Sunday, July 3, 2022

Fantasy Football: Who has the most to gain or lose from the NFL draft, plus quarterback prospect profiles

The run-up to the NFL Draft is a time for optimism when every prospect enters the NFL with an unwritten story ahead of them. They won’t all be stars, but all of them could be, and the time before and immediately after the draft is the time when you dream on what those players could be – you know before players actually get drafted and find themselves on crowded depth charts, stuck with coaches they don’t fit with, or any of the other infinite number of ways things can and do go wrong. Reality is often disappointing

We got a non-draft-related reminder of that Tuesday when we learned that the Broncos re-signed running back Melvin Gordon to a one-year contract. That move didn’t come as a huge surprise – Gordon and the Broncos had both expressed interest in a reunion in recent weeks – but it’s a disappointment for Javonte Williams nonetheless, who is now almost certainly set to be in a timeshare yet again when we were hoping he would have the job all to himself. 

Williams should still be drafted pretty highly, of course – he finished as RB16 last season with Gordon playing all but one game. But he looked like a superstar in the one game he played without Gordon, totaling 178 yards on 23 carries and six receptions, and likely would have been a borderline first-round pick without Gordon around. Now he likely settles more in the Round 2-3 turn range, as a high-end RB2. He still has plenty of upside, but also room for frustration if he’s in a similar split as last season – remember, he averaged just 11.6 PPR points per game in the five games after that Gordon-less week. The Fantasy Football Today team broke that news down on Wednesday’s episode of the podcast

Williams won’t be alone in losing value between now and the start of the season, of course, and the draft tonight is the last significant opportunity for teams to make the kind of additions that can shake up their depth charts. In today’s newsletter, I’m going to talk about the five players with the most to gain or lose based on how their team approaches the draft – along with breakdowns of the top QB prospects from Dave Richard, Heath Cummings, and Dan Schneier.

And, of course, if you want to follow along with the draft as it’s happening, make sure you tune in to CBS Sports HQ tonight, because the Fantasy Football Today team will be along for the ride breaking down all of the top picks. Coverage starts at 6 p.m. EST, with the draft set to kick off at 8 – and we’ll be on all weekend through the end of the draft, along with post-draft reaction podcasts, plus winners and losers right here in your inbox. 

And there’s still time to join the FFT draft prediction contest. This is your chance to win a spot in the 2022 FFT Podcast League, because the most accurate predictor will be guaranteed a spot in this year’s league, where you’ll get to prove your mettle against Adam Aizer, Jamey, Dave, and Heath. You can sign up here.

Who has the most to gain or lose? 

Last year in the lead-up to the draft, James Robinson looked like one of the most precarious players in all of Fantasy. If he made it through the draft without the Jaguars adding another running back of note, he’d probably have been drafted as a top-12 RB; instead, the addition of Travis Etienne sent his value tumbling — at least until Etienne suffered a season-ending foot injury in training camp. 

Robinson wasn’t alone there. The draft serves as a fulcrum for a lot of players’ value for the upcoming season — depending on how their team approaches it, some players will either see their value shoot up or collapse in the months leading up to training camp, the next real opportunity for values to change.

Here are five players/situations whose outlook could change dramatically based on how the draft goes. We’ll be keeping a close eye on these situations in particular

