If free agency changes the fantasy landscape, the NFL draft represents a tectonic shift. Many things were foretold after free agency, and some have already failed to materialize. At least if what we are foretelling after the draft comes true.
Of course, short-term outlooks are drastically different than the long view we might take for dynasty purposes. We are going to dive in from a redraft point of view, so these are winners and losers from the draft as they pertain to the 2018 season.
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
As Abraham Lincoln once said, fantasy scoring is 10 percent talent and 90 percent opportunity.
Misattributed, wildly inaccurate quotes aside, you can’t score fantasy points if you’re on the bench. For many rookies, getting drafted onto the wrong team can mean years of bench-warming or shared duties. Just ask Derrick Henry or the scores of other talented running backs who were drafted into bad fantasy situations as rookies.
Saquan Barkley will have no such bad luck. Some view him as the best back to enter the league since Adrian Peterson. Agree or disagree, Barkley is talented enough to take 300-plus touches into the top five in fantasy scorers this season.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are in the midst of a dramatic turnaround, and Jimmy Garoppolo’s fantasy outlook only got better during the draft. Jimmy GQ got an upgrade to his offensive line in tackle Mike McGlinchey, then got a second-round versatility in Dante Pettis. The rookie wideout adds size and speed to an already-decent receiver corps.
Not only is he still undefeated, but -- after getting traded from the Patriots -- Garoppolo averaged more fantasy points per game at 18.2 than Matt Ryan, Derek Carr, and Marcus Mariota last season. Imagine what he will do with improved offensive personnel and a full offseason under Kyle Shanahan under his belt.
Braxton Berrios, WR, New England Patriots
In the most predictable draft result of the year, the Patriots found their prototypical wide receiver in the seventh round. That would be a 5’9” spark plug that can run excellent routes, get open against anyone, and make tough catches.
Braxton Berrios is the embodiment cliché. He stands on the shoulders of Wes Walker and Julian Edelman in New England, which almost makes him as tall as Megatron. He works hard. He’s good at doing the little things. He will quickly ingratiate himself with Tom Brady, making him an instant fantasy sleeper.
Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Last season saw a foreseeable fall back to earth for Matt Ryan, who lost one of the best offensive coordinators in the game. The Falcons are trying to make up for it by drafting arguably the best receiver in the draft, Calvin Ridley.
Ridley joins Julio Jones in spite of the latter’s social media scrubbing as well as Mohamed Sanu, giving Ryan one of the best receiver trios in the league to go along with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman out of the backfield and Austin Hooper coming into his own at tight end.
Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis Colts
Not only did the Colts forego drafting a running back early after letting Frank Gore walk, but Indianapolis took the safest player in the draft in guard Quenton Nelsen. Along with fellow guard Braden Smith, Marlon Mack’s blockers got upgraded in a huge way. Along with the fabled return of Andrew Luck -- which should theoretically keep defenses honest -- Mack’s 3.84 YPC should improve dramatically.
All of that is incidental to the likelihood he is looking at feature back duty in 2018. True, the Colts took Nyheim Hynes and Jordan Wilkins in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, but they shouldn’t be major challengers to Mack’s playing time.
Cleveland Browns Offense
The Browns baked a seven-layer cake in free agency, and they put the icing on it during the draft.
Baker Mayfield may not have been the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the draft, but he might have been if he was two inches taller. The former Sooner oozes confidence, a swagger we haven’t seen under center in Cleveland since the paleolithic era.
Tyrod Taylor is going to be the starter, which is already an improvement for the Browns. Mayfield could very well take over halfway through the season, though, and he has the talent to take advantage of the weaponry stockpiled in Cleveland.
Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Pete Carroll felt good enough about Rashaad Penny to draft him in the first round ahead of guys like Sony Michel, Nick Chubb, Ronald Jones, and Derrius Guice. That’s a lot of love for a guy who many had penciled in the third round.
Penny always lurked as an undervalued draft prospect. He averaged an eye-popping 7.5 YPC at San Diego State, and he checks off a lot of good boxes in his scouting reports. The former Aztec is going to get his chance to shine right away in Seattle, where the Seahawks have nobody of import at running back. They haven’t since Marshawn Lynch retired, then un-retired and left.
