Baker Mayfield, QB (Oklahoma), 6-foot-1/215
Selected 1st overall by Cleveland
Concerns over Mayfield’s “diminutive” stature didn’t deter Browns GM John Dorsey, as the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner can now add No. 1 overall pick to his growing resume. Measuring in at 6-foot-1 at the NFL Combine, Mayfield is one of the shortest QBs to be drafted in the first round in recent memory. Of the signal-callers drafted in said round this decade, only Johnny Manziel is shorter, but that didn’t stop the Oklahoma star from piling up numbers during his four-year collegiate career. It would probably be in Mayfield’s best interest to begin the season as Tyrod Taylor’s backup, if only to avoid a potential roller coaster ride such as the one DeShone Kizer endured in 2017. That said, there are different expectations for a No. 1 overall pick. As such, if Mayfield does end up becoming the starter sooner rather than later, he makes for an intriguing late-round QB2 in fantasy formats given his playmaking abilities both inside and outside of the pocket. It doesn’t hurt that he’ll be working with a solid supporting cast which includes the likes of newly-acquired WR Jarvis Landry and RB Carlos Hyde, as well as incumbent WRs Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon, TE David Njoku and RB Duke Johnson.
Saquon Barkley, RB (Penn State), 6-foot/233
Selected 2nd overall by New York Giants
The Giants elected to pass on tabbing QB Eli Manning’s successor, instead going with Barkley while making him the highest running back selection since Reggie Bush went No. 2 overall in 2006. Barkley profiles as a shifty, explosive running back in the open field, capable of lowering his shoulder and driving forward for additional yards, making the 21-year-old the epitome of a three-down back. Barkley is destined to start for New York given the immense draft capital invested, but it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be out of the gate in an offense that sputtered through a dismal 2017 campaign. With that in mind, the Giants could breathe new life into their offense by taking advantage of Barkley’s unique skillset as a receiver, something new offensive coordinator Mike Shula found success with in Carolina last year. With 31-year-old Jonathan Stewart representing his primary competition for carries, Barkley figures to be utilized enough in 2018 to warrant a first-round pick in redraft leagues, plus he should almost assuredly be among the top picks in any keeper or dynasty format.
Sam Darnold, QB (USC), 6-foot-3/221
Selected 3rd overall by New York Jets
The Jets may have lucked into their signal-caller of the future, as Darnold had been considered the front-runner for the No. 1 overall pick until news leaked late in the pre-draft process regarding Cleveland’s increased interest in Mayfield. At 20-years-old, Darnold might not be the most refined of his quarterback classmates, but it’s difficult to ignore his combination of size, poise and above-average arm strength. Critics will point out Darnold’s FBS-leading 22 turnovers during his 2017 campaign as a potential issue moving forward, but with Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater on the roster, the Jets don’t have to insert their prized rookie into the starting lineup until he’s ready. Without a litany of playmakers around him and with no guarantees of significant playing time in his rookie season, it’s unlikely Darnold will provide much return on investment in standard leagues, but in deeper keeper/dynasty formats, he deserves plenty of consideration.
Josh Allen, QB (Wyoming), 6-foot-5/237
Selected 7th overall by Buffalo
It wasn’t exactly a shock to see the Bills trade up from the No. 12 pick to acquire a quarterback given their obvious need at the position. However, it was surprising to some to see the franchise select Allen with Josh Rosen still on the board. At 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, Allen has the classic quarterback frame and a top-shelf cannon of an arm to boot, but his accuracy remains a major question mark. Through two seasons as a starter at Wyoming, Allen never completed more than 57 percent of his passes and posted a ghastly 44:21 TD:INT ratio despite playing against inferior competition in the Mountain West Conference. The 21-year-old has all the tools to develop into a successful NFL quarterback, but he’ll need to smooth out his mechanics in order to harness his fastball. Moreover, tethered to a receiving corps that boasts few quality options behind Kelvin Benjamin, Allen may have to work through some growing pains before becoming a reliable fantasy asset. It’s only a matter of time before he overtakes fellow signal-callers AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman, however.
Josh Rosen, QB (UCLA), 6-foot-4/226
Selected 10th overall by Arizona
It took moving the No. 15 pick, plus third-round and fifth-round selections, but the Cardinals finally acquired their heir apparent to Carson Palmer in the form of Rosen. A three-year starter at UCLA, Rosen took an unexpected tumble down draft boards, presumably due to concerns regarding his commitment to football. That was a development the Cardinals happily reacted to. Rosen won’t provide much production with his legs, but his ability to expertly maneuver in the pocket and willingness to progress through his reads make him arguably the most “pro ready” quarterback coming out of the 2018 NFL Draft. That reality could dampen the fantasy prospects of veteran newcomer Sam Bradford, though naturally Rosen isn’t guaranteed anything initially.
