Before the NFL draft, analysts have their big boards and predictions. It's a gamble to predict which players are going to land with each team, although it’s still a fun game to play. However, after the draft is over, the real fantasy analysis can begin. Some rookies will have an immediate impact on their new team – and fantasy owners can benefit from that as well (see: Ezekiel Elliot, 2016).
Here is a look at the top 10 rookies that may have fantasy value in 2017. Please note that this is a list of players for re-draft leagues. Dynasty leagues will have players with different values.
Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
The first running back off the board was Fournette, which didn't come as a surprise. He figures to take over the No. 1 job in Jacksonville, which is bad news for Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. Neither did much with the opportunity last year, so the Jags went with one of the best running backs in the draft. Expect the Jaguars to lean on Fournette and the running game for the first time in years. Fournette isn't a pass-catching back, so Ivory and/or Yeldon will still have a role of some sort. Draft Fournette as a RB2, especially in non-PPR formats.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Even with a history of shoulder injuries, Cook should be one of the rookie running backs to own in fantasy in 2017. He should take over as the No. 1 in Minnesota, and he has shown that he can not only run but also make plays as a receiver. The Vikings signed Latavius Murray in the offseason, but the expectation is Cook will get every opportunity to seize the lead role outright. That could be right around Week 5, which is when bye weeks start. Cook is a RB2 with upside for 2017.
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
The biggest knock against Mixon for what has occurred off the field. In fantasy, all that truly matters is on-field production. In terms of running ability, Mixon has been called the best overall running back in the draft. He can run hard, break off big gains, and was involved in the passing game at Oklahoma. He should leap over Jeremy Hill in the depth chart, while Giovani Bernard may miss some time or be eased back in slowly coming back from a torn ACL. Mixon could see plenty of work as a rookie, which is why he should be treated as a RB2 for fantasy.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
Jonathan Stewart has consistently been the lead back in Carolina, but also has consistently gotten hurt. McCaffrey will likely share carries with Stewart, especially at the beginning of the season. He also will be heavily involved in the passing game, which is not a strength of Stewart’s (eight receptions for 60 yards in 13 games in 2016) game. The Panthers need more options on offense, and McCaffrey will provide that. He's a RB3 in PPR formats, but could surprise and offer even more production.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
Trusting a rookie quarterback in fantasy is always tough, although sometimes it does pay off. For Watson, he will likely be the Week 1 starter in Houston. Being asked to lead an NFL offense right out of the gates can be difficult, but DeAndre Hopkins and Lamar Miller should help Watson make the transition. The scouting reports on the former Clemson standout were mixed, as success in college doesn't always translate over to the pros. He's a risky QB2 for fantasy.
Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
Given the injury history of the Chargers’ other pass catchers, adding Williams seems like a good move. Keenan Allen seems to perpetually miss time and is coming back from yet another serious injury. Antonio Gates is nearing retirement. Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin both missed time last year. Mike Williams himself had a serious neck injury in 2015, but he did return to play in ‘16. With so many mouths to feed on the roster, predicting Williams’ fantasy value will be tough unless something happens (i.e., injury) to change the circumstances. On draft day, Williams is a WR4 as a stash option, and one with oodles of upside.
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
The Titans were in need of a playmaking wide receiver, and with the No. 5 pick in the draft, they chose Davis. He is recovering from ankle surgery, but should be fine for the start of the season. At the outset, he'll slide into the No. 2 role opposite Rishard Matthews and provide a big target for Marcus Mariota to throw to. While Tennessee hasn't had much of a passing attack, the team has made an effort to improve the weapons around Mariota. Davis should be viewed as a WR3/4 on draft day and could end up being a value pick by the time the season is over.
John Ross, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Ross’ injury history was a big red flag for some teams during the draft evaluation process, and that will certainly be on the mind of fantasy owners. He's had serious knee and shoulder injuries and has already undergone multiple surgeries. If he can stay healthy, he has the speed to be a solid deep threat, which would complement A.J. Green. However, it is going to be hard to trust him until he can prove that he can play. He's a WR4 with the potential for some big games, and the possibility to miss half the season because of injury.
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
After the Browns drafted Njoku and released Gary Barnidge, it was pretty clear what the team’s intentions are for the first-round pick from Miami. Rookie tight ends typically don't fare well in the NFL, but that's not always the case. Njoku isn't known for his blocking ability, but that will come. His collegiate numbers were impressive – averaging 11.2 yards after the catch in two years seems to bode well for the NFL. He has potential as a TE2 for fantasy purposes and could offer more if he develops into a trusted red zone target.
Curtis Samuel, WR, Carolina Panthers
Samuel was taken with the No. 40 pick in the draft by a team that was looking to add instant-impact skill position players. While Samuel is listed as a wide receiver, he isn't a typical pass catcher nor is he considered a traditional deep threat. Rather, he's drawn comparisons to Percy Harvin, in that he's a receiver that plays the slot and also can run gadget-type plays. Kelvin Benjamin will be the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver, but Samuel will probably slot just behind Devin Funchess on the depth chart. Samuel is a guy to target in the late rounds of deeper leagues.
— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.