCU, combining for 144/2355/25 receiving, including 79/1337/14 in just 11 games in 2015 because of a wrist injury. Doctson can be dominate downfield with his acceleration to get on top of defenders, and he’s able to extend and make difficult catches because of his lanky frame. He did play in a spread offense that created space and had a limited route tree, but he did improve as a route runner in 2015. Doctson might need to muscle up some too, as there are concerns about him against press coverage. He has great sideline awareness and tracks the ball well over his shoulders. With his balls skills, body control, and leaping ability, it’s not surprising that he’s been compared to DeAndre Hopkins during the draft process, and we couldn’t help but see a little Hopkins on this TD catch. Or on this TD catch. Doctson might not be the best athlete in this year’s class but he’s got a well-rounded skillset, and he could be a solid #2 WR as an X receiver right away, with the potential to be #1 WR down the road.
3. Corey Coleman
School: Baylor | Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 194 | 40: NA | Year: 4JR
One of the bigger disappointments of this year’s Combine is that Coleman decided not to run the 40-yard dash just two months removed from a sports-hernia surgery. Coleman, who measured in at 5’11” and 195 pounds at the Combine, went on to run a blistering 4.37 40-time at his Baylor pro day in mid March, which put him behind just Notre Dame’s Will Fuller (4.32). Coleman gets from 0 to 60 mph in a heartbeat and easily pulls away from defenders downfield. He also tested near the top of the class in both the vertical (40.5 inches) and broad jumps (10’9”). Coleman’s leaping ability helps him win in contested situations, and he tracks the ball well in the air downfield. He’s incredibly dynamic after the catch, creating immediate separation and picking up yards after the catch with quickness. The biggest knock on Coleman is that Baylor WRs have a shaky record in the league (Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams, Josh Gordon, and Tevin Reese in the last five drafts), and Baylor WRs don’t run anywhere close to a full route tree. He takes some false steps off the line of scrimmage and he has some work to do pre-snap (get set already!). Coleman also had too many focus drops and needs to get better going over the middle of the field. He did put up huge numbers in 2015 (74/1363/20 receiving) to win the Biletnikoff Award (NCAA top WR), and he’ll have the chance to break that trend of disappointing Baylor WRs. We see a little bit of DeSean Jackson with his vertical speed and little bit of Pierre Garcon with his competitiveness after the catch – Baylor even used him as an RB at times. Coleman is one of the most physically gifted WRs and one of the most explosive playmakers in this year’s draft, which will likely make him a 1st-round pick despite some minor questions about his size. As a Z receiver or out of the slot, he’ll be a downfield threat immediately with the chance to develop into a #1 WR early in his career.
Future Fantasy Starters
4. Sterling Shepard
School: Oklahoma| Ht: 5-10 | Wt: 194 | 40: 4.48 | Year: 4SR
Out of this year’s class of WRs, Shepard probably did the most to help his draft status at the Combine. He showed surprising speed with a 4.48 in the 40-yard dash, and he tied TCU’s Josh Doctson for the best vertical leap at 41-inches. Shepard didn’t do nearly as well as expected in the agility drills, but that area is just a small concern since he shows plenty of agility on tape. His production skyrocketed as a senior with 86/1288/11 receiving, earning him second-team All-American honors. Shepard is extremely competitive, fighting for balls in contested situations and getting up field quickly after the catch. He has a small catch radius, but he makes up for it by adjusting to inaccurate throws and has excellent ball skills to track passes down. Shepard can be a sloppy route runner at times and he ran a limited route tree at Oklahoma. He also needs to improve against press coverage, and he gets outmuscled at times because of his small frame. Shepard has already been called this year’s Tyler Lockett because of their similar abilities and size – Shepard measured in at 5’10” and 194 pounds. Shepard isn’t nearly the returner that Lockett is, but he’s arguably a more complete receiver coming into the league. Mike Mayock even compared Shepard to Randall Cobb during the NFL Network broadcast at the Combine because of his ability after the catch as a slot receiver. Similar to Lockett (69th pick in 2015) and Cobb (64th in 2011), Shepard is quickly moving up draft boards and will likely be a Day Two pick. He has the chance to be a dangerous weapon out of the slot as both a downfield threat and as a YAC guy as an underneath receiver, and he has the chance to be fantasy relevant immediately if he lands in the right offense.
