The first round of the NFL draft took place on Thursday night, and it lived up to the hype. For the first time in history, four quarterbacks were taken within the first 10 picks. Interestingly enough, all of the skill players chosen were taken either at the beginning of the round or toward the end. Time will tell which NFL franchises enhanced their long-term outlook, but what we really want to know is where these skill players fall in the 2018 fantasy football pecking order. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the selections and their landing spots to evaluate what we can expect from them in their rookie years. (Videos courtesy of the great Andy Singleton.)
1.01 – Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland GM John Dorsey (that’s Mr. Dorsey to you) certainly raised some eyebrows with the selection of Baker Mayfield as the top overall pick. Mayfield does not have prototypical size, but he is extremely accurate and can be a galvanizing force for a franchise in desperate need of an answer at quarterback. Mayfield’s long-term prospects are promising, particularly when factoring in his supporting cast. The Browns have Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman on the outside, Jarvis Landry in the slot, David Njoku at tight end, and Duke Johnson in the backfield. This is a team that can boast a very fantasy-friendly offense. The problem for Baker Mayfield hopefuls is that Tyrod Taylor, and not Mayfield, is most likely to become the primary beneficiary, at least in 2018. Taylor is a proven starter, and the Browns should not be the perennial punching bag they have been in previous seasons. Taylor should get the Opening Day nod, and if Cleveland is halfway decent, will likely play a large majority of the season. Mayfield might see the field in December, but that is not reason enough to take him in 2018 redraft leagues.
1.02 – Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
The analytic community was not pleased with the selection of running back Saquon Barkley with the second overall draft pick, but fantasy owners do not need to share those concerns. Barkley has the physical tools to be an upper-echelon running back from the moment he steps onto the field. He has tremendous speed and elusiveness and exhibits great power as well. The cherry on top is his prowess in the receiving game. His skill set and NFL Combine numbers have drawn favorable comparisons to David Johnson, who is one of fantasy’s most dynamic players. Johnson tore up the league in 2016 with 20 touchdowns and over 2,000 total yards. Even in Johnson’s 2015 rookie season, he finished as the overall RB14 despite not making a start until December. Barkley will be the starter from Day One and is instantly an RB1 with elite upside in fantasy leagues. I have Saquon Barkley as a top-six running back this season and would try to grab him toward the end of the first round in 2018 drafts.
1.03 – Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets
It is my sincere hope that this piece is the most negative thing I ever write about Sam Darnold. As a long-suffering (there really is no other kind) Jets fan, I am beyond happy that my favorite team may have finally landed a franchise quarterback for the first time in my life. However, this is an article about 2018 fantasy value, so I’ll take off my green-colored glasses and be honest. Sam Darnold does not warrant any fantasy consideration in 2018. First of all, Josh McCown was re-signed this past offseason and figures to be the Jets’ starting quarterback this season. McCown was surprisingly a very serviceable fantasy quarterback last season. If you take out the game in which McCown was lost for the season, he averaged more fantasy points per game than Matthew Stafford, who finished 2017 as the overall QB7. Now, before you @ me, I am not suggesting McCown is even remotely as good as Stafford is, and I am not even saying McCown is a viable fantasy starter. All I am saying is that he is a competent placeholder. Besides, Darnold is just 20 years old and has struggled with reading defenses. He now has the luxury of learning some of the nuances of the position under the tutelage of McCown and new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates. As excited as I am as a fan, I do not expect Sam Darnold to be a factor in real life or fantasy in 2018.
1.07 – Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills
Though Mayfield is seemingly a more polarizing figure, arguably no other quarterback in this class has as high a ceiling or as low a floor as Josh Allen. Time will tell if Allen ends up as Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf. Allen has a rocket of an arm but has struggled with accuracy during his college career. Allen likely has the easiest path to 2018 playing time among the quarterbacks drafted on Thursday. Standing in his way are A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman, he of the five-INT first half in Los Angeles last November. I believe it is entirely possible that Allen is the first rookie quarterback to make a start in 2018. He may even break camp as the team’s starter. However, I still would not consider him a fantasy starter even if that were to happen. The Bills have question marks at wide receiver, which is a problem for a quarterback who lacks pinpoint accuracy. The absence of a wideout who can bail out Allen and cover up his mistakes is going to be a problem in the short term. I would let Josh Allen sit on the waiver wire in 2018.
1.10 – Josh Rosen, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Josh Rosen was in contention to be the No. 1 overall pick, but once the top three teams passed on him, the freefall was officially on. With Miami looming at pick number 11, Arizona swooped in and traded up to the tenth slot to seize their potential franchise quarterback. Of all of the quarterbacks selected in the first round, I believe Josh Rosen has the best chance to make a fantasy impact in 2018. Rosen is incredibly bright and is adept at diagnosing defensive coverage schemes. He is probably the most polished passer in this draft class. Rosen is also playing on a team currently led by Sam Bradford and his porcelain body. Bradford has only played 38 NFL games since 2012. That’s five fewer than Calvin Johnson, who retired after the 2015 season. Do you really think Bradford is playing 16 games in 2018? I still would not draft Rosen outside of 2QB leagues, but I can see drafting him in best ball leagues with the belief that Bradford will go down at some point. A fundamentally sound pocket passer who has weapons like David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald is someone I would like at least some shares of.
