Deshaun Watson Leads QB Rookie Rankings
Sports Hub Technologies, in conjunction with partner LeagueSafe.com, launches its post-NFL draft coverage with a series of positional rookie breakdowns, factoring in the recent draftees’ short- and long-term fantasy relevance within standard 12-team leagues.
These rankings might also be applicable to those playing in Empire Leagues, the brainchild of fantasy godfather Paul Charchian. (My new podcast partner come the fall.)
First up, we’ll address the nine highest draftees from the 2017 QB class, with former Ole Miss star Chad Kelly (now of the Denver Broncos) serving as the only exclusion:
DESHAUN WATSON, TEXANS
2017 CLASS RANKING: 1st … LONG-TERM RANKING: 1st
SKINNY: Of the nine quarterbacks listed here, Watson easily stands as the most ‘NFL-ready’ passer of the bunch, logging 36 starts at Clemson and accounting for 12,102 total yards (10,168 passing) and 116 touchdowns.
These numbers run remarkably similar to what Dak Prescott accomplished at Mississippi State (11,897 total yards/111 touchdowns/four-year starter) — although it only took Watson three college seasons to reach those tallies.
Within that success, check out Watson’s cumulative championship-game averages against Alabama, a defense loaded with blue-chip talent for the NFL: 413 yards passing and four touchdowns. For context, citing the 2015 and 2016 college seasons, the Crimson Tide ranked 3rd and 2nd nationally in total defense.
On the pro side, Watson arguably has the most negotiable path to consistent playing time in 2017, competing against the likes of Tom Savage (zero TD passes in six NFL outings) and Brandon Weeden (6,462 yards passing, 31 TDs, 30 INTs, 58-percent completion rate, 6-19 starting record) on the Texans’ depth chart. As such, outside of a blazing September start from Savage (the presumptive Week 1 starter), Watson will most likely incur semi-regular snaps for the months of October and November.
That’s how the NFL universe operates these days. If, during the spring and summer months (training camp included), a head coach says his rookie quarterback won’t see extensive playing time in the fall, no one expects the coach to honor that promise. After all, there’s a reason why the Bears (Mitchell Trubisky), Chiefs (Patrick Mahomes II) and Texans paid an exorbitant price to land their favorite prospect in Round 1.
The coaches/executives believe in their new toy’s passing acumen; and just like their fan base, it’s human nature to be curious about a potential franchise cornerstone — sooner than later.
Of equal importance, it shouldn’t take Watson very long to assimilate to NFL speed, especially when blessed with playmakers such as DeAndre Hopkins (three-year average: 88 catches, 1,228 yards, 7 TDs), tailback Lamar Miller (three straight seasons of 1,200-plus total yards), tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (career highs in catches, targets, receiving yards, touchdowns last year) and three high-upside wideouts (Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, Jaelen Strong).
But ay the rub: Texans head coach Bill O’Brien should proceed with some caution here. For once Watson earns a start that’s not due to injury pileup, there will be no turning back with his spot on the depth chart. 12-TEAM LEAGUE DRAFT SPECULATION: Round 14 or 15 (depending on preseason progress)
DESHONE KIZER, BROWNS
2017 CLASS RANKING: 2nd … LONG-TERM RANKING: 5th
SKINNY: It’s easy to envision Kizer (two-year tallies at Notre Dame: 5,805 yards passing, 47 TDs/19 INTs, 61-percent completion rate) starting at least four games this fall, more out of necessity than dutiful reward.
The Browns have been a hopeless, dysfunctional mess in recent years, with five different quarterbacks (Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, Robert Griffin III, Austin Davis, Johnny Manziel) logging multiple starts in the previous two seasons.
In that vein, Kessler, Kizer and Brock Osweiler (offseason acquisition) should all see time for a club that’s in desperate need of a franchise quarterback, even if they’ve shown little interest in finding one at the top of the draft.
On paper, Kizer has access to quality talents like Corey Coleman (33 catches, 413 yards, 3 TDs as a rookie) and free-agent signee Kenny Britt. They’ll be primarily responsible for filling the vacuum effect of ex-Browns Terrelle Pryor (signed with the Redskins in March) and Gary Barnidge (released by the club) combining for 132 catches, 1,619 yards and six receiving touchdowns last season. (At this time, it’s hard to foretell Josh Gordon‘s role with the club.)