  • Saquon Barkley – We’d probably prefer to see Barkley get moved elsewhere in a Draft Day trade because nobody is excited about this Giants offense still. That’s not to see he can’t be good again, but seeing as Barkley doesn’t necessarily seem like the kind of player who can outperform his surroundings post-knee-surgery, we’d like to see him in better surroundings. He’ll need to be healthy and look right before we get excited about him again, but if Barkley went to the right team, he could have significant upside again. 
  • Devin Singletary – The way the Bills offense operates, there just isn’t room for multiple running backs to be Fantasy relevant – Josh Allen is too much of a threat at the goal line and he doesn’t throw to his backs enough. However, Singletary showed last season he can be a very good Fantasy option if he’s being used as a true primary back, as he played at least 68% of the snaps in each of his final seven games (including the playoffs) and averaged 19.7 PPR points per game. I know a lot of people are excited about the prospect of the Bills adding a big-name rookie early in the draft, but I think that’s probably a worst-case scenario for 2022 – it would almost certainly lead to a Denver-esque timeshare that proves more frustrating than anything else.
  • Elijah Moore – We know the Jets are in the market for more playmaking in the passing game, and they were apparently right there with the Dolphins for Tyreek Hill before Hill chose Miami. The Jets adding another highly-ranked rookie wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing for Moore’s value, because you have to think he’d have a leg up having already gone through the ups and downs of a rookie season. But, if the Jets were able to pull off a monster trade for Deebo Samuel, that might make it potentially very tough for Moore to emerge as the No. 1 WR for the Jets, and we haven’t seen enough from Zach Wilson yet to think he can support multiple Fantasy-relevant receivers. 
  • Adam Thielen/Terry McLaurin/Michael Thomas – These guys all, in various ways, have the same thing to lose as Moore, because they could all see significant competition for targets added this weekend. Thielen is probably most at risk, since he’s already the clear No. 1 option behind Justin Jefferson, in addition to being on the clear downside of his career entering his age-32 season. Thomas could potentially even see an increase in value – maybe not in perceived value, immediately, but if the Saints were going to commit to throwing the ball more than they did last season, a first-round wide receiver investment could be a signal. 
  • DK Metcalf/Tyler Lockett/D.J. Moore – This year’s QB class isn’t considered a particularly impressive lot by the folks who spend a lot more time than I do thinking about these things, so I’m not expecting the Seahawks or Panthers to add a rookie who immediately pushes these guys up my rankings. However, it’s still possible they make a trade for Baker Mayfield or Jimmy Garoppolo, and while I don’t think either is a great quarterback, I think they’d both be a clear upgrade over either Drew Lock or Sam Darnold. One other potentially interesting variable would be if the Seahawks drafted Malik Willis, whose athleticism and cannon arm could pair very well with Metcalf and Lockett’s skill sets. He’s a long shot, but that’s the archetype we’ve seen Metcalf and Lockett thrive with. 

QB prospects to know for the draft

It feels weird to be paying so little attention to the quarterbacks in this class, but the truth is, rookie quarterbacks don’t often make a huge impact in Fantasy. We saw that last season with one of the most hyped classes in recent memory — though there is still reason to be excited about Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, and Zach Wilson, Jones was the best of the bunch for Fantasy and ranked just 26th in Fantasy points per game. 

And this year’s class isn’t nearly as talented as last year’s … probably. The truth is, we don’t really know until we see these guys in the NFL. But, there really isn’t any prospect-focused analyst out there who will tell you this year’s class compares to last. In fact, there probably aren’t too many who would even take the best prospect in this year’s class over Jones, the fifth QB taken a year ago. 

That doesn’t mean we don’t need to know about these guys, of course, especially the top prospect, who has a very Fantasy-friendly skill set if he hits. You can read about the top prospect running backs here and the wide receivers here if you missed them earlier this week, and we’ve got profiles on Trey McBride and Greg Dulcich, the top tight ends in the class, on our Dynasty Central landing page. Here are the QBs you need to know: 

Malik Willis, Liberty

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Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Garrett Wilson (5) celebrates a touchdown catch against Michigan State Spartans in the second quarter during their NCAA College football game at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on November 20, 2021. USATSI

Age: 22 

6-foot-1, 219 pounds

Malik Willis can run. Really well. If you know nothing else about him except for that, you know he has the potential to be a Fantasy difference maker. Whether the rest of the game will eventually be up to par is an open question, but there’s no doubt Willis has all of the physical traits a quarterback needs to be a Fantasy star. 

