By Matt Kelley (@Fantasy_Mansion)
Special to Yahoo Sports
The 2018 NFL Draft broadcast was the most-watched amateur draft in sports history thanks in large part to five high-profile quarterbacks going in the first round. The Cleveland Browns further ramped up interest in the event by concealing their affinity for Baker Mayfield until the final moments.
But while “real” football fans were highly interested, it underwhelmed fantasy enthusiasts. QBs aside, only five skill position players were taken in Round 1 (Saquon Barkley, DJ Moore, Calvin Ridley, Rashaad Penny, and Sony Michel). Six if you include tight end Hayden Hurst.
Even after Day 1, the draft did not deliver for fantasy purposes as explosive talents from Equanimeous St. Brown to John Kelly to Bo Scarbrough either fell to final rounds, were banished to depth charts featuring resident veteran stars, or both.
On the other hand, several established players were spared on draft day – more than expected. While numerous worst-case scenario landing zones and poorer than expected draft capital crushed the hopes of many rookies, a handful did accrue fantasy value after the draft.
Here are the biggest rookie and veteran winners from the draft for the 2018 fantasy season.
Josh Rosen, Arizona Cardinals
Rosen was the only first-round quarterback to land on a warm weather team with a recent history of high-level offensive production. Larry Fitzgerald, David Johnson, and Christian Kirk represent more dynamic and reliable supporting weaponry than all other rookie quarterbacks combined.
Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
The Packers invested in Rodgers’ X receiver of the future selecting the draft’s two signature size-speed tetradactyls: J’Mon Moore (95th-percentile Catch Radius) and Equanimeous St. Brown (93rd-percentile Speed Score). St. Brown was the best-value selection of Day 3 after he admitted an unwillingness to play on special teams during the predraft process.
Case Keenum, Denver Broncos
Denver’s refusal to invest in a rookie quarterback revealed significant confidence in Keenum’s ability to maintain his pleasantly surprising 2017 efficiency. The most prolific quarterback in college football history (19,217 career passing yards at Houston) is now a top late-round QB option in seasonal leagues and a sneaky dynasty target.
Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
At 6-foot, 229-pounds, Freeman’s 11.06 Agility Score put him in rare company among big back prospects in recent years. His patience and lateral quickness is more similar to Le’Veon Bell than any other back in the draft class. Keenum and Denver’s quality run blocking offensive line should ensure Freeman sees copious red zone touches this season.
Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Like Freeman, Jones landed a prized featured back gig on a Tampa Bay team boasting improved run blocking and an offense poised to make an efficiency leap in 2018.
Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions
Similar to first-round Bill Belichick tilt pick Sony Michel, Johnson was drafted a round before expected, which virtually guarantees him a 50-percent-plus opportunity share for a Lions team that often finds its way into high-scoring contests.
Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers
Rather than extending Melvin Gordon, the Chargers picked up his fifth-year option. Jackson steps right into the old Danny Woodhead satellite back role in the offense with room to grow his opportunity share in the years ahead, whether Gordon is a Charger next season or not.
Jordan Wilkins, Indianapolis Colts
Wilkins is a sub-athlete, evidenced by an 87.8 (17th-percentile) Speed Score, with a lackluster college résumé, but opportunity is king in fantasy. Air-dropped onto an Andrew Luck offense with a revamped offensive line, Wilkins is a must-stash in all league formats.
Alex Collins, Baltimore Ravens
Collins is the biggest winner from the draft. Ozzie Newsome must use PlayerProfiler as Collins finished top-5 in both Breakaway Run Rate and Juke Rate last season. He projects to dominate the running back carries operating as a key cog in an improved offense in 2018.
Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers
Like Christian McCaffrey, McKinnon is a satellite back-plus with very little competition for touches in San Francisco. Unlike McCaffrey, McKinnon is a 100th percentile athlete who will not be sharing a backfield with C.J. Anderson this season.
Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts
Day 3 picks Wilkins and Nyheim Hines will cannibalize touches, but fortunately, Mack is more than a satellite back. It’s wheels up for the former South Florida workhorse after the Colts passed on running back in the early rounds, opting to instead invest heavily in the offensive line.
