This article is part of our Best Ball Strategy series.
This will be the first of a three-part series breaking down every single rookie of note and assessing their fantasy value relative to their current ADP. The order will go from highest drafted to lowest. Check the end of each blurb for the verdict.
This article will look at the top eight rookies of the current ADP on Underdog.
Breece Hall, RB, NYJ (45.1 ADP Underdog)
Hall is very likely the real deal as a three-down, workhorse runner. What separates the great running backs from the good ones is the ability to maintain high efficiency even under high exposure (volume), and Hall is a fine candidate to ascend to that category. He produced mammoth volume at Iowa State while maintaining high per-touch production, and that includes strong work as a pass catcher. That sort of skill set on a 217-pound frame with 4.4 speed will almost certainly make for a standout three-down running back in the NFL.
The question about whether to draft Hall at this price comes down to considerations outside his control. The first thing to keep in mind is that Michael Carter is a good player and won't disappear from the offense. If the Jets play 65 snaps in a game, Carter is a threat to take 30. The second thing to keep in mind is that the sixth-round range of the ADP currently houses Elijah Mitchell, Antonio Gibson and Josh Jacobs, all of whom project for similar workload shares as Hall does with the Jets. Hall is probably very good, but is he definitely better than those players? Even if he is, is Hall so much better that it negates how much better the 49ers and Raiders offenses are compared to the Jets? I'm not so sure. I love Hall, but when I pick him I don't feel great about the value.
Draft Breece Hall if: He falls past ADP, or if running backs are going much higher than ADP and you're concerned about the time between picks.
Drake London, WR, ATL (75.6 ADP)
I'm very high on London as a prospect, and this prospect breakdown from April explains why. While I didn't expect the Falcons to select London eighth overall, first among wide receivers, I enthusiastically endorsed the pick all the same. Even as a rookie London is the favorite to lead Atlanta in wide receiver production.
With that said, even as a London fan – and even as an Arthur Smith and Marcus Mariota fan – I have yet to draft London in best ball this year. I'm not expecting a fast start with London just turning 21 on July 24, and I think people are underestimating the importance of Bryan Edwards in this offense. Edwards was a disappointment with the Raiders because they asked him to be a downfield receiver, but with Atlanta he will operate in the intermediate more like Corey Davis did in Tennessee. If Kyle Pitts is the real WR1 and then London takes a pretty much even split with Edwards and Cordarrelle Patterson after that then I'm concerned the cut of pie might be smaller than most of London's share projections have in mind.
I still think London should have a good rookie season especially in the second half, but I'm a lot more confident in Christian Kirk (86.7 ADP) and even one rookie receiver. (Coming up next.)
Chris Olave, WR, NO (94.4 ADP)
Although I loved the London selection for Atlanta, Olave is the same tier of prospect to me and it was (cost aside) not surprising that the Saints traded up to select him 13th overall. Olave is as easy as an evaluation gets – he raked at a young age and easily outplayed other NFL types (K.J. Hill and Bin Victor) despite playing at a younger age than them, and his work as a technician is outstanding. Throw in the sub-4.4 speed and I've seen enough. To me Olave is better than Garrett Wilson, who the Jets took with the 12th overall selection.
Aside from his superb prospect pedigree, the reason to like Olave this year is that he has a clearly defined function that no one on the roster can imitate. Fellow best ball target Deonte Harty is a great big-play threat in the 18th round, but Harty's deep-route prowess is limited to spread formations where his prohibitively small frame is less of a liability, limiting him to 25 or 30 snaps per game at most. In base formations Olave is not just New Orleans' clearly best deep route option, he's probably one of the best in the league right now in that regard. Jarvis Landry and Michael Thomas operate at a different depth of the field, making them problems for each other rather than Olave. Plus, Thomas (ankle) still isn't practicing and we don't seem to know when that might change.
Draft Chris Olave if: You haven't yet/if I'm not in the draft.
Skyy Moore, WR, KC (99.4 ADP)
Moore is a player I've been high on for a long time – see this article from 2020 where I mention him, Alec Pierce and Khalil Shakir as under the radar small school prospects – but I think a lot of projections are expecting too much of him in 2022. He's under 5-foot-10 and has a small catch radius, which might make him somewhat slot-dependent in the NFL for the main bulk of his target volume. All of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman are formidable obstacles in the slot, which is also where Travis Kelce runs his routes an inordinate amount of the time.
Moore is making the jump from the MAC as a slot-centric short wideout who won't turn 22 until September. He has a lot of abilities to work with, highlighted by truly rare burst and a high-motor style of play, but if the other Chiefs receivers are healthy I think it will be tough for Moore to see more than a swing backup role in 2022. He needs at least Smith-Schuster out of the way or both of MVS and Hardman out of the way to project for much more than 60 targets, in my opinion. If Moore does get that playing time he could be productive, though.
