Aaaand we’re back! We’ve made it through the “Long Night” of the NFL offseason! There’s about a thousand different subjects to breakdown after the whirlwind of Free Agency, but this article is about the elephant in the room. The 2018 NFL Draft took place a few weeks ago. Hundreds of young players, with sugarplum dreams of fame and glory were just embraced with open arms by their new homes. Despite our healthy optimism surrounding these men’s futures, we have an understanding that only a select few will have the opportunity to make an actual impact in their rookie season. That’s where I come in. I’m here to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Estimating rookie WR’s & TE’s impact in their rookie seasons is exciting, but more often than not they miss the mark. Consider some top WR prospects of the 2017 draft class. Mike Williams was the first WR taken off the board by the Los Angeles (San Diego forever in our hearts) Chargers. He ended with 11 receptions for 95 yds. In other words he got you 9.5 fantasy points (Standard scoring leagues) on the season. Even better! Take a look at John Ross. Drafted in the 1st round by the Bengals he ended the season with NEGATIVE fantasy points! You gotta love a screen pass fumble.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, after years and years of bland TE draft classes, we were gifted with a TE draft class in 2017 that made waves. Evan Engram, OJ Howard, and David Njoku had an immediate impact in a rather remarkable way for rookie TE’s who historically, take a few years to acclimate to the NFL.
It is a fun challenge to pinpoint what WR/TE will have an impact in their rookie seasons. The only things analysts can go off of are three primary factors: Talent, Opportunity, and (Draft) Investment. Without further adieu, and in no particular order, let’s kick off this year’s fantasy season by highlighting some rookie pass catchers who have the best chance to make an impact in their rookie campaigns. Note: this article is focused on evaluating these players within the scope of redraft leagues. Given the information we have now, most or all of these players should be taken in the later rounds of your drafts.
D.J. Moore, WR – Carolina Panthers – Drafted: Round 1, Pick 24
D.J. Moore is undoubtedly one of the more exciting rookie prospects to come out of the 2018 draft. He’s like Stefon Diggs…but bigger. Moore is a fantastic athlete that is coming into a situation that is ideal. The Panthers needed another playmaker, and they got one with the first WR taken off the board with the 24th overall pick. D.J. Moore excels after the catch, with elite game breaking ability. His impressive 2017 campaign, where he posted 80/1,033/8 for the Terrapins, is even more remarkable when you realize the QBs throwing him the ball ranked 109th out of 128 FBS teams in passer rating!
The Panthers have Devin Funchess, Torrey Smith, Jarius Wright, and Curtis Samuel as their main WR cast. Curtis Samuel is coming off a season ending injury and surgery, with no timetable for return. Not to mention he will have to learn an entirely new offensive system upon his return. Clearly Carolina’s management wasn’t content after signing free agents Smith & Wright, as they just spent a first rounder on D.J. Moore (two picks before Calvin Ridley). As for Funchess, well he’ll be Funchess, which is primarily a red-zone target. I expect D.J. Moore to be lined up as a starter at the beginning of the season.
Calvin Ridley, WR – Atlanta Falcons – Drafted: Round 1, Pick 26
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this year’s draft class most anticipated WR prospect, Calvin Ridley out of Alabama. There’s just no avoiding his talent and ability. Given many scouts’ reports on Calvin Ridley, it would seem this young man can do no wrong. He’s an impeccable route runner with the ability to create elite separation, and the speed and agility to be dangerous after the catch. Ridley is joining the Falcons that have one of the most prolific wide receivers in the NFL in Julio Jones (and fellow Alabama alum). There is some uncertainty as to how Ridley will be utilized coming into Atlanta, with Jones and Sanu taking the majority of the WR workload. Yes, Taylor Gabriel has been acquired by the Bears in free agency, but the hole he’s leaving behind is nothing substantial. Last season he had a meager 33 catches for 378 yards and 1 TD.
Calvin is a fierce competitor, and will be working this summer to be the complement to Julio. In 2015 Ridley was a standout replacement for Amari Cooper putting together an impressive freshman stat line of 89/1,045/11.7/7. In his last year at Alabama the wideout continued to turn heads despite their poor quarterback play with 63 receptions for 967 yards and 5 touchdowns. He averaged 15.3 yards per reception that season; a solid 4+ yard improvement on his first two years. Early reports from the Falcons’ rookie minicamp shows that the Falcons are working to get their #1 draft pick involved in a variety of ways. They’ve had him lining up on the outside and in the slot, as well as returning punts and kickoffs. This is just rookie minicamp, so it’s best to mitigate expectations until the real deal in a few months. Suffice to say it will be interesting to see how Calvin progresses throughout the summer and the 2018 season.
Christian Kirk, WR – Arizona Cardinals – Drafted: Round 2, Pick 15
Christian Kirk is one of the more interesting WR prospects of this draft class. He’s a slot receiver that got drafted by the team with the most perennial of all slot receivers, Larry Fitzgerald. After having transitioned from the X position to the slot in the twilight years of his career, Larry has made the position his own. It will certainly be interesting to see how they utilize Kirk in the passing game. Christian Kirk will have the advantage of growing under the tutelage of one of the NFL’s best wideouts of all time. He will also be growing and maturing into his position alongside #10 overall pick, QB, Josh Rosen. This relationship could develop into a Rodgers/Nelson-esque connection over time.
