NFL Draft News & Analysis

2024 NFL Draft: 5 biggest storylines ahead of Round 1

2WDPMJC University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh looks on before the NFL divisional round playoff football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

• The Buffalo Bills without Stefon Diggs: The 2024 NFL Draft is chock-full of options to replace Diggs, but QB Josh Allen should thrive regardless.

Los Angeles Chargers offensive philosophy: 

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The 2024 NFL Draft kicks off Thursday — an evening of fanfare that might result in a broken record for most offensive players selected in Round 1 ever. With plenty of depth atop the quarterback, wide receiver and offensive tackle classes in particular, redraft, dynasty and best ball managers alike will have plenty to keep their eyes on.

Here’s a look at the five biggest storylines fantasy managers can monitor in Round 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Do the Buffalo Bills opt for a Stefon Diggs replacement?

The Buffalo Bills made waves in early April after trading away star wide receiver Stefon Diggs to the Houston Texans. After taking a moment to celebrate what the move would mean for second-year quarterback C.J. Stroud, fantasy managers were forced to confront an ugly reality — if Diggs is out, that means that Bills QB Josh Allen is throwing to Khalil Shakir, Curtis Samuel and Mack Hollins. After all, it’s not just Diggs who departed Buffalo this offseason. It was also deep threat Gabe Davis, whose 32.1% deep target rate ranked fourth among receivers last year (min. 15 targets of 20-plus air yards). Even with promising receiving tight end Dalton Kincaid playing out of the slot, that’s… slim pickings.

Even picking at No. 28, the Bills will have plenty of viable options at receiver with potential to contribute on Day 1. However, they’ve also got a big need at cornerback they could potentially address if the “right” guy doesn’t fall to them. That leaves fantasy managers with a couple of questions regarding the value of Allen approaching the 2024 fantasy season; is he still QB1 without a true, proven outside threat at wide receiver? 

Though fantasy managers might have some concerns about Allen’s upside without Diggs on the field, the stats last season told a different story. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Allen posted a higher successful throw percentage, higher passer rating, and a dramatically increased value in terms of EPA per dropback without Diggs on the field. GM Brandon Beane was also quoted as 

Don’t be surprised if — regardless of what the Bills do at No. 28 — Allen poses a decent value in both dynasty and redraft leagues approaching the 2024 season, out of sheer fear alone. If he doesn’t have a receiver he trusts with 50/50 balls à la Diggs, it could just mean a higher propensity to scramble without an open target down the field to truly maximize that rushing upside. Having already ranked third among quarterbacks with 50 scrambles in the 2023 regular season, fantasy managers could be in for a #KonamiCode treat.

What the Los Angeles Chargers do at pick No. 5 will tell us a lot about how HC Jim Harbaugh views their offensive philosophy

Let’s pretend that new Chargers HC Jim Harbaugh hasn’t been trying to hint at their intended offensive philosophy already. After all, they brought in Greg Roman as their offensive coordinator, whose offenses have ranked bottom-five in the league in total pass attempts in nine of his 10 seasons as an OC. His four seasons working under Harbaugh in San Francisco yielded a run-heavy scheme where the 49ers ranked no lower than ninth in the league for rush attempts.

Heading into this draft, the Chargers are rolling out a receiving corps of second-year receiver Quentin Johnston, whose 58.5 PFF receiving grade ranked 20th among the 28 rookies with 10-plus targets, Josh Palmer and… Derius Davis? Simi Fehoko? Yikes. 

With the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft, the Chargers will likely be in striking distance of a blue-chip receiver prospect (even if they trade back). Yet still, rumors have persisted that they could lean toward an offensive lineman (Joe Alt, perhaps), anchoring their ground-and-pound offense and protecting their franchise quarterback Justin Herbert — even if he doesn’t have anyone to throw to. 

Consider the possibility that the way the Chargers construct their first round could speak volumes about what to expect from them as a team, and more importantly, from Herbert heading into the 2024 season. If they roll with a receiver (and they should), fans can reestablish confidence in Herbert as a viable fantasy option in 2024, even if passing volume is lower than in previous seasons, banking on increased efficiency with the support of the run. If they roll with an offensive lineman in Round 1, it seems safe to say that this might not be an offense they’re looking to build around the passing game, regardless of the talent they have under center.

