Every year at this time, voracious NFL fans seeking even the smallest sustenance are fed a bowl full of optimism.
The NFL Draft not only satisfies the insatiable, but it also provides a sense of renewal, unless you’re a staunch Texans supporter. Franchises one player away from a magical postseason run or one foundational piece shy of a stunning turnaround are granted what everyone in a capitalistic society desires most — the opportunity.
With this year’s draft hosted by Las Vegas, a city built on that notion, every front office member is hopeful they’ll hit a fist-pumping jackpot. Pull the lever and then pray a steady stream of winning dings await.
Fantasy football fans of all walks house a similar sentiment.
A season ago, for those drafters who didn’t fear the unknown, several rookies became instant starting lineup staples. Najee Harris, Javonte Williams and Elijah Mitchell each finished inside the RB top 24. Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and Amon-Ra St. Brown smashed expectations and delivered starter-level numbers at wide receiver. Heck, even Kyle Pitts and Pat Freiermuth joined the top-tier party, a rarity for first-year tight ends.
With coaches always fearing a pink slip and injuries omnipresent, depth charts will be shaken up and rookies will continue to be thrown into the fire. As a result, anticipate at least another handful of greenhorns to leave an indelible mark this fall.
For football fans, the USFL and its mostly shoddy play, including a very predictable winless start for Jeff Fisher, temporarily tamped down the pigskin hunger. But it’s time again to focus on the main attraction.
With this year’s No. 1 jersey photo ops, commissioner bearhugs and family celebrations put to rest, here’s a sampling of youngsters poised to make noise in fantasy.
Breece Hall, RB, Jets
Showing up to a backyard brewfest where only macros are on the menu. That, my fantasy friends, is the pervasive feeling around Hall landing with the Jets. In reality, it’s a spectacular move. Robert Saleh reportedly wanted to stockpile “home run hitters” and “3-point bombers” in this NFL Draft. New York most definitely achieved that with its pile of picks, bringing in divinely athletic players at multiple positions. The former Cyclone certainly is one of those individuals, registering a solid EF4 on the Fujita Scale (Nerd weather guy talk). He owns the shimmy/shake, reliable hands and second-level to conjure oohs and aahs from onlookers. Thriving in a bell-cow role for Iowa State the past two seasons, Hall displayed jaw-dropping contact balance. His subsequent 74 total missed tackles in 2021, the seventh-most at the D-I level, moved the meter. Also galloping to 22 carries of 15-plus yards, he exudes juice. Hall working alongside Michael Carter gives the Jets a ridiculous 1-2 punch, but it mitigates the rookie's initial fantasy potential. Expect him to tote anywhere between 55-60% of the opportunity share en route to a borderline RB2 campaign in 12-team formats.
Fearless Forecast: 204 carries, 898 rushing yards, 31 receptions, 352 receiving yards, 7 TDs, 182.5 fantasy points.
Drake London, WR, Falcons
Sinewy, physical and blessed with post-up skills similar to Celtics stud Jayson Tatum, London is a rangy power forward in pads. He’s a better-than-advertised route runner capable of ripping through arm tackles. His basketball background is quite useful given his lengthy frame. Whether double-teamed or isolated in man coverage, he climbs the ladder, high-points and reels in catches at the zenith. Against undersized DBs, the former Trojan is sure to plunge a shortsword. Setting the pace in total contested catches (19) while finishing No. 6 in missed tackles forced (22) among all Division I wideouts a season ago, according to PFF, the greenhorn is a likely top-30 WR straight away. The opportunity path is uninhibited. Sorry, Olamide Zaccheaus, your reign as Atlanta’s No. 1 wide receiver was understandably brief. Kyle Pitts will siphon targets, and unanswered questions remain about Marcus Mariota (Hello, Desmond Ridder?). But it’s entirely feasible the Falcons’ new plaything commands at least 21-23% of the team target share. Crank “London Calling.”
Fearless Forecast: 72 receptions, 1.058 receiving yards, 6 TDs, 177.8 fantasy points.