What Kirk might lack in speed, he makes up for it tenfold in his route running and agility. He’s a strong receiver with a lethal quickness. Being compared to Golden Tate is a no brainer when you’ve seen how Kirk can ball. Kirk is homeward bound to Arizona after having an extremely successful career at Texas A&M bring in 234/2,856/12.2/26. The most enticing aspect of his landing spot though, is his general lack of competition. Outside of J.J. Nelson, who’s really just a burner, and Bryce Butler, who couldn’t outperform Terrence West and Cole Beasley in Dallas, there’s really nobody on the roster that can compete with the level of football Christian Kirk plays.
Anthony Miller, WR – Chicago Bears – Drafted: Round 2, Pick 19
The Chicago Bears are my dark horse offense to watch in the 2018 season. John Fox is gone! Now a competent, scoring offense might come to life under their new head coach, Matt Nagy. They spared no expense improving their talent at skill positions by acquiring Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton in Free Agency. Drafting Anthony Miller in the second round shows a focus on, and further investment in, the passing game. It also shows faith in second year QB, Mitch Trubisky, who some have pegged as a second year breakout candidate.
With Allen Robinson working the outside, Anthony Miller should quickly find a role as “‘Da Bears’” slot receiver. He’s a dynamic route runner and playmaker, with an insatiable competitiveness that will benefit him greatly coming into the NFL just as it did as a walk-on at Memphis. A knock against him is his age (24), and his inconsistent hands. I just don’t think that’s enough to discredit the body of work he put together as one of the nation’s leading collegiate receiver in Memphis: 238/3,590/15.1/37. With Cameron Meredith gone his competition as WR2 will be Taylor Gabriel. He’s a solid pass catcher, no doubt. But, the upside and versatility Miller will bring to the Bears is what will have him earning a starting position in no time.
Michael Gallup, WR – Dallas Cowboys – Drafted: Round 3, Pick 17
Outside of their workhorse back, Ezekiel Elliot, the Dallas Cowboys’ offense is a work in progress (to put it lightly). Jason Witten has retired as a future Hall of Famer, Dak Prescott came tumbling back down to Earth, and they let Dez walk. Granted, Dez was a shadow of his younger self, but many believed (including himself) that he had enough in the tank to be a contributing factor in the Cowboys’ scheme. Just last season he was targeted 132 times. Allen Hurns, though capable when healthy, isn’t the answer. The Jaguars just cut him to rely on Marquis Lee and Dede Westbrook for crying out loud. That doesn’t exactly scream confidence. Needless to say, there is opportunity galore in Dallas.
Michael Gallup will be a welcome fit within the Cowboys’ system, given the Dez Bryant sized hole remaining at AT&T Stadium. He’s a big body, with reliable hands, and excellent athleticism. That is exactly what Dallas needs. Gallup dominated at the college level, raking in a 176/2,690/15.3/21 stat line in his two years at Colorado State University. Seeing how he struggled against his matchup against Alabama he’s going to take some time to adapt to elite coverage in the NFL. Gallup has the makings of what could be an adequate replacement for Dez Bryant, but it will take him some time to achieve that level of success. Given the lack of competition at the WR position in Dallas, I’m expecting him to contribute rather early on in the upcoming season.
Deon Cain, WR – Indianapolis Colts – Round 6, Pick 11
This is one of my more “out there” selections. Everyone had high hopes for Deon Cain’s future at Clemson once the Chargers drafted Mike Williams last season. Cain failed to live up to the hype, and was deemed a disappointment. There are two primary criticisms against Cain. His average yards per catch declined substantially when he assumed the WR1 role in his junior season, which gave recruits pause. And, his below average hand size for his position was the cause of too many drops. These concerns, though valid, are somewhat diminished by the fact Clemson was starting a freshman at QB. Don’t get me wrong though; Deon can still get the job done. He’s a 6’2” big body receiver that glides through his routes while maintaining an elite pace. He will do major damage to defenses after the catch.
Upon becoming a member of the Colts, the primary wideout Deon will be competing against is Ryan Grant. You may recall Ryan from the colossal free agency charade involving a ridiculous contract and the Baltimore Ravens. Well, after that dust settled, Grant ended up on the Colts at an appropriately valued one-year contract. Don’t get Grant Goggles! The Redskins didn’t trust Ryan enough to assume a larger role in that offense which was absolutely anemic at the WR position. Deon Cain has the tools necessary to win that WR2 position over time, and play opposite TY Hilton and with Andrew Luck (God willing). He’s a player to keep a close eye on during pre-season training camp.
Even though some consider this WR draft class to be on the weaker end of the spectrum there’s still a lot of talent and potential coming into the NFL. Don’t count them out. Their predecessors have surprised fans in the past.
