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2024 NFL Draft: Watch out, vets — the seasoned players who could be pushed out of the way by rookies

In Sports
April 19, 2024

NFL Network’s Peter Schrager had the Giants trading up to the fourth overall selection for J.J. McCarthy in his recent mock draft, saying, “I know the Giants have been going through all of the quarterback prospects diligently, as they should be.” If you’re a projected starting quarterback and your team is doing their work on first-round quarterbacks in the draft, you’re on notice; it doesn’t matter what your contract says.

Not only is Jones on a tenuous footing with the organization because of his play-to-pay disparity — an utterly avoidable problem they created for themselves — but he’s also not completely healthy. Drew Lock is a fine insurance policy, but the coaching staff and front office may be looking to buy themselves a longer leash by bringing in “their guy” in the top six of this draft.

I think Jones will be the Giants’ Week 1 starter, with Lock lurking in the background. That theory will be put to the test right up until the Giants’ first pick is announced. Jones has theoretical fantasy upside because he can run and I bought into that as a late-round fantasy dart throw last season. Unless the situation is substantially upgraded around him, which is a tall task at the moment, I can’t see myself willingly taking that plunge even if a rookie passer doesn’t unseat him.

I don’t think a Gardner Minshew vs. Aiden O’Connell training camp battle has the necessary ceiling to be taken seriously but I’d put the former as the favorite to win that duel. We could exit draft weekend with Minshew as the heavy favorite to start Week 1 for the Raiders.

On the other hand, a rookie tossed into the mix on Day 1 or 2 complicates matters.

I can’t get out of my head the scenario Daniel Jeremiah painted on our most recent Mock Draft Monday podcast. Essentially, if you lined up an alien to watch Minshew, O’Connell and a rookie from this class (Michael Penix in his scenario) line up and throw, they’d know within two reps which one can really spin it.

The Raiders will leave this draft with a quarterback and any level of competition could send Minshew toppling from the top of the depth chart.

I find the Ravens’ reclamation backfield moving to Los Angeles intriguing. Still, the Chargers are a virtual lock to take a running back at some in the NFL Draft. This just gives them some insurance — even though Dobbins is a pure wild card at this stage because of injuries — in case that rookie isn’t ready to be a Day 1 bell cow.

The board could flow in a different direction and the Chargers could miss an RB run. That might leave Dobbins and Edwards somewhat unchallenged or only joined by a Day 3 pick in the room. And yet, the right player at the right time in Round 2 or 3 could severely cut into one or both of their workload projections.

It’s hard to imagine that the Giants’ only response to losing Saquon Barkley in free agency is to sign Devin Singletary, but he should play a big role in the room. He’s been a solid contributor in the NFL and is familiar with Brian Daboll. The head coach extolled his virtues when speaking to the media.

It feels unlikely that the Giants will simply walk into the season without adding another body. Despite trading for Brian Burns, New York still has a pick in each of the first three rounds thanks to Seattle’s second-round pick in the Leonard Williams deal. One of those picks on Day 2 could welcome a back who will lead the team in touches and relegate Singletary to a complementary role.

I don’t even know if we can say Rico Dowdle is “on notice” because it would be an all-out shock if the Cowboys didn’t draft a running back at some point next week. Between Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn and recent addition Royce Freeman, they may have the lightest running back room in the NFL right now. Dallas doesn’t have a fourth-rounder, so my guess is that its 56th or 87th overall selection will be used at the position, barring a trade-up.

Whoever Dallas drafts will launch up fantasy draft boards. That player even has a shot to overtake some of the highly touted wideouts in this class in the back half of first-round dynasty rookie drafts.

Zamir White, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

We know based on his rhetoric last season that Antonio Pierce wants to establish a tough run game as the identity of this team. Despite that fact, the Raiders let Josh Jacobs walk and only added Alexander Mattison to a reserve role. Is that a sign of faith in Zamir White, who flashed last season, or the precursor to the main addition coming via the NFL Draft?

The Raiders have one pick in every round but could use some of their picks to maneuver the draft board for a franchise quarterback. If they sacrifice picks, that could allow White to escape the draft without major competition added on Day 2.

Current ADP in very early best ball drafts indicates that the fantasy community believes this is Chuba Hubbard’s starting job to lose. Recent comments from the coaching staff paint the situation as more wide-open:

Miles Sanders has a lot of ground to make up after a disappointing showing last season but this is a fresh start with a new staff. On the other hand, Carolina could add another back to the rotation that sends both of these veterans into the background.

This has to be my spiciest name added to the mix.

Peter Schrager wrote in his mock draft that he was all but willing to guarantee the Rams would take an offensive player if they kept their first-round pick this year. If you’re unfamiliar, Schrager and McVay are close and even hosted a podcast together at the Ringer a few years back. Schrager had the Rams taking a tackle after this analysis, which is plausible, but I can also imagine them pursuing a pass-catcher higher than we think.

