Any fantasy football owner worth his weight knows about Joe Burrow. He also knows about the triumvirate of receivers all predicted to go within the first half of the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday night. That's because he/she knows that all four could have huge fantasy implications this year. Even if Burrow is not a fantasy stud this upcoming year, his play will impact those around him. For example, a lot of A.J. Green owners might look to sell high when the Bengals select Burrow with the first pick.
But what about those players selected around the midpoint of the first round? Marquise Brown was drafted 25th overall last year and racked up seven touchdowns. Or consider Miles Sanders. He went about 30 picks later (53rd overall) and went on to post more than 1,300 yards from scrimmage. The point is without even digging deep into rookie sleepers, there are plenty of players that will be drafted after the so-called studs in this draft who should be on your fantasy radar.
Of course where these players land will be huge. For example, if New England decides to take one of the receivers mentioned below, that player will have to deal with the disdain that Bill Belichick seems to have for rookie wide receivers. He also will have to battle for targets wit Julian Edelman from a quarterback (Jarrett Stidham?) who isn't Tom Brady. However, should one of those receivers fall a couple of spots to Minnesota that offers a much softer landing spot with Stefon Diggs now in Buffalo.
So with that in mind, here are 20 players that are likely to go after the midpoint of the first round on Thursday or perhaps during the second round on Friday night that fantasy owners should keep a close eye on.
Bank on at least one or two of the options below to be drafted within the last dozen picks of the first round on Thursday night. If you don't know already, this is one of the deepest wide receiver classes ever and could easily rival the 2014 group (33 total drafted, 12 in the first two rounds). Any of the names below that don't go in the first round will absolutely go in the second. Depending on where they land, they could be immediate contributors. Even those that don't are likely to be drafted high in keeper and dynasty leagues. The talent is unquestioned. But the rankings are all over the place, so I have listed them here alphabetically.
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Likely Landing Spot: New Orleans Saints
Aiyuk might be one of the most talented receivers in this draft. It is certainly not a lack of talent that has him going in the second round in some mocks. It is health concerns. Most NFL teams hate uncertainty and with so much this year because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and how it impacted the pre-draft process, Aiyuk's core-muscle surgery on April 7 will scare many teams away. This is why I see a team like New Orleans willing to take a chance on him sooner rather than later.
The Saints are one of the most talented teams coming into this season and can afford to gamble on a player like Aiyuk. Should he not be able to play Week 1, the Saints already have All-Everything Michael Thomas and the dependable Emmanuel Sanders on the other side. And when the 33-year-old Sanders is a free agent after the 2020 season, the Saints will be more than happy to let him go and slot Aiyuk opposite Thomas.
Tee Higgins, Clemson
Likely Landing Spot: Indianapolis Colts
The Colts already traded their first-round pick (No. 13) to the 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. So when their turn finally comes up in the second (34th overall, thanks to a trade with Washington during last year's draft), don't be surprised if Indianapolis uses it on a wide receiver. After an injury-marred season, T.Y. Hilton will return as WR1 for new Colts quarterback Philip Rivers, but there is a void at WR2. Zach Pascal led the team with 607 yards in 2019 but he averaged fewer than 40 receiving yards per game.
Indianapolis might be a little gun-shy about using another second-round pick on a WR, as Parris Campbell has disappointed as a rookie. But if I'm general manager Chris Ballard, I would definitely consider taking Higgins.
Justin Jefferson, LSU
Likely Landing Spot: Philadelphia Eagles
I've seen Jefferson often connected to the Packers (No. 30), but he won't make it that far. I don't think he makes it past the Eagles, who have pick No. 21. And let's be honest, Jefferson might not even make it to the Eagles. But should Jefferson be there for Philadelphia, he is a perfect fit. With the speedy DeSean Jackson and the physical Alshon Jeffery, Jefferson will give the Eagles the exact kind of receiver they desperately need – the "gotta have that catch" option.
Michael Pittman Jr., USC
Likely Landing Spot: Dallas Cowboys
Pittman is a highly rated "possession" receiver who was a Biletnikoff Award finalist after snagging 101 passes this past season. At one point he was thought to be a lock for the first round. Yet poor speed metrics at the NFL Scouting Combine have seen his projections tumble out of the first round. Some even have him going in the third round. However, his stats and game tape could still make him a first-round pick. I see him falling somewhere in between, likely to the Cowboys in the second round.
There's a huge drop-off after Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on the Cowboys' current WR depth chart as Tavon Austin had just 13 catches and one touchdown in 2019. Pittman would be an extremely dangerous WR3 in Dallas.
Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
Likely Landing Spot: Green Bay Packers
And when the Packers miss out on Justin Jefferson, this will be the wide receiver Green Bay grabs instead. A lot of mocks have Shenault going to the Ravens (No. 28), and that's understandable. And the Ravens might be one of the best places a rookie WR can land in the back half of the draft. However, I suspect that should Baltimore stay put, the team will grab a pass rusher or an offensive lineman and then look to address wide receiver in the second round.
Shenault is what the scouts are calling a "physical" receiver with both the positive and negative implications associated with that description. He has a big frame and elite hand strength but his route-running currently lags behind his physical skills. Either way, I think Aaron Rodgers will be very happy to see Shenault in bay green and cheese gold.
Other WRs to consider: KJ Hamler (Penn State), Jalen Reagor (TCU), Denzel Mims (Baylor), Bryan Edwards (South Carolina)
Bell-cow running backs are still the No. 1 commodity in fantasy football. This year's draft class at the position is not anywhere near as deep as the wide receivers. Yet there are still several intriguing options that could easily end up being top-20 fantasy RBs this season.
D'Andre Swift, Georgia
Likely Landing Spot: Miami Dolphins
My editor and I disagree about whether or not Swift will go in the first round or not. We are not the only ones. One of the biggest arguments against Swift being a first-round pick is that NFL teams have wised up. There is a mountain of evidence supporting the non-necessity of taking an RB in the first round. Looking at Miami's personnel decisions the last few years, are you really convinced that the Dolphins don't make that mistake?
Even if they don't grab Swift with one of their three first-round picks, I think they may pull the trigger in the second (No. 39 overall). With the lack of talent Miami currently has in its backfield and the amount of talent Swift has, he will be a fantasy stalwart for the 2019 season.
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Likely Landing Spot: Atlanta Falcons
Bringing in Todd Gurley for the Georgia Bulldog faithful in and around Atlanta was a smart move. But I don't see Gurley getting 25 carries a game. Enter Taylor, who has already shown he can handle a heavy workload (300-plus carries each of his three seasons) and be very productive (three Big Ten rushing titles, 6,174 career rushing yards).
Taylor possesses a prototypical RB frame and durability as well as home-run speed. His patience and understanding of where/when blocks open up will enable him to succeed in multiple run schemes, including Atlanta's.
Other names to watch: J.K. Dobbins (Ohio State), Zack Moss (Utah)
Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, and Justin Herbert are going to draw most of the headlines, but there are a few other quarterbacks who could see their names called on Thursday night. Standard redraft leagues can probably ignore most of these options, but those in 2-QB leagues had better keep their peepers open.
Jordan Love, Utah State
Likely Landing Spot: Los Angeles Chargers
It would not surprise me to see Love go in that 20-30 range. There's been a lot buzz that the Patriots (No. 23) like Love and might even trade up to get him. But does that sound like Bill Belichick to allow information like that to leak? If there is in fact info coming out of Patriot HQ, I think it's a smokescreen.
Therefore, I think Love falls into the second round and it's the Chargers that grab him. I know the Chargers are saying they are really excited about Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback this year. I'm willing to accept that at face value. But I don't buy they are happy with Taylor as a long-term option and therefore Love will be selected by the Chargers in the second round.
Other names to watch: Jacob Eason (Washington), Jake Fromm (Georgia), Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
This is not a particularly strong year for TEs, but don't be surprised to see a couple go in the top 50 picks and one may even sneak into the end of the first round. Cole Kmet is the best in this year's class and depending on where he lands, he could be a productive target (60-75 catches) right away.
Cole Kmet, Notre Dame
Likely Landing Spot: Chicago Bears
As the top tight end on the board, it's only natural to assume Kmet will be the first one taken. To that end, Chicago makes a lot of sense with one of their two (Nos. 43, 50) second-round picks. Regardless of who ends up at quarterback (Mitchell Trubisky or Nick Foles) for the Bears, they will need all the reliable weapons they can get to succeed. Don't forget that Foles benefitted greatly from having Zach Ertz to throw to when he was in Philadelphia and Chicago recently released Trey Burton. If New England is the one that grabs Kmet, he immediately becomes a draftable fantasy TE1.
Other TEs to Watch: Hunter Bryant (Washington), Brycen Hopkins (Purdue)
— Written by Mark Strausberg, a member of the Athlon Network Contributor, who despite his youthful exuberance and good looks has been playing fantasy sports before Wildcats or Hoosiers even made it to VHS. Got a fantasy sports question or thought? Hit him up on Twitter @MarkStrausberg.