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Fantasy Football and the Effect of the 2018 NFL Draft

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Which 2018 NFL rookies are worth looking into for fantasy football?

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Now that the 2018 NFL Draft is behind us, it’s time to start focusing on the upcoming regular season. For me, that means it’s also fantasy football time.

I decided to mix the two subjects today — the draft and fantasy — to break down some of this year’s rookies and what you may expect from them from a fantasy perspective in 2018.

I give you my very preliminary rankings for each position and then break them into categories. As always, the following thoughts are with at least 0.5-point PPR in mind.


QUARTERBACK

  1. Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
  2. Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
  3. Sam Darnold, New York Jets
  4. Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals
  5. Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens

RUNNING BACK

  1. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
  2. Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
  3. Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
  4. Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
  5. Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
  6. Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
  7. Sony Michel, New England Patriots
  8. Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts
  9. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
  10. Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins

WIDE RECEIVER

  1. Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
  2. Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
  3. Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears
  4. D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
  5. Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys
  6. Dante Pettis, San Francisco 49ers
  7. Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
  8. Braxton Berrios, New England Patriots
  9. James Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers
  10. Equanimeous St. Brown, Green Bay Packers
  11. Antonio Callaway, Cleveland Browns
  12. D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars
  13. Tre’Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints
  14. Keke Coutee, Houston Texas
  15. Daurice Fountain, Indianapolis Colts

TIGHT END

  1. Hayden Hurst, Baltimore Ravens
  2. Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
  3. Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys
  4. Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
  5. Tyler Conklin, Minnesota Vikings


FAVORITE FITS

Whether it’s scheme or what the team already has on its roster, some players just really seem to fit their new surroundings.

  • QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns — Outside of some questions at left tackle, the Browns have a pretty decent offensive line. They also have a crazy deep group of playmakers, setting Mayfield up for success. He stands a good chance at breaking the QB curse in Cleveland because of the help he should have around him.
  • RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants — The Giants haven’t had a feature back since Tiki Barber, who played near the beginning of Eli Manning’s career. Barkley bookends Manning’s career by likely giving him the best RB he’s ever had. I don’t see any reason why New York wouldn’t feed him, similar to what the Los Angeles Rams did with Todd Gurley last year. Having a steady presence at RB will help this offense that has always been inconsistent.
  • RB Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks — The Seahawks invested a top draft pick in a RB. While it was probably too early for Penny, I like the fit. It gives them an unquestioned starter as long as they quit screwing with the lineup and always playing the hot hand. Penny is a thick back who can run inside and out, and he can catch. He should be on the field often.
  • RB Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Jones is one of the most skilled, well-balanced backs in this class. Between Doug Martin’s erratic availability and never committing to anyone else, Jones brings the kind of talent the Buccaneers can commit to for several years.
  • RB Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos — Like the Seahawks, the Broncos need a RB who can take a hold of the starting role. That hasn’t been Devontae Booker or C.J. Anderson to this point. Freeman is a proven successful collegiate runner, year after year. I don’t see him fizzling out like the others.
  • RB Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts — From how Chris Ballard and Frank Reich have talked about Hines in the last week, you can already tell they’ve been dreaming up ways to get him involved. He’s a dark horse candidate to become the starting RB for the Colts by season’s end.
  • WR Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons — I love that Ridley doesn’t have to come in and be forced to be “the guy”. Having Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu on either side with Matt Ryan at QB is a perfect scenario for Ridley to put up numbers. It might also make it easier for opportunities to develop downfield.
  • WR Equanimeous St. Brown, Green Bay Packers — St. Brown is a great athlete who has a ton of potential, but he needed to go to a good offense with a good QB in order for that to be unlocked. The good news is he landed with arguably the best QB of all-time. Although St. Brown wasn’t drafted until the sixth round, I don’t see why he couldn’t develop into a starter next to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. St. Brown’s competition isn’t all that stiff, as Geronimo Allison, DeAngelo Yancey and J’Mon Moore don’t feel so threatening.
  • WR Braxton Berrios, New England Patriots — We all knew Berrios was going to be a Patriot, right? At the Combine, he measured 5’8”, 184 pounds, ran a 4.44 forty, had a 36” vertical, a 6.72 three-cone and had 11 reps on the bench. Former/current Patriots WR’s Deion Branch, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks all measured between 5’8”-5’10” and 184-195 pounds, had verticals between 30-36”, 16 or fewer bench reps, and all but Welker ran in the 4.5’s or lower in the forty and had a sub-7.0 three-cone.
  • WR Daurice Fountain, Indianapolis Colts — The Colts have been trying to get a big-bodied WR to stick in the lineup for years, and this may finally be the time that it works. Fountain (6-1, 206) isn’t towering, but he’s well built and can play physical. He is a tireless worker and has big-time potential. He dominated his competition, so we’ll have to see if he can translate it to the NFL.

