From the time ancestral humans first used stones 3.3 million years ago, we Homo sapiens have continuously strived to advance multipurpose tools. Swiss Army knives, 9-in-1 kitchen pressure cookers that can slow roast a pork loin and somehow bake a moist cake and, yes, sandals equipped with a disgustingly convenient bottle opener embedded in its sole (they really do exist) are just a few examples of our crafty ingenuity.
Man, how we’ve evolved as a species.
Over the decades, the NFL, too, has undergone several unique progressions. None, however, may be more impactful to the fantasy game than what’s currently happening at quarterback.
Due to the increased use of RPOs, versatile passers have become all the rage. In some locales, three-step, pocket-tied stiffs have taken a backseat to athletic dual threats; a trend (definitely excluding the New York Giants) that will only grow in popularity this season. After all, these extemporaneous options mask throwing flaws, present high floors, vex defenses and, most importantly, yield consistent and fruitful numerical results.
Fleet-of-foot QBs aren’t some new fad. During their heyday, Bobby Douglass, Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair, and Michael Vick left defensive coordinators bewildered with their arm and legs. But today’s group of multidimensional throwers is deeper than it’s ever been.
The numbers don’t lie.
Last year was the second-most prolific rushing season by QBs in NFL history. Four different signal callers — Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, and Cam Newton — scurried their way to at least 450 rush yards. Only 2013, when five accomplished the feat, produced more.
For fantasy purposes, the dividends were handsome. Take Allen, for example. Those who plucked the woefully inaccurate Buffalo Bill off waivers midseason probably thought, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my season. I’m …” — but after he posted THE most valuable line during the money making weeks (12-17) his converts presumably finished the line with — “… eternally grateful Allen was the second coming of Vick.”
In fact, Allen was so productive on his improvisational attempts he supplanted Vick in the record books, rushing for the most yards by a passer in his first eight career starts (464). Though hampered by misfires, J.P. Losman the sequel he most definitely was not.
This fall, it’s conceivable upwards of seven or even eight QBs could cross the 450-yard mark on the ground. Allen, Jackson, Watson, Newton, Russell Wilson, Mitchell Trubisky and Dak Prescott are all in the mix.
However, rookie Kyler Murray, drafted by the Arizona Cardinals No. 1 overall, is my favorite to lead the way.
At 5-foot-10, the Heisman winner may need a stepladder to reach objects placed on the top shelf, but he overcomes any size concerns with remarkable efficiency. In Oklahoma’s Air Raid system last year, he ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in three different completion percentage categories among all D-1 passers. Whether on deep chucks, tight-window or intermediate throws, Murray has the zip and touch to slice through defenses. Also, when tucking and running, he’s a jackrabbit in the open field. He totaled 1,001 yards with 12 touchdowns on 140 rush attempts last season. The dude is a buffet of statistical goodness.
All told, Murray is destined to be the most sought after rookie this season in fantasy. Yes, Arizona’s offensive line, which ranked dead last in pass-blocking efficiency according to Pro Football Focus in 2018, is a significant work in progress, but the youngster’s sharp across-the-board skills, plus supporting cast (David Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella, and Hakeem Butler) and system familiarity suggest he will sprint out of the gates. He’s the perfect pairing for Kliff Kingsbury; Murray is a player capable of compiling 3,800 pass yards, 700 rush yards and 25 combined TDs this fall. Obtain those numbers and you’re talking a top-10 fantasy QB similar in style and substance as RGIII was in his rookie campaign. Better yet, his early ADP stands at 109.8 (QB21).
Seemingly straight out of Lucius Fox’s laboratory, this year’s crop of gadgety and largely undervalued QBs will be indispensable in fantasy. Don’t purchase one in the middle rounds and you could be on the outside looking in come title time.
With another weapon added to the arsenal, the Year of the Running QB is upon us.
Outside of Murray, what other rookies are in the best position to impress? Here are my top options to tally starter-level fantasy numbers in 12-team leagues:
Josh Jacobs, Oak, RB
Unlike disappointed members of Nashville-based bachelorette parties or rage-filled Giants fans, one of the biggest winners from Night 1 of the NFL Draft was the Oakland Raiders. Yes, I’m just as stunned as you. Matched with two defensive selections in DE Clelin Ferrell and S Jonathan Abram, Josh Jacobs satisfied a need. Isaiah Crowell will likely relieve him roughly 6-8 times per game, but make no mistake, the Alabama horse will open the regular season as Jon Gruden’s featured rusher, likely logging 15-18 touches per contest. Different from previous ‘Bama busts Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy, Jacobs is a sleek, three-down back equipped with angry power, refined cutting ability, and reliable hands.
