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Draft Analysis

Fantasy Fallout: NFL Draft Day 1

by Rich Hribar
Updated On: April 26, 2019, 4:00 pm ET

After months of analysis, projections and mock drafts, the 2019 NFL Draft has finally arrived. With the arrival of the draft, we finally have landing spots for the incoming rookie class. Not only do these landing spots have an impact on the immediate fantasy production for the player selected, but many will also have a trickle down impact for a few veteran players left in the wake of those rookie picks. In this space, we’re going to deliver some quick-hitting thoughts on the initial landing spots for the early-round (Thursday and Friday) rookies at the fantasy skill positions and some veterans on those teams that could be affected. To open things up, a few quick thoughts on rookie quarterbacks selected in the First Round before the picks start rolling in....

 

Expect Rookie Passers to Play Early... Should You Care?

No matter what you hear from the teams that select first-round quarterbacks this year, you should have expectations that all of these rookie passers will not only play, but there's also a high probability that they will start a significant amount of games. We could have veterans such as Eli Manning, Derek Carr and Andy Dalton among those that have rookie quarterbacks selected to their respective teams this year to compete and be groomed as inevitable replacements. If that draft scenario does play out, we should expect that inevitable takeover to happen sooner rather than later.  Those veteran players will have to significantly outperform not only personal expectations, but also team expectations to hold onto the starting job for a full season. The last first-round quarterback that failed to start a game over his inaugural campaign was Jake Locker in 2011.

 

First-Round QBs and Week Started Since 2008

Year Pick QB GS Week Started
2018 1 Baker Mayfield 13 4
2018 3 Sam Darnold 13 1
2018 7 Josh Allen 11 2
2018 10 Josh Rosen 13 4
2018 32 Lamar Jackson 7 11
2017 2 Mitchell Trubisky 12 5
2017 12 Deshaun Watson 6 2
2017 10 Patrick Mahomes 1 17
2016 2 Carson Wentz 16 1
2016 1 Jared Goff 7 11
2016 26 Paxton Lynch 2 5
2015 1 Jameis Winston 16 1
2015 2 Marcus Mariota 12 1
2014 3 Blake Bortles 13 4
2014 32 Teddy Bridgewater 12 4
2014 22 Johnny Manziel 2 15
2013 16 E.J. Manuel 10 1
2012 1 Andrew Luck 16 1
2012 8 Ryan Tannehill 16 1
2012 22 Brandon Weeden 16 1
2012 2 Robert Griffin III 15 1
2011 1 Cam Newton 16 1
2011 10 Blaine Gabbert 14 3
2011 12 Christian Ponder 10 7
2011 8 Jake Locker 0 N/A
2010 1 Sam Bradford 16 1
2010 25 Tim Tebow 3 15
2009 5 Mark Sanchez 15 1
2009 1 Matthew Stafford 10 1
2009 17 Josh Freeman 9 9
2008 3 Matt Ryan 16 1
2008 18 Joe Flacco 16 1

Of the 32 quarterbacks listed above, 15 of them started immediately in Week 1 and 22 of those players were starting for their organizations by Week 4 of the season. 24 of those players started more than half of the team games as a rookie and just five outside of Locker – who failed to start at all- had to wait as long as Week 11 to make their first start. This holds heavier weight with the passers who require the most draft capital. Of the 21 quarterbacks here to be selected within the top-10 picks of their respective draft, 18 of them started 11 or more games as a rookie. We should be expecting these rookies to play this season, but the question that remains for fantasy is, should you care?

Over the previous 20 years, we’ve had 58 first-round quarterbacks selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. Of those 58 players, just four have finished their rookie campaigns at a top-12 overall fantasy scorer. Looking at those four – Vince Young in 2006, Cam Newton in 2011 and Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck in 2012 – they all have one common thread, and that's rushing production. Newton and Luck also passed for over 4,000 yards in their rookie campaigns, but it was their true rushing production that elevated those rookies from starting fantasy options into the top-tiers of fantasy football scoring. Young added 97.2 fantasy rushing points (6.5 per game) in his inaugural season, Newton 154.6 rushing points (9.7 per game), Griffin 123.5 points (8.2 per game) and Luck added 55.5 fantasy points via the ground (3.5 per game).

