Now that the NFL Draft is over and you’ve read every available article breaking down how players will help the teams that drafted them, let’s shift our attention to what really matters: the next fantasy football team that you’ll be drafting. If recent history is any indication, some of the players drafted (or in the case of Phillip Lindsay, not drafted) this past week will have a significant impact on the fantasy season. So before we have the chance to overreact to how good someone is looking during OTAs or the start of training camp, we’ll offer our initial PPR rankings of the the NFL’s newest employees. And yes, as the “D.K. Metcalf looks like Josh Gordon without the off-field issues” rumors start to swirl, we will surely update these rankings throughout the summer…
1. Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
Drafted: 1st round, 24th overall
Sadly, there was no Saquon Barkley in this year’s draft. To make matters worse, the top running back in the draft went to one of the five teams that managed to score fewer than 300 points last season. But yet, we’re bullish on the fantasy prospects of Josh Jacobs. Even before Isaiah Crowell’s injury, Jacobs had an easy pathway to a lot of carries. The Raiders offense looks destined to improved after the acquisition of Antonio Brown (…and with Derek Carr having a full season in Jon Gruden’s system under his belt?). And most importantly, we think Jacobs will be very good. With all Alabama running backs there is a risk of having Trent Richardson 2.0, but it is easy to envision Jacobs eclipsing with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage while adding enough catches and touchdowns to find himself in the RB2-RB3 range (although the presence of Jalen Richard may limit his PPR-upside).
2. N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
Drafted: 1st round, 32nd overall
If you read our initial reactions to the first round, you’ll know that we have high hopes for Harry. By way of explanation, let’s look at what is working in Harry’s favor:
- He gets to catch passes from the GOAT, Mr. Brady.
- The full list of reliable pass catchers on the Patriots roster before the draft was Julian Edelman and James White.
- Harry had over 150 catches for over 2,200 yards the past two seasons, despite some iffy quarterback play at Arizona State.
And here’s what is working against Harry:
That’s right, he has no excuses. Pencil him in as an upside WR4. That is until he drops a key pass or has an ill-timed fumble and Belichick glues him to the bench.
3. Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Drafted: 2nd round, 53rd overall
There might not have been a Saquon Barkley in this year’s draft, but we did have his former backup. Allow us to make an asinine comparison between the two:
Barkley’s final year at Penn State: 217 carries, 1,271 yards, 5.9 YPC
Sanders’ final year at Penn State: 220 carries, 1,274 yards, 5.8 YPC
They’re basically the same player! That is, until you expand the comparison a bit. Barkley had 54 catches and 21 touchdowns his last year, while Sanders only managed 24 catches and 9 touchdowns. Barkley was 20 lbs heavier at the NFL Combine, and still managed to run significantly faster, jump significantly higher, and bench significantly more. So yeah, Sanders won’t be one of the best players in all of fantasy in his rookie year. But even with Jordan Howard in front of him, it shouldn’t be long before Sanders is able to carve out a role and do his best Barkley impression, making him an RB4 with some serious upside.
4. David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears
Drafted: 3rd round, 73rd overall
Every year it seems that there is a mid-round rookie running back that emerges as a popular sleeper. Sometimes that player turns out to be Alvin Kamara or Kareem Hunt. Other times, that player is Kenneth Dixon or Royce Freeman. But regardless of how these players turned out, they are always highly drafted rookies because the potential upside is too tantalizing to pass up. And this year, Montgomery will be no different. The Bears love to run the football (in part because their quarterback is still learning how to pass the football…), and last year they gave Jordan Howard 250 carries despite him averaging only 3.7 yards per touch. Think of how many carries Montgomery might get if he’s actually good!
So why is Montgomery ranked behind Sanders when he has a clear path to a significant workload? Two words: Mike Davis. After spending last season on Rashaad Penny island, we have PTSD from all the touches that Davis stole. There’s a reason why the Bears guaranteed Davis $3 million earlier this offseason. So while Montgomery could emerge as the lead back and be a fantasy monster, there’s also a chance that he’s stuck in a muddled committee with Davis and Tarik Cohen (also worth noting that given Cohen’s pass-catching ability, Montgomery’s upside is limited in PPR).
