This article is part of our NFL Draft series.
The first round is in the books and there's a lot to unpack from a fantasy perspective. As expected, quarterback and receiver carried the fantasy-relevant storylines as four QB's and six wide receivers came off the board in the first 32 picks. On the other end of the spectrum, we had to wait until the last pick of the night for the first running back to come off the board and we're still waiting for the first tight end to hear his name called. Without further adieu, let's dive into the fantasy ramifications from Night 1 of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Joe Burrow, LSU
Selected 1st overall by the Cincinnati Bengals
It feels like Burrow has been a Bengal since Cincinnati clinched the No.1 overall pick in late 2019. That's how obvious it was that Burrow would be the top overall selection this year. Burrow is coming off a historically dominant senior season at LSU, throwing for 378.1 yards per game while completing an absurd 76.3 percent of his passes at 10.8 yards per attempt. Sure, he had some help with the likes of Justin Jefferson, Ja'Marr Chase, Terrace Marshall, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Thaddeus Moss at his disposal and Joe Brady orchestrating an offense that was basically unfair for opposing defenses. Still, Burrow had to make it all come together and he did. Those numbers don't happen by accident.
As for how Burrow projects to the NFL, his football I.Q., accuracy, and feel for the game will help smooth his learning curve. That said, I question if Burrow is already at his developmental ceiling. We can't ignore that he tore up the college landscape as a fifth-year senior who had looked pedestrian before becoming superhuman in 2019. You may have heard that he's older than Lamar Jackson and Sam Darnold. He also doesn't have the strongest arm in the world. But even if he's near his ceiling, there's reason to be sold on what that looks like.
Burrow should develop into a Top 12 quarterback in time, and he will be useful in two-quarterback formats as a rookie. He has an underrated supporting cast (assuming A.J. Green is part of it) and he could be a sneaky source of rushing production after racking up 368 yards and five scores on the ground in 2019. Burrow is the most viable fantasy option among the rookie quarterbacks and it's not close.
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
Selected 5th overall by the Miami Dolphins
Miami was at the epicenter of the Tua-Herbert debate and the Dolphins ultimately sided on the riskier player with more upside in Tagovailoa. The optimist looks at Tagovailoa's tape and college production and sees a left-handed Russell Wilson. It doesn't necessarily take a pessimist to see the downside here, though. Tagovailoa was already dangerously close to getting the injury prone tag even before his catastrophic hip injury given his pair of surgeries to repair high-ankle sprains. When you add the hip injury in, it's hard to say with certainty that this is going to work out for Tagovailoa. But if it does...
Tagovailoa could be one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He's fearless as a downfield passer and it's warranted because his ball placement and deep accuracy is rare. The fearlessness can be a flaw at times though because he has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long and tries to make the "hero" play, which leads to hits which lead to injuries. It all comes down to Tagovailoa's durability and developing a better sense of when to get rid of it and live to see another play. It's a big 'if', but if Tagovailoa can stay healthy, he will be a high-impact fantasy asset.
As for 2020, it's unlikley that he'll be a major factor. The Dolphins have a bridge quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick to start until Tagovailoa is fully ready for NFL game action, and that might not even come until 2021. We'll have a clearer picture of Tagovailoa's 2020 outlook later in the summer, but as it stands, I'm not holding my breath on him being an impact rookie even if I am optimistic about his long-term future.
Justin Herbert, Oregon
Selected 6th overall by the Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers were stuck behind the Dolphins and were going to have to take whichever quarterback Miami passed on if they didn't trade up. And lo and behold, the Chargers stayed put and got their guy at six with Justin Herbert.
Herbert has impressive physical tools and none of the injury concerns that come with Tagovailoa, so those are strong marks in his favor. He's big, he's athletic, he's got a strong arm and he's seasoned as a four-year starter for Oregon. Many argue that Herbert would have matched Tagovailoa's production if he played in Alabama's offense with Alabama's weapons. I think Herbert is a fine enough talent, but I'm not buying him to that extent. Herbert lacked the anticipation and accuracy Tagovailoa showed throughout his tenure at Alabama. One would expect a little more than what Herbert produced as a fourth-year starter.
Again, Herbert is physically gifted but questions with his processing and accuracy have me skeptical about his standing as the future of the Chargers' franchise. He'll challenge for the starting job as a rookie and should be the full-time starter by 2021 at the latest. I just wonder how long it will take for Herbert to develop into a viable fantasy quarterback... if it even happens at all.
Jordan Love, Utah State
Selected 26th overall by the Green Bay Packers
This one turned some heads.
