After much anticipation and an endless stream of mock drafts, the most sought-after rookies finally have new teams. I won’t talk about every single offensive skill player from the recent NFL draft, but I’ll hit on most of them. These are players that should be on your radar for the upcoming fantasy football season. I’m putting them in order of my predicted 2016 production (at least until training camps come and turn our opinions upside down). Enjoy!
Ezekiel Elliot (Ohio State) was by far the most coveted running back leading up to the 2016 NFL draft. He has a golden opportunity to produce for the Cowboys. I’d be very surprised if he’s not the first rookie taken in EVERY fantasy draft later this summer. It’s been a rough couple of years for the presumed #1 rookie running back (Bishop Sankey, Melvin Gordon…) although neither of those guys were as unanimously coveted as Elliot. 2016 should be an exciting year for him.
Kenyan Drake (Alabama) has a fairly easy path to touches if he can impress the Dolphins‘ coaches. Jay Ajayi is the “incumbent” but with Lamar Miller out of town, the role is really up for grabs. Most likely it will be a mixture of Drake and Ajayi. Even if Ajayi takes the majority of carries, Drake could still produce for fantasy owners as a dynamic change of pace back.
Wendell Smallwood (West Virginia) lands in an opportunistic situation with the Eagles. DeMarco Murray is gone, leaving Ryan Mathews as the lead with Sproles as the scat back. But, Mathews has struggled with injuries at times and Sproles is almost 33 years old. Smallwood isn’t very big, but he’s bigger than Sproles and he figures to be in line for significant touches and with some PPR value too.
Derrick Henry (Alabama) had a lot of pre-draft buzz and he lands with an up-and-coming Titans offense. A blossoming young quarterback in Mariota, some good receivers… The only problem is that the Titans already have DeMarco Murray! Still, for dynasty purposes, Henry will eventually get his shot. As long as you don’t need fantasy production from day 1, Henry is a solid choice.
Matt Jones somehow chased Alfred Morris out of Washington DC, but I don’t think he’s immune to being overtaken. Jones is the guy for now, but it’s not hard to imagine Keith Marshall (Georgia) starting for the Redskins in the near future. Marshall is an explosive player and at a bare minimum he’ll be given some touches every game to keep Jones fresh.
Paul Perkins (UCLA) might have an opportunity to produce for the Giants this season. When you consider Rashad Jennings’ injury history and age (31), combined with Andre Williams’ ineffectiveness, the window is open. He’s a little on the small side, but I like him as an upside dynasty pick. Actually, his main competition on the depth chart might be Shane Vereen.
Kenneth Dixon (Louisiana Tech) had an amazing college career. His highlight film is impressive but also features some poor tackling and his success against major D-I schools was limited. Initially, he probably can’t surpass Justin Forsett on the Ravens depth chart. I view him as more a “wait and see” type player. Although, if he turns out to be the next Ray Rice – as some are saying – then he’ll be a terrific dynasty value worth a gamble in the second round.
If things break the right way, Jordan Howard (Indiana) could secure a prominent role with the Bears. That said, it seems to be Jeremy Langford’s job to lose. He looked good in relief of Matt Forte last season. Ka’Deem Carey shouldn’t be overlooked either. Still neither Langford nor Carey had an impressive YPC average. Similar to Dixon, I think Howard is a bit of a gamble that could blow up or do nothing at all.
Rookies C.J. Prosise (Notre Dame) and Alex Collins (Arkansas) will be competing for a spot in the Seahawks‘ backfield. It’s likely that one of them earns the #2 spot behind Thomas Rawls, but neither of them is a lock. This battle will rage on through the summer. I’m actually betting on Collins to emerge, even though he was picked in a later round of the NFL draft.
Finally… Devontae Booker (Utah), Daniel Lasco (Cal) and Jonathan Williams (Arkansas) are all players that I love from a talent standpoint, but their short-term opportunities will be limited due to very competitive depth charts (Broncos, Saints and Bills respectively). For the record, I prefer to draft them in that order.
2016 brought a strong wide receiver class and the Browns took advantage. They made WR a huge priority in the 2016 NFL draft (like they should have done last year). They started with a bang, drafting Corey Coleman (Baylor) in the first round. Then they grabbed three more receivers: Ricardo Louis (Auburn), Jordan Payton (UCLA) and Rashard Higgins (CO State). Two of these rookie receivers will probably be starters. The Browns’ leading WR from 2015 (Travis Benjamin) went to the Chargers, leaving them with an uninspiring stable of veterans in Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins. Coleman is an easy bet for targets and YAC too. He should be among the top WRs off the board in dynasty drafts. I’ll also bet on Higgins to carve out a role in the Browns’ offense.
If Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma) can start for the Giants opposite OBJ or in the slot, he could be in for a big rookie season. Honestly, a storybook comeback by Victor Cruz is more of a potential impedance than any other WR on the roster. Drops have been a problem for the Giants and Shepard will be a welcomed remedy. Beckham obviously commands double teams, so if Shepard can start consistently, the production will come.
It’s easy to dismiss Josh Doctson (TCU), since he’ll be competing with Redskins incumbents DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. But, not so fast. He’s worth a shot in dynasty leagues. The cream will rise to the top, and Doctson is the real deal! Plus, he and Jordan Reed will be the primary redzone targets, so there’s some fantasy value baked right in.
