This article is part of our Dynasty Watch series.
In this article I'm going to list the rookie prospects who rank substantially higher in my rankings than most other rankings in the fantasy sports industry. Could I be wrong? Yes. Do I still think I'm right and the others are wrong? Absolutely.
This list is comprised of nine players, though after the first five we'll be well into longshot territory – the type of players you don't take until the late third round of a rookie draft at the earliest. A couple will only be options for especially deep dynasty formats. I think all of these players are worth learning about and storing away in your rolodex – you never know who will make a surprise appearance in the FAAB wars.
I'll be referencing the ranking I gave these players in my pre-draft rookie top-100 article from a couple weeks back. You can read that article here.
The players are:
Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas
Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri
Quez Watkins, WR, Southern Mississippi
Kalija Lipscomb, WR, Vanderbilt
James Robinson, RB, Illinois State
Dalton Keene, TE, Virginia Tech
Darnell Mooney, WR, Tulane
Jason Huntley, RB, New Mexico State
Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU (5-11, 206)
Top 100 ranking: No. 8
Reagor is a household name or pretty close to it at this point. Almost everyone acknowledges his upside, and it might even be fair to say most draft observers are fans of his. I realize there's nothing bold about advocating for a player as widely and highly approved as Reagor.
I still think that Reagor is taken too lightly, though. He's ranked No. 8 for me, but in my two-round NFL Draft mock I projected Reagor to go later than Denzel Mims (No. 10), Laviska Shenault (No. 11), Chase Claypool (No. 16), and Justin Jefferson (No. 9). Mock drafts from industry insiders like Daniel Jeremiah often project additional receivers ahead of Reagor, including Tee Higgins (No. 18) and Brandon Aiyuk (No. 19). Reagor isn't even in Jeremiah's top 50!
I can sort of see the logic of ranking a player like Mims, Shenault, Claypool, and Higgins ahead of Reagor, especially for certain teams with certain needs. Those guys offer meaningfully different traits and skill sets, and sometimes you simply need one thing more than another. I can't conceive of anything in particular where Jefferson or Aiyuk would be more useful than Reagor, though. To rank either of them ahead of Reagor is to simply lack attention span, in my opinion.
Reagor showed up to the combine 11 pounds heavier than expected, and his 4.47-second 40 time was framed as a failure, somewhat understandably. That's because Bruce Feldman reported previously that Reagor was timed as low as 4.29 seconds at 195 pounds, and something like 4.35 seemed like a reasonable request of Reagor. The 4.47 was not all signal, however, both because Reagor likely won't play at 206 pounds and because we have supplementary evidence to support the premise that Reagor simply didn't execute perfectly in terms of sprinting technique. Check out this play from the 2019 season, when Reagor straight up dusts the Stanford secondary even though the secondary immediately turned to run with a 10-yard cushion at the snap.
You can't deny a player in the positive sense when they log a 40 time of whatever sort – you can't say Justin Jefferson 'isn't as fast' as his 4.43 time, in other words. But it absolutely is fair to suggest a player isn't as slow as the 40 time they log. I think the latter is pretty clearly the case with Reagor, who runs away from college defenses like few players ever could. I'm especially ready to take this leap of faith in light of Reagor's insane jumps from the combine, a 42-inch vertical and 138-inch broad jump, which unambiguously imply elite athleticism.
Crucially, Reagor only turned 21 in January, whereas Aiyuk turned 22 in March. Aiyuk is merely an older, less athletic version of Reagor. Aiyuk could still be good, but he's not Reagor and few players are. Look at Aiyuk's highlight video here. Do you see how often he is in single coverage and more importantly, do you see how much space the scheme generates for him? Compare that to this highlight video of Reagor, who is usually double teamed and almost always has to create yardage on his own.
Devin Duvernay, WR, Texas (5-10, 200)
Top 100 ranking: No. 15
It's risky to stand by a prospect like Duvernay to the extent that I do, because most mainstream NFL media are point blank ruling out the possibility of Duvernay as more than a mid-round pick. Usually mainstream media bases their opinions on what they hear from the establishment; ie, the people who are actually in charge, so when draft investment correlates to playing time it's risky to defend the hill when the theoretical talent of that player might never matter due to political considerations.
Still, I feel like Duvernay is obviously a good player and I think everyone who thinks otherwise is either not paying attention or are paying attention to the wrong details. The weird thing is you won't find many like me who insistently holler about Duvernay, yet you also won't find any vocal critics. It's like people don't advocate for him simply because they haven't seen others do it, and assume that in the absence of media permission that they should assume Duvernay is limited somehow even though he grades well on a point by point basis.
