By Chet Gresham – @ChetGresham
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I’ll be taking a look at the offensive rookies for fantasy in the days to come, but I thought it would be interesting to see what veteran players got out of the 2018 NFL Draft through an open door into opportunity, or had that door slammed on them.
Marlon Mack, RB, Colts
The caveat for all running backs who survived the draft gantlet is that C.J. Anderson and DeMarco Murray will sign somewhere and hurt their value, but for right now, they are looking good. Mack is one of those players, as the Colts waited until the fourth round to draft a running back, Nyheim Hines, and then again in the fifth as they grabbed Jordan Wilkins. Hines is similar to Mack and likely won’t cut into his work, and Wilkins, who could carve out an early-down role, will likely need to really impress in training camp to hurt Mack as it is.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers
Gordon’s efficiency numbers are bad, but he also gets a ton of work to push him into top fantasy production, so there is always a chance another running back could cut into his work if that back is more productive on a per-play basis. The Chargers waited until pick No. 251 to grab a running back, Justin Jackson. Jackson has ability, of course, but he’s not better than Gordon, and even though he is strong short-yardage runner, Gordon has been effective around the goal line, which should hold off Jackson for that particular job.
The Chargers also upgraded an already strong defense and could look to beat their league-best 17 points allowed per game, which will keep Gordon busy due to leads and games where the Chargers won’t need to abandon the run to catch up.
Eli Manning, QB, Giants
Manning has been awful of late, but he sure got some help in the 2018 NFL Draft and didn’t have his successor drafted just yet. Saquon Barkley was a reach in my opinion, but there is no doubt that he will keep defenses more honest when pinning their ears back to dust Manning. Barkley is also a strong receiver, and Manning is at least good enough at this point to throw the ball to the line of scrimmage and let Barkley work. The Giants also got a big upgrade on the offensive line with Will Hernandez. Oh, and Manning will be getting one of the best receivers in the game back after an injury kept Odell Beckham Jr. sidelined most of last season. I have no real faith in Manning’s ability at this point, but if that offensive line really improves, and when you add in all of his weapons, I’d think a trained seal could put up fantasy numbers.
Case Keenum, QB, Broncos
It looked like there was a good chance that the Broncos would grab a quarterback, as Keenum is a bridge to whoever their long-term option turns out to be. But the Broncos instead upgraded their defensive line with Bradley Chubb and added depth to their wide receivers and selected a running back in Royce Freeman, who should be a contributor this season. That gives Keenum a long leash this year and an upgraded offense. He’s not going to blow anyone away, as the Broncos will likely try to win with defense over an explosive offense, but it should also put Keenum in better position to take advantage of field position and not need to force the ball when he shouldn’t.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
Fitzgerald can produce with about anyone throwing his way, but now he’ll either have Sam Bradford or Josh Rosen throwing him the ball; both are accurate, while Fitz doesn’t drop passes. Rosen is probably the most NFL-ready quarterback from the 2018 NFL Draft, and if Bradford goes down with yet another injury, or Rosen wins the job, Fitzgerald should be in for another strong PPR season with more touchdown upside than last year.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers
The 49ers didn’t go all-in at wide receiver, but they did draft Dante Pettis, who fits Kyle Shannahan’s offense as a Taylor Gabriel-type weapon with more upside and also gives them the best return man in the 2018 NFL Draft. Pettis is not the No. 1 receiver the 49ers still need, but he strengthens this group and in turn Garoppolo’s upside. They also shored up their offensive line with their first-round pick, Mike McGlinchey, which is never bad for your quarterback.
Mitch Trubisky, QB, Bears
The Bears added an offensive lineman in Round 2 and then traded up for wide receiver Anthony Miller later in that same round. Both picks should help Trubisky, especially Miller, as the Bears still need someone to take over as the No. 2 guy after Allen Robinson. Add in Trey Burton and a strong receiving back in Tarik Cohen, and Trubisky has all the tools he needs to succeed.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
Roethlisberger didn’t seem like a big fan of Martavis Bryant, so trading him away and drafting James Washington looks like a net gain for the quarterback. Pittsburgh hit on JuJu Smith-Schuster last season, and there’s a strong chance Washington will become a strong asset for this offense sooner than later.
Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks
Baldwin has always had trouble getting big targets in Seattle’s offense despite being the team’s best receiver, but this offseason and draft has pushed him into more targets. The Seahawks let Paul Richardson go in free agency and didn’t pick up or draft another startable wide receiver or pass-catching tight end, plus upgrades their offensive line slightly. Baldwin will still have some games where he doesn’t get the looks we’re hoping for. but as long as he’s healthy, I expect a bump in overall targets.
Rico Gathers, TE, Cowboys
The Cowboys drafted tight end Dalton Schultz at pick No. 137, but he was more of a blocker in college and will need some time before he becomes a plus offensive player if at all, so after Jason Witten’s retirement, that leaves Gathers as the tight end with the most offensive upside for this season.
Tyrod Taylor, QB, Browns
We knew this was going to happen, as the Browns were locked into a quarterback early in the 2018 NFL Draft, but here it is. Of course, much will depend on how quickly their No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield can transition into their offense and the pro game all around, but this team has won one game over the last two seasons, and if the coaches think Mayfield can hold his own, he’ll be in there sooner than later.
Jonathan Stewart, Wayne Gallman and Paul Perkins, RBs, Giants
Saquon Barkley is a three-down back, and the Giants aren’t going to relegate their No. 2-overall pick to a committee player. They could keep his touches relatively low to save him in a season they will likely miss the playoffs, but Stewart and Gallman would likely share the relief work to a degree and Stewart is too worn down to put up explosive plays as a backup.
Josh McCown, QB, Jets
I like McCown, and he showed last season that he could put up serviceable fantasy numbers on a bad offense, but the Jets got some luck in the 2018 NFL Draft with Sam Darnold falling to them after the Giants mistook Saquon Barkley for a quarterback. Darnold isn’t going to step in and take the job from McCown on day one, but it won’t take much for the Jets to get him in there to see what they have in their first-round pick.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Raiders
Bryant is a good addition to the Raiders as a deep threat, but he’s going from a team that scored 26.4 points a game last season to one that scored 18.8. He’s also making a lateral depth chart move and will have a downgrade in the quarterback throwing him the ball.
Mohamed Sanu, WR, Falcons
The Falcons didn’t draft Calvin Ridley to sit on the sidelines this season as they look to get their offense back on track this year. He has work to do on his game, but his speed and route-running will get him on the field, which should have Sanu’s targets cut into.
Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee, RBs, Patriots
The Patriots took Sony Michel with the 31st pick just to screw with fantasy players. He has the profile to lead this team in carries, but will need to earn that distinction. If he can hold onto the ball, which he had trouble doing in college, he’s the guy to roster in New England. No matter how well he plays, however, his touches will be lighter than most lead backs, as Burkhead and White will still be part of the rotation.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Browns
I really wanted the Browns to hold off on taking a running back due to them already having two solid backs in Hyde and Johnson, but they went ahead and drafted Nick Chubb, who has the ability to be a true lead back in this league. I don’t have a strong read on if Chubb will challenge Hyde early in the season for work, but I expect Chubb will see his snaps move up as the season goes on. He is more of a hindrance for Hyde than Duke Johnson, so I expect Johnson to still see enough receiving work to have PPR value.
Peyton Barber, RB, Bucs
Barber played well last season, but it was inevitable that Tampa Bay would take a running back in the 2018 NFL Draft, which came to pass. Ronald Jones was that back and will be groomed as the starter. He’s not a sure-fire stud, so there is room for this backfield to be a committee with Barber, but that’s still not good news for his fantasy aspirations.
Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley, RBs, Redskins
Washington needed a powerful, yet elusive, back who could ice games, and they got that with Derrius Guice. His slide in the 2018 NFL Draft was due to some off-field perception, but if there was something coming down the pipe that would keep him from playing, I doubt Washington would have taken him in the second round. He fills a big need where Perine and Kelly couldn’t.
Devontae Booker, RB, Broncos
Denver drafted Royce Freeman early in the third round and should expect him to win the lead-back role over Booker and likely an every-down role at that, as he was an excellent receiver in college. We’ll have to watch how it all plays out, but my money is on Freeman winning this job and being the beneficiary of a strong defense keeping games close.
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