The first round of the 2018 NFL Draft has finally come and gone and with it, the fantasy stock of a few veteran players has already been altered. In this running post through the first two days of the draft, we’re going to talk about some of those veteran players that have been affected the most. Because we’re discussing relevant fantasy options, this is the wrong place to find analysis here on Saquon Barkley taking over a previously rag-tag Giants’ backfield, Rashaad Penny sticking a nail in C.J. Prosise’s fantasy coffin and hope for any Chris Carson recovery, nor where Maxx Williams stands with Hayden Hurst joining the Ravens.


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Expect Rookie Passers too Early

We had five quarterbacks selected in the first round of the draft on Thursday for the first time since 1999. Now, more than ever, rookie passers are finding the field sooner rather than later. Anything that we hear from these organizations over the next few months about taking it slow with their new prospects should be taken with a grain of salt as we should expect the majority of these guys to start multiple games as rookies. That puts the likes of Tyrod Taylor, Sam Bradford, Josh McCown, and AJ McCarron all in a bucket of passers that really need to outperform their own personal — as well as their team expectations — entering the season to make through all 16 games. If you liked any of those guys as QB2 options in early drafts in Best Ball leagues, I would move completely off of them going forward. The one exception of the group should be Lamar Jackson in Baltimore as they traded back into the final pick of the first round to grab Jackson. Joe Flacco enters 2018 at 33-years old, but still has four years left on his contract with the next two seasons checking in at $24.7M and $26.5M cap numbers with $28.7M and $16M in dead money over those seasons.   


The last first-round quarterback that failed to start a game over his inaugural campaign was Jake Locker in 2011 and he is also the only one to do so of the 27 quarterbacks selected in the first round over the past decade.  Over that span, the average games started by a first-round quarterback is 11 games with 20 of those 27 passers starting more than half of their rookie seasons.


First-Round QBs and Week Started Over the Past 10 Years




Smith-Schuster Set for Big Second Season

I’m cheating a bit because it didn’t impact the first round of the actual draft, but the Raiders trading a third-round pick to the Steelers for Martavis Bryant during the draft does have a significant impact. The big winner here is obviously JuJu Smith-Schuster. Not that Bryant was a major threat to JuJu continuing to elevate in his sophomore season but does clear 14.5 percent of the team targets to reallocate, with Smith-Schuster likely to accrue a healthy portion of those available targets. In the one game that Bryant missed a year ago, Smith-Schuster received 32.3 percent of the team targets which he turned into seven receptions for 193 yards and a touchdown. Smith-Schuster also received 23.3 percent (6/75/1) and 37.0 percent (9/143/1) of the targets in the two games that Antonio Brown missed a year ago. In the games in which both Brown and Bryant both were active, Smith-Schuster saw just 13.3 percent of the team targets.  It’s not hard to see those numbers as the lead or number two option at the receiving position in neon lights. Smith-Schuster will firmly end up as a WR2 over the summer.


Bryant – turning 27-years old during the 2018 season- will be heading to Oakland to join the combination of Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson. After sitting out all of 2016 due to a suspension, Bryant posted career lows in receptions (3.3) and yardage (40.2) per game while scoring just three touchdowns. Bryant’s target volume per game, yards per reception and touchdowns have dropped every year of his career after a promising explosive run over his rookie season. He’s likely the third option in Oakland that comes on the field while allowing Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson to move into the slot in three wide receiver sets.


It should be Oakland’s priority to allow Cooper to move around the offense more in his fourth season and create more accessible targets for him to maximize his skill set. They don’t have to play him excluisvely in the slot, but getting him into the 35-40 percent area of routes from the slot would go a long into enhancing his ability and the offense. Cooper’s best game of the 2017 season (an 11 catch, 210-yard game with two touchdowns on 19 targets) came when he received 10 targets from the slot. He turned those 10 targets into six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown. For the rest of the season, Cooper only received 20 total targets from the slot outside of that game. Bringing Bryant in to stretch the field in 3WR sets in place of having Cooper run those routes while freeing Cooper up to add a new layer to his game would be far more advantageous to the Oakland offense rather than having Nelson go inside more often on those sets and turn Cooper into a far more consistent fantasy option rather than the volatile one he has shown to be. 


Was Devin Funchess’ Breakout Short-Lived?

