Some, like me, follow every round of the NFL draft all the way through day 3 and analyze how every draft pick will effect every team. But most of you just want to know how to diagnose the draft sleepers who make fantasy keepers and dominate your league for years to come. Well you’re in luck today, consider me Jerry Maguire to your Rod Tidwell:
I’ve already spent a lot of time talking and writing about how much I love Deshaun Watson. To reiterate though, beyond my belief that he’ll make an immediate impact on the field, I think he’ll be a backend QB1 starter in fantasy and will be a league changing pick for those of you (@gates) that are in a 2 QB league.
Other than DW4, I don’t even think another rookie QB will see meaningful snaps this year, much less contribute in fantasy.
Let’s start at the top of the draft. While I think Leonard Fournette is an excellent prospect, I was nervous before the draft about him going to the Jaguars and I’m just as skeptical today. Facing 9 in the box every week with Blake Bortles as a joke of a QB, you can expect a whole lot of highlights like this:
Christian McCaffrey was an absolute star in the college ranks, and I think he’s going to be an impactful player in the NFL. That being said, his real world impact will outweigh his fantasy impact in year 1. He’s likely to be overvalued since he’s such a big name and still has to contend for backfield touches with Jonathan Stewart and the Panthers round 2 rookie Curtis Samuel. Yes, the Panthers will put him out in the slot significantly more than your typical RB, and in PPR he might be a fringe RB2. Unless his ADP is much lower than I’m currently imagining, say round 8 rather than round 4, I’m going to pass on the Stanford product.
My number 1 RB in the draft was Dalvin Cook, and guess what? My projected number 1 fantasy rookie RB is also Dalvin Cook. Due to off the field issues and injury concerns the Vikings got one of the best value picks in the draft in snagging Cook at pick #41. Cook is going to immediately be one of the best home run threats in the league from day 1, and in my opinion he beats out newly signed Latavius Murray for the majority of touches in Minnesota. While he may be a trendy pick, I like Cook as a solid RB2 with backend RB1 potential and well worth going after.
Joe Mixon fell to the 2nd round for the punch heard round the world, but most talent evaluators agreed he was a day 1 talent. I was not one of those people, and was slightly lower on Mixon than most of the scouts I was reading. While he’s extremely shifty, I don’t think he’s that difficult to bring down once you get some arms on him and the Bengals O-line doesn’t project to be great. That being said, it looks like he’s going to have every opportunity to win the job in that backfield, and at running back opportunity is much more important than ability. This will really be a player I’m watching with their ADP, but I certainly won’t reach for him on draft day.
Other than these top names, most of the fantasy impact RBs I love I covered in my day 2 & day 3 sleeper series articles. More than just liking their ability, the vast majority of prospects I outlined landed in DREAM situations. The one with the clearest role to week 1 touches is the Washington Redskins round 4 pick Samaje Perine. While he was overshadowed at times this past year by Joe Mixon, Perine has some great natural ability in his own right. Rob Kelley is nothing special, and Perine basically projects as a better version of him. Kelley especially struggled in short yardage and red zone situations last year, so Jay Gruden will likely tab Perine early and often for that role. While Chris Thompson will still be the passing down back, Perine could finish with near 1,000 yards and 10 TDs making him well worth what will likely be a low ADP.
Marlon Mack is another rookie RB who projects to have an opportunity for some carries his rookie year. While he’s not going to shoot out of the gate like Perine might, Frank Gore has to break down one of these years, right?! With few other talented backs to speak of on the Colts roster, Mack should get a crack at around 6 carries a game to keep Gore fresh. This pick is clearly more of a draft & stash than Perine, but if Gore gets injured or becomes ineffective in his age 34 season, Mack could be the rookie RB that propels you down the stretch into the playoffs and beyond.
Last but definitely not least, the Williams boys are 2 round 4 RBs that I’m expecting to have impactful rookie seasons. I’m talking of course about Jamaal Williams drafted by the Packers, and Joe Williams drafted by the 49ers. First, Jamaal looks poised to challenge Ty Montgomery immediately for playing time as Ty just became a full time running back towards the end of last season. Let some other schmuck in your league spend a high pick on Montgomery, while you let out a Dr. Evil laugh with your Williams selection rounds later.
