Dynasty Watch: Rookie Top 45
Dynasty Watch: Rookie Top 45

This article is part of our Dynasty Watch series.

Here is my personal top-45 for 2019 dynasty rookie drafts. The rankings you see on the site might differ from this – I intend for those to be more of a collaborative list between John McKechnie and me. For this particular list you can only get mad at me, however.

These rankings are an ostensible mapping of who has the most combined talent and projected opportunity. This is not specifically my personal preference order of these players in the scenario that I'm a GM, but rather my attempt to reconcile that list with my best guess as to who the NFL will like enough to actually put on the field. Which is more or less to say my personal rankings weighed against the projected draft order of the players. I'm still catching up on this class, so I probably overlooked at least a few guys I'll be talking about in a month or two.

Projecting the draft order is rather difficult at the moment, so these rankings are liable to change in light of the Senior Bowl and especially the NFL Combine in February, both because of weigh-in changes and workout numbers.

I apologize but I was only able to write commentary for the top 10 guys for now. I'll get around to commenting more specifics on the rest in the next couple weeks.

1. D.K. Metcalf, WR, Mississippi* (6-foot-4, 230 pounds)

Metcalf has injury concerns after suffering a broken foot in September of 2016 and then a season-ending neck injury in October of 2018, but I think those concerns can be dismissed. The foot issue didn't manifest in any way after his recovery, and the neck ailment appears a similarly improbable outcome that shouldn't entail any recurring issues going forward. I think to hold Metcalf's injuries against him would be like penalizing Sony Michel for his ATV accident. It just seems superstitious if there's no actual basis for lingering concern.

If we move past the injuries, Metcalf is otherwise close to the WR1 prototype. Bruce Feldman reported in 2017 that Metcalf checked in at 6-foot-3, 224 pounds with a 4.46-second 40, 37.5-inch vertical, and 133-inch broad jump.

Metcalf's injuries and Mississippi's wide receiver depth limited the volume of his production, but when you adjust for opportunity and age it emphatically checks out all the same. In his 21 career games Metcalf caught 67 passes for 1,228 yards and 14 touchdowns on 122 targets (54.9 catch rate, 10.1 YPT). You'd like to see a higher catch rate, but the broader context must note that Metcalf's depth of target was much farther downfield than that of teammate A.J. Brown, who owned a near monopoly on slot snaps while Metcalf burned outside. Moreover, a huge number of Metcalf's incomplete passes occurred in 2017 (39 of 77), when he was chasing down passes from sub-NFL quarterback Shea Patterson. Metcalf will turn 22 in December.

Projected round: 1
Comp: Javon Walker

2. Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma* (5-foot-10, 168 pounds)

Brown's weight is a concern, but I don't think it's a threat to wipe out his projection to the NFL. It's more of a limitation issue – nothing that can stop him from being useful to every single team, but something that might preclude him from becoming a WR1 type for any of them. Not that I take the latter for a given, either.

With where the league is headed, guys as fast and productive as Brown have a place. We're seeing more receiver snaps and more pre-snap motion than ever, and Brown's combination of innate wideout skill and raw speed make him a constant matchup problem for defenses even if he isn't getting the ball. But there's every reason to believe the ball will find him often.

Brown will turn 22 in June and over the last two years he caught 132 passes for 2,413 yards and 17 touchdowns on 186 targets (71.0 percent catch rate, 13.0 YPT). Dede Westbrook ran a pro day 4.39-second 40-yard dash, and Baker Mayfield once said Brown has an extra gear that Westbrook does not. If Brown shows up to the combine at 175 and runs under a 4.40-second 40-yard dash then I think he'll clearly belong in the first round. He's a burner with blistering production – don't overthink it.

Projected round: Top 40
Comp: DeSean Jackson

3. N'Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State* (6-foot-4, 213 pounds)

Harry is a former blue chip recruit who was highly successful in his three-year Arizona State career, particularly in the last two years. He'll turn 22 in December and leaves the Sun Devils after posting 155 catches for 2,230 yards and 17 touchdowns on 236 targets the last two years (65.7 percent catch rate, 9.5 YPT). Those are excellent numbers in a span where the Arizona State passing offense completed 62.9 percent of its passes at 7.8 YPA with 41 touchdowns.

