Fantasy Freshmen: 2018 Post-Draft Rankings

By John Laub
John Laub



      Distinguished Fantasy Freshmen:


                   2018 Post-Draft Rankings



Even after 34 years observing the NFL Draft and five seasons writing player profiles for, I seek new insights, devour multiple perspectives and reflect on my process, which allow me to continue to grow as an evaluator. For the last eight months, I studied the college prospects and scrutinized their athletic abilities. 

It is now time to assess the fantasy value of the top players for the upcoming fantasy football season, and I am bullish on the incoming crop making a difference on the gridiron.

In order to rank the freshman’s potential and calculate a grade, the skills of a player, the organization that he landed with and the offensive scheme all must be factored into the tier levels and projections. Based on the aforementioned criteria, I scale the players and provide projections for the 2018 crusade.

Summa Cum Laude

1. RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants 
During the past two drafts, Ezekiel Elliot, Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey were all selected among the first ten picks and immediately impacted fantasy rosters. Now, Saquon Barkley, who the Giants grabbed with the second-pick overall, enters the NFL. In early Best Ball leagues, the former Penn State star is taken off the board in the first round and fantasy managers are forecasting a colossal campaign: I am in complete agreement. A three-down back and uber pass catcher, Barkley has freakish athleticism with vision, patience, balance, power and elusiveness. New York’s offense desperately needs to ignite the ground game, and Barkley lights a fire in the Big Apple this season. 
Grade: A
2018 Projections: 1,100 rushing yards, 55 receptions for 475 yards and 11 touchdowns


2. RB Derrius Guice, Washington Redskins
The tumble of Derrius Guice during the draft shocked me like many Draftniks across the country. Washington took advantage of the fall down draft boards and benefited greatly. The Redskins running game needs a boost on early downs, and the 2016 leading-rusher in the SEC will sit atop the depth chart when the season kicks off. At 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds, Guice is a home run hitter with a rare combination of power and speed. He employs good vision with incredible balance through contact and wonderful wiggle in tight quarters. With LT Trent Williams and RG Brandon Scherff, Washington has a solid foundation up front, and Guice profits from a conservative offense with QB Alex Smith behind center.
Grade: A-
2018 Projections: 955 rushing yards, 28 receptions for 180 yards and 10 touchdowns

3. RB Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
Over the past two seasons, the Broncos have quietly committed to the run, averaging 469 carries for 1,969 rushing yards (4.18 ypc.) while scoring 23 touchdowns on the ground. In the offseason, Denver released 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Anderson and sought another ball carrier in the draft. General manager John Elway waited and gobbled up Royce Freeman in the third round. If Freeman harvests 50% of rushing attempts and 25% of passes among runners, the rookie projects to accumulate over 250 touches out of the gate. The former Oregon star propels to the top of the depth chart and becomes a weekly fantasy starter in 2018.
Grade: B+
2018 Projections: 925 rushing yards, 34 receptions for 255 yards and eight touchdowns.

Magna Cum Laude


4. RB Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks 
When the Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny, fantasy football diehards immediately started touting the former Aztec as a future star. There is no question that Penny landed in an ideal spot to harvest a high opportunity share in Seattle. However, I am pumping the brakes. The Seahawks offensive line remains among the worst in the league despite coaching changes: Will a new scheme under offensive coordinator Brian Shottenheimer and offensive line coach Mike Solari dramatically improve the run blocking of the unit? I have serious doubts. When Shottenheimer last guided a team, the Rams finished 28th in total offense, and in 2011, he led the Jets to a 25th place finish before being fired. In college, Penny was a dreadful pass blocker and an underwhelming receiver. There are a few red flags, which prevent me from placing the newest Seahawk among the Summa Cum Laude prospects.
Grade: B+
2018 Projections: 875 rushing yards, 21 receptions for 170 yards and seven touchdowns

5. RB Sony Michel, New England Patriots
Many fans questioned the Patriots’ decision to spend so much draft capital on a ball carrier when the roster had holes at other positions, especially on defense. The debate is over, and it is now time to examine New England’s depth chart. Veteran running backs James White, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee and Jeremy Hill are under contract, but one (or two) will likely be released before kick off in September. Last year, Dion Lewis, who is now in Tennessee, finished among the top fifteen in ppr-scoring formats despite limited usage in New England; hence, the path to fantasy success is possible for Michel. At 5-foot-11 and 222 pounds, former Bulldog is a physical one-cut runner with quick feet. An instinctive athlete, he explodes through running lanes: He sees the hole, plants foot and blasts off. A very good pass catcher, the newest Patriot is a solid route runner, creates separation with clean breaks and beats linebackers in space with speed. Michel’s potential is obvious but the annual Gordian knot in the Patriots’ backfield must be solved in order to gain additional insight.
Grade: B
2018 Projections: 575 rushing yards, 36 receptions for 270 yards and six touchdowns.


6. Ronald Jones, II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 
The former Trojans’ star landed in a nearly idyllic situation to ascend to the top of the pecking order and earn the lion’s share of touches in Tampa Bay. Only third-year veteran Peyton Barber stands in front of Jones entering training camp. At 5-foot-11 and 205 pounds, the rookie is a dangerous one-cut runner: He plants his foot and accelerates up field. With lower-body strength and fluid hips, Jones easily hurries in and out of cuts with good vision. A slasher, he employs jump cuts to escape defenders and spins and bounces off would-be tacklers. He is an explosive runner with light and dynamic feet and strings together ankle-turning moves. A disappointing Combine and Pro Day raised a few concerns; nonetheless, the Buccaneers grabbed Jones in the second round. Do not be surprised if Jones and Barber split playing time during the first half of the upcoming season as the rookie learns the demands of the professional game.
Grade: B
2018 Projections: 725 rushing yards, 22 receptions for 180 yards and five touchdowns.