Quarterbacks are more athletic than ever before and teams have been far more open into letting those players use their athleticism within their offense. Last season, NFL quarterbacks set NFL season-highs in rushing yards (7,327) and fantasy points stemmed through rushing performance (1,128.7 fantasy points). Even limited passers such as Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson played a large role in shaping fantasy leagues down the stretch last season despite their sub par passing output because of their rushing output. Allen was the QB1 in fantasy scoring Weeks 12-17 when he returned from injury last season and posted four top-5 scoring weeks over those final six starts. He did so on the strength of rushing for 476 yards and five touchdowns over that span. Jackson took over the Ravens’ starting quarterback in Week 11 and was the QB8 in overall scoring through that timeframe. Over those seven starts, Jackson was in the back-half of weekly scoring just once while averaging 11.4 rushing points per game. With that type of weekly rushing production, bottom-run passing output is good enough to create a tremendous floor for fantasy. Even though Baker Mayfield was far and away a better passer as rookie than both Allen and Jackson, both Allen and Jackson consistently altered more end of season results despite Mayfield closing the season as a tangible fantasy option himself through his strong passing production over the back half of the season. 

That makes the rushing prospects of Kyler Murray -and even Daniel Jones if and when he is selected in the First Round and starts games- as the players to look to anchor their fantasy output through the weight of rushing fantasy output. With Murray - who should be expected to start Week 1- you're getting the best of the worlds as a passer and rusher as well.  You can still find useful weeks from the other rookie passers anticipated to be selected in the First Round on Thursday- Dwayne Haskins - as streamers, but he is not an option that will be a weekly starter that will need to selected in fantasy leagues that require you to start just one player at the quarterback position. 

Kyler Murray selected No. 1 by Arizona Cardinals

As mentioned, the fantasy edge for this rookie class goes to the runners and Murray comes not only with rushing ability to create a strong fantasy floor, but he also comes with immense passing ability to create the potential for Murray to provide a top-12 season right out of the gates. Murray not only rushed for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018, but he also set a collegiate record by averaging 13.0 adjusted passing yards per pass attempt through the air with 42 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions. In his final litmus test against Alabama, Murray threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 109 yards and another touchdown (a smooth equivalent to 37.2 fantasy points). The most recent example we’ve had in the NFL to Murray’s all-around skill set– right down to closing his final two seasons with elite games versus Alabama- is Deshaun Watson. Watson’s dual-usage as a passer and runner has led him to be the QB1 in points per game as a rookie and the QB4 in points per game in his second season. Murray has that dual-threat ceiling in his range of outcomes even though he won’t be attached to an alpha wide receiver -like Watson has had in DeAndre Hopkins – because Murray’s marriage to Arizona and Kliff Kingsbury’s open offense only enhances his initial ceiling potential. Kingsbury and his Air Raid system has been attached to elite college seasons from Case Keenum, Johnny Manziel and Patrick Mahomes. Over his 10 seasons as either the Head Coach, offensive coordinator outright or as co-offensive coordinator at the college level, Kingsbury’s quarterbacks averaged 701.1 combined passing and rushing attempts per season. Murray could feasibly drop back 600-plus times as a rookie without the blink of an eye, which would give him a strong fantasy base for his dual-usage abilities.  Murray is the clear 1.01 rookie pick in SuperFlex Dynasty formats and should be considered as a top-5 option in start one QB Dynasty leagues based on the overall lack of strength at the skill positions of this class.

 

Daniel Jones No. 6 to New York Giants

Perhaps no player rose more late in the draft process than Jones. “Will it be warranted?” is the million-dollar question still left in the air as Jones has one of the worst passing profiles for any first-round quarterback over the past 20 years. Jones’ 6.2 career adjusted yards per attempt rank ahead of only Clayton Thorson in this class and is the lowest mark for any first-round quarterback since Jake Locker matched it in 2011. Out of the 58 quarterback selected in the first round over that span, only Patrick Ramsey (6.2 AY/A) and Kyle Boller (5.5 AY/A) posted equal or lower marks in career adjusted yards per attempt than Jones did while at Duke. Jones also has the worst touchdown to interception ratio (1.8) for any first-round quarterback since Locker. The positive for Jones is that he ran for 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns over this three seasons as a starter. With incumbent Eli Manning 38-years old and the Giants projected to have a losing record in 2018, we should see Jones on the field this upcoming season at some point.

