Fantasy football impact: NFL draft first round

Wow. What a first round of the NFL draft we witnessed on Thursday night.

The festivities started with a bang as the Browns, who have made big splashes in the offseason so far, picked Baker Mayfield as the No. 1 overall selection. The safe pick was Sam Darnold. Josh Rosen was also more likely to go to Cleveland. Saquon Barkley was even a possibility. But word got out early Thursday that Mayfield was a real possibility.

It’s too early to know what, if any, kind of fantasy impact Mayfield has this season. Tyrod Taylor is in Cleveland and should at least start the season as the No. 1 QB. The upside for Mayfield is probably higher than any quarterback in this draft. He would be a good pick for dynasty leagues, but you can’t use any draft capital on a backup in a standard league.

The Cleveland Browns select Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield as the first overall pick in the NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Thursday, April 26, 2018. (Max Faulkner/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS)

The Giants didn’t bite on a surprisingly available Darnold. Instead they went with the guy they were expected to take in Barkley. Now he’s a player that will have value in fantasy drafts. He’ll be penciled in as the Giants’ next starting running back with only Jonathan Stewart, Paul Perkins and Wayne Gallman as his biggest competition. The offensive line needs help, but Barkley is an undeniable talent that will be valuable from Day 1.

The other team from New York, the Jets, had to be truly grateful that Darnold landed in their lap at No. 3. Like Mayfield, I don’t see Darnold as an early asset for fantasy. He’s still only 20 years old and Josh McCown will likely start the season. But if you’re drafting for a dynasty league, I have him ahead of Mayfield. He probably doesn’t have the upside that Mayfield has, but he has a much higher floor I believe.

Sam Darnold, a quarterback from USC, with Commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected third overall, by the New York Jets, at the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, April 26, 2018. The Cleveland Browns took Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield with the top pick. (Cooper Neill/The New York Times)

The next skill position to get selected was Josh Allen at No. 7. He went to the Bills and I’ve got to admit I’m not a fan. Allen’s not efficient and I don’t see how a quarterback who can’t throw for at least 57 percent in the Mountain West can succeed in the NFL. But what about his athleticism? Allen rushed for more than 60 yards just twice in 2017.

I’m a big fan of the next quarterback taken, Rosen by the Cardinals. He’s been described as the most NFL-ready quarterback of the group. Rosen goes to a team with a fragile starter in Sam Bradford. Targets like Larry Fitzgerald, J.J. Nelson, Brice Butler and Cobi Hamilton aren’t scary, but they’re enough if Rosen can get on the field. He’s another solid dynasty pick that I actually like more than Darnold and Mayfield.

Josh Rosen of UCLA reacts after being picked #10 overall by the Arizona Cardinals during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Behind Barkley, I think D.J. Moore will have the biggest fantasy impact this season. He was my highest-rated wideout and he goes to a team where he can contribute early. Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith aren’t WR1 material and Moore should get on the field early. The amount of screens he took for huge gains in college makes me think he can do the same for Cam Newton.

Calvin Ridley was the next receiver drafted and he becomes the third piece of what looks to be an impressive trio in Atlanta. He’ll battle Mohamed Sanu for the No. 2 spot behind Julio Jones. I think the location keeps Ridley’s ceiling pretty low. He may end up as a solid flex player this season, depending on if he can overtake Sanu as Matt Ryan’s second-favorite target.

What came after the Ridley pick was a huge and intriguing surprise. The Seahawks took Rashaad Penny, and though it’s a reach in real-life terms, it makes him a totally viable fantasy option. The guy rushed for 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns in his last season with San Diego State. The Seahawks don’t have a true starter on their roster. Penny caught just 19 passes last season, but he carried it 289 times proving he can be a bell cow. He’s a dynamite return man as well.

A video board displays an image of Rashaad Penny of San Diego State after he was picked #27 overall by the Seattle Seahawks during the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium on April 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Some saw the Patriots taking Lamar Jackson late in the round, to try to find a new-era replacement for Tom Brady. They sidestepped that scenario by taking Sony Michel instead. The better of the two Georgia running backs joins a crowded backfield. The Pats have Jeremy Hill, Rex Burkhead and James White. I wouldn’t draft Michel in standard leagues, but he could be an early-season pick up if he finds a role in New England.

