Nine "skill" position players—also known as potential fantasy picks—were among the 32 players selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Here’s a first look at their fantasy potential with their new squad.
Blake Bortles, QB - #3 to Jacksonville
The Central Florida star doesn’t have to travel far to start his paying gig, but going third overall might put undue pressure on the Jaguars to play him right away even though he still has some developing to do. There’s also concern that, sans the suspended Justin Blackmon, Jacksonville doesn’t offer much of a supporting cast. It’s been a while since Jaguars quarterbacks made a fantasy splash, and Bortles isn’t likely to provide an immediate exception to that trend. However, if Blackmon is able to wrangle his personal demons and return to the NFL sooner rather than later, he and Cecil Shorts could give Bortles a decent tandem of receivers to grow with. Put another way: Bortles may have been the first quarterback taken in the NFL Draft, but he won’t be atop his position in the vast majority of fantasy drafts, redraft or dynasty.
Sammy Watkins, WR - #4 to Buffalo (via trade with Cleveland)
No surprise that Watkins was the first wide receiver off the board, but some surprise that the Browns traded out of the pick. Cleveland’s loss—and what exactly do they have against stud receivers? They’ve traded out of both the Julio Jones and Watkins spot of late, despite having glaring needs at wide receiver—is Buffalo’s gain, as the Bills give E.J. Manual a game-breaker to replace Stevie Johnson and complement the possession-receiver stylings of Robert Woods. No reason to think Watkins won’t see the ball early and often in Buffalo, especially if—as rumored—the Bills deem Stevie expendable now that there’s a new receiver on the depth chart.
Mike Evans, WR - #7 to Tampa Bay
Evans was reportedly ahead of Sammy Watkins on some draft boards, but as projected he was the second receiver selected Thursday night—and, as expected, he went to the Buccaneers. It’s a comfort pick for new Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown; he had Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey in Chicago, and now he has a similarly sized tandem of his own in Evans and Vincent Jackson. Tall receivers can always gain separation vertically, and with Mike Williams gone there should be plenty of opportunities for Evans to put up numbers right from the start.
Eric Ebron, TE - #10 to Detroit
Just what the Lions needed: another big target for Matthew Stafford. As if Calvin Johnson and Joseph Fauria weren’t enough, Detroit takes the top tight end off the board earlier than many expected. It wasn’t exactly a position of need for the Lions, but if Ebron develops to his potential he’ll draw plenty of coverage away from Megatron, which can only help the Detroit offense. One word of caution for those in redraft leagues: first-round tight ends generally falter in Year One; of the 16 tight ends taken in the first round this millennium, only one scored more than four touchdowns as a rookie and only one tallied more than 600 yards in their first NFL season.
Odell Beckham, Jr., WR - #12 to New York Giants
Beckham isn’t exactly a replacement for what Hakeem Nicks brought to the table, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be effective opposite Victor Cruz. This offense isn’t that far removed from having three fantasy-relevant receivers, and in Cruz, Beckham and Rueben Randle the Giants appear headed that direction again. While New York still has to find a way to keep Eli Manning upright, the addition of new coordinator Ben McAdoo—who might see Beckham as more of a fit in the Randall Cobb role than Victor Cruz—bodes well for Beckham’s fantasy prospects, both short- and long-term.
Brandin Cooks, WR - #20 to New Orleans (via trade with Arizona)
Bad news for Kenny Stills, who looked to be the Saints’ speed receiver du jour until New Orleans traded up to draft Cooks. He’s a speed guy, to be sure, but comparisons to Steve Smith suggest he could fill more of a Lance Moore-plus role in Sean Payton’s high-powered offense. The good fantasy news is Cooks is going to an offense that’s generated 5,000-plus passing yards three straight seasons and averaged better than 40 receiving scores in that span. If Cooks can climb to the top of the rotation in training camp he has obvious fantasy value, in redrafts as well as dynasty leagues.
Johnny Manziel, QB - #22 to Cleveland (via trade with Philadelphia)
It was a longer than expected wait in the Green Room for Johnny Football—woe to those playing the NFL Draft drinking game that required you to dust off your beverage when they showed Johnny squirming uncomfortably backstage—but ultimately Manziel gets an opportunity to erase the horrific legacy of Cleveland quarterbacks dating back to the Browns’ return to the NFL in 1999. Manziel’s game isn’t unlike that of Robert Griffin III, another smallish, mobile quarterback, so having former Redskins playcaller Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator in Cleveland could help provide immediate results. After beating out Brian Hoyer, Manziel will have the luxury of throwing to Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Another receiver on Day 2 would be welcome, but as it stands Manziel looks poised to make a fantasy impact sooner rather than later.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR - #28 to Carolina
No team more desperately needs receiver help than the Panthers, so it was hardly a shock when they tabbed Benjamin with their first round selection. Benjamin is still a work in progress, and the Carolina roster is devoid of veteran mentors so the learning curve may be steeper than hoped for. But he gives Cam Newton a big target capable of gaining separation vertically, and it’s not as if there are impediments to his playing time on the current Carolina roster.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB - #32 to Minnesota (via trade with Seattle)
Just when you thought Teddy Ballgame might be the crown jewel of Day 2, Rick Spielman traded back into the first round for the third consecutive draft to give the Vikings what they hope is the franchise quarterback they’ve been so desperately seeking. Widely considered the most pro-ready quarterback in this draft class, Bridgewater will benefit greatly from having Norv Turner as his play-caller. Adrian Peterson carrying the offensive load won’t hurt, either, and in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Rudolph Bridgewater has plenty of targets at his disposal as well. Fantasy numbers from the Vikings’ quarterback position tend to be dampened by their run-heavy approach, but there’s a little redraft value and a whole lot more dynasty potential for Bridgewater in Minnesota.
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