NFL Draft: How Each Team Can Impact Fantasy Football in Round 1
The NFL Draft can be a big step toward reversing fortunes for struggling franchises. It can also act as a way for forward-thinking teams to get and stay ahead for years to come.
But if you're a fantasy football player, the draft has plenty of implications no matter what happens. Decisions can tell us overtly how teams are feeling for the upcoming season. Indecisions -- such as passing on a position of need -- can do the same.
With that in mind, here's how all 32 teams could impact the fantasy landscape in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Browns could draft Josh Allen or Sam Darnold first overall.
The Cleveland Browns at pick 1.01 have a lot of power, and no pick is penciled in as the must-have. There's a chance that they take the top running back on the board, Saquon Barkley (with whom they haven't met), and opt for whichever quarterback still is available at the fourth overall pick, but they can control their own destiny when it comes to drafting a franchise quarterback.
This draft class, after all, seems particularly loaded with passers, Cleveland hasn't had a top-20 passing offense in more than 10 years, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which you can read more about in our glossary.
The fact that it's not a clear-cut choice means a lot of things for the Browns. Taking either Darnold or Allen (or another quarterback, for that matter) would mean not guaranteeing themselves a shot at Barkley three picks later.
If they select Allen or Darnold, that means that they're willing to overlook some flaws, of which there are quite a few -- statistically speaking -- for each.
Further, passing on Barkley would signal the green light for Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson to retain ownership of the backfield, assuming Barkley is off the board before the Browns pick again or assuming they select Bradley Chubb (another player for whom they did not schedule a private workout). Or, you know, going off the radar entirely and taking two quarterbacks. The fantasy outlook for Tyrod Taylor, Hyde, Johnson, and Jarvis Landry all hang in the balance for 2018.
Not every situation is this convoluted, but the Browns' options and two early picks can really alter the fantasy landscape.
New York Giants
The Giants could draft Saquon Barkley.
The New York Giants have a shot at a potential franchise quarterback, regardless of what the Browns do with the top pick. Eli Manning is 37 years old, and there's a bucket of incoming passers to consider. But general manager Dave Gettleman seems enamored with Barkley. The Giants surely need rushing help (they've maxed out at 18th in Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry over the past five years), yet passing efficiency correlates stronger to wins than rushing efficiency does.
Barkley can run and catch out of the backfield, so he's not simply a rusher, but going with Barkley would mean a heavy workload for him behind a potentially shaky offensive line.
New York Jets
The Jets could draft Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, or Josh Rosen.
The quarterbacks should go early and often on the first day of the draft, and the New York Jets seem to have their decision whittled down to Mayfield or Rosen, as they may not have the chance to take Allen or Darnold. The Jets are set on trying to find a franchise quarterback, but they'll have to react to the Browns' first pick and the Giants' decision second overall.
With a quarterback all but guaranteed, that means a likely bridge year with Josh McCown or Teddy Bridgewater. McCown led the Jets to a 19th-place finish in passing efficiency, by our metrics, in 2017. He also helped Robby Anderson to a WR16 finish in standard leagues in 2017.
The Broncos could draft a quarterback for the future.
Pencil in the Denver Broncos as a team that needs a quarterback, as well. Denver signed Case Keenum to a two-year, $36 million deal this offseason, so the need isn't dire for the 2018 season, meaning any number of incoming passers could have a clipboard year in 2018.
Keenum was capable in 2017, ranking eighth in Passing Net Expected Points per drop back and fourth in Passing Success Rate. Both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs posted top-20 fantasy seasons playing the majority of the season with Keenum. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders -- both 30-plus-years-old -- could have a revival if Keenum's efficiency transfers over to Denver.
The Colts could ignore their offense in the first round.
The Indianapolis Colts boasted the league's worst overall defense and pass defense in 2017, via our metrics. They allowed 0.15 expected points per play after adjusting for opponent. No other team allowed more than 0.10.
In addition to the 32nd-ranked pass defense, by our advanced numbers, the Colts ranked bottom-five in half-PPR points allowed to tight ends and wide receivers in 2017. Not helping matters, cornerback Rashaan Melvin signed with the Raiders.
