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Saquon Barkley Emerges As the Top Fantasy Rookie After NFL Draft Round 1

We know Saquon Barkley will be an immediate fantasy star. What about the rest of the skill players taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft?

The first round of the 2018 NFL Draft is in the books, and while it had plenty of drama, it was light on fantasy impact. In fact, when fantasy draft season rolls around, it’s entirely possible that only three players who went in the first round are selected within the first 10 to 12 rounds of a typical fantasy draft. There was, however, a possible instant star selected second overall, and enough quarterbacks that at least one, if not two or three, are likely to find themselves on the field at some point this season. Add to that a couple of wide receivers who ended up in perfect spots, and it was a first round worth remembering in the fantasy football world.

Players are listed in the order in which they were selected.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Browns

Word started to trickle out on Thursday morning that Mayfield would be the No. 1 pick, and sure enough new Browns GM John Dorsey followed through on that, making the Oklahoma product the future in Cleveland. I wonder how many Browns fans, many of whom double as Ohio State fans, would have wanted to see that after Mayfield planted the Oklahoma flag at the 50-yard line in Columbus last season. Mayfield could eventually be a star for both real-life and fantasy purposes, but chances are he won’t be of much relevance this season. The Browns traded for Tyrod Taylor in the offseason, and he remains one of the league’s truly underappreciated quarterbacks. With Taylor, Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon and David Njoku, the Browns suddenly have an offense that isn’t just competent, but potentially good. It’s not hard to put together a scenario where the Browns go from 0-16 to an AFC Wild Card spot, and that likely only happens with Taylor under center. There’s no doubting Mayfield’s status as the future in Cleveland, and that future isn’t likely to begin until 2019 at the earliest.

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Saquon Barkley, RB, Giants

If there’s an Ezekiel Elliott or Odell Beckham style of fantasy rookie in this year’s first round, it’s obviously Barkley. Whether it’s smart to take a running back second overall in the modern NFL is up for debate, but Barkley’s talents as a running back are not. He’s a true do-it-all weapon out of the backfield, as he proved during his time at Penn State. He has breakaway ability, he can run through one defender and then juke the nex one out of his shoes, he’s a threat as a receiver, and he’ll stand up and make a block in pass protection. He’s a true three-down back who will immediately become one of the focal points of the Giants offense, alongside Beckham. Opportunity is everything in fantasy, and Barkley is going to get plenty of it. By time we’re sitting down and drafting fantasy teams, Barkley will likely be a late-first or early-second round selection in all formats, and rightfully so. He’s the one player in this first round who could be a league winner in the fantasy game.

Sam Darnold, QB, Jets

When the Jets traded up blind three spots last month, and gave up three second-rounders to do so, they had to be dreaming that Darnold would be sitting there for them. At any point since the start of the last college football season, he was the closest thing there was to a consensus top quarterback, so for him to be available at three, with two quarterback-needy teams picking at one and two, must have been a dream for Mike Maccagnan and the rest of the Jets’ brain trust. The quarterback room is crowded, with Darnold joining Josh McCown and, for the time being, Teddy Bridgewater, Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg. Clearly, two of those players will be gone in the near future, but it’s likely the Jets begin the season with McCown atop the depth chart. It’ll be interesting to see just how patient the Jets are with their rookie quarterback. Anyone who plays in front of him is merely keeping the seat warm, but there’s no guarantee he’ll get meaningful playing time this season. He has a better chance to play than Mayfield, but still does not project as a serious fantasy option in 2018.

Josh Allen, QB, Bills

There was more reason to doubt Allen than any of the other top-four quarterback prospects, but he might be the best fantasy player this season, simply because of opportunity. The Bills aren’t likely to be playoff contenders this year, and the only person standing between Allen and the starting gig is A.J. McCarron. The Bills gave up quite a bit to move up and grab Allen, meaning there will be pressure to play him if they’re, say, 1-5 after their first six games. Allen has all the tools to be great, and likely a higher ceiling than Mayfield, Darnold or Josh Rosen, but there’s reason to doubt a quarterback who completed fewer than 60% of his passes while playing in the Mountain West Conference. Allen and his people did a good job of explaining away as many of those reasons as possible, and it’s entirely possible that some, if not many, of their explanations prove true. It’s hard to not fall in love with his pure ability when you see an Allen highlight reel. Given his clear path to significant playing time, he grades as the best fantasy quarterback of the group, with the operative word there being “fantasy.” Still, he’s likely no more than a late-round flier in most leagues, even those where owners start two quarterbacks.

Josh Rosen, QB, Cardinals

Like Mayfield and Darnold, Rosen may spend much of the 2018 season on the sidelines. The Cardinals signed Sam Bradford this offsesason, and there’s no doubt that he will enter the year as the team’s starter. Bradford does have as checkered on injury history as any quarterback in the league, but he has proven himself largely competent when healthy, and it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals moving on from him at any point in the first two months of the season, barring disaster. It’s equally hard to imagine that disaster coming to fruition. The Cardinals may not project as a high-end playoff contender, but there’s too much talent on both sides of the ball for them to be a laughingstock. Even if they’re not in the playoff picture, they have the feel of a garden variety 6-10 team, rather than a trainwreck 3-13 team. That means Rosen likely won’t be on our fantasy radar until an injury to Bradford or the 2019 season, whichever comes first.