I’ll put Laquan Treadwell (Ole Miss) as my fourth dynasty receiver. Treadwell and a promising young Stefon Diggs will make a great receiving duo for the Vikings. He’ll surely get many targets, but there are concerns. Can Bridgewater consistently deliver the ball? Should we worry about Treadwell’s “slow” 40-yard dash time? Is he healthy?
Tyler Boyd (Pitt), and to a lesser extent Cody Core (Ole Miss), each have a good opportunity to start opposite AJ Green for the Bengals. Marvin Jones (Detroit) and Muhammed Sanu (Atlanta) each left town, enticed by fat contracts. That leaves a lot of targets on the table. Cincy brought in Brandon LaFell, but he doesn’t have a tight grip on the starting position by any stretch of the imagination. I can see Boyd stepping in and catching 50+ balls.
Pharoh Cooper (S. Carolina) has a great opportunity with the relocated Rams. If he can develop a rapport with QB Jared Goff, his rookie season will go very well. His biggest competition is Tavon Austin – a talented guy without consistent stats. Britt and Quick don’t scare me either. Cooper has a good chance to excel.
Many are penciling in Will Fuller (Notre Dame) as the WR2 for the Texans, but I’m not completely sold. He was the second receiver taken in the NFL draft, but I want to keep an eye on training camp and make sure Fuller can beat out Jaelen Strong. Don’t forget, Braxton Miller (Ohio State) will be fighting for a spot as well. Even if Fuller wins the job, his inconsistent hands will be a limitation.
I’m also not convinced that Michael Thomas (Ohio State) blows up for the Saints. Willie Snead came on pretty strong last season, opposite Brandin Cooks. Additionally, the Saints are paying TE Coby Fleener a lot of money to do more than just block. There might not be enough targets remaining to make Thomas relevant in fantasy football.
With Brandon LaFell gone, Malcolm Mitchell (Georgia) should get some strong looks for the Patriots. How many looks will depend on his ability to outperform Danny Amendola and/or Julian Edelman. Those two have been known to miss some games with injuries and Mitchell could be the one to reap the benefits.
Chris Moore (Cincinnati) is another guy to keep on your radar, although he could be a flop for the Ravens. Mike Wallace is looking more and more cooked, Steve Smith is a beast – albeit a beast that’s about to retire – and highly-touted Perriman hasn’t played a down yet. Kamar Aiken might be Moore’s biggest obstacle. Not a bad situation for the fourth round pick.
I rarely recommend drafting a rookie quarterback unless you’re in a dynasty league and/or the rookie quarterback has significant potential for rushing stats (i.e. Cam Newton). Rarely, if ever, does a rookie quarterback come in and light up the league with passing prowess alone. That said, it’s hard to recommend drafting any of this year’s rookie QBs. But, if you’re in a dynasty league, here are my thoughts.
Carson Wentz (N. Dakota State) is the most promising from a fantasy perspective. The Eagles have plenty of weapons on offense for Wentz to work with and Sam Bradford’s presence means Wentz doesn’t have to rush into action Week 1. Then, once he’s given the starting role, Wentz has the size and mobility to pad his passing stats with some rushing production.
Jared Goff (Cal) is the most likely to produce from day 1 – the Rams don’t have much of a choice, Case Keenum is not the answer – but Goff does not have tremendous fantasy potential. He doesn’t have great receivers to work with, the Rams will lean more on the running game and Goff isn’t going to accumulate many yards on the ground.
Paxton Lynch (Memphis) heads to the Broncos. A perfect situation where he doesn’t HAVE to start, but they’ll toss him in as soon as he’s ready. Sorry, but passing Mark Sanchez on the depth chart won’t be difficult. Still, Lynch has work to do and ideally will have a year or so to develop. The fantasy production will come, just not immediately.
Cody Kessler (USC) is a curious case. He’s outside the three big name from the NFL draft’s first round. He could be surprise some folks though. The Browns signed RGIII as their presumed starting quarterback and Josh McCown is still in the picture. Those guys don’t scare me. It’s really not hard to imagine Kessler starting at some point.
Dak Prescott (Miss State) is in an interesting situation with the Cowboys. It’s no secret that Tony Romo is injury prone. At this point in his career, his collar bones seem to be made of dry fettuccine noodles. Prescott might get his shot a lot sooner than expected! Will he make the most of it?
This year’s NFL draft was a pretty weak one for tight ends. Even in down years there are a couple stand outs. Here are the two most likely to have a fantasy impact.
Austin Hooper (Stanford) is the latest of a long line of talented Stanford tight ends. The Falcons have been desperate for a tight end since Tony Gonzalez retired in 2013. It looks like they’ve finally got a good pass-catching tight end who’s tough to bring down. He wasn’t the first tight end selected, but I think he’s the better fantasy choice.
Hunter Henry (Arkansas) was the first tight end taken in the NFL draft and he heads to the Chargers. There’s an obvious opportunity for Henry to be the heir to the Antonio Gates throne. He’s got the physical tools and good hands. As long as he gets targets from Phillip Rivers, the production will come. But, proceed with caution. Many were expecting Ladarius Green to supplant Gates, and it never happened.
Thanks for reading. As the summer gets into full swing, I recommend revisiting our review of Summer Brews!