Between the 20th-ranked rush defense and porous pass D, the Colts need help on the other side of the ball, and that could mean a less advantageous matchup for assets facing Indy in 2018.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers could draft a running back.
There's a chance that Barkley falls down to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the seventh overall pick. They lost Doug Martin to Oakland this offseason, leaving them with Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers, and Dalton Crossan at running back. The team combined to rank 26th in rushing efficiency but 10th in passing efficiency in 2017, via our numbers. Adding Barkley to the Jameis Winston-led offense could help Tampa Bay post a second straight top-12 season in overall Adjusted NEP offensively.
That would, of course, leave their 27th-ranked defense (29th against the pass and 21st against the rush) untouched until at least the second round (38th overall).
The Bears could shore up their offensive line.
The Chicago Bears haven't been a haven for fantasy assets in quite some time, but they're mostly set at the core positions. Mitchell Trubisky is the man under center, Jordan Howard is in the backfield, and pass-catching additions Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton round out wide receiver and tight end.
The offensive line ranked 28th in adjusted line yards and 23rd in adjusted sack rate last season, playing a big part in the team's 28th-ranked offense by Adjusted NEP per play. By that measure, they've ranked better than 21st just once since 2000. Let that sink in.
In total since 2002 -- when the league shifted to 32 teams -- the Bears' offense has lost 941.8 expected points after adjusting for opponent, most in the NFL. Only the Browns (-746.2) have also lost more than 580, and just four teams have lost more than 350. With a few moves and a bolstered offensive line, this team could finally offer up some fantasy goodness for 2018 and beyond, so long as Trubisky pans out.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers could reach for and draft a fantasy-relevant rookie receiver.
When the San Francisco 49ers debuted Jimmy Garoppolo, they unleashed 2017's most efficient passer. On a per-drop-back basis, Garoppolo added 0.35 expected points via passing, per our NEP metric. Among 45 passers with at least 100 drop backs, Jimmy G ranked first (Tom Brady was second at 0.28). Garoppolo's Success Rate (56.5%), or percentage of drop backs that resulted in positive NEP, was the only mark above 51.5%. They replaced Carlos Hyde with Jerick McKinnon -- who has a case to be made as a top fantasy running back -- but have a need at wide receiver if they look for a skill position player.
San Fran also boasted the 30th-ranked overall defense (27th against the pass) in 2017, meaning a safety, corner, or rusher would make sense and would mitigate the matchup boost for those facing the Niners in 2018.
The Raiders could draft a wide receiver despite having Jordy Nelson and Amari Cooper.
The Oakland Raiders need to improve defensively (they haven't ranked inside the top 20, per our metrics, in seven full years and were 31st last season), but the departure of Michael Crabtree leaves a fantasy football black hole in Oakland. Yes, Jordy Nelson is in the mix opposite Amari Cooper, and Nelson did post better marks with Aaron Rodgers than with Brett Hundley in 2017, but health is a realistic concern for the 33-year-old. Further, Cooper's fifth-year option is going to be picked up, yet a team building around Derek Carr needs to give him pass-catchers.
The Dolphins could draft any offensive skill position.
This is a fun one for our purposes. The Miami Dolphins ranked 30th in rushing and passing efficiency last year, grading out as the worst offense in the NFL by our metrics. They have Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler on the roster but still have a glaring need at quarterback. Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore don't necessarily seem to be the long-term solution at running back. The tight end position is led by MarQueis Gray and A.J. Derby.
They now have some names at wide receiver -- DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills, Danny Amendola, and Albert Wilson -- but a big-bodied tight end, a franchise passer, or a do-it-all running back could all impact the Dolphins' fantasy makeup both in 2018 and for years to come.
The Bills could draft a quarterback -- or a wide receiver.
The Buffalo Bills are unlikely to move up to the second pick of the draft, but that doesn't mean they won't try to move up elsewhere. With A.J. McCarron in town, they have a bridge quarterback who could do enough to keep the offense afloat (he was above average by our metrics in 2015 over 137 drop backs with Cincinnati) for 2018. The long-term solution at quarterback could be in this draft class, however, making the Bills one of the hardest teams to figure out as we head into Thursday night.