I can't find any solid workout numbers with Harry and he might be more of a high 6-foot-2, but in the meantime it's safe to say he outplayed his environment even after going in with very high expectations. As much as his athleticism and exact build might be unclear at the moment, it's generally difficult to produce like he did without above average athleticism. There are certainly exceptions, though. It's in any case safe to say that, whatever his speed and leaping specifics, Harry gives a glimpse of standout functional athleticism thanks to repeatedly demonstrating rare ball skills.

Projected round: 1-2
Comp: Keenan Allen

4. A.J. Brown, WR, Mississippi* (6-foot-1, 230 pounds)

Mississippi did its best to keep Brown in the slot, but that alone doesn't mean he can't play outside. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge may have simply been better fits out wide while Brown's strengths may have played from the slot in ways that Metcalf and Lodge couldn't match. Brown is an uncommonly heavy receiver for his height, so it was somewhat predictable that speed would be a concern with his NFL projection, especially since he didn't demonstrate much in the way of outside separation. If you're a Brown optimist you would rationalize that due to the presences of Metcalf and Lodge, while a pessimist would say that his lack of speed necessitated a move inside where, depending on the coverage, he could either steamroll a smaller nickel corner or lose a linebacker with quick separation.

I was once more in line with the pessimist, but I'm more agnostic at this point, especially after a second straight dominant year from Brown in 2018. In his three years at Mississippi he turned 262 targets into 189 catches for 2,984 yards and 19 touchdowns (72.1 percent catch rate, 11.4 YPT). That production is utterly, uniquely dominant. Even Brown's skeptics must concede this.

But it would be understandable for a Brown skeptic to watch his tape and note how he rarely creates separation outside of busted coverages, or perhaps worry about whether he'll be able to break tackles in the NFL at the same rate he did in college. Brown was monstrous after the catch at Mississippi, and it's fair to wonder if he'll be able to bulldoze to the same extent in the NFL. If he can't, that clips a major part of his game right off the bat. The Treadwell example also makes it reasonable for someone to worry about a speed-challenged receiver despite a highly productive Mississippi career. There's also basically no precedent of any productive NFL receivers weighing over 225 pounds at 6-foot-1 or less.

On the other hand, we can only tell so much about athleticism from tape, especially when a player is as big as Brown. It wouldn't be shocking if Brown is simply faster than he looks, and if he reports to the combine closer to 220 pounds he could generate more speed yet after playing at a very convincing listed weight of 230.

Projected round: 1-2
Comp: None

5. Mecole Hardman, WR, Georgia* (5-foot-11, 183 pounds)

I'm gonna be lazy and cite my previous take on Hardman.

Despite my emphatic optimism with Hardman, I must concede at the start that the optimism entails projection that may very well include a leap of faith or two. It shouldn't matter at all to anyone else's prospect evaluation processes, but this faith I have is unyielding. Hardman's skill set is a legitimate question, but he possesses top-grade athletic tools and otherwise shows a fierce demeanor that implies the competitiveness and general work ethic necessary to maximize his potential with experience.

The reason I'm enthusiastically willing to project this skill set growth is not only because of Hardman's obvious fire, but because he's a recent convert from cornerback to wide receiver. That switch occurred before the 2017 season, meaning Hardman played his second season of wide receiver in 2018. This is important context generally, but especially for my pro-Hardman case since I'm normally rather stubborn about the importance of production. Particularly in the sense of volume, Hardman's production at wide receiver does not obviously stand out. Perhaps I'm just practicing hypocrisy with my Hardman optimism, in that case, but I mean to argue otherwise.

Even though Ridley outproduced Hardman in 2018 in all of receptions, receiving yardage, and receiving touchdowns, I'm not for a second willing to consider the possibility that Ridley is the better prospect. More specifically than production, my concern is with age-adjusted production, because a player substantially younger than another should not be held to the same expectations. Players who produce early typically portend developmental upside, whereas players who break out late may very well indicate little more than a physical maturity advantage over their younger peers. Hardman has played receiver two years and, according to 247Sports, is at least one year younger than Ridley and potentially two. If that intel turns out to be bad, then I may have to revise my reasoning substantially.

