Rapid Reaction: First Round Opportunity Outlook

Credit: Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire Pictured: N'Keal Harry

 

As far as first rounds go from a fantasy perspective, no need to sugar coat it, this was a snoozer for the first half of it. We knew going in the back third of the round was where we were most likely to see some fantasy football related fireworks, but we just got a snap and crackle, lacking pop. We only saw five skill position players go in the 1st round, along with three more QBs for superflex purposes, and almost certainly nailed down our top two selections in single QB leagues. Here’s what to expect in each of their new landing spots.

Note the initial grades are from December of 2018 and how the roster finished the season. The final grade is considering all offseason activity to this point.

TJ Hockenson

8th overall, Detroit Lions

Here’s how I viewed the positional opportunity as 2018 ended:

2018 TEs

  • Michael Roberts – Signed through 2020
  • Levine Toilolo – UFA

Michael Roberts took steps forward in 2018 and flashed as a pass catcher but ended the year on IR. He’s probably a tick above replacement level but by no means has a stranglehold on the job. They could look to move on from Levine Toilolo to a player with more than just a blocking skill set.

Fantasy Opportunity Grade: C+

Free Agency Activity

Detroit signed Jesse James to a four year $22.6M deal. The deal is structured such that James can be released with minimal cap penalty any time after the 2020 season.

Updated Opportunity

Current TE Depth Chart:

  • T.J. Hockenson
  • Jesse James
  • Michael Roberts
  • Logan Thomas
  • Jerome Cunningham

The initial opportunity grade was applied prior to the team parting ways with former offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, as his offense is not reliant on pass catching tight ends. That grade gets a mammoth upgrade with this top-10 investment, even considering the moderate contract James received. Hockenson should be an every-down player starting with his first snap with James being a player utilized in 12 personnel.

The caution offered through a fantasy lens on Hockenson is that he doesn’t need to be a statistical monster to be a wildly effective real-life player. His complete skill set means he can be just as effective blocking as he can be catching the ball and isn’t necessarily locked into a volume receiving role, particularly in Year 1. He will, however, be a fixture for years to come and just because reaching a ceiling isn’t remotely guaranteed, it is still quite attainable. Note that this selection is likely a death knell for the opportunity of Michael Roberts in Detroit.

Opportunity Grade: B+

Noah Fant

20th overall, Denver Broncos

Here’s how I viewed the positional opportunity as 2018 ended:

2018 TEs:

  • Jake Butt – Signed through 2020
  • Jeff Heuerman – UFA

Jake Butt is an immensely talented and complete player but his injury history is more than just a red flag now. A healthy Butt would certainly be plunged into a lead role – but for now, we are left to wonder if it will ever happen.

Fantasy Opportunity Grade: B-

Free Agency Activity:

Denver re-signed Jeff Heuerman to a two-year, $8M deal. The deal is structured to have a minimal cap penalty to cut Heuerman after 2019.

Updated Opportunity:

Current TE Depth Chart:

  • Noah Fant
  • Jeff Heuerman
  • Jake Butt
  • Temarrick Hemingway

This is a good, if not great, spot to land in for the pass-catching specialist Fant. Heuerman remains very much a replacement level player and will have no impact on Fant. Butt’s health is clearly not something the team was willing to roll the dice on again on 2019, as they have made a significant investment in Fant.

With the future of Emmanuel Sanders in extreme question coming off a torn Achilles entering his age-32 season, the team simply had no reliable pass catchers to have a real level of confidence in. DaeSean Hamilton flashed a bit to close 2018, but not at the level of being a sure thing moving forward, and Courtland Sutton showed little more than having a large body. This pick gives them a potential difference making chess piece that could grow into a role where he’d be deployed much like Jimmy Graham was in New Orleans, and there’s a real ceiling to be had.

The coaching staff however, would have to embrace this, and Fant’s relative lack of blocking ability could cost him more snaps than would be ideal if he is unable to grow in this area of his game. While he has a wider and less easily identifiable range of outcomes than the earlier drafted Hockenson, he has at least an equal if not greater fantasy ceiling.

Opportunity Grade: B+

Josh Jacobs

24th Overall, Oakland Raiders

Here’s how I viewed the positional opportunity as 2018 ended:

2018 RBs:

  • Jalen Richard – RFA
  • Chris Warren – Signed through 2020 then RFA
  • Doug Martin – UFA
  • Marshawn Lynch – UFA

Jalen Richard seems likely to return as he’s proven to be more than competent handling passing-down duties. Chris Warren is a preseason darling that brings a wide range of outcomes but can’t be assumed to be anything more than depth. Of the two older free agent backs, Doug Martin seems more likely to return, but is replacement level. This backfield has the door open for a new lead.

