Addressing Roster Holes: Predicting How NFL Teams Will Fill Key Fantasy Positions in the 2024 Draft

  • Mike Clay, ESPN Senior WriterApr 19, 2024, 08:37 AM ET

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    • Fantasy football, NFL analyst for ESPN.com
    • Member of Pro Football Writers of America
    • Founding director of Pro Football Focus Fantasy
    • 2013 FSTA award winner for most accurate preseason rankings

NFL free agency is (mostly) behind us, and yet several teams still have major roster holes at key fantasy positions. The good news for these clubs is that the 2024 draft is just around the corner. Below is a list of the top unfilled voids and a prediction as to how each will be addressed during draft weekend.

For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume that the quarterback voids in Chicago, Washington and New England will be filled by Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye with the first three picks.

Current depth: Rico Dowdle, Deuce Vaughn, Malik Davis, Snoop Conner

The solution: Select Jonathon Brooks with the 24th pick of the second round (56th overall)

Tony Pollard signed with the Titans, leaving Dallas with the unproven Dowdle and 5-foot-5, 179-pound Vaughn atop the depth chart. That won’t do. Enter Brooks, a 6-foot, 216-pound three-down back from Texas. Arguably the draft’s top back, Brooks didn’t get much run at Texas (238 carries, 32 targets), but he was effective as a rusher and receiver, posting impressive efficiency in both departments. He tore an ACL in November but is only 21 years old and should be good to go by Week 1. Don’t be surprised if Dallas brings old friend Ezekiel Elliott back as a running mate for the rookie.

Current depth: Curtis Samuel, Khalil Shakir, Mack Hollins, KJ Hamler, Justin Shorter

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The solution: Select WR Adonai Mitchell with the 28th overall pick

This offseason, Buffalo let Gabe Davis walk and traded Stefon Diggs to Houston while adding the journeyman Samuel. In fact, Shakir will be the only returning WR who played a snap for the Bills last season. They are a near-lock to address wide receiver with their first pick, and landing Mitchell would be a high-impact move. The Texas product is 6-foot-2, 205 pounds and operates as a perimeter/vertical target, which makes him a good complement to the more versatile Samuel. Mitchell posted a hefty 14.5-yard average depth of target (aDOT) while adding little after the catch (averaging a class-low 3.0 yards after catch) during his three collegiate seasons. Mitchell impressed at the combine with a 4.34 40-yard dash and class-best 11 feet, 4 inches broad jump.

Current depth: Sam Darnold, Nick Mullens, Jaren Hall

The solution: Trade with the Cardinals to move up to the fourth overall pick and select QB J.J. McCarthy

Kirk Cousins signed with the Falcons, and Minnesota’s only counterattack was to hand Darnold $8.75 million guaranteed for a one-year commitment. Darnold has flashed at times, but his volatile play suggests he’s a long shot to emerge as the long-term Cousins replacement. McCarthy, however, could be the answer. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound QB was productive and effective in a run-heavy Michigan offense but leaves something to be desired in terms of strength and accuracy. He’s the youngest QB in this class and could require some development behind Darnold.

Current depth: Michael Wilson, Greg Dortch, Zach Pascal, Chris Moore

The solution: Trade down from Pick 1.4 to Pick 1.11 and select WR Rome Odunze

This one may raise some eyebrows considering Marvin Harrison Jr. (more on him later) is the most popular connection to Arizona, but the Cardinals have a lot of roster voids and so a trade back makes a lot of sense. Marquise Brown (Chiefs) and Rondale Moore (Falcons) both departed during the offseason, so regardless of which pick it is, Arizona is a strong bet to attack wide receiver in the first round. Landing Odunze at 11th overall could prove to be a steal, as the 6-foot-3, 212-pound Washington product is a big, fast receiver with terrific hands and ball skills who can align all over the formation and make plays deep down field. He’d immediately slide in as Kyler Murray’s top target.

Current depth: Darius Slayton, Wan’Dale Robinson, Jalin Hyatt, Isaiah Hodgins

The solution: Select WR Marvin Harrison Jr. with the sixth overall pick

Harrison sliding to sixth might be asking a lot, but if we expect the first four picks to be quarterbacks and the Chargers go offensive tackle over wideout at No. 5, this scenario would play out. Harrison is widely considered the top non-QB in this class. The Ohio State product is a big (6-3, 209 pounds), fast perimeter receiver with terrific speed and run-after-the-catch ability. His 3.00 yards per route run in 38 collegiate games is tops in this class, and his 31 touchdowns in 38 games rank second. Harrison has the look of the next great NFL wide receiver.