IMMEDIATE IMPACT

These players are all setup to hit the ground running when the season starts if they do their part.

  • RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants — There’s not only the fact that he was an RB taken No. 2 overall, but Jonathan Stewart, Wayne Gallman and Paul Perkins ain’t threatening his status. Barkley can do it all, including return kickoffs, and should be on the field all three downs.
  • RB Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks — Penny couldn’t pass protect to save his life (yet) so he probably won’t be in for those situations, but he should dominate the early downs for Seattle.
  • RB Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Jones is a three-down back who can run inside and out. I wouldn’t be surprised for Peyton Barber to get the short-yardage carries, but Jones is Tampa’s best back.
  • RB Derrius Guice, Washington RedskinsIt sounds like Guice has to prove himself in pass pro in practice in order to get Washington’s third-down snaps, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t dominate the early downs for them. Overall, Guice and Chris Thompson will be a nice one-two punch.
  • RB Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos — Freeman has a battle coming with Booker, but he should win it. He is a no-nonsense runner who will find the hole. Freeman won’t often break away downfield, but he’s a methodical runner who will keep drives alive.
  • RB Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions — The Lions’ backfield is a hodgepodge of different skill sets. Johnson has a little bit of all of those. He has good vision, patience and balance and can run between the tackles, but he can also get outside. Detroit can go RBBC if they want, but I think Johnson is capable of being their primary back.
  • RB Sony Michel, New England Patriots — I expect Michel to immediately slink into the Dion Lewis role, but he’s still going to have to compete for snaps with Rex Burkhead, James White and now Jeremy Hill. Michel’s biggest value will be in PPR leagues. One thing I’m worried about with him, though, is his ball security. It was Michel’s biggest issue at Georgia, and Bill Belichick is known for burying guys for mistakes — especially fumbles.
  • RB Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts — As I’ve already mentioned, the Colts have been scheming-up things for Hines since the second they drafted him, if not sooner. He might not have a Tarik Cohen-like impact immediately, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hines be just as involved.
  • WR Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals — This is out of necessity more than anything. Outside of Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinals barely have any WR’s. J.J. Nelson and Brice Butler are alright, but they’re not suitable No. 2’s. Kirk is, though, and he should get the targets as if he is one.
  • WR Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons — Ridley should be able to earn a role in two and three-receiver sets right off the bat. Considering he is already a very good route runner, he’ll have plenty of opportunities right away.
  • WR Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears — Miller was my top overall WR in this draft class, and I think he’ll be able to earn a starting spot next to Allen Robinson in no time. Miller runs very convincing routes, has speed and quickness and can make tough catches. He should grow with Mitchell Trubisky nicely.
  • WR D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers — Moore might be the most well-balanced WR on the Panthers, and it should earn him a spot in the lineup right away. They need someone outside of Devin Funchess. Greg Olsen and Curtis Samuel were both banged-up for the majority of last year. Moore can provide some stability.
  • WR Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys — The Cowboys’ WR depth chart is sad-looking after the release of Dez Bryant. Gallup should be able to contribute as an outside WR rather quickly and can give Dallas a downfield threat as well.
  • TE Hayden Hurst, Baltimore Ravens — Baltimore hasn’t had a dependable pass-catching TE since Dennis Pitta was last healthy. Hurst’s effort as a blocker should earn him playing time, but he is also a dependable pass catcher.
  • TE Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins — The Dolphins have been looking for a quality starting TE foe awhile, and Gesicki has the potential to go beyond that. He is ultra athletic and can make the tough catches. His blocking needs definite improvement, but he can be a red-zone weapon right away at the least.
  • TE Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys — With Jason Witten retiring, Dallas needs a plan at TE. Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers probably isn’t a good one. I liked what I saw out of Schultz on tape. I thought Stanford was a poor system for his abilities to be put on display, but despite that he showed good effort as a blocker and while running routes. His hands are average, but it’s not like Dallas has much else to fall back on right now.