Fantasy Opportunity Grade: B+

Free Agency Activity:

Signed Isaiah Crowell to a one year, $1M deal. Marshawn Lynch is retiring again and Martin is extremely unlikely to return

Updated Opportunity:

Current RB Depth Chart:

  • Josh Jacobs
  • Isaiah Crowell
  • Jalen Richard
  • DeAndre Washington
  • Chris Warren
  • James Butler

This was the sweet spot for Jacobs heading into the draft, and it came to fruition. He will almost certainly walk into a Day 1 lead role. Historically, Jon Gruden’s lead back receives nearly 20 touches per game and this propels Jacobs into being an instant RB2 in dynasty with room to move into the RB1 conversation in year one. The wild card will be if he can wrestle any of the passing down work away from the quite competent Richard to clear that RB1 hurdle. This is an ideal scenario for Jacobs as he gets the ideal draft capital investment and additionally lands in a spot where he walks into a lead role immediately. Barring some perfect landing spot for a player or two on Friday, lock Jacobs into the top two of single QB leagues.

Opportunity Grade: A-

Marquise Brown

25th overall, Baltimore Ravens

Here’s how I viewed the positional opportunity as 2018 ended:

2018 WRs:

  • John Brown – UFA
  • Michael Crabtree – Signed through 2020, potential outs after 2018 and 2019 seasons with moderate cap penalty
  • Willie Snead – Signed through 2019
  • Chris Moore – Signed through 2019

This is mostly an abysmal group. John Brown is the only player bringing more than an average at best possession skill set. They will address the position and are in dire need of doing so. This is the most glaringly awful group if they’re unable to re-sign John Brown. The downside is that as Lamar Jackson has taken over, the pass catchers have suffered.

Fantasy Opportunity Grade: A+

Free Agency Activity:

Baltimore signed Seth Roberts to a one-year, $2M deal. They did not re-sign John Brown, as he is now in Buffalo. The team also released Michael Crabtree.1

Updated Opportunity:

Current WR Depth Chart:

  • Marquise Brown
  • Chris Moore
  • Willie Snead
  • Seth Roberts
  • Jordan Lasley
  • Jaleel Scott

Marquise Brown beat the odds by receiving first-round investment despite bringing the body type of a high school football player to the NFL. This is an accomplishment in its own right, but the uphill battle he’s been facing continues, and is very real. He is simply below the lowest size thresholds the NFL has previously seen garner success, and was going to have that working against him no matter his landing spot, but now he also has the landing spot to try to overcome as well. While the remainder of the Baltimore WR corps will offer no resistance from a market share standpoint and Brown will get whatever he’s able to earn, he has landed in the stone worst situation for pass catchers.

Baltimore is a substantially run heavy team with a wildly inaccurate QB at the helm in Jackson. Both volume and catchability of targets are not just massive worries, they’re both actually unlikely to arrive for Brown in the Lamar Jackson era. Even if he earns a silly high market share of the team targets, it likely won’t produce anything more than a boom/bust situation without any floor to speak of. I certainly didn’t account for the skill set of Jackson in the previous opportunity grade and won’t make that mistake a second time.

Opportunity Grade: C-

N’Keal Harry

32nd overall, New England Patriots

Here’s how I viewed the positional opportunity as 2018 ended:

2018 WRs

  • Julian Edelman – Signed through 2019
  • Chris Hogan – UFA
  • Cordarrelle Patterson – UFA

Josh Gordon is still on the team, though he is also still indefinitely suspended. Julian Edelman likely has just one more season from an age and contract perspective and the remainder of the wide receiver targets will be wide open for a new face.

Fantasy Opportunity Grade: B

Free Agency Activity:

  • Re-signed Phillip Dorsett to a one-year, $2.6M deal
  • Signed Demaryius Thomas to a one-year, $2.9M deal
  • Signed Bruce Ellington to a one-year, $895K deal
  • Signed Maurice Harris to a one-year, $1M deal
  • Re-signed Gordon to a one-year, $2M deal
  • Chris Hogan signed with Carolina and Cordarelle Patterson signed with Chicago.

Updated Opportunity:

Current WR Depth Chart:

  • Julian Edelman
  • Phillip Dorsett
  • N’Keal Harry
  • Bruce Ellington
  • Maurice Harris
  • Braxton Berrios
  • Matthew Slater
  • Damoun Patterson
  • Demaryius Thomas
  • Josh Gordon

After a long and sometimes dragging first round, it closed with a bang as we got a near lock for a top-two selection in single QB leagues with Harry landing in New England. His skill set fits very well in New England and is likely to be the only WR on the roster with contract security past the current season come opening day. The heir apparent to Edelman as the alpha in Foxborough, it’s potentially just a waiting game until he takes over a real volume role.

The team threw darts in free agency and will have depth covered for this season, so the only real question to be asked now is, how much volume can he command in 2019? He feels very safe to project for that real volume beyond this season, but the rookie year role is the question mark. The feel is he will enter the season as the team WR3 or WR4, with potential growth to fantasy viability by the end of the season, and the real boom coming in 2020. He has real dyansty WR1 ceiling for the long haul.

Opportunity Grade: A

  1. And he is, predictably, still unsigned.  (back)