5. Tyler Boyd
School: Pitt | Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 197 | 40: 4.58 | Year: 3JR
If teams are looking for off-the-chart measurables from their WR prospects, then Boyd isn’t the guy for them. As expected, Boyd was one of the slower WRs at the Combine, clocking in at 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and he managed just 11 reps in the bench press. However, Boyd showed off arguably the most impressive hands of the group and good body control during the drills. Boyd ran pro-style route tree at Pitt and he knows how to work DBs to get open. He became the entire Panther offense after RB James Conner went down in the season opener, lining up all over the field and getting regular carries. Boyd finished 2015 with 91/926/6 receiving and with 40/349/0 rushing, and he set school records in career catches (254) and receiving yards (3361) despite shaky QB play throughout his career. Boyd doesn’t make many defenders miss after the catch, but he is a physical runner and has an extra gear after the catch. He is a long-strider downfield and works the intermediate areas, but he was forced to work primarily by the line of scrimmage at Pitt. Boyd did have ball security issues as a punt returner, so that’s something to watch if it starts to leak into his game as a receiver. He was arrested for DUI last summer as a 20-year-old. Boyd’s blood alcohol content (BAC) was below the legal limit of .08 for drivers older than 21, but underage drivers may not have a BAC higher than .02. Boyd is said to be a well-liked teammate and most think his decision-making off the field won’t be an issue. Boyd isn’t a physically imposing player and needs to get a little bigger and strong, but he’s one of the best route runners in the class and has great hands. He seems destined to be a rock-solid possession receiver, which explains why he’s been getting compared to Keenan Allen quite a bit leading up to the draft. Boyd seems destined to be a Day Two draft pick like Allen, who was a 3rd-round pick by the Chargers in 2013. Boyd might never be an absolute fantasy stud because of his physical limitations, but he has the chance to be a high-end #2 WR early in his career.
6. Will Fuller
School: Notre Dame | Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 186 | 40: 4.32 | Year: 3JR
Fuller’s Combine confirmed what we already know about the Fighting Irish standout: He’s really fast and he has very questionable hands. Fuller ran a scorching 4.32 in the 40-yard dash, the fastest time among WRs and behind only Georgia RB Keith Marshall (4.31). Fuller’s 40-time corroborated the downfield ability he showed on tape at Notre Dame last season. He posted ridiculous numbers the last two seasons, recording 138/2352/29 receiving in his sophomore and junior seasons combined. However, Fuller also had way too many drops during his college career, and it wasn’t shocking that he measured in with 8-¼ inch hands, which is well below average. QB Jared Goff caught some grief for his 9-inch hands, but hand size is even more important for WRs and Fuller struggled with contested catches throughout his college career. Fuller did perform well in drills and showed confidence in his hands during the Combine, but he’ll still need to prove he’s more than just a vertical threat. Fuller did show some improvement as a route runner during the 2015 season, and he can start and stop on a dime. He’s incredibly dangerous with the ball in his hands because he easily runs away from defenders. Fuller does show questionable ball skills at times, jumping at the catch point when it’s unnecessary and letting the ball get into his chest, potentially a symptom of his small hands. He won’t be confused for a physical player, and he rarely does work over the middle of the field and is tentative when he does. Fuller compares a lot to 2015 WR prospect Devin Smith, who struggled as a rookie with the Jets before ending the year on IR with a torn ACL. Fuller is going to be a vertical threat as a Z receiver to begin his career and he’ll be much more relevant for non-PPR formats. He’s a one-trick pony right now, but at least he’s elite at his specialty. Fuller will need to improve his awful hands and his route running in the underneath and intermediate areas if he has any chance of being anything more than a deep-ball specialist.
Potential Immediate Role Players
7. Rashard Higgins
School: Colorado State | Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 196 | 40: 4.64 | Year: 3JR
Higgins was quietly one of the NCAAs best WRs the last three seasons playing in the Mountain West Conference, finishing his career with 239/3649/31 receiving. His numbers did dip in his junior year (74/1061/8) from his unbelievable sophomore season when he led the nation in receiving (96/1750/17), but Higgins did lose QB Garrett Grayson to the Saints in 2015. Higgins is just an above average athlete, but he makes up for it with nuanced route running and by working defensive backs to get open. He makes plays after the catch as a willing runner and he has a second gear after the catch, so Colorado State would try to feed him on slip screens. Higgins isn’t burner or a true vertical threat, but he tracks the ball well to make difficult catches downfield. He isn’t afraid to work over the middle and he finds the soft spots against zone coverage, which helped him avoid a lot of big hits. He had issues with drops early in his career, but he improved his hands throughout his career and he attacks and finishes his catches. Higgins needs to put on a little more weight to go against NFL CBs, as he struggled get off the line against press coverage in college. He doesn’t have unbelievable measurables, but he’s more than athletic enough on tape and he might be the savviest WR in this year’s draft class. At the very least, Higgins should be productive and have a long career as a possession receiver out of the Z spot, and he has the chance to develop into a solid #2 WR.
8. Pharoh Cooper
School: South Carolina | Ht: 5-11 | Wt: 203 | 40: NA | Year: 3JR
The Gamecocks had a dysfunctional season overall, including their passing offense, but Cooper was one player that brought some discipline and consistency, which isn’t surprising with his military-family background. He saw his production slightly dip as a junior because of a shaky supporting cast, but he still posted 135/2109/17 receiving in his final two seasons. South Carolina struggled to move the ball at times, so it wasn’t surprising they turned to Cooper’s big-play skills to try to kick start the offense, using him in screens and gadget plays to take advantage of his ability after the catch. He primarily played out of the slot and is very fluid, as he’s both quick and fast and easily eats up off coverage from the inside. He has great hands and easily catches passes, as he had to pluck quite a few errant passes away from his body. Cooper will freelance at times and needs to refine his route running, but at least he ran full route tree at South Carolina. He’ll work the middle of the field, but he didn’t have many contested catches and he will let the ball get into his body a little too often. He has some vertical ability and hits top speed quickly, which makes him a threat at all levels of the field. Cooper projects to play as the Z receiver or out of the slot, and we see a little bit of Randall Cobb in him because of his versatility and his quickness to get open and make defenders miss in space. Cooper is a bit raw right now but he has the potential to eventually be a #2 WR in a few years.
