The Pro Football Writers of America released their 2016 All-Rookie Team on Tuesday, and to no surprise, Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott was the Rookie of the Year. He was also a Fantasy stud.
Joining Elliott on the team was Dak Prescott at quarterback, Jordan Howard as the second running back, Michael Thomas and Sterling Shepard at receiver and Hunter Henry at tight end. These rookies were great for Fantasy owners during the season, but how will they perform in 2017?
And here's another question for fun: Could you win your Fantasy league in 2017 with that roster of sophomores?
Now, the PFWA team doesn't have a flex option, but it did honor Tyreek Hill as the top rookie kick returner, punt returner and special teams player. So since he's on the list for them, we'll start with him in that spot. And there are plenty of other rookies from 2016 to consider as bench options for next season.
Let's break down the PFWA 2016 All-Rookie Team heading into 2017.
Prescott was the No. 9 Fantasy quarterback as a rookie, and he just had a dominant playoff game against Green Bay with 302 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He showed he can be an elite Fantasy option with nine games of at least 20 Fantasy points, and he has exceptional talent around him with Elliott, Dez Bryant and that standout Dallas offensive line. Prescott is the perfect quarterback to wait for on Draft Day, and he will likely be selected with a mid- to late-round pick in all leagues.
Elliott was easily the No. 1 Fantasy rookie at any position, and he finished as the No. 2 running back in standard leagues behind only David Johnson. Playing behind the best offensive line in the NFL, Elliott had either 100 total yards or a touchdown in every game this season, including the playoffs when he had 22 carries for 125 yards against the Packers. The only question for Elliott in 2017 will be when he's drafted in the first three picks along with Le'Veon Bell and Johnson. As of now, he's second for me behind Bell.
Howard started the season playing behind Jeremy Langford, and he didn't get double digits in carries until Week 4. But in his final 13 games, Howard had double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in nine games, including six in a row to end the year. We hope the Bears will upgrade at quarterback over Jay Cutler and Matt Barkley, and some improved weapons at receiver and tight end will help Howard also. But he thrived in a bad situation last year and should do well again in 2017. He's worth drafting toward the end of Round 1 or beginning of Round 2 in all leagues.
- Backup options to consider: Rob Kelley, Derrick Henry, Paul Perkins, Kenneth Dixon, Devontae Booker and C.J. Prosise
There was a debate about the best rookie receiver coming into the season with Thomas, Shepard, Will Fuller and Corey Coleman, among others. Thomas ended that debate with one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history, and he was the No. 8 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues. His 92 receptions were second-most for a rookie behind Anquan Boldin's 101 in 2003. His 1,137 receiving yards were sixth-best all-time for a rookie, and he tied for 15th with his nine touchdown catches. He had eight games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league, and I plan to draft him in Round 3 in the majority of leagues in 2017.
Shepard had a good rookie season, but he's the first player on this list that would make you nervous as a Fantasy starter next year. He finished as the No. 34 receiver in standard leagues, and he had eight games with double digits in Fantasy points. The problem for Shepard was being too touchdown dependent because he topped 65 receiving yards just twice and none since Week 3.
He shares the field with arguably the best receiver in the NFL in Odell Beckham, so he'll never dominate targets. And Eli Manning is heading toward the end of his career and not his prime. Shepard is better viewed as a No. 3 Fantasy receiver than a starter, and he should be drafted with a mid-round pick.
- Backup options to consider: Malcolm Mitchell, Will Fuller, Corey Coleman, Tyler Boyd, Laquon Treadwell, Josh Doctson and Tajae Sharpe
It's going to be fun to see where Henry is drafted next season in Fantasy leagues because he played well as a a rookie, and the Chargers plan to commit to him as the featured tight end in 2017. But Antonio Gates is expected to return next year, which puts a cap on Henry's ceiling.
Still, in tandem with Gates in 2016, Henry finished as No. 11 tight end in standard leagues, and he scored at least eight points in six games, including double digits in points in four outings. We'd love it for Henry if Gates decided to retire or was released, but if he's back in a shared situation, Henry should be considered a low-end starter with a mid- to late-round pick.
Hill finished as the No. 20 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues, and he can be considered the No. 2 receiver on this team if you wanted to replace Shepard and use a running back like Kelley, Derrick Henry or Perkins at flex. Hill was a solid Fantasy option as a rookie with double digits in points in six games, including four of his final six outings to close the season.
We'd like to see Hill more involved as a receiver since he went two games down the stretch without a catch, but his receiving prowess will likely be limited with Alex Smith at quarterback. Still, he should continue to be an integral part of the Chiefs offense, and he's worth drafting with a mid-round pick in all leagues.
I think you can win in 2017 with a Fantasy lineup of just the rookies from 2016, but it's contingent on completing a 13-man roster (we don't have a kicker or DST here) with backups in Kelley, Derrick Henry and Perkins at running back and Mitchell and Fuller at receiver. I would plan to start Kelley at flex and play matchups at the No. 2 receiver spot with Shepard, Hill, Mitchell and Fuller.
With a deeper bench, I'd love to draft Dixon and Prosise at running back and Coleman at receiver. Wentz could be a No. 2 quarterback behind Prescott, and Hooper would be the No. 2 tight end to consider behind Hunter Henry.
Now, putting this team together would be tricky because it's hard to envision Howard falling to Round 2 after you draft Elliott early in Round 1. But for our purposes here, let's say it happens where you draft Elliott, Howard and Thomas with your first three picks.
I would draft Kelley in Round 4, Derrick Henry in Round 5, Perkins in Round 6, Hill in Round 7, Shepard in Round 8, Hunter Henry in Round 9, Mitchell in Round 10, Prescott in Round 11 and Fuller in Round 12. That's not far off from where these players were drafted in our early 2017 mock draft.
A starting lineup of Prescott, Elliott, Howard, Thomas, Hill, Henry and Kelley would have scored 1,293 Fantasy points in a standard league in 2016. By comparison, a lineup of Ben Roethlisberger, Bell, Melvin Gordon, DeAndre Hopkins, Terrelle Pryor, Zach Ertz and Jonathan Stewart would have scored 1,227 points.
I chose the comparison team based on the results of our mock draft with players selected in a similar range, so you see it can work. The question is if you would try it for your Fantasy league in 2017?