With LeSean McCoy leading the way with 77 targets, the Bills also need help at the pass-catching positions. Depending on their ability to trade up and the quarterbacks available, the Bills could wind up being the team to pluck the first wide receiver off the board, and that player could be thrust into a high-volume role opposite the inefficient Zay Jones.
Washington could take the second running back in the draft.
First-round running backs have fallen out of favor to a degree, but Washington could snag one off the board at pick 13. Washington has ranked 28th in rushing efficiency in two of the past three years. Chris Thompson is an electric receiver but has been average as a runner the past two years. Plus, he's returning from a broken leg.
Derrius Guice is a name linked to Washington here in the middle of the first round, and he could become a workhorse in what should be an average-or-better offense with Alex Smith under center.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers could draft a wide receiver.
Losing Jordy Nelson isn't the end of the world for the Green Bay Packers, but now Davante Adams (a top-12 fantasy receiver last year) is their lead man outside. Randall Cobb's efficiency has continued a downward trend ever since 2014. Jimmy Graham will soak up targets from Aaron Rodgers, but a receiver opposite Adams surely wouldn't hurt.
The Packers have remained a funnel defense for two straight years, ranking inside the top 11 in rush defense but outside the top 22 in pass defense, so snagging a defensive back would help shore up one of the league's most exploitable pass defenses. And that would force us to change our fantasy football perspective when attacking this team, too.
The Cardinals could take a franchise quarterback or wide receiver.
A lot of teams in the NFL need a solution at quarterback, and that includes the Arizona Cardinals. Their depth chart now features Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon, but neither seem likely to be the five-year plan (Bradford's on a one-year deal with a team option for the second, and Glennon's got just a two-year deal). Either could probably improve upon a 27th-ranked passing offense, which is what Arizona posted last year, giving the team a year or two of viability while a rookie is groomed into Steve Wilks' new system.
If they choose to wait on quarterback and the defensive holes, a wide receiver -- possibly Calvin Ridley -- could be primed to take over for Larry Fitzgerald.
The Ravens could draft a go-to pass-catcher.
The Baltimore Ravens' receiver corps is revamped, but their problems aren't necessarily solved. Michael Crabtree is 31, John Brown got a one-year deal, and Willie Snead is on the books for just two years and $7 million. Maryland product D.J. Moore or Calvin Ridley could be a route the Ravens choose to go. It'd be a lot of mouths to feed in 2018, but once 33-year-old Joe Flacco is gone, opportunity could abound for a first-round pass-catcher.
Don't count out a productive tight end, such as Hayden Hurst, either.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers could begin fixing their offensive line.
Investing in the offensive line -- by drafting a lineman in the first round -- leads to improvements in offensive efficiency. That matters for the Chargers, who ranked 26th in adjusted line yards last year. Their finishes in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play since 2014 are 28th, 31st, 28th, and 23rd.
They've had a top-10 passing offense in three of those four years, despite the rushing woes. Melvin Gordon grinded his way to a top-five running back fantasy finish in standard formats 2017, Keenan Allen was the WR3, and Hunter Henry was a top-12 tight end.
Drafting a future replacement for Philip Rivers should be on the list this draft, but he remains one of the league's most efficient passers year after year. Getting some offensive line help would make this one of the most fantasy friendly offenses again in 2018.
The Seahawks could begin fixing their offensive line.
The Seattle Seahawks could really benefit from a quarterback-heavy draft at the top. That'd lead to top-line prospects slipping farther down the board than they should.
Offensive line is a perennial weak spot for the Seahawks, and they ranked 31st in adjusted line yards last season and 26th in 2016. Russell Wilson averaged 3.05 seconds to throw in 2017, second-longest in the league, but his mobility rather than pass protection got him there.
