The 2017 NFL rookie draft class will add depth to some of the most needy fantasy positions, like running back and tight end. Top tier talent could pay dividends to fantasy owners for seasons to come, particularly in dynasty and keeper leagues. Here’s a look at the the 25 potentially most valuable rookies for this season and beyond.
Day One Dividends
These are the players who are the most draftable come fall - those who are guaranteed to start or see a solid workload almost immediately. They should be able to play a role on your fantasy roster from the start.
Leonard Fournette (RB - JAX): Fournette is the most obvious candidate for a huge season in 2017. Like Ezekiel Elliott last year, Fournette finds himself in an ideal situation, with a certain start and hefty workload in Jacksonville (with only T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory to beat out). The biggest difference - Fournette will not have nearly as strong of a line to run behind as Zeke does in Dallas. But the LSU rusher should get plenty of carries from day one, making him a fantasy asset for years to come.
Corey Davis (WR - TEN): Easily one of the most talented players in this draft class, Davis heads to a Titans team starving for receiver talent. Last season, the competition at wideout in Tennessee was so nonexistent that I put Tajae Sharpe on this list (though he didn’t pan out for fantasy purposes). This year, the Titans spent a first rounder on their wideout of the future, and Marcus Mariota finally has an explosive weapon to throw to. Davis should be a top fantasy option for many seasons and is an essential pickup in all leagues.
O.J. Howard (TE - TB): Jameis Winston and the Bucs got an enormous talent in Howard. The Alabama tight end didn’t rack up much in the way of stats in college, but he’s shown immense physical talent and athletic ability throughout. Howard will have a solid quarterback in Winston and should beat out the competition at his position (primarily Cameron Brate) relatively quickly. He’s an important asset at a very thin position in fantasy leagues and should continue to hold value for many years.
Joe Mixon (RB - CIN): We all know the issues with Mixon’s history, so I’m not going to go over them again. It gives me pause as far as his being able to stay on the field and out of trouble, but putting him here on the list is setting that aside and assuming he has grown as a person. On the field, Mixon is a juggernaut. He contributes to the passing and ground games (a dream in PPR leagues), having racked up 1,274 rushing yards, 10 rushing touchdowns, 538 receiving yards, and five receiving touchdowns in 2016. Cincinnati is already stacked offensively, boasting receivers A.J. Green and first-rounder John Ross III, tight end Tyler Eifert and running back Jeremy Hill. Mixon will have to earn his snaps with the Bengals, but he should beat out Hill for starting work pretty quickly.
Dalvin Cook (RB - MIN): The Vikings traded up to nab Cook in the second round, and they seem devoted to making him an important part of the offense (despite the offseason acquisition of Latavius Murray). The backfield may initially be a RBBC situation, with Murray, Cook, and Jerrick McKinnon each getting snaps, but I think Cook takes on the bulk of the workload as the season progresses (and keeps it from there on out).
Mike Williams (WR - LAC): Williams is an extremely talented receiver, and heads to a Los Angeles team with a proven veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers. Despite his abilities, Williams may see a slow start to his workload, as he will be fighting for snaps on an offense loaded with talent (in receivers Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin, and tight end Antonio Gates). Williams’ skill set should earn him significant play time (and a role as a fantasy starter) sooner rather than later.
Christian McCaffrey (RB - CAR): McCaffrey joins a Panthers team with a lot of questions in the run game. Quarterback Cam Newton has been a rushing threat for the past few years and will continue to steal some of the touchdown potential from whomever is in the Carolina backfield. Running back Jonathan Stewart will also remain a factor for the Panthers (as long as he stays healthy) and will likely share carries with McCaffrey. The dual-threat potential of McCaffrey should help his fantasy value, and he should certainly emerge as a key piece of the offense this year, but he may be relatively limited by the talent around him. Keep an eye on how the Panthers use him through the preseason.
Evan Engram (TE - NYG): With a bevy of big names in the passing game, the Giants have plenty of competition for targets. Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Brandon Marshall make up a stellar receiving corps, led by veteran quarterback Eli Manning. But Engram should emerge as the starter at his position almost immediately, as the Giants have struggled with steady tight end play in recent years. Engram is a valuable player at a thin fantasy position and should become a fantasy option almost immediately.
Help in the Long Haul
These are the players who may not start Week One, but who should have an important role as the season progresses or as they develop. They may be most valuable to owners in deeper, keeper, or dynasty leagues, or as players to watch for waiver additions during the season.
Kareem Hunt (RB - KC): Spencer Ware had a solid season as Kansas City’s lead rusher in 2016, but Hunt is certainly talented enough to steal carries away from him. The two may enter the season splitting the workload, but I expect Hunt to be taking the bulk of snaps by the end of the year. He is absolutely a running back to watch or draft in deeper leagues.
John Ross III (WR - CIN): Just one of two new crucial offensive weapons to join the Bengals’ offense through the draft (along with Mixon), Ross will become the number two receiver opposite of Green right away. His speed and athleticism should allow Ross to contribute right away, but not as Andy Dalton’s primary target. He will, however, continue to develop as a key piece of the Bengals’ offense and an important part of their future offensive scheme.
Zay Jones (WR - BUF): As questions about quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s future loom large in Buffalo, the Bills have invested another high draft pick in their receiving corps, taking Jones in the second round (three years ago, they traded up for Sammy Watkins in the first). Jones should see a decent amount of work, but he has exceptional talent opposite him in Watkins. Much of Jones’ fantasy potential will hinge on how well the Bills’ offense can work together this season and on how his workload plays out.
