With the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft in the books, it’s time to start breaking down the fantasy prospects of the 10 “skill” position players who went off the board Thursday night. Here are some initial reactions:
1. Jameis Winston, QB, Buccaneers
To the surprise of few, the Bucs overlooked (or more likely fully vetted) Winston’s off-the-field red flags to make him the face of a franchise. And it’s a franchise with serious fantasy upside, as Winston will be throwing to Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Louis Murphy and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. He’s walking into a role that produced 3,623 passing yards and 21 passing scores last season, with the expectation that he’ll be better than the Josh McCown/Mike Glennon combo entry. Similar numbers would put him in Derek Carr (3,270 & 21) territory, and Carr ranked 20th among fantasy quarterbacks last year. In other words, don’t bank on Jameis to be a fantasy starter just yet.
2. Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans
The Titans rejected overtures from other interested parties and brought Mariota to Tennessee, ostensibly to relegate Zach Mettenberger back to clipboard duty. He’ll have an intriguing collection of pass-catchers in Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter, Harry Douglas, Hakeem Nicks and Delanie Walker, so the question will be—as it was all along during the draft process—how well and how quickly Mariota’s game transitions from college to the pros. Titans QBs produced 3,738 yards and 20 touchdowns through the air last year, which may be aggressive numbers for Mariota—especially given the learning curve. But you should be able to bank on a big jump in rushing production over Tennessee’s 235 and 1 last year. If he’s in the Newton (549 & 5) or Kaepernick (641 & 1) neighborhood rushing-wise and can come close to the Mettenberger/Locker/Whitehurst passing numbers from a year ago, Mariota is just around the corner from every week starter status.
3. Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders
Eschewing the stopwatch for the film, the Raiders made Derek Carr a very happy sophomore quarterback by providing him with the most NFL-ready receiver in the draft. Cooper may not have the freakish size and speed of receivers like White with more alleged potential, but his track record in the SEC suggests he’ll transition seamlessly to Sundays. Oakland wideouts ranked a dismal 29th in fantasy production last season, but their 189-2,165-13 was not that far off from the 177-2,252-14 put up by Carolina. And if Kelvin Benjamin can carve 1,008 and nine TDs (#16 among fantasy wideouts) out of the Panthers’ stats there’s no reason to assume Cooper can’t do something similar in Oakland.
7. Kevin White, WR, Bears
Sure, there’s logic in trading away Brandon Marshall, hiring a defensive-minded new coach, hemming and hawing over re-upping your mercurial franchise quarterback—and then bypassing the desperate need for defensive help by grabbing a high-upside one-hit wonder of a wideout. There has to be, right? Even with Marshall and Marc Trestman’s pass-happy offense last year Chicago wideouts ranked middle of the pack (17th, to be precise) in fantasy production. Do you assume White walks directly into Marshall’s 61-721-8 in 13 games with a less pass-happy offense? Dynasty owners will likely need to treat White like the draft community did in the ramp-up to Thursday night: bank on the potential.
10. Todd Gurley, RB, Rams
After a three-headed committee ran the Rams into 23rd place among fantasy RB production last year, Jeff Fisher snapped the streak of two straight drafts without a first-round running back in a big way by selecting Gurley 10th overall. Assuming Gurley hits the ground running after his college career ended prematurely due to a torn ACL, he’s landing with a coach that isn’t afraid to load up his rookie runners. Last year Tre Mason carried 179 times, third-most amongst rookie runners; the previous season Zac Stacy had 250 carries. You can even go back to Fisher’s last rookie feature back in Tennessee, Chris Johnson in 2008, who carried 251 times for 1,228 yards and nine TDs. Suffice it to say, if Gurley is up to the workload a conservative estimate puts him at 250 carries, 1,000 yards and eight TDs—essentially Lamar Miller’s rushing numbers from last year. Even if the Rams ease Gurley into a receiving role he’ll see more than enough touches on the ground to be a fantasy factor right away.
14. DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins
Miami’s receivers ranked a somewhat surprising 11th in fantasy production at the position, and the expectation is that Ryan Tannehill is on the upswing. So the Dolphins’ refreshing of their receiver depth chart—goodbye, Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline; hello, Kenny Stills and Greg Jennings—means there is significant opportunity. With Stills and Landry stretching the field Parker should have plenty of open space to ply his craft, and he’ll really come in handy in replacing the 10 touchdowns Wallace scored last season. Good upside here.
17. Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers
The Chargers’ running game was dead in the water last season, ranking 28th in fantasy scoring. Enter “Flash” Gordon, who should move immediately to the top of the depth charts ahead of Branden Oliver. With Danny Woodhead still around Gordon won’t have to do much in the passing game until he’s ready, but if he amalgamates most of the 319 carries Oliver, Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown cobbled together last year he should easily best the 1,135 yards and six touchdowns they produced—and sprint his way into fantasy relevance.
20. Nelson Agholor, WR, Eagles
Chip Kelly’s system lost Jeremy Maclin and his 86-1,329-10 to free agency—so he replaced Maclin with a clone in USC’s Agholor. The measurables are remarkably similar, from height to weight to 40 time, but asking a rookie to walk into that level of production is more than a little aggressive. That said, there is a definite opportunity for Agholor opposite Jordan Matthews in the Eagles’ high-octane offense. Agholor shouldn’t have any difficulty carving out snaps ahead of Riley Cooper or Josh Huff, and he and Matthews should both see plenty of action working out of the slot. The key to Agholor’s success in Philly will be if Sam Bradford can stay healthy and acclimate to Kelly’s system as well. Then again, Eagles receivers ranked seventh in fantasy productivity last season with Mark Sanchez and Nick Foles splitting time at quarterback, so maybe Chip is right after all: it’s the system.
26. Breshad Perriman, WR, Ravens
With a current receiver depth chart that includes the likes of Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro, Aldrick Robinson and Jeremy Butler, the need for the Ravens was obvious. In Perriman Baltimore hopes to at minimum replace the field-stretcher they lost when Torrey Smith departed via free agency. Permian has the potential to be more than just a speed guy, with the size and athleticism scouts drool over. Of course, there’s a catch—or, more appropriately, a lack of catches. According to Pro Football Focus Perriman dropped almost 13% of his targets last season, many of them situations where he had used his speed to get separation. He’s struggling to catch the ball when open; how will he do when NFL cornerbacks are contesting those throws? There’s a definite need for a pass-catcher in Baltimore, but the concern here is that all Perriman will bring to the table is a Troy Williamson/Darrius Hayward-Bey level of frustration.
29. Phillip Dorsett, WR, Colts
Fantasy owners have to appreciate Indy’s approach to the draft as the Colts eschewed several glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball to give Andrew Luck one more weapon with which to outscore opponents. Dorsett is a speed guy not at all dissimilar to current Colts standout TY Hilton—whose contract, coincidentally, is up after next season. So Dorsett may be a long-term hedge that Luck will always have a speed guy to throw to. Meanwhile, he’ll have to carve out targets in a group that already includes Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Duron Carter and the tight end tandem of Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen. Even with Luck putting 660 balls in the air last season that’s a lot of mouths to feed, so Dorsett will—at least initially—be battling just to reach Reggie Wayne’s level of productivity from last year. And as the #56 fantasy receiver despite the 28th most targets, that’s nothing special.