Wilson accounted for all but one of Seattle's offensive touchdowns last season en route to a QB1 showing. Getting him some time to throw is paramount for the Seahawks to maximize their fantasy potential, and it could finally lead to a productive running back season from a Seahawk if Chris Carson can return to 100%.
The Cowboys could draft a replacement for Dez Bryant.
With the release of Dez Bryant, the Dallas Cowboys are faced with replacing one of the most consistent fantasy producers at the position over the past few years. The real problem is that they find themselves drafting after a few other teams that could use a primary receiver, and not many wide receivers are consensus first-rounders.
If no wide receivers are to their liking at this spot, a receiving threat at tight end to take over for Jason Witten could go a long way for the Cowboys, provided they neglect their 25th-ranked defense in the first round and try to get a pass-catcher for Dak Prescott.
The Lions could draft a running back to feature.
Between talk of using a full-blown committee at running back and possibly trading Ameer Abdullah, it's pretty evident that the Detroit Lions need a solution at running back. No team posted a lower Rushing Success Rate than the Lions did (33.3% compared to the league average of 38.2% in 2017). They wound up 31st in Adjusted Rushing NEP per play as a result. Detroit has owned a top-14 pass offense each year since 2014, but the rushing unit hasn't been a top-half squad since 2005. Shoring up the running back position could render Abdullah, Theo Riddick, and LeGarrette Blount fantasy afterthoughts.
The Bengals could improve their offensive line.
The Cincinnati Bengals have fantasy-relevant pieces in the backfield with Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard, but neither cracked the top 30 in fantasy scoring in 2017. Not all of the blame falls on the offensive line, but the Bengals did rank just 24th in adjusted line yards and 23rd in Rushing Success Rate.
The passing offense has dipped since 2005 (when the team finished second in Adjusted Passing NEP per play), and the Bengals put forth the 24th-best overall offense last season. With Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Tyler Eifert all capable of producing big fantasy games, Mixon and Bernard could join them with an improved line, something Cincy may address this draft, starting with the 21st pick.
New England Patriots
The Patriots could draft their future quarterback.
This one is tough because the New England Patriots could go a lot of different ways with their two first-round picks (23rd and 31st) and five of the first 95 picks. That includes the possibility of trading up or even trading down -- it's the Patriots after all. Tom Brady will be 41 by the start of the season but gave the Pats the best passing offense in football last year by our metrics. They seem to be impressed by Lamar Jackson and could tell us a lot about their future offensive game plan post-Brady depending on their choices on Thursday night.
The Panthers could find Cam Newton a wide receiver.
Since Cam Newton joined the Carolina Panthers in 2011, they've ranked 13th, 13th, 15th, 16th, 9th, 29th, and 16th in passing efficiency, via our metrics. Greg Olsen, now 33 years old, is nearing retirement. Over the past three seasons, only Devin Funchess (WR21 last season) was a top-24 PPR wideout.
Giving Newton a go-to, high-volume receiver is not necessary only from a fantasy football standpoint but also from an on-field standpoint. It's possible that D.J. Moore is still around at pick 24, but the Panthers should certainly think long and hard about spending the 24th pick on their favorite available pass-catcher.
The Titans could draft a wide receiver.
Rishard Matthews finished as the WR37 last season. He was WR21 the year prior. No other Tennessee Titans wideout has finished inside the top 55 in the three years that Marcus Mariota held the reigns. Delanie Walker produced his third straight top-five PPR year, and the team added Dion Lewis to spell Derrick Henry. The obvious fantasy-relevant piece missing is a second wideout opposite Matthews, something the Titans are likely hoping they have in second-year receiver Corey Davis.
Offensive line is a need while they transition to a zone blocking scheme, and that could be a more realistic route, dropping wide receiver down to the second round or later.
The Falcons could draft a wide receiver.
A few teams drafting around the mid-20s could use a wide receiver, so they could be at the mercy of how other teams value this year's underwhelming wide receiver class. A team like the Atlanta Falcons have needs other than a third wide receiver behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu -- such as the defensive front -- but adding a versatile wideout here could shift the dynamic of one of the league's best offenses.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints could draft a tight end.