Last season operating as a tandem back for the Tide he forced the first defender to miss 42.1 percent of the time — No. 4 among all D-1 RBs — and rolled up 4.07 yards after contact per attempt. Impressively, 59.2 percent of his runs resulted in a positive play, tops among FBS rushers. Oakland’s offensive line, which ranked No. 20 in run-blocking efficiency last year per Pro Football Focus, is unpolished, but the additions of field-stretchers Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams will greatly assist in running lane creation. A borderline top-20 RB in my initial ranks, Jacobs is a quality RB2 in 12-team leagues no matter the format. If the Raiders advance as a collective, he could easily be this year’s Nick Chubb.
Fearless Forecast: 238 attempts, 1,009 rushing yards, 36 receptions, 311 receiving yards, 8 total touchdowns
David Montgomery, Chi, RB
As a Chicago Bears fanatic and Montgomery zealot, when Ryan Pace jumped up to select the rusher in Round 3, articles of clothing suddenly vanished from my Ryan Fitzpatrick-like physique. It’s a match made in fantasy heaven. Montgomery, my top-ranked RB in this year’s class, raised the bar of advanced analytics during his time with Iowa State. Twice he surpassed 100 combined missed tackles in a season. No other RB has ever hit the century mark in the category, according to Pro Football Focus. In terms of slipperiness, Montgomery is a wet bar of soap. Attempt to squeeze him and he impossibly wiggles his way out of tackler grasps. Last season, he forced a first-defender-whiff on 41.4 percent of his attempts, accumulated 3.48 yards after contact per attempt and averaged 4.6 yards per carry on inside runs. And that was achieved behind a largely abysmal Cyclones o-line.
Durable, perfectly sized (5-foot-10, 222 pounds), accomplished as a receiver and a high-achieving zone runner, he’s destined for future fantasy greatness, possibly as early as this fall. Matt Nagy will work in Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen, but Montgomery is sure to net 13-15 touches per game starting Week 1 versus rival Green Bay. Behind a Bears offensive line which should rank top half in run-blocking efficiency and given their elite defense, he’s a trustworthy RB2 with a top-10 ceiling. Grab him sometime in the Round 4-Round 6 range of 12-team .5 PPR drafts and you’ll soon smash Old Styles in his honor.
Fearless Forecast: 222 attempts, 958 rushing yards, 25 receptions, 187 receiving yards, 8 total touchdowns
Miles Sanders, Phi, RB
A season ago, another Penn St. punisher splashed smiles on investor’s faces. Sanders is no Saquon, but the versatile rusher is an attractive talent with the toolset to construct FLEX-worthy numbers this fall. And that’s probably an understatement. He’s three-down equipped, showcasing excellent hands, short-field jukes, second-level burst (4.49 40-yard), patience and vision. He gained 3.84 yards after attempt and wasn’t tackled on first contact 35.9 percent of the time. Eagles GM Howie Roseman called Sanders “A staff favorite ... a perfect fit for our offense.” With Jordan Howard, Corey Clement and Josh Adams on the roster combined with Doug Pederson’s RBBC propensity, the path to touches is foggy. However, Roseman’s gushy words suggest Sanders will get every opportunity to command the committee. If he does gain the upper hand and register 13-15 touches per contest, he’ll become an indispensable RB2 in 12-teamers. The offensive environment is very supportive. Philly finished No. 6 in run-blocking efficiency according to PFF and added behemoth LT Andre Dillard in the Draft. Skittish owners will bypass Sanders due to the crowded backfield, but he’s a likely RB4-priced commodity who is sure to profit.
Fearless Forecast: 188 attempts, 799 rushing yards, 29 receptions, 210 receiving yards, 5 total touchdowns
N’Keal Harry, NE, WR - Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon are wildcards, which explains why New England broke from tradition and didn’t trade out of Round 1 to secure Harry. The kid is a hard-working grinder with terrific size (6-foot-2, 228 pounds), in-traffic toughness and superb adjustment skills. He’ll need to refine his routes, but there’s a substantial chance he starts outside in Week 1. If Gordon isn’t reinstated and DT appears wooden, Harry emerges as a dependable WR3.
Mecole Hardman, KC, WR - The reprehensible actions of Tyreek Hill necessitated KC to invest in a WR early. Hardman, much like Hill, is pint-sized, multidimensional and explosive in space (4.33 40-yard; 84th percentile SPARQ). Presumably with 24.3 percent of the target-share available, he could play a prominent role in an offense led by arguably the best QB currently in the league, Patrick Mahomes. Bottom line, there will be few wideouts with a higher ceiling likely available after pick No. 100 than Hardman.
