The draft is over, and the dust has settled. This was an interesting draft in that there were no first-round running backs and only three were taken by the late third round. The devaluing of the position continues and while rookie running backs will over drafted in fantasy leagues, there’s no clear cut “Najee Harris” in this draft.
Rookie quarterbacks rarely matter in fantasy football. Kenny Pickett landed in Pittsburgh, but no others went before the third round. This was not a strong class for the position.
Wide receivers? That’s where it all happened. Selecting 13 in the first two rounds tied a record. Seventeen were taken in the first two days. Unfortunately, the worst passing teams grabbed the best wideouts. Here are the top-drafted receivers from the first two rounds and how their new team ranked in passing fantasy points in 2021.
Only Christian Watson and Skyy Moore went to teams that had above average passing stats last year. And Moore was the No. 13 taken. Watson is interesting if only because he has Aaron Rodgers passing to him.
Let’s take a first swipe at the top fantasy rookies for this year. Much will likely change by Week 1 of the season, but these are the players that should be closely tracked in training camp and preseason games.
1.) RB Breece Hall – Iowa State (NYJ 2.04) 5-11, 220, 4.39
The first running back drafted is always the first rookie taken in a fantasy draft. And in this case, Hall didn’t show up until Day 2. He has workhorse ability and offers both rushing and receiving skills to the Jets who were relentless in trying to upgrade their offense.
Michael Carter was an under-sized addition last year and played well enough, but Hall brings the complete package to an offense that should be markedly better. Hall has the inside track to being the top rookie rusher and the easiest path to a higher volume of touches. He gained over 1,700 total yards the last two seasons for the Cyclones. A decade ago, he’d have been a Top-10 pick but the NFL has changed to more passing and committee backfields.
2.) RB James Cook – Georgia (BUF 3.31) 5-11, 199, 4.42
Cook wasn’t drafted until the end of the second round, but he offers as much promise as any rookie back given his skill set and joining the powerful Buffalo offense. The ex-Bulldog comes off a National Championship, and he has plenty of tread on his tires with only 230 rushes over four seasons. Cook can play as a third-down role or mix in as a rusher. He’s fast and elusive, with a 6.5-yard rushing average playing in the SEC.
The Bills gave up on Zach Moss, and fourth-year back Devin Singletary is still searching for a 1,000-yard season. He played better down the stretch last year but only against a weak spot in the schedule. Singletary will likely remain the primary back to start the year, but Cook will get playing time in a third-down capacity and easily end up with the larger chunk of work during the season and beyond. This is a great offense and Cook can find a fit for himself.
3.) WR Chris Olave – Ohio State (NO – 1.11) 6-0, 187, 4.39
Any rookie wideout is a fantasy risk, and Ja’Marr Chase was an extreme outlier last year. Olave was a touchdown machine for the Buckeyes and set the school career record with 35 scores. The four-year player is complete and NFL-ready. He’s smart, scary-fast, and runs precise routes. Olave is expected to become a No. 1 wideout in the NFL and shouldn’t need much time to acclimate to playing in the pros.
He’ll be behind Michael Thomas (health willing), but that should help him see lesser coverage. More importantly, Jameis Winston will continue the pass-happy ways of the Saints. Olave should become the No. 2 wideout as early as Week 1. He’s not likely to produce a high volume of catches with Thomas there, but should be a weekly contributor that knows how to find the end zone.
4.) WR Drake London – USC (ATL 1.08) 6-4, 219, 4.5 (est.)
London was the first wideout selected and had a monster junior season in 2021 before fracturing his ankle after eight games. He was averaging over 11 catches per game and the 6-4, 219-pounder towers over smaller defenders while having the speed to outrace them. He played basketball as well and should become a magnet over the middle with a catch radius that welcomes 50-50 balls. London is the prototypical possession receiver with the speed to take it home on any play.
He’ll be catching passes from either Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder, which isn’t ideal for a rookie, but he’s joined a wideout crew that has only Olamide Zaccheaus as a player of any note. London will step into a primary role as a rookie and the Falcons will need to rely on him. He’ll likely improve as the season progresses and could lead all rookie receivers in pass targets. Kyle Pitts will continue to factor in heavily as well, but the Falcons now have two giant receivers that can succeed all over the field.
5.) WR Garrett Wilson – Ohio State (NYJ 1.10) 6-0, 183, 4.38
The Jets landed this ex-Buckeye as the second wideout taken, but he was at the top of many draft boards. The teammate of Chris Olave was another speedster with a dangerous second gear and tremendous hands. He’s a great deep threat and also can return kicks. Wilson is a playmaker that adds a dangerous piece to the improving Jets offense.
Zach Wilson’s rookie season was hampered by a lack of quality targets other than second-round rookie Elijah Moore. Wilson joins Moore and Corey Davis but should become no worse than the No. 3 wideout to start the year and very likely the No. 1 receiver by next year at the latest. Much depends on the continued development of Zach Wilson as a passer, but the pieces are in place for a leap in production this year, and Garrett Wilson can be a big part of that even as a rookie.
6.) RB Kenny Walker III – Mich. State (SEA 2.09) 5-9, 211, 4.38
Walker was another player that was limited to two marginal seasons at one school (Wake Forest) and then transferred to another program (Michigan State). And he blew up. Walker punished opponents with 263 carries for 1,636 yards and 18 touchdowns. He not only is built to pound the ball, but he also sports a 4.38 speed that can take it to the house. Walker only caught 19 passes in college, but his role as a rusher is a throwback to workhorse backs.
