As we continue to lay the groundwork for the 2022 fantasy season, we are digging into this incoming rookie class for Dynasty Rookie Drafts, startups, and even the potential these young players can have on the 2022 seasonal formats. Even prior to the actual NFL Draft in April, rookies are available in Best Ball formats across all platforms.
Now that the NFL combine has passed, we have a plethora of new athletic data on this upcoming rookie class. That information can be applied to athletic models and used to shape out the full portfolio for prospects to go along with production profiles, which is a general overlay of what these players put on tape for NFL teams.
As we get more athletic testing data coming in via pro day workouts, we will add notes in here to those prospects. However, overall, athletic testing has a low correlation to actual fantasy output and when it does, it is typically counted twice from a productive player in the first place. But when a prospect has subpar athletic testing paired with a limited or nonexistent production resume, then we are playing with fire when attempting to elevate or count on that player for NFL production.
When discussing player breakout age in production, I use the first season in which a wideout accounted for a 20% dominator rating (the percentage of the teams receiving production that player accounted for). I’ve longed worked with dominator rating from my days at RotoViz, but if you want to read a few more pieces on the importance of it, Ben Gretch at CBS has a post on age-adjusted production with multiple links to other pieces of work covering the subject.
I also wrote a piece here a year ago examining the relevance of early declare wide receiver prospects, which coincides with production at a younger age. With that in hand, I will be bringing things up surrounding production within the context of age and if a player was an early declare or not.
Here, we are laying out the positional rankings for each position pre-NFL Draft from a fantasy stance. Post-draft we’ll have the added influence of draft investment and landing spot to add to the layout.
Setting up more of the process here, although I do prospect models for each of the skill positions and will share the ranks for the players in those models. Feel free to go back and check out the 2020 and 2021 versions of this article and how my pre-draft ranks the model has looked in immediate hindsight.
My personal ranks do not strictly follow those models linearly. I use the prospect models in a similar fashion as I do projection models for the NFL season. We are looking for immediate market inefficiencies in leagues where we are drafting rookies prior to the actual NFL draft.
1. Treylon Burks, Arkansas, Final Year Age: 21.8 (Model Rank: WR2)
There is no Ja’Marr Chase-level prospect at the position this season, but I believe Burks provides the most upside in this class. In this draft class, Burks ranks first in yards per route run (3.93), third in yards per team pass attempt (3.52), fourth in share of team receptions (32.2%), third in share of yardage (45.0%), and first in receiving touchdowns (50%).
A prototypical alpha frame (6’2” and 225 pounds), Burks does carry some volatility in terms of refinement, while he also was not nearly the same measurable athlete at the combine as lofty comparisons placed upon him such as Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant. Burks did still register a 75th percentile speed score with his 4.55 40 at his weight, but he did fall short of being a transcendent athlete on the measurable level.
That said, Burks can win in areas that have shown transition at the NFL level. Burks is amazing with the football in his hands. 57.2% of his yardage in 2021 came after the catch (third in this class) while he was second in yards after the catch per reception (9.6 yards). Arkansas did whatever they could to get him the ball. 24.4% of Burks’s targets were on screen passes, the highest rate of this draft class.
Despite the high usage near the line of scrimmage and running 67.7% of his routes in the slot, Burks also eviscerated press coverage on his limited exposure, averaging 6.4 yards per route run the past two seasons in that department per Pro Football Focus.
When operating as an isolated receiver last season, Burks was targeted on 22-of-37 routes (59.5%) for a robust 20-439-4 line, averaging 11.9 yards per route. Although Burks needs expansion in route diversity, he was strong on go routes, ins, and slants, three of the most popular routes used in the NFL per work done by Dwain McFarland earlier this offseason, which adds to some translatable upside immediately in the NFL.
2. Drake London, USC, FY Age: 20.4 (MR: WR1)
London’s 2021 season was setting up to be historic before suffering an ankle injury in his eighth game that forced him to miss the remainder of the season and prevented him from participating in the combine last week. Prior to injury, London was the USC passing game. He commanded a target on 41.6% of his routes, averaging 11.0 receptions for 135.5 yards per game, all tops in this class.
In those games, London accounted for 42.9% of the USC receiving yardage and 41.1% of their touchdown grabs. That production paired with being the second-youngest wideout in this class is why the model has London in the top spot.
