The 2018 NFL Draft is fast approaching. Here are the key questions among the skill positions the Footballguys staff discussed:
With the quarterback position the focal point of Round 1, what team do you see making the biggest headline, whether a big trade up or what quarterback they ultimately select?
Daniel Simpkins: The most talked about situation will be Cleveland’s decision. Will they take their quarterback at one or at four? Will it be the quarterbacks to which they’ve been linked (Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield) or someone else? Will their organization be functional enough to not break the confidence of yet another potential franchise savior? No matter what they do or don’t do, this storyline will dominate day one.
Stephen Holloway: All eyes will initially focus on Cleveland with their two top four picks, but really the only question is who will the Browns take and whether they are willing to gamble and wait to take one with the 4th pick. It seems that whether Cleveland selects a quarterback or not at the first pick, the biggest headline could be what happens at the second pick.
There really is no consensus among the top three quarterbacks and it seems that as many as three (Sam Darnold, Josh Allen or Josh Rosen) could be chosen first and there is undoubtedly a quarterback-needy team that will be willing to move up above the Jets at pick number three to take their guy. That could be the biggest moment of this year's draft.
Don't rule out a surprise team selling the farm to move up to get their top quarterback, either at #2 or later. With the number of supposedly top candidates and the number of needy teams, this could be the most watched NFL draft ever. We expect the Browns, Jets, Bills and Cardinals to grab one high, but other teams such as the Broncos, Dolphins, Colts or Patriots could make a move.
Jason Wood: It's hard to argue with my colleagues regarding Cleveland grabbing headlines. Whoever picks 1st overall gets tons of press, and the Browns seem destined to pick a quarterback at the spot. But since we've already acknowledged Cleveland's relevance, I'll offer up a darker horse -- New England. The Patriots trade Brandin Cooks for the Rams first round pick, giving them two first rounders. I suspect they'll use those picks to move up and grab a quarterback, and if I'm right, that will be the talk of the preseason. The Patriots have a 40+ year old legend under center and are coming off an 8th Super Bowl appearance under Belichick. It would seem insane to use that much draft capital on a player you hope stays on the sidelines, but just as the Packers selected Aaron Rodgers while Brett Favre was in his prime, this seems like a move destined for dissection by critics and fans alike.
Matt Bitonti: The Arizona Cardinals seem hot and heavy to trade up. They reportedly love Sam Darnold but it's not clear if the Giants will make that deal or if Darnold will even be on the board. Most assume Josh Allen is going 1 to Cleveland. The Bills could stick at 12 and see who falls it's not that crazy that Lamar Jackson or even Josh Rosen could be on the board. The interview Rosen did with ESPN has hurt his stock. Everyone compares him to Aaron Rodgers, that dude went in the 20's.
Jeff Haseley: Buffalo is the team to watch before the draft and possibly during, to move up to select a quarterback. They have a dire need and the necessary firepower to move up. The Bills are entering the draft with A.J. McCarron and Nathan Peterman as their quarterback depth. They own the 12th and 22nd overall picks and can to vault into the Top 5 to secure “their guy”, which some believe is Sam Darnold. How far up they’ll need to go is difficult to know for sure, but it might be as high as the Giants pick at number two. An alternative is to use their first-round pick at 12 to draft Lamar Jackson. Jackson’s style is similar to former quarterback Tyrod Taylor, in that both are capable of running when necessary. Jackson may have the upper hand in comparison with a stronger pocket presence than Taylor and a more accurate intermediate to deep pass. Ultimately, it’s Buffalo’s call on how aggressive they want to be to secure their hopeful franchise quarterback. We saw Howie Roseman take a gamble by moving up to draft Carson Wentz. A similar outcome, regardless of price may not be a bad idea for the Bills, who are looking to build on their first playoff presence in nearly 20 years.
Dan Hindery: When all is said and done, we should see four quarterbacks selected in the top-5 picks. Cleveland looks like a near lock to take a quarterback first overall. It would be surprising if the Giants passed on a quarterback at #2, despite media reports to the contrary. Eli Manning is 37 years old and it is hard to see the Giants contending in the short-term given how loaded the NFC looks to be. The Jets obviously moved up to take a quarterback.
What running back landing spot, regardless if a prospect goes there in Round 1 or Day 3, interests you the most to vault up a rookie's projection?
