The 2016 NFL draft is in the books but the fantasy impact remains to be known. Judging by what we know now that players are on NFL rosters, this looks like a lesser year for fantasy helpers from the freshman class. This was one of the slowest groups of wide receivers and last year already taught us just how freakish 2014 was when numerous first year receivers were worthy of a weekly fantasy start.
Don’t forget either that this year is actually even bigger for new wide receivers. Remember that first rounders Kevin White (CHI) and Breshad Perriman (BAL) never played. DeVante Parker (MIA), Nelson Agholor (PHI), Phillip Dorsett (IND), Dorial Green-Beckham (TEN) and Devin Funchess (CAR) should all see second year leaps after ending 2015 with a promising note.
Running backs are almost forgotten. After the first back taken (Ezekiel Elliot), only one other back was taken through the first two rounds. There are always surprises after injuries and such change depth charts. But after Elliott, taking any rookie back comes carries a risk of little immediate return.
Like 2015, two quarterbacks were the first picks (Jared Goff and Carson Wentz) but early word has Wentz at least not playing a full season (if at all). Goff is the only obvious starter but the Rams have no intention of being a pass-happy team with Todd Gurley there and a questionable set of receivers. For dynasty purposes, Wentz likely has the most fantasy upside of the bunch though others could surprise.
The beauty of the NFL draft is about half of the players have just enjoyed the peak of their football careers. Figuring out who is in the half that will get even better is the tricky part. Here are the rookies that draw the most fantasy interest before anyone puts on any pads or starts to learn the difference between playing in college versus playing nothing but ex-college all-stars.
1. RB Ezekiel Elliott (Ohio State, 6-0, 225) Dallas Cowboys pick 1.04
Let the hype machine begin. The only question here is whether Elliott will last until the latter half of the first round of fantasy drafts. There will be at least one team owner who will desperately covet him. Maybe several. And what is not to like? Elliott is the only clear starter for Week 1. He’ll be running behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL that produced the #1 rusher in 2014 before injuries ruined last year. Elliott is basically a walking checklist of what you want in a primary running back. Prototypical size and metrics. Centerpiece back from an elite offense. Ran for over 1800 yards the last two seasons. Scored 23 touchdowns in 2015. Can not only catch the ball but is already a noted pass blocker. He’ll get all the hype and be very expensive in every draft for an unproven player. And he may be worth it all.
2. WR Corey Coleman (Baylor, 5-11, 194) Cleveland Browns pick 1.15
The downside here is that Coleman is smaller than most NFL wideouts and that could be an issue with getting jammed or blocking downfield. But he also ran a 4.37/40 at his Pro Day and he averaged 18.4 yards last year for the Bears while scoring 20 touchdowns. What is most intriguing is that Coleman may be the only rookie with a realistic shot at being a #1 wideout in his first year. The Browns are likely to go with Baylor alum Robert Griffin III at quarterback and yet have only Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins as the penciled-in starters. The new coaching regime under Hue Jackson has no attachments to any veterans. Coleman has to learn the NFL game but he’s going to be given every opportunity to make a splash as a rookie. A very, very fast splash.
3. WR Will Fuller (Notre Dame, 6-0, 186) Houston Texans pick 1.21
Fuller should be fun to watch. The downside is that he lands with the Texans where he’ll never become more than the #2 wideout so long as DeAndre Hopkins is there. But – he could be a very productive #2 that can make defenses pay if they commit too much to stopping Hopkins. Leaving him one-one-one against the defense will definitely showcase what a 4.32/40 receiver can do. Fuller averaged 20.3 yards per catch at Notre Dame last year and scored 29 times over this final two seasons there. He’ll need to develop into a complete receiver but even as a rookie he could make noise streaking downfield to catch a Brock Osweiler pass.
4. RB Kenneth Dixon (Louisiana Tech, 5-10, 194) Baltimore Ravens pick 4.36
Dixon could be any of six or eight other rookie rushers. This year there is just no clarity for a back to become a sure-fire starter or even a significant contributor though at least a few eventually will. Dixon has the potential to become a primary back since he comes off a stellar four-year career where he scored 87 touchdowns (second best in FBS history). He’s not only been a solid rusher, but also added 72 receptions while in college and that will help keep him on the field at least eventually. He excelled against lesser opponents in Conference USA but he was a scoring machine. No less important is that he lands with the Ravens where he competes against just the aging Justin Forsett along with the 2014 fourth-round pick of Buck Allen.
5. WR Sterling Sheppard (Oklahoma, 5-10, 194) New York Giants pick 2.09
The ex-Sooner played all four years and improved every season. As a Senior he ended with 86 catches for 1288 yards and 11 touchdowns and was a threat all over the field. To his credit, he’s quick and athletic and catches nearly every pass. His only downside is that he’s destined to play the slot at only 5-10 and 194 lbs. and could struggle like many other under-sized wide receivers. But he could end up with the slot role and become the #2 wideout for the Giants who desperately need someone else to balance out Odell Beckham. Victor Cruz is no lock to return to form and Dwayne Harris was only a minor factor in 2015. There is opportunity here and no pressure to be the #1 wide receiver.