WILL HAVE TO WAIT AND SEE/DYNASTY

These players all have an opportunity to be quality fantasy football players, but we’ll have to wait until there is less competition in their way.

  • QB Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens — I like Jackson as the eventual replacement for Joe Flacco, but when’s that going to be? I hadn’t heard any rumblings of them looking to replace Flacco until I heard Jackson’s name announced as one of their first-round picks. If Baltimore continues being a mundane offense, it may be time for a switch.
  • RB Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns — I’ll feel better about Chubb’s chances of being a heavy contributor if Carlos Hyde is jettisoned in 2019. Duke Johnson isn’t a threat to either’s playing time, as he’s mostly just a receiving back, but Chubb and Hyde’s roles are too similar right now.
  • RB Kalen Ballage, Miami Dolphins — I don’t know where Ballage fits in right now with Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake. Drake looked good as the full-time starter last year, and he deserves to continue that role. Gore will likely be gone after this season, so perhaps Ballage spells Drake in the future, similar to what Damien Williams provided in 2017.
  • WR Dante Pettis, San Francisco 49ers — It makes sense for Pettis to find his niche as a deep-ball receiver and return specialist as a rookie. He should get more snaps to develop as time goes on, but having Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor ahead of him right now doesn’t help.
  • WR Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos — I love Sutton’s potential, but right now he’s behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders . Fellow rookie DaeSean Hamilton may be more pro-ready than Sutton right now as well, although he plays in the slot. Sutton needs time to develop, which he’ll get at least behind Thomas and Sanders, so I’d look forward to 2019 being Sutton’s year.
  • WR Antonio Callaway, Cleveland Browns — Callaway was arguably the best on-field WR on tape in this draft, but off-field red flags dropped him. He’s going to have to prove himself against Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Corey Coleman, Rashard Higgins and Ricardo Louis in Cleveland. Until the herd is thinned-out a little bit, targets are going to be hard to come by.
  • WR D.J. Chark, Jacksonville Jaguars — Chark is more pro-ready than LSU made him look, but he’s still got a battle between several other WR’s on Jacksonville’s roster. Marqise Lee, Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief and Keelan Cole all deserve playing time. In the end, Chark may prove to be better than them all, however.
  • WR Tre’Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints — Smith has a lot to work on, which he’ll have time to do behind Michael Thomas, Cameron Meredith and Ted Ginn. In the short term, he can be a red-zone or downfield receiver for his ability to high-point the ball.
  • WR Daurice Fountain, Indianapolis Colts — Fountain is the type of receiver the Colts have been looking for, but it may take him a little while to get there. For starters, he has to adjust to the NFL’s level of competition since he’s out of Northern Iowa. He also will get more of an opportunity in 2019 depending on how Chester Rogers and Ryan Grant perform this season.
  • TE Tyler Conklin, Minnesota Vikings — This might be more of a selfish selection on my part. I loved what I saw from Conklin before the draft. Whether Kyle Rudolph is there or not, Conklin can make some sort of an impact. Of course, he won’t put up starting TE numbers until Rudolph is out of the picture, though.


