NFL DRAFT -- THE LINE ON 2009: Projecting the Fantasy Impact of This Year's Draftees
By Mike Doria
RotoWire Football Editor
Let's take an out-of-the-gate look at the Class of 2009's fantasy prospects. There's still plenty that needs to shake out in training camp as job battles are won and lost and injuries occur, but as always, there will be a number of rookies who are fantasy difference-makers.
Correctly identifying who they'll be and drafting them accordingly (not too early, not too late) will go a long way in determining your team's fate this season.
*Height/Weight numbers are according to NFL.com
Matthew Stafford, Georgia (6-2, 225) DET - Stafford has the superior arm strength and intangibles needed to become a top-tier fantasy QB in the mold of a (healthy) Carson Palmer. Short-term though, a reportedly slimmed-down Daunte Culpepper will start the season behind center for the Lions, probably a wise move for a team coming off an 0-16 season. With Calvin Johnson in the mix, and with the team liable to be playing from behind more often than not, there's some upside if Stafford gets some starts, but don't be tricked by Matt Ryan's 2008 fantasy relevance. It's pretty rare for a rookie-signal caller to produce the sort of consistent results winning fantasy teams require.
Mark Sanchez, USC (6-2, 227) NYJ - No pressure here. He's replacing Brett Favre, in New York, no less. Plus, the Jets traded some pretty good assets to the Browns to move up to get him. But hey, Sanchez has 16 games worth of starting experience at the college level to lean on as he tries to beat out Kellen Clemens in training camp. Our guess is that he'll win the job out of the gate, and the hearts and minds of Jets' fans in good time. From a fantasy perspective however, he'll be a hard player to rely on early on in his development. With a lack of playmakers at wideout, look for the Jets to rely heavily on their running game as Sanchez is brought along initially as a game-manager.
Josh Freeman, Kansas St. (6-6, 248) TB - The Bucs, who moved up a couple of slots to get Freeman, have plenty of warm bodies on their QB depth chart, led by Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown. But in Freeman they have a player with the physical ability to develop into a top-notch NFL signal-caller. He's a big guy with a good arm in the Joe Flacco or JaMarcus Russell mold, but don't expect him to be rushed into a starting assignment, as he's still raw. The Bucs have more depth at QB than the 2008 Ravens - who were forced to turn to Flacco when injuries hit - so Tampa can afford to be patient.
Pat White, West Virginia (6-0, 197) MIA - He's a weapon all right, but White is more of an all-around athlete/trick-play artist than a viable QB prospect at this point. He's likely to make most of his impact when the Dolphins go to their trendy Wildcat formation. We assume he'll be listed as a QB in fantasy databases, but if gains WR eligibility, he might be worth a look in deeper leagues if he sees enough touches.
Knowshon Moreno, Georgia (5-11, 217) DEN - The Broncos went through running backs last season like Spinal Tap went through drummers, so you can't blame them for loading up at the position. Throw in that in his final year as the Pats' offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels was forced to turn to (undrafted rookie) BenJarvus Green-Ellis, and it's easy to understand the hoarding mentality. Knowshon, meet backfield mates Selvin Young, Corell Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan, J.J. Arrington and Ryan Torain. RotoWire subscribers, meet a player who could be this year's rookie home run pick in spite of all the time-share potential here. Be it through trade, release, or injuries, the team is bound to trim some of the fat and at the end of the day, it's Moreno who has the young legs and all-around ability that will land him the bulk of the carries in the early years of the post-Mike Shanahan era.
Beanie Wells, Ohio St. (6-1, 235) ARZ - Things couldn't have worked out better on Draft Day for the Cards, who were looking to bolster a ground attack that ranked last in rushing yardage last year. Wells is an explosive back who has top-tier talent, and while a foot issue may have caused a bit of a red flag, he has the potential to be an impact player in the Cards' offense. Before we get too carried away here with their current personnel, note that this is a pass-first team, but with incumbent Tim Hightower having averaged only 2.8 YPC in 2008, Wells is going be deployed immediately, giving him value as a flex option, who could quickly graduate to RB2 in most formats if he gets any action around the goal line.
Donald Brown, Connecticut (5-10, 210) IND - A productive back who can catch the ball well, Brown has big play ability and will pair with Joseph Addai to give the Colts a potent one-two punch in their backfield. The duo will also combine to give fantasy owners headaches, as long as any sort of time-share is in effect. That appears to be the direction in which this situation is heading. The Colts insist that they view Addai as their primary back, but he's coming off an injury-plagued 2008, putting Brown a pulled muscle or sprained ligament away from becoming an impact player.