9. Michael Thomas
School: Ohio State | Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 212 | 40: 4.57 | Year: 4JR
Thomas wasn’t highly recruited out of high school so he went to prep school (where he roomed with Cardale Jones) and earned a scholarship offer from Ohio State a year later. He led the Buckeyes in receiving the last two seasons – over Devin Smith in 2014 and Braxton Miller in 2015 – posting nearly identical numbers in his sophomore (74/799/9 receiving) and junior (56/781/9) seasons. Thomas, who is the nephew of Keyshawn Johnson, uses his big body to his advantage, especially along the sideline and to shield off defenders. He has huge hands (10-½”) and makes some difficult catches away from his body, attacking the ball at its highest point. He has good ball skills overall, but he needs to show more consistency with his hands and with his overall game. Thomas has some savvy as a route runner, attacking DBs with his acceleration out of breaks and by manipulating his shoulders, but he didn’t run a full route tree at Ohio State. He has some suddenness as a runner, and he can use his speed and strength to make plays after the catch. Thomas didn’t really show a ton of potential as a vertical threat because he’s not an explosive athlete and he doesn’t track deep passes well. We see a little bit of Dwayne Bowe in Thomas because of his playing strength, as he uses his body effectively to win against smaller defensive backs. Bowe was never a prolific scorer, but Thomas has the chance to develop into a dangerous red-zone threat. Thomas is unlikely to be much of a big-play threat for fantasy purposes, but he could develop into a #2 WR as a possession receiver on the outside at the X spot.
10. Braxton Miller
School: Ohio State | Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 201 | 40: 4.50 | Year: 5SR
Miller started the difficult transition from being a highly-successful college QB to WR as a senior at Ohio State – at about this time last year in spring practice. As a QB, he became known for his big plays with his legs, running for 1000+ yards in both 2012 and 2013. He showed that same explosiveness and open-field elusiveness last season, finishing the year with 24/329/3 receiving and 40/234/1 rushing. The only slight negative for Miller at the Combine is that he ran a 4.50 in the 40-yard dash, as he was expected to have a slightly better time at 6’1” and 201 pounds. Miller dominated in the WR agility drills, finishing with the best 20-yard shuttle (4.07 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (10.84), and he finished third in the three-cone drill (6.65). He is continuing to improve as a receiver and is looking more sure with his hands, but he’s still raw as a route runner and is too reliant on his athletic ability. He does have some durability concerns entering the league after he missed the entire 2014 season because of two separate shoulder surgeries. Whatever team drafts Miller will need to be patient with him since he’s still very much a work in progress at wide receiver. Still, he consistently demonstrated throughout his college career that he’s a playmaker with great vision, and you can’t teach his size, vertical speed, and quickness. Miller is tough to bring down in space, and at the very least, Miller will be a gadget player, and he’ll have the chance to develop into a true slot and/or Z receiver in time. He’s going to be a bit of a project out of the slot, who could need a year or two to refine his game, but there’s definitely something to work with as a Day-Two prospect.
11. Demarcus Robinson
School: Florida | Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 203 | 40: 4.59 | Year: 3JR
Robinson is as physically talented as just about any WR prospect in this year’s class, but he was a mess off the field at Florida. He was suspended four different times in three years under two different coaching staffs (three marijuana violations and a missed curfew), and the new coaching staff benched him twice in game action during the 2015 season. Robinson, the nephew of former NFL WR Marcus Robinson, obviously comes to the league with some major red flags but some team will take a gamble on his explosiveness skills. His numbers plummeted from 2014 (53/810/7) to 2015 (48/522/2 receiving), as he couldn’t stretch the field or show off his game-breaking ability quite as much in Florida’s struggling offense. He’s an aggressive WR and competes in everything he does, including getting up the field after the catch. However, he does need to get stronger and plays smaller than his size, relying too much on his athleticism. He played all over the field at Florida and ran a full route tree, and he mostly likely will be a Z receiver in the NFL. Robinson is a good route runner and sells double moves well, and he has good body control in the air and along the sideline. He has all the physical tools to become a starter and potentially a fantasy stud for many years, and some franchise will roll the dice with Robinson on Day Three. Still, he could also easily find himself out of the league very quickly if he doesn’t clean up his antics.
