Imagine at your work every year, like clockwork, a crop of new fresh resumes lands on your boss’s desk. He pours over them, hand selects a few that he thinks will make the company better and brings them on board. These new guys are fresh, they’re talented (albeit they need some training), and they are being paid a lot less than you. They may have been brought in to make your job easier, but they also could be there to replace you. Pretty terrifying notion and I’d imagine you’d rather not have them come in at all.
Such is the life of an NFL player. The annual shakeup that comes along with the draft is a near certainty. There are several ways a fantasy asset can win or lose based on the groceries that are selected and in these next two articles we are going to look at some of the winners and losers. In this article we’ll talk winners. Now, rather than do what most fantasy writers do and just say, “Parris Campbell and N’Keal Harry landed with Andrew Luck and Tom Brady and they are good, so that’s good”, we’re going to look at three other major factors we’ve determined and tell you how it’s going to affect the parties involved for this upcoming season.
As scary as the scenario above is, we did touch on a silver lining that comes along with the process for a select few. If you are locked in part of the company’s future, sometimes they bring people in specifically to assist you. Let’s look at some situations where that’s the case.
Lamar Jackson – QB, BAL
Weapons. It’s what every QB wants. And, as fans, we can do our best to get pumped up about the left guard or the strong safety our team may have taken in the first but there is something extra exciting about your team going for an explosive playmaker with their first pick. Not only did the Ravens do that with their first selection, they went back to the well in the third AND fourth rounds to surround sophomore QB Lamar Jackson with fire power.
The number one criticism of the Jackson offense last year was the lack of passing. And rightfully so since, as a starter, Jackson didn’t even finish with the top 32 QBs in pass attempts per game. This deficiency become painfully apparent after Jackson threw for only 139 yards with a 48.3-percent completion percentage in a playoff loss to the Chargers so the Ravens set out to mitigate the issue by adding wide receiver Marquise Brown in the first round, wide receiver Miles Boykin in the third round, and running back Justice Hill in the fourth. Marquise Brown was the very first wideout off the board and, with his unique quickness and agility, he should slide right into the starting lineup Week 1 working as the flanker and out of the slot. After selecting the 5’9” Brown early on, the Ravens wisely avoided collecting redundant assets by taking the 6’4” Miles Boykin out of Notre Dame, who should immediately threaten for reps opposite Brown at split end. And, to top it off, the Ravens added running back Justice Hill in the fourth to compliment Mark Ingram and potentially catch balls out of the backfield in passing situations. If Jackson doesn’t improve in the passing department this year to go along with his tremendous rushing talent, it’ll be hard to still make excuses for him.
Texans Skill Players
There are two big “drive killers” in this league and those are sacks and penalties. You cannot consistently dig yourself a 5-to-15-yard hole and expect to keep climbing out. Last year Deshaun Watson was sacked an outrageous, league-high 62 times and left tackle Julie’n Davenport had 15 flags thrown on him, second only to Washington’s Morgan Moses . Either one of those statistics is unacceptable for a functioning offense and the combination makes you wonder how in tarnation the Texans could have managed to make the playoffs.
To combat the issue, the Texans went out and drafted Alabama State tackle Tytus Howard in the first round, Northern Illinois tackle Max Scharping in the second round, SD State tight end Kahale Warring in the third round, and even Texas A&M fullback Cullen Gillaspia in the seventh round. Reports so far from pad-less workouts suggest they are having lineman line up at all positions to see who a good fit might be where before the camp battles start next week. Throw in veteran signee Matt Kahlil and undrafted free agent DJ Coker and, regardless of how the line shakes out come Week 1, we can be fairly confident that it’s going to look better than it did last year. And if last year’s team was able to make the playoffs, it will be wheels up for the playmakers in the Houston offense.
Joe Mixon – RB, CIN – Honorable Dynasty/Keeper Mention
Up until last week this would have been an obvious choice and would have made it two years running where Mixon would have been on my winner list. Last year the Bengals swapped first round picks with the Bills so that the Bills could take Josh Allen and in return Cincy got Cordy Glenn to play left tackle. They then took center Billy Price out of OSU with their first rounder, solidifying the line leading to a boost in production for Mixon in 2018. This year with the 11th overall pick they took Jonah Williams which would have allowed Cordy Glenn to move down to left guard. They also took Drew Sample, a blocking tight end from Washington, with their second-round pick. The idea of having Price at center with essentially three tackles lined up to his left would have been tantalizing. Alas, Jonah Williams was diagnosed with a torn labrum and underwent surgery last week that should end his season. We’ll have to settle for essentially the same line from last season plus Drew Sample but, moving forward, it seems the Bengals are committed to the run so look to acquire Mixon where you can in keeper formats.
An underrated concept out of the draft is the boost that a player may get from being reunited with a teammate, a coach, or even an offensive scheme. This draft we saw a couple examples of old friends coming together again which should hopefully help nurture their fantasy value.
Christian Kirk – WR, HOU
Anyone who believes Kliff Kingsbury when he says that Brett Hundley has a chance of starting Week 1 probably also believes a large man travels from the ends of the earth and down your chimney to eat cookies and milk. You don’t use the number one pick on Kyler Murray and trade away your incumbent starter to let him ride the pine. Some pieces from last year will obviously still be in place but week one we will see a brand-new offense with a brand-new coach and a brand-new quarterback. And none of these players have played with Kyler Murray before except Christian Kirk .
