As OTAs and Minicamps (voluntary and mandatory) have wrapped, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of some rookie roles heading into the preseason. Now that we’ve seen/heard about some of these rookies in action, and as teams cut veterans to make room, things are starting to round into shape.
As always, for the purposes of this article, we have listed rookie IDPs based on a number of factors, including skill, role, opportunity, and (in the case of some DBs) return ability. And because of the big differences in IDP scoring systems, we’ve sorted them by position for this latest article, as we do every season. We have factored in future potential into these rankings, but ultimately the goal was to attempt to sort them for the 2017 season. Because IDP remains an inexact science when it comes to scoring systems, the best course of action will be to read the player write-ups and determine how each player fits your system (for example, if a player offers potential in a sack or interception-heavy system, we’ve noted it). And sorting these guys by position will help you identify players you could draft at your weak spots in IDP keeper and dynasty drafts. That said, we urge you not to take the rankings as gospel, instead using them as a general guideline.
Certainly, some of the guys here will be studs, some guys will emerge from nowhere to start, and a good number of these guys will be rotational-type IDPs, at best. But it’s always a good thing to learn who landed where, and where the opportunities could be most fruitful.
- Myles Garrett – The Texas A&M Defensive End was the #1 overall pick, and for good reason. We love his landing spot, as Browns new DC Greg Williams is an aggressive schemer who must be wringing his hands to use the draft’s best edge rusher. Garrett is ticketed to start at Right End, and with the Browns shifting to a 4-3 defense, Garrett should have no problem getting DL eligibility. Garrett did inure his foot recently, but he appears to be on track for training camp.
- Taco Charlton – Charlton makes this list partly on talent (which he has plenty of) and partly on opportunity. The Dallas D-line is starving for pass rushers as they lost a few of their better options to suspension and injury last season. Charlton can play the run and get after the QB, and while he wasn’t the dynamic playmaker in college some of his draftmates were, HC Jason Garrett is expecting Charlton to start at Right End. Offenses are likely less concerned about Charlton than the left side threat, DeMarcus Lawrence. Therefore, Charlton should see more action directed his way.
- Caleb Brantley – Brantley is loaded with talent, but fell in the draft due to some legal concerns. The Browns took a gamble, and it paid off, as the legal issues have been dropped. With the Browns switching to a 4-3 front, he’s going to be sandwiched between DT stud Danny Shelton and two talented pass rushers in Emmanuel Ogbah and Myles Garrett. Brantley is a first-round talent, and would be the Aaron Donald in new DC (and former Rams DC) Greg Williams’ defensive scheme. We’ll take anything close to Donald-esque production, please.
- Solomon Thomas – The third overall pick, Thomas is a versatile player and will help new DC Robert Saleh transition to a 4-3. Saleh should attack more gaps than his predecessor, which means Thomas could have value in DT-required leagues as a run-stopper and pass-rusher. It’s college that has put Thomas’ Week One playing time in jeopardy. His finals exams didn’t end until recently, meaning the ‘Niners still haven’t had a chance to unwrap their shiny first-rounder yet. He should catch on fast, but that does put a slight damper on his hopes of having a full workload come Labor Day.
- Carl Lawson – Lawson has impressed during OTAs, as the Bengals have also been using him at linebacker to keep him on the field more. While he’s probably a year away from being an every-down player (veteran Michael Johnson should be winding down soon), Lawson’s arrow is pointing up after OTAs and minicamp.
- Reuben Foster – Foster’s talent is undeniable. When healthy, he could be the next Patrick Willis. But his shoulder surgery limited him in OTAs, and the 49ers have both NaVorro Bowman and Malcolm Smith. Foster’s long-term future looks great. But how he performs and holds up during training camp – combined with how healthy and fast Bowman is by the preseason – will tell us more about Foster’s role. He could replace Bowman as the MLB, or he could fight Smith for the WLB spot next to Bowman. Either way, it shouldn’t be too long before Foster dominates…provided his shoulders hold up. He holds the top spot based on his heavy dynasty value.
- Jarrad Davis – While Davis might not hold the same upside that Reuben Foster holds, he’s really the “1A” for LBs. He has the most sure-fire path to IDP productivity. He falls right into the lap of a starting gig, and has been working as the MLB for Detroit in OTAs and minicamp. The Lions are desperate to replace DeAndre Levy at WLB, and Tahir Whitehead was a much better WILL than he was a MIKE (a position he played all last season). Ideally, Detroit would like Davis to be the every-down LB, so the only question is, will Davis prove he can play all three downs by Week One? We believe he can.