1.24 – D.J. Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers
After 13 picks came and went without a skill position player coming off the board, Carolina broke the trend by selecting wide receiver D.J. Moore out of Maryland. I was a little surprised because Baltimore initially had the 22nd pick and seemed like a logical landing spot for the local product. However, they traded down and Carolina chose Moore. Moore has great speed and is excellent after the catch. I like Moore from a talent perspective, but I am not sure he landed in the best spot. Carolina loves to run the football under head coach Ron Rivera. The targets that are theoretically available are not exactly up for grabs. Devin Funchess finally had a breakout season, and he and Christian McCaffrey each had 113 targets last year. Greg Olsen will also be back to be a featured cog in the passing game as well. Moore might be a factor if Carolina commits more to McCaffrey as a rusher, but I do not see that happening, nor do I think it would be a wise move. Moore will likely be a late-round flier in 2018 fantasy leagues, but I suspect most redraft owners will end up dropping him before they ever start him.
1.25 – Hayden Hurst, TE, Baltimore Ravens
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome is participating in his final NFL Draft, and it seems fitting that the Hall of Fame tight end would select a tight end in this spot. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has long been a fan of peppering his tight ends with lots of targets, and Hayden Hurst could be Flacco’s next security blanket. Hayden Hurst is a matchup problem for opposing defenses. He is 6’4”, weighs 250 pounds, and ran a 4.67 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. Hurst also excels as a blocker, which will likely curry favor with John Harbaugh and his coaching staff. Tight end is such a crapshoot for fantasy purposes, meaning that Hurst is immediately on the fantasy radar. Consider this: Eric Ebron finished as last year’s overall TE13 despite averaging fewer than five points per game. Simply put, there is very little stability outside the top five tight ends. The imminent retirement of Cowboys’ star Jason Witten only shrinks an already thin pool of weekly fantasy starters at the position. I do not believe in drafting more than one tight end, so I will lay off Hurst in drafts. But if you feel the need to take a second tight end in the last few rounds, I have no issue selecting Hurst and hoping for the best.
1.26 – Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Whereas I do not love the landing spot for D.J. Moore, I think former Crimson Tide wide receiver Calvin Ridley landed in an excellent environment to maximize his talents. The Atlanta Falcons have an explosive offense, and Ridley can flash his 4.43 speed and after-the-catch ability in the cozy confines of Mercedes-Benz Stadium. With Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu drawing the attention of opposing cornerbacks, Ridley should see plenty of one-on-one opportunities. This will allow him to utilize his elusiveness. The loss of Taylor Gabriel also opens up room for Ridley to maneuver. Gabriel thrived towards the end of the 2016 season, and I envision Ridley in a similar role. Gabriel finished that year as the overall WR47, but over his last eight games that year, Gabriel was a WR2. I do not project Ridley that high, of course, but I think he can finish somewhere in the middle of those two ranges. Let’s split the difference and call Ridley a low-end WR3. I would begin targeting Calvin Ridley around the ninth round in fantasy leagues.
1.27 – Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks hope to infuse some life into their anemic running game by selecting a running back in the first round. But they raised some eyebrows when they selected San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny over the likes of Sony Michel, Derrius Guice, and Nick Chubb. Penny should have plenty of opportunities in a Seattle offense that lacks a proven running back on the roster and just lost two of its top pass catchers from a year ago to free agency. As a runner, Penny exhibits patience, but sometimes is a bit too patient and indecisive. He also struggles as a pass catcher and blocker. It’s likely that Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise see more reps in the passing game while Penny gets the lion’s share of carries, making him a relatively safe, if unspectacular, pick. I would rather have Rashaad Penny as my RB3 than my RB2, but he should be drafted somewhere around Round 7, and will be worthy of consideration as a starter in most weeks.
1.31 – Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots
I really like Sony Michel as a prospect. He has tremendous vision and playmaking ability. Michel averaged a ridiculous 7.9 yards per carry in 2017 and also averaged an impressive 2.7 yards after contact. He is a patient runner who understands angles and how to set up blocks. I think he has great upside, but I do not like where he ended up for his fantasy prospects. The New England Patriots are obviously a tremendous team, but trying to figure out their running back usage is usually a fool’s errand. Last year, we all thought Mike Gillislee was going to be the new LeGarrette Blount and score double-digit touchdowns. After a three-touchdown performance on Opening Night, Gillislee owners were doing the No Pants Dance. Then the wheels fell off. Gillislee had just one touchdown in his next seven games, then was inactive for every meaningful game thereafter. It’s safe to say that Michel will avoid that fate, but with Rex Burkhead, James White, and Jeremy Hill in the fold, it’s going to be difficult to trust Michel as an every-week RB2. Much like Penny, I would feel much more comfortable with Michel as an RB3/Flex, but he will likely be drafted higher because of his potential.
1.32 – Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Evaluations on Lamar Jackson are all over the proverbial map. Some think he has shown enough on film to prove that he can be coached up and become an effective NFL quarterback. Others believe he is a glorified running back. Whatever your opinion, the fact is that Lamar Jackson makes plays. He is a home run threat every time he touches the ball, and that makes him a valuable commodity in fantasy. Jackson will clearly start the season holding a clipboard behind Joe Flacco, but we have seen flawed passers who can make plays with their legs become fantasy studs, and I see Jackson in a similar light if he can get on the field. To that end, Flacco hasn’t exactly proved himself worthy of the contract that once made him the highest-paid player in NFL history. Flacco has not averaged as much as seven yards per pass attempt in any season since 2014. In redraft leagues, I suspect Jackson’s ADP is going to be a bit inflated. Owners will want a piece of his upside, and will likely reach for Jackson as a QB2, which is probably too rich for my blood. However, Jackson will be one of my favorite best ball targets in 2018.