Daniel Simpkins: There is a void at running back in Tampa Bay and I will be interested in any back that lands there. They’ve taken steps to improve the offensive line by adding former Ravens center Ryan Jensen and I expect them to do a little more to address their line in the Draft. Additionally, I know many are down on Jameis Winston, but I saw overall improvement in his game, despite his team’s overall performance. I can tell a very compelling story of this offense’s return to fantasy relevance. Whatever running back they select will be of interest. If for some reason they avoid the position or take someone ultra late in the Draft, that will tell me that they have some confidence in Peyton Barber and that I need to value him more highly in my dynasty leagues.
Stephen Holloway: Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, Washington, and the New York Giants are the obvious locations where a rookie should be able to earn the starter's role and they will all make for interesting rookie landing spots. Green Bay has three relatively talented guys, but no clear leader, so a high pick by the Packers would be interesting. Off-season discussions about Jordan Howard not fitting into the Bears' new offensive scheme could give a rookie running back a surprisingly nice spot following a trade of Jordan Howard to one of the running back needy teams listed earlier.
Jason Wood: This question starts with the teams with a clear need atop the running back depth chart. Those teams include New York (Giants), Washington, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Seattle, Indianapolis, and Denver. From there, we have to examine the offensive philosophies and state of the offensive lines. Of these teams, only Denver ranked in the Top 20 in rushing yards in 2017, so any tailback drafted by the Broncos deserves a significant boost. Detroit was the worst rushing team in the NFL last year, but a new coaching staff promises a re-commitment to the ground game. The Giants added Mike Shula as offensive coordinator, and that means a power running game. Washington has publicly cited running back as a top priority. If any of these teams add a rookie runner, they warrant consideration in redraft leagues but pay particular focus on Denver, New York, and Detroit.
Justin Howe: Daniel pointed out Tampa Bay, which is my top choice as well. That’s an offense with the makings of a true juggernaut, in explosiveness if not efficiency, and it’s sorely missing a dynamic back.
What prospect is likely to go on Day 3, but you will back them to make a 53-man roster and carve a meaningful role in Year 1?
Daniel Simpkins: I think Kalen Ballage is that guy for me. I know many are saying he has the ceiling of Javorius Allen or Cameron Artis-Payne, but I see more there. He’s a bigger back that can catch passes, keep his blocking assignments, make one cut and go, and has impressive burst and long speed. If given the shot in a zone blocking scheme based running game, Ballage can be a workhorse.
Jason Wood: Picking one player is difficult. The receiver and running back classes are unbelievably deep this year. There will be undrafted rookie free agents at both positions capable of making significant contributions for the right teams.
Keke Coutee (WR, Texas Tech) is someone mislabeled as a system slot receiver. I see a more dynamic player capable of playing on the outside in many of today's NFL schemes.
Richie James (WR, Middle Tennessee State) is a smaller school player being lost in the shuffle. He could go undrafted but what I've seen of him says he can be an eventual starter on Sundays.
Justin Jackson (RB, Northwestern) is a well built, versatile back with a history of high-level production in a power conference. In a deep running back class, Jackson could fall into Day 3 yet wouldn't be out of place as a starter for a running-back needy team.
Darrel Williams (RB, LSU) is overshadowed by his teammate Derrius Guice, but the film shows a player with no glaring weaknesses. Williams is physical and a willing pass protector, which means he could get on the field faster than his higher-drafted counterparts.
Justin Howe: Nyhiem Hines has yet to generate the momentum I’d expected since showing well at the combine last month. (His 4.38 40-yard dash was a class-best.). He’s perceived as a raw one-trick pony, but Hines may be one of the class’ more pro-ready prospects. That’s because he’s already so advanced in the passing game – and not just as a receiver. Hines spent his first 2 years at North Carolina State as a pass-game specialist, catching 63 balls over his first 25 games, then added 26 as a junior. We can see his dazzling, ankle-breaking open-field ability once he makes the grab, but we can also see the effects of that experience in his protection game. Hines is small, but he’s skilled and polished and perfectly eager to pick up rushers. That’s a skill that takes talented rookie backs off the field every year – and puts less-heralded but mega-versatile guys on it. So, yes, he’s going to be drafted in a solid spot – Round 2 is a distinct possibility – and it shouldn’t be difficult for him to create a serious camp battle early on. He won’t be a featured back in the purest sense, but he looks like a dynamic rotational prospect with the ability to both drum up touches and create dynamism. Landing in, say, Tampa Bay or Houston could set him up for an Alvin Kamara Lite kind of role, with 75-100 rushes and 40-60 catches a year.
Matt Bitonti: Chris Warren, the running back from Texas is the son of a pro and has a lot of the pass protection and other refined skills that most backs don't have coming out. I can't take credit for this opinion by the way, full disclosure I read Matt Waldman's rookie scouting portfolio.
