In the wake of the NFL draft, the fantasy focus is annually on rookies. And that makes sense as we’re getting talented players in brand new landing spots. I ranked the top-20 rookies for 2017 production here and chatted with prospect expert Matt Freedman about the rookie running back class here.
A more overlooked part of the draft is how it affects veterans. It’s a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of what a team is thinking in actions rather than words. For example, the Chargers’ selection of WR Mike Williams at No. 7 overall suggests the team is at least a little worried about the durability of Keenan Allen, who has missed 23 games over the last two seasons. The Jags’ selection of Leonard Fournette confirms they’ll be trying to pound the football/play defense and hide Blake Bortles.
Here are the veteran winners coming out of the draft:
1. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers
Rivers has at least 4,200 yards and 29 touchdowns in each of the last four seasons. Can his production peak even higher as he enters his age-35 season? Certainly. Rivers has done it despite an an oft-injured pass-catching corps and offensive line which has rendered them well below average. That all figures to change this year as the Chargers aggressively worked to improve Rivers’ supporting cast in the draft. They surprisingly used the No. 7 overall pick on Clemson WR Mike Williams, a 6’4/225 Alshon Jeffery-type. They then used their second-round pick on Western Kentucky OG Forrest Lamp and their third-round pick on another OG in Indiana’s Dan Feeney. Throw in the return of Keenan Allen (ACL), the emergence of Tyrell Williams, the speed of Travis Benjamin, the versatility of No. 4 WR Dontrelle Inman, Antonio Gates staving off retirement another year, Hunter Henry flashing big time as a rookie and we have an absolutely loaded offense.
So while some may shy away from Rivers due to his age, the Chargers are not. They didn’t take a QB in the draft and new offensive-minded head coach Anthony Lynn had this to say on the Jim Rome Show: “He looks rejuvenated. He’s got a little zip on the ball. He can have three or four more productive years easily in my mind.” Rivers will be a no-brainer late-round QB target in season-long leagues and a strong cash-game consideration if priced under $6,500 on DK in the right matchups.
2. Breshad Perriman, WR, Ravens
The Ravens lost 99 catches, 1,127 yards, six receiving TDs and 153 targets in the form of Steve Smith Sr. (retirement) and Kamar Aiken (signed with Colts). They proceeded to add no pass-catchers of note in free agency and didn’t select a single skill-position player in the draft. That leaves Breshad Perriman locked in as a starting wideout opposite Mike Wallace on a team which ranked first in pass attempts in both 2016 and 2015. Perriman, who played on just 42.7 percent of the snaps last season, is now staring at 90+ percent of the snaps. The good news is 2015 first-round pick is athletically up to the challenge. He ran an absurd 4.26 at his Pro Day while standing 6’2/212 and beasted a 36.5-inch vertical, drawing Julio Jones comps along the way. We have massive opportunity and untapped talent galore here.
3. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions
The Lions had nine picks in the draft and used zero at the running back position. That speaks to the confidence they have in the return of Ameer Abdullah, who missed virtually all of 2016 due to a torn ligament in his foot but is now healthy. After the draft was over, GM Bob Quinn confirmed Abdullah was his starter ahead of pass-game specialist Theo Riddick and grinder Zach Zenner. Abdullah, still just 23 years old, should benefit from offensive line upgrades in right tackle Rick Wagner and right guard TJ Lang. The Lions spent a combined $76 million to bring them in via free agency.
4. Lamar Miller, RB, Texans
The knee-jerk response is to lower the projection of Lamar Miller because the Texans used their third-round pick on Texas RB D’Onta Foreman. I’d disagree for a few reasons. First, the selection of Deshaun Watson at No. 12 overall gives them some level of competence at the quarterback position – a spot where Brock WOATweiler and Tom Savage crippled the offense last year. While Watson is unlikely to be a game-changer as a rookie, he is likely to be a significant upgrade. That will yield more first downs, more positive down-and-distance situations and most importantly more red-zone snaps for Miller. Last year Miller was sixth in the league in carries at 268 but just T-16th in carries inside the 20-yard-line, T-20th in carries inside the 10 and T-20th in carries inside the 5. He finished with just five rushing touchdowns, an outlier low number for a player with his role. Furthermore, mobile quarterbacks like Watson annually open up larger run lanes for their running backs.
As for the presence of Foreman, he’s coming in to be a complement and spell Miller. That’s needed after he got extremely banged up last year while piling up 26.5 touches per game in the first four weeks, causing him to hobble around for much of the rest of the season. Miller gutted out 14 games played, but was often jogging back and forth from the locker room. So taking him down to around 20 total touches per game while keeping him healthy and in a better offensive situation should lead to increased efficiency. Miller managed just 4.00 YPC last season, but was at 4.59 in the first four seasons of his career.
5. Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson, WR, Redskins
Kirk Cousins remains a Redskin despite rumors that swirled all the way through draft day. That’s clearly crucial as this is a quarterback who has averaged 283.8 passing yards per game in his last 32 starts – a massive number considering Drew Brees holds the all-time record at 283.7 yards per game. This is also a quarterback who has a very questionable run game and leaky defense. Expect a lot more crooked numbers on the board this season for the Redskins pass game, which will be replacing DeSean Jackson/Pierre Garcon with Terrelle Pryor/Josh Doctson. The hidden mainstay is Crowder, who projects to play in more 2-wide sets this year (depending on the progress of Doctson). Crowder, who played on 73.6 percent of the snaps last year, should see that number rise.
6. Jonathan Williams, RB, Bills
The Bills let the Patriots steal restricted free agent Mike Gillislee in exchange for a fifth-round pick. They are unlikely to expand the workload of Reggie Bush, who played on just 95 snaps last season. They also selected zero running backs in the draft, instead throwing a vote of confidence to 2016 fifth-rounder Jonathan Williams. It’s especially worth noting considering LeSean McCoy will turn 29 years old in July and has a massive 2,280 touches in his eight-year career. McCoy has missed five games over the last two seasons due to injury.
7. Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles
The Eagles were linked to just about every running back in the draft, from Christian McCaffery to Joe Mixon to Dalvin Cook to Alvin Kamara to James Conner to Marlon Mack. They ended up with only 5’8/176 Donnel Pumphrey, who will merely be groomed to take over once the 34-year-old (in June) Sproles retires. Meanwhile, Ryan Mathews (neck surgery) remains a release candidate – especially if he refuses a paycut. That leaves 2016 fifth-rounder Wendell Smallwood and Sproles as the likely leaders of this backfield. While neither is likely to push over 18 touches in a game, both will have value in the Eagles’ quick-passing offense.
8. Ty Montgomery, RB, Packers – Yes, the Packers used three draft picks on running backs. But none were before the end of the fourth round. So Montgomery heads to camp miles ahead as the clear-cut starting RB.
9. Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals – Added lid-lifter John Ross to free up A.J. Green. Added arguably the most talented back in the class in Joe Mixon.
10. Chris Conley, WR, Chiefs – The toolsy size/speed freak never had a shot with checkdown king Alex Smith. If Pat Mahomes makes starts this year, Conley will get a boost.
11. Eli Manning, QB, Giants – Last year’s offense was throw it to Odell Beckham and pray. Now Eli has reliable veteran Brandon Marshall and speedy TE Evan Engram.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is AdamLevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.