The 2019 NFL draft ended as one of the least promising in terms of immediate fantasy stars. But rest assured that at least a few will step up if only later in the season. There were three first-round quarterbacks but they rarely matter much as a rookie. Kyler Murray could if only because of his rushing stats. There were two first-round tight ends – both from the same school no less – but that position is notoriously unproductive with first-year players.
Running backs are always the primary concern with fantasy rookies since they have the best track record of turning in fantasy-relevant stats. The previous four drafts all supplied a rookie back that was drafted in the first ten overall picks and then ended up as a top-ten fantasy running back in their first year. That’s over.
Josh Jacobs was the only first-round back taken (1.24) and he wasn’t even the primary back at Alabama. Miles Sanders was the only second-round pick for the position and anytime there are only two backs taken in the first two rounds, you can plan on lowering expectations. After four straight drafts containing elite running backs, 2019 was a down year. Like historically down. To the point where it is hard to wrap your head around just how poorly this draft class was viewed for the most prized fantasy position.
Wide receivers were better, but only thanks to a second-round run on the position. Only two were drafted in the first round and not until the 1.25 and 1.32 picks. Seven more would go in the second round. Mock drafts are never perfect and this year, even the most expert of draft analysts were far off the mark in the order and where receivers went. D.K. Metcalf was the consensus best wideout and yet was actually the ninth taken at the 2.32 pick.
There will be future stars from this class. There always are. But consider hesitating before throwing rookies into your 2019 draft plans. The running back stock looks like a big sale was held before the NFL draft showed up. The wideouts carry plenty of promise and there could be several that deliver even as a rookie. Maybe not the best of NFL drafts in fantasy terms. Maybe it was the worst in a very long time. But if only thanks to evolving team dynamics and injuries, several of these top players are going to get an opportunity to shine and that’s plenty enough reason to pay attention.
- RB Josh Jacobs, Alabama (OAK – 1.24)
The Raiders were the only team spending a first round pick on a running back (though it was their third in that round). But Jacobs steps into a great opportunity to grab a full-time role that will mix in rushing and receiving. The Raiders have plodder Isaiah Crowell and Jalen Richard is a receiving back. But Jacobs should get every chance to keep both of them on the bench. He’s a versatile, dangerous back that will not come off the field on any down. Jacobs is the clear top rookie to own this year and easily the best bet to produce the most fantasy points from the freshman class.
- RB David Montgomery, Iowa State (CHI – 3.10)
This may be a rather high ranking for someone that was just a third rounder but he was the Bears first pick in the draft. The Bears dumped Jordan Howard and only added Mike Davis. Montgomery was timed slower (4.63 40-time) at the combine but he plays plenty quick when he runs. Tarik Cohen figures in but rarely runs more than six or seven times per game. Montgomery already ran over 250 times in each of his final two seasons at Iowa State. If Mike Davis doesn’t get into the way, Montgomery could surprise. He is a great inside runner and a capable receiver. Howard was given around 20 touches per game in this offense at the end of last year.
- WR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina (SF – 2.04)
The 49ers hope to get a full season from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and spent their second pick on an immediate starter to pair with Dante Pettis while Marquise Goodwin steps into a lesser role. Samuel not only presents receiving skills, but he also won All-SEC honors as an all-purpose player and return specialist. Samuel also scored seven rushing touchdowns in college. He is a mature, four-year player that steps into one of the best situations for a rookie wideout.
- WR N’Keal Harry (NE – 1.32)
It’s plenty interesting that the Patriots would spend their first pick on a wide receiver. That’s a rarity and a sign that they want to get Tom Brady some fresh receiving talent in the post-Gronk era. Julian Edelman needs more help than the declining Demaryius Thomas. This is a good situation for rookie production though the Patriots are throwing less and rushing more lately. His value may decline once Tom Brady retires but that has nothing to do with 2019. Harry was mostly a slot player in college and well suited for those accurate over-the-middle passes by Brady.
