2018 NFL Draft: Biggest Fantasy Football Winners, Losers & Takeaways

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2018

2018 NFL Draft: Biggest Fantasy Football Winners, Losers & Takeaways

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    As fans cheered and booed the decisions made throughout the 2018 NFL draft, savvy fantasy football owners made note of the potential winners and losers as a result of the selections.

    Fantasy drafts won't swing into full force until late summer, but it's never too early to stay updated on backfield situations with committees and workhorse ball-carriers.

    Head coaches will  initially lean on a stopgap veteran quarterback before turning the reins over to a rookie signal-caller. However, there's one passer who is more likely to see the field than anyone else at the position. 

    Which wide receivers landed in ideal or nightmare spots? We will go through fantasy football winners and losers as well as present takeaways from the 2018 draft.

Winner: Running Back Saquon Barkley

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    The New York Giants made running back Saquon Barkley the No. 2 pick in the draft. A player at that position hasn't been selected this high since Reggie Bush in 2006. So it's not rocket science: It's obvious quarterback Eli Manning will spend more time handing off the football to extend his career. 

    The Giants have struggled to find traction in the ground attack over the past several seasons. The offense hasn't produced a 1,000-yard ball-carrier since Ahmad Bradshaw during the 2012 campaign. 

    Barkley doesn't have much competition for touches. Big Blue signed the 31-year-old Jonathan Stewart, who's entering his career twilight. Paul Perkins underwent pectoral surgery, per The Athletic's Dan Duggan. The timeline for his recovery remains unclear.

    Wayne Gallman should have a role in the upcoming season, but he's going to settle for a supplementary position to the No. 2 pick in the draft. Despite the Giants' shaky offensive line, Barkley's above-average ability to catch out of the backfield will provide a significant boost to his value in points-per-reception leagues.

Loser: Wide Receiver Courtland Sutton

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    It's a bit surprising the Denver Broncos went with a wide receiver at No. 40 overall with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders on the books for two more seasons. In quarterback Case Keenum's breakout 2017 season, he threw for 3,547 yards and only 22 touchdown passes in 15 appearances for the Minnesota Vikings.

    Even as a backup with the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams in 2015 and 2016, Keenum put up modest numbers in spurts. However, it's difficult for any quarterback to feed three pass-catchers enough to give them all fantasy relevance. Courtland Sutton will share targets with two established Pro Bowlers. Furthermore, Denver also drafted running back Royce Freeman.

    As he did with the Vikings, Keenum needs a strong supporting cast to optimize his capabilities. Expect the Broncos defense to clamp down on the opposition and utilize the ground attack to win the possession battles. Sutton has the ability to develop into a consistent 1,000-yard receiver, but it's not going to happen in 2018.

Takeaway: Temper Expectations for Running Back Sony Michel

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    Dion Lewis broke out as the fantasy running back to own in the New England Patriots backfield last year. However, he didn't take on an expanded role until Week 6 against the New York Jets. Mike Gillislee started the 2017 campaign as the primary ball-carrier. The 27-year-old missed several games as a healthy scratch in the second half of the campaign.

    Lewis signed with the Tennessee Titans during free agency, but first-round pick Sony Michel will still have competition for carries. According to the Boston Globe's Ben Volin, Gillislee could return, which would shrink the rookie's role for the upcoming season. 

    "Nothing is set in stone yet," Volin wrote. "But a league source says signs are looking good for running back Mike Gillislee and receiver Phillip Dorsett getting another shot with the Patriots in 2018."

    The Patriots also signed Jeremy Hill. He's a 6'1", 230-pound running back who could steal touches near the goal line if he makes the 53-man roster. Rex Burkhead and James White likely return as holdovers. 

    Selected 31st overall and as the third running back in the draft, Michel should be expected to produce decent numbers. However, the Patriots focus heavily on matchups to take advantage of defensive weaknesses. Additionally, with four other running backs capable of week-to-week roles, Michel's projected production comes with too many variables to even consider him an RB2.

Winner: Running Back Ronald Jones

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers allowed Doug Martin to walk during free agency. Jacquizz Rodgers has been in the league for seven seasons as a backup on three teams. Ronald Jones should immediately enter the conversation as the lead back in Tampa.

    At 5'11" and 205 pounds, he may not have the bulk of the archetypal tailback from years ago, but it's a different league, with offenses spacing out opposing defenses. NFL Media analyst Lance Zierlein drew comparisons between Jones and Jamaal Charles. Once he proves himself to be a reliable receiver out the backfield, that'd be a fair assessment.

    On the ground, the USC product handled a hefty workload, with 261 rushing attempts last season; eight NFL ball-carriers logged that many carries in 2017. The Buccaneers will still allot some touches to Peyton Barber and Rodgers. However, Jones will have the opportunity to take on the workhorse role if he can handle heavy hits from bigger defenders.

Loser: Running Back Carlos Hyde

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    The Cleveland Browns will have three quality running backs in the backfield, which projects to operate in a committee approach. Nick Chubb, the No. 35 pick in the draft, joins Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson at the position.

    Johnson led the Browns during the previous season in targets (93), catches (74) and receiving yards (693). He may specialize as a pass-catching back with fewer than the 82 carries he got last year. Still, he's a capable ball-carrier who can handle that many carries.

    Chubb's production puts a cap on Hyde, who signed as a free agent, as a potential feature tailback. Both players could split the carries evenly.