However, it’s a fruitless exercise to project how any Cleveland quarterback will fare over a 16-game season, knowing each QB will be lucky to endure eight games without injury or incompetence. 12-TEAM LEAGUE DRAFT SPECULATION: Undrafted free agent
NATHAN PETERMAN, BILLS
2017 CLASS RANKING: 3rd … LONG-TERM RANKING: 4th
SKINNY: Peterman and Kizer have been thrust into similar situations, post-draft. They seemingly have enough talent and upside to become regular starters for the Bills and Browns, respectively; but that proposition largely hinges on the success (or failure) of Tyrod Taylor and Brock Osweiler.
Plus, Peterman and Kizer must combat the still-high expectations of backups Cardale Jones and Cody Kessler, who were both selected in Dak Prescott’s neighborhood during the 2016 draft.
Peterman has a solid chip in his favor, though: The Bills own the NFL’s longest playoff drought (18 seasons), and new head coach/interim personnel czar Sean McDermott seemingly has no sustained loyalty to Taylor or Jones, in terms of playing time beyond October. In other words, if Peterman (two-year average at Pitt: 2,571 yards passing, 26 TDs/7 INTs) truly has ‘NFL-ready potential,’ then Buffalo’s front office might call for a sneak peek in the season’s latter half.
On the plus side, Peterman inherits a playmaking corps with plenty of potential, when healthy — tailback LeSean McCoy (annual threat for 1,500 yards/12 TDs), tight end Charles Clay (four-year average: 59 catches, 611 yards, 4 TDs) and receivers Sammy Watkins (potentially playing for a big extension) and rookie Zay Jones (second-round drafte). 12-TEAM LEAGUE DRAFT SPECULATION: Undrafted free agent
MITCHELL TRUBISKY, BEARS
2017 CLASS RANKING: 4th … LONG-TERM RANKING: 2nd
SKINNY: Trubisky certainly looks the part of a long-term fixture for the Bears, possessing good size, admirable touch on the ball, dead-eye accuracy and elite-level arm strength.
However, there’s no getting around the fact Trubisky (3,748 yards passing, 35 total TDs, 68-percent completion rate last year) logged only 13 starts in college.
Translation: Unless he’s the second coming of Cam Newton (just one incredible year at Auburn, before turning pro), the Bears would be wise to handle the Trubisky/Mike Glennon situation similar to the Philip Rivers/Drew Brees dynamic from a decade ago, when the Chargers sat Rivers for two full years before handing over the reins in 2006. (Brees’s shoulder injury in 2005 certainly made that decision easier.)
From an ideal fantasy perspective, Trubisky would have tangible draft value as Chicago’s Day 1 starter, the byproduct of being complemented by tailback Jordan Howard (1,611 total yards, 7 TDs as a rookie) and the receiving quartet of Kevin White, Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton and Cameron Meredith, who erupted for 66 catches, 888 yards and four TDs last year, despite starting only 10 games.
But this isn’t a likely occurrence, given Glennon’s lucrative contract during the offseason.
Realistically speaking, Glennon should serve as the Bears’ starter for the entire 2017 campaign. 12-TEAM LEAGUE DRAFT SPECULATION: Undrafted free agent
C.J. BEATHARD, 49ERS
2017 CLASS RANKING: 5th … LONG-TERM RANKING: 8th
SKINNY: The 49ers did a wonderful job of talking up Beathard’s potential on draft weekend, eliciting ambitious comparisons to Kirk Cousins (102nd overall pick in 2012) and Tom Brady (199th selection in 2000). For the time being, though, we’re comfortable slotting Beathard (only 1,929 yards passing at Iowa last year) slightly ahead of Giovanni Carmazzi — San Francisco’s disastrous QB savior from 2000, who was inexplicably selected 134 places ahead of Brady.
On the plus side, Beathard has a plausible shot at starting a game or two in the fall, given the unsettled nature of the 49ers’ offensive line (anchored by left tackle Joe Staley) and the mediocre track records of quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. To be fair, though, it’s a mild surprise that Chicago didn’t attempt to re-sign Barkley in March, after passing for 300 yards and two TDs in back-to-back outings last December. 12-TEAM LEAGUE DRAFT SPECULATION: Undrafted free agent
PATRICK MAHOMES, CHIEFS
2017 CLASS RANKING: 6th … LONG-TERM RANKING: 3rd
SKINNY: Let’s establish something right off the bat: If I had a free-and-clear shot at drafting and developing any of the 2017 QB prospects, Mahomes would have been my choice. So, let’s not read too much into the so-so rankings from above.
