2008 NFL Draft in Review
By Mike Doria
RotoWire Football Editor
While Mel Kiper Jr. finally has time to get his hair done this weekend, fantasy folks are still sorting through the 2008 NFL Draft. As usual, there are a handful of players who could make an impact out of the gate and this year's group is dominated by running backs, even more so than usual. Darren McFadden, Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Stewart and Kevin Smith come to mind as players who could be immediate difference makers.
And of course, there's bound to be a player or two who end up exceeding expectations (based on their draft slots) or even an out-of-nowhere stud such as Marques Colston, circa 2006. So if you're digging deep, and we know you are, keep an eye on the progress of players like Ryan Torain and Jacob Hester, to mention just two.
Below we break down some of the key skill players who have a shot to hit the fantasy radar this season.
(note: players' heights and weights listed below are according to NFL.com)
Matt Ryan, Boston College (6-5, 224) ATL - The Falcons passed on stud DT Glenn Dorsey to grab Ryan third overall, but if ever there was a team that needed a fresh start and new identity (in the form of a franchise QB) this is it. While Chris Redman's name is currently atop the team's QB depth chart (in pencil) and Joey Harrington is still around as a reminder of the downside of taking a signal-caller third overall, it's only a matter of time before it's Matty Ice's show. Given how rare it is for a quarterback to make a fantasy impact as a rookie in general, combined with a group of pass-catchers who don't inspire awe, we'd be surprised if Ryan - who gets high marks for his intangibles -- is worth owning in all but the deepest leagues this season. Down the road though, don't be surprised if he settles into the second tier of fantasy QBs.
Brian Brohm, Louisville (6-3, 227) GB - It's obvious you can't replace a legend like Brett Favre with just one player, so the Packers went out and added both Brohm and Matt Flynn to provide depth behind former first-rounder (and projected starter) Aaron Rodgers. At one point, Brohm was considered the cream of this year's QB crop, but durability concerns and the perception that he was a system product at Louisville caused him to slip in the draft. Still, his skill-set (accuracy and touch combined with adequate arm strength) make him a good fit for the team's West Coast offense. Rodgers has had a hard time staying on the field in his stint with the Packers, so it wouldn't surprise us to see Brohm gets some starts this year, and if he does, he could make a nice in-season pickup.
Joe Flacco, Delaware (6-7, 236) BAL - The Ravens took some heat for moving up to take the Delaware product 18th overall, but after their play to slide up to the number two slot to grab Matt Ryan was thwarted, they focused in on Flacco, who they viewed as the next best thing, a notch higher than eventual second-rounders Brian Brohm and Chad Henne. At close to 6-7, with a rocket arm and decent evasiveness in the pocket for his size, Flacco has the tools to succeed in the NFL. He'll have a steep learning curve though, as he adjusts to a pro style offense and a quantum leap in the level of competition. As can be expected with a player who is all arms and legs, his mechanics could use some work. The Ravens are tired of Kyle Boller's act and clearly don't view Troy Smith as the long-term answer, so Flacco will have a legitimate chance to compete for the starting job in training camp. The smart money says that this work in progress will be behind center by mid-season regardless of who gets the Week One nod.
Chad Henne, Michigan (6-2, 225) MIA - Owners of the worst record in the NFL last season, the Dolphins clearly had a ton of needs at the draft, so taking Henne in the second round is a clear indication that Bill Parcells is not sold on John Beck. Vet Josh McCown is serviceable, but it's pretty clear that the when the Big Tuna went shopping on draft day, he envisioned continued chemistry between Henne and top overall pick Jake Long, who was his left tackle at Michigan. Henne has plenty of experience against big time competition, which should smooth his transition to the pros. As a "Parcells Guy" he would seem to have the inside track at becoming the team's new "QB of the future."