The Rams have a rising star in Puka Nacua alongside Kupp, but the veteran receiver is an injury risk at this stage of his career. The depth behind them isn’t ideal, even if Demarcus Robinson gave them some nice moments in 2023. Tight end Tyler Higbee may miss training camp at the very least after a serious injury late last season. The pass-catcher spot is a need on this roster.

At the end of the day, I think Kupp would still hold a significant role and command a high target share in this offense. Yet, a Round 1 or 2 rookie added to the mix would certainly cause me to project his output with a bit more conservatism than in years past.

The Lions will tell anyone who wants to listen that they have all the faith in the world in their former first-round wide receiver. But at this point, Jameson Williams’ career doesn’t paint the picture of a reliable player. It would be hard to blame them if they don’t want to walk into the season with him as their unchallenged WR2 behind Amon-Ra St. Brown after Josh Reynolds’ exit.

It wouldn’t be a total shock to see the Lions get a pure perimeter receiver at the 29th overall selection but they do have bigger fish to fry from a needs perspective. Still, even a Day 2 rookie who could push for playing time would be problematic for Jameson Williams’ target projection. He doesn’t have much room for error considering that, even in a best-case scenario, he will be fifth on the team in pure opportunities no matter what behind Amon-Ra St. Brown, Sam LaPorta and the running back duo.

The Chiefs already needed to add a wide receiver but the legal situation with Rashee Rice now opens up the possibility even further. If Rice was a player you could count on to be available, they could focus their attention on pure outside players to man the X-receiver role. Now, with Rice a question mark, they could justifiably pursue any type of player at the position.

Rice was already set to face target competition from Marquise Brown as a middle-of-the-field route-runner. If the Chiefs draft another receiver who primarily wins in that area, we could be looking at a target squeeze where Rice needs to carry over some of the extreme efficiency from his rookie season. Drafters made the same mistake counting on that with Christian Watson after his rookie season.

The vast majority of pro-Pickens arguments in fantasy this season, beyond his own play, will be based on target share. With Diontae Johnson gone, he projects for a dominant portion of the available aerial volume. The problem is, we know this offense is going to push to lead the league in rush attempts. Everything about the way they’ve approached this offseason shows they’ll lean in that direction.

So, if another wide receiver, especially one who specializes in separation, comes in to sponge looks in the short to intermediate areas, that will be an issue for Pickens’ target projection. There are many scenarios where we exit draft weekend putting Pickens right back in the high-ceiling but volatile mid- to low-range WR2 bucket.

I remain one of the last few holdouts at the Rashod Bateman truthers meeting. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that some members of the Ravens organization attend the get-togethers and hang out in the back. That theory will be put to the test come draft weekend.

The fantasy industry will refuse to recognize it but right now, Bateman is the clear-cut lone starting option for this team at the X-receiver position after Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t retained. He was useful on third downs late in the season and got good separation. Are the Ravens willing to bet on him staying healthy and getting his production back on track to match the route-running on film? We’ll have a good answer on that by the evening of April 26 if they don’t take a stab at a deep receiver class.

Whenever a receiver has poor per-route metrics, we always need to try and divvy out the issue via the “pie of blame,” between the player himself, the environment and quarterback play. I’m of the belief that Jahan Dotson must take a slice out of that pie but it is by far the smallest slice of the three.

Washington will upgrade its quarterback position in Round 1 of the NFL Draft. I can tell myself a story where Dotson fits stylistically with either Jayden Daniels or Drake Maye, especially if he runs more routes from the slot, his more natural position. So that’s a win for him and Terry McLaurin. However, Washington has five picks between the second and third rounds and is light on receivers behind their top two guys. We’ll see how much faith this new staff and front office has in the former Round 1 pick’s film based on how hard they attack the pass-catcher position and what archetype of wide receiver they chase.

After garnering 91 looks in 16 games during his rookie season, and the departures of both Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis, there will be some ready to make the case that Dalton Kincaid is the favorite to lead this team in targets. It’s possible but we rarely see a tight end be the leading man from a volume standpoint in NFL offenses. The delta between him and Curtis Samuel and/or Khalil Shakir might be closer than his individual fantasy ranking suggests.

That picture would become even more cloudy if Buffalo added a wide receiver prospect high in the draft, which feels inevitable.

Certain levels of prospect could be added and not dig into Kincaid’s workload much. If they simply add a boundary receiver prospect like Javon Baker in Round 3 or later, that’s not a huge threat on paper. Should Buffalo add a Round 1 receiver, much less trade up for a prospect, that’s a different story.

The Bills are certainly happy with what they got from Kincaid last year and he will hold down a big role for the team. However, purely from a fantasy standpoint, he could come out of Round 1 or 2 on much shakier ground.

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