The first round ended as it began, with a Heisman Trophy winner getting selected. The Ravens took Jackson to be their quarterback of the future. Given that, he will be a high pick in dynasty leagues. He might even end up having the best career of all the QBs selected in this first round, but Joe Flacco will be the starter this season.

NFL Playoff Challenge fantasy football rankings: Super Bowl LII

It’s all come down to this. The Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots are the last teams standing and one of them will be crowned the Super Bowl LII champions on Sunday.

If you’re playing in the NFL.com’s Playoff Challenge, you’ve got one more lineup to set. There are couple of things to consider in this type of competition which I’ll cover as we get to each position.

Here are my rankings for the final game of the season.

Quarterbacks

This is a pretty standard call. If you’ve started Tom Brady since the beginning of the competition, you’ll want to cash in on his quadruple bonus. However, I could see a scenario where you’re close to the top of your group’s standings after starting Nick Foles in the conference championship. If that’s the case you can get double points starting him in the Super Bowl. That’s if you think he’ll stay hot.

1. Tom Brady, Patriots
2. Nick Foles, Eagles

Running backs

I think the Patriots will win it all, and Dion Lewis will have a big role. He lost some touches due to a fumble in the AFC championship, but his skills will make up for that. James White was a huge part of New England’s Super Bowl win last season. He could be a big factor again, which is why I have him ranked second. In either case, the running backs for the Patriots will have to get most of their points through the air against the tough Eagles run defense. The highest ranked Eagle for me is LeGarrette Blount. While Jay Ajayi is the better overall back, I think a touchdown for Blount is more likely if they get down near the goal line.

1. Dion Lewis, Patriots
2. James White, Patriots
3. LeGarrette Blount, Eagles
4. Jay Ajayi, Eagles
5. Rex Burkhead, Patriots
6. Corey Clement, Eagles

Wide receivers

I have Alshon Jeffery ahead of Brandin Cooks because he’s been hot recently. He’s a big target in the red zone. Jeffery’s quarterback is coming off his best playoff game. With Tom Brady having a lot of options, including Rob Gronkowski, it’s likely Jeffery is the highest scoring wideout in the game. The Patriots wide receivers that could lead in fantasy points are Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola. Cooks is more talented, but Amendola has been solid for Brady.

1. Alshon Jeffery, Eagles
2. Brandin Cooks, Patriots
3. Danny Amendola, Patriots
4. Nelson Agholor, Eagles
5. Chris Hogan, Patriots
6. Torrey Smith, Eagles
7. Mack Hollins, Eagles
8. Phillip Dorsett, Patriots
9. Kenny Britt, Patriots

Tight ends

It’s a no-brainer starting Gronkowski, if he’s fully recovered from the concussion he suffered in the conference championship game. Of course, Zach Ertz has been good, but it’s not likely you’ve sat Gronk so far this postseason. You’ll need that multiplier to work in your favor.

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2. Zach Ertz, Eagles
3. Trey Burton, Eagles
4. Dwayne Allen, Patriots
5. Brent Celek, Eagles
6. Jacob Hollister, Patriots

Defense/Special teams

Nick Foles has played well in stretches and his 27 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in 2013 was no fluke. That said, the Patriots have had two weeks to prepare for the quarterback who has also played poorly in stretches. Odds of the Patriots winning and of Foles turning the ball over have me picking the Patriots to score more fantasy points on defense.

1. Patriots
2. Eagles

Kickers

I’m not expecting a blowout, but I think the Patriots can hold the Eagles out of the end zone more often than not. That would give Jake Elliott more opportunities to kick field goals.

1. Jake Elliott, Eagles
2. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots

DFS fantasy football rankings: conference championships

There are just two more games remaining in the NFL playoffs, so that’s just two more opportunities to play fantasy football. Here are my DFS fantasy football rankings for the conference championships. There’s not much difference between these and my NFL Playoff Challenge fantasy rankings with the season so close to an end. But there are a few differences and more options ranked here.