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D.J. Moore, WR, Panthers

Here’s where things get interesting again for fantasy purposes. Moore landed in a great spot, going to the Panthers with the No. 24th overall pick. An offense featuring Cam Newton, Christian McCaffrey, Devin Funchess, Greg Olsen and now Moore could be quite lucrative from a fantasy perspective. It’s hard to overstate just how good Moore was in his final season at Maryland, considering the circumstances. Injuries forced the Terrapins to trot out three different quarterbacks while going just 4-8 overall, and 2-7 in the Big Ten. In those terrible conditions, Moore caught 80 passes for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns. He’ll make an instant impact for both the Panthers and in fantasy leagues

Hayden Hurst, TE, Ravens

It’s not often that we talk about a 25-year-old rookie tight end possibly landing on the fantasy radar, but that’s where we are with Hurst. He had given up football to pursue baseball after being selected by the Pirates in the 17th round of the 2014 amateur draft, but flamed out due to a terrible case of the yips. He eventually walked on to the team at South Carolina and, three years later, made himself into a first-round tight end, catching 44 passes for 559 yards and two touchdowns last year. The Ravens are desperate for playmakers in the passing game, and while Hurst faces a steep learning curve, the opportunity for targets will be there. He’ll be a player to watch in training camp and during the exhibition season. Given the large year-to-year churn at the backend of the TE1 class, Hurst could find himself as a decent endgame target in fantasy drafts this season.

Calvin Ridley, WR, Falcons

Like Moore before him, Ridley couldn’t have handpicked a better team with which to begin his NFL career. It’s no secret just how disappointing the Falcons offense was last year. While that likely owed more to coaching and execution than personnel, the team still needed another weapon, especially after losing Taylor Gabriel to the Bears in free agency. Ridley, who began the draft process as a possible top-10 pick, fell into their laps at pick No. 26. He has the reputation as a precise route runner who gets himself open regularly without overwhelming speed or athleticism. Defenses have to commit major resources to both Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, and that means that someone with Ridley’s skill set can thrive in this offense. He’s going to see more single coverage this year than he has at potentially any other time in his football-playing life, and his footwork can make him a nightmare cover. It would not be a surprise if we’re talking about Ridley as a regular fantasy starter by October.

RashaadPenny, RB, Seahawks

This selection had some people scratching their heads on Thursday night, but one look at the Seahawks roster, as well as their stat sheet from a year ago, explains it. Russell Wilson was involved in all but one of the team’s 38 touchdowns last season. As great as Wilson is, that’s no way to be a playoff contender. Yes, they return a healthy Chris Carson, but there’s no guarantee he’s the answer in the backfield. Enter Penny, who led the country with 2,248 rushing yards and found the end zone 25 times last year. With Jimmy Graham and Paul Richardson gone, Penny immediately becomes the second biggest playmaker at Wilson’s disposal, behind Doug Baldwin. The Seahawks may view him as a rotational back for the time being, but given the state of their depth chart at the position, he could consign Carson to a backup role. This is an intriguing player who could fly up fantasy draft boards as the summer progresses.

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Sony Michel, RB, Patriots

There are few people who don’t love Michel as a player, and even fewer who actually like where he ended up in the draft. From the standpoint of winning a ring this year, Michel couldn’t have landed in a better spot. From the standpoint of being a meaningful, predictable fantasy player, though, few places are worse than New England for a rookie running back. It’s entirely true that the Patriots are unlikely to use the 31st overall pick on a running back they don’t plan on giving a significant role in the offense, but look at all the clutter in the backfield. The Patriots already have Rex Burkhead, James White, Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee, and it’s possible all of them are on the roster Week 1. What’s more, it’s possible they all get touches in the offense, and we know for a fact that Burkhead and White are going to play the roles for which they have already been cast. Michel could step up and be the first back among equals, but he has a long way to go to earn that status.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Ravens

If I had to bet on one rookie quarterback going all Russell Wilson and forcing his team through his play to start him Week 1, it would be Sam Darnold. If I had to bet on a second, though, it would be Jackson. There may be genuine questions about his game translating to the next level, but you don’t do everything he did at Louisville by accident. Joe Flacco has been a replacement-level quarterback for years, and the Ravens shouldn’t feel compelled to start him if he doesn’t prove himself a better option than Jackson this summer. Flacco obviously enters training camp with a major head start on Jackson, and it would take a Wilson-esque summer from the rookie to earn the starting job. The Ravens are still a few playmakers short of being an exciting offense, but Jackson could find himself on the fantasy radar should be challenge Flacco for the starting job.