2016 NFL Draft Preview: QBs, TEs, and Ks on the Fantasy Radar
As the April 28th NFL Draft draws near, it’s time to take a look at the available prospects and their potential for fantasy impact. Every year, rookies enter the league with high dreams and expectations, but only a few make an impact in their rookie seasons, especially when it comes to the most common fantasy positions.
This year, the quarterback position is a little deeper than it was a year ago, when only Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston projected to start right away. This season, at least three quarterbacks should go off the board in the first round, with another pair projected to be second round picks. Additionally, there are talented and athletic players at the position available deep into the draft, and with a dearth of franchise caliber passers in the NFL right now, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some sleepers emerge from this rookie class.
I’ll break the quarterbacks out into three groups for fantasy owners to note: Impact QBs, who should be dynamite from day one; Situation-Dependent QBs, whose fantasy stock will depend on the scheme and role they get drafted into; and Sleeper QBs, who have the potential to make an impact despite being projected as late round picks.
In addition to quarterback prospects, I’ll also cover a few of the tight ends available, as well as one standout kicker who may go as high as the third round. Note that rookie tight ends, even very good ones, rarely make an impact. In follow-up articles, I’ll preview the top running backs and wide receivers leading up to the draft.
Obviously, situation and workload are going to be the biggest factors when considering how soon all of these players can make a fantasy impact, especially at the quarterback position.
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Jared Goff, California – Question marks surrounding each of the top three quarterbacks in this class likely won't stop any of them from going off the board in the first round. Goff has the best combination of skill and college production, and showed year-over-year improvement in his decision making and accuracy during his three seasons as starter. While Goff will need to learn how to read NFL defenses and has shown a propensity to struggle under the big lights at times, he has a strong arm and is deadly accurate when dialed in. After finishing last season with 43 touchdown passes and over 4,700 yards, Goff should earn a starting job early.
Paxton Lynch, Memphis – Lynch may be one of the more polarizing options in this draft. At 6-foot-7, Lynch is surprisingly athletic for his size, with excellent footwork and pocket mobility. He has sufficient arm strength to make all the throws at the next level, but an inconsistent technique can affect his accuracy, often leading him to use his arm more than his body. Able to read defenses at a pro level already, Lynch is careful with the football (he threw only four interceptions last season) and certainly flashes an “it” factor. A team like the Cowboys -- who are looking toward the future despite having a veteran starter at the position -- is a possibility for Lynch, but he has the poise and natural ability to challenge for a starting role in his rookie year, and is perhaps the biggest boom-or-bust first round quarterback.
Carson Wentz, North Dakota State – Being from a small school hasn’t hurt Wentz’s draft stock. The 6-foot-5 North Dakota native led the Bison to their fifth straight title last season despite coming off a wrist injury. Wentz is lauded for his poise in the pocket, his arm talent, and his leadership and football acumen. His ascension into the discussion as an elite prospect, however, is based on being one of the few college quarterbacks to demonstrate NFL talent while running a pro-style offense. Wentz will likely be called upon to start immediately wherever he gets drafted and is unlikely to fall outside the top 10, making him a name worth knowing for fantasy owners in all leagues.
Connor Cook, Michigan State – Cook is a difficult player to scout. At times, he looks like a steady starting quarterback with pro bowl potential. Then he’ll float an easy throw or panic under limited pressure, making it hard to trust your team with him. Cook executed a pro-style offense in college, and at 6-foot-4 he has prototype height, but his inconsistent accuracy is a red flag. If he winds up on a team with solid blocking up front, he could surprise fantasy owners as a reliable starter. On the other hand, if he ends up playing behind a terrible line, he could lose trust in his blocking quickly, which could derail his entire career. He’ll go off the board on day two, and his fantasy stock will depend on whether he gets to compete for a starting role on a team like the Jets or merely ends backing up a veteran like Carson Palmer in Arizona.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State – Hackenberg was plagued by inconsistency in college, but has a big-time arm and can make every throw at the next level. His accuracy leaves much to be desired, however, and he seems stiff in the pocket at times, often causing him to take big hits. Nevertheless. Hackenberg showed improvement reading defenses last year and has the talent to make it in the NFL if given time to develop. Fantasy owners should stash Hackenberg in dynasty leagues if he winds up in a good spot with a steady veteran ahead of him. If Hackenberg does wind up starting right away, fantasy owners should be reluctant to forecast big time success right away. Hackenberg may be drafted as high as the second round based on potential, but his skill set is reminiscent of Zach Mettenberger's.