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

NFL playoff fantasy football rankings: conference championships

It’s starting to get serious if you’re playing NFL.com’s Playoff Challenge. The players you started in the first round are now due to earn triple points if you’ve kept them in your lineup this whole time. Last week I suggested you start a few top-scoring Saints and Titans, but with the caveat that it would possibly be the end of the line for them. It was indeed the end of the line for the Saints, and in unbelievable fashion.

Here’s a look at my rankings for the conference championships.

Quarterbacks

The Patriots have just been cruising along this whole time, having all the breaks go their way. Now they take on an upstart Jaguars team that needs their defense to score points in order for them to win. If Brady can’t be productive against the Jags’ pass defense, it might be time to start thinking his skills are falling off. I don’t think that happens. If you started him in the first week of the playoffs, you’ll get to multiply this week’s points by three. A lot of people started Drew Brees to begin the Playoff Challenge, but with him no longer available, they should look to Case Keenum, who is favored to make the Super Bowl.

1. Tom Brady, Patriots
2. Case Keenum, Vikings
3. Blake Bortles, Jaguars
4. Nick Foles, Eagles

Running backs

Dion Lewis did it all last weekend, though James White was the running back that scored twice. Lewis is a safer play that can pay off big if he ends up getting in the end zone. He had 24 touches for 141 yards from scrimmage while White had just eight touches, though he scored twice. Someone that I think will have to score in order for his team to advance is Jay Ajayi. He had 19 touches and 98 yards from scrimmage, but things should be tough against the Vikings. For the Vikings, I think Latavius Murray continues to take a big share of carries, especially if Minnesota controls the game.

1. Dion Lewis, Patriots
2. Jay Ajayi, Eagles
3. Latavius Murray, Vikings
4. Leonard Fournette, Jaguars
5. James White, Patriots
6. T.J. Yeldon, Jaguars
7. Jerick McKinnon, Vikings
8. Rex Burkhead, Patriots
9. LeGarrette Blount, Eagles
10. Corey Clement, Eagles
11. Chris Ivory, Jaguars
12. Corey Grant, Jaguars
13. Tommy Bohanon, Jaguars

Wide receivers

Stefon Diggs was the big hero last Sunday, but a big chunk of his numbers came on the winning play. The numbers still count, obviously, but Adam Thielen has been the more consistent receiver for the Vikings. I don’t have Diggs far behind Thielen, though. Brandin Cooks is my third-best receiver this week as I expect the Patriots to find a way to get by the Jags’ defense. Jacksonville, though stout on D, has had some high-scoring affairs this season and they just gave up 42 points to the Steelers.

1. Adam Thielen, Vikings
2. Stefon Diggs, Vikings
3. Brandin Cooks, Patriots
4. Danny Amendola, Patriots
5. Alshon Jeffery, Eagles
6. Chris Hogan, Patriots
7. Marqise Lee, Jaguars
8. Nelson Agholor, Eagles
9. Keelan Cole, Jaguars
10. Jarius Wright, Vikings
11. Allen Hurns, Jaguars
12. Torrey Smith, Eagles
13. Dede Westbrook, Jaguars
14. Laquon Treadwell, Vikings
15. Kenny Britt, Patriots
16. Phillip Dorsett, Patriots

Tight ends

Rob Gronkowski was the easiest call in terms of starting a tight end for the Playoff Challenge. Owners will get rewarded with triple points this week. I’ve got Kyle Rudolph ranked second since he and the Vikings are favored to make the Super Bowl. He had five catches, but just 28 yards in the win over the Saints. Zach Ertz had a disappointing game last weekend, catching three passes for 32 yards. I have him behind Rudolph because I think his season ends in a loss to the Vikings. Of course, if you have a multiplier in play for Ertz, you might want to start him over Rudolph.

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings
3. Zach Ertz, Eagles
4. Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars
5. Trey Burton, Eagles
6. Dwayne Allen, Patriots
7. Brent Celek, Eagles
8. James O’Shaughnessy, Jaguars

Defense/Special teams

These picks are pretty straight forward. I think the Patriots, who are favored by more than a touchdown, won’t have much trouble against the Jaguars. I’ve ranked the Vikings second since I think they move on.

1. Patriots
2. Vikings
3. Eagles
4. Jaguars

Kickers

If you pick either one of the top two kickers, you’re likely to have a multiplier in play during the Super Bowl.

1. Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots
2. Kai Forbath, Vikings
3. Jake Elliott, Eagles
4. Josh Lambo, Jaguars

Contact Cat Vasquez at 512-445-3677. Email cvasquez@statesman.com. Twitter @AAS_Cat.

NFL rookies ready to make a fantasy impact

The NFL draft has come and gone and with it the expectations have been set for the incoming rookie class. Here’s a look at the rookies who can make an impact in your fantasy football leagues.

Early contributors

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jaguars — He passes the eye test and has drawn comparisons to Adrian Peterson. I have a few doubts about that comparison, but he’s in a good spot and I’d expect him to get the share of carries next season despite the presence of Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon. Last year’s running back picked at No. 4 (Ezekiel Elliott) turned out all right. Fournette is at least an RB2 in my book, and could end up being a top-8 running back by the time the season is over. He’ll probably go in the second or third rounds of fantasy drafts.

Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers — This is a great situation for the rookie; Jonathan Stewart is entering his 11th year and McCaffrey has the versatility to take over touches from the other backs on the roster. If what he did in college is any indication, he’ll be starting outright soon enough. McCaffrey will be expected to take a lot of pressure off Cam Newton, likely acting as an outlet in the passing game. Look for him to go in the second or third rounds if he’s taken early. He may end up putting up flex-to-RB2 numbers.

Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal scores on a nineteen yard touchdown run against the Rice Owls in the third quarter of their NCAA football game at Stanford Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Palo Alto, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Mike Williams, WR, Chargers — Outside of Keenan Allen, who is a walking injury waiting to happen, the Chargers have a lot of mediocre options at the position. Williams can make an early impact if he makes the most of his targets. He’s likely to go in the sixth or seventh round.

O.J. Howard, TE, Buccaneers — This could end up being more beneficial to Jameis Winston, who now has Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Cameron Brate and now Howard as targets. Howard can line up almost anywhere on the field and will be a matchup nightmare. He might not be a TE1 to start the season, so don’t reach, but he could be a valuable late-round pick.

Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings — The offensive line is in rough shape, though they did address the need in the draft. If it improves significantly then Cook has a chance to produce. His ability to take it to the house on any play makes him an enticing pick. I see him as a flex player at this point, so he can be taken as early as the fifth, but maybe the sixth or seventh rounds are more appropriate given that Latavius Murray is in the picture.

Dalvin Cook #4 of the Florida State Seminoles carries the ball in the second half against the Michigan Wolverines during the Capitol One Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on December 30, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Samaje Perine, RB, Redskins — Matt Jones is still in the doghouse, but Rob Kelley is the likely starter. Perine can be an instant short-yardage and goal line specialist, which could prove to be valuable for fantasy. He’s got the size to handle a lot of touches so he may end up as Kelley’s handcuff.

Corey Davis, WR, Titans — The Titans have Rishard Matthews as their No. 1 wide receiver but Davis has the opportunity to become the new No. 1. He’ll have a chance to prove himself early and that’s a big factor for rookie success. He has WR2 potential.

Needing some seasoning

Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints — Draft experts saw him as the fourth best running back in the draft, but going to the Saints where Mark Ingram has been the starter and Adrian Peterson just entered the picture doesn’t bode well for early production.

Alvin Kamara #6 carries the ball against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt defeated Tennessee 45-34. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals — So many questions surround this pick. From character issues to the fact that he enters a crowded backfield with a bruiser and a pass catcher already in play. That said, if he gets the opportunity he may end up being the value pick of the draft. People will shy away for various reasons, but the talent is there to be an RB1. It will take some mock drafting to figure out where, if at all, you’re willing to take him.

D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texans — Lamar Miller will be the starter once the season gets going, but he’s had a history of getting run down in the latter part of the season. If Foreman makes a mark early, he can have a solid floor of production, even as a situational back.

Texas RB D’Onta Foreman goes through some pass catching drills as he performed for NFL scouts Tuesday March 28, 2017 during Pro Timing Day at the University inside the team practice bubble.
RALPH BARRERA/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Zay Jones, WR, Bills — He can turn into a possession receiver if he can click with Tyrod Taylor early. Sammy Watkins is the best option on the team, but Jones can turn into the No. 2 WR if he can outplay Brandon Tate and Andre Holmes.

