After months of speculation and analysis, the NFL Draft is over. Now we have one of the most critical pieces of information – where these rookies will play.
Opportunity and situation further define their outlook. Some of these guys may be out injured before Week 1. A few will exceed expectations and help deliver fantasy owners to their championships. A few will outright flop. It is a challenge to value veteran players and rookies are exponentially more difficult. This time last year, Alvin Kamara was a No. 3 back for the Saints and Kareem Hunt was No. 2 behind Stephen Ware. We were arguing which 2017 wideout chosen in the first nine overall picks would have the best rookie season – Corey Davis, Mike Williams or John Ross? The first… nine… overall… picks.
This was a quarterback-heavy draft but their rookie fortunes are almost always a disappointment. Most leagues only start 10 or 12 quarterbacks and it is rare for one of them to play that well. Running backs are always the safest bets for freshman production even if their careers tend to be the shortest.
The dust is just settling and none of these guys have worn an NFL helmet yet. But never too early to establish a starting point for fantasy valuation.
- RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State (NYG – 1.02)
This is a no-brainer pick in any rookie draft and sure to be a top ten selection in most redrafts. Barkley is called a “generational” back which is a fairly new, hip way to say he’s not just better than the others this year, but instead others from the last several years. The Penn State star lands with the Giants but this is not the same team of literally the last 14 years. HC Pat Shurmur imports his offense from the Vikings last year. And Barkley is going to be another Zeke Elliott/Todd Gurley/Leonard Fournette. Or better.
- RB Ronald Jones II, USC (TB – 2.06)
After Barkley, you can argue any of the next five players as to their order. Hopefully, that will become clearer in training camp. Jones was a three-year starter at USC and racked up 1,550 rushing yards with 20 touchdowns last year. The Bucs hope he can become another good version of Doug Martin only without all the bad years. Jones has limited experience as a receiver but that can be added. He goes to a clear No. 1 role with the Bucs that only has Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers.
- RB Rashaad Penny, San Diego State (SEA – 1.27)
Penny enters a backfield that is desperate to rekindle the days of Marshawn Lynch when the rushing game worked and the depth chart didn’t change every week. Penny is the prototypical size for a running back and ran a 4.46/40. All he did at San Diego State last year was to rush for 2,248 yards and score 25 touchdowns. No question, he has the rushing skills and like most still needs work as a receiver. One of the biggest success factors will still be the offensive line that the Seahawks amazingly all but ignored in the draft. So far, the Seahawks still sport one of the worst blocking units in the NFL. And that counts pretty big for a rookie rusher.
- RB Derrius Guice, LSU (WAS – 2.27)
Guice was considered by many as the second-best running back in the draft and yet fell to 2.27 as the seventh. He was a standout at LSU and over his two years as a starter, he ran for 2,638 yards and totaled 29 touchdowns. Character concerns saw him drop in the draft. He was late to meetings and left teams with the perception that he was immature and high maintenance. But he later said he had no remorse and seemed genuinely unaware of what the problem was. But Guice has the talent and mixes into a backfield with Samaje Perrine and Rob Kelley as the main rushers. Guice is already more skilled and should take a sizable role – so long as he doesn’t present any problems off the field. The Redskins either got a steal or a headache.
- RB Sony Michel, Georgia (NE – 1.31)This was another head-scratcher for a different reason. The Patriots have long-employed a committee backfield and in his 18 seasons in New England, Bill Belichick had only one running back drafted in the first round – Laurence Maroney (2007 – 1.21) who only ran 175 times for 745 yards and six scores as a rookie. Michel became his second and to much surprise. The Pats lost Dion Lewis but he was just one of a long line of plug-n-dump backs. Michel excelled at Georgia where he shared the backfield with Nick Chubb. That still allowed him 1,323 total yards and 17 touchdowns in the Bulldogs bid for a National Championship last year. Michel remains in a committee setting and the question becomes how much work will he get as a rookie. His rushing totals alone merits fantasy attention and he’ll be the most talented back there – albeit the most inexperienced.