Treylon Burks, WR, Titans
A universal spit take. When news began to circulate across Twitter that A.J. Brown was sent packing to Philadelphia in exchange for draft picks, hazy IPAs ejected from viewer mouths. It was arguably the biggest stunner on a night filled with unpredictability. Burks, selected by the Titans at No. 18 overall, immediately filled Mike Vrabel’s most glaring need. Compared to Deebo Samuel, the Arkansas bruiser is constructed to devastate defenses. Built like an old school Coupe De Ville at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Burks is one of the best tackle-busting receivers in this year’s class. Last season with the Razorbacks, he finished No. 4 in YAC per reception at the Division I level. Powerful, skilled and undeterred, he’s a load to untrack. Robert Woods is sure to play a pivotal role, but coming off a late-season ACL injury, he could be limited in September. Yes, the “Football Frankenstein,” Derrick Henry, is destined for roughly 1,500 carries per game, but Burks is sure to blast box scores en route to a starter-level fantasy season.
Fearless Forecast: 64 receptions, 1,021 receiving yards, 5 TDs, 159.1 fantasy points.
Chris Olave, WR, Saints
Ohio State wide receivers are taking over New Orleans. Teaming up with another former Buckeye, Michael Thomas, Olave upgrades a Saints receiving corps in dire need of additional playmakers. Arguably the best route runner in this year’s crazy talented WR class, the blazer is an ideal blend of speed (4.39 in the 40) and savvy. He doesn’t feature the ankle-breaking moves or physicality of London or Burks, but his game-breaking wheels mesh well with Jameis Winston’s big arm. Undoubtedly, he’ll side into the No. 2 spot opposite Thomas, who’s a giant question mark coming off an abandoned 2021. If the former All-Pro isn’t healthy or motivated to produce, the rookie will take on an even bigger role. Presumably available at a WR4 ADP in fantasy drafts, it’s fathomable he delivers a handsome WR3 return. Smash sazeracs on fantasy draft night, select the Saint and ride the buzz.
Fearless Forecast: 60 receptions, 955 receiving yards, 4 TDs, 149.5 fantasy points.
Skyy Moore, WR, Chiefs
When you’re tied to Patrick Mahomes and promptly tossed into an offense that tossed the rock 61.0% of the time in 2021, it’s hard for calmness to kick in. The former Western Michigan Mustang has enough giddy-up to outperform everyone on this list. At 5-10 and 195 pounds, he’s a prototype slot man with additional accessories to boot. He may not possess the cartoonish speed of Tyreek Hill, but running a 4.41 in the 40 at the combine, he isn’t exactly Ben Roethlisberger pulling a tackling sled. Moore’s calling card, elusiveness, is on par with trying to wrangle a greased pig. According to PFF, his 26 missed tackles forced last year was the highest among all college wide receivers. Also, smooth in his route-running execution, he displays veteran smarts despite having played wide receiver full-time for three years. Acclimate quickly to the next level and a large chunk of Tyreek’s 159 targets registered last season will slide to the rookie. Given his K.C. attachment, the hype machine could crank his ADP into profitless territory. Still, his ceiling is galactic. Shoot for the stars.
Fearless Forecast: 59 receptions, 806 receiving yards, 5 TDs, 140.1 fantasy points.
Garrett Wilson, WR, Jets
Speed kills. Wilson, who showcases stellar 4.38 in the 40 wheels, can flat-out burn rubber, leaving defenders choking on exhaust emissions in his wake. His suddenness on the line and rapid acceleration are a deadly combination, one which will surely make him an instant impact player for an ascending Jets squad. Yes, you read that correctly. HIs wiggle in the open field and versatility — he logged action outside and in the slot with the Buckeyes — only raises his attractiveness. Teaming up with another burner, Elijah Moore, gives the Jets a dynamic, fear-striking duo. Zach Wilson was wildly inconsistent in his rookie campaign, but his No. 15 ranking in deep-ball completion percentage lends promise he can rise to the occasion in his sophomore season. Don’t expect banner numbers from the pass catcher, but he’s a premium bench stash who’ll be FLEX-y sexy against meek competition.
Fearless Forecast: 56 receptions, 848 receiving yards, 4 TDs, 136.8 fantasy points.