- Haason Reddick – Coming out of the draft, the question about Reddick was simply, “What do the Cardinals do with him?” But the picture is now starting to come into focus. With the departure of ILB Kevin Minter, there’s a spot opened up in the middle. Reddick spent minicamp as the team’s ILB with Deone Bucannon sidelined with injury. This should put Reddick in position to play next to Bucannon on most downs. Bucannon’s injury might keep him from starting Week One (and could even get him placed on the PUP list), so Reddick should have a large role early. Keep in mind, Arizona also has veteran LB Karlos Dansby, who still has some gas left in the tank, but at least Reddick won’t have to compete with Daryl Washington, who was released. Reddick’s range remains anywhere between LB2 and LB4 depending on his usage.
- Zach Cunningham – Cunningham is best when he can use his speed, and he’ll fill that role nicely in Houston. He does have Brian Cushing directly in his path, but the Texans should find ways to get him on the field. For dynasty purposes, he’s ticked to replace Cushing next to Bernardrick McKinney.
- T.J. Watt – After a strong offseason, the Steelers locked up Watt with a four-year deal. Watt isn’t just J.J.’s little brother, his talent stands on its own. He could be just what the Steelers need to generate a healthy pass rush again. You’re in trouble when your most productive pass rusher is a 39-year-old (that’s James Harrison for those of you scoring at home). Watt can bring speed and power off the edge, but he’s also a converted tight end, so he could be used in coverage more than your average pass rusher (think Von Miller-lite).
- Jamal Adams – Adams now has a crystal clear path to a starting job, and he’ll be asked to hit early and often. After seeing Adams and rookie FS Marcus Maye in OTAs, the Jets promptly traded incumbent SS Calvin Pryor. The reviews coming out of minicamps have remained glowing about Adams, so he should push for DB1/DB2 potential early on. It also helps his value that the Jets look like they might not be able to keep their offense on the field for long, putting Adams in line for a lot of work.
- Jabrill Peppers – While the knock on Peppers is that he’s not really a true safety, he landed in the right spot, as a developing Cleveland team appears set to let him learn on the job as their starting SS. On top of that, Peppers has some home run value in that he’s a punt returner, a talented running back, and can play linebacker. HC Hue Jackson is likely to use him on offense with that skill set, so Peppers has a boatload of upside if he can earn a starting job early. The only fly in the ointment for Peppers is the newly-acquired Calvin Pryor. It’s doubtful Pryor will push Peppers out of his starting SS spot, but this is the Browns we’re talking about.
- Tre’Davious White – White couldn’t have found a better landing spot for IDP. White is set to inherit the outside corner spot vacated by Stephon Gilmore. That’s good not only because he’ll get solid opportunity there as a starting rookie, he’ll also benefit from one of the most generous tackle crews in recent years. New DC Leslie Frazier should be using more Zone principles, which will allow White to use his run-stopping skills near the line of scrimmage.
- Marshon Lattimore – Lattimore has a starting job waiting on him in New Orleans. He’ll line up on the outside, and has three things going for him: His talent, his offense, and his rookie status. Lattimore has excellent coverage skills and ball skills. He’ll also be tested early and often, as opposing QBs often have to air it out to keep up with Drew Brees and Co. With big arms within their division such as Matt Ryan and Cam Newton, the rookie should see plenty of footballs thrown in his direction. Lattimore has the aggressiveness and hands to take advantage of that opportunity.
- Justin Evans – Evans’ IDP value has a wide range of outcomes, based on how the Buccaneers divvy up playing time for their four safeties. Free agent acquisition J.J. Wilcox should hold down the FS spot, which leaves three players to scrap over the strong safety position. In this corner, you have the cagey veteran Chris Conte, who despite being exposed as a liability in coverage, came up big for the Bucs several times last season. And in this corner, there’s the up-and-coming Keith Tandy, who filled in admirably at the end of the season for Tampa Bay. And finally, in this corner, the rookie safety whom the Bucs spent their second-round pick on. Most teams don’t use their second pick on you so you can collect dust on the bench, so if training camp and pre-season is kind to Evans, look for him to be their starting SS. If he’s slow out of the gate, he may end up backing up Wilcox.