Profile by Dan Schneier

Best Fantasy fits

Detroit Lions: “There has been some buzz building about the Lions potentially drafting Willis at No. 2 overall, and while I ultimately think they roll with hometown(ish) hero Aidan Hutchinson, Detroit would be a much better Fantasy fit than most give it credit for. What I love about this fit is that Detroit already has a plus offensive line in place, with arguably the NFL’s best center and an emerging star at offensive tackle in Penei Sewell. If Willis is to have early success at the NFL level, he’ll need to join a creative offense that is willing to curtail the system to fit his skill set, similar to how the Ravens did it with Lamar Jackson. That means a lot of zone-read and play-action vertical and intermediate shots based off the run game. New offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is the man to do it, and D’Andre Swift would be a perfect fit as his running mate in that backfield. New vertical addition D.J. Chark would also mesh nicely with Willis.” … Also: Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks

Dynasty outlook

“In one-QB Dynasty formats, Willis typically goes off the board in the middle to end of Round 1, but I’ll be more bullish in my drafts. Willis’ tantalizing combination of throwing velocity, his track record of chunk-yardage throws (measured by his collegiate-leading big-time throw percentage) and his playmaking ability as a runner in the open field provide a path to QB1 status early on. That’s if he finds the right fit. See: Lamar Jackson. In 2QB and Superflex formats, Willis should be the 1.1. There is not a single player more valuable in that format, and that’s taking into account his potential bust factor.”

Scouting report 

Strengths – “The ball absolutely jumps out of Willis’ hand — the velocity is real … can generate velocity on his passes while throwing from any platform … a truly incredible athlete as a runner in the open field … has a thick lower half and frame and he is a strong athlete …has creativity and agility as a runner in the open field … not always consistent, Willis demonstrates the combination of velocity and ball placement that can rival the top quarterbacks you see on NFL Sundays … can operate the RPO game at a high level … can make the “NFL throws” as they call them … excels as a deep passer.”

Weaknesses – “Willis’ has two major concerns that rightfully place him in the project category and the first that stands out to me is his inconsistent ball placement … second major concern is his mental processing from pre to post snap … too many examples on film of Willis missing simple things that will get him in trouble at the next level … needs to get better with his eyes … often bails too early from the pocket.”

NFL comparison

“When I watch Willis on tape, it’s hard to come up with a great example for him — he reminds me in a lot of ways of a combination of Michael Vick and Lamar Jackson. But he’s so different than both those quarterbacks when it comes to how he throws the ball that ultimately neither feels right. The comparison I am going with is a smaller version of Daunte Culpepper. He is most similar to Culpepper as a thrower, but a more dynamic runner in the open field.”

Kenny Pickett, Pitt

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USATSI

Age: 24

6-foot-3, 217 pounds

Pickett finished as Pitt’s all-time leading passer in both yards and touchdowns — and total touchdowns. He also had the most 300- and 400-yard passing performances in school history, which is even more impressive if you remember Dan Marino’s time at Pitt. But he’s not just a pocket statue — Pickett rushed for 809 yards and 20 touchdowns in his four years as a starter. 

Profile by Dave Richard

Best Fantasy fits

Seattle Seahawks: “Pickett might be the Seahawks’ last remaining option to replace Russell Wilson that doesn’t entirely stink. Pickett’s penchant for downfield throws mixed in with his mobility and moxie could remind the coaching staff of Wilson in his younger days. The West Coast offense would be an easy transition for Pickett, plus throwing to DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett would make things much easier on him.” … Also: Pittsburgh Steelers

Dynasty outlook

“Pickett strikes me as a close-to-ready starter who will get overdrafted and likely start before he should. He isn’t the type of quarterback who will make an average receiver good and a good receiver great. Rather, he will flourish statistically if he’s in a good scheme surrounded by a good O-line and good receivers. That’s why he’ll have a shot at some decent numbers in 2022 if he’s got good wideouts around him, with the potential to develop with them and grow into a potential low-end Fantasy starter over the next three seasons. Expect him to get snagged with a Round 2 pick in one-QB Dynasty rookie drafts and somewhere between third and sixth overall in two-QB/Superflex formats.”

