News & Analysis

The fantasy fallout of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft

Apr 26, 2018; Arlington, TX, USA; Saquon Barkley (Penn State) poses with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being selected as the number two overall pick to the New York Giants in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Round 1 of the NFL draft didn’t have a ton of juice for fantasy football purposes, with just six non-quarterback skill position players coming off the board. But there are some interesting names in that group, so let’s take a look at the fantasy impact of Thursday night’s picks at running back, wide receiver and tight end.

Running back

After much speculation, Saquon Barkley ultimately went No. 2 overall to the New York Giants. Barkley was the clear top fantasy option in this year’s class, and the landing spot doesn’t hurt his value. He’ll step into an extremely thin depth chart where Jonathan Stewart was essentially just a warm body as the early-down runner and Wayne Gallman figured to see some work as a receiver. That’s all out of the mix now with Barkley now in house. The former Penn State back figures to dominate touches as a true three-down back. Initial projections put him up over 1,500 total yards with 10 combined scores in 2018. With that sort of productivity, Barkley is not only the first overall pick in rookie drafts, but he’s also in consideration in the late first round of re-draft and best-ball leagues.

The next running back off the board came as a surprise to some with Rashaad Penny going to the Seattle Seahawks at No. 27. Penny is a PFF favorite who led the nation in rushing yards last season. Like Barkley, Penny steps into a good situation from a volume standpoint. The Seahawks have incumbents Chris Carson and Mike Davis, but Penny is a superior player and should have no problem blowing right by them on the depth chart. Seattle’s offensive line won’t do Penny any favors, and it isn’t clear how much he’ll be involved in the passing game. With those factors in consideration, our projections aren’t as bullish on Penny as they are with Barkley. That being said, he figures to see enough volume to be in the RB2 conversation this season with a favorable long-term outlook in dynasty leagues.

Sony Michel was the third and final running back selected on Day 1, going in the No. 31 spot to the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick and company had a somewhat crowded house in the backfield, but there really wasn’t a name who stood out. Of course, there has certainly been plenty of Rex Burkhead love in fantasy circles this offseason, but it may have been a bit ambitious to believe that he’d be a consistent fantasy option in 2018. Michel figures to step in as the Dion Lewis replacement in the lead back role, but that also means that he could be somewhat limited in passing situations. Lewis racked up 180 carries, but only managed 32 catches last season. With a similar share of the touches, Michel is on the fringes of the RB2 radar, but James White’s presence in the passing game ultimately limits Michel’s overall fantasy upside in 2018.

Wide receiver

It was a long wait for the first wideout to come off the board with D.J. Moore earning that distinction at No. 24 overall to the Carolina Panthers. As far as landing spots go, this isn’t one of the best locations for Moore. He does figure to step right in to a starting job, but being paired with Cam Newton is far from optimal. Only one wide receiver has finished as a top 10 fantasy option in the Newton era, and that happened seven years ago when Steve Smith finished in the eighth spot. Moore also figures to be the No. 2 target with Devin Funchess still likely to command the largest share. So at least initially, Moore doesn’t appear to be much of an option in the short-term. That being said, Newton is a clear winner here with another dynamic offensive weapon at his disposal. Newton finished as the No. 2 fantasy quarterback last season, and it’s tough to not view him as an elite option yet again this year.

We didn’t have to wait very long at all for the second and final wideout to come off the board, as Calvin Ridley went just two picks later to the Atlanta Falcons. This was somewhat of a surprising landing spot for the Alabama product and certainly isn’t the most ideal for fantasy purposes. In an ideal world, Ridley would have landed on a team (like Dallas) where he could have stepped in as the No. 1 option. That obviously won’t be the case in Atlanta with Julio Jones already in-house. The big question for Ridley’s immediate fantasy stock is whether or not he’ll be on the field in two wide receiver sets. Mohamed Sanu occupied that role opposite Jones last season, and there’s a very real chance he remains in that position. That would place Ridley as the No. 3, which really limits his short-term fantasy value. While he still has intriguing dynasty appeal, it’s tough to endorse Ridley as a viable option in 2018 outside of best ball formats.

Tight end

Just one tight end was selected on Day 1 and it wasn’t the player many had expected in small-schooler Dallas Goedert. Instead, the Baltimore Ravens pulled the trigger on Hayden Hurst with the No. 25 pick. While Baltimore isn’t a prime location from a passing offense standpoint, this is actually a very good landing spot for Hurst. He’s a good bet to step in as the No. 1 option with just Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle on the depth chart. That being said, it’s important to remember that tight ends face a steep learning curve at the NFL level and we rarely see rookies make a big fantasy impact at the position. Still, Hurst should see enough of a target share to at least get a sniff at the edges of RB2 territory. But it likely won’t be enough to warrant consideration in regular-sized redraft leagues.

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