Hayden Hurst, TE – Baltimore Ravens – Drafted: Round 1, Pick 25
As the only TE drafted in the first round of this year’s draft, Hurst instantly becomes primed to make an immediate impact at the professional level. Hayden Hurst is exactly the kind of player the Ravens needed after losing Benjamin Watson to free agency. The 25 year old rookie put together impressive career stat line on the Gamecocks, 100/1,281/12.8/3. It’s remarkable how this former Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect has been able to convert his size and skill set to the TE position. Hurst’s in-line blocking will certainly require further development, but he’ll be pegged as a pass catching option rather than a run blocker. He has everything you could ask of from a TE coming into the NFL. He’s fast, running a 4.61/40, and he has reliable hands, only logging a remarkable one drop on 100 catches.
Given how Hurst is still green behind the ears at the position, the Ravens will be eager to further develop him with Joe Flacco under center. Now that’s a quarterback who has always favored his tight ends. In 2016 he found his guy in Dennis Pitta, and peppered him with 121 targets. Hurst’s build and ability are being compared to the likes of Greg Olsen and Travis Kelce. If he plays to even half of the level of his comps, then I’d say the odds are high that Hurst will become Flacco’s “go-to” tight end in Baltimore by this season’s end.
Mike Gesicki, TE – Miami Dolphins – Round 2, Pick 10
Penn State pumped out two athletic monsters this year. Mike Gesicki and Saquon Barkley were the toast of the town at this year’s combine, both testing as 99% SPARQ athletes. It’s nearly impossible to not get excited about Gesicki’s potential given his performance at the combine. His 40 time, vertical jump, and bench press numbers indicate that he will be a defender’s nightmare. Mike can stretch the field, and be a real mismatch in the red-zone. Don’t expect Mike to be relied upon as a blocker. His skill is as a receiver. During his career at Penn State Gesicki racked up 129/1481/11.5/15. Mike’s most notable stat from Penn State is that he hasn’t had a true dropped pass in two years.
His landing spot is a bit disappointing, but is likely a sign that the team will be going in a different direction. Jarvis Landry is gone, and he’s taking with him a whopping 161 targets! That’s a big boy serving of targets left for the taking. Expect Gesicki to step into the Dolphins’ offense, and earn a healthy portion of that 161-reception vacuum.
Ian Thomas, TE – Carolina Panthers – Drafted: Round 4, Pick 1
Let’s circle back to Charlotte for a brief moment to go over one of the more intriguing TE draft picks, Ian Thomas. From the most humble of beginnings, Ian carries with him a story of hope and tenacity. Thomas lost his parents before the age of 10, and grew up in a rough neighborhood of Baltimore. The odds were certainly stacked against him. His accomplishments thus far are an inspiration, and something tells me he’s just getting started.
At 6’4” 260lbs, Ian is an NFL ready talent heading the Panthers. He showed continual improvement in his blocking during his time at Indiana, and once they started to involve him into the passing attack he flourished ending the 2017 season with a 25/376/15.5/5 stat line. Given he had 3 receptions the prior season this is a massive upgrade. He has the speed to beat defenders, and isn’t afraid to use his body and strength to finish on plays. Yes, the Panthers still have Olsen, but he’s certainly no spring chicken. Olsen missed 9 games last season to injury, and finished the season with a lowly 17 receptions. Now that Dickson has been picked up by Seattle in free agency the stage is set for the future of Carolina’s TE position to step up. That future should be Ian Thomas.
Dalton Schultz, TE – Dallas Cowboys – Drafted: Round 4, Pick 37
I figured I might as well keep it in Dallas since their needs are a plenty. As mentioned above, the Cowboys lost their Hall of Fame TE, Jason Witten. There must be something in the water causing Cowboys to retire and turn to the world of reporting. Of the remaining Tight Ends on the Cowboys’ roster, only one has caught a pass in a regular season NFL game. Let that sink in for a moment. Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Rico Gathers, and Dalton Schultz. These are the four TEs vying for the coveted role as Witten’s replacement.
As I’m writing this, Coby Fleener has been released by the Saints, and is floating around the league as a free agent.. There’s a good chance he gets scooped up by the TE desperate Cowboys to lock in an established veteran among their ranks. That said he’s averaged around 42 receptions a season. He wouldn’t be the answer or the future for the Cowboys.
I think Schultz is their man. His biggest attribute as a Y-tight end is his ability to aid in the run game. That is the Cowboys’ game after all. Dalton was touted by his former coach at Stanford as the most “complete” tight end they’d had in years. Despite his less than exciting receiving stat line (55/555/10.1/5,) he did impress at the combine, and showed NFL scouts he’s to be considered as more than just a stout run blocker. Though this is certainly a pre-season battle to watch closely, I expect Dalton to come out on top.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and Cole Freel live on Sunday May 13th, 2018 from 8-9:30pm EST for episode #120 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Kevin Bzdek. Kevin is a writer and editor with majorleaguefantasysports.com. His articles publish every Friday morning and his focus is on bullpens.
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@brandonziman You are more than welcome Brandon. You were a fantastic writer and a joy to work with. As we move through a very big transition for us hopefully we can continue to work with one anither.