In 2015, at Texas A&M with Kyler behind the helm, Kirk caught 80 passes for 1,009 yards and seven TDs which was his highest yardage total during his time with the Aggies. Murray transferred to Oklahoma shortly afterwards but Kirk, who was already expected to take the next step this season, clearly has a leg up on his competition for targets given he’s already played an entire season of football with the new QB. Given that Kirk had a serviceable rookie campaign in an offense that scored the second fewest touchdowns in the league, we are certainly high on Kirk in a revamped system.
Terry McLaurin – WR, WAS
If you are an NFL team and you are going to draft a quarterback in the first round, one would imagine you would have extensive conversations with that player, right? And you’d imagine at some point you’d discuss the guys he’d play with – who he liked, who he didn't want, looks for the receiver, and so on. So, it would stand to reason that, if the Redskins were going to use their first round pick on a quarterback and their second round pick on a wide receiver that played with that quarterback in college, they did so with the quarterbacks interest in mind and not just because they liked his tape, no? Well that’s exactly what happened with Dwayne Haskins and Terry McLaurin from Ohio State.
Now, we probably won’t ever know whether the Redskins would have preferred to draft Dwayne’s other OSU teammate and wide receiver Parris Campbell because the Colts scooped him up first and it would be unwise for the Redskins to publicly inform McLaurin he was plan B. Campbell was undoubtedly a preferred target of Haskins catching 90 balls for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. But, as we’ve seen with James Jones and Aaron Rodgers (while simultaneously seeing the opposite with Julio Jones and Matt Ryan ), there is a certain chemistry when it comes to red zone work. And McLaurin certainly had it with Haskins scoring 11 touchdowns his senior year despite only catching 35 balls on the season. In fact, even with J.T. Barrett under center in prior years, McLaurin put together a total of 19 touchdowns on only 75 catches which shows he has a proclivity to making plays in the end zone. As with Kirk, potentially starting off as the new QB’s go to guy, especially when it comes to scoring plays, is a huge advantage from a fantasy perspective.
Addition by Inaction
When it comes to free agency, you can often have “addition by subtraction” where some opportunities for touches open up based on a player leaving (for instance, someone besides JuJu Smith-Schuster will need to catch balls, or at least be thrown them, in the absence of Antonio Brown ). When it comes to the draft, a similar notion exists which we’ve deemed “addition by inaction”. In the same vein, this is when a team opts not to draft potential replacements that could come in and steal touches, targets, and even the outright job from the incumbent starter. Which inherently makes that player a winner.
The Dolphins appear to be going for a bottom up rebuild and, in my opinion, they’re been going about it the right way so far. They took the major pieces that will not be around in two to five years and either let them walk or traded them away. They focused on defense and offensive interior in the draft and brought in quarterbacks in Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick where it doesn’t matter if they flop – that just means you get a better pick to potentially draft your long term QB. Teams like the Rams, Chiefs and Browns have used a similar strategy to build a base, find a QB and then make some runs at a title while they have excess cap room because their QB is on a rookie deal. Take the Browns for instance. Baker Mayfield , Odell Beckham Jr., and Jarvis Landry account for roughly 15.7-percent of the salary cap this season. Matt Stafford alone accounts for 15.1-percent of the Lions cap. If the Dolphins are following this blueprint as I suspect, they may only be a year or two out from a similar window of opportunity.
But that window is in the future and we are looking at the team in terms of the upcoming season. An interesting side effect of this strategic planning is that the Dolphins didn’t go after position players in the draft. They grabbed Myles Gaskins in the last round and signed a couple wide receivers in the late rounds but that’s it. And it makes sense – if want to lose then why add explosive offensive players? The thing about that is, the team still must go out there and play every week. And as we’ve seen, a guy like Ryan Fitzpatrick can make magic happen from time to time regardless of the offense surrounding him. Kenyon Drake feels like a replacement level player to us, but the fact of the matter is he was RB17 in half point PPR last year and he DIDN’T get replaced. The same goes for DeVante Parker and anyone else like Kenny Stills who remains a de facto starter in the Dolphins offense. They are going to play 16 games this year and someone is going to be a startable fantasy asset.
Robby Anderson – WR, NYJ
Perhaps it’s the reason that Jets general manager, Mike Maccagnan, was fired shortly after the draft but, like the Dolphins, the Jets also decided to add nearly no firepower via rookies. Remember what the Ravens did for Lamar Jackson ? Well, the Jets did the complete opposite for Sam Darnold , drafting just one position player in tight end/fullback hybrid Trevon Wesco in the fourth. In free agency they added running back Le’Veon Bell, slot receiver Jamison Crowder , journeyman wideout Josh Bellamy , and a couple undrafted free agent receivers, none of which should threaten the targets of the 6’3” starting split end Robby Anderson . With a new coaching staff and another year under his belt for sophomore QB Sam Darnold , Robby Anderson becomes an interesting fantasy prospect on a team that should likely be playing from behind enough to let the ball fly. If he can manage to stay out of trouble, this could be the year he takes that step forward and breaks 1,000 yards. We saw the drastic statistical improvement for Mike Evans when his 53.4-percent career catch rate over four seasons suddenly jumped to 62.3-percent last year. If Anderson’s 54.2-percent rate over these past three years can make a similar leap then he might not even need many more targets than he’s gotten in previous years to be a contributor to your squad.