I admit it ... ranking rookies before the NFL Draft is often an exercise in futility. How can you possibly forecast a player's value before he's actually on an NFL roster? Case in point, let's look at last season's class of quarterbacks. Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes was the 10th overall selection, but he landed in Kansas City behind a successful veteran starter in Alex Smith. That left him with almost no chance to see significant playing time as a rookie, which came to fruition when Smith put up tremendous numbers during the best season of his professional career.
Now, let's ask a hypothetical question. What would have happened to Mahomes had he ended up with a team like the Houston Texans instead? There's a good chance that Mahomes, and not Deshaun Watson, would have seen a ton of action during his rookie campaign after things fell apart for Tom Savage. The situation has obviously changed in K.C. since last season, as the Chiefs dealt Smith to the Washington Redskins and put Mahomes atop their team's depth chart. But based on his situation as a rookie, the former Red Raider had much of his value nullified for those who prefer to play pre-draft fantasy leagues.
So, take this list of my current top 20 fantasy football rookies to watch (in re-draft leagues) with a grain of salt. It's based on talent, collegiate success and projected potential at the next level ... but it will likely look very different once the actual NFL draft (April 26-28) in Arlington, Texas concludes.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State: There won't be many lists like this that don't have Barkley at the top. A three-down running back with the potential to make an Ezekiel Elliott-level impact as a rookie, Barkley's versatile skill set reminds me a lot of David Johnson. Depending on his landing spot (Cleveland? New York?), he could be a first-round fantasy selection in re-drafts.
2. Derrius Guice, RB, LSU: If Barkley is locked into the number one spot, Guice is almost set in stone at number two. A touchdown machine in college, he scored 29 times in his final two years and averaged 6.5 yards per rush in 35 career games for the Tigers. Guice, who displayed his pass-catching chops at LSU's pro day, can come right in and be a three-down back at the pro level.
3. Sony Michel, RB, Georgia: You're going to see a lot of Alvin Kamara comparisons when it comes to Michel, who was a major playmaker both as a runner and receiver at Georgia. His college numbers don't pop off the board, but remember that he shared the workload with Nick Chubb. Michel will be in line for a big role at the next level, and his PPR upside makes him a top-three rookie for me.
4. Ronald Jones II, RB, USC: Jones was an electric playmaker at the college level with the skills to take it to the house whenever he touched the football. Comparable in terms of his skill set to Jamaal Charles, the USC product has improved in pass protection and as a pass catcher in the last year. He would be a great fantasy fit for the Indianapolis Colts in the second round.
5. Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State: Penny rushed for a ridiculous 2,248 yards and scored 25 touchdowns in his final collegiate season. Impressive. Most impressive. While he won't be the second coming of Marshall Faulk, Penny proved that he can be a workhorse back. With some work in pass pro, he could become a starter at the next level in his rookie season. The Buccaneers would be a very nice fit.
6. Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama: Ridley is an explosive wideout who can line up both on the outside and in the slot at the next level. While some would argue that his production wasn't overly impressive in college, others would point out Alabama's deficiencies at quarterback. Regardless, Ridley should be one of the first (if not the first) rookie receiver selected in all 2018 fantasy re-drafts.
7. D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland: If Ridley doesn't land in a great spot to produce as a rookie, Moore could lap him in my post-draft rankings. I could see Moore being picked ahead of Ridley in the actual NFL draft, too. He lined up on the outside and in the slot in college, and his target share totals during his final season were off the charts. Moore would fit well with the Ravens or Cardinals.
8. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: Chubb might be higher on this list based on standard scoring formats, but he tumbles a bit due to his lack of production as a pass catcher college. Sony Michel certainly played a role in Chubb's lack of targets at Georgia, but Chubb will still likely be paired with a pass-catching back in the pros. That sort of scenario would play out if he ended up with either Carolina or Tampa Bay.
9. Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU: Sutton is a physical specimen who scored a combined 23 touchdowns and averaged over 16 yards per reception over his final two seasons with the Mustangs. He also has the build of a potential No. 1 wideout at the next level, which can't be said about most of the better prospects at the position. Dallas would be an attractive fantasy landing spot.
10. Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M: Kirk had a successful career as a receiver in college, showing off a skill set that reminds a lot of scouts of Golden Tate. That sort of potential makes him an interesting option in PPR formats. The fact that his touchdown share increased in each of his three seasons with the Aggies makes him an even more intriguing prospect in fantasy land.
11. Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: Freeman was a touchdown machine for the Ducks, scoring 64 times in his 51 career games. He could become an early-down option at his NFL landing spot.
12. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: Washington was a massive deep threat at the collegiate level, averaging over 20 yards per reception in his final season with the Cowboys.
13. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn: Johnson put up huge totals in his final season with the Tigers, and he has some definite fantasy sleeper potential if he lands with the right team.
14. Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis: Miller averaged over 90 catches, 1,400-plus yards and scored 33 combined touchdowns in his final two collegiate seasons. He's likely a Day 2 pick.
15. Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado State: Gallup recorded 100 catches and over 1,400 yards in his final season with the Rams. He's a bit raw, but he's a natural athlete with upside.
16. D.J. Chark, WR, Louisiana State: Chark didn't put up flashy numbers with the Tigers, but his 4.34 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine should make him a Day 2 selection.
17. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville: Look at the rookie quarterbacks who have made a big fantasy impact ... all of them could run. Now review Jackson's collegiate totals. Look out.
18. John Kelly, RB, Tennessee: Kelly is one of the better pass-catching running backs in the 2018 class, and once shared the Volunteers backfield with a dude named Alvin Kamara.
19. Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame: Brown's first name is flashier than his numbers at Notre Dame, but he has the size and speed to make an impact. There's upside here.
20. Nyheim Hines, RB, North Carolina State: Hines won't be a three-down back at the NFL level, but he can be an effective pass-catching complement in the mold of James White.