The 2017 NFL Draft saw 11 skill position players fall off the board in the first round. Fantasy football owners competing in dynasty and keeper leagues are eager to harvest the fresh crop.
While some, if not all, of the rookie quarterbacks will start out holding clipboards on Sundays, the other eight first-round skill position picks will carve out a relevant role by fantasy draft season.
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Leonard Fournette - Jaguars RB
Two seasons ago, Blake Bortles led the NFL with 45 pass attempts inside opponents' 10-yard line. He completed 24 passes, 19 of which were good for six. Not bad. However, the red zone offense needed to incorporate the run ASAP. Cut to 2016 and the Jaguars added some bulk and signed Chris Ivory to create a committee with T.J. Yeldon. Right idea, but horrible execution. Bortles’ red zone pass attempts were down, but Ivory played in only 11 games and he and Yeldon combined for 13 rush attempts inside the opponents' 10.
Since Bortles was drafted in 2014, Jacksonville’s pass attempts have increased in each of the past three seasons. No Jaguars running back has carried the ball 200 or more times since Maurice Jones-Drew in 2013.
Fournette must flip the script and disrupt this pass-heavy tendency, which has obviously failed. I think he’s a fantasy RB-2 off the jump with an initial average draft position of the fourth round in redraft leagues.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportDerick E. Hingle
Corey Davis - Titans WR
One of the best stats from the 2016 season was Marcus Mariota’s red zone efficiency. The Titans quarterback completed nearly 63 percent of his passes inside the 20-yard line with 18 touchdowns and no interceptions. As a team, the Titans scored a touchdown 72 percent of the time once they reached the red zone. Unbelievable.
However, Mariota endured a bumpy ride outside the red zone last season, where he finished with a 8:9 TD:INT ratio. Yuck. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker, but when that tandem combines for 210 targets, the passing game needs an upgrade.
Enter 6-foot-3 Corey Davis out of Western Michigan (#MACtion). He’s drawn comparisons to Demaryius Thomas because of his frame, but dropped passes in college allowed critics to drop their two cents on the table. Davis’ fantasy value becomes a question of distribution of touches between DeMarco Murray / Derrick Henry / Rishard Matthews and 32-year-old Delanie Walker, who has carried the passing game on his shoulders for years. Mariota’s efficiency makes it tempting to overpay for Davis on fantasy draft day, but think WR 18-20 as of April 28 is a fair starting point.
Mike Williams - Chargers WR
Philip Rivers hasn’t missed a game since 2006. Even back then, Antonio Gates paced the passing game until it evolved from Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers to Jackson and Malcom Floyd to Floyd paired with Danario Alexander to, more recently, what he had hoped would be a healthy Keenan Allen and other rising stars. Well, Allen has missed most of the last two seasons with kidney and knee injuries.
However, if Allen produces at 90 percent of what he was, combined with what is left of Gates along with emerging fantasy targets like Hunter Henry, Tyrell Williams and Dontrell Inman, how does Mike Williams fit into the puzzle? His 6-foot-4 frame is impressive, but every Chargers receiver is big. That’s a lot of mouths to feed in the passing game, along with Melvin Gordon in a position to build upon a breakout 2016 season.
Crazy to think this guy went top 10 on the first day with what the Chargers already have on their roster.
When was the last time Jonathan Stewart played in 16 games?
McCaffrey could be used the way the Packers showcased Ty Montgomery in the past. Ya know, before coach named him their full-time running back. For PPR owners, the idea of McCaffrey lining up in the slot and behind Cam Newton is intriguing, but Stewart lingers. So, we can’t overvalue McCaffrey off the jump. He’s a high-end FLEX option in PPR leagues, but I’m willing to hear your case as to why he should be a RB-2 right now.
Thearon W. Henderson
John Ross - Bengals WR
So, Andy Dalton now has A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd, and Mr. 4.22 John Ross featured in the passing game.
Will the Red Rifle survive to target those options?
Advanced metrics say the duo of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler allowed one sack last season. They are gone, and the rest of the Bengals offensive line allowed 40 sacks in 2016. Is the plan to have Ross go deep, chuck it up and hope? For Ross to have fantasy value in his rookie season, owners need to believe the Red Rifle will be healthy and upright to target him. I'm not a believer at this time.
O.J. Howard - Buccaneers TE
Jameis Winston is living the good life in Tampa Bay. With the addition of DeSean Jackson via free agency lining up opposite of Mike Evans, the promising young quarterback’s fantasy stock was already on the rise. Now, the Bucs add a 6-foot-6, 250-pound tank O.J. Howard at tight end. Also, don’t forget, Cameron Brate was second on the team in receiving and touchdowns last year. It'll be interesting to see how he fits with Howard joining the tight end corps.
It’s a challenge to avoid hyperbole in these cases, but for as great as Winston can be, he averaged only 15.6 fantasy points per game last season in leagues where passing touchdowns were four points. Evans, Jackson, Howard, and possibly Brate will help push that closer to 20 PPG if Winston can clean up the turnovers (18 INT).
Also, word on the social media street is the Buccaneers passed on Dalvin Cook to select Howard because Doug Martin has been impressive during training. A clear picture in the backfield only enhances the fantasy stackability of the Buccs in 2017.
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Evan Engram - Giants TE
It’s been more than a decade since Eli Manning had a tight end who finished in the top 12 in fantasy points scored per game (PPR): Jeremy Shockey. Since then we’ve endured the Kevin Boss and Jake Ballard eras, and while Martellus Bennett and Larry Donnell both averaged better than nine fantasy points per game, reliable consistent production was severely lacking.
So, as much as Manning needs Engram to shake things up, the Odell Beckham / Brandon Marshall / Sterling Shepard trio is more worthy of your attention. Yes, Engram is labeled a tight end, but has wide receiver speed and has drawn comparisons to Jordan Reed. The problem will be Engram working his way into the top 15 fantasy tight ends in year one with Eli also trying to build a rapport with Marshall and keep him, Odell and Shepard well fed. The last thing you want is an unhappy Marshall - or is it Beckham? - in a crowded offense.
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY SportsShanna Lockwood
David Njoku - Browns TE
Gary Barnidge reportedly was told he would be cut less than 24 hours after the Browns selected the tight end out of Miami (Fla.). Barnidge was most effective for fantasy football owners when Josh McCown was behind center. He has since moved on to start for the New York Jets.
The Browns’ efforts to upgrade their offensive line this offseason are commendable, but until we know who the 2017 starting quarterback is, Njoku’s fantasy potential is somewhat muted. I still think Isaiah Crowell provides the most bang for the buck should he pick up where he left off last season. I’m also on pins and needles regarding the status of Josh Gordon. If you have “upgraded” your offensive line, feature Crow and Duke Johnson in the backfield and Corey Coleman, Josh Gordon and Njoku in the passing game, fantasy production come garbage time could be bountiful.
The day after the first round, the Texans announced Tom Savage is their starting quarterback, the Bears announced Mike Glennon is their starting quarterback, and the Chiefs announced Alex Smith remains their starting quarterback. The front office public relations playbook is so boring.
In rookie dynasty leagues, Watson -- paired with DeAndre Hopkins for the foreseeable future -- is the guy I would want most on draft day. I'm not at all interested in Trubisky or Mahomes as of April 28, 2017. Opinions, subject to change.