Overdosing on the repetitive Super Bowl hype and storylines, especially when neither team tickles your fancy, why not look ahead to the NFL Draft?
It will be here before we know it, and there is always time to start thinking about next year’s fantasy football season.
Rookies tend to be a great way to break through for a fantasy owner wanting to pick up a steal in a league draft, especially in non-keeper leagues. Most rookies go under the radar as many owners, probably in a wise sense, lean more on veteran players who have proven themselves as productive fantasy scorers.
Last year’s class may have been the best crop of rookies to burst onto the fantasy landscape in several years. This should be a warning not to fall in love with too many college stars coming into the league this season.
On the other hand, it could be the start of a new trend of NFL teams bypassing free agents and trades to lean on draft picks to produce now rather than develop them in later years.
The traditional rule is running backs make an easier transition to the pro game and usually have more of an opportunity to produce, especially in touch down chances.
Matt Forte, formerly of Tulane, is a prime example. He went to a situation in Chicago where he was thrust into a starter’s role, got tons of touches and took it to another level with great hands as a receiver. By the end of the season, the Bears were running their offense through him.
This type of situation would be a blessing for Chris Wells, of Ohio State, and Knowshon Moreno, of Georgia, two of the top rated running backs in the draft.
If either goes to a team looking for a starting back to handle a full-time load, both should prove worthy fantasy picks who produce solid points. This is particularly true for Moreno, who has the best hands of the first round rated running backs. He is a dynamic receiver and will probably be more attractive as a receiving threat. Plus, he is a great blocker, which should keep him on the field more often.
Pittsburgh’s LeSean McCoy is also projected to go later in the first round, but he may end up in a dual-back situation. I don’t foresee a Chris Johnson, formerly of East Carolina, reoccurring this year. Johnson’s lightning speed isn’t available in the upcoming draft. Of course, if McCoy slips to, say New England or Arizona , he becomes the must-have rookie running back. The same would be true for any running back getting snagged by New England , which has made Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris, and even BenJarvus Green-Ellis, valuable fantasy options.
Later round options include Donald Brown, of UConn; Javon Ringer, of Michigan State; and Shonn Greene, of Iowa.
My take: Moreno has the biggest fantasy impact next year.
There are fewer eye-catching receivers projected for the first round of the draft, aside from Michael Crabtree, of Texas Tech. His stock may fall in the coming weeks as draft geeks pick and prod is 40-yard dash time and other combine numbers. What makes Crabtree a future NFL pro-bowler is his production between the white lines. The guy makes plays and catches everything in his sight. He is clearly the best receiver option for fantasy owners.
The traditional rule is receivers take three years to bust through, ala Roy Williams and Roddy White as recent classic examples. Although Calvin Johnson and DeSean Jackson proved worthy fantasy options this year before they reached the third-year threshold.
My attention is on Percy Harvin, of Florida , and Hakeem Nicks, of North Carolina. Harvin has that it-factor, similar to Devin Hester and Jackson. Although he has a Red Cross injury history, he is always a threat to score and that’s not a bad option to have in a fantasy line up. Jeremy Maclin, of Missouri, is another small receiver with speed who will have an impact on special teams.
In the end, Harvin was more reliable – when on the field – than Maclin, who disappeared at times this year while on the field, and fantasy owners can’t solely depend on special teams potential.
Nicks is the guy I’m keying on though, especially if he falls to Miami , which is in dire need of a possession receiver. Reports have Miami also looking at Darrius Heyward-Bey, of Maryland. Nicks is big, has reliable hands and has some burst to turn a 10-yard in-route into a 40-yard touch down, ala Hines Ward.
Other options later in the draft include Kenny Britt, of Rutgers, and Brandon LaFell, of LSU.
My take: Nicks has the biggest fantasy impact next year.
It seems the tight end position has been a make-or-break option for fantasy teams in recent years. Teams that were banking on Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow Jr. this year had to play catch up most weeks, as were teams hoping Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates stayed healthy enough to reach double figures in points each week.
In the draft, there is one and only one reliable fantasy pick. And that is Brandon Pettigrew, of Oklahoma State.
The great news is this guy could be considered a lock to be a starter. Why, well he may be the best blocking tight end entering the draft since who knows when. Blocking will get him playing time, which is good news. Plus, he has decent speed and great hands. The only knock … he played for the Cowboys, who were way overshadowed by Oklahoma , Texas, Missouri and Texas Tech.
My take: Pettigrew has the biggest and only fantasy impact next year.
Why save the quarterbacks for the end? The best for last, no!
Fantasy owners were way spoiled last year with Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. Their performances will not be replicated by Matthew Stafford, of Georgia, or Mark Sanchez, of USC, regardless what team snags them.
The great news for college QBs is the league’s fascination with the Wildcat formation. It will give many dual-threat quarterbacks a leg up on NFL life, much like the designated hitter in baseball.
I’m starting to like Pat White, of West Virginia, and Josh Freeman, of Kansas State. White’s recent performance in the Senior Bowl opened a lot of NFL eyes, as it should for fantasy owners watching who takes a chance on him. Just the potential for touchdowns makes him worth a late fantasy pick. I foresee Wildcats quarterbacks overtaking the old goal line hogs of former days, Jerome Bettis, Marion Butts and Mike Alstott.
My take: White has the biggest fantasy impact.
Of course, many of these projections will change once we learn where players are going in the draft. A system can have a huge impact.
Can you imagine Darren McFadden not splitting carries in Oakland and playing behind Denver ’s offensive line or even on Arizona ’s squad? I bet the Cardinals wouldn’t be 7-point underdogs this weekend if they had McFadden.
McFadden wildcatting it with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, whew!
It certainly doesn’t hurt to look ahead, especially when it’s taking forever for Super Bowl kickoff!