5 Rookies to Target in Best Ball Before the NFL Draft (A Roundtable)

Apr 02, 2024
5 Rookies to Target in Best Ball Before the NFL Draft (A Roundtable)

Best ball players who are firing up drafts in April can land some of the best values of the year by targeting rookies before the NFL Draft whose ADPs are likely to rise once their landing spot is known.

The 4for4 staff came together to discuss their favorite rookies to go after in the next few weeks before their Underdog ADPs spike.

More Pre-Draft Analysis: ADP Risers & Fallers | Free Agency Winners & Losers | Player Profiles | Mock Draft 2.0 | Never-Too-Early Rankings

Pre-Draft Rookie Best Ball Targets

WR Ladd McConkey (Underdog ADP: WR56, Overall 122.6)

Jennifer Eakins: According to industry mocks, there are five WRs at the top of this draft class, all expected to go in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, with Ladd McConkey just outside as WR6. His Underdog ADP is 10 positional spots and a full two rounds cheaper than the fifth-ranked prospect Adonai Mitchell (whom McConkey actually outproduced while both were at UGA in 2021-2022). Depending on landing spot McConkey could spike after the draft into WR3/4 territory once drafters realize his potential in the NFL.

McConkey led the WR room for the National Championship Bulldogs in receptions (119), yards (1,687), and touchdowns (14) from 2021-2023, with high production both as a short and long-range target. He also added 13 rushing attempts for 216 yards and four scores to his CFB resume in those three seasons.

Despite all the comparisons to former slot receivers like Wes Welker and Julian Edelman, McConkey possesses much more. When looking at his route distribution in his three years at UGA, he ran 70.3% of his snaps out wide, jumping to 78.7% last season (Per PFF). The 22-year-old ran a 4.39 40-yard dash (the sixth-fastest time among WRs) and his film shows he is capable of getting to his top speed rapidly. Check out his gauntlet drill at the NFL Combine, McConkey is smooth as butter.

The combination of quickness and route-running prowess should be an immediate asset for whichever team drafts McConkey. Currently leaving Underdog boards at 11.03, we could see him climb into single-digit rounds with the right fit.

WR Malik Nabers (Underdog ADP: WR 20, Overall 30.3)

Pranav Rajaram: LSU wideout Malik Nabers is someone I am targeting everywhere in best ball drafts this offseason. His draft stock is already impressive—Nabers is the consensus No. 2 receiver in this class behind Marvin Harrison Jr. Most mock drafts currently have Nabers going in the top 10, and 4for4’s Never Too Early Rankings have Nabers listed as the WR41 for next season.

Nabers has the chance to be a legitimate fantasy superstar from the minute he steps onto a football field. It’s hard to find fault in his game—he has game-breaking speed, is explosive after the catch, and is an elusive route-runner. This year, with three quarterbacks projected to go in the first three picks and Harrison Jr. expected to go at No. 4 overall to the Cardinals, there is a real chance that Nabers is sitting there at No. 5 overall for the Chargers to take.

That is a dream scenario—Nabers would walk in as the clear top receiver in Los Angeles and have a top-five quarterback throwing him the ball. All in all, Nabers’ skill set paired with his potential landing spots make him my favorite rookie receiver to target in best ball drafts.

RB Trey Benson (Underdog ADP: RB31, Overall 104.3)

Justin Edwards: The incoming rookie running back class may be one of the least exciting I have covered over the last seven or so seasons. No RBs are currently being mocked into the top 50 selections of the NFL Draft, and many people’s RB1 in this class (Jonathon Brooks) tore his ACL in November, putting his 2024 fantasy viability in serious question.

But as we see every year, there is value to be had in taking this position before the NFL Draft, as fantasy managers get excited once they see an actual NFL team associated with the player. There is plenty to get excited about with Trey Benson, who is coming off of Underdog best ball draft boards as the RB31.

Benson is a wildly explosive running back who not only ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at 216 pounds but also finished the 2023 season ranked fourth among draft-eligible backs in breakaway rate (54%). His pass protection acumen should translate immediately and pair with a set of hands that should see him on the field for plenty of third downs.

He could easily be going two or three full rounds higher in post-Draft ADP.

WR Brian Thomas Jr. (Underdog ADP: WR38, Overall 65.5)

Connor Allen: Brian Thomas Jr.absolutely torched the NFL Scouting Combine, running a 4.33 40-yard dash at 6’3, 209 pounds. The former LSU wideout had a breakout season as a junior alongside fellow projected first-round wideout, Malik Nabers. Thomas finished with 1,117 receiving yards on 68 receptions and 17 touchdowns. He primarily lined up on the outside while Nabers did a lot of damage out of the slot.

Thomas’ projected Draft range is anywhere from ninth overall to the early 20’s. I tend to think he will be a higher pick and potentially land with a team like the Jaguars, Broncos, or Cardinals in a trade-back. Any team willing to take a wideout in his range has big plans for him from the get-go. Not to mention, if he goes in the top 10 or is the target for the Cardinals in a trade-back, he would instantly be one of the team’s top wideouts.

Thomas’ game-breaking speed and size make him a great candidate for spike weeks which makes him instantly valuable in best ball. You may scoff at his initial overall ADP of 65.5 but the positional price tag of WR38 makes him more than palatable to draft now as a potential value. He’s currently being drafted behind players like Calvin Ridley and Jordan Addison who have serious quarterback and volume questions as it stands. The same could wind up being true for Thomas but he also has the upside to land in a far better spot with even more projectable volume. Embracing that early volatility could pay dividends down the road.

TE Ja’Tavion Sanders (Underdog ADP: TE27, Overall 202.6)

TJ Hernandez: Finding best ball values among rookies before the NFL Draft isn’t always about figuring out who the best prospects are—the right landing spot combined with position scarcity could catapult a good-but-not-great prospect up draft boards. We obviously want to land those players before their ADPs spike. One such player is tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders.

Best ball drafters will be chasing the next Sam LaPorta in 2024 after the Lions rookie bucked the “fade rookie tight ends” trend in 2023, finishing as the TE1. The favorite to be the next LaPorta is Brock Bowers but Bowers is being drafted 120 picks above Sanders—they are the only two rookie tight ends currently being drafted in the top 250 on Underdog. If Sanders goes off the board on Day 2 to a team devoid of pass-catchers like the Chargers, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him in the mid-tier TE2 ranks in best ball drafts.

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