In the wake of the NFL Draft, the fantasy football world is focused on this rookie class. I ranked the top-13 rookies for 2019 production here and have been talking about the class weekly on The Edge.
A more overlooked part of the draft is how it affects veterans. Teams gave their internal scouting report on their own players with actions rather than words, which is always more valuable. Here are eight players whose outlook is rosier coming out of the draft.
1. Geronimo Allison, WR, PackersAaron Rodgers was near his career-lows last season in completion percentage, touchdown percentage and yards per attempt. That wildly disappointing season came even though all-world WR1 Davante Adams went off for career-highs in catches (111), yards (1386) and touchdowns (13). So it seemed blatantly clear the Packers needed to add weaponry around Adams to raise the versatility and optionality of the offense. They did use a third-round pick on intriguing TE Jace Sternberger, but he didn’t take a wideout with any of their eight picks.
It’s a clear vote of confidence in Geronimo Allison, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Equanimeous St. Brown. MVS was clearly ahead of the other rookies last season, appearing in all 16 games and earning 68 targets across his final 12 games. He’s a name to watch, but he’ll enter camp clearly behind Allison. The former UDFA out of Illinois has consistently earned the trust of Rodgers and went 20-303-2 in four full games last season before his season-ending injury. He’s played at least 40 snaps with Rodgers nine times in his career, posting lines of 4-66-0, 4-91-1, 3-24-0, 6-122-0, 5-33-0, 5-69-1, 6-64-0, 2-76-1 and 6-80-0. If Allison can stay ahead as the clear-cut every-down player opposite Adams, he’ll continue to see single coverage in what should be a far better offensive scheme under new coach Matt LaFleur.
2. Kenyan Drake, RB, DolphinsAdam Gase loved Frank Gore to a fault. He became enthralled with Gore’s reliability, consistency and ability to maximize “what’s there” on each play. That led to Kenyan Drake in a strict change-of-pace role for just 7.5 carries and 4.5 targets per game last season. Now Gase is a Jet, Gore is a Bill and the Dolphins didn’t take a running back until the 7th round in the draft (Myles Gaskin). Drake’s only real competition is 2018 fourth-rounder Kalen Ballage. Note that Drake has always been extremely efficient, averaging 4.7 yards per carry in his career, becoming only one of five RBs last year to catch 50-plus balls and average 9.0 yards per reception, and ranking in the top third of PFF’s Elusive Rating. Even if Ballage is able to siphon off some a reasonable amount of early-down work in Chad O’Shea’s Patriots-esque scheme, Drake has found himself in line to play a beefed-up James White role. That kind of opportunity is exciting even as the Dolphins tank off the season.
3. Marlon Mack, RB, ColtsThe Colts did not add any serious competition to the running back room in free agency. They doubled down in the draft, declining to add to the position with any of their 10 picks. So we head to 2019 with the identical depth chart as late last season – Marlon Mack in the featured role, Nyheim Hines as strict pass-catcher and Jordan Wilkins a distant third. Mack’s limited pass-catching role is a major concern in a full-PPR format, but he averaged 17.1 carries in his final 12 games last season (including playoffs) and finished T-7th in carries from inside the 5-yard line. This Colts offense which added Parris Campbell, Devin Funchess and gets back Jack Doyle for Andrew Luck is absolutely stacked. Mack is going to benefit from a lot of positive game flow and scoring opportunities this season.
4. Ronald Jones, RB, BucsRonald Jones had one of the worst rookie seasons for a top-40 pick in recent memory. He was a stone disaster in the preseason, rushing 28 times for 22 yards while catching just one pass. Jones fell so far behind the likes of Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers that he was a healthy scratch the first three weeks of the season. By the time the dust settled, Jones earned just 23 regular season carries and gained 44 yards on them.
So I fully expected the Bucs to burn a draft pick – even a late-rounder – on a running back. Instead, they focused on defense, using all five of their picks in the first four rounds on that side of the ball. That leaves Jones to once again battle Barber, the 2016 UDFA who was PFF’s No. 41 RB among 61 qualifiers last season while averaging just 3.7 YPC. The Bucs’ decision not to draft a running back suggests the new Bruce Arians regime at least has some hope for Jones. Even competent play from the running back position in Tampa will stumble into fantasy points with Arians directing Jameis Winston, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and OJ Howard.
5. Lamar Jackson, QB, RavensJackson was mostly inept as a thrower last season, ranking 31st in completion percentage and 25th in yards per pass attempt. The Ravens clearly didn’t trust him as they went to an extreme run-heavy, Tebow-esque attack that resulted in just 22.5 pass attempts per game. That doesn’t mean we should completely give up on Jackson’s arm. Not only did he take over for an offense exclusively prepared to run Joe Flacco’s classic pocket-passer scheme, but the “weapons” were severely lacking.
The Ravens understood they must stress the defense vertically, adding Marquise “Hollywood” Brown at No. 25 overall, one of the draft’s most outrageous athletes in third-round wideout Miles Boykin and 4.40 RB Justice Hill in the fourth round. While Jackson will never be Drew Brees, a moderate bump in his passing stats combined with his actual RB1 rushing numbers gives him a massive fantasy floor. The additions of these rookie playmakers along with a full offseason to build a different offense makes Jackson a winner. Matt Waldman also noted how Brown can have a big impact on Jackson when he came on The Edge Episode 260.
6. Devonta Freeman, RB, FalconsThe Falcons let Tevin Coleman walk in free agency, leaving only “Judge” Ito Smith and his 3.5 YPC as serious competition for Devonta Freeman. Fifth-round RB Quadree Ollison is an 11th-percentile athlete who caught just 50 balls in his 49 college games. Note that the Falcons did make offensive line help a priority in the draft, adding G Chris Lindstrom at No. 14 overall and T Kaleb McGary at No. 31. Also note that Freeman (groin, foot) reportedly could have come back late last season, but the Falcons played it safe. So their decisions at the running back position in free agency and the draft suggest they’re comfortable with Freeman’s health. He’s still only 27 years old.
7. Darren Waller, TE, RaidersYes, the Raiders drafted tight end Foster Moreau in the fourth round. But it would be incredibly rare for a fourth-rounder at this position to have a real impact as a rookie, which means Darren Waller sits atop the depth chart. Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock have been talking up Waller all offseason anyway, starting with Gruden saying in March that Waller is “very interesting. We’re going to give him the chance of a lifetime.” After the draft, Mayock compared Waller to No. 20 overall pick Noah Fant. “You know, from a height, size perspective, he looked very similar and he’s a very athletic kid. So, we feel like we’re hopeful he can be our athletic displaced Y.”
Waller will have to prove in camp he can play the role that led to Jared Cook leading the team in receptions, targets and touchdowns last season. He’d also obviously be far behind Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams on the target totem pole. But note that Waller is a former wideout with 4.46 speed at 6’6/255. He has the athletic makeup to succeed in that “move” tight end role.
8. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, PatriotsRob Gronkowski’s retirement coupled with the Patriots missing out on free agent Jared Cook made tight end a perceived need heading into the draft. They didn’t see it that way. The Patriots didn’t take a tight end with any of their 10 draft picks, leaving the likes of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Matt LaCosse atop the depth chart. While LaCosse has the $500K guaranteed contract, Seferian-Jenkins is the former No. 38 overall pick who stands 6’5/262 and caught 146 balls in college. ASJ’s NFL career has been derailed by off-field issues and bad teams, but reclamation projects are nothing new for the Patriots. At the very least ASJ has a clear path to opportunity in a short-area, over-the-middle pass game executed by Tom Brady.
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