Four Fantasy Locks from the 2018 NFL Draft
- Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants – This is kind of obvious. Barkley is a stud in every facet of the game and he is unopposed by any reasonable talent in the Giants backfield. Furthermore, the Giants have some other offensive weapons in Evan Engram and Odell Beckham, Jr. making it difficult for teams to simply stack the box. I wrote last week that something between Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliot’s rookie campaigns is not a stretch. My projection is 1100-1300 rushing yards, 8-10 TD, 25-40 receptions, 250-350 receiving yards and 2-4 receiving TD. He is a Top 10 fantasy RB, and could easily finish Top 5.
- Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks – Many railed against the Penny pick as a reach for Seattle in the first round, and while that may be true in reality, for fantasy purposes it’s a dream scenario. The Seahawks love having a dependable workhorse running back and spending a 1st round pick indicates they believe Penny is that guy. So do I. Penny is better in the passing game than many give him credit for and he’s exactly the type of one-cut, downhill runner that fits Seattle’s offensive scheme. I project him to have a similar rookie campaign to Jordan Howard (1300/6/30/300/1). He’s a Top 15 RB out of the gate and could be a steal in the 3rd round or later.
- Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons – Ridley steps into a juicy spot on one of the best offenses in the NFL. Julio Jones is going to raw the top corner coverages week in and week out, but after Julio, there is a void in the receiver corps in Atlanta. Mohamed Sanu is a journeyman WR who has likely reached his ceiling and Ridley is far more talented. As a polished route runner, Ridley can play inside and out and I think he’ll gobble up both outgoing WR Taylor Gabriel’s targets as well as Justin Hardy’s, and some of Sanu’s. I believe Ridley could see close to 100 targets in his rookie campaign and that would lead to something in the vicinity of 75/900/5, which is my projection for him and would make him a Top 30 WR candidate.
- Ronald Jones, II, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – This is another volume pick. Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Simms – these are not the names of dependable running backs but they are the ONLY names standing between Jones and a workhorse load in Tampa. Jones should quickly rise to the top of the pecking order in Tampa and while he won’t be a true 25-30 touch workhorse, he will be in a prime position to put up significant rookie numbers given his effectiveness as a receiver. My projection for him is 900-1000 yards rushing, 4-6 TD, 35-40 receptions, 350-400 receiving yards and 2-4 TD. He’ll be a Top 20 RB with Top 15 upside.
Four Fantasy Busts
- DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers – Moore rose up the ranks of the wide receiver rookie class late before the draft, and it’s easy to see why. He has a great deal of talent and he has the benefit of Stefon Diggs paving a path as a wildly successful Maryland WR. What I don’t like about Moore is where he landed. Carolina doesn’t have a true #1 WR with Devon Funchess being the closest thing to it, but Cam Newton has never been a boon to fantasy WR value. Newton’s style of play is to find the open guy, with his first look typically being deep downfield, or simply tuck and run. Curtis Samuel was the Panther’s 2nd round pick in 2017 and managed only 15 catches for 115 yards over 9 games in his rookie campaign. I think the looks will be tough to come by for Moore and I have him finishing outside my Top 50 WR.
- Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns – Chubb is talented, there’s no denying it, but he’s coming into a crowded situation. The Browns already have Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson gobbling up carries and targets. Both are talented backs and while Chubb could carve out some early down work, it likely won’t be enough to move the fantasy scales. Barring injury to Hyde or Johnson, I don’t see Chubb finishing in the Top 30 RB’s.
- Sony Michel, RB, New England Patriots – Michel is joining a team that has Jeremy Hill, James White and Rex Burkhead on it. Hill profiles as an early-down bruiser in the Lagarrete Blunt mold, Burkhead, and White will anchor the passing game and steal carries, which leaves Michel to beat out Hill or serve as yet another complementary back in a group of four. Michel is talented, there’s no denying it, but trying to predict what New England will do with it’s running backs so I could be completely missing this call as well, but I think he’s going to be over-drafted.
- Sam Darnold, QB, New York Jets – Darnold was my top rated QB in this years draft, but he is going to need time to develop and he’s likely not going to get that in New York. The Jets have an abysmal cast of position players highlighted by journeymen Isaiah Crowell and Jermaine Kearse. Darnold is talented, but the NY media will push for him to start to soon when Teddy Bridgewater and Josh McCown struggle early. While I think Darnold is destined for greatness, I don’t believe that will be in 2018. Temper expectations here, he might have a few good games but the bulk will be a struggle.
Four Deep Sleepers
- Nyheim Hines, RB, Indianapolis Colts – Hines is a burner as the only running back in the draft to post a sub 4.40 time in the 40-yard dash at the combine. He was a prolific pass catcher at NC State and also held his own as the lead back with 1100 yards, 12 TD and a 5.6 yard-per-carry average in 2017. He enters a Colts backfield led by a plodding Robert Turbin and a young, promising Marlon Mack who failed to reach his potential in 2017. Mack is likely to get the first look for the lead role, but Hines should be able to carve out some 3rd down work and if Mack stumbles, could be a sneaky bet to earn significant carries.
- Antonio Callaway, WR, Cleveland Browns – Callaway is a first round talent that came off the board in the 4th round and likely won’t register on many fantasy boards. Callaway’s fall was due to a heavy dose of off-field issues, issues that would derail his pro-career if the Browns can’t help him keep his nose clean. Callaway is a shifty burner who manned the slot but can play all over the field. Some scouts have compared him to Tyreek Hill and his tape backs it up. He could be the type of player the Browns have to find 10-15 touches for a game if he can stay on the field. Keep an eye on this player the rest of the off-season.
- Tre-Quan Smith, WR, New Orleans Saints – The Saints have some vacancies in the passing game with only Michael Thomas locked into a starting job. Cam Meredith was a free agent addition who will compete for time and Tedd Ginn is still lurking in the shadows waiting to break off a couple of big catches, but there are quite a few targets up for grabs here. Smith is a big play weapon who averaged 16.4 yards per catch at UCF and had 13 touchdowns in his final campaign. If he can polish his route running skills he could become a valuable weapon in a dynamic Saints offense as the season progresses.
- Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins – Kenyan Drake is the lead back in Miami entering the season but it’s not as if his job is untouchable. Drake broke onto the scene with back to back 100+ yard games in 2017 and then failed to reach that mark again. His body of work is small and he has some proving to do. Ballage will challenge for receiving work early and at 6’2″, 228 lbs and a 4.46 forty, he looks like David Johnson on paper. Ballage excelled as a pass catcher and 3rd down back for Arizona State, but never got a chance to be the workhorse because of the presence of Demario Richards, a four year back who earned starters carries multiple seasons at ASU as well. Ballage has all the tools to be a feature back in the NFL, whether or not he can apply them and he gets the opportunity is the question. I think he can, and I think he will.