With the 24th pick, the Panthers made D.J. Moore the first receiver to be selected in this draft. Moore was the top wideout for both myself and Ray Summerlin on this site a week ago and he immediately joins recent selections in Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel in getting more viable targets for Cam Newton in the shorter and intermediate levels while letting players work after the catch. He also is a threat to the breakout that Funchess enjoyed in his third NFL season.


Funchess took off once the Panthers traded Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills eight weeks into the season. From Weeks 9-16, Funchess was the WR19 for fantasy purposes, turning 23.8 percent of the team targets into 28 receptions for 435 yards and four touchdowns. The positive news is that prior to Benjamin being traded, Funchess was still usable, coming in as the WR33 over that span on 21 percent of the team targets. Of course, this also covers a period when the Panthers were without Greg Olsen, who they recently extended for another two seasons. Funchess still projects to be the best red zone option by far among this group, which keeps him as an option in Best Ball formats as a WR4, but in an offense that has had Cam Newton throw the football more than 500 times just twice over seven seasons with a high of 517 attempts, Funchess will have to  scrap to  approach the 111 targets that he received in 2017.


Sanu Has Company Behind Julio

Two picks after Moore was the first receiver selected, the Falcons added Calvin Ridley to the roster to join Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu. Ridley’s best fit in the NFL was arguably beginning his career in the slot, but with Sanu already in place as one of the top slot options in the league, Ridley will enter the season as flanker in three wide receiver sets. The bad news there is that Atlanta ranked 24th in the league in use of 3WR sets (69.9 percent) on passing plays a year ago. While I’d more than expect Ridley to best the 33-378-1 line that Taylor Gabriel notched a year ago, he’s still an ancillary option to open his career since Jones commands such a high amount of volume while Sanu’s role in the slot and as a goal line option shouldn’t be impacted greatly. Of course, Sanu is still just a PPR floor option as a bench receiver on rosters, but Sanu leads the Falcons in receptions (16) and touchdowns (nine) in the red zone since joining the Falcons.


New England Adds Michel to Backfield Mix

Michel was one of the best combo backs in the draft, checking in at 5-foot-11 and 214, he drew similar comparisons to Alvin Kamara from a year ago. Michel was far more productive than Kamara was in college as a rusher and joins an elite offense in New England. Michel ran for 7.9 yards per carry at Georgia a year ago and will compete right away for touches with Rex Burkhead, James White and at least one of Mike Gillislee and Jeremy Hill in what is always a backfield that has been a roller coaster for fantasy owners.


A year ago, the Patriots had a far more linear usage with their backs, settling into a combination of Dion Lewis and Burkhead for the crux of their season until Lewis took over as a borderline feature to close the regular season before turning back into a combination backfield of Lewis and James White for the postseason. Once again, always a ride here, but one generally worth taking as New England has ranked inside of the five in the league in rushing attempts from inside of the 5-yard line in each of the past seven seasons.


The addition of Michel compromises Burkhead the most since White is strictly a pass catcher and both Gillislee and Hill were solely end of draft picks in the event that somehow one of them ended up garnering goal line looks.  But this all may not be the death for Burkhead if he’s actually the one still used on those “money” snaps. Burkhead was the RB13 in fantasy from when he returned Week 7 up until he was injured in Week 15 and did so on just 11 touches per game while Lewis averaged 14.4 touches per game because Burkhead was tied for third in the league in touches inside of the 5-yard line over that span. He was also highly effective with those touches, converting five for touchdowns. There’s a looming concern that that usage he had was a once in a career spurt as he played just 12 snaps total when returning for the postseason, but New England made retaining him a priority early in free agency with a 3-year deal. He’s still on the radar as a Zero-RB type.


White ranks eighth among all running backs in receptions over the past three seasons (156), but has almost no functionality in the rushing game, carrying just 22. 39 and 43 times over that span with only two scores on the ground. White’s best-case scenario is Michel solely operating as a lead back and not impacting the passing game, which his unlikely. In the end, we know the Patriots are going to use all of Michel, White and Burkhead and the investment into Michel Thursday Night shows that they value Michel a great deal, but playing for the cheaper options may be the route owners want to go when trying to squeeze out some nectar from this offense if Michel ends up as a locked in RB2 among drafters this summer.

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