 

T.J. Hockenson No. 8 to Detroit Lions

As a sophomore, Hockenson blew past teammate Noah Fant to catch 49 passes for 764 yards and six touchdowns, while also adding a rushing score as he was The Mackey Award winner in 2018. An efficient receiver, Hockenson produced 24.4 percent of the Iowa receiving yards on just 15.7 percent of the targets. What elevated Hockenson over Fant in terms of draft capital was his blocking ability. His excellence in that area could limit his fantasy output more so than it could Fant coming out of the packaging as top-12 tight ends in points per game last year averaged a pass route on 60.5 percent of their snaps – Hockenson ran a route on 42.9 percent of his snaps last season at Iowa- but Hockenson also has strong receiving chops. In 2018, he dropped just one of 64 targets and accounted for a 139.1 passer rating when targeted. He also led all collegiate tight ends with 15 third-down receptions that resulted in a first down.  The Lions have had poor fortune selecting tight ends in the first round over the past decade in Brandon Pettigrew and Eric Ebron, but Hockenson is a cleaner prospect than both entering the league. Detroit is missing 34.3 percent of their targets from 2018 (sixth-highest) and have added only Jesse James and Danny Amendola entering his age 34 season this offseason. The rub here is that the Lions run one of the league's slowest offenses in the league have made it clear that they want to emphasize running the football. Hockenson improves their ability to do so, but having James on board (who blocked on 52.2 percent of snaps in 2018) may improve Hockenson's odds to be used more in the passing game than initial projections will show. That said, Hockenson should be a touchdown dependent TE2 at worst, but a slow burn in terms of overall targets and receptions should be expected for initial fantasy output in year one.

 

Dwayne Haskins No. 15 to Washington

Haskins trailed only Murray in passing production from this draft class and also checked a major box by having that production at a younger age than all of the quarterbacks that were vying for first-round status behind Murray. As a 21-year-old first time starter, Haskins threw an Ohio State record 50 touchdown passes to go along with just eight interceptions. The only minor hang up with Haskins is mobility. As highlighted in the open, rushing output is a big-time trump card for quarterbacks in fantasy. While Haskins isn’t exactly a statue in the pocket and has the overall passing acumen to be a successful NFL starter, that lack of creativity allowed him to be impacted by pressure. Under pressure a year ago, his passer rating dropped from 135.4 to 73.2.  Haskins goes to an  Washington offensive line that has solid starters (outside of Ereck Flowers) in Trent Williams, Brandon Scherff and Morgan Moses, but he also inherits a wide receiving corps that was dead last in the league in receiving yardage (106 yards per game) and let Jamison Crowder walk during free agency. Washington should add to the position through the remainder of the draft, however. Haskins should be expected to start over Case Keenum or Colt McCoy very early in season – if not Week 1- but will only be a streaming, QB2 option for fantasy in 2019.

 

Noah Fant No. 20 to Denver Broncos

Fant solidified his first-round draft status by being one of the most athletic tight ends to ever test at the NFL Combine. Despite that measured athleticism,. Fant made just four contested catches over his past two seasons while forcing just three missed tackles per Pro Football Focus and inevitably was out-produced in his own offense by teammate T.J. Hockenson. That said, Fant should be used more as a receiver first entering the league than Hockenson. Fant was asked to pass block just 41 snaps over the past two seasons per Pro Football Focus. Fant should have issue leapfrogging Jeff Heuerman, Troy Fumagali and an injured Jake Butt for receiving work at the position and the Broncos wide receiving unit stills doesn’t have an alpha receiver cemented at the top. It also helps that Joe Flacco is no stranger with peppering the tight end position with targets. Baltimore ranked top-12 in team tight end target market share 2013-2018 with Flacco under center. Fant has a wider range of outcomes than former teammate Hockenson and is still a TE2 entering 2019, but also has a better inline to immediate passing volume of the Iowa TE duo.

