As we draw closer the NFL Draft, most of us seem to have a general understanding of all of the top rookies in this class. Soon we will covet the names of Barkley, Guice, Michel, Moore, Sutton, Ridley, and a few others like them. Although for every sure-fire top rookie pick in the past such as Elliott, Gurley, Fournette, etc., there are always those late-round players who quickly outproduce their ADP and become valuable dynasty names. Names such as JuJu Smith-Schuster (2017 DFF Rookie ADP 23 Overall), Aaron Jones (2017 DFF Rookie ADP 33 Overall), Chris Carson (2017 DFF Rookie ADP 44 Overall), George Kittle (2017 DFF Rookie ADP 48 Overall), Tarik Cohen (2017 DFF Rookie ADP 49 Overall), Jordan Howard (2016 DFF Rookie ADP 22 Overall), Alex Collins (2016 Rookie ADP 33 Overall), and Tyreek Hill (2016 DFF Rookie ADP 34 Overall), to name a few.
This year, like every other year, there will be players who will be underrated and undervalued in rookie drafts. They will be overlooked by most dynasty players merely because they are either not tall enough, don’t weigh enough, aren’t fast enough, or they didn’t produce statistically in college. Looking at this 2018 rookie class, here are five players I believe fit that mold, and can provide excellent value in rookie drafts.
Ronald Jones II – RB – USC (April DFF Rookie ADP 9 Overall)
Hard to make the argument for someone as undervalued who has an ADP of 9 overall, but that’s precisely what is happening for Ronald Jones. An ADP of nine overall for someone I would have as my third overall player in this class slightly behind Guice is something I would consider a great value. If you’re able to get Jones in the mid-to-late first round of your rookie draft, congratulations, you’re getting away with theft. Ronald Jones has elite burst and speed that separate him from most running backs in this class. His ability to make sharp cuts and accelerate through the line of scrimmage are traits that can immediately translate to the next level. In his three-year career at USC, Jones averaged a very impressive 6.1 yards per carry on 591 attempts that totaled 3,619 yards. He never seemed to be appropriately utilized in the passing game while at USC, but it wasn’t due to his lack of catching ability. When I watch Ronald Jones find the ball the few times USC gave him the opportunity to do so, he looked like a natural hands catcher that was more than capable of being a three-down back in the NFL. (Example: watch the over the shoulder sideline catch against Arizona, and the 56-yard touchdown reception against Texas) I see a lot of people question his size at 205, and they feel as if he isn’t big enough to sustain a significant role in the NFL. His 205-pound frame doesn’t worry me when it comes to having a substantial workload at the next level. Since 2012, there have been 14 different running backs that have had one or more years as a top 15 running back in PPR scoring that weighed 210 pounds or less at the NFL combine. LeSean McCoy (198), Christian McCaffrey (202), Duke Johnson (207), Dion Lewis (193), Danny Woodhead (197), DeAngelo Williams (207), Darren McFadden (210), Jamaal Charles (200), Justin Forsett (190), Chris Johnson (195), Reggie Bush (201), Giovani Bernard (202), C.J. Spiller (196), and Darren Sproles (187). Ronald Jones should find success at the next level, despite the argument against his size.
Mark Walton – RB – Miami (April DFF Rookie ADP 20 Overall)
With all of the excitement surrounding the top rookie running backs this year, Mark Walton has become an afterthought and is rarely mentioned relative to his fellow positional counterparts. It isn’t due to lack of talent, as Walton is as talented if not more talented than some of the other rookie running backs that have a first-round ADP. It’s mainly due to the injury that Walton suffered at Miami back in early October of 2017. Walton had a severe ankle injury that required surgery that ended his third and final year for the Hurricanes just five games into the season. Before the injury, Walton was one of the more explosive players in college football. He totaled 2,630 yards and 28 touchdowns in only 31 career games. Walton showed that he could carry the load and be a competent receiver out of the backfield, with 56 career catches while averaging an impressive 11.1 yards per reception. Walton is a very balanced runner who can create yards on his own when the running lanes aren’t open for him. At his pro-day Walton took a full tenth of a second off of his 40-yard dash time compared to his combine time, going from 4.60 at the combine to 4.50 at his pro-day. It shows that he is further progressing in his recovery from the ankle injury and is regaining his speed and explosion that he displayed at Miami. Mark Walton at a mid-to-late second round rookie pick is a tremendous value for a player with his upside and versatility.
DJ Chark – WR – LSU (April DFF Rookie ADP 30 Overall)
Chark is a raw size and speed athlete at 6’3” 199 pounds, that has all of the tools to be a successful NFL wide receiver with the right development. A very explosive receiver that shows burst getting off the line of scrimmage and getting behind the defense, Chark played with inconsistent quarterback play that limited his production during his three-year career at LSU. Chark showed flashes at times of his potential as well if a team can develop him into a polished route runner in the NFL. Chark really showed his explosive ability with 10 total touchdowns at LSU on only 91 touches. He really impressed last month at the combine with a wide receiver best 4.34 40-yard dash. Chark also showed very good ability to adjust well to the ball downfield in traffic on contested catches. He will need to really work on his route running once he gets into the league, but with an ADP of 30 overall, there isn’t a player in the early-to-mid third round that has a higher upside.
Anthony Miller – WR – Memphis (April DFF Rookie ADP 22 Overall)
A player with the ball skills and catching ability like Anthony Miller in the late second round of a rookie draft doesn’t come around often. He plays much more significant than his 5’11” frame and can high point the football down the field in traffic. At 190 pounds he plays very physically with and without the ball in his hands. He is a versatile receiver that could play outside or inside at the next level. Miller isn’t going to burn defenders with blazing speed, but what he does have is excellent quickness, and his first steps off the line of scrimmage help him get open against defensive backs. He excels in his precise route running with sharp cuts and acceleration that also allows him to separate from opposing players. Anthony Miller will need to work on ball control as he fumbled the ball six times in his three-year career at Memphis. With his reputation for having a hard work ethic on a daily basis in practice, fixing the issues of being careless with the football is easily fixable. Miller was very productive in his time at Memphis, posting 238 catches for 3,590 yards and 37 touchdowns. Getting a player of his ability in the late second round of your rookie draft could pay off if he gets an opportunity to showcase his talent for the team that drafts him.
Antonio Callaway – WR – Florida (April DFF Rookie ADP 37 Overall)
Antonio Callaway is the perfect lottery ticket player to take a chance on in this year’s rookie class. Callaway is significantly more talented than most of the players that are around him at his current ADP. The reason he is at his current spot in rookie drafts is due to his off the field concerns. This led to his suspension and not playing in 2017. Off the field concerns aside, if and when he gets an opportunity in the NFL, Callaway has the explosion and athleticism to become a productive wide receiver in the league. Callaway shows good acceleration off the line of scrimmage and follows it up with high speed that allows him to create good separation from defenders. Callaway also displays above average route running ability that can be better developed once in the NFL. His production was inconsistent during his two years at Florida due to the lack of shaky quarterback play and inconsistent targets. However, Callaway had 89 catches for 1399 yards for 7 touchdowns on 159 targets in two short years in Gainsville. Callaway had a very impressive NFL Combine with a 4.41 40-yard dash, while also showing exceptional receiving ability. If Callaway can clean up his off the field issues and become more consistent in his smooth route running and ability to catch, he has the tools to be a late-round steal in rookie drafts this year.