CLOSING FANTASY THOUGHTS CAUSED BY THE DRAFT CLASS

RIP to Any Remaining Fantasy Value: Tyrod Taylor, Sam Bradford, A.J. McCarron, Teddy Bridgewater

None have ever been blue-chip fantasy scorers, but Taylor, Bradford and Bridgewater have all had bouts of fantasy relevance, and McCarron was a possibility until Buffalo already drafted his replacement in Allen. Whether the group were strong fantasy performers or not, they all had their truthers out there. After this season when they are all surely replaced by this year’s rookies, you can probably kiss all of their fantasy relevance goodbye.

Young Players with Upside Need to Find Fantasy Relevance Elsewhere: Devontae Booker and Braxton Miller

Just because Booker and Houston Texans WR Braxton Miller haven’t caught on with their current teams doesn’t mean that it’s too late. Both are entering their third seasons and could use a change of scenery and new situation, whether that’s this season or next. Freeman could push Booker out in Denver, and Keke Coutee could force Miller out in Houston. Booker hasn’t had very good lines to run behind and has been stuck battling with Anderson. Miller has had to deal with injuries and awful QB situations save for the five games he got to play with Deshaun Watson.

How Does Rashaad Penny Affect Other Seattle RB’s?

At least once every year, we’re introduced to a new Seahawks RB who is supposed to tear it up, A.L. (After Lynch), whether it was Christine Michael, Thomas Rawls, Chris Carson, Mike Davis, C.J. Prosise or JD McKissic. This time, we might actually have one in Penny, but what does that do to the other guys on the roster? Carson, Davis, Prosise and McKissic are all still on the roster.

Rookies Who Will Improve D/ST’s

An area we haven’t looked at yet is which rookie additions should make some D/ST’s better. The following teams should all get at least a decent boost from a fantasy perspective based on their draft class:

  • Chicago Bears — LB Roquan Smith, LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe, DL Bilal Nichols, ED Kylie Fitts
  • Cincinnati Bengals — S Jessie Bates, ED Sam Hubbard, LB Malik Jefferson, CB Davontae Harris, DL Andrew Brown, CB Darius Phillips
  • Denver Broncos — ED Bradley Chubb, CB Isaac Yiadom, LB Josey Jewell, LB Keishawn Bierria
  • Green Bay Packers — CB Jaire Alexander, CB Josh Jackson, LB Oren Burks, DL James Looney, ED Kendall Donnerson
  • Indianapolis Colts — LB Darius Leonard, ED Kemoko Turay, DL Tyquan Lewis, LB Matthew Adams, LB Zaire Franklin
  • Jacksonville Jaguars — DL Taven Bryan, S Ronnie Harrison, ED Leon Jacobs
  • Kansas City Chiefs — DL Breeland Speaks, DL Derrick Nnadi, LB Dorian O’Daniel, S Armani Watts, CB Tremon Smith, DL Khalil McKenzie
  • Los Angeles Chargers, S Derwin James, ED Uchenna Nwosu, DL Justin Jones, S Kyzir White
  • Minnesota Vikings — CB Mike Hughes, DL Jalyn Holmes, ED Ade Aruna, LB Devante Downs
  • New York Giants — ED/LB Lorenzo Carter, DL D.J. Hill, DL R.J. McIntosh
  • San Francisco 49ers — LB Fred Warner, S Tarvarius Moore, DL Kentavius Street, CB D.J. Reed, S Marcell Harris, DL Jullian Taylor
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers — DL Vita Vea, CB M.J. Stewart, CB Carlton Davis, S Jordan Whitehead, LB Jack Cichy
  • Tennessee Titans — LB Rashaan Evans, ED Harold Landry, S Dane Cruikshank