Kevin Hogan, Stanford – I like Kevin Hogan. It’s hard to replace Andrew Luck, but Hogan managed to do a nice job given the circumstances. He finished his senior season strong, with a 45-16 drubbing of Iowa in the Rose Bowl, throwing three touchdown passes and running in another score. Hogan doesn’t have a great arm, and his quirky release and throwing mechanics are part of the reason he’ll likely last deep into day three of the draft, but he’s accurate, has excellent pocket awareness, and is a gamer. If Hogan somehow finds a way to win a starting job in training camp, it’ll be hard to pry it away from him.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State – Prescott’s recent DUI is a little concerning, but he’s always been a good locker room guy and teammate whose leadership should carry over to the next level. Prescott is a bit of an overachiever who doesn’t do anything particularly well, but figures out how to make plays anyway. He’s mobile in the pocket and uses his bulk and athleticism to extend plays and move the chains by tucking the ball and running. Furthermore, he has a nose for the end zone, scoring 39 total touchdowns last season alone. While he may not be drafted until well into day three, he has the kind of playmaking ability that can translate into sleeper potential given the right situation.
Vernon Adams, Oregon – Adams was productive for the Ducks while he was healthy. The problem is that he struggled to stay on the field in his lone at Oregon after transferring from Eastern Washington. Adams doesn’t have a great arm and he lacks elite size (5-foot-10, 200 pounds), but he’s a quick, agile play-maker. Adams compares favorably to Johnny Manziel and comes without Manziel's off-field concerns. If Adams winds up starting, he may put up reasonable fantasy numbers. It’ll be a long road to a starting role, but after watching Adams put up six touchdowns against USC last fall, he has a good chance to make an impact if given the opportunity. Watch him if a team with an unsettled quarterback situation like the 49ers snatches him up early on day three.
Tight End Prospects
Hunter Henry, Arkansas – Henry is the only tight end with the potential to make an early fantasy impact. He ran a 4.66 40-yard dash at his pro day, and at 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to be a premier receiving threat. Henry only scored nine touchdowns during his three-year career at Arkansas, but caught 51 balls last year and should be drafted in the second round, if not late in the first. While tight ends tend to struggle in their first seasons, fantasy owners in dynasty leagues should look to scoop up Henry once the top backs and receivers are gone.
Nick Vannett, Ohio State – There’s a large drop-off after Henry, but Vannett has the potential to emerge as a quality red zone target. While he only caught 55 passes in four years at Ohio State, he managed five touchdowns as a junior and has elite size at 6-foot-6. Vannett is a project and is unlikely to make an immediate impact, but his upside is as high as any of the remaining prospects after Henry. He’ll likely be a late second or third round pick.
Jerell Adams, South Carolina – What Adams lacks in proven ability, he makes up for with raw upside. While he struggles with drops and with getting in and out of breaks, he ran a 4.66 40-yard dash at the Combine, indicating potential to stretch the seam. Adams is a project, but could be a valuable addition in leagues with rosters deep enough to stash players. He should come off the board sometime in the second or third round.
Austin Hooper, Stanford – Hooper carved a role for himself as a safety valve for Hogan the last two years, scoring eight touchdowns on 74 receptions, and gaining 937 yards during that span. Hooper is the complete opposite of Adams, with limited athleticism but an ability to run crisp routes, find soft spots in the defense, and catch the ball fluidly. Hooper will need to find the right system to succeed, but his prolific production will put him in consideration on day two. If given the opportunity, Hooper could develop into a starter long term, but is unlikely to make an immediate impact.
Roberto Aguayo, Florida State – It’s not often that a kicker gets mentioned in an NFL Draft preview, but Aguayo is the exception. The strong-legged junior from Mascotte, Florida won the Lou Groza Award as a freshman and had a career field goal percentage of over 88 percent. Aguayo made every extra point attempt in college and his perfect accuracy record inside 40 yards will make him even more appealing now that extra points are no longer chip shots. Aguayo could be drafted as high as the third or fourth round, and should immediately win the job for whichever team drafts him. While kickers aren’t a premium fantasy position, I’d be remiss if I failed to mention this standout.
Other Kickers to Note: Ross Martin, Duke; Ka’lmi Fairbairn, UCLA; Jaden Oberkrom, TCU
Don’t forget to follow John Paulson as he updates the fantasy impact of drafted players on Days 1 and 2 of the draft, and stick around for Day 3 as I continue to update the back end players and clue you into potential steals.
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