    Hyde brings dual-threat qualities to the Browns' running back stable, but the group approach lowers his fantasy ceiling. Cleveland will lean on Chubb as the eventual starter. Based on that notion, we could see the rookie's workload increase in the second half of the season.

Takeaway: Jacksonville Jaguars Wide Receiver Unit Will Be a Fantasy Nightmare

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    The Jacksonville Jaguars allowed their No. 1 wide receiver, Allen Robinson, to hit the free-agent market. He signed with the Chicago Bears and should have WR1 fantasy value.

    The Jaguars have a plethora of WR2 types, but it's going to take a psychic to predict which pass-catcher becomes a consistent contributor in the aerial attack. 

    Jacksonville selected D.J. Chark at No. 61. As a standalone pickup, it's a quality acquisition, but fantasy owners should steer clear. He joins Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief and Dede Westbrook among the team's complementary pass-catcher crew.

    The depth is good news for quarterback Blake Bortles, but fantasy owners need to identify the lead option in the passing game. Despite Chark's second-round draft tag, it's not clear whether he will see consistent targets. The Jaguars don't have a clear-cut WR1 or a highly productive signal-caller.

Winner: Wide Receiver D.J. Moore

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    The Carolina Panthers selected the first wide receiver in the 2018 draft for good reason. The front office traded wideout Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills midway through the 2017 season. He took the field as one of quarterback Cam Newton's top pass-catchers during the 2014 and 2016 seasons, missing the year in between because of a torn ACL.

    Tight end Greg Olsen signed a contract extension through the 2020 season. In 2017, he missed significant time with a foot injury. It's fair to wonder whether we are beginning to see signs of wear and tear after 11 years in the league. The three-time Pro Bowler turned 33 in March. 

    D.J. Moore will vie for the spot opposite big-bodied Devin Funchess. The Panthers acquired Torrey Smith from the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Daryl Worley during the offseason. He's a deep threat but lists as a WR3 type.

    Despite hopeful progression for Curtis Samuel, Carolina spent a first-round pick on Moore. Expect him to have every opportunity to emerge as a consistent contributor in the passing game.

Loser: Wide Receiver Calvin Ridley

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    The Atlanta Falcons added another asset to their passing game during the first round in wideout Calvin Ridley. As a draft pick, it's a great fit for the Alabama receiver, who runs disciplined routes and knows how to find blind spots in pass coverage. Quarterback Matt Ryan will welcome another option who racks up yards after the catch.

    However, Ridley did not land at an ideal spot for fantasy football purposes. He would have seen more initial looks with the Panthers, who need a WR2.

    In Atlanta, Ridley will take a backseat to Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. At tight end, Austin Hooper should also progress as a pass-catcher. Don't forget targets for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman out of the backfield. 

    Despite struggles to score through the air, the Falcons' passing offense ranked No. 8 in yards last season. It's not an offense that needed another pass-catcher to elevate the unit. Ridley likely fell to the Falcons as a great value selection. He will contribute as a rookie, but don't put him on your WR2 radar yet.

Takeaway: Josh Rosen Lands in Best Spot Among Rookie Quarterbacks

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    UCLA signal-caller Josh Rosen took a slide during the first day of the draft. He shared his candid thoughts with the media.

    "I thought I should've been picked at [No.] 1, 2 or 3," Rosen said. "I dropped, and I was pissed. I was really, really angry. I wasn't really showing it. I was trying to keep calm, cool, composed."

    Rosen comes into the league with a chip on his shoulder. He's also No. 2 on the depth chart behind a quarterback with a long history of knee injuries. Sam Bradford started two games in the previous campaign with the Vikings.

    Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer described the 30-year-old's knee as "degenerative" in March. Just like Keenum during the past year, Rosen should have a chance to see the field sitting behind Bradford. It's a good spot for a rookie quarterback, with a future Hall of Fame wideout in Larry Fitzgerald still productive in the passing attack.

    Furthermore, the team will welcome back running back David Johnson to action after he missed 15 games with a wrist injury in 2017. He's an above-average receiver out of the backfield. 

    Let's compare Rosen's situation to those of the other four quarterbacks selected in the first round. 

    Tyrod Taylor doesn't have an extensive injury history, so Baker Mayfield may not see the field as a rookie. Sam Darnold will sit behind two veterans in Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater and has average offensive weapons. If Josh Allen starts over AJ McCarron, he must answer to criticisms about accuracy. For at least a year, Lamar Jackson will sit behind Joe Flacco with the Baltimore Ravens.

Winner: Wide Receiver Christian Kirk

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    Whether it's Rosen or Bradford in the pocket, wideout Christian Kirk should have an immediate impact. Though J.J. Nelson remains in Arizona, the Cardinals didn't re-sign John Brown or Jaron Brown, creating opportunities for a consistent No. 2 option to emerge behind Fitzgerald.

    As a true freshman, Kirk logged a 1,000-yard season at Texas A&M. He finished each of his three collegiate campaigns with at least 900 yards and seven touchdowns. There's a consistency in his game that should translate with a veteran signal-caller in command or a rookie who has operated within a pro-style offense in college.

    For Kirk, it's a short- and long-term win. The second-rounder will develop on the fly with a pocket passer in the huddle. The coaching staff can experiment with Kirk, one of the best slot-receiving prospects with reliable hands, by using different looks before the snap.

    In Arizona, the offensive rookies in playmaking positions have the tools to lead this team into a new era. The passing attack isn't beholden to Bradford's availability.