5. T.J. Hockenson, TE, Detroit Lions
Drafted: 1st round, 8th overall
The tight end position was a scary place last year in fantasy football. After the elite trio of Kelce, Ertz, and Kittle, the remainder of the top 10 was rounded out by Eric Ebron, Jared Cook, Austin Hooper, Kyle Rudolph, Trey Burton, David Njoku, and Vance McDonald. Some solid players, but Vance McDonald isn’t winning you your fantasy football season. But guess what, T.J. Hockenson might. Sure, this is a little high to rank a tight end, but given the lack of depth at the position, having an elite tight end has never been more valuable. And Hockenson has the chance to be special, potentially as soon as next season. The Lions didn’t draft him in the top 10 to let him block and watch Jesse James catch passes. He should immediately become one of Matthew Stafford’s favorite targets and, assuming good health, a top 10 tight end season should not be a surprise.
6. Parris Campbell, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Drafted: 2nd round, 59th overall
Last year, we were reminded that Andrew Luck is very good. And that was with Luck having to throw to the likes of Dontrelle Inman and Chester Rogers. Campbell is better than Inman, Rogers, and free-agent acquisition Devin Funchess. He’s also fast, like 4.31 fast, and we have a feeling that Frank Reich will be able to come up with some creative ways to get the ball to Campbell in space. He might get off to a bit of a slow start as the Colts figure out the best way to deploy him in their offense, but by the end of the fantasy season Campbell could be a player that you can have in your starting lineup without becoming the punching bag of your league.
7. Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos
Drafted: 1st overall, 20th overall
Much of what we said about Hockenson also applies to his college teammate. The tight end position in fantasy is in rough shape, giving Fant potential TE1 upside as early as his rookie season. Joe Flacco’s love of tight ends has been well-documented and we have a feeling that Fant won’t prove to be an exception to the rule. With Emmanuel Sanders working his way back from an Achilles injury, the Broncos are lacking threats in the passing game and Fant will have every opportunity to help fill this void. It feels like he might have higher bust potential than other players lower on this list (his quarterback is Joe Flacco after all…), but for now calling him the 6th best rookie seems like the right balance between risk and reward.
8. Marquise Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens
Drafted: 1st overall, 25th overall
Marquise Brown is a stud. He is Antonio Brown’s cousin, who has been used as a player comp for him. To call him a big play threat might be a bit of an understatement…
And his nickname is “Hollywood” Brown! That’s the type of name that you can only pull off if you’re really, really good and everyone else knows it. All this praise might beg the question, why isn’t Brown ranked higher on this list? Well, unfortunately we aren’t in love with the situation that Brown was drafted in to. On the bright side, he’ll instantly become Baltimore’s best and most explosive wide receiver. That’s about where the positives end. Lamar Jackson has yet to prove that he is even an average NFL passer. In 7 starts last season, he only exceeded 200 yards passing once! He completed only 58% of his passes, and averaged less than 1 touchdown pass per game. The Ravens will continue to run the football a lot, perhaps more than any other team. So what do you do when you think someone is a top-3 player but has a situation well outside the top-10? You split the difference, rank him 7th, and hope you don’t look foolish one way or the other.
9. Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Drafted: 2nd round, 36th overall
Take a look at the 49ers’ depth chart and you’ll notice names like Dante Pettis, Trent Taylor, and Jordan Matthews listed near the top of the WR position. Suffice to say, they could use an infusion of talent (although we are bullish on Pettis making a jump in year 2). Enter Samuel, who could theoretically find himself at the top of the depth chart at some point this season. He’d still need to compete with George Kittle and the Niners horde of running backs for targets, but if Kyle Shanahan is the offensive mastermind that he’s perceived to be and Jimmy Garoppolo’s quarterback play is as nice as his hair, this could be an explosive offense. It also must be said that having a cool name bodes well for a wide receiver (see: Odell, JuJu, T.Y.; notable exceptions include Michael Thomas and Mike Evans), so we’re betting on Deebo!
10. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
Drafted: 2nd round, 57th overall
Speaking of JuJu, we can’t ignore the similarity between JuJu Smith-Schuster and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. If you’ll recall, JuJu put up over 900 yards as a rookie, before ascending to top-10 wide receiver status last season with over 1,400 yards. The comparisons between the two actually extend far beyond their names. JuJu is 6’2″ and 220 lbs, and J.J. is 6’3″ and 225 lbs. JuJu was picked 62nd, J.J. was picked 57th (both by teams in Pennsylvania!). Both played college for one of the Pac-12’s elite, and both were touchdown machines (JuJu caught 25 TDs in three seasons, J.J. had 28).
