Fantasy winners and losers from the draft
Rosters aren’t done changing. We all know that. But the draft is the last period of massive player overhaul we get until roster cutdown in training camp. Some 256 players just entered the league, before you even start to consider undrafted free agents, and that many new faces will certainly have a significant impact on the league’s existing veterans.
So, with the knowledge that some roles that look solid now can and will become less solid as some of the remaining free agents find jobs, this is a good time to look at the veterans who are in a better or worse situation for fantasy productivity now, following the conclusion of the draft process.
There is an alternate universe, not far from this one, in which the Giants take Sam Darnold second overall, and then need a running back in the second and get Nick Chubb. In that world, the Giants (a) get an obvious potential replacement for Manning, and (b) don’t get Will Hernandez, who should singlehandedly make the Giants’ offensive line more palatable. Instead, they went with Saquon Barkley and Hernandez, giving Manning maybe the best stable of offensive weapons in the league (Barkley, Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram), a much-improved offensive line, and backup QBs, in Davis Webb and Kyle Lauletta, who aren’t likely to push the veteran for the starting job right away. Expect to come out of 2018 hearing all sorts of “rejuvenated Manning” talk, due almost entirely to improved surroundings.
Don’t be too surprised if the Colts end up looking long and hard at C.J. Anderson or DeMarco Murray, but for now, the team moves forward from the draft with Mack, Christine Michael, Robert Turbin, and rookies Nyheim Hines (fourth round) and Jordan Wilkins (fifth). If the Colts had used one of their plentiful picks in the first two rounds on a running back (even Derrius Guice, as late as 2.52), Mack likely becomes a bench candidate, but for now — barring a veteran signing — he’s the starter behind an offensive line that now adds Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith to its blocking ability.
Barring some big changes between now and the start of the season, I can go ahead and tell you that the Chargers are going to be forecast as one of the top two teams in the AFC by just about everybody. The team addressed its three biggest weaknesses in its first three picks, most notably with Derwin James slipping to 1.17. The team now has one of the league’s elite defenses, particularly in the secondary, which should keep opposing offenses in serious check. Expect low-scoring games for Los Angeles, which bodes very well for Gordon getting even more carries and thus more yards.
Just like Mack, Artis-Payne’s status as a winner could evaporate quickly if the Panthers pounce on one of the available veteran running backs. But for now, the Carolina backfield consists of Christian McCaffrey, Fozzy Whittaker, and Artis-Payne. Whittaker has gotten more run than Artis-Payne in the past, but when Jonathan Stewart actually missed games, the job was Artis-Payne’s, and he’s been marginally productive in those appearances. The Panthers are unlikely to give McCaffrey and his 3.7 yards per carry (2.1 after contact) a full load of carries, so, barring another addition, Artis-Payne should see work.
The Falcons’ selection of Ito Smith shouldn’t kill Coleman’s role. It might not even have a noticeable impact at all to start with. But with Coleman facing free agency after the year, Smith at least gives the team an alternative so they don’t feel forced to pay the veteran. If you imagine that the team already plans to let Coleman go after the year and go with Smith and Devonta Freeman, there’s no reason not to give Coleman as much work as he can maintain. (Is this a stretch? Maybe, but I know I’m snapping Coleman up in redraft and selling in dynasty.)
In a sense, Austin’s a winner if only because he has a gig now, and had he remained a Ram he would have been unemployed before too long. But even without that, Austin could be a sneaky option for Dallas as a de facto third-down running back. The Cowboys used Lance Dunbar in that role once upon a time, and Rod Smith did some similar work last year. If Austin can hold onto a roster spot and win the role, he could become a full-on running back, after a 2017 that saw him set a career-high in carries (59) and a career-low in targets (21).
Not that Baldwin needed the help to be a WR1 or close in fantasy, but he got it (or rather, didn’t) in the draft, with the Seahawks not adding a single wide receiver or pass-catching tight end (they did draft Washington TE Will Dissly, but he totaled all of 23 catches the last two years). Rashaad Penny provides another avenue for the Seattle offense to produce, especially with Jamarco Jones helping to anchor the offensive line, which should go even further to make the road easier for Baldwin.
