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2018 Fantasy Football Expert Rookie Draft

by Jody Smith | @JodySmithNFL | Featured Writer
May 23, 2018

Lamar Jackson is a risk, but his exciting athleticism gives him irresistible upside

It might seem a tad early to be kicking off fantasy football drafts, but for dynasty leagues, May and June are a great time to begin the next season’s rookie-only drafts. If you spend any amount of time on social media or football focused websites, you’re well aware of the popularity of these rookie drafts, and that’s especially true among fantasy football writers and analysts. After all, somebody has to set that way-too-early ADP.

Of course, any draft that is just a group of friends is going to be vastly different than one that is full of some of the best minds in the fantasy football industry. In your home league, you might be able to slip a late-round sleeper into the fourth round, but in an expert’s draft, it’s 12 of the best minds in the business, and that changes the strategy to a more aggressive approach.

With that in mind, I had the privilege of hosting a 2018 rookie-only draft for FantasyPros, hosted by Let’s meet the participants in order of the randomized draft number they drew for this four-round, non-snake, rookie-only draft.

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I drew the final pick in the draft, an unenviable task, especially in the 2018 draft class and a league full of sharks. I tried to just pretend I’d won the league last season and that’s why I drew the short straw and had to accept the bittersweet, but inevitable results.

Let’s see how the 2018 rookie draft played out and get some insight from some of fantasy football’s best, and please make sure you’re following all these great analysts and writers and reading their quality content.

Overall thoughts on the draft

Jake CielyRunning backs reign supreme! Even in PPR, the first seven picks were running backs, and deservedly so. I’m not even sure D.J. Moore is the best pick as the first receiver, but that’s the point…it’s a real coin flip of four receivers. Four-sided coins are real, right?

Jeff RatcliffeThis year, the ideal spot is in the first seven picks. As this draft showed, we’re likely to see all running backs in those picks. From there, it’s hard to pinpoint any player who has the potential for both instant impact and long-term value.

Sigmund BloomThis draft went basically by the book, with the exception of Chubb and Guice falling a bit in the first, Anthony Miller jumping a few spots at WR, and Justin Jackson getting ahead of some earlier drafted running backs. Backs will dominate the first half of the first round, and the first tier of receivers is clear and will go in the late first/early second. Then, the QB run will happen in the second, and everyone’s boards will diverge in the third and fourth, so don’t get too antsy about trading up when you want a name to fall to you.

Ray SummerlinI fully expected the first six picks this year to be running backs, but Royce Freman moving into that group — and ahead of Nick Chubb in this mock — has been something of a surprise. I have also been in drafts where Kerryon Johnson comes off the board before the top receivers. Perhaps I am undervaluing the talent of Freeman and Johnson, but moving them ahead of the likes of D.J. Moore seems like a classic case of overvaluing landing spot, especially since neither player is a slam dunk for a workhorse role this season despite how much people would like to pretend Devontae Booker does not exist.

Chet GreshamI was happy to get the sixth pick because running back is by far the strongest position in rookie drafts this year. Plus, it helped me figure out my own drafting strategy when faced with the choice between a player I had ranked higher, in Nick Chubb, versus a player who is in a better fantasy position right now in Royce Freeman. Chubb is the better prospect and it was tough for me to skip on him but I’ve been burnt by great prospects in bad situations too many times (I see you, Derrick Henry!). Plus, with the short career of most running backs, I want one that will start out as the lead back and not have much competition, which is where Freeman is in Denver.

Freeman also gets a team that looks committed to defense after taking Bradley Chubb first overall and not committed to passing the ball after sticking with Case Keenum at quarterback and not taking one in the draft. Nick Chubb, on the other hand, has Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde to compete with, both talented backs. I can’t say I would make the choice every single time, but I think it’s one that has to be considered under the circumstances.

Justin BooneMost years it would seem odd to have the top receivers going off the board so late in the first round of a dynasty draft, but that speaks to the quality of the rookie backs and shines a light on it being a weaker year for wideouts.

Mike WrightThere wasn’t anything too surprising in this mock compared to the live rookie drafts I have taken place in this season. Clearly, the people are revolting against wide receivers not producing immediately with seven straight RB picks to start the draft. The QBs starting to move around the mid-second is what I have seen, also where I would personally start taking them. Equanimeous St. Brown fell to where he should actually be drafted in the late third, instead of still coasting on his pre-draft hype.