Darren McFadden, Arkansas (6-1, 210) OAK - Viewed by many as the premier talent in the 2008 draft, McFadden enters the league with high expectations, especially on the heels of Adrian Peterson's explosive entry into the league in 2007. Pairing McFadden with JaMarcus Russell (last year's top pick overall) should give the Raiders a dynamic and crowd-pleasing one-two punch to build their offense around. With Justin Fargas coming off a career season and recently re-signed, McFadden could face a similar workload situation as Peterson did with the Vikings last year, when Chester Taylor was also in the mix. For now, at least, the Raiders also have LaMont Jordan and Michael Bush in the fold, but McFadden was just too talented to pass on despite other more pressing needs. How much of a fantasy impact he makes as a rookie is up in the air, but the Arkansas product has the size, speed and vision to be an impact player the moment he starts seeing the bulk of Oakland's carries.
Jonathan Stewart, Oregon (5-11, 235) CAR - Stewart is coming off toe surgery, but is expected to be fully recovered well in time for the start of the season. A bruising 235-pounder in the mold of Jamal Lewis, he also has good speed (4.48 forty) and is an ideal complement to the smaller, shiftier, DeAngelo Williams. Stewart's power running style fits well with the Panthers' offense, and bodes well for him being used in close, but since he figures to be in a time-share out of the gate, his initial fantasy impact may not be that great. That said, he's just a Williams injury away from prime time.
Kevin Smith, Central Florida (6-1, 217) DET - Smith, who racked up 2,678 rushing yards at Central Florida last season, may not be as heralded as some of the other running backs in the Class of 2008, but unless the Lions go out and sign someone like Shaun Alexander, "Silent Bob" might just have the most clear-cut opportunity for playing time as a rookie. The Lions still have Tatum Bell, Artose Pinner and Brian Calhoun, but Smith is a punishing runner with the ability to rack up yards after contact, traits that enhance his chances of turning into the team's workhorse back. As things shake out, and time-shares become more defined, don't surprised if he ends up being the second rookie RB off the boards in fantasy drafts.
Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois, (5-11, 210) PIT - The Steelers already have the speedy Willie Parker, but Mendenhall represented great value at 23rd overall, where they snagged him. Solid - and I am under editorial orders to use that adjective just once a year - is the word to describe the Illinois product. His between-the-tackles ability gives the team a nice (and perhaps even scary) one-two punch at running back. As long as Parker is healthy, Mendenhall (who has what it takes to be a throwback-type workhorse back) will be in a time-share, but he should have a chance to break camp as the Steelers' top option around the goal line, which would give him some value right away. In fact, it's not out of the question that over the long haul he outproduces the flashier Darren McFadden.
Felix Jones, Arkansas (6-0, 200) DAL - The Cowboys were destined to take an Arkansas (Jerry Jones' alma matter) back this year and as dynamic as Darren McFadden is, Jones was the much better fit. He's an ideal complement to the bruising Marion Barber, giving the team a breakaway threat in the running game and a potentially explosive kick returner. Many of Jones' big plays this season will result in short Barber TDs or Nick Folk field goals, limiting his fantasy value. Still, the team's upgrade in Joneses assures a balanced and dangerous running attack that gives Tony Romo yet another thing to smile about this offseason.
Matt Forte, Tulane (6-2, 222) CHI - Perhaps it was a result of our Magazine Mock Draft being two days after the NFL Draft, but Forte went in Round Five, while returnee Cedric Benson (fourth overall pick in 2005) went in the eighth round. The Bears' starting RB job remains Benson's to lose, but he'll need to bring his "A" game to training camp to hold off Forte. Blessed with a nice blend of size and power, Forte projects as an effective between-the-tackles runner - something that should endear him to Bears' fans -- in the NFL. Benson knows he is on the spot, so don't count him out just yet, but by the end of training camp, Forte could make him redundant.
Chris Johnson, East Carolina (5-11, 197) TEN - The Titans seem content to throw darts at their receiving situation while they stockpile talent at running back. Speed is Johnson's biggest asset - he ran a 4.24 forty -- but he's more than just a workout warrior (hello, Chris Henry). On film, his quickness and explosiveness jump out at you in a non-Trung Canidate kind of way. At the very least, he will offer a nice change of pace to the power running of LenDale White. Where Johnson could really tear it up is if the Titans get him involved in the passing game, where his turn-and-burn abilities could give Vince Young a potent weapon.