Bryant leaves Pittsburgh, where he had been relatively unseated by JuJu Smith-Schuster, and heads to Oakland, where he immediately becomes maybe the team’s best deep-ball option. Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson have both been better suited to the slot role in recent years, while Bryant is a big-play guy on a roster that doesn’t really have any others. Bryant’s 2017 PFF grade of 72.5 was the lowest of his career, but if the Raiders are going to throw it deep, Bryant should be the guy.
Zay Jones, WR, Buffalo Bills
Jones couldn’t have had a much worse rookie season, totaling only 316 yards (on 65 targets, good for a 5.2 yards-per-target average that was sixth-worst in the league) and finishing with a 43.6 PFF grade that was 108th out of 116 qualified receivers. He could easily have lost his role in the offense if the Bills had prioritized receiver in the draft. Instead, they didn’t take any pass-catcher until Ray-Ray McCloud in the sixth and Austin Proehl in the seventh — McCloud profiles as more of a special-teamer in the league, while Proehl barely reached 1,000 receiving yards in a four-year college career. Jones might not be as good as hoped as a rookie, but he’ll still have a role in the offense, which is always the first step to productivity.
Rico Gathers, TE, Dallas Cowboys
I won’t get over this. I won’t. The Eagles traded up in the second round to jump over their rival Cowboys by one slot to take a tight end the Cowboys desperately needed — and the dude’s name was Dallas. Nothing could possibly top that. It’s my favorite draft fact ever. It’s made even better by the fact that Dallas Goedert doesn’t even seem to factor into the Eagles’ immediate plans, with Zach Ertz firmly entrenched. Meanwhile, the Cowboys might still sign a veteran tight end (Antonio Gates, Marcedes Lewis, Julius Thomas), but for now, Gathers, 2017’s preseason darling, looks like he’ll take over as much of the Jason Witten role as he can, and that makes him appealing.
Maybe Flacco holds onto the Baltimore starting gig to start the 2018 season. Maybe he even holds it all year long. But between the signing of Robert Griffin III, the drafting of Lamar Jackson, and offensive coaches who have coordinated Michael Vick and Colin Kaepernick, the writing is on the wall, and Flacco is no longer the long-term Baltimore quarterback.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Cleveland Browns
Rex Burkhead/Mike Gillislee/Jeremy Hill/James White, RB, New England Patriots
Rob Kelley/Samaje Perine, RB, Washington
Ameer Abdullah/LeGarrette Blount, RB, Detroit Lions
It’s easy to point to situations where starters saw their team draft a big prospect who will steal the job, but it’s also fairly obligatory. With their teams drafting Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Derrius Guice, and Kerryon Johnson, respectively, I expect some of the above backs (my money’s on Hill, Kelley, and Abdullah, at least) to be unemployed by the start of the season, while the others will largely be relegated to supporting roles. Maybe White holds onto a pass-catching role, and maybe Hyde can work into a timeshare with Chubb, but by and large, the above backs will need an injury or a team change to have serious value.
(And to those who will cite Bill Belichick’s historic running back usage and say we don’t know who will get the lion’s share of the work — okay, fine, if you say so, but at this point it’s five guys for what should be at most two guys’ worth of work. They get downgraded anyway.)
I feel like people don’t realize how old Ginn is, but he’s actually almost two months older than put-him-out-to-pasture Jordy Nelson. That Ginn took a while to develop into a relevant fantasy receiver likely doesn’t really matter to his 33-year-old legs, and the Saints’ third-rounder, Tre’Quan Smith out of UCF, is a deep threat along the same line as Ginn. Ginn will still be involved, but expect his target total to decrease from his nice total of 69 last year.
Henderson was maybe my favorite sleeper for 2018 heading into the draft. Now, he’s still behind Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, and has to battle with 2018 draft picks Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton for targets. I wouldn’t be altogether shocked if the Broncos move on from Sanders before the season even begins, but even if that happens, this is currently a very crowded receiving corps with very talented pass-catchers throughout. I still believe in Henderson’s talent, but not the role.
Davante Adams is locked into his role in the Green Bay offense. Randall Cobb’s role is less secure, perhaps, but he’s still been a productive player there for a while. Jordy Nelson’s departure could have signified the ascension of Allison, but with the Packers bringing in J’Mon Moore, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Equanimeous St. Brown in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds, respectively, it’s easy to remember a year ago, when the team drafted three late-round running backs to press Ty Montgomery, and now Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones are at least on equal footing with Montgomery. Allison’s chance might have come and gone.