Consider: Duvernay ran a 4.39-second 40 at plus body density, and he's known for possessing elite hands and elite YAC ability. The numbers back this up – in 2019 Duvernay was targeted 130 times (26.6 percent team share) and produced 106 receptions for 1,386 yards (34.6 percent and 36.9 percent team shares, respectively). That's a catch rate of 81.5 percent (!!!) and average of 10.7 yards per target in an offense that completed only 65.1 percent of its passes at 8.0 YPA.
There's no need to overthink this. Duvernay is a well-built burner with elite hands and elite yards after the catch ability, making him a unique big-play threat on the lowest-difficulty sort of targets. Duvernay is a beast!
Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri (6-5, 258)
Top 100 ranking: No. 25
Okwuegbunam is one of the weirdest tight end prospects I can recall. It's not especially easy to figure out what he is, and that understandably creeps out some people. I think, however, that even if we don't know what specifically he is, we have enough information at this point to know he will be considerably good at something, to some important extent. In terms of tools, skill set, and league/media reception, I think the correct comparison is Mark Andrews or Ladarius Green. If so, then Okwuegbunam has not been received appropriately by the fantasy industry to this point.
What makes Okwuegbunam so weird is that, going into the combine, he was regarded as an athletically limited jumpball specialist in the red zone. Scouts lamented his lack of blocking ability and effort, but even his skeptics conceded he would be a problem in the red zone. At 6-foot-5, 258 pounds, and with 34.5-inch arms (67th, 68th, and 85th percentiles, respectively, according to Mockdraftable.com), Okwuegbunam presents an obviously imposing catch radius, and 23 career touchdowns on 98 catches gave us a clear example of how this works in practice.
Then Okwuegbunam ran a 4.49-second 40 at the combine. Now, if even his harshest skeptics conceded his red-zone prowess before then, surely they'd need to reconsider the threat posed by Okwuegbunam between the 20s in light of this documented speed? People like to say things like 'Well, he didn't show that speed on tape,' but I think this is generally hubris. When we say 'he doesn't show it on tape' we're only making note of what we ourselves can't see.
Like it or not, we know now that Okwuegbunam can run 40 yards in 4.49 seconds while weighing 258 pounds. Very few players can claim this, and fewer yet were already established touchdown machines beforehand. According to Pro Football Reference, Okwuegbunam is one of only four players to run a 4.49 or faster at 258 pounds or more since the year 2000. The other three – defensive ends Dwight Freeney, Montez Sweat, and Bryan Thomas – were all first-round picks.
Quez Watkins, WR, Southern Mississippi (6-0, 185)
Top 100 ranking: No. 32
This one is a John McKechnie find – Watkins wasn't particularly on my radar going into the combine, but to whatever extent he was, it was because John made me aware. By the conclusion of the combine I was fully converted, however, and now Watkins is locked into my top 40. His objective comparison is probably Paul Richardson, which is less than exciting, but there's a Paul Richardson in another dimension somewhere experiencing greater NFL success than the one in this reality has. Nothing is guaranteed, but what we can do is pursue traits and production to the best of our ability, and this late in the draft order Watkins begins to stand out.
To me, Watkins' production at Southern Mississippi was similar to that of Denzel Mims at Baylor – both failed to produce above the baseline efficiency of their respective teams, but they largely get a pass because they carried the volume of their respective passing games without falling below the baseline. Ideally a prospect would have efficiency and volume both in their favor, but in the cases where a player has only one of the two, it then becomes important that they demonstrate plus athleticism to offset the mediocre production grade.
Watkins showed those tools at the combine. He had to thread the needle on a perilously skinny frame, but you can get away with 185 at 6-foot when you have 4.35-second 40 speed like Watkins does. With a plus catch radius (32 and 7/8-inch arms, 75th percentile) and plus explosiveness (4.35 40, 36.5-inch vertical, 125-inch broad jump), Watkins' production grades just well enough to grade as a third- or fourth-round prospect for me.
Kalija Lipscomb, WR, Vanderbilt (6-0, 207)
Top 100 ranking: No. 42
We're getting into deeper-league territory at this point. I don't mean to recommend Lipscomb as a high-priority target in anyone's dynasty rankings. But if you must plunge to depths like these, I'm convinced Lipscomb is one of the best options.