Jacob Hester, LSU (5-11, 230) SD - Considered by scouts as a FB/RB 'tweener, Hester caught the eye of the Chargers' brass (they traded up to get him in the third round) and he is being groomed as Michael Turner's replacement, i.e. LaDainian Tomlinson's backup. Assuming he secures the job, that alone gives him fantasy value, given how classy the San Diego ground game has been in recent years.
Ryan Torain, Arizona State, (6-1, 222) DEN - Any time the Broncos bring in a running back, it's worth tracking him, especially when Mike Shanahan says, "I think he's got first-round ability..." Terrell Davis (sixth round), Selvin Young (undrafted), Mike Bell (undrafted) and Mike Anderson (sixth round) are all proof of Denver's ability to mine gold from less heralded backs, so keep an eye on Torain, a strong and powerful runner with good size.
Mike Hart, Michigan (5-9, 195) IND - Slipping to late in the sixth round had to be disappointing for Hart, but he lands in a nice spot in Indy, as he has a chance to emerge as Joseph Addai's top backup. There are a few knocks. Lack of timed speed. Less than ideal size. Durability questions. We could go on in Charlie Brown teacher's voice drone, but our less-scientific gut feeling about this guy is that he could be surprisingly productive in the Colts' offense. At the end of the day, once you get past the measurables, it simply takes an ability to find holes and a knowledge of what to do when they are there to succeed as a running back in the NFL. Hart has that.
Ray Rice, Rutgers (5-8, 199) BAL - The knock against Rice is that he has less than ideal size, but he displayed plenty of toughness and productivity at Rutgers and will make a nice backup (with some upside in the event of an injury) to Willis McGahee. The thing we like about him is that he doesn't have a whole lot of competition should McGahee go down, so if nothing else Rice is a better than average handcuff pick
Jamaal Charles, Texas (5-11, 200) KC - Charles' breakaway speed and receiving skills make him a perfect change of pace/third-down back, and he may also see time as a kickoff returner as a rookie. Though Kolby Smith remains penciled in as Larry Johnson's backup, Charles could seize that job with a strong training camp. If he does, he'll make a nice late-round lottery ticket.
Steve Slaton, West Virginia (5-9, 197) HOU - Ahman Green and Chris Brown are ahead of him on the Texans' depth chart, but neither is particularly durable. Regardless of how they hold up, Slaton's quickness and burst offer a different enough look for him to be an ideal change-of-pace back. His lack of size probably limits him to that role, but his big play potential will be enough for him to get his share of touches this coming season.
James Hardy, Indiana (6-6, 220) BUF - The Bills had some interesting options (Limas Sweed, Malcolm Kelly, Early Doucet) at the No. 41 slot in the draft, but decided to swing for the fences with Hardy. At nearly 6-6, he has all kinds of red zone potential (think Plaxico Burress) and he'll give the Bills the sort of threat opposite Lee Evans that they went into the draft seeking. It's often hard to ID the one or two rookie receivers who typically make a fantasy impact, but Hardy's skills make him an intriguing option, especially in TD-heavy leagues.
Devin Thomas, Michigan State (6-2, 215) WAS - Nobody would have blinked an eye if Buffalo had taken Thomas 11th overall, so needless to say the Redskins were delighted to tab him at No. 34. He'll add some size to the team's smallish receiving corps and if he picks up the offense quickly, he has the potential to be this year's Dwayne Bowe.
Limas Sweed, Texas (6-4, 212) PIT - Ben Roethlisberger has to be happy with the addition of Sweed, who gives him the sort of big and talented target he's lacked since the departure of Plaxico Burress. Sweed was considered a first-round talent (a wrist injury last season may have caused his tumble) and he gives the Steelers someone to develop in tandem with established pass-catchers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. It may take some time for him to blossom in the pros, but if your choice is between Sweed and proven mediocrity late in your draft, go young in the hopes that he and Big Ben develop quick chemistry.