Scouting report 

Strengths – “Experienced. Was a four-year starter in the ACC … Ideal height for the position … Impressive read & reaction skills allowed him to get rid of the ball smoothly … Not often flustered in the face of oncoming pressure and habitually kept his eyes focused downfield … Compact release and effortless throwing motion … Strong arm was capable of landing far-side throws … Knew when a play was going nowhere and would throw a ball away … Mobility was a key part of his game … Not quite a “dual-threat” quarterback but would improvise with his legs to pick up yardage.”

Weaknesses – “Lean body. Unknown if he will be able to hold up to the hits of the NFL … Double-jointed thumbs on undersized hands. 38 career fumbles in college … in shotgun formation for all but four drop-backs last year … Would occasionally throw off his back foot … Needs work with his post-snap reads … Accuracy was relatively good but there were a number of inaccurate throws that cost his team yards.”

NFL comparison

Derek Carr might have a slightly stronger arm, and Pickett seems much more willing to escape the pocket to keep plays alive, but they tend to have a lot in common. Carr was especially solid working in a West Coast system that asked for high-percentage passes; now his career might take off as he’s surrounded by elite talent. Pickett isn’t good enough to lift his receivers — his best collegiate season came with a gutsy playmaker at receiver in Jordan Addison. But if Pickett is asked to just throw high-percentage passes while working in a little more mobile/spread/RPOs weaved in, he should do fine and have a solid career like Carr.”

Matt Corral, Ole Miss

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USATSI

Age: 23

6-foot-2, 212 pounds

The questions with Corral aren’t really about his physical skills, it’s everything else. Whether that stuff is fair — or if it even matters — is the biggest question surrounding the statistically prolific Corral. 

Profile by Dave Richard

Best Fantasy fits

Pittsburgh Steelers: “Unlike fellow prospect Kenny Pickett, Corral doesn’t figure to compete for playing time in training camp and instead would try to improve his game through practices while Mitchell Trubisky stops the gap for a year. But as soon as 2023, Matt Canada’s offense might run nicely with a two-way quarterback in Corral surrounded by a stable offensive line and quality receivers. This landing spot offers the most long-term upside beginning in a year.” … Also: New York Giants, Seattle Seahawks

Dynasty outlook

“Corral offers a lot of intriguing potential that fits into what NFL teams are looking for from quarterbacks, but his film suggests he shouldn’t be put on the field in 2022. That means Fantasy managers should view Corral as part of a long-term plan. Ideally, Corral would land with a coaching staff with job security and experience developing quarterbacks. He could then sit for his rookie year and compete for a starting job in 2023. If that scenario plays out, Corral would get taken with a late second or early third in rookie-only drafts in one-QB leagues and a top-8 pick in two-QB/Superflex. If he winds up in a less-ideal situation then shrewd Fantasy managers would simply avoid him on the belief he won’t amount to much statistically.”

Scouting report 

Strengths – “Athletic talent with smooth, fluid body … Played primarily in RPO/shotgun spread offense … Experienced with playing up-tempo. Sold pass fakes in RPO well … Quickly set up his base quickly after faking handoffs in RPO … Quick release on his passes with no wasted motion … Strong, live arm complete with velocity that ranged from good to elite … Outstanding when not under pressure, completing 73.1% of his passes at 9.44 yards per attempt … Typically maneuvered well around and out of the pocket when pressured … Learned to take better care of the football: Had two games with five-plus interceptions in 2020, had five total interceptions in 2021 … Solid burst, acceleration and speed as a rusher.”

