The first day of the NFL draft was a fun one for fantasy purposes as we saw the snow globe of the wide receiver position continue to shake this offseason. We had six wide receivers selected in the first round on Thursday, with another two young stars changing teams as part of the evening.
With that, we are going to walk through the fantasy-centric selections and trades of the opening night.
The Arizona Cardinals were rumored to covet Jameson Williams and were in dire need of a field stretcher. Missing out on Williams, Arizona traded their first-round pick to acquire Marquise Brown from Baltimore.
The move reunites Brown with his college quarterback from 2018, when Brown caught 75 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns with Kyler Murray at Oklahoma.
Brown is coming off his best NFL season, catching 91-of-146 targets for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns.
We were finally seeing the emergence of Brown as a lead wideout until the injury to Lamar Jackson torpedoed a potentially top-scoring receiver season from Brown in Year 3. Brown was averaging 17.4 points per game through 10 games and then limped to the finish line with 8.8 points per game afterward.
With Jackson under center, Brown caught 67.3% of his targets for 12.7 yards per catch, 8.5 yards per target, and averaged 2.03 yards per route run compared to catching 52.1% of his targets for 6.8 yards per catch, 3.6 yards per target, and 0.80 yards per route.
That drop-off is a signal that Brown is not the type of wideout that can overcome and elevate a poor offense, but this move also pairs him with a quarterback that has shown massive success downfield to start his career.
Since entering the league, Kyler Murray has completed 41.5% (34/82) of his passes of 30-plus air yards, the highest rate in the league (league average is 30.3%). His EPA per dropback on those throws (0.91) is second behind Justin Herbert.
Christian Kirk accounted for 30 of those targets, with the next highest player (DeAndre Hopkins) coming in at 12.
Hollywood is second in the NFL in those targets (43) since entering the league behind Tyreek Hill (45). But Brown has secured just 9 of those targets (20.9%) with 14 of those targets deemed inaccurate due to the quarterback, the most in the NFL over that span per TruMedia.
Hopkins missed seven games in 2021. While on the field, he averaged 4.2 receptions and 57.2 yards per game, by far his lowest totals per game since 2016. Hopkins was able to stay afloat for fantasy weekly since he still scored eight times in 10 games. 32.6% of his PPR points came via touchdown production alone, the highest rate in his career and just the second time he has been over 20%.
As a wide receiver who is not a burner and wins on the boundary, contested catches, and nuance, Hopkins comes with the fragility he may not age gracefully and last year was a warning sign to fully eject.
He also was banged up, but with the addition of another viable target, Hopkins will be on the fringe-WR1 outlook for fantasy.
The biggest winner here for Arizona is Murray, who has already flirted with fantasy-MVP caliber starts the past two seasons before midseason injuries and fading production.
The biggest overall winner here through the move has to be Rashod Bateman, however.
Bateman gave us a couple of hot spots as a rookie, but ultimately his playing time never consistently materialized while he was still extremely behind both Mark Andrews and Brown on the pecking order.
Bateman still managed to show us a floor, finishing as a WR3 or better in half of his 12 games played while only pulling in a 10.6% target share. Now with Brown leaving 146 targets (24.7%) on the table with the depth here severely lacking, Bateman has a runway to vault up to a fantasy WR2.