Despite all the talk about drafting “for talent over need”, it’s actually quite rare for any team to use a first-round selection to further add to a position of strength. The wiser franchises will de-emphasize positional need as the draft moves to the middle rounds, yet even teams like the Patriots and Packers generally expect their first-rounders to make significant contributions as rookies.
Although we can safely assume that every offensive skill position player selected in the first round will at least have the opportunity to compete for a starting job, their chances to achieve immediate fantasy stardom — not just relevance — will largely depend on which team drafts them.
Just to clarify, these are the best fits for the draft’s top prospects to establish rookie-year fantasy value, focusing solely on 2016. All of these guys are very likely to be selected within the top 20-25 picks of the upcoming draft.
Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
There are only a few teams still searching for starting quarterbacks, and one of those squads, the Broncos, has the last pick in the first round. Though their roster looks pretty ugly at the moment, the 49ers figure to rank among the NFL leaders in offensive snaps under new head coach Chip Kelly, who thrived with mobile quarterbacks during his time at the University of Oregon. Wentz wouldn’t get much help from his receivers in San Francisco, but his running ability would likely be put to good use. The 49ers don’t pick until No. 7, so a trade-up might be necessary.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Given how difficult it is for rookie quarterbacks to post strong fantasy numbers without the help of rushing stats, Goff is highly unlikely to make a significant impact unless your league requires that you start two quarterbacks. I realize this is a bit of a long shot, but the Broncos still need a signal-caller, and they have enough talent already on the roster to soften the blow of trading a handful of draft picks in exchange for one selection in the top 10. Goff would then team up with Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, plus he’d have the backing of an elite defense.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Boasting a three-down skillset in addition to excellent running ability, Elliott figures to be a valuable fantasy asset from day one, regardless of where he lands. That being said, he’d have more competition for touches in certain places than others, making the Dolphins an ideal fit for rookie-year fantasy value. Rotowire’s Mario Puig has Elliott coming off the board at No. 8 to the Eagles, which also makes a ton of sense. The Dolphins hold the No. 13 pick, having swapped selections with Philadelphia in a trade that netted LB Kiko Alonso and CB Byron Maxwell.
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Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
The Bears have a decent quarterback and a big-bodied No. 1 wideout, yet their need for additional help is pretty obvious, as Eddie Royal or Zach Miller would likely be Jay Cutler’s No. 2 target if the season started today. Surrounded by hype due to his fantastic workout numbers, Coleman would likely be an immediate starter in Chicago, with a pretty obvious path to 100+ targets. Granted, his combination of athleticism and college production is such that he may not last until the Bears pick at No. 11.
Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
As predicted by Mario Puig, the Giants would be a fantastic fit for the 6-2 Doctson, who would likely step in as an immediate starter across from Odell Beckham. Sure, OBJ gobbles up a lot of targets, but the Giants still throw the ball often enough to support a second productive receiver. With Rueben Randle gone and the tight ends still underwhelming, Big Blue is a strong fit for any wideout prospect.
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
The Giants would also offer a nice fit for Treadwell, who seems to be slipping toward the middle/bottom of the first round. He still isn’t a good bet to stick around this long, but the Texans (at No. 22 overall) would probably he happy if he did, as the team badly needs a secondary target to give Brock Osweiler and DeAndre Hopkins some help. I’m not sold on Osweiler at all, but few teams (if any) have more targets left to account for.
Other potential first-round prospects:
Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis; Best Fit: New York Jets
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama; Best Fit: Cleveland Browns
Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame; Best Fit: Cincinnati Bengals
Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State; Best Fit: Kansas City Chiefs
Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas; Best Fit: Denver Broncos