Since Drew Brees joined the New Orleans Saints in 2006, they've had a top-10 passing offense by our metrics in every season, including ranking third in both 2016 and 2017. They remain a stellar haven for fantasy production, and they have a pretty glaring need at tight end. Whether it's Mike Gesicki, Dallas Goedert, or Hayden Hurst, the depth and need for a tight end means the Saints may conclude Thursday night with a new tight end on their roster.
The Steelers could draft an eventual Le'Veon Bell replacement.
Here, we can get a little more specific, as Le'Veon Bell's ongoing contract situation seems endless. He's under contract for 2018 but again a free agent in 2019, so nabbing a versatile running back on a rookie deal to pair with James Conner may be something the Pittsburgh Steelers consider at the end of the first round. Similar to the wide receivers, the top running backs -- if there is even a consensus on who the number-two behind Barkley is -- could be off the board by now. Or someone such as Guice if nobody else has snagged him by pick 28.
The Jaguars could draft an eventual Blake Bortles replacement -- or start with getting him help.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' passing offense has improved year over year since Blake Bortles' rookie season (32nd, 28th, 35th, and 12th last year), but Bortles' metrics remain at or below league average. With potentially a top-flight defense for years to come, they'll need to cash in on this window of opportunity by having a viable passer under center. They did just extend Bortles for three years and $54 million, so it's possible they look to add to the wide receiver corps after they lost Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. The Jags can tell us a lot about their short-term plans with their choice at 29th overall.
The Vikings could do anything.
The Minnesota Vikings don't have many holes on their roster and could go the route of reinvesting in their defense. They were 21st in sack rate a year ago, so pass rush is an option. If they don't bring back Terence Newman, then slot corner could be a place to exploit them next season. We could learn a bit about their feelings regarding the defense depending on what they do at 30th overall.
But the Vikings could work on boosting the offensive line to help Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and the entire offense. This already has the makings of one of fantasy football's best offenses, and again, a first-round lineman means good things for efficiency.
The Eagles could draft their franchise running back.
The Philadelphia Eagles lost LeGarrette Blount to Detroit, and Darren Sproles will need to return from a torn ACL at the age of 34. Jay Ajayi is an unrestricted free agent after next year and entered the league three years ago with knee issues. Depending on the way the running back class shakes out, the Eagles could be gifted a talented back -- Guice or Sony Michel -- with the final pick in the first round.
They can also bank on the depth of the position and draft a tight end to replace Trey Burton (signed with Chicago) and Brent Celek (released). Either way, they need to make the 32nd pick count, as they don't pick again until 130th overall.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs could try to fix their defense.
The Chiefs don't pick until 54th overall, so unless they trade into the first round, they won't really impact the first round this Thursday (unless you count the Bills' 22nd overall pick, courtesy of Kansas City).
But for KC, it's the Patrick Mahomes era, and they brought in Sammy Watkins to boost the wide receiver group. With Mahomes, Kareem Hunt, Watkins, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs either spend their first pick on the offensive line or try to turn around the defense.
Kansas City finished 23rd overall, 20th against the pass, and 27th against the rush last year by our metrics, and they were one of the best passing matchups possible last year from a fantasy standpoint. They dealt Marcus Peters away, so a defense-heavy draft should be expected for the Chiefs.
The Texans could revamp their offensive line.
The Houston Texans gave away picks 4 and 35 to the Browns, so they're off the board until the 68th pick and have three third-round picks (68, 80, and 98). They need to fix their offensive line, which posted the lowest pass-blocking grade since 2006 via ProFootballFocus' grading. Despite that, Deshaun Watson had the longest average time to throw last year. He needs to come back from a torn ACL, so heavy investment in the offensive line is a must, and that could boost the team's fantasy efficiency all over.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams could add depth everywhere.
The Los Angeles Rams have just one pick inside the top 111 (87th) after sending the 23rd pick to the Patriots and the 56th to the Bills. Defensively, they need depth in the front seven, particularly, but a running back to spell Todd Gurley may not be a terrible addition in the middle of the draft. Gurley has averaged more than 300 touches per season over his three NFL years.