Nine skill players were drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft last night. All nine will likely start for the respective teams, but which ones will have the greatest value when it comes to your fantasy season?
I’ve singled out six players drafted last night who you’ll want to have on your radar when those late summer fantasy drafts kick off.
Sammy Watkins, Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills — Everyone sort of agreed that Watkins was the top offensive talent in the draft, but most projections had him going to teams where he would have been the No. 2 receiver as a rookie. Scratch that plan. Now that we know he’s headed to Buffalo, we have to assume he will be E.J. Manuel’s first option on most pass plays. He’ll be the clear-cut No. 1 and will be targeted heavily. We’ll see what changes between now and opening weekend, but for the time being, I’ve got Watkins as a top 20 fantasy receiver, making him a starter in tradition leagues of ten teams or less.
Mike Evans, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Evans is a guy who will be a No. 2 receiver, but if Josh McCown has anything to say about it, will be highly productive. McCown got plenty of experience distributing the ball to two big-bodied wideouts last season in Chicago. With Vincent Jackson on the other side of the field, McCown is going to find Evans in single coverage quite a bit and always against a smaller corner. I like Evans as a low-end flex option in a PPR format, as he’ll be the primary possession guy as well a legitimate threat in the red zone.
Odell Beckham Jr., Wide Receiver, New York Giants — The Giants’ passing game was just plain off last season and Hakeem Nicks became a casualty as a result. Enter Odell Beckham — a different type of receiver than Nicks. He is a burner who can take the top off just like the guy on the other side of the field, Victor Cruz. Beckham will also have value on screen passes and adds the possibility of more creativity in the Giants offense. He is very much a Desean Jackson-type talent who should end up as a top 30 receiver, making him a starter in 12-team traditional leagues.
Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver, New Orleans Saints — I’ve seen Cooks’ highlights before and was impressed, but when the Saints jumped up to get him, I almost fell out of my chair. The thought of a guy with Cooks’ speed and skills operating in Sean Payton’s offense with Drew Brees getting him the ball is scary. I want him on my fantasy team NOW, especially in dynasty leagues. He’ll be the slot guy in the Big Easy with Colston and Kenny Stills on the outside. When you also factor in the presence of Jimmy Graham, it seems like Cooks’ touches will be limited. Don’t let that scare you. His home run potential is enough for me to take the gamble of plugging him into that flex spot right away and not losing any sleep over it.
Kelvin Benjamin, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers — I feel like Benjamin might have the most long-term potential of all the receivers taken in the first round. As such, he should be targeted early in dynasty leagues, especially those with separate rookie drafts. With only Jericcho Cotchery and Jason Avant as competetion, it’s pretty safe to assume Benjamin will be the No. 1 receiver in Carolina. Because of Carolina’s run game and Cam Newton’s propensity for improvisation, Benjamin’s value will come in the red zone where he and Greg Olsen will be the primary targets. There is a place for Benjamin on your roster in 2014 , but only as a low-end No. 2 until it looks like Newton is targeting him often.
Johnny Manziel, Quarterback, Cleveland Browns — What is it the kids say? “Haters gonna hate”? Let’em hate while you draft Johnny Football as your No. 2 QB. He’s going to make plays with his legs. He could lead all QBs in rushing in 2014. When he’s not working his magic with his legs, he’ll be slinging it to the NFL’s most productive receiver in 2013, Josh Gordon, or checking down to 2013’s breakout star at tight end, Jordan Cameron. Johnny Football is here and ready to change your fantasy league. If you play in a dynasty league with a separate rookie draft that includes quarterbacks, he should be the top pick based on potential alone.