Draft Skyy Moore if: You're constructing an aggressive Chiefs stack, ideally still catching him past ADP.
Ken Walker, RB, SEA (103.9 ADP)
Earlier this offseason Walker's ADP ranked higher than veteran incumbent starter teammate and former first-round pick Rashaad Penny (101.6 ADP). That has rightfully changed in recent weeks, and soon you might see Walker falling toward the 10th round with regularity. If he does, his price will be appropriate for the first time this offseason.
There's reason to believe Walker will prove a good NFL runner, but any such reason only argues for Penny more strongly. Penny is a bigger, stronger, faster and more productive version of whatever might be good about Walker. Penny's injury risk is substantial of course, and if Penny misses time then we have reason to believe Walker can answer the call. Until then he's playing off the bench.
Draft Ken Walker if: He falls past the 10th round.
James Cook, RB, BUF (111.4 ADP)
Conventional projections are bound to overrate Cook, in my opinion, because the model-minded mode of projection doesn't interrogate the validity of the premises it applies. A generally true hypothetical statement like 'Second-round RB selections tend to do X,' even if true, only matters if the player it's applied to matches the nature of the previous selections who tended to do X. Second-round runners might tend to do X, but what about second-round runners no one expected to get drafted in the second round? What about runners who have among the worst size-adjusted speed in the sample? What about runners who never started in four years of college? Do we think the tendency of second-round running backs to do X would still hold at an equal rate across all of these modified queries?
It would not, but many people are committed to a mode of analysis that says, in practice, "Yes, all of those things are the same." Those modes of analysis are useful in their own way because they are their own, specific type of filter meant to detect certain variables, but we can heed its conclusions as one data point among many rather than defer to it as if some oracle.
Cook bears little resemblance to most running backs taken in the second round, so when someone's analysis lumps him in the same boat as Nick Chubb then I'm not surprised at the resulting confusion. Cook is a sub-200 pound back with 4.50 speed who never averaged eight carries or three catches per game in any of his four collegiate seasons. He ranked behind Zamir White, who is a dime a dozen prospect, and split the remaining workload with other players even after that.
This is not like Alvin Kamara and Jalen Hurd at Tennessee. Hurd was much better than White, and Kamara produced much better behind Hurd than Cook did behind White. When Kamara fell to the third round of his draft it was surprising – there was belief he might go in the first round before then – whereas when Cook went in the second round of the 2022 draft it was mostly unexpected.
There's no basis to project upside with Cook over his athletic metrics. There is nothing in his athletic profile that can't be matched by a player like Justin Jackson. Both players can make a play from scrimmage, but how many snaps can they give you before their returns diminish or before they break physically? Rather than a backup, Jackson was a workhorse running back in college and he still can't stay healthy in the NFL at 6-foot, 199 pounds. Cook's density is a little better at 5-foot-11, 199 pounds, and he's probably a tiny bit faster, but this still didn't convince Georgia's coaches to give him more than eight carries or two catches per game.
The Bills will redesign their offense somewhat to implement some dialed-up targets to Cook – they need to justify this pick, after all – and within his workload Cook should be explosive from scrimmage on a per-touch basis, potentially even including touchdown production. His chances of playing 400 snaps are less good.
Draft James Cook if: You're in the same draft as me.
Garrett Wilson, WR, NYJ (112.0 ADP)
I was definitely more on the side of London, Olave and Jameson Williams when it came to the question of the WR1 distinction in the 2022 draft, but for most of the offseason the consensus WR1 was Wilson. As much as I never agreed with that he's clearly a good prospect, and a memorably explosive one. I'm unlikely to draft Wilson this year because I think he's raw and I'm extremely high on Elijah Moore, which makes me concerned for Wilson's chances in a Jets passing game that will probably be inconsistent even if improved from 2021. Give me post-hype second-year wideout Rondale Moore (120.3 ADP) instead.
Christian Watson, WR, GB (116.2 ADP)
Watson was a redshirt player at North Dakota State and still took time to build production, which even then was limited at its peak. The height (6-foot-4) and speed (4.36-second 40) are real and make Watson an immediate downfield decoy option, which is perhaps all the Packers need as they try to replace a similar player in Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but there's reason to fear the skill set just isn't there. There might even be cause to worry about the decoy part – early word out of Green Bay just isn't good, and at the moment Sammy Watkins (171.8 ADP) is well ahead of Watson. Forget Watkins, Watson needs to start worrying about fellow rookie Romeo Doubs.
Draft Christian Watson if: You want a zero in the 10th round.