- Breaking down the fantasy value of skill players taken in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
The first round of the 2019 NFL Draft was heavy on defensive players and offensive linemen, making it less compelling from a fantasy perspective than its recent forerunners. Still, a handful of players who will matter in fantasy leagues this season heard their names called on the draft’s opening night. Let’s take a look at them in the order they were selected.
Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals
It’s amazing that Murray could show up to the combine, participate in none of the drills, and still improve his draft stock. Such is the case, however, after he weighed in at 207 pounds, measured to be 5’10’, and was still the first overall pick in the draft. Those numbers may be just enough to warrant Russell Wilson comparisons. The size concerns are still there, but the arm talent is unquestionable. Murray put up 4,361 yards in his lone season as a starter at Oklahoma, and threw 42 touchdowns to only seven interceptions. He ran for 1,001 yards last season, but he’s not a run-first quarterback. Murray shows an ability to make plays at all three levels of the field, and he has a strong enough arm to make every throw. He’ll be counted on to make an immediate impact and could thrive in the right system.
Athletic Comparable: Russell Wilson
Murray should start immediately, so the playing time will be there. He'll have Larry Fitzgerald and Christian Kirk to throw to, so the receiving corps isn't bad, either. I have a regression model that I use to generate a starting point for rookie quarterbacks, and Murray comes in with the highest projected touchdown percentage, the highest projected yards per attempt, the third-highest projected rushing yards per game, and the fourth-highest projected rushing touchdowns in the 39-player sample. His passing numbers (in the same system) are eerily similar to Baker Mayfield's and he's a much better runner. Depending how the offensive line comes together, Murray should be in the streaming conversation in his rookie season.
Daniel Jones, QB, Giants
Jones is a tall lanky player with excellent accuracy and above-average mobility for his position. He’s capable of making quick reads and hitting receivers in stride to maximize plays. His deep ball deadens on him a little, and he lacks the arm strength to fire into small windows. Jones handles the blitz as well as any college player and he was well-coached at Duke, which gives him a leg up for the transition to the pros. He’ll need to work on up his release and adjusting to the speed of NFL defenders, but he has the tools and mental makeup to be a great long-term starter.
Athletic Comparable: Matt Ryan
Jones will likely sit at least one season behind Eli Manning, though if the Giants' season goes off the rails again, he could make a few starts as a rookie. In my aforementioned QB regression study, Jones did not fare particularly well, coming in 33rd in projected completion percentage, 33rd in touchdown percentage, and 37th in yards per attempt. He does have the ability to run the ball, finishing 10th in projected rushing yards per game, once he gets to start.
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Lions
Hockenson had 760 yards and six touchdowns for the Hawkeyes last season as a redshirt sophomore. He’s a rare talent at the position, with a full range of receiving traits, and above-average in-line blocking. He isn’t a burner, but has enough speed to make life difficult for linebackers trying to cover him downfield, and he has rare athleticism coming in and out of his breaks, showing excellent quickness. Hockenson is often late to adjust to poor ball placement, but he is possibly the best overall offensive prospect in this draft class, and should be an immediate starter in the NFL.
Athletic Comparable: Austin Hooper
The Lions want to go run-heavy, and Hockenson can fit in that scheme as a blocker and as a receiver. Rookie tight ends rarely make much of a fantasy impact, but Hockenson could enter the streaming conversation if he starts as a rookie. The Lions signed Jesse James, so Hockenson will have to earn his snaps in his first season.
Dwayne Haskins, QB, Redskins
Haskins had a wildly prolific season last year for the Buckeyes, leading the country with 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns. He’s a well-rounded prospect with excellent accuracy who thrives in the pocket. Haskins has excellent short-area mobility that enables him to climb the pocket, though he won’t beat linebackers to the edge if he wants to take off and run. He has limited experience as a one-year starter in college, and will need to show he can produce under pressure if he’s going to make it as a pro.