J.J. ZachariasonThere was a clear tier drop when I was up at pick 1.11, and in an ideal world, I would’ve tried to trade down to obtain more assets while still getting Anthony Miller. Perhaps that’ll look like a reach, but Miller is my WR2 in this year’s class – he could see immediate volume out of the slot for Chicago.

Brandon Marianne Lee If you have RB needs, you must do it in the first round. I think almost all of the dynasty rookie drafts will have a similar look, with eight of the first 12 picks at that position. The order will vary depending on personal preference. I’m a little higher on Ronald Jones than some because I personally believe that if the Buccaneers would give Jacquizz Rodgers 20+ touches a game, then that is likely for Ronald Jones…VERY likely. However, if you’re in need at the tight end position, there are some decent pass-catching tight ends in this draft that you can get late.

Jody SmithI’m going to echo what the rest of the participants are saying here, and that’s the story of the running backs dominating the early portion of rookie drafts. Normally, it would be a reaction to the revitalization of the running back position itself over the past two seasons, but this class offers some enticing talent at that position to go along with a weaker class of wide receivers. Having a top-eight pick is essential if you need backfield help in 2018.

What was the best pick of the draft?

Jeff Ratcliffe Anthony Miller before Courtland Sutton really stands out to me. Miller is a dynamic player with huge hands. He isn’t Odell Beckham Jr., but there are similar elements to his game. He’s also in a good spot to produce in the new-look Bears offense.

Mike WrightI’m gonna take the selfish call. I was very pleased getting Nyheim Hines in the third round. He’s been a second-round pick in the drafts I have participated in, and I would be ecstatic if this were a real draft. He is going to be a very dynamic weapon if Indy can figure out how to properly use him. That backfield is currently wide open, and Hines should make an impact early on in the passing game.

Brandon Marianne Lee – I think people are sleeping on Michael Gallup. No one else is there in Dallas, and he’s a nice fit for Dak Prescott’s skillset. In other words, Gallup is known for his ability to get open which means that Prescott won’t have to throw into coverage, something he doesn’t seem to like doing.

Chet GreshamMy favorite pick in the draft is Lamar Jackson at No. 16 overall. I’m very much a wait on quarterbacks kind of guy but not in rookie drafts. You’ll have a starting quarterback of some sort from your main draft. For the most part, the quarterback position isn’t going to move your team too far one way or the other, unless it’s a player who can put up running back type numbers on the ground while also adding in decent passing numbers. Jackson has the ability to be a huge fantasy contributor in his career, and I’m willing to take that risk in my rookie drafts.

Justin BooneMichael Gallup stands out as someone who could outproduce several of the receivers taken ahead of him. Gallup was the seventh pass catcher selected but will have a chance to see immediate volume if he can move up the wide-open depth chart in Dallas. Gallup’s ability to create separation should ease his NFL transition and allow him to make a Year One impact.

Ray Summerlin The answer is Saquon Barkley, but in the interest of saying something slightly controversial, I will go with Michael Gallup with the third pick in the second round. Opportunity might seem like the big selling point for Gallup, and it is certainly likely he is an early contributor. However, he is more talented than he is given credit for and was my No. 4 receiver heading into the draft. Getting him as the WR7 looks like great value.

Sigmund BloomThe best pick is probably PFF taking Dallas Goedert in the mid-third. He doesn’t have an immediate opportunity and will split with Zach Ertz for the foreseeable future, but he was right there with any tight end in this draft for a fantasy-friendly skillset, and he landed with the best young quarterback. We’re all probably overreacting to Goedert ending up on a team with a quality #1 TE.

J.J. ZachariasonI thought Mark Walton at the tail-end of the fourth round was pretty solid. There’s a chance Giovani Bernard’s not in the picture for Cincinnati next season given his contract situation, and Walton enters the league with strong pass-catching abilities, having captured at least 8.2% of Miami’s receptions in each of his two relevant seasons in college.

Jake CielyI love that Jeff Ratcliffe didn’t fall into the receiver temptation at Pick 7. Nick Chubb is going to surprise a lot of people similar to Dalvin Cook last year. Remember all those “but they signed Latavius Murray to all that money” arguments? I also love my Chase Edmonds pick. If David Johnson gets hurt again, RB2 value is coming for Edmonds!

