Wow! This 2018 NFL Draft had a crazy kickoff featuring a flurry of trades and surprises. Teams not drafting QBs seemed to be heavily focused on the trenches with a third of the first round picks and 40% of day two picks going toward offensive/defensive lineman. What many fantasy players focus on are where the skill position players are being drafted to assess landing spot quality. Let’s take a look at the running backs and wide receivers drafted so far and assess the fit.
Ten receivers went in the first three rounds. Round three is normally a cutoff point for me for assuming a player will see immediate playing time, but the way the first few rounds went feels like some of the skills position players got pushed into draft day three. My ranking of the receiver picks are as follows:
- Calvin Ridley – Atlanta Falcons
- Courtland Sutton – Denver Broncos
- Michael Gallup – Dallas Cowboys
- DJ Moore – Carolina Panthers
- Anthony Miller – Chicago Bears
- James Washington – Pittsburgh Steelers
- Christian Kirk – Arizona Cardinals
- DJ Chark – Jacksonville Jaguars
- Dante Pettis – San Francisco 49ers
- Tre’Quan Smith – New Orleans Saints
My top three out of this group are the following:
My personal favorite of selection of this group is Calvin Ridley. Julio is getting up there in age and Sanu didn’t seem to add enough as a secondary option for Matt Ryan last season. There should be plenty of opportunity for Ridley in this offense. Looking at Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception of Ridley’s route tree and how it overlaps with Ryan’s QB grid from NextGenStats, shows a lot of compatibility. In fact, he shows as having the seventh best compatibility with his new quarterback according to the same model I used to assess new receiver/passer destinations during free agency.
Ridley does have the ability to play outside as a compliment to Julio. “Technician” is a term used frequently when discussing Ridley’s route running, and if Atlanta has another threat to consistently get open it could elevate that offense to it’s 2016 form once again. Given that Atlanta is still considered a good offense with weapons everywhere else, Ridley is probably my top ranked receiver at this point.
This pick was kind of a surprise as I really thought Denver would look to bring along Carlos Henderson who lights up the compatibility assessment with Case Keenum. Now that Denver has invested a high pick in a receiver like Sutton, they have my attention. Sutton’s elite quickness was made apparent at the combine (6.57 3-cone) and when you combine that with his size at 6’2″ 218 lb frame it becomes scary…. for opponents that is. Combine him with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and Case Keenum will not have an excuse related to lack of weapons. Especially with them adding Royce Freeman in the backfield.
The best routes for Sutton and Keenum will be the slant and dig routes from the outside. This does raise a question regarding his deployment in the Broncos’ offense however. He ran a majority of his routes on the outside in college, but does that mean they would move Sanders to the slot? This would be a reasonable move given that Sanders and Keenum have the top compatibility in the slot. While many will worry about target share, at least the compatibility indicates that it is likely we could see more 3-receiver sets. I like Keenum and Sutton’s chances in producing early.
Dez has been removed from the passing game in Dallas leaving a void to be filled. Let’s be real, Dez seemed to have lost his ability to separate at all last season. Gallup is probably one of the better receivers to fill this position since he ran a majority of his routes on the outside at Colorado State. His compatibility with Dak Prescott isn’t great, but perhaps he gives Dak a better outside target from the outside with his ability to separate. He seems to display a solid ability to get open on in-breaking routes at all levels of the field which is going to be great for when Dak is on the run. In fantasy football opportunity is king and Gallup will have a lot of that to capitalize on using his proficiency on those in-breaking routes. Michael Gallup is a solid candidate to provide a quick impact to dynasty rosters.
D.J. Moore and Anthony Miller are really close, but where Moore has the edge is the need that Carolina had at the position. Moore will likely play opposite of Funchess assuming he beats out Torrey Smith for playing time. With low 4.4 speed one would assume he would be used to be a downfield threat, but Reception Perception indicates he doesn’t get open often on deep patterns. But he does kill it on the slant and dig routes which would be nice in helping Cam Newton move the ball downfield.
Anthony Miller will be an interesting compliment to Allen Robinson as he presents solid downfield potential. He is slightly lower than Moore because he is going to receiver passes from an unproven sophomore passer in Mitch Trubisky. This should still give him some sneaky value though because I believe that Trubisky is way better than his performance suggested last year. The only challenge that could pose an obstacle to his integration in this offense is where they decide to deploy him and who he has to beat. Taylor Gabriel would be in his way out of the slot which is where he spent a significant amount of time in college. On the outside, there is no real competition except Kevin White who is hanging onto a thread of relevance in the offense defined only by his draft pedigree.
James Washington lands in a nice spot for his career in Pittsburgh, but his fantasy value will be capped at WR3 more than likely. WE could expect Juju to move to the outside opposite Antonio Brown to create one of the more dynamic passing attacks in the AFC.
Christian Kirk projects as a slot receiver at the next level, but that is where Fitzgerald is currently playing in the twilight of his career. Kirk could move up this list depending on how he is deployed in the offense. Will he work outside while Fitz finishes his career in Arizona? The high draft capital spent on him indicates they will want to get him on the field early so this is something that I will be queuing up team podcasts for and watching closely via Twitter and team articles.
Running backs started out exactly as expected, but that ended quickly after Barkley went to the Giants. After that most predictions were worth less than the junk mail we get everyday. After all that craziness this is how I am ranking the day 1 and 2 running back picks based on landing:
- Derrius Guice – Washington Redskins
- Saquon Barkley – New York Giants
- Sony Michel – New England Patriots
- Ronald Jones – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Kerryon Johnson – Detroit Lions
- Royce Freeman – Denver Broncos
- Rashaad Penny – Seattle Seahawks
- Nick Chubb – Cleveland Browns
These rankings have less to do with the running back’s individual ability and more to do with their ability in the context of the offensive line they are inheriting.