Weaknesses – “463 of 468 dropbacks in 2021 were in shotgun … Benched in 2019, but may have had more to do with coaches fighting to keep their jobs than for how Corral played … Majority of his throws felt pre-determined based on pre-snap reads or were partial-field reads post-snap … Stared down targets frequently … Decision-making needs work … Too many instances of not feeling or anticipating pass rush pressure … Struggled when pressured, completing 42.9% of his passes at 5.3 yards per attempt … Suffered three ankle injuries in 2021 … Teams must investigate significant maturity questions.”

NFL comparison

“There’s a lot of Marcus Mariota in Corral. Both are quarterbacks who excelled in a specific scheme that made them great in college. Both were also incomplete passers when they were done in college. Mariota got into a starting job right away and never really excelled before getting benched and dumped. Corral needs a year of acclimating to the pro game before reliably giving his chance to win games. If given one, he should eclipse Mariota’s career and potentially develop into one of the league’s more exciting passers.”

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

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Age: 23

6-foot-3, 211 pounds

Ridder did an awful lot of winning with the Bearcats, and was quite prolific in doing so. As a senior, he was used less as a dual-threat and established career-best numbers pretty much across the board as a passer in leading Cincy to a 13-1 record and No. 4 ranking in the final AP Poll. Then he went and ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at the combine, though significant questions about his physical skill set beyond that remain. 

Profile by Dan Schneier

Best Fantasy fits

Seattle Seahawks: “In terms of an offense that wants to be run-focused and not put too much on a quarterback’s plate, this is probably the best fit for Ridder. As soon as this season, he could handle a basic version of the West Coast offense with RPOs blended in while surrounded by some incredible receivers. Pete Carroll is never scared to play rookies, either. Ridder could turn out to be a one-week waiver-wire replacement throughout the season if he wound up with the Hawks.” Also: Carolina Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers

Dynasty outlook

“There are three paths Ridder’s career could take: He could get drafted to be a starter as soon as this season, or to be a starter as soon as next season, or to be an insurance policy in case a team’s current starter falls apart or leaves via free agency. These scenarios come with the territory of quarterbacks who fall out of the top 50 picks, which is a possibility for Ridder. If there isn’t a clear path to playing time this year or next year for Ridder, Dynasty leaguers will forget about Ridder until at least Round 3 in rookie-only drafts. But if there is a clear path, then demand will perk up and he could get swiped anywhere from 10th to 20th overall in the rookie formats, or as a top-10 pick in Superflex/two-QB leagues.”

Scouting report 

Strengths – “Experienced: Four-year starter at Cincinnati with a 44-6 record … Ideal height for the position … Though the majority of his throws were predetermined before the snap, Ridder proved capable of reading defenses both pre- and post-snap … Can roll out of bed and run an RPO-style system with elements of a West Coast offense mixed in … At his best when throwing in rhythm in short and intermediate passing game … Usually kept eyes downfield when he felt pressure and had to move … Occasionally flashed incredible anticipation on his throws … Has the arm strength to launch catchable bombs 40- to 45-yards downfield … Very willing to run and has been doing so since high school … Mature with a calm demeanor.” 

Weaknesses – “Lean build could open him up to big hits and potential injuries … Offensive scheme at Cincinnati didn’t ask Ridder to make a lot of reads from play to play … Needs coaching in terms of throwing motion … Pass velocity left a little to be desired — more of a flicker and a lobber than a gunner … Pocket presence and awareness were spotty … Sometimes struggled with sideline and far-field throws … Not necessarily the best choice for Hail Mary passes … Truly benefited from playing against weaker-level competition in the American Conference. Can he step up adequately in the NFL?”

NFL comparison

“There were times when I saw Ridder make plays that made me feel like I was watching Justin Fields. And there were also times where I felt like I was watching a much leaner Jalen Hurts. The jury is still out on both of those quarterbacks, just like it will be out on Ridder until he gets a chance to develop at the next level. I expect the draft capital to be much closer to that of Hurts than Fields, which means Ridder should have time on his side to grow his game and become an eventual NFL starter — and a potential Fantasy starter by 2023.”

Other QB to know …

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