Do the Pittsburgh Steelers emerge with an answer at wide receiver? 

The Pittsburgh Steelers head into the draft with several major holes in their roster, absent two viable options on their offensive line at right tackle and center as well as a starting-caliber receiver opposite George Pickens. Right now, Van Jefferson is their best option for a WR2 on the outside, coming off a 2023 campaign where he posted a career-low 51.9 PFF receiving grade, including career-lows with 0.56 yards per route run and 1.2 yards after the catch per reception. 

At this point in the pre-draft process, the Steelers seem likely to lean offensive line for their pick at 20 over wide receiver. Given how glaring their need at receiver is, should they forgo the position in favor of the offensive line (an even more urgent need), don’t be surprised if Pickens emerges as a huge potential value as the de-facto No. 1. Sure, there’s no doubt the Steelers will emerge at some point with a receiver, but if they don’t select one in Round 1, it could very well be a sign that they’re confident in Pickens’ role as a WR1 heading into Year 3. In four games played without Johnson last season, Pickens averaged 89 receiving yards per game, 7.6 yards after the catch per reception (5th among WRs with min. 5 targets in Weeks 2-5) and 2.81 yards/route run (10th) for an 80.2 receiving grade.

Now paired with Russell Wilson under center, as long as Pickens emerges without Round 1 competition at receiver, don’t be surprised if Pickens is a massive value in fantasy leagues. Ahead of the 2024 NFL draft, Pickens sits as the WR38 in full PPR Scoring based on FantasyPros consensus ADP.

What quarterback will star WR Justin Jefferson be catching passes from this season?

Following quarterback Kirk Cousins‘ departure in free agency, it’s no secret that the Minnesota Vikings are in the market for a quarterback. Approaching the draft, the Vikings have three quarterbacks on the roster, including former 2018 No. 3 pick Sam Darnold, as well as Jaren Hall and Nick Mullens — none of whom should be considered viable options approaching this season. Now, with two first-round picks in their arsenal (Nos. 11 and 23), they could find their future signal caller.

The most popular pick for the Vikings has consistently been Michigan prospect J.J. McCarthy, whose statistical production won’t wow anyone, though his experience in a pro-style offense and intangibles have been widely praised by execs throughout the league. Regardless of who the Vikings do take, assuming they take one of the top-four between Drake Maye, Jayden Daniels or McCarthy (ranked Nos. 3, 21 and 28 on the 2024 PFF Big Board, respectively), expect this Vikings offense to be just fine.

Taking it one step further, each of these top options has the potential to become immediately fantasy relevant (dare I say a top-15 option in 2024, at worst?) with a plethora of skilled receiving options between Jefferson, Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson (when healthy) to ease his transition to the league in a big way.

Marvin Harrison Jr.’s value is foolproof, regardless of landing spot

OSU receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. hasn’t even been drafted yet, and still has already earned a spot inside the top seven of FantasyPros dynasty/keeper consensus rankings. Bold? Yes. Spot on valuation? Also, yes. It seems as though he’s bound for top-five draft capital, with the Arizona Cardinals as a popular landing spot at No. 4, though that could shake out differently pending a potential trade-up for a quarterback. That could have the Chargers in play at No. 5… or even the New England Patriots at No. 3, if they’re not in love with the top quarterback option available to them. 

At 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, Harrison Jr. enters the league with an elite combination of size and movement skills, with the football IQ that makes his Hall of Fame bloodline all the more apparent. Expect him to make a Day 1 impact regardless of landing spot, with potential for a 150+ target season out of the gate and a skillset to elevate the play of less-than-accurate quarterbacks, should he land with a team like the Patriots or New York Giants. It truly is difficult to imagine any potential landing spot that doesn’t have Harrison Jr. finishing as a WR1 in 2024, barring injury. Now, all that’s left to find out is where he’ll be posting that top-12 season.

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