Barring injury, Penny is in line for 250-plus touches right out of the gate. If he produces early, his touch count will only go up. He may even be a better value than Barkley depending on where he falls in fantasy drafts.
- Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolphins
- Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals
- D.J. Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers
- Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos
Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots
The Patriots drafted a first-round running back for the first time since Laurence Maroney in 2006 and the second time in the past 20 years. Does that mean Sony Michel is guaranteed a bunch of playing time? Absolutely not.
For starters, since when are there any guarantees out of a Bill Belichick backfield? Perhaps if Michel was the only bona fide option in New England, but that is far from true. Michel muscles his way into a crowded backfield that includes Rex Burkhead, James White, Mike Gillislee, and Jeremy Hill. Those names might not sound like much, but they will all get their turn on the field.
All the reasons why Saquon Barkley landed in a great fantasy situation in New York are the same reasons why Michel fell into a terrible one in New England.
Watch Michel score four touchdowns in Week 1 then disappear for the next 13 games.
Buffalo Bills Offense
First, the Bills traded away their best quarterback since Jim Kelly. Then they trade two second-round picks for the privilege of drafting Josh Allen, the most inexplicably polarizing player of the draft. It’s inexplicable because Allen isn’t good, yet some people think he is. Clearly, the Bills felt good enough about him to expend massive draft capital. Whatever the reasoning behind the move, Buffalo will start AJ McCarron at quarterback this season with Allen waiting in the wings to get eaten alive.
Zay Jones was bad as a rookie. Kelvin Benjamin is bad, period. LeSean McCoy is being wasted in Buffalo. Charles Clay is the team’s best pass catcher, and his new quarterback can’t get him the ball. This has been a bad offseason for Bills skill players.
Buffalo will be drafting another first-round quarterback in three years.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Oakland Raiders
Call me skeptical, but going from Big Ben to Derek Carr is not a good thing.
Martavis Bryant’s fantasy situation did not improve after getting shipped to Oakland. At first blush he might be getting an uptick in targets, but is that really the case? The Raiders will have Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson ahead of Bryant for targets, not to mention Seth Roberts and Johnny Holton are still around. New head coach Jon Gruden seems intent on bringing the Raiders back into the NFL stone ages, which means Carr might throw the ball 100 fewer times this season. That is all not to mention Carr isn’t anywhere near as good as Ben Roethlisberger.
Bryant is a huge play waiting to happen, and he will explode from time to time. But nothing has changed for the better in terms of fantasy football.
Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
While the Browns offense will collectively score oodles of fantasy points, Nick Chubb’s arrival turns a good situation into a fantasy quagmire. Carlos Hyde was primed for a big role alongside versatile Duke Johnson Jr in that backfield, but Chubb is going to muddy the workload. Johnson should still be a big part of the passing offense, but Hyde and Chubb could be in a timeshare, which nullifies their fantasy value.
Dallas Goedert, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
That’s how much longer Dallas Goedert had to last before landing in the best possible spot from a fantasy football perspective. The Dallas Cowboys got a surprise retirement from ironman Jason Witten, leaving a gaping wound at the tight end position that Goedert would have filled nicely. Then the Eagles masterfully sniped the pick.
In one fell swoop, Goedert went from potential leading man in Dallas to third fiddle at his own position in Philadelphia. Zach Ertz is the starter there, after all, and the Eagles did sign Richard Rogers after letting Trey Burton walk. Goedert might climb to No. 2 quickly, but that still puts him fifth or sixth in line for targets. As great as Doug Pederson is, he won’t be able to salvage Goedert’s fantasy value this season.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons
An embarrassment of riches in Atlanta does not mean everyone will get to partake in the fantasy feast.
Calvin Ridley is great, and he will have his moments. But he will be down the list of targets in Atlanta behind Jones, Sanu, Hooper, and the running backs. While having all those weapons is fantastic for his quarterback, Ridley is going to have a tough time scoring fantasy points with any sort of consistency. Don’t get suckered into drafting him early this summer.
- Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos
- Antonio Calloway, WR, Cleveland Browns