For now, though, we have a player who should be much less polished due to inexperience and a younger age (Hardman) who was only trivially outproduced by a guy with more experience at the position and less room for growth at at least one year older and potentially two. The age and experience disparity alone negates Ridley's statistical advantage, and then there's the fact that Hardman outproduced Ridley in 2017, which I think decisively tilts the age-adjusted production question in Hardman's favor.

Ridley posted 44 catches for 570 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018 on 66 targets (66.7 percent catch rate, 8.6 YPT). Strong numbers to be sure, and better than Hardman's totals of 34 catches for 532 yards and seven touchdowns on 56 targets (60.7 percent catch rate, 9.5 YPT). But in 2017 – Hardman's first year post-cornerback – Hardman finished with 25 catches for 418 yards and four touchdowns on 38 targets (65.8 percent catch rate, 11.0 YPT). Ridley was limited to eight games that year due to a suspension and foot injury, finishing with 14 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns on 23 targets, good for a catch percentage of 60.9 at 9.5 YPT.

If you compare the two over the two years combined, Ridley checks in with 58 catches for 788 yards and 11 touchdowns on 89 targets (65.2 catch rate, 8.9 YPT) with Hardman at 59 catches for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns on 94 targets (62.8 catch rate, 10.1 YPT). A job well done by Ridley, but I'd certainly give the advantage to Hardman, and that's before even factoring in the age or position switch considerations. I also need to mention that if we can consider the foot injury and suspension that disrupted Ridley's 2017, then we need to note that Hardman played through a bad ankle for an indefinite amount of the 2018 season.

If you focus more specifically on Hardman's athleticism, this is when his case really starts to pull away. I'm repeating a line I used on star Oklahoma wideout and potential 2019 first-round pick Marquise Brown – Hardman isn't just fast, he's one of the fastest players in football. Hardman was a five-star recruit at cornerback and notably showed killer open-field skills at Georgia, in large part because of speed, burst, and quickness that will almost certainly make your eyes widen the first time you watch him. Hardman might be the most dominant player at the combine this year if his tape is any indication. His already rare athleticism is only amplified by the hot motor he plays with. Hardman's production lags far behind the previously mentioned Brown, but the two should compete for the distinction of being the fastest wide receiver in the draft, and they're further similar because they both did damage from both the slot and outside, whereas Ridley is more of a question mark in the slot.

It's not especially interesting to me, but I guess I should note that Hardman was a dangerous ballcarrier and returner at Georgia, as well. He finished with 97 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries (7.5 YPC), and his production as a returner also stood out (15.2 and 25.0 yards per punt and kick return, respectively). No matter whether Hardman ever develops standout technique as a receiver, it's safe to say in the meantime that he'll be one of the most dangerous open-field runners in the NFL even if he never improves a bit.

But guys with his talents and demeanor usually do get better, especially when they've only played the position for two years. Click here to see Hardman beating Alabama and eventual NFL corner Tony Brown (Packers) for an 80-yard touchdown in Hardman's 15th game as a receiver. Brown ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the combine. If Hardman runs a 4.35 or better at 185 or more, I think he has a real shot at the first round. I pretty much have him, the previously mentioned Brown, A.J. Brown, and DK Metcalf all in the same tier contending for WR1 distinction in this draft. That particular honor is a long shot for Hardman at the moment, but I won't rule it out.

I must note that I consider Hardman more like Percy Harvin than Travis Benjamin, but I'm trying to be more objective with my published comparisons.

Projected round: Top 75
Comparison: Travis Benjamin

6. Emanuel Hall, WR, Missouri (6-foot-3, 195 pounds)

Hall has largely been dismissed as a fly-route specialist with questionable application for the rest of the route tree, but as a Drew Lock pessimist I find myself increasingly critical of that idea. Hall is a burner and especially for his size – we can conservatively say that much in the meantime. I think there's reason to suspect more will be said in the future, though.