12. Malcolm Mitchell
School: Georgia | Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 198 | 40: 4.45 | Year: 5SR
After a promising first two collegiate seasons, Mitchell looked like he was headed toward becoming the next star star Georgia WR after A.J. Green, but a torn ACL in the season opener of his junior year in 2013 knocked him off track. Mitchell got his career headed back in the right direction as a senior, leading the Bulldogs with 58/865/4 receiving after Chris Conley’s departure to the NFL last year. Mitchell tore it up at the Combine with a 4.45 40-yard dash and a 36” vertical leap, and he showed those skills on tape. He has speed to get on top of defenders and a second gear to to get past them, and his leaping ability maximizes his catch radius. He’s good after the catch, getting up field and making defenders miss. Mitchell, a former top CB recruit, can be muscled around by bigger DBs, as he has difficulty against press coverage and he isn’t great in contest-catch situations. Mitchell is a high character guy and improved a ton from 2014 to 2015, but he has some durability questions and he’ll be 24 years old as a rookie, which will scare away some teams. Still, he tested incredibly well at the Combine and is a smooth receiver in terms of his route running and his ball skills. He worked all over the field at Georgia and projects to be a Z or slot receiver, but he could use a year or two to become a regular contributor in the NFL.
13. Leonte Carroo
School: Rutgers | Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 211 | 40: 4.50 | Year: 4SR
Carroo was one of the few constants in a dysfunctional Rutgers offense the last two seasons, despite being the main target for opposing defenses. He finished his senior year with 39/809/10 receiving after putting up 55/1086/10 in 2014, averaging an impressive 20.2 YPC. However, his YPC numbers were helped more by Rutgers’ play-action scheme than by his vertical speed. Carroo dominated when he was on the field last year, but he missed two games with a high ankle sprain and played through the injury late in the year. He also missed the first half of a game for missing curfew and another two games for his role in a simple assault charge involving a domestic dispute. The charges were later dropped after the alleged victim did not wish to pursue the case, but teams will definitely do their homework with Carroo. His best attribute might be his sticky hands, as he rarely dropped passes the last two years. He ran a pro route tree at Rutgers and he hides his intentions well, working defenders in the middle of his routes. He’s a one-speed athlete and looks a little stiff in the hips laterally, rarely making defenders miss in the open field. At least he doesn’t mess around after the catch, using his RB frame to get upfield to pick up extra yards. He also uses his size to outmuscle smaller defenders when he’s battling for the ball. He can be too tentative over the middle at times for a player who could be asked to play out of the slot in the NFL, and he’s too inconsistent from play to play. Carroo is a bit of a tweener for the WR position, as he’s a little thick to play out of the slot and a bit short as an outside receiver – although he’s plays bigger than his listed height. It looks like he could be used at every WR spots with his blend of size and skills, and he could develop into a starter in time if he can keep his head on straight.
14. Charone Peake
School: Clemson | Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 209 | 40: 4.45 | Year: 5SR
Peake is one of the more polarizing WR prospects in this year’s draft. He’s loaded with the rare size and athletic ability that makes every NFL front office drool, but he couldn’t even get on the field as a full-time player for Clemson last season. Peake came to Clemson as a top recruit but injuries (torn ACL in 2013) and other star WRs (DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, and Martavis Bryant) kept him him from doing much until his senior year (50/716/5 receiving). He has the size, speed, ball skills, and route running make him a threat at all three levels of the field, which is why it was a bit baffling why he didn’t have a better college career. He can outmuscle defenders and picks up yardage after the catch by quickly getting upfield. Peake has good body control and along the sidelines and is a long strider to get on top of defenders quickly. He seems to have awareness issues because he runs into contact and double catches quite few passes, so it’s not surprising that he has consistency issues and questions about his hands. He looks like an ideal X receiver with his long wingspan and good speed, but he also can work defenders and has some savvy as a route runner. Peake looks like a true boom-or-bust candidate as an outside receiver, as he could easily turn into a freakishly talented #1 WR or he could flame out of the league in a few years.
15. Aaron Burbridge
School: Michigan State | Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 206 | 40: 4.56 | Year: 4SR
Michigan State’s Burbridge stepped up as the top receiver for top QB prospect Connor Cook in 2015 after playing more of a secondary role in previous seasons behind Tony Lippett – who is now a CB for the Dolphins. As the X receiver, Burbridge earned Big Ten receiver of the year honors in 2015 after finishing with 85/1258/7 receiving. He’s an above average athlete at best, and he’s definitely not a burner, although he ran better 40-time than expected at 4.56 and had a strong Senior Bowl. He’ll never be much of threat down the field and he won’t be confused as a threat after the catch, as he averaged just 13.1 YPC in his college career. Burbridge wins with his competitiveness, as he’s a physical receiver in every facet of the game and he’ll work over the middle of the field. He ran a full route tree at Michigan State and he uses deceptive quickness to get open. Burbridge did have some focus drops and he does have small hands at 8-¼ inch, which is concern going forward. Still, he physically reminds us of Anquan Boldin because he’s a deceptive athlete who wins with his competitiveness. He also doesn’t create much separation against defensive backs, but he doesn’t need a ton of space and uses his body well to make catches. Burbridge certainly won’t blow anybody away with his athleticism, but he does a lot of little things well to win as an intermediate and underneath possession receiver on the outside.
