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We're in the final stretch before the NFL draft begins Thursday night, and that means the news cycle is flooded with enough rumors and smokescreens to exhaust even the most hardcore football fans.
So, let's step away from the flurry of reports and allow ourselves to dream up the ideal fantasy landing spots for this year's top prospects.
This article isn't setting out to predict exactly which team will draft each player, but instead where the incoming rookies would ideally land to maximize their fantasy value while accounting for talent, opportunity, and where teams are picking.
Prospect Fantasy Outlooks
Of all the franchises in need of a starting quarterback, Murray is fortunate the Cardinals own the first overall selection. In Arizona, he'll have safety nets with future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald manning the slot and multi-talented back David Johnson contributing as a runner and a receiver. Sophomore Christian Kirk flashed game-breaking skills as a rookie and should emerge as a more consistent threat on the outside this season. Not only will Murray's rushing ability help overcome some of the deficiencies on the offensive line, but it will give him a chance to flirt with low-end QB1 fantasy numbers in his debut campaign.
If you've read my recent breakdown of each QB prospect's chances of becoming a star, you know Murray is the only quarterback I'm excited about in this class. The rest of this year's crop will need both the time to learn and the right environment to unlock their upside. Haskins would benefit from sitting behind Andy Dalton in a city where he'll face less pressure from the fans and media. The Bengals have an excellent assortment of skill position players and a new offensive-minded coach in Zac Taylor, who could hopefully continue the development Haskins showed during his last few games at Ohio State.
Jones will need an incubation period on the sidelines, too, and the Giants might be open to that approach with general manager Dave Gettleman seemingly willing to let Eli Manning remain under center for at least another year. Jones and Manning both played under David Cutcliffe in college, which should ease the transition. Jones would be allowed to grow into a starting role in an offense anchored by superstar back Saquon Barkley, unless the wheels completely fall off Manning and force the rookie into the lineup before he's ready.
With Aaron Rodgers entering his age-36 campaign, the Packers would be wise to make an investment in their future. Lock could be brought along slowly - similar to how Rodgers was behind Brett Favre - and have multiple years to improve his footwork and progression through reads, which are two of the biggest problem areas in his game.
The Patriots will likely require a succession plan before the Packers do, and Grier is someone who will be available after the first round. The 24-year-old is an older prospect who needs to hone his risk-taking nature and learn how to challenge defenses without the gift of a powerful arm. If anyone can get the most of out Grier, it's Bill Belichick and the New England machine.
Jacobs isn't a lock to be taken on the opening night of the draft, but there are several teams picking in the 20s in need of running back help. The Chiefs would have been the team here had they not traded their first-round pick on Tuesday. The Eagles, who will be on the clock at No. 25, made an offseason trade of their own when they added the one-dimensional Jordan Howard to their backfield. Howard is capable of handling early-down work but would be better served in a complementary role. The versatile Jacobs is the solution to Philly's lead-back void and could have an Alvin Kamara-like RB1 fantasy impact if the Eagles' return to their 2017 form with a healthy Carson Wentz at the helm.
The Bears are in the market for a Howard replacement, though they would likely prefer someone with a higher ceiling. Montgomery's tackle-breaking ability alone makes him intriguing, but his reliable hands and pass-catching resume (58 receptions over the last two seasons) could allow him to be a full-time back in Chicago. Even with Tarik Cohen being deployed as an offensive weapon, Montgomery's touchdown upside would make him a fantasy RB2 in Matt Nagy's system.
Few teams are as desperate for a playmaking starter as the Bucs, who wasted a second-rounder on Ronald Jones a year ago. Assuming Henderson is still around in the second, he has the big-play ability to make everyone forget about the last draft's mistake. Henderson had 19 plays of 30 or more yards last season and topped his class in yards after contact. If Bruce Arians is looking for Tampa Bay's version of David Johnson, Henderson might be his guy. With a potent passing attack drawing defenders away from the line of scrimmage, Henderson could be a top-20 fantasy back with the Bucs in 2019.
Since the Chiefs don't pick until the second round, it's likely they'll miss out on the tops names on this list. Sanders would be a nice consolation prize, though. The Penn State alum has all the tools of a star back, including excellent breakaway speed, and would give Kansas City a more dynamic option to compete with incumbent Damien Williams and newly acquired Carlos Hyde. Any running back drafted by the Chiefs will warrant heavy consideration in fantasy as a breakout candidate.