- RB Royce Freeman, Oregon (DEN – 3.07)
Freeman left Oregon after four years with 6,435 total yards and a PAC-12 all-time record of 64 touchdowns. He was highly productive every year and caught up to 26 passes in a season. If anything, the concern is that Freeman has done too much. While he was only the eighth running back selected, he ends up on a Broncos team that finally purged C.J. Anderson and that has nothing better than the 2016 fourth-rounder Devontae Booker on the roster. There is an opportunity here and Freeman could surprise.
- RB Nick Chubb, Georgia (CLE – 2.03)
The other half of the Bulldogs’ backfield lands in Cleveland where ex-Steeler offensive coordinator Todd Haley enters his first season as well. This would feel much better had the Browns not recently signed Carlos Hyde as well. There is no denying that there is an unprecedented number of talented pieces for the offense this year and a new scheme is being installed. But – there are new players to integrate and a new playbook for all. Chubb becomes a part of a committee backfield with Hyde and until disproven, he’ll likely be the lesser half.
- WR D.J. Moore, Maryland (CAR – 1.24)
Wide receivers were terrible last year and that was in a “WR-rich” draft with three taken over the first nine picks. That’s plenty to scare off fantasy owners looking for an immediate payback. But Moore has to be considered the lowest risk. The Panthers made him the first wideout taken and he should compete for – and win – the split end spot from Torrey Smith. Cam Newton wanted an upgrade in receivers after losing Kelvin Benjamin and Moore will take his place. New OC Norv Turner brings in a scheme that relies on that X receiver.
- RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn (DET – 2.11)
The Lions traded up to grab Johnson who was the 2017 SEC Offensive Player of the Year. He just had his one big year as a starter when he ran 285 times for 1,391 yards and 18 touchdowns. He’s a productive power runner with pass protection skills and capable hands. But he heads to Detroit where The Curse of Barry Sanders still exists and denies all rushers from becoming more than average. The Lions have given up on Ameer Abdullah but both Theo Riddick and LeGarrette Blount will figure in so expectations are lowered that Johnson can offer more than moderate production as a rookie.
- WR Michael Gallup, Colorado State (DAL – 3.17)
The Cowboys released Dez Bryant and Jason Witten is apparently heading for the announcing booth. Surprisingly, all the Cowboys did to address the sudden loss of their top two receivers was to wait until the third round and snag Gallup as the ninth wideout drafted. He only played two seasons at Colorado State but topped 1,200 yards in each. His best feature is that he should replace Bryant as the split end and there is such a dearth of talent that Gallup’s outlook is bright even as a rookie. Gallup’s situation makes him appealing but the Cowboys were one of the worse passing offenses last year and just lost their two best players. Jerry Jones even said Gallup could be a starter. They don’t have any other real options so far.
- WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama (ATL – 1.26)
Ridley was the second wideout drafted and many boards had him as the top receiver. He has a bright future long term but as a rookie is more likely to disappoint from a fantasy perspective. The Falcons already have Julio Jones as the main pass sponge and Mohamed Sanu will remain the other starter at least for now. Ridley will be worked in and may end up securing the flanker role sooner than later. But he’ll start out as the No. 3 wideout and try to work his way up. His value as a dynasty pick is much higher.
- WR Anthony Miller, Memphis (CHI – 2.19)
This could be Christian Kirk (ARI) or Dante Pettis (SF). We will know more in a couple of months. Miller has the edge so far playing for a Bears team that is installing a new West Coast offense with all new receivers and a second-year Mitchell Trubisky looking to find new best friends. Allen Robinson will be the No. 1 but Miller and recently arrived Taylor Gabriel will compete for the No.2 that Miller will end up winning. Kevin White could actually show up and complicate the rotation though. The wideouts are less appealing than last year and that doesn’t say much for this class.