D.J. Moore, WR (Maryland), 6-foot/210
Selected 24th overall by Carolina
Moore steadily climbed up draft boards following an exceptional performance at the NFL Combine, culminating with him being the first wide receiver selected in 2018. It’s not an entirely unwarranted ascension, as Moore accumulated 1,033 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in his final season despite catching passes from a variety of different quarterbacks. Though he checks in at 6-foot, Moore has a sturdy build which as a collegian allowed him often outmuscle defenders for receptions or outright bowl them over after the catch. It could be difficult for Moore, who has drawn comparisons to Steve Smith, to immediately crack the Panthers’ starting lineup with Devin Funchess, Curtis Samuel, Torrey Smith, and Jarius Wright already in the fold, but the rookie’s explosive capabilities give him a rosier outlook as a keeper or dynasty option.
Hayden Hurst, TE (South Carolina), 6-foot-5/250
Selected 25th overall by Baltimore
The Ravens traded back not once but twice, ultimately landing on Hurst with the No. 25 pick. The first tight end off the board, Hurst’s most notable asset is his speed, as he ran a 4.67 40-time at the Combine, tied for the third-best mark at his position. After that, though, it’s tough to discern what separates Hurst from the rest of his counterparts, as he grades out as simply a ho-hum receiver and route runner, and an above average run blocker. His advanced age (25-years-old) likely means the Ravens will feel more inclined to operate with him in the starting lineup, opening the door for a wave of potential Joe Flacco check-downs. Given the opportunities presented by his team context, Hurst might be one of the rare rookie tight ends who could make a mark in redraft leagues.
Calvin Ridley, WR (Alabama), 6-foot-1/189
Selected 26th overall by Atlanta
Considered the best receiver in a shallow class for the majority of the draft process, Ridley’s fall to No. 26 was surprising, but it could end up benefitting the Alabama product in more ways than one. A smooth and precise route-runner, Ridley possesses excellent burst after the catch coupled with more than serviceable straight-line speed. With the opportunity to learn from future Hall of Famer and fellow Alabama alum Julio Jones, Ridley figures to be one of the few rookie wide receivers in a position to immediately attain fantasy relevance so long as he can overtake Mohamed Sanu and claim the Falcons’ No. 2 wideout role.
Rashaad Penny, RB (San Diego State), 5-foot-11/220
Selected 27th overall by Seattle
The Seahawks made one of the more curious first-round decisions with the No. 27 selection, opting to forego their eternal need for offensive line help in favor of Penny. With a bevy of notable names available and an assortment of other apparent needs, the decision to select Penny will likely be viewed as a reach. But to do so discounts Penny’s game-breaking potential and ignores the possibility of an offense that figures to be better with another weapon not named Russell Wilson or Doug Baldwin. In college, Penny shared the spotlight with current Eagles running back Donnel Pumphrey for three years before earning the starting reins in 2017. All he did was carry the ball 289 times for 2,248 yards and 23 touchdowns, finishing fifth in the Heisman trophy race in his final season at San Diego State. A powerful runner who is a more than capable of finding creases between the tackles, Penny is blessed with exceptional speed for his size (4.46 40-yard dash). He almost assuredly enters the year as Seattle’s primary returner, and muddled with the likes of Mike Davis, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosisse, Penny could very well earn the starting nod early on in the 2018 campaign.
Sony Michel, RB (Georgia), 5-foot-11/214
Selected 31st overall by New England
With the second of their two first-round selections, the Patriots bought in on Michel, whose stock has fallen somewhat after a 4.54 40-yard dash at the Combine. Michel’s size (5-foot-11, 214 pounds) and draft status likely lends to the notion that New England is still searching for a LeGarrette Blount replacement – a role in which Mike Gillislee floundered in during the 2017 season. Still, the Georgia product isn’t simply a goal-line powerhouse, as Michel proved himself a capable receiver and destructive open field runner throughout his four years in college. Many a fantasy season has been doomed attempting to predict how coach Bill Belichick will deploy his running-back-by-committee, but few players have entered with similarly significant investments attached to them. A “draft at your own risk” sign comes equipped with any Patriots RB these days, but Michel feels like the safest bet in a group operating in one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Lamar Jackson, QB (Louisville), 6-foot-2/216
Selected 32nd overall by Baltimore
After trading into the No. 32 spot, the Ravens selected easily the most polarizing player in the 2018 NFL Draft. A true dual-threat option behind center, Jackson totaled over 7,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing over his final two seasons at Louisville to go along with 96 touchdowns. Jackson’s wheels and lively arm made him a fantastic playmaker in college, but perceived issues pertaining to his slight frame, short-to-intermediate accuracy and overreliance on his athleticism presumably caused him to plummet down the board. At first glance, Baltimore’s offense looks the exact opposite of one you would expect the 2016 Heisman trophy winner to thrive in, as Joe Flacco’s impersonation of a statue continues to be one of the NFL’s more reliable storylines. However, the fact that Flacco is locked into the starting role might be a blessing in disguise for Jackson, as he’ll have an opportunity to mature as a quarterback without the pressure of being asked to make an immediate splash. If Jackson develops as anticipated, the Ravens could save $18.5 million in 2019 by designating Flacco as a post-June-1 cut. Jackson figures to have the smallest impact this season of any fantasy noteworthy prospect drafted Thursday, but his tantalizing upside should have dynasty owners scrambling to acquire the 21-year-old as soon as possible.