Virtually everyone else in the industry of fantasy football analysis will disagree with my ranking of Guice over Barkley. They are ranked this way because of their current offensive line personnel and their pure running ability. Washington (ranked 5th by PFF) lost some effectiveness in their offensive line due to attrition last year, but the Giant’s offensive line (24th per PFF) was terrible from start to finish last year. Guice will have a healthy line to start the season and being the good, pure, bruising runner he is, it is likely that he will take over the early down work very quickly. Most rank Barkley ahead of Guice because of what Saquon offers as a receiver in addition to his running capability. Guice has not been thrown to much in his college career, and with Chris Thompson still a part of that backfield the ranking of Barkley ahead of Guice is understandable. However, we cannot simply assume that he is deficient in this area. He may well be an excellent receiver or even just a good one, and that could get him some extra 3rd-down opportunities.
The Giants drafted Barkley because in of his spectacularly great capabilities in all aspects of being a runner. While they drafted a guard and added Nate Solder in free agency, it remains to be seen how the rest of the line will pan out. A bad line could kill Barkley’s in-season performance, but there is still opportunity for the Giants to acquire some offensive line talent in free agency. If they make some intriguing changes for the rest of that line then he will move back into the top spot for me. The kicker here is that he is guaranteed to see most of the third down looks which affords him more of those passing game opportunities. Sustaining drives will be important to how much opportunity Barkley sees here. Make no mistake; this is nothing like the Zeke pick to the Cowboys just a few years ago. Barkley is walking into quite the opposite situation.
The last time New England drafted a running back in the first round was Laurence Maroney in 2006. The last time a runner was drafted in the top 3 rounds was 2011 when both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley were taken in the 2nd and 3rd rounds respectively. This should indicate what they think about Michel as a runner, but does this translate into the lion’s share of carries in 2018? Rex Burkhead and James White are still there, and we know all to well we never have a clue what Belichick will do in the run game from game to game. If it were guaranteed that he was going to see RB1 opportunities he could be in the conversation for RB1 of this class. However, if he is able to pickup where Dion Lewis left off, his ceiling will be high. Drafting Michel in dynasty will be risky though in the shadow of his ball security concerns, because we know how players disappear if they put the ball on the turf in a Belichick offense.
Ronald Jones II
For the fourth spot among rookie running backs it was a really tough decision between Ronald Jones and Kerryon Johnson. What gives Jones the edge is not only his electric ability in open space, but the situation into which he is walking. Tampa Bay’s line was ranked 15th in average grade last season, compared to 26th ranked Detroit Lions. even though Doug Martin struggled behind that line last season, the performances of Rodgers and Barber suggest that his struggles had more to do with him. Keeping in mind that the other two backs averaged 3.85 yards per carry behind Martin, Ronald Jones’ speed, vision, and creative ability provides potential fantasy owners excitement over the possibilities. He should see plenty of 3rd down work since his blocking appears solid in the 118 snaps I observed. While some say his route running is limited, it is an area in which he can grow being that route running is a learned skill. Speed (4.48 at pro day) and agility which Jones has in spades, on the other hand, are much harder to develop.
Other Running Backs
Kerryon Johnson is the best of the remaining backs, but again, the Lions were ranked 26th in offensive line grade average. To be fair though, last season they had quite the attrition and Taylor Decker missed a good chunk of the season. They addressed their offensive line in the draft by drafting Frank Ragnow and with Decker, Lang, and Wagner returning, Johnson could be walking into a nice situation. Johnson provides a better balance of power and speed than does Ameer Abdullah which has been an obvious need for Detroit.
Rashaad Penny and Royce Freeman are so close even considering their respective teams. They both look to assume the primary role, and they are both absolutely capable of seizing the opportunities they will see. Penny has to maximize the few opportunities that his poor offensive line will afford him. The Seahawks only spent fifth round capital towards o-line improvement and did very little in free agency as well. Penny’s special skill set may be capped in Seattle. With Seattle’s defense being dismantled this off-season it is likely they will see many game scripts forcing them to throw the ball meaning less opportunities for Penny.
Freeman is entering a backfield behind an o-line ranked 16th by PFF. With an upgrade at QB, there will be fewer stacked boxes and perhaps more running lanes for Royce to roll. In addition, Denver seems to be loading up on offense by adding additional receivers to their aging core in the draft. All of the offensive changes should make the Denver offense more dynamic than it has been since the departure of Peyton Manning.
Nick Chubb’s landing spot has him at the bottom of this group, at least for this year. He may have long term value given that Hyde‘s contract has an out after 2018. While it’s not impossible for Chubb to seize control of that role this season, the fact that he goes to a crowded backfield diminishes his short term value a little. Is it enough to suppress his dynasty value? If it is, pick him up and stick him on your taxi squad as he will probably have the best value of any of the backs on this list. Cleveland is in the best position it has been in the past decade to become a fantasy powerhouse. Nick Chubb is one of the long term pieces of this powerhouse so don’t sleep on him just because he is down here in this list.
This draft class does have me excited for it’s overall potential. The NFL draft never ceases to end careers before they even begin and shift fantasy values all over the place. Now that it’s over, we just have to listen to OTA and training camp reports to get our glimpse into the future of the 2018 season.