The 2017 NFL Draft has concluded, and we can finally discuss the rookies in the context of their landing spots. Here are the top-12 rookies ranked according to the situations improved by their presence, as well as the value they can provide as individual players.
1. Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
Corey Davis is the final piece to what could be a top-five NFL offense in 2017 and beyond. Davis is by far the best receiver in this class, and provides Marcus Mariota with a bona fide number one target. Davis compiled a 51.6-percent (96th-percentile) College Dominator Rating while averaging 16.8 (77th-percentile) Yards Per Catch and broke out at age 18.7, which ranks in the 95th-percentile amongst current NFL receivers. Davis was the number one receiver at Western Michigan the day he stepped on the field, and the same will be true in Tennessee.
With the Titans, Corey Davis gives Marcus Mariota the beast number one they have been looking for, and should help make their “exotic-smashmouth” offense even more effective. Delanie Walker should benefit greatly from this selection, as he will no longer face the pressure of being the Titans’ biggest threat in the passing game. This pick also gives Mariota top-five upside as a fantasy quarterback, as the Titans’ offensive line, staple of running backs, and receiving weapons will provide him with all the support he needs.
2. Christian McCaffrey, Running Back, Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey landed in a great spot in Carolina, where he will pair with Cam Newton to form what could be one of the most prolific backfields in terms of total rushing yards in all of football. McCaffrey has fantastic athleticism, posting a 4.48 (81st-percentile) 40-Yard Dash, 100.3 (61st-percentile) Speed Score, 124.3 (78th-percentile) Burst Score, and 10.79 (97th-percentile) Agility Score, and with a 50.7-percent (98th-percentile) College Dominator Rating and a 16.7 (95th-percentile) College Target Share, he proved he can handle a huge workload while maintaining his efficiency.
Having been a monster producer at Stanford in both the running and passing game, McCaffrey will add a dimension to the Carolina offense Cam Newton has never had, and has a chance to be a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. The presence of fellow rookie Curtis Samuel is also significant, as the threat of Newton’s rushing ability combined with the versatility of McCaffrey and Samuel gives Carolina a ton of options on offense.
3. Leonard Fournette, Running Back, Jacksonville Jaguars
It was clear that Leonard Fournette’s value would be correlated with his landing spot, and while Jacksonville isn’t an ideal landing spot for a running back, Fournette should help make them a better offense overall. Fournette is your classic between-the-tackles grinder, and with a 4.51 (71st-percentile) 40-Yard Dash and 116.0 (96th-percentile) Speed Score, is a threat to take it the distance from anywhere on the field.
With the Jaguars, Leonard Fournette will join a cast of impressive skill position players including Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee, and Allen Hurns. While Jacksonville’s offensive line ranked 25th in run blocking efficiency, Fournette has the size and power to push the pile, and should provide the threat on the ground that can open things up in the passing game. Whether that helps Blake Bortles improve as a quarterback remains to be seen, but with so many weapons that have to be accounted for, Fournette should improve the offense as a whole.
4. O.J. Howard, Tight End, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers were determined to get Jameis Winston more weapons this offseason, and they delivered. Having already signed DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay selected O.J. Howard with the 19th overall pick, which could help catapult Jameis Winston to perennial top-10 fantasy quarterback status for years to come.
O.J. Howard ran a 4.51 (97th-percentile) 40-Yard Dash with a 123.9 (98th-percentile) Speed Score, 11.01 (97th-percentile) Agility Score, 123.1 (86th-percentile) SPARQ-x Score, and has a 10.2 (86th-percentile) Catch Radius, checking all the boxes as far as measurables go. Most comparable to Greg Olsen, Howard is the most NFL-ready tight end of this years’ class. With defenses forced to respect DeSean Jackson’s deep speed in addition to the always dangerous Mike Evans, the entire Tampa Bay offense gets a bump in value due to Howard’s presence alone.
5. Patrick Mahomes, Quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes fits exactly what Kansas City needs; a quarterback who can push the ball downfield. The Chiefs are loaded everywhere else, and while Alex Smith has had a nice little stint in Kansas City, he’s not bringing them a Super Bowl trophy. With Mahomes, the Chiefs finally have a quarterback who can take advantage of their incredibly intriguing set of skill players.
With the strongest arm in this class, the Texas Tech product could restore Jeremy Maclin’s fantasy relevance, and greatly increase the fantasy upside for Travis Kelce, who has been held back by Alex Smith for years. Tyreek Hill also immediately becomes more interesting, as his dynamic but inconsistent production in 2016 was partially tied to Smith’s inability to throw deep. While Patrick Mahomes will probably need some time on the bench, he should see the field sooner rather than later. Andy Reid has seen enough yards left on the field by Alex Smith, and so have fantasy owners.
6. John Ross, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
John Ross, as everyone knows, posted a record 4.22 (100th-percentile) 40-Yard Dash at the combine, and joins a Bengals offense looking to add additional playmakers. Ross also posted an 115.3 (95th-percentile) Speed Score and a 129.4 (87th-percentile) Burst Score, and his athleticism translated to the football field in college, as evidenced by his 18.0 (86th-percentile) yards per reception.
