With the NFL Draft approaching on April 23, it’s time to take stock of NFL rosters to find prime opportunities for the incoming rookie class. Even the most talented rookie can get buried on a depth chart in the NFL, while a fourth-round pick could break out in year one if drafted into the right situation.
This series of articles will search each NFL roster for glaring holes in the depth chart, focusing on the fantasy football positions of quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end. If a talented rookie is drafted to fill one of the following roster holes, we could have the formula in place for a fantasy football difference-maker. Check out our AFC North, AFC South, AFC East, AFC West, NFC North, NFC South, and NFC East coverage as well. Finally, we will take a look at the NFC West to finish up the series.
Arizona Cardinals – TE, OL, WR
We begin with the team that made the biggest splash of the offseason. As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, the Cardinals somehow managed to trade David Johnson and his contract for Deandre Hopkins. Surrounding Kyler Murray with offensive firepower is paramount for the Cardinals and this trade accomplished just that. The Cardinals were also able to retain Larry Fitzgerald and Keynan Drake who made an immediate impact after his trade from the Dolphins. This was a good start but the Cardinals cannot stop there.
Their tight end depth chart is about as bad as you’ll find in the NFL currently. Maxx Williams was the Hayden Hurst to Dennis Pitta’s Mark Andrews if you will, and has yet to prove he can be a lead TE at either stop. This tight end class is not nearly as strong as last year’s class, but there may be some decent late-round targets. A small school player like Adam Trautman from Dayton, who has been compared to Dallas Goedert could fill the receiving tight end role for the team and allow Williams to continue in the blocking role.
For fantasy, the TE spot is the main place for opportunity, but there are still improvements that can be made to help the team overall. With their first-round pick, the Cardinals have been connected to the four main offensive tackle targets. They resigned D.J. Humphries to a solid deal to continue at left tackle, but their right side still needs a starting-caliber option. Also, I’m sure some of you are surprised that I also listed WR even after the Hopkins trade, but there are still question marks at the position and the Cardinals led the NFL in four-wide sets last year. Fitzgerald can retire after any year now and the three receivers that the Cardinals drafted last year failed to make any real impact last season. Rumors have been swirling that Christian Kirk may be on the trading block, so adding another potential long term option at WR shouldn’t be ruled out.
Los Angeles Rams – OL, RB, WR
The Rams’ offseason can be described as an exodus. After being key pieces of a Super Bowl roster, the Rams had to eat a ton of dead cap space to shed the contracts for Todd Gurley and Brandin Cooks while the defense also lost key contributors. This signals that the Rams have admitted their mistakes and would rather rip the bandaid off then let it fester. From a fantasy perspective, this roster is mostly set. Jared Goff (with his $36 million cap-hit…..) will be behind center with Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods out wide. Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown will share the backfield. Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett will both play a good amount as the team transitions to more of a 12 personnel base.
Fixing the offensive line should be priority number one in this draft (which is a common theme for this division). The Rams struggled to replace Roger Saffold and John Sullivan all of last year and Andrew Whitworth is on his last legs. Many attribute the Rams’ fall to Goff’s regression and Gurley’s injuries but the offensive line is the main culprit. The Rams were first in Football Outsiders‘ Adjusted Line Yards in 2018, which measures an offensive line’s contribution to rushing totals, to 19th last year. Propping it back up will lead to success for the skill positions.
Running back is listed here because there is a bit of a question mark with this group. While most expect Henderson to be the lead back in this committee, there wasn’t a clear sign that the team feels the same way. In a season with Gurley’s touches being reduced, Henderson had less total touches than his college teammate Tony Pollard had behind Ezekiel Elliott. Brown also has not shown much in his time in the NFL. There is a possibility that the Rams add a back in the draft to compete. WR is included because Cooks is now gone and this is a rich draft for receivers. Josh Reynolds is no guarantee to be the third WR for this offense, which we have seen be a valuable fantasy asset.
San Francisco 49ers – WR
As is the case with most teams that reach the Super Bowl, the 49ers do not have many holes on their roster. That is especially true with their offense. Jimmy Garoppolo, who still has his doubters, will still be the quarterback. Instead of trimming the RB group as many predicted, the 49ers kept Jerick McKinnon and Matt Brieda behind Tevin Coleman and Raheem Mostert. George Kittle isn’t going anywhere. Their offensive line was one of the best in the league last year and are bringing back four of five starters.
That leaves WR, which is a definite need for this team. Deebo Samuel was fantastic as a rookie and really turned it on during the second half of the season. That coincided with the 49ers’ trade for Emmanuel Sanders, whose presence helped the whole offense. As we know Sanders is now with the Saints and there is no clear option on the team to take his place. Dante Pettis has been a disappointment and perennially in Kyle Shanahan’s dog house. Jalen Hurd missed his entire rookie season and is a question mark. Kendrick Bourne played well down the stretch and in the playoffs, but he will likely continue as a tertiary offensive piece.
The 49ers traded their star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner to the Colts for the 13th overall pick in the draft. This is an obvious potential landing spot for one of the top three WR prospects. Jerry Jeudy’s route running would be a great fit for Shanahan’s offense or Henry Ruggs‘ speed could replace Marquise Goodwin. Any rookie WR in this offense will be a player to monitor going into fantasy drafts this summer (fingers crossed).
Seattle Seahawks – OL, WR, RB
While the Seahawks were a playoff team last year, there are still plenty of holes on offense. Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett, and D.K. Metcalf are locked in but after that, there are no guarantees. For starters, the offensive line was an issue last year as it has been in Seattle for years. Other than Duane Brown, it is difficult to point to any other starter as even average. If the Seahawks make their first pick, which usually isn’t the case, a lineman would be the smart money.
The Seahawks ran 11 personnel on 74% of their pass plays last year which was seventh in the NFL per Sharp Football Analysis. That means that the third WR is a huge part of this offense and the options behind Lockett and Metcalf are bare. Philip Dorsett was brought over from New England, but he has never put a full season together. David Moore is still with the Seahawks and has flashed at times, but he cannot be trusted to make any sort of leap. This is a great draft for Seattle to add a WR to complement Lockett and Metcalf.
Running back is a sneaky need for this team. Chris Carson had a major hip injury last season with no guarantee to be healthy to start the season and is in the last year of his contract. Former first-rounder Rashaad Penny tore his ACL last year and won’t be ready until the middle of the season at the earliest. That left rookie Travis Homer to carry the load down the stretch last year, but he is better suited for a pass-catching role. I know most Seahawks fans do not want to hear this, but drafting an RB is certainly in the cards for this team.
(Photo by Roy K. Miller/Icon Sportswire)