Fantasy Football: 5 Players to Watch on Day 1 of the Draft

In a few days some of the biggest names in college football last year will be in the NFL. Which of those players do you want to target in fantasy football?

For many owners, there’s some kind of allure when it comes to drafting a rookie in fantasy football. Maybe it’s because we get so caught up in their college highlights. Maybe it’s because the combination of the hype and the unknown are too attractive to pass up. Either way, you better believe this August and/or September owners will be targeting a few rookies to draft for their team in 2017.

The trick for owners is to not get caught up in what happened last year, the year before or the year before that. Instead, look at every player and every team in their current circumstance and nothing else.

Ezekiel Elliott was the first running back off the board in the NFL Draft last year. He was also one of the best fantasy football players last year. Yet, would he have had that kind of success in fantasy if the Cowboys passed on him and he landed with a team like the New York Giants? My money would be on no.

It’s because if Elliott had to play behind the Giants below-average offensive line instead of the Cowboys top-notch offensive line, there’s no way he would have had 1,631 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. The Giants as a team last year only had 1,412 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns.

Obviously we don’t know what teams these players will be on just yet so all we can do is keep an eye on them and see where they land. Here are the top-five players fantasy football owners should be monitoring on Day 1 of the NFL Draft.

Oct 15, 2016; Akron, OH, USA; Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Corey Davis (84) tosses the ball after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Akron Zips at InfoCision Stadium. Western Michigan Broncos won 41-0. Mandatory Credit: Jason Mowry-USA TODAY Sports

5. Corey Davis, WR – Western Michigan

What’s not to like about this young man? He’s got the size at 6-3 and 209 pounds. He’s got the production with three straight seasons with 1,400+ receiving yards and 12+ touchdowns. He didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine or his Pro Day due to an ankle injury, but if you watch his games, you know he has the speed.

The biggest knock on Davis is his jaw-dropping highlights were performed in a Western Michigan uniform and not an Alabama, USC or Clemson jersey. In today’s NFL and scouting process, that shouldn’t be a huge deal. After all, the NFL’s 2016 receiving leader, T.Y. Hilton, came from Florida International University. Arguably the NFL’s best wide receiver, Antonio Brown, came from Central Michigan. So why can’t a guy from Western Michigan come in and make an immediate impact?

Realistic Best Case Scenario: Tennessee Titans at No. 5 or 18 overall

The Titans have one of the best young franchise quarterbacks in the NFL in Marcus Mariota. Right now, their current No.1 receiver is Rishard Matthews. He had a nice season last year but he’s not a NFL caliber No. 1. If Davis were to go there, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him finish 2017 as the team’s leader in both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers wide receiver Mike Williams (7) catches a touchdown against Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey (26) during the fourth quarter in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

4. Mike Williams, WR – Clemson

Clemson’s No. 1 wide receiver, Mike Williams, finished top-two in the ACC in 2016 in receptions (98), receiving yards (1,361) and receiving touchdowns (11). In short, the guy was a beast. It was a great to see Williams bounce-back the way he did because in 2015 he went down with a season-ending neck injury in the first game of the season.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, Clemson has emerged as one of the best college programs in the nation. Not only that but they also have made a case of becoming the next “Wide Receiver U”.

In 2013, DeAndre Hopkins was selected in the first-round by the Houston Texans. In 2014, Sammy Watkins was selected in the first-round by the Buffalo Bills. If/when Williams is selected in the first-round on Thursday it’ll be Clemson’s third first-round wide receiver in five years.

Right now, it’s anyone’s guess who will be selected first between Williams and Corey Davis. Both are big-bodied wide receivers who should be heavily leaned on in the redzone. The question is, “Who is better?” might not come down to talent, but more about location.

Realistic Best Case Scenario: Tennessee Titans at No. 5 or 18 overall

(Same reasoning for Williams as Corey Davis the slide before)

Nov 7, 2015; Clemson, SC, USA; Florida State Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook (4) carries for a touchdown during the first quarter against the Clemson Tigers at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

3. Dalvin Cook, RB – Florida State

In 2016, Cook was first in the ACC in carries (288), rushing yards (1,765) and second in rushing touchdowns (19). The only person who finished with more rushing touchdowns was Heisman winner QB Lamar Jackson.