Coming into the draft, I thought the link between Green Bay and Love was manufactured because it matched up so well, narrative-wise, with how the Packers acquired Rodgers back in the 2005 draft as the heir apparent to Brett Favre. Turns out it wasn't manufactured at all. And, well...
Rodgers still has plenty left in the tank and at least two years left on his deal, so Love needs to be viewed as a long-term asset that won't be on the fantasy radar for some time. Love has intriguing physical tools, including the strongest arm in the class, but he will need that development time behind Rodgers because his decision-making and accuracy are not NFL-ready. As for what the Love pick means for Rodgers and the Packers, I'll leave that up to my colleague, Mario:
"Green Bay traded up from 30 to take a player who's ostensibly the long-term replacement for Aaron Rodgers, evidently unconcerned that the team's short-term political stability might be harmed in the process. To make this pick is to undermine Rodgers and the immediate competitiveness of the Packers, and no lip service can get around that fact."
Selected 32nd overall by the Kansas City Chiefs
Whichever running back went to Kansas City at 32 was going to be locked into fantasy relevance right away. It's just that most were expecting Jonathan Taylor or D'Andre Swift to be the pick instead of Edwards-Helaire. Well, now that it's Edwards-Helaire getting to operate in the Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs offense, there could be a shift in the rookie running back pecking order.
Edwards-Helaire is Devin Singletary-sized with 4.6 speed, but there's so much more to his game. He's a complete back who can run between the tackles, run routes out of the backfield, and pass protect. Edwards-Helaire's lack of blazing speed isn't such a big deal when he's eluding tackles with his short-area quicks or running through arm tackles with his dense frame and lower-body power.
If you listen close enough, you can hear the Chris Berman "WHAAAAAP" sound when Edwards-Helaire hits the B Button here.
His 55 receptions last year at LSU led all running backs in the nation that didn't play in a Mike Leach Air Raid offense. And the efficiency on those 55 catches can't be understated; he racked up 453 yards and a receiving touchdown on 66 targets. That's good for an 83 percent catch rate along with a 6.8 YPT mark.
Now that Edwards-Helaire is the first running back off the board and playing in the best offense in the NFL, he could be a Top 25 pick in fantasy by the time ADPs solidify. The Chiefs' decision to take him in the first round is a statement that he'll be locked into a significant role as a rookie, and while players like Damien Williams are more than serviceable, this should be Edwards-Helaire's backfield in 2020 and beyond. Whatever the price ends up being, I'll be willing to pay it for Edwards-Helaire.
Henry Ruggs, Alabama
Selected 12th overall by the Las Vegas Raiders
The board couldn't have fallen any more perfectly for the Raiders as they had their pick of any receiver in the draft after the first 11 picks were at other positions. While most had either CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy as the likely first receiver off the board, the Raiders –true to form – went for speed and nabbed Ruggs. That's not to say Ruggs doesn't have a case as the WR1 in this class, though.
Ruggs and his blazing 4.27 speed scored 24 touchdowns on his 98 career catches at Alabama. He isn't just a downfield threat, either. Ruggs can run the whole route tree and is arguably at his best not on fly routes, but when he gets the ball in space on short and intermediate routes. So while the optics of a labeled deep threat going to play with a low aDOT passer like Derek Carr may look strange at first, it could work. If Ruggs were just a one-dimensional fly route-only specialist, this would be a disaster. But because Ruggs can get open on the short and intermediate areas of the field, he can mesh well with Carr and become a YAC machine.
Ruggs had an ADP of ~118 over the last couple of weeks entering Thursday according to NFFC data. I expect that number to stagnate or slip a bit with public perception on the Raiders passing game being so low. I wouldn't take him over, say a Darius Slayton (who is in the same ADP neighborhood) but Ruggs versus Mike Williams or even Mecole Hardman will be interesting draft-day toss-ups if ADPs hold.
Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Selected 15th overall by the Denver Broncos
The Broncos, like the Raiders, had to be ecstatic about how the board fell Thursday with receivers slipping into the teens. Jeudy is a screaming value at 15 and has a clear path to immediate fantasy relevance in 2020.
Jeudy is the cleanest route runner in this class by far and is arguably one of the best in recent memory. So not only would Jeudy have the skill set to start right away for most teams, but Denver might have been the best possible fit for projected target volume. Outside of Courtland Sutton, Denver was relying on the likes of Tim Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton after the Emmanuel Sanders trade, and that's just not viable. Jeudy can run circles around those guys and he'll present a viable target for quarterback Drew Lock no matter whether he lines up outside or in the slot. He's being drafted in eighth round according to recent ADP, right in the same range as Marquise Brown and fellow rookie CeeDee Lamb. I see myself heavily targeting that tier of receivers throughout draft season and I'll be happy if I wind up with any of those three. Even with some skepticism for Lock, I'm a Jeudy believer for 2020 and beyond.