Anderson is coming off a torn ACL, so it's unclear whether he'll be back to full strength for training camp. Texans starter Lamar Miller is in the final year of his contract and D'Onta Foreman's future is unknown after the Achilles tear that ended his rookie season prematurely and cost him almost all of 2018. In Houston, Anderson could take his time recovering before eventually battling Miller as the year goes along, similar to the path Foreman was on before his injury. Even with the Texans slowly upgrading their weak offensive line, the presence of dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson gives their running backs increased fantasy value. Miller was a low-end RB2 last year despite missing two games.
The 49ers have worked out my top three receiver prospects, which makes sense given the state of their receiving corps - a group led by promising sophomore Dante Pettis, field-stretcher Marquise Goodwin, and veteran free-agent signing Jordan Matthews. Kyle Shanahan was fortunate to coach Andre Johnson, Julio Jones, and Josh Gordon, but in Washington, he also got a 113-catch, 1,346-yard season from Pierre Garcon and a 93-catch, 1,115-yard campaign out of Santana Moss. Still, Shanahan could use a more traditional No. 1 target who would allow the rest of the depth chart to settle into natural roles. The 6-foot-5, 227-pound Butler would give him that.
This year more than ever, the Patriots will be in the hunt during the draft for playmakers in the passing game. Gordon's reinstatement is far from certain and the recent signings of Demaryius Thomas and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are free-agent dart throws, especially with the former coming off a torn Achilles. Perhaps New England had a mentor relationship in mind when they signed the veteran since Harry actually reminds me of a younger version of Thomas with his ability to win contested battles and routinely generate yards after the catch. Rob Gronkowski's retirement pushed the number of vacated targets in the Pats' offense to 41.2 percent, which would provide ample opportunity for Harry to immediately see high volume.
The Colts' offense is one receiver away from being nearly a complete unit after signing Devin Funchess in free agency. It's possible Deon Cain could step into that third spot after a rookie season lost to injury, but Brown would take any doubt out of the equation. Brown can play inside or outside and would complement T.Y. Hilton as he moves around the formation. The Ole Miss product has some of the best hands in the class and a wide catch radius to make life easy on Andrew Luck. He can also be a long-term replacement for Hilton, who will turn 30 years old in November.
The hype around Metcalf has settled a bit since the combine, which has made his draft position tough to gauge. The Redskins continue to comment on how they need reinforcements at receiver after Josh Doctson failed to deliver on his first-round pedigree and Jamison Crowder departed in the offseason. Metcalf might be more of a project than teams realize, as I explained here, but in Washington, he would have a chance to see No. 1 receiver volume right away.
While a team such as the Chiefs would be the most fun landing spot for a unique speedster like Brown, it's highly unlikely he'll still be on the board at the end of the second when they're finally at the podium. The Packers have two first-rounders, and though I don't anticipate them splurging on another receiver, Brown would bring a new wrinkle to their offense alongside one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Some might argue that Boykin isn't one of the top prospects, but I'm confident in his outlook at the next level. He isn't going to replace Antonio Brown, and neither will second-year man James Washington nor Donte Moncrief, who the team signed last month. However, Boykin is an athletic freak who's capable of offering the Steelers a new weapon on the outside. The Steelers have a long history of uncovering receiver talent later in the draft and Boykin checks a lot of boxes as a potentially dominant wideout.
The Broncos would be one of the better options in the range Hockenson is projected to go - among the first 15 picks. Denver has a vacancy in its starting lineup and Hockenson is a perfect fit as an elite blocker and pass-catcher. He should see full-time snaps even as a rookie, as that aforementioned blocking ability will help with the Broncos' renewed interest in the run game. Joe Flacco spent his entire career in the tight-end friendly Ravens offense and may want to have a similar security blanket with his new team.
Fant would slide right into Jared Cook's former role in Oakland as a pass-catching threat. With Brown and Tyrell Williams in the fold, Fant wouldn't see anywhere close to the 101 targets Cook drew in 2018, but this is one of the few clubs that offers an instant starting job. With enough volume, Fant has Evan Engram-like upside, which means an injury to Brown would likely be needed for the rookie to be a fantasy star in his first season.
Lions general manager Bob Quinn admitted tight end was a priority for the team this offseason. So far, former Steeler Jesse James is the only real contender brought in for Michael Roberts, and there is very little left on the free-agent market. If Detroit passes on Hockenson with the eighth overall pick, then expect it to set its sights on Smith in the second round. Though he's not as elite of a prospect as Hockenson or Fant, Smith is solid in almost every area. He should have a long pro career ahead of him, but it might take a year or two before he cracks the fantasy radar, regardless of where he ends up.
With Hockenson and Fant likely off the board by the time the Patriots make their pick at the end of the first round, New England would be wise to address another position with that selection. It can then use one of the five picks it has in the second and third rounds to take Sternberger, who could earn snaps immediately in the post-Gronk era.
Prospect Fantasy Outlooks