Jeff Haseley: Nyheim Hines has been mentioned already and I subscribe to the possibility of him being a Tarik Cohen type of contributor for whichever team drafts him. Bo Scarbrough has the tools to be the next Derrick Henry. A deceptively agile big back who is capable of moving the pile with enough speed and elusiveness to evade tacklers. If he can sidestep injuries he’ll be the type of player we wanted from Mikel LeShoure. Another back I like in the later rounds is Chris Warren. His size and power will command teams to use him in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He has power but also has shown quickness. I see a little Arian Foster in his game. I’ll throw Fordham back Chase Edmonds into the mix as well. He flashed his ability at the combine with his high scores in the shuttle drills, three-cone drill, and broad jump. For a back coming in at 5’9 and 205 pounds with his abilities, reminds me of Felix Jones.
Dan Hindery: Receiver Tre’Quan Smith is projected to go in the fourth round but I feel he has the potential to be a productive player in the NFL. Smith has solid size with extremely long arms and fantastic deep speed. He was productive as the go-to receiver for Central Florida and made a number of key plays in big spots to help the team to an undefeated season. The big concern for him is whether he has the quickness to separate from NFL defensive backs.
What landing spot for a wide receiver or tight end blending the best combination of quarterback quality and early playing time opportunity? What prospect would be your ideal fit there?
Daniel Simpkins: There’s a big opportunity for whoever lands opposite of Devin Funchess in Carolina. Funchess took a step forward this year, but would be best suited as the Robin to someone else’s Batman. I would love to see D.J. Moore in a Panthers jersey. He’s not the prototypical big and tall guy the Panthers have sought after in years past, but he is dominant in other ways. He has speed and run-after-the-catch ability that has been sorely lacking in this offense for a while. Imagine how scary this unit could be deploying Funchess, Samuels, McCaffrey, and Moore on almost every offensive play.
Stephen Holloway: An early round tight end drafted, perhaps Mike Gesicki or Dallas Goedert, by the Saints would be an excellent fit for Drew Brees and Coach Payton's offense. San Francisco would be a comfortable landing spot for a wide receiver. Other nice spots that would seem to insure an ability to start early would be Arizona, Miami, Jacksonville and Dallas, particularly if the Cowboys make the surprise move of cutting or trading Dez Bryant.
Jason Wood: San Francisco is worth mentioning based on how well Garoppolo played last year and the respect Kyle Shanahan commands as a play-caller. Marquise Goodwin is in place but he's not a bonafide #1, at least to the level of keeping an elite rookie from seeing plenty of snaps. The 49ers also have questions at tight end, unless you see George Kittle as the final solution. I would love seeing my favorite receiver in this class -- Michael Gallup -- end up on the roster.
Justin Howe: Indianapolis is just aching for receiver help. It’s understandable why they let Donte Moncrief walk: he’s a gifted specimen, but he’s run his course in Indianapolis as a supremely inefficient producer, and he’s probably not worth the $9.5 million he pulled from the Jaguars. The Colts want to rebuild their passing game in Andrew Luck’s image, anchored by T.Y. Hilton, who desperately needs someone to grab defensive attention and free him up downfield. With Luck back under center and the offense presumably curving back toward respectability, Hilton will likely step back up into the neighborhood of 120-130 targets, but even that should leave a massive opportunity hole on the other side. The Colts are almost certainly looking into reliable Day 1/2 prospects like D.J. Moore and Michael Gallup, either of whom could step in and catch 55+ balls as a rookie.
Matt Bitonti: Hopefully one of those teams who take a QB top 3 or 4 picks comes back around to Hayden Hurst in the round 3 area. He is 25 (former pro baseball player) so his upside isn't as great as some of these other prospects but he should be ready to operate day 1.
Dan Hindery: New Orleans taking a tight end is a popular option in many mock drafts. A talented receiving tight end going to the Saints is one of the most exciting landing spots imaginable for a pass catcher in this year’s class. For all of New Orleans’ offensive success last season (#2 overall), they still ranked just 19th in 3rd-down conversion rate. The missing piece was a second reliable receiving option to complement Michael Thomas. A top tight end could fill that void and could quickly emerge as the #2 pass catcher in the Saints (especially if Cam Meredith has further health issues). We have seen how often Drew Brees looked to his tight end when he had a talented pass catcher in Jimmy Graham and the New Orleans tight end could again become one of the more exciting fantasy positions.