Nick Mensio took a look at post-draft winners last week. I’ll assess the unfortunate losers, 10(ish) players whose fantasy stock took a dive following the draft. Some, like Cleveland’s Gary Barnidge and San Francisco’s Mike Davis, have already been cut. We’ll focus on those who still have teams, but not the same role.
There wasn’t a bigger loser in the draft than Jeremy Hill, but that was expected. Giovani Bernard was a close second, which wasn’t as expected. Connected to early-down hammer Leonard Fournette for much of the pre-draft process, the Bengals instead selected every-down weapon Joe Mixon. The No. 48 overall pick, Mixon is a rare prospect, one who might have gone in the top 10 if not for his troubling off-field history. As Pro Football Focus’ Mike Renner puts it, Mixon boasts Bernard’s skill-set — pass-catching weapon with silky moves in the open field — at Hill’s size (6-foot-1, 226 pounds). Mixon is sometimes compared to Le’Veon Bell, while Rotoworld’s Evan Silva has pointed out his similarities to Ezekiel Elliott. Despite all that, Mixon still wouldn’t necessarily have been an immediate threat to Bernard, who has established himself as one of the league’s better third-down backs. The problem is, Bernard is recovering from a torn ACL, leaving the door ajar for Mixon to walk through. Cincinnati is remodeling its backfield. Hill and Bernard are old parts more likely to be discarded than refurbished.
The Jags invested heavy resources in their backfield the past two seasons, spending the 2015 No. 36 overall pick on T.J. Yeldon and lavishing $10 million guaranteed on Chris Ivory. Neither move was successful, and with Leonard Fournette, new executive VP Tom Coughlin decided to cut his losses rather than compound them. Fournette immediately renders Ivory irrelevant, though his salary could make him tricky to cut. Thanks to Fournette’s limitations in the passing game, the outlook is slightly rosier for Yeldon, who has 86 receptions across two NFL campaigns. Nevertheless, where 2016 was constant confusion in Jacksonville’s backfield, 2017 will be anything but. Fournette will captain not only the running game, but the entire offense. Ivory could be a weekly inactive if he’s not cut. Yeldon will be a strict pass-catcher. His Dynasty league future appears cooked after he was a consensus top-flight pick just two years ago. Blink, and you missed Yeldon’s Jacksonville moment.
Jeff Fisher defiantly planted his Tavon Austin flag when he signed the gadget player to a six-year, $56.14 million extension last summer (lol). New coach Sean McVay is already waving it, making receiver a point of emphasis in his first offseason as Rams head coach. Fresh off signing Robert Woods, McVay and GM Les Snead added draft competition both inside (third-rounder Cooper Kupp) and out (fourth-rounder Josh Reynolds). One week later, it was revealed Austin needed wrist surgery, knocking him out for the rest of an offseason program where the Rams will be installing McVay’s new offense. Austin was handed a blank check by Fisher. After failing to cash it time after time, McVay is hedging his Austin bets. What little fantasy value Austin had is just about gone.
If Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West seemed to have won with the release of Jamaal Charles, they lost big time with the third-round selection of Kareem Hunt. If you exclude gadget player De’Anthony Thomas, Hunt is the first back drafted by Andy Reid and John Dorsey in Kansas City. That he was selected on Day 2 makes him a player of the “hand-picked” variety, someone Reid clearly believes can be an immediate contributor. Pre-draft opinions on Hunt were mixed, but he was a three-down talent for Toledo, as well as the Senior Bowl’s Most Outstanding Player. At the very least, he’s going to be in the mix after Ware faded down the stretch in 2016. It’s quite possible Hunt earns starting status in camp and the preseason. One year after he was a re-draft steal and Dynasty league darling, Ware finds himself on much shakier ground. West could be a weekly inactive. NFL life comes at you fast.
Matt Jones was on thin ice even before the Redskins selected Samaje Perine at No. 114 overall. Now he’s just about fallen through. Rob Kelley, meanwhile, will have to re-earn his role on early downs. He boasts a similar skill-set to Perine, but is doing so as a former undrafted free agent coming off a rookie campaign where he averaged a solid but unspectacular 4.19 yards per carry. Both Kelley and Perine are tackle-breakers. Perine just happens to be three years younger with a stronger draft pedigree. Kelley is the upperclassman, but it will be on him to hold off the freshman.
At least the poor man’s Sam Bradford is rich. Guaranteed $18.5 million to replace Jay Cutler, Glennon will instead soon be staring down the barrel of a loaded Mitchell Trubisky. Unless Glennon comes out like a true All-Pro, every incompletion will be fodder for a coaching staff and fanbase looking to unveil shiny new toy Trubisky. That’s if Trubisky isn’t handed the job in camp, which is a real possibility. Glennon’s big chance turned into a rug pulling before so much as one live practice. That’s football, but that doesn’t mean it’s fair.
In the real world, you could actually argue Jonathan Stewart is a winner. J-Stew is no stranger to two-man backfields, and the presence of Christian McCaffrey could help keep him on the field all 16 games for the first time since 2011. Stewart has always been miscast as a bell-cow. That’s the real world. In fantasy, McCaffrey is curtains for Stewart’s value. Purely a volume own the past few seasons, Stewart will no longer have volume. He could still end up the Panthers’ goal-line back, but ask, say, Matt Asiata owners how much profit there is in that. The Panthers would reap zero financial benefit from cutting Stewart loose, so he will remain Carolina. It will just be as the caddy instead of the golfer. This is McCaffrey’s backfield now. Stewart will be a hand-cuff back, and a low-upside one at that.
There’s been plenty of talk about the fact that Tampa should run lots of two-TE sets — and that Cameron Brate and first-rounder O.J. Howard don’t even necessarily play the same position — but Brate is still one of the draft’s clearest losers. A 2016 lifehack in fantasy leagues, Brate won’t be catching 57 passes or scoring eight touchdowns again. He definitely won’t be drawing 16 targets — as many as Travis Kelce and Greg Olsen — inside the 20-yard line again. Brate will remain part of the Bucs’ offense, just not in a way that translates to legitimate fantasy value. It’s a shame for one of 2016’s fantasy phoenixes.
Rishard Matthews just can’t win. Perennially underutilized in Miami, he appears destined for the same fate in Tennessee. An already crowded receiver corps has added No. 5 overall pick Corey Davis and third-rounder Taywan Taylor. Davis is a special prospect, while Taylor was a college target hog. Still somehow only 27, Matthews is coming off career highs in catches (65), yards (945) and touchdowns (nine), but it’s hard to see the path toward another such year with Davis and Taylor joining Delanie Walker as target competition. In another life, Matthews might have been a WR2. In this one, he’s a WR4/5 streamer.
The Ravens entered the draft with a pockmarked backfield, concerningly-thin receiver corps and tight end group full of question marks. They proceeded to draft zero offensive skill players, essentially telling Joe Flacco to “figure it out” with regards to an offense that’s averaged a middling 21 points per game over the past two seasons. It’s a questionable strategy seeing as Flacco is 32 and losing weapons coming off an extremely shaky season where he averaged just 6.42 yards per attempt. True to their heritage, the Ravens are going all in on defense. They’re also praying Breshad Perriman finally breaks out and Terrance West/Danny Woodhead can hold down the backfield during Kenneth Dixon’s four-game suspension. Flacco needed help. He got anything but.
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