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
Selected 17th overall by the Dallas Cowboys
Dallas was another beneficiary of the wide receiver slide and was able to get arguably the best player on the board at 17 in Lamb. The Cowboys already had a solid receiving corps entering 2020 with Amari Cooper and an ascending Michael Gallup out wide, but adding Lamb gives them one of the most threatening receiving corps in the league.
I can see the Lamb-Gallup debate dividing the fantasy community throughout the summer, with Team Lamb pointing out that the Cowboys wouldn't have taken him if they were totally sold on Gallup and Team Gallup poking holes in Lamb's prospect profile or just leaning on the whole "he's a rookie" thing. It should be fun. In the end, I don't think this is great for either Lamb or Gallup's respective fantasy values because it adds another branch onto the usage tree. I do think it's great for the Cowboys' offense overall, though, and this should help elevate Dak Prescott even further.
Jalen Reagor, TCU
Selected 21st overall by the Philadelphia Eagles
Philadelphia went the route many expected and nabbed a receiver with its first pick, but the selection was a bit of a surprise. Justin Jefferson would've been a fine pick but he would've been a bit of a redundancy as the short and intermediate targets are already taken up by Philly's dynamic duo at tight end. In taking Reagor, Philadelphia added a downfield presence with explosiveness and play-making ability that was lacking in 2019.
DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery are the projected starters in two-wide sets and Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert ranked 1st and 2nd on the team in snap count among skill position players last year. That means snaps might be hard to come by for Reagor, although it's fair to point out that neither Jackson nor Jeffery have been the pictures of durability, especially of late. Philadelphia probably isn't spending a first-rounder on Reagor if it's counting on Jeffery and Jackson playing every snap of every game. Their injuries last year revealed a glaring lack of depth out wide.
I'm sold on Reagor as a prospect and I like this pick for Philadelphia, but when it comes to assessing Reagor's Year 1 fantasy value, I'm lukewarm. At the right price, a bet on Reagor/a bet against Jeffery and Jackson's durability could pay off. But that price might be in the 15th round or somewhere in that neighborhood. In other words, I don't mind going after Reagor with one of my last roster spots in redraft, and I'd consider him a little higher in best ball when I don't have to guess when he'll have his big games or guess when Jefferey or Jackson will be sidelined.
Justin Jefferson, LSU
Selected 22nd overall by the Minnesota Vikings
Jefferson isn't the type of receiver I expected Minnesota to target in the first round. Of course receiver was a must for the Vikings after the Stefon Diggs trade, but I figured they'd be targeting an outside specialist. Diggs leaves behind 508 outside snaps for the Vikings to replace, and Jefferson may be ticketed exclusively for slot work. Or, at least, that's his best projection at this level after tearing it up in the slot for LSU in 2019. He caught 111 of 134 targets for 1,540 yards and 18(!) touchdowns as a junior for LSU's electric offense, showing terrific hands and route running ability. He's also a reliable target in traffic, as you can see here.
Now, there's an argument to be made that Jefferson's athleticism is somewhat underrated, and that he could withstand a move to the outside. He ran a 4.43 40-yard dash and scored above the 70th percentile in his jumps while checking in at 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds (bigger than both Jeudy and Lamb). Minnesota's lack of depth beyond Adam Thielen should give Jefferson a path to a starting role right away, and even if there's an adjustment period to playing the outside receiver spot, he appears set to have a healthy target volume as a rookie.
Jefferson's path to targets makes him an appealing option in the 13th round or later, and the public's general disdain for Kirk Cousins should prevent any major ADP helium.
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Selected 25th overall by the San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers saw a run on receiver developing and traded up from 31 to get in on the action. Receiver was a need for them after Emmanuel Sanders' departure, even if Aiyuk doesn't project to take over the slot role.
Aiyuk was a big-play receiver at Arizona State, averaging 18.3 yards per reception. He projects to be a starting outside receiver for the 49ers as a rookie and his after-the-catch ability gives San Francisco one of the most physical starting receiver tandems in the league with Deebo Samuel breaking tackles on the other side. There's also the added bonus of Aiyuk going into Kyle Shanahan's offense. Shanahan is one of the top offensive minds in the NFL, and the fact that the 49ers traded up to get Aiyuk suggests that he has a plan to use the rookie right away. The arrow is trending way up for Aiyuk and I expect his ADP to soar as draft season unfolds. And even with a steep price increase, I still hope to have several shares of Aiyuk by the team the season gets underway.