Chris Carson’s neck injury is still a concern and this draft pick proves it. Rashaad Penny finally made good on his first-round pick in 2018 and re-signed for one year. But his path to start needs to be earned all over again, particularly for first and second downs. The Seahawks don’t throw to backs much anyway, so Walker can make immediate inroads to playing time. Considering the lengthy injury history of Penny and the potential absence of Carson, Walker could end up as a surprise.
7.) WR Christian Watson – N. Dakota St. (GB 2.02) 6-4, 208, 4.36
Watson may end up higher than this by fantasy drafts in August. He was the seventh wideout drafted and the third pick of the Packers, but he’s the only rookie wideout in the first dozen that pairs with an elite quarterback. Watson never caught more than 43 passes in his four seasons with the Bisons but offers that rare combination of height (6-4) and speed (4.36). He was effective against a lesser level of competition and gets a chance to continue to improve.
He can slip into the “Marquez Valdes-Scantling” role as a field stretcher and tall target since they share the same measurables. The Packers depth chart is primed for players to earn more playing time given that Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb are the current penciled-in starters. Watson has to learn the NFL after his success at North Dakota State, but he likely couldn’t have found a more advantageous place to land. Davante Adams left 169 passing targets behind that need to find new homes.
8.) WR Jameson Williams – Alabama (DET 1.12) 6-1, 179, 4.4
Williams was the fourth wideout drafted and had he not blown an ACL in the National Championship game last January, he’d may have been the first. Williams transferred to Alabama as a junior and was unstoppable. He caught 79 passes for 1,572 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was a blur in the open field and an elite receiver in every measure. And then he blew out his knee.
His dynasty stock is higher, but he is tentatively expected to be ready for training camp. He joins a Lion’s franchise that already has Amon-Ra St. Brown and DJ Chark, so there’s no need to rush him if he’s better served with a lesser role as he returns from injury. But at some point, and it could be this season, Williams is expected to become the primary weapon in the passing game.
9.) WR Treylon Burks – Arkansas (TEN 1.18) 6-2, 225, 4.55
The Titans moved A.J. Brown when they didn’t want to deal with his salary demands that became a $100 million extension with the Eagles. They got the No. 18 pick in the trade and turned it into Brown’s replacement. The Titans had little more than the recovering Robert Woods after Brown and Julio Jones were off the roster, so adding his clone will help the offense.
Burks led the Razorbacks in receiving for all three years and he’s another big-framed, sticky-handed receiver with a big catch radius. He’ll be a nice fit for the ball control, run-first style of offense in Tennessee. He also is a solid blocker that can stay on the field for all plays. Brown enjoyed a very promising rookie year (52-1051-8), and Burks looks to replicate that level of play.
10.) WR Skyy Moore – Western Mich. (KC 2.22) 5-10, 195, 4.41
He may have been the No. 13 wideout drafted this year, but Moore will generate plenty of fantasy interest if only because he lands with the high-octane Chiefs offense that no longer relies on Tyreek Hill – the same size and only a bit faster. But Moore does possess elite burst and great hands. He comes off a junior season at Western Michigan that saw him catch 95 passes for 1,292 yards and ten touchdowns.
There’s a lot to like about the speedy receiver that plays bigger than his size. Moore’s no 1:1 comparison to Hill who had a rookie stat line of just 61-593-6. The Chiefs have added JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, so Moore is not stepping into a starting role. But playing with Patrick Mahomes is always a reason to track players and Moore has a chance to earn more playing time if he can show up earlier in the season.
11.) WR Alec Pierce – Cincinnati (IND 2.21) 6-3, 211, 4.41
Pierce was the twelfth wideout drafted, and while he’s unlikely to become an elite NFL wideout, he projects as a solid No. 2 receiver that can make possession catches with the occasional deep strike. All three seasons that he played ended with over 17-yards per catch. He’s tall enough for work over the middle and in the end zone, and yet fast enough to stretch the defense. Pierce is still a bit raw and needs further development, but he owns the physical traits of an NFL starter.
The Colts brought in Matt Ryan this year in their annual attempt to catch quarterbacks on their downside. Michael Pittman had a breakout in 2021 with 1,082 yards, while Parris Campbell turned in his third disappointing effort. Pierce should compete immediately for the outside across from Pittman and that will give Ryan plenty of tall targets between Pittman (6-4), Pierce (6-3), Mo-Alie Cox (6-5) and new rookie tight end Jelani Woods (6-7).
Maybe a cop out to name three players, but the reality is that this was a weak running back class and it showed when college all-stars were still there in the fourth round. Each of these backs is an accomplished runner and could see action. But they were all drafted into committee situations that would take time to develop barring an injury (or two) granting sudden opportunity. These are three running backs to track this summer in case anything develops.
Robinson lands in Washington, where Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic already share the backfield. He’ll see some use as a running back but anything he does would be at the expense of Gibson.
White joins the Raiders, where Josh Jacobs enters his final contract year since they declined exercising his fifth-year option. Kenyan Drake returns from his ankle injury but his role is less clear now. White is a rusher with minimal work as a receiver. The situation bears tracking and White should see at least carries which would be taken from Jacobs. There’s a chance that Jacobs and Drake just reprise their roles from last year and White remains on the bench. One injury and White almost certainly becomes a factor.
Spiller fell in the draft but he lands with the Chargers. He could beat out Larry Rountree and Joshua Kelley for the No. 2 spot and there were 140 carries that did not go to Austin Ekeler last year. Spiller could become the 1B there and Ekeler has a history of getting dinged up.
Just because the running backs were devalued in this draft, doesn’t mean that they won’t provide fantasy value. It just may be later in the year and the product of injuries or team dynamics.