Christian Watson, WR, Packers
After pundits and casual fans alike lampooned the Packers for refusing to spend high draft capital on a pass catcher, they traded up, with a divisional rival no less (Minnesota) and snagged the North Dakota State star. Watson in Green Bay is fascinating. At 6-4 and blessed with 4.40 40-yard jets, he’s a multidimensional and terrifically talented jack-of-all trades weapon. He has experience at virtually every position, even running the ball. A case of the dropsies, however, is a concern. Still, with shades of Deebo Samuel mixed with Michael Pittman, he’s destined to enter into the mix immediately. Allen Lazard is the likely front-runner to earn Aaron Rodgers’ affections, but if the youngster dazzles in training camp, he will be fantasy-viable at times. It’s not like Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb and others down the list inspire much confidence. As regurgitated over-and-over again, opportunists with unobstructed pathways to production shine in fantasy. Watson is your classic high ceiling, but low floor boom/bust, in his first season.
Fearless Forecast: 51 receptions, 707 receiving yards, 4 TDs, 120.2 fantasy points.
Kenneth Walker, RB, Seahawks
Black and white television. Leather helmets. Infrequent passing. Old-timey football has arrived in Seattle. Way to be inventive, Petey Sunshine. Unless Drew Lock is the second coming of Dave Krieg in his new threads, it’s abundantly clear the scheme will be run-first, run-often in the Pacific Northwest. Uncertainty around Chris Carson’s health (neck) and given Rashaad Penny’s injury history justified the selection of Walker, but with Malik Willis still on the board, it was suspect. Walker is a personal fave. He’s a bulky back and a tackle-breaking machine with serious scoot. Last season with Michigan State, he amassed 89 missed tackles, setting the pace in college football. In fact, he made a defender whiff on 34% of his carries. Sweet baby Hey-Zeus! Doubts about his contributions in the passing game lower expectations, but he’s an early down bruiser who trucks over would-be tacklers. Out of the gate, he’ll probably log 8-12 touches per game, but if the injury imp snacks on a Penny appendage, he could emerge a top-12 back. He’s that good. Go the extra mile, gamer.
Fearless Forecast: 155 carries, 623 rushing yards, 16 receptions, 139 receiving yards, 5 TDs, 114.2 fantasy points.
Jameson Williams, WR, Lions
Detroit didn’t muck it up. Alongside perennial media punching bags the Jets and Giants, the Lions absolutely crushed Round 1. Uber-talented DE and hometown hero Aidan Hutchinson paired with Williams earned Dan Campbell and company an "A" grade. If not for a torn ACL suffered in the national championship game, the Alabama standout would’ve been the most cherished wide receiver in this year’s class. For the love of the football gods, he averaged 20.0 yards per catch on 78 grabs in 2021. Alien-like. Featuring eyebrow-singeing speed, off-the-line jukes and nearly unrivaled finishing talents at 6-2, Williams would convert even the harshest skeptic. Simply put, his skills are seducing. His road to recovery will likely keep him sidelined for the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season, a significant hindrance to his initial fantasy value. Missing key transition and developmental time could derail most of his rookie year. However, if he can pick up physical execution of the offense rapidly, Williams could become a difference-making late-season contributor. His upside in dynasty is WR1, but for those in redraft leagues, patience must be a virtue.
Fearless Forecast: 38 receptions, 628 receiving yards, 3 TDs, 99.8 fantasy points.
Best of the rest
Buffalo, in the market for a pass-catching back, landed James Cook in Round 3. Tempering expectations with Devin Singletary on roster is warranted, but he’s a strong candidate for 9-11 touches per game with 40-plus receptions. … In a draft where QBs plummeted, Kenny Pickett, in hindsight, was the most sought after, at least in Pittsburgh’s eyes. Hand-size issues aside, he’s a mobile passer who can wedge passes in tight spaces when flushed. Mitchell Trubisky is the most likely training camp battle winner, but a minimum of 5-7 starts is realistic for the rookie. Consider him an upside SuperFlex stash in a Steelers offense with excellent surrounding weapons. … John Metchie in Houston should raise curiosities. Though coming off an ACL setback, he’s a traditional slot man with endless routes. With the Texans presumably chasing points, he could provide some statistical sustenance. … Sticking in H-Town, Dameon Pierce is a RB2 dark horse. The former Gator devoured yards during his time in Gainesville, flashing a three-down skill set. Third highest in missed tackles forced per attempt last fall, he’s a tackle shedding rusher who really only has Marlon Mack to stave off. Upside aplenty.