Bottom line: Mahomes (two-year totals with Texas Tech: 9,705 yards passing, 77 TDs/25 INTs, 65-percent completion rate) has the greatest upside of any quarterback in this class. In fact, he might possess a higher ceiling than anyone from 2018 (USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph, Wyoming’s Josh Allen), given the kid’s Favre-like gifts of quick feet, good pocket awareness, solid improvisational skills and a rocket arm that might make Dan Marino blush.
Am I overselling Mahomes’ potential here? Perhaps. Thankfully, he’s in the perfect situation of studiously lagging behind Alex Smith for a full season, knowing Mahomes likely won’t see the field (in clutch scenarios), barring injury.
From a short-term perspective, that’s unfortunate. Smith is nothing more than a late-round backup in 12- or 14-team leagues; so there’s no point in rostering a third quarterback like Mahomes (traditional rosters).
Make no mistake, though, the talent is there for a bright fantasy future. He just needs a window of opportunity. 12-TEAM LEAGUE DRAFT SPECULATION: Undrafted free agent
JOSHUA DOBBS, STEELERS
2017 CLASS RANKING: 7th … LONG-TERM RANKING: 6th
SKINNY: Here’s a bankable Steelers reality for the season ahead: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will sustain an injury at some point.
On the flip side, it’s impossible to guess when this malady might occur. Additionally, there’s a great chance Big Ben bounces back from the medical table in time for Pittsburgh’s next game.
Put it all together, and there’s little motivation in taking a fantasy flier on Dobbs (three-year starter at Tennessee) this summer. He’s an intriguing prospect, but Landry Jones also has more experience and a stronger rapport with the Steelers’ big-time cast of Antonio Brown (four-year average: 120 catches, 1,579 yards, 11 TDs), Le’Veon Bell (annual threat for 2,000 total yards, 60-plus catches), Martavis Bryant (back from suspension), Sammie Coates and Eli Rogers (48 catches, 594 yards, 3 TDs as a rookie). 12-TEAM LEAGUE DRAFT SPECULATION: Undrafted free agent
BRAD KAAYA, LIONS
2017 CLASS RANKING: 8th … LONG-TERM RANKING: 9th
SKINNY: After Kaaya’s freshman campaign at Miami of Florida (3,198 yards passing, 27 TDs in 2014), there was Internet talk of him emerging as the 2017 draft’s No. 1 quarterback prospect — speculation that seems quite irresponsible, in retrospect.
There should never be a razor-thin line separating a high pick in Round 1 … and the 215th selection in a so-so QB draft. If that’s the case, then why pay NFL scouts to scour the country 12 months a year?
Draft freefall aside, at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Kaaya remains a solid developmental project for the Lions. Plus, there will be absolutely no pressure to play the strong-armed prospect anytime soon, as long as Matthew Stafford — the NFL’s fastest quarterback to 30,000 passing yards (108 games) — inks a lucrative contract extension within the next 14 months.
Bottom line: Kaaya likely won’t be a consideration in any standard fantasy drafts of 12, 14 or 16 teams. And for 20-team leagues, Lions backup Jake Rudock probably makes more sense as Stafford’s imminent injury replacement. 12-TEAM LEAGUE DRAFT SPECULATION: Undrafted free agent
DAVIS WEBB, GIANTS
2017 CLASS RANKING: 9th … LONG-TERM RANKING: 7th
SKINNY: Heading into his age-36 season, Eli Manning (48,218 yards passing, 325 career TDs, two Super Bowl titles) has started 199 consecutive games.
Simply put, no other Giants quarterback shall log important snaps for the foreseeable future … until the future Hall of Famer Manning opts for permanent retirement.
Of course, things can always change with injury. After all, Peyton Manning, at age 35, missed an entire campaign in 2011 due to multiple neck surgeries; and the Giants’ offensive line, presently “anchored” by tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart, doesn’t have the strongest reputation in NFL circles.
Injury-speculation aside, Webb (4,295 yards passing, 37 TDs/12 INTs at Cal last year) appears to be the Giants’ strongest backup prospect of the Manning era (excluding deposed starter Kurt Warner in 2004); and maybe three years from now, he’ll be rewarded with a starting slot — just before his price tag on the open market becomes expensive.
Best-case scenario: Webb evolves into the New York version of Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo. Unfortunately, that progression would hold little or no meaning for the 2017 fantasy season. 12-TEAM LEAGUE DRAFT SPECULATION: Undrafted free agent
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media) and 2008 Fantasy Football Writer of the Year (Fantasy Sports Writers Association), can be reached via Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.