With Cincinnati, John Ross should help open up the field for A.J. Green, while providing Andy Dalton with another deep threat in the passing game. The concern here is the Bengals offensive line, as they lost quality starters Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, significant subtractions from a unit that was already ranked in the middle of the pack in pass blocking efficiency. Dalton ranked 23rd in 2016 amongst quarterbacks in Pressured Completion Percentage at 28-percent, and if he faces more pressure in 2017, it may not matter who his receivers are.
7. David Njoku, Tight End, Cleveland Browns
David Njoku is an athletic freak, and has the highest upside of any tight end in this class. With a 132.1 (97th-percentile) Burst Score, 11.31 (80th-percentile) Agility Score, 118.3 (79th-percentile) SPARQ-x Score, and 10.3 (92nd-percentile) Catch Radius, there is nothing not to like about Njoku, and while Cleveland may not be the most desirable landing spot on paper, it could end up being a perfect match.
Whoever the Browns end up starting at quarterback, whether it’s Cody Kessler, Deshone Kizer, or heaven forbid, Brock Osweiler, will need all the help he can get. Having drafted Corey Coleman last year and acquiring Kenny Britt in the offseason, Njoku should be able to get open in the middle of the field, and his supreme athleticism could help him the presence of Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, and it looks like there is finally hope in Cleveland.
8. Deshaun Watson, Quarterback Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson is an upgrade from Brock Osweiler. Unfortunately, that’s not saying much. Watson was a winner and a great leader at Clemson, and while that’s great and all, there are concerns when it comes to the measurables, specifically his arm strength. Watson’s has a Throw Velocity of 49 MPH, which means he has the weakest arm of any quarterback in the LEAGUE, let alone this draft class. If Watson can’t fit the ball into tight windows or between defenders, it won’t matter how many games he won in college.
With Houston, Deshaun Watson will be fortunate to have plenty of weapons at his disposal. DeAndre Hopkins is probably ecstatic, as he gets to catch passes from anyone other than Osweiler. If anything, Watson will be willing to put up plenty of jump balls for Hopkins as he did with Mike Williams at Clemson. C.J. Fiedorowicz could also see a healthy target share from the rookie quarterback, as Watson would be wise to utilize his big tight end as a safety valve while he develops. Keep in mind, Watson averaged an interception per game at Clemson, and with below average arm strength, the trend could continue in the NFL.
9. Jeremy McNichols, Running Back, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jeremy McNichols could not have landed in a better spot, as the Buccaneers are loading up on offense in every way possible. McNichols did it all at Boise State, posting a 41.4-percent (89th-percentile) College Dominator, and has the size and athleticism to make an impact in the NFL as both a runner and a receiver.
Joining a Buccaneers offense that had already added DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard, Jeremy McNichols at the very least provides Jameis Winston with the 3rd-down back he needed. However, McNichols is talented enough to handle an every-down workload if necessary. Athletically comparable to Melvin Gordon, the sky would be the limit for McNichols if he ended up leading the Tampa Bay backfield.
10. Joe Mixon, Running Back, Cincinnati Bengals
While the most talented running back in the draft didn’t end up in the BEST offensive situation, Cincinnati can certainly put him in position to succeed. Joe Mixon can do it all, as evidenced by his 11.7-percent (80th-percentile) College Target Share and 6.8 (91st-percentile) Yards Per Cary, and with a 120.4 (72nd-percentile) SPARQ-x Score, he has the athleticism that should translate to the NFL.
With the Bengals, Mixon is almost a combination of incumbent Bengals backs Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard, as he can run with power in addition to providing a dynamic threat in the passing game. Hill is an average running back and Bernard is recovering from ACL surgery, so Mixon should have no problem earning touches early and often. The concern with the Bengals, as mentioned earlier with John Ross, is the offensive line that lost two quality starters in the offseason. However, with defenses being forced to account for Ross, A.J. Green, and Tyler Eifert, Mixon should be able to catch plenty of checkdown passes from Andy Dalton.
11. Evan Engram, Tight End, New York Giants
Evan Engram was the most athletic tight end in the 2017 NFL Draft, and his measurables are certainly enticing. Engram ranks in the 90th-percentile or better in Speed Score, Burst Score, Agility Score, and Catch Radius amongst tight ends. Unfortunately, the “tweener” tight ends never really pan out in the NFL, as Engram’s most comparable player is Niles Paul, a converted wide receiver who is buried on Washington’s depth chart.
Drafted by the Giants at 23rd overall, Evan Engram joins a crowded corps of pass catchers, and while he may help improve the overall efficiency of the offense, Engram makes it more difficult to own any Giants receivers outside of Odell Beckham. At the very least, Engram’s presence should open things up for Eli Manning and company, as defenses won’t be able to double team Beckham or Brandon Marshall. It is disappointing the Giants didn’t draft David Njoku, who is just as athletic as Engram, only bigger.
12. Marlon Mack, Running Back, Indianapolis Colts
Drafted in the 6th round by the Indianapolis Colts, Marlon Mack is another back whose value skyrocketed due to his landing spot. With Frank Gore set to begin the 2017 season at 34 years of age, Mack is in prime position to see significant touches, especially if Gore begins to break down.
Andrew Luck has never had the luxury of a decent third-down back, but Marlon Mack has a chance to change that. Mack posted a 10.9-percent (76th-percentile) College Target Share, and will have a chance to contribute for an offense in need of a solid checkdown option. The Colts offensive line ranked 31st in the league in pass blocking efficiency last season, so if Mack can carve out a role as a pass catching back, he would see plenty of checkdowns from Luck.