16. Kolby Listenbee
School: TCU | Ht: 6-0 | Wt: 197 | 40: 4.35 | Year: 5SR
Listenbee raised some eyebrows with his electrifying 4.39 40-time at the Combine in February, and he certainly played to his speed on tape. Listenbee averaged an impressive 19.9 YPC and finished with 30/597/5 receiving in 2015, and it’s not surprising that he’s an All-American as a sprinter for the TCU track team. After fellow burners Will Fuller and Corey Coleman, Listenbee has the best deep speed in this year’s WR class, and he has a second gear to separate from defenders. He also has good balls skills and tracks deep passes well to complement his vertical speed and make him a dangerous downfield threat, as he showed against Oklahoma in 2015. Not surprisingly, he’s dangerous after catch because he can run away from defenders in the open field. Listenbee lined up on only one side of the field at TCU and ran a limited route tree, so he’ll have some work to do to become a more complete route runner. With his track background, it’s not surprising that Listenbee has a thin frame and will need to put on more weight to avoid durability issues. Still, he has speed you simply can’t teach, which should help him to at least be a vertical specialist early in his career, but he’ll need to develop the rest of his game to become a regular contributor.
17. Chris Moore
School: Cincinnati | Ht: 6-1 | Wt: 206 | 40: 4.53 | Year: 5SR
Moore flew a bit under the radar in 2015 but his star has been on rise some since an impressive Senior Bowl. He was used as a downfield threat throughout his career, and he posted 40/870/7 receiving and averaged 21.8 YPC. He also left Cincinnati with a school-record 26 TDs. He beat defenders in college with his deep speed and his long arms for the position, and he effectively used start-and-stop moves to get open downfield. Moore consistently won in contested situations and is strong at the catch point. He was clearly a playmaker for the Bearcats, and they tried to get the ball in his hands in different ways to try to get him in the openfield. Moore needs a lot of work with his route running, and he comes to league having run just a limited route tree. He can be a little late off the ball at times, but he makes up for it with good initial quickness to get off of press coverage. He did have 9 drops over the last two seasons because he lets the ball get into his frame at times. Moore needs to develop a better all-around game, as he’s very much just a vertical threat entering the league. Still, he showed plenty of big-play ability in college, and some team will look to develop the rest of his game as a middle-round pick.
Future Slot Receivers
18. Daniel Braverman
School: Western Michigan | Ht: 5-10 | Wt: 178 | 40: 4.47 | Year: 4JR
You need to watch Braverman play only once and you immediately think what a perfect fit he would be for the New England Patriots as their pesky slot receiver. He was nearly uncoverable for Mid-American Conference defenders, as he finished with 109/1367/13 receiving last season. There isn’t much to Braverman at 5’10” and 178 pounds, but he’s a tough cover because incredibly quickness and route running. He’s an effective weapon down by the goal line with his double moves, and he is elusive after the catch and in the open field (he handled some punts in college as well). He’s incredibly competitive on the field and he works back to the ball to get open for his QBs on scramble plays. Braverman has legit NFL talent, and he reminds us a lot of Cole Beasley as a prospect. Obviously, the biggest question with Braverman is his size and if he’ll be able to hold up as an NFL player. He’s also an incredibly small target for his QBs, so we doubt he’ll ever really be much of a downfield receiver. It will be quite a jump in competition going from the MAC to the NFL, but he did dominate at times against Ohio State in 2015, a defense loaded with NFL talent. If he lands in the right situation, there’s no reason that Braverman can’t stick in the league for several years as the #3 WR out of the slot.
19. Kenny Lawler
School: California | Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 203 | 40: 4.64 | Year: 4JR
Lawler and top QB prospect Jared Goff developed together the last three seasons, and they both entered the draft this year after their junior seasons. Lawler finished with 52/658/13 receiving in 2015 and he finished with 27 TDs for his career – he scored a touchdown about every 5.3 he caught a pass. The biggest knock against Lawler is his thin build and the concern is he’ll be muscled around by bigger NFL defenders in press coverage, but he doesn’t shy away from contact. He makes up for his small frame and lack of strength with his fast feet to get out of his routes quickly and good body control. Lawler does have long arms and strong hands to make some spectacular catches and he’s able to snatch the ball out of the air. He doesn’t have top-end speed to be much of a vertical threat, and he operates the best as an underneath receiver and against zone defenses. For being a just an average athlete, his short-area quickness and vision helps him help to be an effective receiver after the catch, and they weren’t afraid to run some screen passes to him. There aren’t many receivers with such a thin build that don’t have high-end speed like Lawler, which will scare away some teams. Lawler will need to develop into a big slot receiver or a possession receiver on the outside, which he could do because of his route running and ball skills, so his best bet to fantasy relevant will be in PPR formats.