Jody SmithA few picks that stood out to me, besides Gallup, who has rightfully been lauded as an excellent selection by Mike Wright. Hayden Hurst by Justin Boone to kick off the third round looks great, even if rookie tight ends generally take longer to become contributors. I was hoping that Jordan Wilkins would slide to me at the tail end of that round, but Ray Summerlin snagged him at 3.08. And I thought J.J. Zachariason did a terrific job taking all the players I wanted, including great value picks in J’Mon Moore at 3.11 and Ito Smith with the next-to-last pick of the draft.

What was the draft’s biggest reach?

J.J. ZachariasonI don’t mind this quarterback class at all. I think it’s quite strong, but in a single-quarterback format, there are plenty of relevant passers to go around. I can understand the urge to want Lamar Jackson given his rushing ability, and Baker Mayfield was my QB1 entering the draft, so I’ll place the biggest reach on both Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold, only because there’s less upside from a fantasy perspective with the two of them.

Sigmund BloomBiggest reach was Penny at No. 2 because the Seattle running game and state of their team isn’t going to lead to great running game stats. Penny also has the hurdle of the worst pass blocking of any of the top eight backs.

Jake CielyThere wasn’t any major reach in my opinion, but there were around five-to-six players I would have taken before Tre’Quan Smith. He’s a nice downfield threat, but what are we hoping for? Donte Stallworth? Not to mention Smith’s value not only hinges on becoming more than that, but it also relies on Cameron Meredith bombing out and the Saints going back to a heavier passing approach.

Brandon Marianne LeeI may have stretched on Mike Gesicki, but I also felt fine with it. Tight ends are tough to find in dynasty once you’re a few years in. You take chances, and then you realize you have Maxx Williams.

Gesicki will get usage Year One in the Adam Gase offense. Then you can keep him and go for the gold, or he’s trade bait in Year Two. Too many dynasty players look too far out and forget that we don’t just need a 10-year-long career stud, we also need trades. Tweaking and managing your team is about the whole, not just the specific parts.

Mike WrightThe pick I felt was the largest reach, and only specifically to relative to where I’ve seen him drafted, was Antonio Callaway at 2.08. I actually really like the pick. Cleveland, of course, knows he carries risk, yet they moved up in the draft to select him. There are a couple players that went behind him in the second round that I’d rather grab simply because I see a more immediate opportunity. However, by next year, Callaway could be a sought-after dynasty buy.

Chet GreshamI think my least favorite pick was probably Calvin Ridley. I like him as a real football player, but I don’t like his upside as a fantasy player. He should add a lot to Atlanta but he’s not the heir apparent to Julio Jones and Jones isn’t going away that soon. I don’t love the wide receivers to choose from as a whole, which makes me look for players who can make a quick impact with their opportunity and a player like Christian Kirk seems to have a better pathway.

Jeff RatcliffeEquanimeous St. Brown was a sixth-round pick in last month’s draft, and a fair argument could be made that he shouldn’t have been drafted at all in this mock. It’s especially surprising that he went two picks before J’Mon Moore, who the Packers selected two rounds before St. Brown. The former Notre Dame wideout has appealing athleticism, but doesn’t play to his size and posted a lackluster resumé at the college level. It’ll be a big surprise if he ends up surfacing as a fantasy option.

Ray SummerlinRoyce Freeman ahead of the top receivers and especially Nick Chubb might end up looking like a good decision at the end of this season, but I am not sure that will be the case in three years.

Justin BooneEquanimeous St. Brown was highly-touted heading into the NFL Draft, but we have to account for the new information that’s emerged over the last month. The Packers drafted two other receivers before selecting St. Brown in the sixth round. There are also reports that he’s averse to stretching or playing special teams. All of these issues could be erased by a good camp, but St. Brown seems like a reach in the third. 

Jody SmithHard to identify a reach in any rookie-only draft that typically dries up after 15-20 picks. That said, I’ll say my selection of Dolphins running back Kalen Ballage at 2.12 was probably ill-advised. Ballage doesn’t have a clear path to playing time unless Kenyan Drake gets hurt, and none of the players that I’d hoped would be available with the final pick of Round Three made it back to me.

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Jody Smith is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jody, check out his archive and follow him @JodySmithNFL

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