Donnie Avery, Houston (5-11, 186) STL - The Rams were in the market for a wideout after losing Isaac Bruce, but it was somewhat surprising to see Avery as the first receiver off the board this year. The speedster was productive in a pass-happy offense at Houston, and he has good hands, but Avery may need to bulk a bit up to be a force in the NFL. Obviously, the Rams like him (judging on who they passed on) though, so he should have an opportunity to contribute right away.
Early Doucet, LSU (6-0, 212) ARI - The playmaking Doucet essentially replaces Bryant Johnson as the Cards' third wideout behind Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. In the event of an injury or a Boldin trade, he could find himself in a situation where he could make some noise despite having slipped to the third round.
Andre Caldwell, Florida (6-1, 200) CIN - He'll battle Jerome Simpson for the No. 3 receiver role in Cincy previously held by Chris Henry. We doubt that this will happen, but if Chad Johnson doesn't play this season, then there would be a huge opportunity in the team's pass-happy offense.
Malcolm Kelly, Oklahoma (6-4, 218) WAS - The Redskins wanted to add *a* receiver with good size/skill (to complement Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El) and came out with two talented wideouts in the second round. Kelly is not a burner, but he has the size to play physical and owns a good pair of hands. Whoever emerges in camp between Kelly and Devin Thomas has sleeper potential.
DeSean Jackson, Cal, (6-0, 178) PHI - At a shade under 5-10 and weighing in at 169 pounds, Jackson is undersized, but he's a blur who can make plays as a returner and wideout. He's similar to Ted Ginn Jr. in many ways and where the Eagles got the dynamic playmaker could turn him into a steal. He has Santana Moss type upside, so keep an eye on his projected role as training camp unfolds.
Mario Manningham, Michigan (6-0, 181) NYG - Character concerns and a so-so combine showing caused this first-round talent to tumble in the draft, but the Giants may have got themselves a good one here. Manningham lacks ideal size, but he's smooth and skilled and projects as Amani Toomer's eventual replacement..
Harry Douglas, Louisville (5-11, 176) ATL - Falcons GM (and former Patriots' Employee of the Month) Thomas Dimitroff has made comparisons between Douglas and Wes Welker. If Douglas can show that he can handle the slot at the NFL level, he might have some value, especially in points per reception leagues.
Dustin Keller, Purdue (6-3, 242) NYJ - It wasn't a big draft for tight ends, but Keller has drawn Dallas Clark comparisons and could surprise if he is able to overtake incumbent Chris Baker.
Martellus Bennett, Texas A&M (6-6, 259) DAL - After flipping Anthony Fasano to Miami before the draft, the Cowboys wasted little time re-loading at tight end, grabbing Bennett (a good blocker with upside as a pass-catcher) to back up Jason Witten.
John Carlson, Notre Dame (6-5, 251) SEA - Carlson fills the Seahawks' void at tight end following the departure of Marcus Pollard. The Seahawks like his blocking and despite his lack of explosiveness, there's definitely an immediate opportunity for Carlson to carve out a role as a pass-catcher in Seattle.
Gary Barnidge, Louisville (6-6, 243) CAR - ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. compares Barnidge to five-time Pro-Bowler Jay Novacek, a compliment worth noting. Barnidge will need to overtake Jeff King to merit fantasy consideration, but from all accounts the Panthers intend to groom him as a pass-catching weapon on offense.
Fred Davis, USC (6-4, 248) WAS - Davis brings similar abilities to the table as Chris Cooley, but he should be useful in two-tight end sets. If nothing else, Davis combines with the Redskins' second-round wideouts to add some talented depth/young weapons as the team enters the Jim Zorn era.
Jacob Tamme, Kentucky (6-4, 232) IND - Assuming he lands the top backup TE job in Indy, the former wide receiver is one to scoop up quickly in the event that Dallas Clark suffers an injury.
Martin Rucker, Missouri (6-5, 248) - CLE - Kellen Winslow is a stud, but he has health concerns and Rucker - a good athlete with upside as a receiver - gives the Browns a nice insurance policy.