It was the second-straight season Cook finished with 1900+ yards from scrimmage and 20 total touchdowns. On tape, Cook was one of the most exciting and electrifying players in the nation. It might be reasons off the field that could force Cook to slide on draft day.

Cook has had multiple shoulder surgeries and arrests since high school. It should be noted Cook did not miss any time at FSU due to those surgeries. He also wasn’t convicted of any of his crimes. Yet, his pattern of behavior could scare off a few teams early in the draft.

Realistic Best Case Scenario: Oakland Raiders at No. 24, Kansas City Chiefs at No. 27 or Green Bay Packers at No. 29

In all three of these scenarios Cook slides on draft day but because of that, he goes to a better team. There’s speculation the Raiders could acquire Marshawn Lynch. However, they haven’t at this point and, with Latavius Murray in Minnesota, Cook would be the No. 1 back behind one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.

Cook has been compared to Jamaal Charles so why wouldn’t we love him in Kansas City where Charles had so much fantasy success when he was healthy?

Green Bay is a pass-first team but that’s okay because Cook is a capable pass-catcher and would be dangerous in that offense.

Sep 19, 2015; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) breaks away from Auburn Tigers cornerback Ed Paris (24) for a touchdown during the second quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

2. Leonard Fournette, RB – LSU

Only three times in my 27 years on this earth have I thought to myself, “That guy is different. He is cut from a different cloth” when watching a college running back. Once came back in 2004 during Adrian Peterson‘s freshman season at Oklahoma (where he was robbed of the Heisman). The second was Todd Gurley at Georgia in 2012.

The third time was Leonard Fournette in 2015.

Somebody at his size (6’0 and 240 pounds) should not be able to run as fast as he does. It’s scary to watch him run with a full head of steam and by some defenders fake attempts to tackle him, it’s obviously scarier to see in person.

Fournette was the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy going into 2016 but injuries plagued his season. Due to the lackluster season, people aren’t as sold as him as they were a season ago. Yet, if he was eligible to come out in last year’s draft it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see the Cowboys select him over Ezekiel Elliott.

Personally, I’m not 100% sold that he is a “can’t miss” prospect in today’s NFL where you need to be able to run and catch the ball. Then again, I’m not trying to bet against a guy of his caliber. If he can go to a ground-and-pound type of offense, watch out.

Realistic Best Case Scenario: Carolina Panthers at No. 8

“They have Jonathan Stewart, though!”

So? Fournette would join a backfield that has a 30-year old running back who hasn’t played 16 games since 2011 so that’s a bad situation for him? I don’t think so.

If the Panthers take Fournette that high in the draft, you better believe he will see around 230 touches next season despite the presence of Stewart.

Sep 17, 2016; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Christian McCaffrey (5) catches a pass and rushes for a touchdown against the USC Trojans during the first half of a NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

1. Christian McCaffrey, RB – Stanford

You need a guy who can run it between the tackles? McCaffrey can do that. You need a guy who can catch the ball just as good as a wide receiver? McCaffrey can do that. You need a guy who can return kickoffs and punts? Mcaffrey can do that.

The standout running back from Stanford did a little bit of everything during his time at Stanford. In his final two years at Stanford he averaged 2,289 yards and 14.5 touchdowns from scrimmage. He also managed to return both a kickoff and punt for a touchdown as a sophomore in 2015.

Whatever team that elects to spend a first-round pick on McCaffrey will be sure to get him involved in every game one way or another. One game he might have 12 carries and 4 receptions. The next, he might get 8 carries and 8 receptions. Either way, he’s going to get his touches.

If you are in a PPR league, McCaffrey should be on your radar as he’ll flirt with 50 receptions as a rookie. If you are in a league that awards points for return yards, McCaffrey should once again be on your radar.

Realistic Best Case Scenario: Philadelphia Eagles at No. 14

If the Eagles draft McCaffrey, I would imagine Ryan Mathews or Darren Sproles would get their walking papers. This would then open the door for McCaffrey to get a lot of touches in an up-and-coming offense.

Last year the Eagles running backs combined for 80 receptions in Frank Reich’s first year in Philadelphia. Reich would find a way to use McCaffrey early and often in the Eagles passing game. Remember, Chargers running back Danny Woodhead caught 76 receptions in Reich’s offense in 2013.

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