20. Jalin Marshall
School: Ohio State | Ht: 5-10 | Wt: 200 | 40: 4.60 | Year: 3SO
Marshall came to Ohio State as a five-star recruit, but like many of the receivers in the Buckeye offense last year, he didn’t have a huge role in their passing game. He finished with just 36/477/5 receiving in 2015, but he was also a dangerous return man. Not surprisingly, Marshall is also very good after the catch with a short-area burst to get away from defenders. He was recruited to Ohio State to basically be an athlete in their offense, and they used him all over the field as a receiver, runner, and in the return game. He could be used as a gadget player in the NFL early, but he’ll need to play primarily out of the slot because he’s on the smaller side at 5’10” and 200 pounds. Because of his size, he doesn’t have much play strength and struggles in contested catch situations. Marshall does have great quickness in and out of his routes, and he has good hands to develop into a good slot receiver. He also has enough speed to attack downfield and can track deep balls and high point passes. Along with Joey Bosa, Marshall was suspended for the first game of the year for marijuana and academic violations, so he comes to the league with some maturity questions. Marshall should be able to be a punt returner early in his career, and he’s certainly a good enough athlete to develop into a slot receiver eventually, but he’ll need some time to refine his receiving skills.
Future Fantasy Starter
1. Hunter Henry
School: Arkansas | Ht: 6-5 | Wt: 250 | 40: NA | Year: 3JR
Hunter is regarded as the top TE in this year’s class, which is yet another weak group at the position to enter the league in recent years. Henry is coming off a stellar junior season in which he won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top TE, and he’s been a starter since he stepped on campus as a freshman as a four-star recruit. Henry did have the smallest hands of any TE at 9-¼” at the Combine, but it is only a minor concern because Henry didn’t have a drop in 2015 and has excellent ball skills, especially in traffic. He posted 51/739/3 receiving last season, and he has rarely dropped passes the last two seasons. Henry has the size (6’5”, 250 pounds) and separation speed to run past defenders and to stretch the middle of the field down the seams. He also looked comfortable splitting out away from the formation and competing against SEC cornerbacks, and he ran full route tree in college. Henry can work all three levels of the field as a receiver, as he showed in this extremely unique “shallow-cross-and-up route.” He played in a run-first offense in Arkansas, and he more than held his own and improved as a blocker in 2015. A minor concern is that he had only 13 reps in the 225-pound bench press, ahead of only UCLA’s Thomas Duarte, who is converting from WR to TE, but Henry has the frame to fill out even more. Henry easily looks like the best and most complete TE in this year’s class, and he should compete for a starting job right away. He has Pro-Bowl quality talent down the line, and we see a little bit of Greg Olsen in him with his size and frame. As we say almost every year now, it’s tough to expect much fantasy production out of rookie TEs, but Henry has the best chance to do it out of this class.
Potential Immediate Role Player
2. Nick Vannett
School: Ohio State | Ht: 6-6 | Wt: 257 | 40: NA | Year: 5SR
Arkansas’ Hunter Henry has distanced himself from the rest of the TEs in this year’s class, but Vannett is an intriguing all-around talent behind him. Vannett essentially played alongside former Ohio State teammate Jeff Heuerman in 2014, who the Broncos ended up drafting in the 3rd round last year. And like Heuerman, Vannett was underutilized in Urban Meyer’s offense, with just 36/423/6 in three seasons, but it’s looking like Vannett could be a Day Two pick himself. He’s a bit of an unknown as a receiver because of his lack of involvement at Ohio State, so he’ll need some refinement as a route runner. He did perform well as a receiver when given opportunities, showing strong hands and a large catch radius. Vannett didn’t have a lot of contested-catch chances and was barely used in the red zone during his time at Ohio State. He performed well in the 20-yard (4.20) and the 60-yard shuttles (11.50) at the Combine, finishing second among the TEs that participated, which suggests he has good enough feet to improve and create separation as a receiver. Vannett moves well for a guy his size and can get down the field vertically. He worked primarily as a run blocker with the Buckeyes, and he certainly has the size and ability to be an in-line TE, but he still needs to get a little stronger. He can also line up in the slot, out wide, or in the backfield, like he did on this impressive lead block as the H-back on a long Ezekiel Elliott TD. Vannett is definitely an intriguing prospect because he has the size to develop into an every-down player, but the question will be if he can develop into a fantasy relevant player as a receiver. Still, he has the potential to be a quality starting TE for many years.
Potential Impact Receivers
3. Thomas Duarte
School: UCLA | Ht: 6-2 | Wt: 231 | 40: 4.72 | Year: 3JR
Duarte is your classic tweener prospect, with the body type and speed of a player stuck between a wide receiver and a tight end. He’s played a ton since he stepped on campus as a four-star recruit, and he went pro after a phenomenal junior season when he posted 53/872/10 receiving, but he lined up almost exclusively out of the slot. Duarte showed some savvy as a route runner, and the Bruins relied on him heavily down the seams and on crossing routes. With that said, he works the seams extremely well and can stretch the field, eating up ground quickly on defenders. Duarte has reliable hands and can make some highlight catches away from his body, plucking passes away from his body like he did on this impressive one-handed snag for a TD. He did look a little gun shy going over the middle at times, which he’ll obviously need to do a lot as a TE> Obviously, his size is the biggest question as he transitions to the TE position in the NFL, and he doesn’t have the biggest frame to fill out even more to be an in-line blocker. He may be stuck as a move TE for at least the early part of his career, and he’ll need to become a more willing blocker if he hopes to be a full-time player. The first person we thought of when we saw him play was Jordan Reed, and his measurables actually spit out Reed as the most comparable player to Duarte. Like Reed, Duarte isn’t necessarily a burner, but he has very deceptive speed to get open down the field and he uses shoulders well to fake out defenders. We’ll see if Duarte can put on more weight to just be an average blocker and keep his explosiveness as a receiver. If he can get bigger and stay explosive, Duarte has the potential to be a fantasy relevant TE for many years. At the very least, Duarte will be used as a chess piece as a move TE for a creative offensive coach.