Like Burks, USC just wanted to get the ball into London’s hands. 24.4% of his targets were on screen passes (second behind Burks). London was not quite as dynamic as Burks with the ball (43.5% of his yards were after the catch while his 5.4 yards after the catch per reception were 25th), so I don’t know how much we will see that actually translate getting peppered with those quick hitters near the line of scrimmage in the NFL.
The minor hesitation with London not having a wealth of high-end efficiency on routes used at the next level paired with a dependency on gaudy efficiency and reliance on contested catches exists. That archetype of receiver has burned me plenty in the past. London was not even in the top-10 in this class on any primary route in that same study done by McFarland. 22.8% of London’s targets were in contested catch situations (and remember that nearly a quarter of his targets were screens), a mark below just three wide receivers in this class (Alec Pierce, Kevin Austin, and Tre Turner), all of which are projected to go much later in the draft. The positive news is that London converted 67.9% of those contested targets, the highest rate in this class.
3. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State, FY Age: 21.4 (MR: WR3)
Wilson checks off a number of boxes, which may make him the “safest” of the top tier of wideouts (if such a thing exists) in terms of projected draft capital and rookie draft ADP. Wilson is an early declare, early-career breakout who continuously improved throughout college, all while doing so next to another first-round talent at his position. He even comes with a sprinkling of return and rushing usage, something that is always icing on the cake.
Wilson enters the NFL coming off a season in which he ranked seventh in this class in yards per route run (3.19) and eighth versus man coverage (3.17) while accounting for 20.7% of the Ohio State receptions and 23.1% of the receiving yardage in 2021, higher rates than his teammate Chris Olave. Olave did best Wilson as a career touchdown scorer, but Wilson comes with more objective pros, including projected draft capital.
Wilson does not have the overall frame as Burks or London in terms of becoming an alpha wideout, but with the league adopting leaner prospects in recent seasons while emphasizing separation, Wilson has no red flags in that department, either.
4. Jameson Williams, Alabama, FY Age: 20.8 (MR: WR10)
Following two Ohio State teammates, Williams actually transferred from Ohio State to Alabama when it was clear that he was road blocked by both Wilson and Olave. Immediately stepping into an offense that lost both DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle to the NFL, Williams exploded for a 79-1,572-15 line in 2021. That one year of production has him dinged overall in the model, but that is something that has not been uncommon among the prospects that Bama has pushed out in recent years.
At 6’1” and 179 pounds, Williams has a similar build to the previous two wideouts, but he won downfield more than both. Williams is the draft’s premier deep threat among the top prospects, averaging 19.9 yards per catch. 28.3% of his targets were on throws over 20 yards downfield (fifth in this class) while no receiver in this class has more yards (544) and touchdowns (seven) on throws 30-plus yards in the air this season. All of that went into Williams sporting 3.51 yards per route run (fifth in this class).
The one thorn for Williams is that he suffered an ACL injury in the National Title game, pushing back his availability this offseason and potentially the start of his rookie season. Still anticipated to be selected in the first round, that may allow a draft discount on Williams in fantasy rookie drafts as he could have threatened to be the top receiver selected.
5. Chris Olave, Ohio State, FY Age: 21.5 (MR: WR4)
Olave posted 840 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2019 and sustained his per-game production throughout the remainder of his Ohio State career. A touchdown machine, Olave closed his four-year career with 35 touchdown grabs, a school record. 20% of his career collegiate receptions went for scores, the highest rate in this draft class.
Olave was second in this class in 2021 in converting 62.5% of his contested catches while not being reliant on them making up a large sample of his targets (15.7%) in large part due to his straight-line speed and the Ohio State scheme.
Olave is almost a clone of Wilson physically (6’0”, 187) while he surprised by running a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine. The separators between the two are that Olave is not an early declare prospect while Wilson was markedly better after the catch and versus man coverage. Just 29.5% of Olave’s yardage came after the catch (36th in this class) while he averaged 1.49 yards per route against man coverage (35th).
6. George Pickens, Georgia, FY Age: 20.8 (MR: WR18)
Pickens was a former 5-star recruit that hit the ground running at Georgia, posting a 49-727-8 line as a true freshman at age 18 in the SEC. He capped that first season off by winning Sugar Bowl MVP, catching 12 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. The following season in the Peach Bowl, Pickens then came back and lit up Cincinnati for 7-135-1.
