Today we finish up our look at the new names from the 2016 NFL Draft and how they might impact your fake football squad. This week we’ll look at TEs and RBs.
The excitement starts and ends with Hunter Henry, the Arkansas Razorback dynamic weapon. Henry was the first tight end taken (35th overall) and was drafted by the perfect team. Antonio Gates has long been one of the best at the position and Philip Rivers has certainly enjoyed throwing to the big target. With years of the Ladarius Green tease (now in Pittsburgh), the door is open for Henry to take the torch from Gates. Henry is 6’5", 250 lbs. and runs a 4.66. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com compared him to Jason Witten. Henry represents the only draftable asset from this rookie tight end class.
The rest of the class includes Austin Hooper (ATL), Nick Vannett (SEA), Tyler Higbee (LAR), and if you’re deep diving, Rico Gathers (DAL). I don’t see instant impact from any of these names but file them away for the future. Remember, it took awhile for Jordan Reed and Tyler Eifert to come into their own. Hooper appears to be the "best of the rest" and will have a clear path to snaps with a good quarterback throwing the ball. Gathers is a converted basketball player trying to make the jump from 8th grade football…
As we did with the wide receiver class last week, we’ll count down 10 to 1 in terms of excitement. The tricky thing about running backs is most of it comes down to opportunity. There are a lot of talented guys that can step in for short bursts and make an impact. The guys to get excited about are the players with staying power, a path to carries, and the talent to earn a spot on your roster.
10 – Keith Marshall – Washington – In an alternate universe, Keith Marshall is the top running back off the board as he was a highly recruited high school player who had his career knocked off track due to a knee injury. Marshall healed while Todd Gurley started for the Georgia Bulldogs and when his knee wouldn’t allow him to come back at full strength, Nick Chubb was firmly in place. It would likely take a Matt Jones injury to see a fulltime role, but this offense will likely be a good one again this season.
9 – Kenneth Dixon – Ravens – This is a really croweded room. Dixon will have to battle Justin Forsett, 2015 4th rounder Buck Allen, 2014 4th rounder Lorenzo Taliaferro, and free agent pickups Terrance West and…Trent Richardson. I’m not so sure I see a path to carries for Dixon even though he’s one of the more talented backs in this class. Even if the Ravens keep 4 backs on their roster, he might start off the year as the #4.
8 – Paul Perkins – Giants – The former Bruin will be in competition with Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. I’m not the biggest Jennings fan, so I do think there’s a chance Perkins can win the job if Jennings struggles. However, this is still a deep play for the upcoming season.
7 – Tyler Ervin – Texans – Houston signed Lamar Miller to a free agent contract this off season and he’ll have all the opportunities to be the main guy. But after Miller comes Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes. I’m not a fan of Blue or Grimes and I can see Tyler starting the year as the #2. In an undefined offense with Brock Osweiler at the helm, the Texans may choose to run the ball more often than not and can open the door for some early value.
6 – Devontae Booker – Broncos – This is where it starts getting more interesting. Booker enters a crowded running backs room with CJ Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson, Cyrus Gray, and Kapri Bibbs all on the roster. Obviously, not all those guys make the 53, but they brought back CJ Anderson on a monster contract (thank you for not signing with Chicago) and signed Hillman to a one-year deal. Thompson is a guy who has been useful in the past so don’t count him out. Booker could start off as the #3 back and not see the field much, but with Mark Sanchez currently in control and the inconsistency of Anderson and Hillman ahead of him, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Booker as a big add down the stretch.
5 – Derrick Henry – Titans – Too low? Maybe. I’m sure I won’t see any Derrick Henry shares on my squad this coming fall but what is it about the Tennessee Titans that makes you want to buy into their running game? Bishop Sankey was terrible the last two seasons but part of that is an offensive line that isn’t very good. Plus…the Titans traded for DeMarco Murray in the offseason and are paying him a lot of money. Murray is going to get every chance to earn that dough and I don’t know if I believe in this offense to make two backs viable this season.
4 – Kenyan Drake – Dolphins – Let’s stay with Crimson Tide backs and look at the less heralded Drake. The depth chart is wide open after Lamar Miller left. Yes, Jay Ajayi is the presumptive #1 but we saw how much Adam Gase used Jeremy Langford last year and Ajayi ‘aint no Matt Forte. I can see Drake getting a real shot as part of Gase’s first draft and could come away with the job.
3 – C.J. Prosise – Seahawks – If you look at what the Seahawks did in the draft, they seemed to have wanted ALL of the running backs. In addition to Prosise, the Seahawks took Alex Collins in the 5th, Zac Brooks in the 7th, and signed Tre Madden as a college free agent. That’s what happens when Beast Mode retires. Christine Michael is still on the team after bouncing around the league and boomeranging back to the Seahawks in a desperation move. But this really comes down to Thomas Rawls, the phenom fill-in from last season vs. Prosise. Given that Rawls was an undrafted player and Seattle felt compelled enough to take Prosise in the 3rd round, I think there will be an open competition for the gig. Seattle hasn’t invest much in their offensive line (J’Marcus Webb is currently slated to play RT), but a starter in a good offense is a valuable piece.
2 – Jordan Howard – Bears – Time for the homer pick. I’m still not quite sure how Jordan Howard was there for Chicago in the 5th round but Bears fans will take it. Howard has his critics and maybe his running style won’t be conducive to a long and healthy career, but Howard enters an offense that appears set for productivity and a lot of touches up for grabs with the departure of Matt Forte. Howard may be the best pure running back in this year’s class and it is not a stretch to envision Howard getting 1st and 2nd down carries and handling goal line work with Langford as the change of pace back. If that arrangement materializes, Howard could easily fill the stat sheet with dependable RB2 numbers.
1 – Ezekiel Elliot – Cowboys – The obvious of the obvious on this list, true, but sometimes it’s best to not outthink yourself. The question that you’ll have to ask yourself is, are you willing to spend a 1st round pick on Elliot over proven commodities? Someone is going to take him in the first round so don’t even dream about him coming back to you in the second. Everything is set up for Elliot and when you’re taken 4th overall, you’re going to be given every opportunity to produce. Elliot is going to get 25+ touches every week behind the most talented offensive line in the league. His ceiling is a rushing title and fantasy football most valuable player. His floor is probably somewhere in the Carlos Hyde / Mark Ingram range this year. As of right now, I might go as high as 6th overall to take a chance on Elliot.
What rookies will you be targeting in your drafts in August?