Scouts like NFL.com's Lance Zierlein praise Lipscomb for his route-running technique, and if scouts are sold on that part of his game then there is reason to believe a number of teams could covet him as a Day 3 slot wideout. Lipscomb is not especially toolsy otherwise but I'd say he's adequate – his subtly dense 207-pound frame combining with a 4.57-second 40 and 127-inch broad jump to imply sufficient athleticism.
But even the Lipscomb super-fan would acknowledge his sales pitch has less to do with tools and more to do with skill. Generally speaking, that overall reality tends to push a player toward the slot, where athleticism is less important. Still, Lipscomb's production gives us reason to think his skill set could overrule his roughly average athleticism.
Lipscomb's production is good, and it's especially good when adjusting for age. That's because Lipscomb (A) earned immediate playing time, drawing 57 targets in 11 games as a true freshman while turning 19 in October of that year, and (B) produced plus efficiency at breakout volumes in his second year onward. In his age 19-20 sophomore season he drew 68 targets in 12 games, catching 37 for 610 yards and eight touchdowns. That's a catch rate of 54.4 percent and a YPT average of 9.0 in an offense that completed 57.6 percent of its passes at 7.3 YPA. In his age 20-21 junior season he continued this trend, catching 87 of 122 targets for 916 yards and nine touchdowns. That was a catch rate of 71.3 percent at 7.5 YPT in an offense that completed 62.0 percent of its passes at 7.6 YPA. The -0.1 YPT relative to the team baseline is meaningless to me given that he outplayed the completion percentage baseline by 9.3 points. Lipscomb's 2019 season year was ugly at a glance, catching just 47 of 82 targets for 511 yards and three touchdowns, but even this production was no worse than the team's baseline. In the 11 games Lipscomb played last year (he missed one for personal reasons), Vanderbilt completed 53.1 percent of their passes at 5.5 YPA, with just nine touchdowns thrown in those games. So Lipscomb provided 1/3 of Vanderbilt's receiving touchdowns while catching 57.3 percent of his targets at 6.2 YPA. A lot of people will look at Lipscomb's senior season and see substandard production, but the reality is he excelled relative to the conditions!
James Robinson, RB, Illinois State (5-9, 219)
Top 100 ranking: No. 49
I have no idea how highly the NFL regards Robinson, and that's the only thing that dissuades me from ranking him higher than this. Robinson is a densely-built running back, yet he showed some of the most explosive athletic testing among the 2020 combine running backs. His 40 time (4.64, 24th percentile) was below average, but it's offset somewhat by his plus density, and it's all but erased otherwise by his 40-inch vertical (93rd percentile), 125-inch broad jump (88th percentile), and 11.22 agility score. This guy is well-built but springy, and his production at Illinois State was encouraging, too.
Robinson took on an enormous burden in the Illinois State offense, running for 1,917 yards (5.3 YPC) and 18 touchdowns in 15 games while the Redbirds passing game produced just 1,767 yards and 10 touchdowns. That's insane! Not only that, but the second-leading runner for Illinois State was clearly nowhere near Robinson's level, providing measly volume (476 yards) on a weak 4.3 yards per carry. Robinson took on an incredible burden in 2019 yet still left his teammates far behind in terms of per-play explosiveness. That's impressive!
Dalton Keene, TE, Virginia Tech (6-4, 253)
Top 100 ranking: No. 54
Keene hasn't gotten much hype but I'm pretty sure he has unique pass-catching upside among this year's tight end group. In short, he looks like the next Austin Hooper to me. Keene has a very similar frame and athletic profile, as at 6-foot-4, 254 pounds Hooper ran a 4.72-second 40, 33-inch vertical, 117-inch broad jump, and 11.32 agility score. Keene posted a 4.71-second 40, 34-inch vertical, 125-inch broad jump, and 11.26 agility score.
Keene reminds me of Hooper another way, too: his per-target production at Virginia Tech was automatic. The volume was curiously low for Keene (70 targets in 27 games), but that's the only thing stopping me from grading him as a first-round sort of talent. His output on those 70 targets is borderline impossible, though, and in the context of his standout athleticism that makes him an easy Day 2 grade for me. Those 70 targets resulted in 59 catches for 748 yards and eight touchdowns. That's an 84.3 percent catch rate at 10.7 yards per target, and a touchdown every 7.4 receptions!
Darnell Mooney, WR, Tulane (5-10, 176)
Top 100 ranking: No. 56
We are probably in the weeds at this point. There's a lot working against a prospect like Mooney, so his valuation is discounted accordingly. But the basic deal is that he's arguably as good as John Hightower and Quez Watkins, two other skinny mid-major speedsters, though Watkins and especially Hightower are projected to go much earlier. If you're in a deep dynasty format, the lack of options otherwise makes Mooney a compelling late-round investment because he has standout production and plausibly adequate athleticism.