Darrell Henderson, LAR, RB - Todd Gurley has grandpa knees. His arthritic condition may only grow worse. Voluminous workloads simply aren’t an option for the rusher, which is why Sean McVay snagged Henderson. With Memphis last season, the 5-foot-8, 208-pound beer keg posted obscene numbers. His 6.16 YAC/attempt mark is proof. He carries the rock high, but his low center, sharp vision, and second-level pop are very alluring. So is the landing spot. He’s more than a premium handcuff. Bank on 8-10 touches per game from the get go with plenty of room to grow.
Parris Campbell, Ind, WR - If you’re angling for this year’s Calvin Ridley, Campbell is your guy. Displaying 4.31 40-yard rockets, he can turn a simple 5-yard slant into a 50-yard gain. His chunk play explosion explains why he ran deep routes 32.3 percent of the time with Ohio State last year. Experienced in the slot, he should start Day 1 in three-WR sets for Indy. With T.Y. Hilton next to him reducing pressure, there’s much to like here.
A.J. Brown, Ten, WR - Full disclosure, Brown was my No. 1 rated WR in this year’s fairly deep class. A developed route runner, the slot machine carved up zone defenses in SEC play, catching 73 percent of his targets while gaining an appreciable 7.1 yards after the catch per completion. His dependability, ability to generate separation and brawn should complement Corey Davis beautifully. If Marcus Mariota can finally live up to his full potential, Brown has a Pro Bowl in his future.
Noah Fant, Den, TE - Dripping with athleticism (94th-percent SPARQ), Fant has characteristics similar to fellow Iowa product George Kittle. He’s a liability as a blocker, but his catch point, balance, and speed are extraordinary. Well documented during his tenure in Baltimore, Joe Flacco loves his tight ends. If his affections transfer to Denver, Fant will be the club’s finest producer at the position since Julius Thomas. Odds are decent he’ll graduate from the stream-only ranks in challenging leagues this season.
Deebo Samuel, SF, WR - Route savvy is one of the most transferable qualities a rookie receiver can possess. Samuel certainly has it. Precise in his cuts and tough after the catch (8.3 YAC/comp in ‘18), the South Carolina standout weaves through traffic with the deftness of a running back. He lined up in the slot 19.6 percent of the time with the Gamecocks last season, a position with his clearest opportunity path in San Francisco. If he comes in and delivers Day 1, he’ll be an occasional WR3/FLEX starter in deeper leagues.
Marquise Brown, Bal, WR - The first WR selected, “Hollywood” possesses the glitz and glamor of a modern day NFL star wideout. Yes, he’s miniature at 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, but his quick twitch, YAC (8.5 per completion in ‘18), sticky fingers (72.8 catch%), elusiveness and surgical routes scream “EXCITEMENT!” With the ball in his hands, trying to tackle him is akin to corralling an adrenaline-fueled squirrel. Lamar Jackson and a conservative Ravens scheme limit his initial potential, but if the QB sharpens his throws, Brown takes off.
T.J. Hockenson, Det, TE - Smooth in his routes, brainy, athletic, dangerous outside the numbers and a ferocious blocker, Hockenson is one of the best all-around tight end prospects to ever come into the league. Last season with Iowa, he reeled in 76.6 percent of his catches gaining 7.3 yards after the catch per completion. Lions targets only lured 67 targets in 2018, but Matt Patricia might see a Gronk-type role for Hockenson. Cracking the position’s top-15 is entirely doable this season.
Dwayne Haskins, Was, QB - Dan Snyder unbelievably didn’t screw it up. Washington, thanks to its selections of Haskins and Montez Sweat, might have had the best opening night of any team in the Draft. Big bodied and accurate, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound gunslinger is wonderfully talented. He scans the field well and stands tall in the pocket. Last fall with Ohio State, he ranked No. 5 among all D-1 passers in adjusted completion percentage. He’s an upside QB3 in two-QB or SuperFlex formats who should promptly start over Case Keenum and Colt McCoy.
Devin Singletary, Buf, RB - The 5-foot-7, 203-pound fire hydrant extinguished the competition at the collegiate level. With Florida Atlantic, he tallied 3.89 yards after contact per attempt while notching the third-highest percentage of first-defender whiffs (42.8%). Notorious ‘Avengers’ spoiler, LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, and T.J. Yeldon comprise a mummified backfield. If Singletary can catch Sean McDermott’s eye, it’s possible he tops the depth chart sooner rather than later.
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