Lamar Miller, Houston Texans
Miller has been fantasy football’s signature fake bell cow for years, but this season he has no competition for touches on an ascending offense after the Texans passed on running back in the draft. Unlike prior seasons, Miller’s average draft position is finally palatable in 2018.
Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders
Despite finishing Top-3 in Yards Created Per Touch and Juke Rate on PlayerProfiler.com, gamers unfairly perceive Lynch as just another 30-year old washed running back. However, by not drafting Lynch’s replacement, Oakland is signaling that Lynch still has juice left to squeeze and is well-positioned for a top-20 fantasy season.
Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys
The most versatile receiver in the draft ran every route on the board on his way to 100 receptions at Colorado State last season. He should line up all over the field for a playmaker-starved Cowboys offense that lost stalwarts Dez Bryant and Jason Witten this offseason.
Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears
Landing on this year’s version of the Los Angeles Rams, Miller should leverage his advanced age and experience to quickly rise into Chicago’s No. 2 receiver role. Offering 80th percentile burst and agility on PlayerProfiler, Miller looks like explosive Cooper Kupp on what could be the NFL’s most improved offense.
Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
Kirk should initially line up outside to accommodate Larry Fitzgerald in the slot and play Robin to Fitzgerald’s Batman in Year 1. One of the draft’s most precocious college producers evidenced by a 18.8 Breakout Age, Kirk should become Rosen’s favorite target in the years ahead.
Tre’Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints
Draft Capital – check! Landing Position – check! Underrated by draft analysts not named Matt Kelley throughout the pre-draft process, Smith’s impressive size-adjusted athleticism and age-adjusted college production puts him on a trajectory to become a starter in New Orleans sooner rather than later.
J’Mon Moore, Green Bay Packers
A lethal combination of production and athleticism, Moore was drafted two rounds before Equanimeous St. Brown. He should supplant Geronimo Allison to secure a significant role tethered to Rodgers in Green Bay’s passing game by midseason.
Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
Don’t forget Tyler Lockett is an NFL starter with Russell Wilson throwing him passes. Sometimes that is all that matters. In Lockett’s case, his 44.2-percent (89th-percentile) College Dominator Rating demonstrates an ability to command significant targets when healthy.
Devante Parker, Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins had every opportunity to rebuild their receiving corps in the draft and passed, demonstrating fantasy truther-level faith in Parker. He is the best of what’s left in Miami’s passing game in what should be a make-or-break season for A.J. Green’s metrics doppelgänger.
Quincy Enunwa & Robby Anderson, New York Jets
The Jets befuddled draft analysts by not investing significantly in the wide receiver position after handing the franchise’s future to Sam Darnold at No. 3 overall. Enunwa and Anderson are left as the defacto starters on a team that will need to throw the ball to win games.
Rishard Matthews & Taywan Taylor, Tennessee Titans
Corey Davis will surely experience an ADP bump after Tennessee refused to draft a receiver, but Matthews and Taylor are also set up for success as the “other guys” who project to secure heavy snaps in three-receiver sets. Matthews is currently the best-value WR in fantasy.
Kelvin Benjamin, Buffalo Bills
The tarnished brand of the post-hype sleeper of a lifetime finally has a reasonable ADP. Benjamin has never been efficient, but more importantly, he is the locked-in No. 1 option on a Bills offense that is soon to be led by a quarterback with the most powerful throwing arm in the history of Planet Earth.
Troy Fumagalli, Denver Broncos
The draft’s best tight end landing position was awarded to Fumagalli, as Denver’s tight end targets were largely vacated this offseason. Because he did not participate in the combine’s athletic testing, we don’t know if Fumagalli is athletic, but he will have every opportunity to be the first rookie tight end to secure a starting role in the NFL.
Luke Willson, Detroit Lions
The Lions released Eric Ebron, and then failed to backfill the position with a tight end of consequence in the draft. Willson is a superior athlete with a sneaky-high ceiling operating in the fantasy-friendly Detroit offense.