A first round as unpredictable as billed came and went and fantasy plate tectonics for the short and long term moved. We will feel tremors immediately in drafts and for a time to come in our leagues. Let’s look at the biggest winners and losers of the first round.
Corey Davis, WR, Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee - Mariota gets a true #1 as the Titans didn’t mess up the evaluation and choice here despite Davis playing against a lower level of competition and not getting to work out before the draft. He’s a long-limbed receiver who has enough speed and perfect double moves to get deep, and he can also create separation in his release and breaks in his routes. Davis is one of the best receivers in the draft after the catch and he is used to being the focal point of his team’s pass offense. Mariota is more of a timing/rhythm passer, which makes Davis a much better fit than Mike Williams, who went two picks later to the Chargers.
Philip Rivers, QB, Los Angeles Chargers - The team seemed to have enough pass catchers, but the more important thing is to get the pick right, not fill the biggest needs. Rivers has an embarrassment of riches and diversity of wide receiver types, in addition to two solid receiving tight ends. Williams can win on contested jumpballs downfield just like Malcom Floyd did for Rivers for so many years.
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina - Newton should get more high percentage pass calls with Christian McCaffrey, and the #8 overall pick is a good speed threat out of zone read runs in addition to being a reliable pass catcher and advanced route runner. The investment on the offensive side of the ball and additional versatility has to make Newton’s job easier.
Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati - After a brutal offseason that saw Dalton lose his best two offensive linemen from a group that was already declining quality last year, the quarterback gained the best deep threat in the draft to keep defenses from getting too aggressive. The Bengals have strong options on both sides at wide receiver plus functional third and fourth wide receivers, not to mention one of the best receiving tight ends in the league - if he can stay healthy.
Doug Martin, RB, Jameis Winston, QB, Tampa - The Bucs added a very strong blocking tight end with a lot of room to grow as a receiver in OJ Howard. They also did not take Dalvin Cook, who was strongly associated with the team in pre-draft buzz. Cook is still on the board, so this could be a temporary win for Doug Martin (and Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims, and Peyton Barber to a lesser extent, or greater if Martin is eventually released), and the team could still take a back from the strong crop if they don’t get Cook, but the running game is improved by Howard’s presence, especially with the likelihood of more two tight end sets. Adding Howard to the passing game can only help Winston, who now has two quality targets at tight end after adding DeSean Jackson in free agency.
Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City - Alex Smith is far from the boldest downfield passer, but Patrick Mahomes is everything Smith isn’t when it comes to nerve as a passer. Andy Reid has said he wishes he had Smith as a rookie. Well now he gets to develop Mahomes from day one. Hill might not benefit from Mahomes this year, as it makes sense to develop Mahomes on a slow track and Smith is more than adequate at keeping the wins coming, but Hill should have a brighter future in dynasty leagues with the Chiefs move up the board to get their quarterback of the future.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Lamar Miller, RB, DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston - When we look back at this draft in a few years, we may see that no franchise destiny changed more than the Texans on this night. GM Rick Smith was able to erase the Brock Osweiler debacle and reset at the quarterback position by giving up next year’s first and second-round picks, and they got a sixth bumped to a fourth next year to boot. Those 2018 picks are much more likely to be late in the round after acquiring Watson, the most pro-ready quarterback in this class. He’ll inherit a solid running game led by Miller, who should benefit from better quarterback play and a running threat next to him in the backfield, and Hopkins, a fellow former Clemson Tiger who like Watson’s favorite Mike Williams (the #7 pick by the Chargers) can go up and win the jumpballs and help with Watson’s sometimes spotty accuracy. Watson has a chance to be fantasy relevant as a rookie, and he’ll lift the tide of this entire offense simply by allowing them to avoid having Tom Savage start this year.
CJ Anderson, RB, Denver - Not only did Anderson dodge Christian McCaffrey being added to his backfield after the Broncos were strongly linked to the Stanford back that went #8 to Carolina, the team then spent their first-round pick on Garret Bolles, a very athletic left tackle who should start right away and can only improve a line that had trouble last year. The team could still draft a back after Anderson’s 2016 was cut short by injury and 2016 fourth-rounder Devontae Booker was disappointing.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants - The rich get richer, as Manning added Evan Engram to a passing attack that already brought Brandon Marshall on board this offseason. When those two are on the field with Odell Beckham and Sterling Shepard, it will be difficult for the defense to account for and matchup with all of those targets. Manning has to turn it around after a very poor 2016 campaign, but now he has more than enough weapons to do it.
Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, WR, Chicago - Mitchell Trubisky probably won’t represent an upgrade from Mike Glennon this year, and the team could force him onto the field if Glennon struggles against a very tough opening schedule of Atlanta, at Tampa, Pittsburgh, and at Green Bay, but for the long haul, he gives the Bears receivers a fighting chance of having at least an average NFL starting quarterback.
Rob Kelley, RB, Washington - Like other running backs on this list, Kelley is far from out of the woods when it comes to opportunity loss, but Washington was one of the teams linked to Dalvin Cook. Cook could still end up on the team, but when the best defensive tackle, Alabama’s Jonathan Allen, fell to them, they couldn’t pass on him.
Frank Gore, RB, Indianapolis - The Colts were considered a possible landing spot for Christian McCaffrey. While it seems unlikely that the team will go the entire draft without taking a back, Malik Hooker doesn’t help improve a weak front seven, so the Colts could still focus on defense on day two and add more of a committee back on day three, preserving a lot of the value that some expected Gore to lose this year (if Father Time doesn’t take it from him anyway)
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco - Some buzz connected the 49ers to Leonard Fournette, and when the team traded down, it added credence to the idea that the new regime wasn’t pleased with Hyde’s durability record enough to take Fournette. They still took mock chalk pick Solomon Thomas, their third defensive line pick in the last three first rounds. Hyde might be joined by a rookie back by the end of the draft, but it won’t be a first-round pedigree power back that would be seen as an upgrade from him.
Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, WR, Cleveland - Maybe the Browns were beat to the punch on a trade up for Mitchell Trubisky and Patrick Mahomes, maybe they weren’t. Either way, their search for a quarterback is likely to extend to 2018, as the team also had two shots to take any other quarterback in the late first and build in a fifth-year option. Expect the Browns passing game to remain anemic this seaosn.
Leonard Fournette, Chris Ivory, TJ Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville - Obviously the team is admitting defeat on the large contract they doled out to Ivory last year and the early second they spent on Yeldon in 2015. Fournette is an obvious upgrade from both and he establishes a power running mentality and focus on offense. Fournette is a loser too because it isn’t clear that the Jaguars offensive line will give him holes, nor is it clear that the team and QB Blake Bortles can give him winning game scripts that will allow him to get 20+ carries.
Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers - The selection of Williams raises obvious questions about the team’s long term valuation of Allen, who has had two serious injuries in the last two years. The other Williams and Benjamin, whom the team gave a big contract last offseason, also have more competition for targets. Perhaps if Allen becomes a non-factor after signing a big extension last year, this could sort itself out, but for now it looks too crowded to support consistency, especially when you add in two solid receiving tight ends.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina - One way or the other, Stewart seemed likely to have first-round company after this night. At least it wasn’t Fournette, who could have taken over Stewart’s job between the tackle right away. McCaffrey will usurp a lot of passing down snaps, and he can hang between the tackles. As the year goes on, he could take more and more work away from Stewart, who is almost surely going to be a free agent next year.
Cameron Brate, TE, Tampa Bay - Brate was a nice story, a Harvard UDFA who became a solid starter and fantasy factor after Austin Seferian-Jenkins finally flamed out last year, but he’s now the second-best tight end on his team. He could outproduce OJ Howard this year, but his chances of remaining fantasy relevant in the short and long term took a huge hit.
Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, John Ross, WR, Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati - Ross will take snaps away from LaFell and maybe Boyd, who is now the fourth wide receiver on a team that also has a strong receiving tight end in Eifert. Eifert is still a top fantasy tight end if healthy, but there are only so many footballs to go around. I hesitate to put AJ Green here because it seems like he will get his in any event and Ross’s speed will keep safeties honest. That could also help Eifert’s target quality in the middle of the field, so maybe he isn’t a loser when this plays out on the field.
Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants - Shepard took a hit when Brandon Marshall was signed, and now his team drafted an oversized slot receiver in Evan Engram in the first round. There are lots of ways for the to get three wide receivers and Engram on the field together, but Engram will still take targets in the middle of the field away from Shepard, and at least for this year, he’s probably a secondary target in this offense, although volume could help offset that since they won’t have much of a running game.