The void: Los Angeles Chargers wide receiver and running back

Current depth:
WR — Joshua Palmer, Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis
RB — Gus Edwards, Isaiah Spiller, Elijah Dotson

The solution: Select WR Ladd McConkey with the fifth pick of the second round (37th overall) and RB Blake Corum with the fifth pick of the fourth round (105th overall)

The Chargers’ offense is going to look much different with Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman running the show. Austin Ekeler (Commanders), Joshua Kelley (free agent), Keenan Allen (Bears), Mike Williams (Jets) and Gerald Everett (Bears) all departed during the offseason, leaving major holes at the offensive skill positions. McConkey would be a terrific start at rebuilding the WR unit. The Georgia product is an undersized (6-foot, 186 pounds) but quick and reliable target, having caught a class-best 81% of his targets in 2023 (his 75% career rate also paces this class). He’s coming off an injury-plagued 2023 but would step right in as a short-to-intermediate slot target for Justin Herbert.

Corum, meanwhile, would be a natural fit after leading Harbaugh’s rushing attack at Michigan. He’s 5-foot-8, 205 pounds and a downhill, high-volume rusher, having soaked up 675 carries and a whopping 58 rush TDs in four seasons with the Wolverines. Corum isn’t as big or young as other top backs in this class, and his efficiency is weak (2.76 YAC is third lowest and his 5.6 forced missed tackle rate fourth worst in this class), but he’s a capable receiver and a good pass-blocker.

Current depth: Jarrett Stidham, Ben DiNucci

The solution: Select QB Bo Nix with the 12th overall pick

Denver ate a lot of money and cap space in order to move on from Russell Wilson, which leaves journeyman Stidham as its top quarterback. That’s not a short- or long-term solution, which means the Broncos figure to be aggressive in finding a passer on draft day. Nix would be a fit. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound QB was a five-year starter at Oregon and Auburn. He was elite in 2023, posting class-best marks in passing touchdowns (45), completion rate (77%), interception rate (0.64%), sack rate (1.0%) and off-target rate (6.6%). He’s conservative (class-low 7.4 career aDOT) but has a good arm and accuracy with the ability to add some value with his legs, which makes him a good fit in Sean Payton’s scheme.

The void: Las Vegas Raiders quarterback and running back

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Current depth:
QB — Gardner Minshew, Aidan O’Connell
RB — Zamir White, Ameer Abdullah, Alexander Mattison

The solution: Select QB Michael Penix Jr. with the 12th pick of the second round (44th overall) and RB Isaac Guerendo with the 13th pick of the fifth round (148th overall)

The Raiders signed Minshew as competition for O’Connell, but that QB room likely isn’t a finished product. Penix is a bit of a wild card in this QB class, but you can’t score if you don’t shoot and the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder emerged in a big way at Washington over the past two seasons. He has a good arm but is an older prospect (24) who has suffered major injuries (including a pair of torn ACLs) and won’t add much with his legs (95-443-13 career rushing line in 45 games).

At running back, the Raiders have a void after long-time feature back Josh Jacobs signed with the Packers. White, Mattison and receiving specialist Abdullah could perhaps hold down the fort, but a Day 3 lottery ticket on Guerendo would make sense. Guerendo has the best size/speed profile in this class, having run a 4.33 40-yard dash at 6-foot, 221 pounds. He’s old for a rookie (24) and never cleared 132 carries or 25 targets in any of his five collegiate seasons, but the Louisville product can add value as a rusher, receiver, pass-blocker and kick returner.

Current depth: Zack Moss, Chase Brown, Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans

The solution: Select RB MarShawn Lloyd with the 16th pick of the third round (80th overall)

The Bengals shipped Joe Mixon to Houston and signed journeyman Moss this offseason. It’s possible Cincinnati rolls with Moss (who impressed in place of Jonathan Taylor in Indianapolis last season) and the sophomore Brown, but spending a Day 2 pick on a potential long-term lead back makes a lot of sense. Lloyd, a 5-foot-9, 220-pound back from USC, is quick and fast (4.46 40) with an elite collegiate efficiency profile — his career 3.74 YAC ranks third and his 3.1 forced missed tackle rate first in this class. He does have a lengthy injury résumé and fumble issues, but coupled with the Bengals’ strong offense, his size, speed and collegiate efficiency would provide him with a ton of statistical upside.

2024-04-19 12:37:00
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