ArDarius Stewart, WR, Jets — With Brandon Marshall moving on to the Giants, there’s room for a new playmaker to rise to prominence. Stewart’s ability after the catch can help him carve a role with the Jets, but is Josh McCown going to play well enough for it to matter?

Possible sleeper

Joe Williams, RB, 49ers — Bad play-calling in the Super Bowl notwithstanding, Kyle Shanahan is an offensive guru and he was very happy grabbing Williams in the fourth round. Williams is definitely a risky pick, which is why you have to make sure your starting spots are filled before taking a flyer on him.

Let’s talk quarterbacks

The top four taken at the position all entered situations where they’ll sit or have to win a starting job. Not one is in a plug-and-play situation. Don’t draft any of them, but monitor closely. The key isn’t to wait on a big game before picking them up off the waiver wire. You have to see signs first. Then, only if you have room on your roster, you take a chance on the wire.

Fantasy football impact: NFL combine top performers

The NFL combine wrapped up over the weekend and there were results that you should definitely take note of as fantasy football owners.

NFL rookies have recently made big splashes when it comes to fantasy football production. Ezekiel Elliott, Jordan Howard and Tyreek Hill all come to mind when thinking back on 2016. Elliott and Howard were 1-2 in rushing yards last season while Hill, despite getting very little playing time, ended up in the top-15 of wide receiver fantasy production.

NFL combine results can give us a clue as to who has the talent, if not the fanfare, to possibly make an impact early in their careers.

Let’s take a look at the fastest rookies at the combine first.

John Ross, a wide receiver out of Washington, broke Chris Johnson’s record (4.24 seconds) in the 40-yard dash, finishing in 4.22.

Ross previously recovered from a torn ACL two years ago. He’s expected to be the third wideout taken in the draft. His speed makes him an interesting fantasy prospect, but he’s not just a speed demon. He can get open and if he ends up with a team that knows how to utilize him, he could pay off for owners willing to draft him.

The second-fastest skill player at the combine was Curtis Samuel, a player who can line up in multiple positions but can be considered a project as a wide receiver. As they say, however, you can’t teach speed. If he ends up going to a team with a bonafide offensive guru calling plays, he could end up contributing early. Don’t use a high pick on him no matter where he goes, but remember his speed later in your draft.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 04: Wide receiver Curtis Samuel of Ohio State runs after catching a pass during day four of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 4, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Wide receiver Curtis Samuel of Ohio State runs after catching a pass during day four of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 4, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

The fastest running back at the combine was T.J. Logan out of North Carolina. His 4.37 was more than a tenth of a second faster than Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a better prospect than those running backs, but you can’t forget about him when you get to later rounds of the draft.

Another name you should remember is tight end Evan Engram. He finished his 40 in 4.42, faster than a lot of wideouts, and is an athletic option that can catch passes in all areas of the field. His biggest weaknesses are in technique, things that can be corrected with proper guidance. He could start early and that means he could be a steal in late rounds as your backup tight end.

Josh Malone also posted a great time at the combine. The receiver’s 4.40 time can make some forget that he was a late bloomer in terms of production in college. He had one good season, his junior year, before declaring for the 2017 draft. He’s got good size and his route running is better than average for a receiver as big as he is. He’s another one to look for late in your draft when you’ve got your WR1 and WR2 already set.

One more receiver worth mentioning is Taywan Taylor, the receiver out of Western Kentucky who didn’t blaze an amazing time in the 40 (4.50), but posted the top time in the three-cone drill alongside McCaffrey. He’ll play in the slot most likely and he’ll have opportunities to break open plays, utilizing his quickness. Again, no need to reach on a player like him, but remember his potential after you’ve got your starters in place.

Trevor Knight, Joshua Dobbs and Patrick Mahomes put up interesting numbers in the 40 and the three-cone drill over the weekend. Of all the positions going through timing drills at the combine, however, you learn the least about quarterbacks based off those results. So much more is involved in finding a signal caller that will excel at the next level. Base your rankings of rookie QBs on their body of work instead of combine times.