- WR Mecole Hardman, Georgia (KC – 2.24)
The Chiefs offense was once-again hit by off-the-field problems with star players. The Tyreek Hill situation has yet to fully play out but doesn’t seem likely to end well. That leaves the top passing offense from 2019 missing a big chunk from last year. And that meant the Chiefs first pick in the draft went for Hardman. Not unlike Hill, the ex-Bulldog ran a 4.33 40-time at the NFL combine. The Chiefs moved up to grab Hardman as the fifth wideout taken. He’s a return specialist and finds himself in an elite passing offense that likely has a big hole to fill.
- RB Miles Sanders, Penn State (PHI – 2.21)
After two years as the backup to Saquon Barkley, Sanders delivered an impressive 2018 season and becomes a part of the Eagles committee backfield. While he only had one year as a starter in college, he brings in all the characteristics and skills of an every-down back that likely would have been drafted much higher had he spent another year at Penn State. The Eagles acquired Jordan Howard who also figures in, but Sanders could carve out a bigger role as the season progresses. The Eagles chose Sanders as the second overall running back selected this year.
- WR D.K. Metcalf, Mississippi (SEA – 2.32)
After spending most of the spring as the consensus best wideout in the draft, Metcalf slid to the end of the second round as the ninth selected. Despite his rare combination of size (6-3, 228) and speed (4.33 40-time), NFL teams felt he was likely a one-trick pony that could only catch deep passes. His route running was questioned and he missed the final five games at Mississippi because of a neck injury. But recent news that Doug Baldwin may never play again means the Seahawks have a big hole to fill beside Tyler Lockett. Russell Wilson throws a great deep ball and Metcalf will succeed in that capacity. The question is how much more he will turn into – the opportunity is there.
- WR Parris Campbell, Ohio State (IND – 2.27)
This pick could prove to be a gem if only in later years. T.Y. Hilton will continue to vacuum up the most targets for the Colts but Campbell only has Devin Funchess in the way of a starting role. The OSU star ran a blazing 4.31 40-time at the combine and his college production was limited by the Buckeyes conservative passing scheme. That won’t happen with Andrew Luck throwing the ball against a defense already scared of Hilton. Campbell has the look of a rookie wideout that will balance a secondary role with at least a bunch long touchdowns.
- QB Kyler Murray, Oklahoma (ARI – 1.01)
Rookie quarterbacks rarely deliver well enough to merit more than an occasional fantasy start but Murray may challenge that rule of thumb. You could argue Murray as the first pick of a dynasty draft. He lands with the Cardinals that will install a wide-open offense with head coach Kliff Kingsbury. He’ll throw plenty. He’ll run plenty. He could easily end up in the top ten – ergo a fantasy starter – thanks to his fantasy points from rushing the ball. With David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and Andy Isabella, Murray has plenty of tools to use. No. Wait. He just ran in another touchdown.
- WR Marquise Brown, Oklahoma (BAL – 1.25)
Antonio Brown’s cousin was the first wideout taken this year and the Ravens have plenty of openings for a starter. The diminutive Brown (5-9, 166) has blazing speed and can play all over the field. He’s getting over a Lis Franc injury that should not be an issue for training camp. Brown is as dangerous of a wideout as any in the NFL although his small size could be more of an issue now than in college. He could become a superstar but he lands on one of the worst passing teams from last year and Lamar Jackson leads a run-first offense that never completed more than 14 passes in any game in 2018. His upside is high but the offense has to evolve into better passing for Brown to meet his potential.
- RB Darrell Henderson, Memphis (LAR – 3.06)
Todd Gurley certainly isn’t going anywhere, but his decline late last season was troubling (and costly) for fantasy owners. The Rams drafted Henderson as a change of pace for Gurley and a way to take some workload off the star running back. Henderson led the NCAA with an 8.2 yards-per-carry average last year when he rushed for 1,909 yards. Henderson should see minor fantasy value every week and become a hot property if Gurley was to miss time in the future.
- WR A.J. Brown, Mississippi (TEN – 2.19)
The Titans made Corey Davis the first receiver drafted in the 2017 NFL draft but he’s still fallen short of expectations. Now they add Brown as the fourth-overall wideout selected this year. That’s plenty of potential firepower for Marcus Mariota though the offense has swapped out offensive coordinators for the last three years. Brown has the tools and skills to become a star wideout in the NFL but the Titans offense already has one equally talented wideout on the roster in Davis who has disappointed. Brown has to hope for the Titans to improve their passing for him to reach his sizable potential.