To be clear, the above comparison is largely facetious. Stylistically they are different players, and to say J.J. will have a JuJu-level impact as a rookie would be bolder than your favorite bag of Doritos. But still, he’s a good player in a good offense that just lost Golden Tate to free agent and seems to have soured on Nelson Agholor. So could Arcega-Whiteside emerge as a red zone threat and catch 7-8 touchdowns as a rookie? Absolutely. And when you’re drafting at the end of the first round of your rookie draft, it’s tough to ask for much more than that.
11. D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Drafted: 2nd round, 64th overall
Yeah, we didn’t rank this guy in our top 10. It’s a risky play that could end up with us looking really, really stupid if he proves to be the second coming of Josh Gordon (minus the off-field issues). But there are a few things we don’t love about Metcalf, namely that he only caught 67 passes in his college career and has a lengthy injury history and apparent lack of agility. His situation also isn’t great, as Seattle is one of the most run-heavy teams in all of football, and he’ll be slotted behind Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett on the depth chart. The upside is undeniable, and if Baldwin actually were to retire he’d have the opportunity to make an immediate impact. But for now, we’re a little hesitant.
12. A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans
Drafted: 2nd round, 51st overall
Brown is proof that situation matters a lot. Had he been drafted where Harry was, he would similarly assume the #2 spot in our rankings. Heck, if Brown had fallen to the third round and been taken by the Steelers instead of Diontae Johnson he’d be flirting with the top 5. Instead, Brown finds himself in a run-heavy offense led by a quarterback that has not proven that he can be an effective passer. Brown is good enough to make the best of a bad situation, but unless Marcus Mariota makes a surprising fifth year leap, it will be difficult for Brown to be one of the best rookie WRs.
13. Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Drafted: 2nd round, 56th overall
Mecole definitely passes the cool name test. Unfortunately, he doesn’t pass the college production test, having never topped 35 catches in a season. But he’s fast (4.33 at the combine), and the Chiefs have demonstrated a knack for getting fast players the ball in space. Really though, Hardman’s future is closely linked to Tyreek Hill’s. If Hill is cut or suspended for a significant length of time, Hardman could be one of the biggest threats in one of the league’s best offenses. But with Hill active, it’s tough to imagine Hardman playing a consistent role, so expect this ranking to change one way or another.
14. Andy Isabella, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Drafted: 2nd round, 62nd overall
The Cooper Kupp comparison is almost too easy with Isabella. White possession receiver who put up ridiculous stats in college while playing for a relatively obscure team (UMass fans probably won’t love the Eastern Washington comp… sorry!) that got drafted into the NFC West. Isabella is giving up about four inches to Kupp, but that shouldn’t stop him from becoming one of Kyler Murray’s favorite targets. The WR depth chart in Arizona is somehow weak and crowded at the same time. At this point, Larry Fitzgerald should get as many targets as he wants, Christian Kirk showed some promise as a rookie before getting hurt, and fellow rookie Hakeem Butler could also factor into the equation. But we still think Isabella will find a way to rack up 50 to 60 catches in his first season, which gives him a nice floor, especially in PPR leagues.
15. Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
Drafted: 1st round, 1st overall
Finally, we have Mr. Heisman. If this was a ranking of which rookie will be the most exciting offensive player, Murray would be at the very top. Instead, we must account for the fact that the quarterback position is extremely crowded and drop Murray down accordingly. But with his running ability, Murray has top-5 quarterback upside. Will he reach that in year 1? Almost certainly not, especially given the state of Arizona’s offensive line. However, he could be a serviceable backup quarterback in fantasy that you wouldn’t feel too bad about starting during a bye week. And in a couple years, who knows, he might be a must-start every week. Note that if you’re in a 2-QB league, obviously Murray gets a healthy bump (perhaps even to the 5th spot).
Best of the Rest:
16. Devin Singletary, RB, Buffalo Bills (3-74): A smart draft and stash in dynasty leagues. LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore are clearly not long-term solutions in Buffalo.
17. Hakeem Butler, WR, Arizona Cardinals (4-103): Massive target (6’6″ and 225 lbs.), that Kyler Murray could look for in the end zone early and often.
18. Justice Hill, RB, Baltimore Ravens (4-113): Explosive athlete, who could become a poor man’s Alvin Kamara next to Mark Ingram.
19. Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (3-66): Antonio Brown’s 104 catches left town, and someone needs to fill the void. The leading candidate is James Washington, but Johnson could also factor in.
20. Damien Harris, RB, New England Patriots (3-87): Yes, the Patriots backfield is extremely crowded. But it feels like a lot more quantity than quality, giving Harris an opportunity to carve out a role.