Joe has a much less rosy outlook going to the shitty 49ers, and with a proven young RB ahead of him in Carlos Hyde to boot. But let’s not forget, Hyde has had a really tough time staying healthy in his career, is a free agent after this season, and has no allegiance from the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan GM/coach combination. Those 2 may be looking to see what they drafted in Williams, especially when they drafted him 2 rounds earlier than any pre-draft projection that I saw. He’s likely to be available in the late rounds and he’s one of my targets deep in the draft.
Other than these gems keep a lookout for my other boys, Jeremy McNichols on the Buccaneers (great blocker and passing down back which should get him on the field early), and Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs. Both could be PPR contributors and have questionable talent ahead of them in Doug Martin & Spencer Ware respectively.
As it was going into the draft, I’m more optimistic on the rookie RBs ability to produce from year 1 than the WRs. There will be some contributors and it starts at the top of the draft.
Mike Williams balled out at Clemson last year and I expect him to do the same much like the other Clemson WRs in the league (if Sammy Watkins could stay healthy you can be sure he’d be a star). Philip Rivers is going to love throwing jump balls to Williams, and he projects as an excellent red zone target. With Keenan Allen being one of the most injury prone receivers in the league, (even though he’s a stud) Williams could be in for a heavy workload of targets his rookie year. Even if Allen stays healthy, Rivers often pilots a top 10 passing attack and there should be enough to go around. I expect Williams to lead all rookie WRs in TDs.
While Corey Davis has all the measurables and projects as the number 1 option in Tennessee’s offense (him or Delanie Walker), I’m going to have a tough time justifying where I expect to see him drafted. I’m not sure the Titans offense can sustain 2 legitimate fantasy receiving options. I’m going to trust the veteran Walker to retain Mariota’s eye, as Davis struggles early to adjust from MAC defenses to the number 1 NFL CB every week.
I similarly love John Ross’ talent, but again I don’t expect the speedster to have much of a rookie year impact in Cincinnati. The Bengals absolutely needed a secondary receiver to take attention away from AJ Green, but Dalton doesn’t have the strongest arm and may struggle to connect on the long bombs that Ross will need to be an impact fantasy player. I see him more as a WR 5/6 that will win you some weeks with 80 yard TDs, but will more often than not hurt the lineup when those long TDs aren’t there.
There are a couple round 2 receivers that I do expect to make some noise in fantasy this year. Juju Smith-Schuster gives Big Ben a possession receiver type that he hasn’t had in years. While the Steelers have a plethora of receiving options, Juju gives them the over the middle option that most others don’t. Ben will be impressed with the rookie’s precise route running, toughness, and ability to make the spectacular catch. Juju is also a stellar blocker which will make Mike Tomlin put him on the field over Martavis Bryant & Sammie Coates.
The other round 2 WR is Zay Jones formerly of East Carolina and now on the Buffalo Bills. Jones projects as a PERFECT fill in for now departed Robert Woods and is a sure handed receiver that Tyrod Taylor will love. Don’t have huge expectations for Jones, but in a PPR league I see him being in the WR4 range.
I don’t have much hope for some of the later round receivers, but if perpetually injured Desean Jackson gets hurt in Tampa Bay, watch out for Chris Godwin. You also always have to keep an eye on Aaron Rodgers WRs, so keep Malachi Dupre in mind throughout the season especially if Green Bay receivers start to go down like flies as in years past.
OJ Howard is going to be a beast in Tampa Bay, but he may have to wait a year or 2 with Cameron Brate impressing last year. After also bringing in the aforementioned Jackson & Godwin at receiver there may not be enough targets to go around in Tampa to satisfy everyone’s fantasy needs. I still like Howard to emerge as a fringe TE1, with the potential for much more down the stretch.
The other 2 first round TEs, however, look to be merely pure keeper picks. I love both of their potential and expect them to be top 8 TEs in years to come, but this year Evan Engram will be the 4th option on a loaded Giants receiving corps. David Njoku will have all the opportunity in Cleveland but won’t have a quarterback to get him the ball and still only has one real year of top level experience. Draft these guys with the understanding they are not contributing to your team this year.
I don’t expect any other late round TEs to impact the fantasy season with Jake Butt coming off a tough injury and Jordan Leggett dealing with absent quarterback play.
If this advice wins you a fantasy title, I fully expect a venmo coming my way (@collin-thaw).