The 2019 NFL Draft season in done and dusted, and now it’s finally time to exhale. It’s the feeling of a mid-afternoon food coma after a gigantic buffet of Combine and draft coverage as we settle into the long wait for summer mini-camps and preseason football. But fantasy football never sleeps, and many rookie drafts have already begun. Fantasy has no offseason.
It’s easy to focus on the rookies, but the NFL Draft affects everyone in fantasy football. For some teams it means a big opportunity for a new rookie face. For others, a second chance for an overlooked veteran who could be a bargain. Still other players may benefit indirectly, with help on the offensive line or from the defense.
Let’s go around the NFL, and look at the fantasy football fallout and key rookie outlooks for each team. We already detailed every team in the NFC, so be sure to check that out if you haven’t yet. Today we’ll focus on the AFC teams, then put together a 2019 dynasty rookie rankings top-36 at the end. Off we go!
The Ravens certainly went into the draft with a plan to load up on receivers, grabbing both Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin in the first three rounds to overhaul the crew. Brown was the first WR drafted and should step in as the immediate WR1 in Baltimore. He’s a flashy playmaker and a DeSean Jackson clone — but if you’ve played fantasy awhile, you know that’s better in real life than in fantasy. Jackson is maddeningly inconsistent, putting up 3 catches for 120 yards and a TD one game and then a donut in the next. Expect that sort of swing for Brown, always a threat to score on any play but with unreliable week-to-week production in a run-first offense under Lamar Jackson. Brown helps the Ravens more than he’ll help your fantasy team. Boykin is solid and steady. He’ll be more consistent but without the ceiling. The Ravens just aren’t a team you want a fantasy WR from right now.
The Bills had a great draft but did most of their early work in the trenches, adding DT Ed Oliver and OT Cody Ford with their first two picks. But don’t forget about RB Devin Singletary. Singletary scored 67 TDs in three seasons at Florida Atlantic despite his small stature at 5'7 and only 200 pounds. He’s probably not big enough to carry the lead role but won’t have the chance as a rookie with LeSean McCoy and Frank Gore on the roster (for now), plus Josh Allen stealing plenty of opportunities. Still, this is a run-first-run-again offense under Allen, and McCoy and Gore are on fumes, so there’s opportunity there.
The big winner from Cincinnati’s draft may be Joe Mixon. The Bengals grabbed OT Jonah Williams in the first round and followed him up with TE Drew Sample, a blocking tight end you’ll want to avoid in fantasy. Those two should help give Mixon a lot more room and he continues to be a potential stud first-round fantasy pick. Ryan Finley is an interesting late flier in 2-QB leagues, a developmental guy who could get a shot with the Bengals looking to move on from Andy Dalton at some point.
The Browns made their biggest draft pick before the draft even started, trading their first-round pick for Odell Beckham Jr. OBJ, Jarvis Landry, and Baker Mayfield should be a lot of fun, both in real life and in fantasy. Cleveland focused on defense with the remainder of their draft picks.
The Broncos overhauled their offense this offseason. Drew Lock slid out of the first round and all the way to pick #42, and he’ll start the year behind Joe Flacco. Flacco is not a long-term answer and Lock could play as soon as this season a la Lamar Jackson, and he’ll come at a cheaper price now that he fell out of the first round. He’ll have some talented young receivers to work with so there’s reason for hope eventually.
The Broncos also added Dalton Risner, who’ll step in as an immediate offensive line starter, plus stud receiving tight end Noah Fant. Fant was the second Iowa TE drafted in round one and is the more dynamic receiver by far. He scored 18 TDs the last two seasons, an athletic freak who dominated at the Combine. Fant is as much of a slot receiver as a TE, and that’s always good news in fantasy. He has Travis Kelce type upside if things click, and Flacco loves to throw to his tight ends so things could click early. Don’t be surprised if Noah puts the Fant in fantasy.
The 10 biggest takeaways from a wild NFL Draft
Enough with all the draft grades — what teams won and lost, and what did we really learn from Draft Day 2019?
The Texans took a pair of offensive linemen in the first two rounds, and that’s great news for the entire offense. Deshaun Watson will be much more reliable and durable when he’s not getting hit all game, and Lamar Miller could see a nice bounce-back year especially as much volume as he’s been getting. If you’re not a Miller believer, D’Onta Foreman could finally be healthy this fall and step in with a big chance and a revamped line.
