The NFL Draft is tonight (!!!) and I don’t know if there has ever been so much uncertainty going into the league’s annual player selection festivities. Of course, as fans of the game, we should all be rooting for every player to go to a team where they will thrive and develop. However, those of us who play fantasy football sometimes want to see the most exciting rookies go to teams where they’ll be able to rack up stats from day one.
Why the “however” qualifier? Well, sometimes it’s better for a player’s career in the long run if they aren’t thrust into a starring role immediately. We’ve seen too many young running backs burned out and rookie quarterbacks ruined. However, in this context, speculation does no harm, and it’s certainly interesting to think about the potential destinations for this year’s rookies that would maximize their appeal as fantasy assets. With that in mind, let’s dive in.
Yes, really. Darnold might sit a year behind Tyrod Taylor, but injuries have oft plagued the former Buffalo Bill. Should Darnold see any playing time as a rookie, he will be surrounded by a number of skilled playmakers, including Josh Gordon, David Njoku, Corey Coleman, Duke Johnson, and new acquisitions Jarvis Landry and Carlos Hyde. He probably isn’t worth drafting if Taylor is locked in as the starter, but the value is there if he does play. Expect a lot of turnovers and some dud games, but there’s upside for a huge performance or two if you pick your matchups right. I will say this: pretty much all of the quarterback-needy teams have a veteran contingency plan, so the fantasy floors of all the rookie quarterbacks are going to be rock-bottom. Operating on upside, Darnold and the Browns make a great fit.
Fantasy ceiling: High-end QB2
Like Darnold in Cleveland, Jackson would be sitting behind a fragile veteran (Sam Bradford) in Arizona. Jackson’s running game alone would put him in the conversation as a fantasy starter if he sees regular playing time. Combine that with a healthy David Johnson and the ultimate safety blanket in Larry Fitzgerald, and Jackson could put up some impressive numbers. Arizona’s offensive line isn’t great, but Jackson is the type of player who will thrive on scrambling and improvisation.
Fantasy ceiling: Low-end QB1
This is the last team Barkley could possibly fall to, and it also happens to be the ideal destination. The former Penn State phenom is the type of player who will completely transform whichever offense he ends up on, and it sure is fun to imagine him in Tampa. An offense led by Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, and Barkley would give NFC South defensive coaches nightmares. The fantasy appeal of a Barkley-Tampa match is twofold. For one, he’d immediately be the unopposed feature back behind a pretty OK offensive line (if you’ve seen Barkley play, you’ll agree that ‘pretty OK’ is more than good enough). Secondly, the presence of a dominant running back would make life easier for everyone around him, increasing their fantasy value as well.
Fantasy ceiling: High-end RB1
Leaning on their run game will be key for the Colts as they look to ease Andrew Luck back into action. Enter Guice, whose explosive one-cut running style has drawn comparisons to that of Marshawn Lynch. With Frank Gore gone, the rookie from LSU would slide into the backfield rotation nicely. Much maligned as they are, Indy’s line has some talented players on the left side in Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort, and Ryan Kelly. If they can fortify the right side using their abundance of draft capital and get Andrew Luck back healthy, the Colts would make a great spot for Guice to flourish early.
Fantasy ceiling: Low-end RB1
Any running back in an Aaron Rodgers-led offense is going to have their share of scoring opportunities, and Rodgers has arguably never had a home-run hitting back quite like Michel. Admittedly, with Michel, Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones, and Ty Montgomery, this backfield would be a little crowded. However, similar concerns arose regarding Alvin Kamara’s situation in New Orleans, and that turned out alright. Montgomery is injury-prone and lackluster, and Williams is just lackluster. Michel’s measurables and playing style have been compared to those of Kamara, so he could have an exciting rookie season if he lands in the right spot.
Fantasy ceiling: High-end RB2
SMU WR Courtland Sutton: Dallas Cowboys
For the Cowboys, Sutton is a local kid with the potential to fill Dez Bryant’s vacated role as the team’s physical, possession-oriented receiver. Dak Prescott does have some other targets in Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and Allen Hurns, but the 6-foot-4 Sutton would immediately become the team’s best red zone option. If he ends up in Dallas, don’t expect a lot of targets, but a double-digit touchdown season wouldn’t be unreasonable.
Fantasy ceiling: High-end WR2
The Panthers have tried and failed numerous times to provide Cam Newton with an elite wide receiver ever since Steve Smith left the team. To me, Ridley has Chad Johnson-like potential. With Christian McCaffrey and Greg Olsen keeping defenses honest, he would have plenty of room to work.
Fantasy ceiling: Low-end WR1
The fact that the Saints entertained the idea of bringing back Jimmy Graham is a signal of their intentions for 2018. Hurst is a versatile player with Saints written all over him. South Carolina used him as an H-back, a tight end, and even as a running back in their offensive gameplan. If there’s any coach who knows how to creatively utilize his players, it’s Sean Payton.
Fantasy ceiling: Solid TE1