Athletic Comparable: Jameis Winston
The opportunity is there, but there isn't much receiving talent in Washington at the moment. Jordan Reed is hanging on at tight end, and the team’s top three receivers are Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson and Trey Quinn. Haskins did fare well in my rookie QB model, posting the No. 8 projected completion percentage, the No. 7 projected touchdown percentage and the 13th-best YPA. This looks like a solid long-term pick, but I'm not expecting much fantasy production in 2019 given the team's receiving corps.
Noah Fant, TE, Broncos
After scoring 18 touchdowns over his last two seasons at Iowa, Fant blew up the combine. He led all tight ends in five combine categories, including a 4.50-second 40-yard-dash, and a 6.81-second three-cone drill. He shows tremendous explosiveness in his route-running at his size, and his ability to line up along in the slot will make him a versatile tight end. Fant has excellent hands and should earn a starting job early.
Athletic Comparable: George Kittle
Fant is a ridiculous athlete who could start right away if he's able to beat out Jeff Heuerman. It's well-known that rookie tight ends rarely make a big fantasy impact, so Fant likely posts TE2-type numbers if he gets starter's snaps.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Raiders
Jacobs only had 252 college carries, as he split time over his three years at Alabama, but he averaged 5.9 yards per carry and scored 21 touchdowns on the ground, including 14 last season. Jacobs has excellent vision and runs with patience, good traits for making a quick transition to the pro game. He’s scheme-versatile and runs with effective lower-body strength and balance. Jacobs caught 20 balls last year and can run at least a rudimentary route tree. He’s still figuring out how to win in pass protection, but he demonstrates enough physicality to believe he’ll become an every-down contributor in a hurry.
Athletic Comparable: Kareem Hunt
Oakland has roughly 18.2 vacated touches per game after Marshawn Lynch's retirement and Doug Martin's departure, so this is a great landing spot for Jacobs, who was the consensus top running back in this draft. He has dual threat ability and could play on all three downs, though Jalen Richard will have something to say about that. From an ADP standpoint, I expect that he'll end in the third or fourth round in fantasy drafts by time we get to draft season
Marquise Brown, WR, Ravens
Brown is an electrifying talent who showed elite speed and elusiveness in his two seasons as a regular starter for the Sooners. He had at least one catch over 45 yards in eight of his 12 games last year, and scored 17 touchdowns in two years. A foot injury kept him from working out at the combine, but no one doubts his incredible speed. His tiny frame could keep him from succeeding in the NFL, as long-term durability and an inability to win contested catches may be problematic.
Athletic Comparable: Dede Westbrook
This is a tough situation to gauge since the Ravens are going to go extremely run-heavy with Lamar Jackson at quarterback and noted run enthusiast Greg Roman calling the plays. The Ravens do have 19.2 vacated targets per game up for grabs, though that number is misleading because it includes half of a season of Joe Flacco at quarterback. Still, there is opportunity available in this offense. As a rookie, Brown looks like a better depth play than an every-week fantasy starter. Remember, John Brown's production took a nosedive once Jackson took over at quarterback.
N’Keal Harry, WR, Patriots
Harry plays with intense swagger and looks intimidating off the line. He plays with every single inch of his 6’2”, 228-pound frame, and shows an elite ability to locate and adjust to the ball. The right quarterback will throw the ball high or to his back shoulder, even in tight coverage, knowing he’ll use his body effectively to make the catch. He has great hands and runs with determination after the catch. Harry’s issues lie in his lack of explosiveness. While a 4.53-second 40-yard-dash at the combine was better than expected, he runs with tight hips, and at times looks like he’s lumbering through routes. Harry has the kind of attitude and work ethic that could make him an elite player if he lands in the right spot, but if he can’t separate at the next level, he could be a bitterly disappointing pro.
Athletic Comparable: Allen Robinson
With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and the departure of Chris Hogan, there are 14.4 targets up for grabs in New England. There is plenty of opportunity for Harry in his rookie season. The Patriots have had trouble drafting effective receivers, and Harry will have to work to earn Tom Brady's trust, but if he's playing starter's snaps, he'll certainly be fantasy-relevant as a rookie.
Want this type of in-depth coverage on players taken in the second and third rounds? Get those breakdowns from Brandon and John here.