4. Jerell Adams
School: South Carolina | Ht: 6-5 | Wt: 247 | 40: 4.64 | Year: 4SR
Adams went to the Combine as the most intriguing athlete at the TE position because of his length at 6’5”, and he didn’t disappoint clocking in with the fastest 40 time in the class at 4.64 seconds. He’s a former standout high school basketball player, and he sure looks and moves like it. Adams has a large catching radius and plucks the ball out of the air because of his huge wingspan, and he has pretty soft hands too but did have some focus drops Adams is on the smaller side at 247 pounds, but he definitely has room to fill out his frame, and he did put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle between his junior and senior seasons. Obviously, his strength and physicality as a blocker will determine just how quickly he gets on the field as an in-line TE, but the potential is there and he improved as a blocker in the run game last season. The Gamecocks were one of the worst passing teams in the NCAA in 2015, but Adams still managed to put up 28/421/3 receiving. He’s the type of TE that teams are looking for to be a seam stretcher in the middle of the field because he can get to top speed quickly and attack DBs vertically. Adams could be the best TE prospect at getting separation against man coverage because of his acceleration and route running, using double moves and sharp breaks to get open. Arkansas’ Hunter Henry is regarded as this year’s top TE, but it is wide open after that and Adams has been on the rise since the Combine. There are some concerns if he’ll be able to digest a new offense to get on the field as a rookie. Also, he’s clearly athletic, but can be more of a straight-line player who is not great after the catch. Adams has already been compared to Ladarius Green and Gavin Escobar because of how tall and lanky he is. Also, he could be a fantasy tease early in his career just like those prospects but the potential is certainly there.
5. Tyler Higbee
School: Western Kentucky | Ht: 6-6 | Wt: 249 | 40: NA | Year: 5SR
Western Kentucky has quietly had a nice run of TEs coming into the NFL in recent years for such small Division I program. Jack Doyle has had a nice run as a reserve in Indy and Mitchell Henry is on the roster in Green Bay. Higbee will be joining the group in the league this year, and he has the potential to be the best receiver from Western Kentucky as a former wideout – he added about 60 pounds over his college career. He posted 38/563/8 receiving playing with QB prospect Brandon Doughty, despite missing four games with a knee sprain and their bowl games after aggravating the injury. Higbee is a good all-around prospect but isn’t outstanding in any one area, but he is only serviceable as a blocker at this point. He does have big, soft hands and his WR background is apparent when he catches the ball. He also has the speed to get down the seam and can work all three levels of the field. Higbee might be the best TE in the class after the catch, using speed and power to fight for extra yards. His background as a wide receiver has helped with his explosive releases off the line of scrimmage and as a route runner. The jump in competition from Conference USA to the NFL could be a lot for Higbee to overcome in his first season, and he’s also been a full-time starter for just part of a season. Still, we see a little bit of Coby Fleener in Higbee’s build and in his game right now. Higbee has plenty of athleticism and receiving ability in him to develop into an offensive weapon at some point in his career.
6. Devon Cajuste
School: Stanford | Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 234 | 40: 4.62 | Year: 5SR
Like UCLA’s Thomas Duarte, Cajuste is another tweener prospect, with the body and speed of a player stuck between wide receiver and tight end. We had a tough time pinning down Cajuste, and his role in the future will depend on what team he lands with. We decided to list him at TE for now since that is the spot where he’d have his most fantasy potential. Cajuste is one of two Stanford players to show up on this pre-draft rookie TE list, but he spent his time at WR during his time in Palo Alto, Calif. Cajuste is a big guy but performed extremely well in the agility drills at the Combine, as he actually led all WRs in the three-cone drill with a time of 6.49-seconds. He’s long at 6’4”, but he does have a muscular frame to potentially fill out more if he tries to move to TE in the NFL. However, he is awfully skinny right now and would need some time to put weight on. He clocked a decent 4.62 40-time at the Combine but it does take him time to build up speed off the line of scrimmage. He has success downfield because of his deceptive long speed and his ability to win jump balls. Cajuste is also a strong route runner with strong hands to win on contested catches, like he does on this goal-line target. His numbers did dip in 2015 (27/383/3 receiving) compared to 2014 (34/557/6), but the offense did change and started to revolve around Christian McCaffery last season. For fantasy purposes, Cajuste is probably better off moving to a tight end/H-back role at the next level to maximize his assets. If he does make the switch to TE, he’s going to need time and will be a bit of project at the position early in his career, but the potential to be a nightmare matchup for DBs and LBs is certainly there.