Alvin Kamara (RB - NO): Kamara will have to fight for his snaps as part of the Saints’ backfield this season, competing with Mark Ingram and Adrian Peterson for significant playing time. However, there is a chance that injuries could propel Kamara up the depth chart before the end of the year. He is certainly talented enough to produce given the chance. For 2017 purposes, he may end up being more of a long-term investment, and more interesting to keeper and dynasty owners.
David Njoku (TE - CLE): I went back and forth on where to put Njoku on this list, because he will almost certainly earn the starting role in Cleveland. However, the Browns seem to have no idea who their starting quarterback will be for 2017 (with options like Brock Osweiler, Cody Kessler, Deshone Kizer and Kevin Hogan to choose from). He also has decent receiving competition from Corey Coleman, Rishard Higgins and Kenny Britt. So Njoku has the potential to be a great fantasy asset, but until Cleveland gets their offense in order, he will be limited by the issues around him.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR - PIT): Smith-Schuster enters the pass-happy Steelers offense behind wideouts Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, but will likely see a decent workload as a rookie (Bryant is returning from a season-long 2016 suspension, and it is unclear how his role in the offense will play out this season). Smith-Schuster should emerge as a solid receiving weapons in Pittsburgh, though it may not be immediately.
Samaje Perine (RB - WAS): Last season, Washington had issues with their run game, with Rob Kelley, Chris Thompson and Matt Jones splitting carries in the backfield. Perine will likely share the workload with Kelley this fall, though he is talented enough to eventually emerge as the leading rusher. He’s worth keeping an eye on in the preseason, and is certainly worth stashing in dynasty leagues.
James Conner (RB - PIT): With Le’Veon Bell ahead of him on the depth chart, Conner likely won’t see a high number of carries in his first season. He is a talented rusher, however, who could potentially earn a larger role in the offense. There is also the chance that he steps in as a starter if anything happens to Bell (remember that 2016 backup rusher D’Angelo Williams did well in Bell’s absence last season). Conner will hold fantasy value in dynasty leagues, or if injuries move him up the depth chart.
Joe Williams (RB - SF): Williams will be competing with Carlos Hyde and Tim Hightower for snaps as a rookie. He is a speedy rusher who could emerge as a decent weapon for the 49ers. San Francisco struggled offensively last year, with a lack of leadership at quarterback that will likely continue into 2017. Williams’ fantasy value could be limited by the issues around him, but he is a talented back potential to contribute.
Jamaal Williams (RB - GB): Last season, Ty Montgomery became a legitimate starting option for the Packers after Eddie Lacy’s weight and injury issues left Green Bay with issues at running back. Williams will probably not take the starting role away from Montgomery this season, but he does have value as a number two back with long term potential.
Gerald Everett (TE - LAR): Everett should beat out Tyler Higbee for the starting role with the Rams almost immediately. He has the potential to be a solid fantasy weapon at a thin position. However, Jared Goff still has some developing to do, and Everett’s success will likely be limited by that. There is little reliable talent at tight end for fantasy purposes, so Everett is worth watching on those grounds alone.
D’Onta Foreman (RB - HOU): Houston’s backfield should have renewed potential with the one-two punch of Foreman and starter Lamar Miller. The ex-Texas Longhorn racked up 2,028 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2016. He should be a big play threat in the NFL as well. Foreman may or may not make starting fantasy lineups this year, but he has potential to be quite valuable in the future.
Deshaun Watson (QB - HOU): Watson has the most potential of any rookie quarterback to start this year, and I’m of the belief that he will take over for Tom Savage at some point this season. Watson has plenty of offensive weapons around him once he gets the start, from a talented backfield to a dynamic receiving corps in DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, Braxton Miller and Jaelen Strong. He will, however, likely face some issues with the Texans’ offensive line. Given potential rookie struggles, Watson may not pan out as a fantasy option this season, though he could over the next few years.
Adam Shaheen (TE - CHI): Shaheen will start the season behind veteran Zach Miller on the depth chart in Chicago and faces solid competition for receptions in the receiving corps (with Kevin White, Markus Wheaton and Cameron Meredith). He may beat Miller out in the long run, but won’t have much fantasy value until he does. You can keep an eye on Shaheen through the preseason, or maybe pick him up if Miller is injured.
Pat Mahomes (QB - KC): Barring an injury to Alex Smith, Mahomes probably won’t see any significant time in 2017. However, the ex-Texas Tech gunslinger is poised to take over
Arizona’s Kansas City’s offense at some point in the near future, making him an asset in dynasty leagues.
Josh Dobbs (QB - PIT): Drafted as the presumed eventual replacement for starter Ben Roethlisberger, Dobbs should only see significant play time this year if injuries move him up the depth chart. He does have potential in dynasty leagues, however, as he could eventually take over one of the league’s most explosive offenses.
Mitchell Trubisky (QB - CHI): Mike Glennon is reportedly the Bears’ starter for 2017, so Trubisky is unlikely to see the field much this season. However, like the other quarterbacks on this list, he could earn his starting role as soon as next year, giving him some decent upside in dynasty leagues.
What are your thoughts, fantasy owners? Are there any other rookies you’re keeping an eye on for your fantasy drafts this fall? You can use the comments section below to discuss anything fantasy football related.