Parris Campbell was a favorite sleeper for many heading into the draft, and he walks into a great football situation in Indianapolis. Don’t be deterred by T.Y. Hilton or new signing Devin Funchess. Those two are outside receivers, and Campbell’s expertise is in the slot. He should get plenty of looks over the middle in space with Hilton and Funchess stretching the field. The only real problem is that Andrew Luck loves to spread it around and throw it to both tight ends, so Campbell might be the 4th or 5th option. He’ll be a solid PPR option with a nice floor but could struggle to post big games. The biggest winner in all this is Luck. He should have a monster year.
The Jags had an awesome draft, landing stud pass rusher Josh Allen in the first, then grabbing OT Jawaan Taylor in the second after many draftniks projected him as their top pick. The only fantasy addition of note is TE Josh Oliver, who had over 700 receiving yards as a senior at San Jose State and has a clear path to playing time. Rookie tight ends rarely produce but if you’re in some sort of masochist 2-TE league, he could be worth a grab. RB Ryquell Armstead is nothing special but could be worth a stash in a light depth chart behind oft-injured Leonard Fournette.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs got some shocking Tyreek Hill news on the eve of the draft and made no secret about their draft plan, trading up for another speedy, shifty special teams star in Georgia WR Mecole Hardman. Hardman was a shock pick many draftniks thought was taken several rounds too high, but that doesn’t matter in fantasy. If he has even a small chance to step into Hill’s role as the new Patrick Mahomes deep threat, that gives him massive, ginormous fantasy upside. Travis Kelce will be the biggest winner with Hill’s absence, and Mahomes seems doomed to being overdrafted with the loss of Hill combined with his historic year overinflating his value. But Hardman is the literal definition of a dynasty draft lottery ticket.
Don’t forget about late-round RB Darwin Thompson out of Utah State. Thompson is a smaller scat back with good receiving skills. Andy Reid has a type, and Kansas City’s RB depth chart has room for movement. Damien Williams looks like a nice fantasy sleeper for now but Thompson will be essentially free and could get a chance as early as this season. One thing is clear: Kansas City’s historic offense will look totally different in 2019.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers focused on adding dynamic defenders in the draft and didn’t do much on the fantasy football side. So instead I’ll shout out my guy Easton Stick, the winningest quarterback in FCS history, a 4-time champion and the second consecutive North Dakota State QB drafted after Carson Wentz.
What to watch for in a deep, crazy 2019 NFL Draft
Kyler Murray, defensive studs, and sexy non-glamour positions lead a top-light but deep Nashville draft
For a rebuilding team, the Dolphins sure didn’t make a big impact in the draft, opting to trade down and stockpile picks. One interesting name to keep in mind is 7th round RB Myles Gaskin, a speedster who ran for 1200+ yards four straight seasons at Washington. He could be an intriguing stash with only Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage in the way, and both of those two look like decent ADP values as the only viable fantasy candidates on the roster.
New England Patriots
The Patriots actually drafted three names of interest in fantasy football, surprising owners. The most obvious one was N’Keal Harry, one of the most complete wide receiver prospects in the draft. Harry is a physical WR who led all prospects in contested catches, and he’s the first WR taken in the first round under Bill Belichick. That worked out pretty well for Sony Michel a year ago before the injuries piled up, so many expect Harry to be a stud early, especially with so few receivers in New England. But don’t be surprised if Harry disappoints early. Receivers have a notoriously difficult time settling in at New England and Brady has his favorites, like Julian Edelman and James White. Harry isn’t a big field stretcher so he’s probably going to get a moderate number of short-to-mid targets as the third or fourth target, and that’s just not enough — think Chris Hogan. Harry has obvious opportunity but looks like a name that could get quickly overhyped.
RB Damien Harris could end up the more valuable fantasy rookie. Harris is a tough between-the-tackles runner who steps in as Michel’s backup as the early-down guy, and we know Michel can’t stay healthy. New England separates their RB roles, and Harris could turn into a LeGarrette Blount type hammer given the opportunity. And don’t forget to stash Jarrett Stidham late in 2-QB leagues. He’s the new Jimmy Garoppolo and looks like New England’s future once Tom Brady retires at age 85.
New York Jets
The Jets went defense-heavy in the draft, with no fantasy names of interest. They already made their splash with LeVeon Bell in free agency, and the stability at WR and TE should bode well for second-year QB Sam Darnold.