7. Austin Hooper
School: Stanford | Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 254 | 40: 4.72 | Year: 3SO
Hooper will be the next Stanford TE to be join the league in recent years, joining the likes of Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener, Levine Toilolo, and Jim Dray. Hooper played just two seasons at Stanford but put up some solid production with 74/937/8 receiving, including 6 TDs last season as one of their top red-zone threats. He has big hands, long arms, and plenty of athleticism, but the biggest knock against Hooper is that he’s stuck between being a move TE and being an in-line TE. It looks like Hooper has the frame to fill out more to become more of an in-line type, and he has good technique as a blocker. Hooper ran the fourth best 40 time (4.72 seconds) among TEs at the Combine, and he showed well in the broad jump (9’9”) and in the vertical jump (33 inches). He uses his speed well to separate from defenders and is strong after the catch and a threat with the ball in his hands. Hooper is more than capable of splitting out and using his big frame to his advantage against smaller DBs. However, that athleticism didn’t always translate to the field as a route runner, as he seems to lack instincts and there is very little nuance to his game. Hooper had too many focus drops (9 drops over the last two seasons) and he needs to work on his footwork in and out of route. Hooper performed well at the Combine, which will help his cause going into the draft. We think he’ll be more of a Swiss Army knife in the NFL, as a backup that can do a little of everything at TE, but he certainly has some upside if he can develop into a consistent in-line TE.
8. Jake McGee
School: Florida | Ht: 6-5 | Wt: 250 | 40: NA | Year: 6SR
McGee is a rare NFL prospect who spent six seasons in college, including four at Virginia (2010-13) and the last two at Florida (2014-15). Graduate transfer rules allowed him to transfer to Florida, but he broke his tibia and fibula in the 2014 season opener and earned a medical redshirt. McGee bounced back as a sixth-year senior in 2015, posting (41/381/4), and he was pretty reliable receiver throughout his career despite being recruited to Virginia originally as a QB. The best part of McGee’s game are his reliable hands. He makes every catch look easy with a large catch radius, whether it’s thrown high or in the dirt, and he has great concentration in traffic. McGee is a solid athlete with a burst to separate from defenders down the seam, and he has good vision in the open field. McGee is solid blocker and plays with a good base, and he has the frame to put on some more weight to his frame to get stronger. He was used a lot as a move blocker in Florida’s offense, but he has the tools to develop into an in-line TE. The fact that McGee is already 24 will scare some teams away and it limits his upside as a prospect. Still, McGee is an intriguing player who has an outside chance to become a much better pro than a college player.
9. Henry Krieger Coble
School: Iowa | Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 248 | 40: NA | Year: 5SR
Krieger Coble didn’t get an invite from the Combine to come to Indy, but he’s still one of the better blocking TEs in this year’s class. Krieger was a bit of a one-year wonder in college as it took until his fifth season to see regular playing time, but he played very well with 35/405/1 receiving. If you want to play in the Iowa offense you have to be able to run block, and he certainly looks the part and has the technique of an Iowa O-lineman. He also works to get to the second level to block, but he does need to get a little bigger and stronger. Iowa used him all over the field, but he’s not exactly a mismatch nightmare for opposing defense. He’s just a slightly above average athlete for the position and has short arms, which obviously hurts his catch radius and he lets passes get into his body. He also has good but small hands, but he’s still able to make catches on contested passes. Krieger Coble reminds us a little bit of Chris Cooley because he’s not a stud athlete but still pretty solid in every area. His lack of length and playing experience are the major concerns about him coming into the league. Krieger Coble could help out in 2-TE sets as a run blocker early in his career, and he could eventually develop into an every-down TE with an outside chance for fantasy relevance.
10. David Morgan
School: Texas-San Antonio | Ht: 6-4 | Wt: 262 | 40: 5.02 | Year: 4SR
Morgan doesn’t exactly look like a football player, but he does have some game coming from UTSA. He played well enough in 2015 to earn second-team All-America honors, finishing with 45/566/5 receiving. He’s a former high school WR and you can tell by the way he attacks the ball and by his ability out in space. He’s not an explosive athlete, evidenced by his 5.02 40-time at the Combine, but he did well in the agility drills with the best 20-yard shuttle (4.19) and had the most bench-press reps (29) at TE. Despite his numbers in the Combine drills, Morgan isn’t terribly quick on tape and he does need to improve as a route runner as he’s a little tight in and out of his routes. The Roadrunners used Morgan all over the field last year as an H-back and as a fullback, and they weren’t afraid to split him out against defensive backs. In addition to his WR background, he also played basketball in high school which helps with his body control and helps his catch radius with his leaping ability. We see a little bit of Owen Daniels in Morgan because of his size and the way he moves compared to Daniels. Despite his college production at a smaller Division I school, Morgan has some work to do to make a roster and to earn consistent playing time as a #2 TE early in his career.
Source: Fantasy Guru
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