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 Steelers carried no secrets that they were after a quarterback at pick 20 and they kept Kenny Pickett in Pittsburgh as the only quarterback selected in the first round.
Through four years at Pitt, Pickett posted pedestrian output, never having a season with a higher completion rate than 61.6%, a higher yards per attempt than 7.7 Y/A, or more passing touchdowns than 13. Then in 2021, Pickett spiked for a 67.2% completion rate, 8.7 Y/A, and 42 touchdowns through the air.
Pickett is also another modern passer that isn’t a zero in the run game, rushing for 801 yards and 20 touchdowns over his career.
His mobility is something the Steelers and Matt Canada desire to make this offense work as intended. Something they could not do with Ben Roethlisberger. Only Tampa Bay had fewer dropbacks outside of the pocket than the Steelers in 2021.
Roethlisberger also used play-action on just 18.5% of his dropbacks, 36th in the league, while Roethlisberger was fourth in the league in dropbacks using shotgun.
Pittsburgh did add Mitchell Trubisky this offseason, but Trubisky only carries a dead cap hit of $2.6 million in 2023 if the Steelers need to move on, while his $10.6 million cap hit overall in 2023 is palatable for a backup with a quarterback on a rookie contract.
Expect Pickett to immediately compete with Trubisky to start the season while it won’t be long for him to get his actual opportunity to be the next Steeler quarterback attempting to fill the shoes of Roethlisberger.
For fantasy, Pickett vaults to the top of the class for dynasty since he was the only rookie passer selected in the first round but is still a lower-end QB2/QB3 for 2022.
Having attachment to a rookie passer is always questionable for fantasy wideouts. Rarely do they support one front-end option, let alone keep multiple options above water.
Even with how Roethlisberger played a year ago, there is added fragility to the outcomes for Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool.
After jumping to WR22 in points per game in 2020, Johnson reached WR9 in that department in his third season, catching 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. Johnson has amassed a gaudy 313 targets over the past two seasons.
While some of the overall girth of targets can be credited to the limitations of the Pittsburgh offense and late-career Roethlisberger, Johnson is one of the league’s best wide receivers at getting open on his own merit as well. There absolutely is a non-zero outcome where Johnson can still improve in terms of target quality, but he is more volatile than the previous floor-based reception versions of the previous two seasons.
Claypool did not take the step many had hoped in Year 2, especially not after the Steelers lost JuJu-Smith Schuster so early in the season.
Claypool remained stagnant to his rookie efficiency, posting nearly identical catch rates, yards per catch, reception, and yardage per game. The one thing he did not roll over from his rookie season was finding the end zone. After 11 trips to the paint in 2020, Claypool scored just two times last season.
Claypool’s lack of jump was not entirely Roethlisberger related, which is what makes him an intriguing case moving forward. Claypool has struggled to separate through two years in the league and has struggled to win in contested catch situations, which is a combustible combination. 37.7% of Claypool’s targets last season were contested catches, which was sixth in the league. He secured 17-of-41 (41.5%), which was 27th out of 35 wide receivers with 20 or more contested targets.
Claypool’s rookie season touchdown total is more than enough to keep the lights on as a WR3/FLEX, but he also could be on an early-career Mike Williams trajectory where he ultimately becomes a volatile touchdown-dependent fantasy option.