That initial production made Pickens a hot commodity amongst Devy circles. But Pickens caught just 41 passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns the following two seasons in 12 games played, limited to just 35 total passing snaps this past season after suffering an ACL injury in spring practices in March.
Pickens has the pedigree and size (6’3” and 195 pounds) to be undervalued, it all just depends on what kind of draft capital he receives in April.
7. Jahan Dotson, Penn State, FY Age: 21.8 (MR: WR7)
Dotson continuously improved at Penn State. He closed with a sturdy 91-1,182-12 line, tasked to do some heavy lifting this past season, accounting for 31.3% of the receptions (fifth in this class), 48% of the receiving touchdowns (second), and 24.5% of the yards from scrimmage (fourth).
No receiver in this class may have a better catalog of impressive catches on their resume, but at 5’10” and 178 pounds, Dotson is not a physically dominant receiver while he was not as clean in production per route as some of the previous wideouts. This showed up in man coverage, where Dotson averaged 1.5 yards per route run (34th in this class). Where Dotson thrives in this class is on in breakers and hitch routes per that work done by McFarland but had limitations in nearly every other department.
8. David Bell, Purdue, FY Age: 21.0 (MR: WR5)
Bell has the most decorated production in this class, entering the NFL averaging 8.0 receptions and 101.6 yards per game for his collegiate career, both the highest marks in this class. As a 19-year-old freshman, Bell reeled off an impressive 86-1,035-7 line and never looked back, closing this season with 93-1,286-6.
All Bell has done is produce and he crushed man coverage for 3.29 yards per route this past season (fifth in this class), but as we have seen in recent years with Tyler Johnson and Tylan Wallace, you still need tangible traits, athleticism, and draft capital at the next level to get a runway to initial opportunity. The NFL told us really early that those players are going to have a long road.
Where Bell gets knocked is that he was last in this class in explosive play rate per target (19%) while the combine did him no favors at all, checking out as a 12th percentile athlete. If a team invests real capital into Bell, he will be a climber post-draft and I will be more bullish, but his peripheral profile paired with a deeper draft class provides a lot of variance in where he could be selected in April.
9. Skyy Moore, Western Michigan, FY Age: 21.3 (MR: WR6)
Moore broke out early at Western Michigan, accounting for 20.7% of the receptions and 25.6% of the team receiving yards at age 19. Playing second wheel to D’Wayne Eskridge in 2020 (25-388-3 in five games), Moore took things to another level in 2021, posting 95-1,292-10 with a complete runway to lead the passing game. Moore was third in this class in target rate per route run (36.9%) and fifth in yards per route (3.59) while ranking second in share of team receptions (40.3%), fourth in yardage (42.1%), and third in touchdowns (43.5%) this past season.
Often talked about in context of his releases at the line of scrimmage, Moore was a slant route demon in 2021. Per SIS, 22.6% of Moore’s targets were on slants (highest in this class) while 33.5% of his yards came on slants, also the highest. Moore was credited with 433 yards on slants alone, 189 more than the next highest in this class.
We have next to no sample of Moore producing against high-level competition outside of the MAC with a limited sample of doing damage outside while we await the final draft investment in April, but Moore checks a lot of boxes when looking for smaller school production.
10. John Metchie, Alabama, FY Age: 21.5 (MR: WR13)
Metchie is surely going to be drafted higher than some of the wideouts we covered at the tail end of the top-10 ranks. He misses out strictly as part of that arbitrary cutoff.
Metchie does not carry the noteworthy high points and projected draft capital of other Alabama teammates he has played with over his career but is a versatile and productive player that can fit inside and out as a complement to just about any offense.
Metchie was buried as a freshman behind Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith, but contributed a 55-916-6 line in 2020 playing alongside Smith and Waddle, before getting to take on a larger role this past season, when he caught 96 passes for 1,142 yards and eight touchdowns. Metchie went along for the ride with the Alabama offense as he was 23rd in this class in yards per route run (2.57) with an average depth of target of just 8.4 yards (35th).
That forced him to rely on yards after catch, where 56.9% of his yardage stemmed from (fourth in this class), while averaging 6.8 yards after the catch per reception (14th). The former four-star recruit will surely use that Alabama attachment as a carrot in his pending draft capital, but also is coming off an ACL injury that he suffered in December to limit his availability for the start of his career.
You can find the rankings and breakdowns on the rest of this class here…