Mooney is very skinny – too skinny, more or less – but if any Too Skinny wide receiver can get by it's probably a guy like Mooney, who logged a 4.38-second 40, 37-inch vertical, and 124-inch broad jump at the combine. It's fair to still doubt Mooney's size-adjusted athleticism, but before you write him off on those grounds just consider his production. There is reason to believe that, even if Mooney's size-adjusted athleticism grades as below average, his skill set might be substantial enough to get him back over the hump.
Mooney was a four-year contributor and a three-year standout at Tulane. His true freshman season was horribly inefficient (24 catches for 267 yards on 53 targets), but it's generally encouraging to see a true freshman draw 53 targets in his first nine college games. After that sluggish box score, Mooney turned up the volume from that point. He caught 34 of 59 targets for 599 yards and four touchdowns as a true sophomore, a catch rate of 57.6 percent at a YPT average of 10.2 in an offense that completed 56.4 percent of its passes at 8.0 YPA. In the 2018 season Tulane averaged 7.9 YPA at a 50.3 percent completion rate, yet Mooney again torched to the tune of 55.8 percent catch rate at 11.6 YPT while producing 48 catches for 993 yards and eight touchdowns on 86 targets. Only players with real skills can accomplish things like that. Or at least, those two seasons are a better measure of Mooney's abilities than his sluggish senior season, when he led Tulane in volume (48 receptions for 713 yards on 88 targets) but failed to capture the explosiveness of the prior two years. With that said, I'm willing to forgive Mooney for catching 54.6 percent of his targets at 8.1 YPT, even if it's less impressive against Tulane's team completion percentage of 58.6 percent at 8.0 YPA.
Jason Huntley, RB, New Mexico State (5-8, 190)
Top 100 ranking: No. 57
If we were in the weeds with Mooney, then we're deep in the swamp with Huntley. And yet, I firmly believe this is a prospect we should take seriously among the presumed UDFA types. I still hold some stubborn hope that Huntley goes as soon as the fifth round. It's unlikely, but I'll explain why I think he has a shot as an off-the-bench playmaker in the NFL.
Huntley has good or borderline great production at New Mexico State, and in multiple phases of the game. Last year was a high point, as Huntley torched his way to 1,090 yards and nine touchdowns on just 154 carries (7.1 YPC) while the next closest runner only provided 4.9 YPC over 99 attempts. For his four-year career at New Mexico State, Huntley ran for 2,197 yards (5.9 YPC) and 18 touchdowns. Of course, a runner as small as Huntley isn't going to carry a big workload in the NFL, which means the best bang for his buck will probably be through pass-catching usage. Luckily, Huntley seems up to that task.
Huntley saw 180 targets in his college career, snagging 134 for 1,119 yards and seven touchdowns (74.4 percent catch rate, 6.2 YPT). That might not seem great at a glance, but keep in mind the New Mexico State passing game was generally dysfunctional in Huntley's career. They respectively averaged 5.9, 5.9, 6.9, and 6.4 YPA in Huntley's last four seasons. Both Huntley's rushing and pass-catching work imply a plus open-field skill set. This is only reinforced by his production as a kick returner. On 59 career kick returns, Huntley averaged 25.8 yards per attempt and scored five touchdowns. I think these various facts sufficiently demonstrate Huntley's skill set.
With the skill set accounted for, let's look at Huntley's athletic traits. Luckily, he was one of the few players who was able to log a pro day before COVID19 shut down society. He checked in at a diminutive 5-foot-8, 190 pounds – again, Huntley is not a consideration for more than a part-time role as an NFL running back – but he offset that tiny frame with plus athleticism. His 4.40-second 40, 39.5-inch vertical, and 131-inch broad jump were especially encouraging.
To me, Huntley grades only slightly worse as a prospect than Justice Hill from last year. But whereas Hill had a nearly guaranteed reception from the NFL, Huntley will have much greater odds stacked against him. He wasn't invited to the combine, and former New Mexico State star runner Larry Rose was nowhere near the NFL's radar despite an illustrious career before Huntley took over. But Huntley is a little faster, and probably a little better as a receiver, so I think he somewhat paradoxically has a better shot at the NFL than Rose even though Rose posted the bigger volume of rushing production. The NFL won't agree, but I think Huntley is a better prospect than someone like Nyheim Hines was.