It's time for rookie drafts and we have enough data in the form of early drafts and rankings to put together a shopping list. The depth at running back, quarterback, and wide receiver is creating buying opportunities that should interest you whether you can take advantage of them by staying put or moving around in your draft to maximize the value of your draft capital.
Lamar Jackson (QB-BAL)
Jackson by far has the largest discrepancy between draft capital and range of expected value. He’s the best running threat at quarterback since Michael Vick and should be a better and higher volume passer than Vick. He also has the quarterback coach (James Urban) and offensive coordinator (Marty Mornhinweg) who were the architects of Vick’s #1 overall quarterback fantasy season in 2010. Unless Jackson can’t stay healthy, he is going to have a stretch of QB1 seasons, the only question is whether he’ll be an elite fantasy QB1 or merely a boom/bust mid-low QB1.
Target area/triggers: It’s possible that Jackson is the QB1 off of the board, so you can’t wait to see Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold go off of the board, however you shouldn’t feel hemmed into trading ahead of anyone who needs a quarterback because it’s not certain or even likely that Jackson will be their QB1. A mid second round pick should get you Jackson - right around the time the last of Dante Pettis, Michael Gallup, and Anthony Miller are off of the board.
Ronald Jones (RB-TB)
The obstacles to Jones playing time are among the weakest of any of the rookie running backs and only Sony Michel is clearly in a better offense. The myriad of passing game weapons and aggressive quarterback in Tampa could give Jones big lanes for takeoff as long as the offensive line gels. His range of outcomes is in line with any running back on the board outside of Saquon Barkley.
Target area/triggers: Jones is third on my board and I wouldn’t fault anyone for taking him second after Derrius Guice’s fall raised some questions about his makeup, but you should be able to get him as the fifth or even sixth running back off of the board - once Derrius Guice, Nick Chubb, and Rashaad Penny are all taken. Trading up from the 8/9 slot should get you a bigger boost in value than you have to give up and trading down from the two or three slot should recoup draft capital while taking very little hit (if any) to the quality of your prospect and situation in the top half of the first round.
Kerryon Johnson (RB-DET)
The Lions clearly coveted Johnson. They surrendered a fourth-round pick to move ahead of Washington for him (which they responded to by trading down and eventually landing Derrius Guice at a reduced price), and then later traded a 2019 third to replace the lost fourth so they could add Alabama defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand. Johnson has the pass blocking, receiving, and short yardage skills to be the Lions #1 option in every situation. There are obstacles to some, if not all of those roles on the roster right now, but that should change next year. Johnson isn’t flashy, but he should be a much better fit for the Lions running game than Ameer Abdullah (may he find a better fit on his second team).
Target area/triggers: Johnson is falling to the 10-12 range in rookie drafts - sometimes even later - despite having a similar resume and opportunity to Penny and Royce Freeman, who are regularly going in the Top 5 and Top 8. It’s not crazy to trade down from the Top 2-3 to the 10-12 range with Johnson as a target if you can get a 2019 first (and possibly more) in the process. Likewise, you might be able to move up from the early-mid second at a minimal price and land Johnson with the very flat first tier at wide receiver. Once DJ Moore and at least one of Courtland Sutton or Calvin Ridley are gone, that’s your cue to move up for Johnson.
Christian Kirk (WR-ARI)
Kirk isn’t going to be a big-time deep threat or outside receiver, but his limitations won’t be as important in this offense. Larry Fitzgerald has been racking up 100 catch seasons from the slot, which is Kirk’s long-term projection. Like current Cardinals starting quarterback Sam Bradford, Josh Rosen is at his best getting the ball out quickly and accurately, which should mesh perfectly with Kirk’s strengths. Rosen is the most pro-ready passer of the rookie quarterbacks, so he should support Kirk’s initial production and growth. Kirk should be your #1 wide receiver in PPR rookie rankings.
Target Area/Triggers: Kirk’s strike zone is basically the same as Kerryon Johnson’s, so you’ll look for the same triggers (Ridley and Sutton gone and possibly Johnson), but you’ll have a tough choice if they are both on the board. On the other hand, if you trade down or up to a pick at the end of the first round, you can feel better about your backup plan if Kirk or Johnson is your target.
Nyheim Hines (RB-IND)
Hines had been worked out as a receiver in addition to a runner and should play a role similar to the one Darren Sproles and Danny Woodhead played in recent Frank Reich offenses. Unlike late-career Sproles and Woodhead, Hines has breakaway speed, and he’s also in an Andrew Luck pass offense that has only TY Hilton and Jack Doyle as proven targets. Chris Thompson showed the way for a passing game back to flirt with RB1 numbers in a PPR league, and Hines is in a similar situation - in fact, if Andrew Luck is on the Chad Pennington career path, that should only enhance Hines’ upside as a short-range target for a weakened arm quarterback.
Target Area/Triggers: Hines should be there for you in the early third. If you don’t have a pick in that range, it might be worth your while to give up next year’s second to add Hines to your roster and reap the immediate rewards. The only tricky part of adding him is that he is usually the back to break the drought at the position in rookie drafts after the top eight go in the first round, so there’s not usually a back going around his range to trigger a pick. A better indicator might be when the third or fourth quarterback is taken, as Hines is usually going a little after Sam Darnold/Josh Rosen. Mike Gesicki and Dallas Goedert have usually broken the seal at tight end before Hines is taken. DJ Chark is the wide receiver going closest to Hines in rookie drafts.
Keke Coutee (WR-HOU)
Coutee is going to take over the slot in Houston, and he’s going to be an instant big-play threat for Deshaun Watson with the attention that Will Fuller V and DeAndre Hopkins will get on the outside. He’ll have the best matchup against defenses like Tennessee and Jacksonville and let’s remember that Fuller has already missed multiple games due to injury in his first two seasons. Coutee has more reliable hands and can do more damage in the short game after the catch. It’s not a stretch to see him having more value than Fuller soon.
Target Area/Triggers: A mid-late third should be enough to land Coutee. Trading next year’s third to get him isn’t crazy if you don’t have a pick in that range. Usually, one of the trio of big Green Bay rookie wideouts is gone along with DaeSean Hamilton, TreQuan Smith, and Antonio Callaway before Coutee goes. Hayden Hurst is likely to go before Coutee. One of John Kelly and Mark Walton will go around the time Coutee goes off of the board.
Daurice Fountain (WR-IND), Jaleel Scott (WR-BAL), Richie James (WR-SF)
Fountain went ahead of Deon Cain, but early rookie drafts and rankings have Cain ahead. Likewise, Scott is behind Jordan Lasley despite going ahead of him in the NFL draft, and James is an afterthought after the 49ers took Dante Pettis in the second round. All are set up in good long-term situations with opportunity freed up immediately for Fountain, right around the corner for Scott and James.
Target Area/Triggers: Consider this trio your fourth round and later targets. None are in the consensus Top 36 of early rookie rankings, and early draft results are backing that up.