When I looked at Hall's production from 2017, I figured he might be like another Tommy Streeter – a very good college player with profound vertical explosiveness but lacking the necessary dimensions to counter NFL adjustments. After his 2018 senior season and watching him more closely, I'm much more optimistic than that now. Hall was brilliantly efficient over the last three years, turning 141 targets into 89 catches for 1,952 yards and 16 touchdowns. I'm puzzled as to how this production has gone so overlooked. To catch 63.1 percent of your targets at 13.9 yards per target barely seems possible in the SEC.

In the admittedly limited tape of Hall I've watched, he shows the measured strides and precise body control necessary to run all of the routes. He's an objectively great athlete as an obvious burner with a breadth of track and field accomplishments. I have to suspect he'll get more popular as soon as Senior Bowl week.

Projected round: Top 75
Comparison: Mike Wallace

7. Parris Campbell, WR, Ohio State (6-foot-1, 208 pounds)

Campbell is a burner who should run in the 4.35-second region for the 40-yard dash, and at that point it wouldn't be surprising to see him generate some first-round talk. There's a narrative about him having questionable hands that I don't understand, though perhaps he had some Devin Funchess-like game that I missed. I do have a flimsy concern about whether he's a precise enough route runner to play from the NFL slot like he did in the NCAA slot, but at the very least what we have here is an uncommon athlete with a recent history of top-shelf production.

Campbell was pretty much automatic the last two years, turning 165 targets into 130 catches for 1,647 yards and 15 touchdowns, adding 19 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown on the ground as well. The Ohio State offense is uniquely explosive, particularly relative to its hopeless Big Ten competition, but a 78.8 percent catch rate at 10.0 yards per target is simply stupid production. It might be diminished by his still undisclosed age, though – Campbell was a redshirt senior this year. The A.J. Jenkins comparison isn't meant to be as damning as it might appear.

Projected round: 2-3
Comparison: A.J. Jenkins

8. Andy Isabella, WR, Massachusetts (5-foot-10, 190 pounds)

Isabella isn't there yet, but he'll be on the mainstream radar in a few minutes here. He's good. He'll be a starter in the NFL. The question is whether the NFL realizes it yet and, if not, if it will come to its senses by the draft.

Isabella was monstrously productive at Massachusetts, and this will be a rare case where the dominant small school guy is among the best athletes in his class as well. He famously beat Denzel Ward in a 200m race back in 2015, and while Isabella may have been some 10-to-20 pounds lighter at the time, he's still expected to run in the 4.4-second range in the 40-yard dash since Ward burned up the combine with a 4.32-second 40 at 183.

Isabella's production is compelling, in any case. He totaled 229 receptions for 3,519 yards and 30 touchdowns on 368 targets over the last three years, good for a catch rate of 62.2 at 9.6 YPT. That includes 101 catches for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2018 alone. Isabella should be an imposing receiver whether inside or out, but for certain reasons he'll likely be erroneously referred to as a slot-specific receiver. I hate the Randall Cobb comparison since Isabella wasn't a college QB but I think the size/athleticism/draft placements of the two will check out similarly.

Projected round: 2-3
Comparison: Randall Cobb

9. Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma* (5-foot-10, 195 pounds)

The only quarterbacks to play regular season snaps at 5-foot-10 or less going back to 1990 are Doug Flutie, an 11th-round pick in 1985, and Joe Hamilton, a seventh-round pick from 2000. It's simply not possible to find a precedent for Murray as an NFL prospect.

That's more of an indictment against the NFL and its closed-mindedness than it is a reason to doubt Murray, and he's otherwise not comparable to Flutie or Hamilton because Murray has a low-effort cannon arm and otherworldly athleticism that the previous short-QB examples come nowhere near. Without speaking to the broader merit comparison between the two, Murray shows the same kind of fast-release shortstop arm that Patrick Mahomes does, which when combined with his athleticism makes him profoundly distressing to a defense.

I can't claim to have any insight on where the baseball issue is headed, but even with no case study before him I think it's pretty clear that Murray projects as a likely fantasy QB1 if he sticks with football.