6. RB Devontae Booker (Utah, 5-11, 219) Denver Broncos pick 4.38
Booker is another back who may do nearly nothing or he could grab the primary back job and surprise. He was impressive for his two seasons as a starter with a 5.0 YPC career average and rushed around 25 times per game. He tore his meniscus in his final season and missed the final three weeks. The fear about his knee led to his drop to the fourth round but he was considered an every-down back prior to his injury. The Broncos already brought back C.J. Anderson and had to cough up a four-year, $18 million contract. But Anderson has been inconsistent for the last two seasons and has been a notoriously slow starter each year. Booker becomes a big upgrade over Ronnie Hillman who had 231 touches last year.
7. WR Michael Thomas (Ohio State, 6-3, 212) New Orleans Saints pick 2.16
The physically gifted wideout is the nephew of former NFL wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and comes from the elite program at Ohio State. He’s big (6-3) and fast (4.5/40) and lined up all over the field for the Buckeyes. The Junior entry still has plenty to learn about the position and never caught more than 56 passes in any season. He is the replacement for Marquez Colston who is hoped to provide a possession role to complement Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead. There is potential here but he’s likely to take time to reach the next level that eluded him even in college.
8. WR Laquon Treadwell (Mississippi, 6-2, 221) Minnesota Vikings pick 1.23
The was much variation on draft boards but many teams felt that Treadwell was the top player though he ended up as the fourth receiver drafted. His measurables are all in-line with prototypical standards with one shortfall. Treadwell only runs a 4.6/40 which likely keeps him out of the deepest routes. But he has great hands and can tack on yardage after the catch. The positive here is that he lands with the Vikings who need a receiver to step up and claim the primary wideout role. Stefon Diggs and Charles Johnson are certain to allow Treadwell to ascend the depth chart quickly. But not unlike with the Rams, the Vikings are content handing off to their running back and ranked #32 in pass attempts in 2015. The best Treadwell can currently hope for under offensive coordinator Norv Turner is to help move the chains on third down and turn in the occasional touchdown.
9. RB Derrick Henry (Alabama, 6-3, 247) Tennessee Titans pick 2.14
The second back drafted this year would seem like a slam-dunk for fantasy relevance as a rookie. He comes off a monster year with 2219 rushing yards, 28 touchdowns and a Heisman Trophy. A big power back that punished opponents all the way to a National Championship. As great as all that sounds, Henry only had one season of full-time use and he ran the ball 395 times. Adrian Peterson was the only NFL back with more than 288 carries last year and he was still 68 carries short of Henry’s workload. Henry also has minimal experience as a receiver and wasn’t asked much to block. The Titans also acquired DeMarco Murray who signed a four-year contract worth $25.5 million. Henry will factor in but mostly to limit Murray’s workload. If injury installs Henry as the starter, then his situation greatly improves.
10. WR Josh Doctson (TCU, 6-3, 202) Washington Redskins pick 1.22
The third overall wideout taken was a four-year starter and Doctson will be a mature 24 by the end of the 2016 season. He improved every year in college and ended with 79 catches for 1327 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2015 despite missing the final three games with a wrist injury. He runs a 4.46/40 even though he’s 6-3. Doctson has tremendous hands and always makes the tough catches in traffic. He’s equally as effective with short, medium and long pass routes. Doctson brings sorely needed height to the Redskins wide receiver corps that otherwise tops out at only 6-0. He is a serious student of the game and started at TCU as a walk-on who worked his way up to become of one the best wideouts in the country. His current outlook is limited since the Redskins will feature DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. But he could easily end up as the most productive wideout from the 2016 class if only starting next season.
11. RB Kenyan Drake (Alabama, 6-1, 210) Miami Dolphins pick 3.01
Drake was the third running back drafted this year and he wasn’t even the starter at Alabama. But he brings a blazing 4.38/40 speed and can be used as a rusher, receiver and returner all with equal success. He has great hands and is dynamic in space but he’s destined as more of a third down complement for the Dolphins. Same as he paired with Derrick Henry at Alabama, Drake will become a secondary player in the backfield along with Jay Ajayi. He is a dynamic player coming off a National Championship but he was limited to 77 carries and 29 catches as a Senior. But with Lamar Miller gone, Jay Ajayi becomes the starter despite only having 49 carries as a rookie. Drake could see more use as a Dolphin than he ever had behind Derrick Henry.
12. TE Henry Hunter (Arkansas, 6-5, 247) San Diego Chargers pick 2.04
The three-year starter was the consensus best tight end coming out of the college ranks this year and won the John Mackey Award. He’s primarily a receiving tight end who had no drops in 2015 when he ended with 51 catches for 739 yards and three touchdowns. Hunter is the best in his position but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is an elite player. He runs a respectable 4.7/40 and runs tight routes. But rookie tight ends are notoriously unproductive and Hunter lands in San Diego where he’ll mostly sit and watch Antonio Gates likely play his final season. Hunter is a reasonable dynasty pick with a bright outlook and will play in a very tight end friendly offense. But his 2016 outlook is much less encouraging barring an injury to Gates.