 

Josh Jacobs No. 24 to Oakland Raiders

Jacobs has one of the weirder draft profiles of an early-round running back in recent memory. On one hand, he has supreme efficiency to make up for his lack of never elevating out of a collegiate timeshare. 41 percent of Jacobs’ 2018 rushing attempts resulted in either a first down or a touchdown in 2018, the highest rate in the country. The touchdown rate was inflated by a number of short plunges into the paint, but he also averaged a gaudy 10.4 yards per target in the passing game for his career.  On the other hand, he lacks any significant raw production on his resume and was out-used by another back in this class – Damien Harris – that is expected to be drafted much lower while having a subpar athletic profile. Jacobs’ best season produced just 887 yards from scrimmage at Alabama. The last running back selected in the first round of the NFL Draft that failed to post a 1,000-yard season in college season was John Avery back in 1998. Jacobs may have never received significant volume in college, but the landing spot in Oakland is ideal for immediate opportunity as a workhorse, however. The Raiders are missing 69.7 percent of their rushing attempts from the 2018 season with the retirement of Marshawn Lynch and declining to re-sign Doug Martin, the highest vacated share of carries in the league from a year ago. Jacobs’ projected volume should move him into contention to be the most popular rookie 1.01 Dynasty pick in leagues that start only one quarterback given he was selected to a workhorse landing spot and was taken before any wide receiver in this class.

 

Marquise Brown No. 25 to Baltimore Ravens

Due to injury, we don’t have any measurables for Brown, but that didn’t scare the league away as Brown was the first wide receiver selected in the draft. The NFL doesn’t have a strong history of players 175-pounds or lighter being highly productive, but it is fair to suggest that Brown’s Lisfranc injury likely impacted his combine weight of just 166-pounds. While we should feel optimistic that he can play heavier than that weight, that Lisfranc injury is something that should be a concern moving forward for his potential output. There’s recency bias with players in Brown’s archetype -John Ross and Phillip Dorsett – busting out that give pause onto the injury concern, but Brown’s production at Oklahoma was undeniable. He closed his collegiate career sixth in Oklahoma history with 2,413 career receiving yards on the strength of a 1,318 yard receiving season in 2018 (fourth in school history). A big-play threat, Brown holds the school record for the first and second most single-game receiving yards with 265 versus Oklahoma State in 2017 and then posting 243 yards against West Virginia in 2018. As for the landing spot, we have a mixed bag. On one hand, Baltimore has 54.9 percent of their targets and 59.8 percent of their air yards vacated from 2018, both are the second-highest rates in the league. On the other hand, the Ravens wide receivers just stop producing with Lamar Jackson under center a year ago when he was made the starting quarterback. Jackson targeted wide receivers with just 56 percent of his passes (well below league average) and Ravens’ WRs caught just 52 passes for 622 yards and 5 TDs in 8 games with Lamar Jackson under center. Perhaps the biggest initial concern is how John Brown – a player with a similar vertical skill set to Brown- had his production cease with Jackson throwing the football. After catching 33-of-66 targets and four touchdowns from Joe Flacco, Brown proceeded to catch just 9-of-29 targets for 119 yards and one touchdown form Jackson while failing to connect on any of their six targets on throws 15-yards or further downfield. Marquise Brown has some more "small receiver" game to his game, but sporadic highs and lows should be expected initially until we see Jackson show that he is capable of getting the ball to his playmakers downfield. 

 

N’Keal Harry No. 32 to New England Patriots

Harry was the number one ranked wide receiver recruit entering college and he immediately played a role in the Arizona State offense, accounting for 23.7 percent of the Sun Devil’s targets as a 19-year old freshman in 2016. During his collegiate career, Harry’s yards per reception and total touchdown output rose every season to go along with his versatility. Another big target (6’2 and 228 pounds) with slot experience, 32 percent of Harry’s targets came from the slot last year after having just 11 slot targets total in 2017. With those targets, he was 10th in yards per route (3.1). Harry’s 61 plays of 15-yards or more over the 2017-2018 seasons are tied for the most in this receiver class with Anthony Johnson. Only D.K. Metcalf is younger (by three days) than Harry for all wideouts expected to be selected within the top-50 picks of this draft as he won’t turn 22-years old until mid-December. Harry lands in a New England spot in which he has an initial runway to produce, but one that has an interesting projection down the line with Tom Brady already entering the 2019 season at age 42. The Patriots have an open runway for targets behind soon to be 33-year old Julian Edelman as they are missing 151 team targets from a year ago from the wide receiver position in Chris Hogan, Josh Gordon (for now) and Cordarrelle Patterson. Harry’s versatility and ability to create after the catch mesh well with the Patriots Offense and Brady's strengths. He should be no lower than the 1.02 in rookie drafts behind Jacobs if not the number one choice for those who prefer to chase wide receivers.

Rich Hribar
Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer. You can find him on Twitter @LordReebs.