Projected round: 1
Comparison: None

10. Josh Jacobs, RB, Alabama* (5-foot-10, 216 pounds)

Jacobs is only trivially distinguished from his senior teammate Damien Harris, but there's reason to believe Jacobs is slightly more athletic as the otherwise similarly productive Harris, and so I'll put him ahead of Harris as a 1A to 1B on that flimsy basis. That previously mentioned reason is the spring testing times Alabama recorded in 2017, as noted here by al.com.

When timing Jacobs and Harris in the 40-yard dash that spring, Jacobs checked in with a 4.50 and Harris a 4.51. You might notice that the times cited ended up being either precisely on the mark (Calvin Ridley, 4.43) or close (Robert Foster, 4.47) to what the players ended up running at the combine. The difference between the times of Jacobs and Harris is smaller than whatever the margin of error might be, but I have to break the tie somehow.

Jacobs also showed a bit more than Harris as a pass catcher, though I don't mean that as a criticism of the latter. Jacobs just seems unusually skilled in this capacity, turning 59 career targets into 48 catches for 571 yards and five touchdowns (9.7 YPT, 81.4 percent catch rate). I'd be surprised if either runner fell out of the second round.

Projected round: 1-2
Comparison: Domanick Williams

11. Damien Harris, RB, Alabama (5-foot-11, 215 pounds)

Projected round: 1-2

12. Darrell Henderson, RB, Memphis* (5-foot-9, 200 pounds)

Projected round: 2

13. Kelvin Harmon, WR, North Carolina State* (6-foot-3, 214 pounds)

Projected round: 2-3

14. Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma* (6-foot-1, 220 pounds)

Projected round: 2-4

15. Devin Singletary, RB, Florida Atlantic* (5-foot-9, 200 pounds)

Projected round: 3-5

16. Preston Willliams, WR, Colorado State* (6-foot-4, 210 pounds)

Projected round: 2-6

17. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Stanford* (6-foot-3, 225 pounds)

Projected round: 3-4

18. Dillon Mitchell, WR, Oregon* (6-foot-2, 189 pounds)

Projected round: 3-4

19. Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State* (6-foot-3, 220 pounds)

Projected round: Top 10

20. Elijah Holyfield, RB, Georgia* (5-foot-11, 215 pounds)

Projected round: 3-5

21. Irv Smith, TE, Alabama* (6-foot-4, 241 pounds)

Projected round: 1-2

22. T.J. Hockenson, TE, Iowa* (6-foot-5, 250 pounds)

Projected round: 1-2

23. Hakeem Butler, WR, Iowa State (6-foot-6, 225 pounds)

Projected round: 3-5

24. Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina (6-feet, 210 pounds)

Projected round: 3-5

25. Jaylen Smith, WR, Louisville (6-foot-4, 220 pounds)

Projected round: 3-5

Just missed:

(In no order)

Anthony Johnson, WR, Buffalo

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State*
Justice Hill, RB, Oklahoma State*
Bryce Love, RB, Stanford* [ACL tear 12/1/2018]
Noah Fant, TE, Iowa*
Kaden Smith, TE, Stanford*
Gary Jennings, WR, West Virginia
Riley Ridley, WR, Georgia*
Antoine Wesley, WR, Texas Tech*
Caleb Wilson, TE, UCLA*
Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M*
Anthony Ratliff-Williams, WR, North Carolina*
Greg Dortch, WR, Wake Forest*
Qadree Ollison, RB, Pittsburgh
Miles Sanders, RB, Penn State*
Karan Higdon, RB, Michigan
Jordan Scarlett, RB, Florida*
David Montgomery, RB, Iowa State*
Benny Snell, RB, Kentucky*
Lil'Jordan Humphrey, WR, Texas*

My concerns with Snell and Montgomery are rather simple: I don't think they're athletic enough to be even replacement-level running backs with where the NFL is headed. I worry both will struggle to stay in the 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash, and their skill sets otherwise strike me as obsolete in a league where the ability to create space matters more than the ability to break tackles. Both players lack explosiveness in their backgrounds and profile as backups or even practice squad types to me. If they test better at the combine than I'm currently guessing, then I might very well need to retract my reasoning. Until then, I find both to be mandatory fades at their current first-round rookie draft ADP.

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Mario Puig
Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.
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