The Raiders had three first-round picks and used one of them on presumptive #1 fantasy rookie Josh Jacobs. Jacobs was the only RB taken in the first round and walks into a starting job with Marshawn Lynch retiring. Jacobs never even broke 650 rushing yards in a season at Alabama but averaged 5.9 yards per carry and is a nice receiver and a good short yardage back. He’s not going to be Ezekiel Elliott or Saquon Barkley but could get similar opportunity, and that makes him a must-grab. He should clear 20 touches a game and looks like a good RB2 with upside.
Hunter Renfrow will probably get overdrafted in fantasy, just because he’s a recognizable name from the College Football Playoffs. Renfrow could well be the starting slot receiver but you know the Raiders will force feed Antonio Brown to make good on their big investment, and Renfrow’s production outside of the big playoff games was pretty limited.
The Steelers are a team in transition with the departures of longtime fantasy studs Antonio Brown and LeVeon Bell, and that creates opportunity for two very intriguing rookie sleepers. Diontae Johnson looks like an Antonio Brown clone. He was the best route runner in the draft, has sure hands, and is a difference maker in special teams on both punt and kick returns. Johnson may take a year or two to develop out of Toledo, but he holds huge long-term potential for a team that’s had a ton of success developing receivers. He’s a lottery ticket with a huge payout if he hits early. Benny Snell is interesting too, if only because James Conner and Jaylen Samuels remain a bit unproven for a team that turns any runner into fantasy gold. He’s a free stash in most leagues and could be a goldmine if he gets an opportunity.
D.K. Metcalf stole the Combine headlines, but new Titans WR A.J. Brown was the Ole Miss receiver with all the college production. Brown had over 2500 yards the last two years and walks into a flailing depth chart, so he should start quickly next to Corey Davis. On most teams, that would make him a top rookie pick, but Davis was maddening for owners last season and Brown will fall behind him and returning tight end Delanie Walker in the pecking order. The truth is that Marcus Mariota just hasn’t been good enough to make any fantasy WRs super relevant yet, but Brown will get a lot of opportunity and looks like a solid long-term investment.
2019 dynasty rankings
Again, remember to check out the NFC companion piece if you haven’t already. You can see thoughts on all the key NFC rookies there. Below are my personal dynasty rankings for 2019 drafts, and they look a lot different than most lists you’ll find.
With so many rookie unknowns, I typically focus especially on opportunity and upside. Who has a path to quick playing time, and who’s worth the stash in the right offense if things do work out? The top five guys are the five rookies I’m targeting in redraft and dynasty leagues. The next five will go before most of them but are names I’ll avoid or trade away. Because of the way the draft fell this year, there’s some real value to be had among 2019 rookies. Here are your top 36 rookies for 2019 fantasy football…
Go get em
1. RB Josh Jacobs OAK
2. RB David Montgomery CHI
3. WR Mecole Hardman KC
4. QB Kyler Murray ARI
5. TE Noah Fant DEN
Overpriced, let someone else invest
6. RB Miles Sanders PHI
7. WR N’Keal Harry NE
8. WR A.J. Brown TEN
9. WR D.K. Metcalf SEA
10. WR Marquise Brown BAL
Huge-upside lottery tickets
11. RB Darrell Henderson LAR
12. WR Diontae Johnson PIT
13. RB Damien Harris NE
14. WR Deebo Samuel SF
15. RB Darwin Thompson KC
Good-upside stashes with an eye toward 2020
16. WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside PHI
17. RB Devin Singletary BUF
18. RB Benny Snell PIT
19. WR Andy Isabella ARI
20. TE Jace Sternberger GB
21. WR Hakeem Butler ARI
22. WR Parris Campbell IND
23. RB Bryce Love WAS
24. TE T.J. Hockenson DET
25. RB Ryquell Armstead OAK
26. TE Irv Smith MIN
27. RB Myles Gaskin MIA
28. RB Dexter Williams GB
Low-upside long-term projects
29. RB Alexander Mattison MIN
30. WR Riley Ridley CHI
31. QB Dwayne Haskins WAS
32. QB Drew Lock DEN
33. WR Terry McLaurin WAS
34. QB Daniel Jones NYG
35. WR Jalen Hurd SF
35. WR Hunter Renfrow OAK