LeSean McCoy, Pitt (5-10, 198) PHI - The Eagles had to be delighted to land a talent like McCoy in the second round of the draft, with starter Brian Westbrook getting up there in years and playing banged-up so often. McCoy is a tough and powerful runner, who will provide a nice complementary skill-set to Westbrook (when he's healthy), as well as a necessary insurance policy we suspect could be needed.
Shonn Greene, Iowa (5-11, 227) NYJ - Greene is nice pick with Thomas Jones pushing 31 and grumbling about his contract. Throw change-of-pace back Leon Washington into the mix - with the experience of Jones and the bruising running of Greene - and the Jets have a nice backfield to rely on while new franchise QB Mark Sanchez is allowed to develop at a reasonable pace. The equation is simple for Greene. If Jones is removed somehow, he'll have immediate sleeper potential. Until then, he makes a nice mid-to-late round grab-and-stash pick.
Andre Brown, N.C. State (6-0, 224) NYG - Brandon Jacobs remains the workhorse, but Brown will add needed depth to a Giants' backfield that lost the productive Derrick Ward in the offseason. With Ahmad Bradshaw around, we won't pencil in Brown for Ward's 1025 yards just yet, but Brown's build and running style are very similar to Ward's, and his role could eventually be as well.
Cedric Peerman, Virginia (5-10, 216) BAL - He's either third or fourth in line for carries in Baltimore, but remember it was fullback Le'Ron McClain who was forced to carry the load last season when injuries hit, so keep Peerman - a good between-the-tackles runner - on your free agent radar.
Gartrell Johnson, Colorado St. (5-10, 219) SD - LaDainian Tomlinson is still the man in San Diego, but if he gets hurt, Johnson is capable of providing the team with the thunder to Darren Sproles' lightning.
Javon Ringer, Michigan St. (5-9, 205) TEN - He's behind Chris Johnson and LenDale White, so he's a long-shot, but the Titans are by necessity a run-first team, so as long as he overtakes Chris Henry, keep him in mind if either of the top two returnees goes down.
James Davis, Clemson (5-11, 218) CLE - Davis is a power back and a better fit as a featured option than Jerome Harrison should anything happen to starter Jamal Lewis.
Glen Coffee, Alabama (6-0, 209) SF - Coffee is a physical runner, who becomes the requisite Frank Gore insurance now that DeShaun Foster has left the 49ers.
Bernard Scott, Abilene Christian (5-10, 200) CIN - Scott won the Harlon Hill Award as the country's top Division II player in 2008. Then the day after he was drafted the Bengals said goodbye to Chris Perry and Gary Russell, which should allow him at least to compete for the team's No. 2 job behind Cedric Benson That's the good news. The Bad? He's been arrested at least five times. Let the "he's the perfect Bengal" comments begin.
Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech, (6-2, 215) SF - Thanks to the Raiders' obsession with the speed of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Crabtree fell into the 49ers' lap at No. 10 overall. Crabtree's not a burner, but he has great hands and flat-out knows how to get open. A foot injury raised pre-draft red flags, but his talent was just too much for San Francisco to pass on, and all he has between him and a starting position is Josh Morgan. It's hard to rely on rookie wideouts, but when you're talking about a player who's been compared to Calvin Johnson, it's worth taking the chance he'll be an exception to the rule. By the way, we'll take all the ÒdivaÓ talk with a grain of salt and chalk it up to the sort of cockiness/confidence that the all good ones possess.
Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina (6-1, 212) NYG - Nicks gives the Giants a much-needed big body to help compensate for the loss of Plaxico Burress. He has good hands, which probably makes him a better fit than Braylon Edwards, and has drawn comparisons to Anquan Boldin. He'll have a chance to make an impact as a rookie, as there is room for upward mobility on the Giants' WR depth chart.
Percy Harvin, Florida (5-11, 192) MIN - Here's your Blue Plate Special boom-or-bust pick. All you need to know about Harvin is that the three RotoWire HQ staffers with Minnesota ties all hated the pick, while our NCAA-highlight watching Patriots' fan (me) thinks it could be a great pick. For those willing to overlook his perceived character flaws and propensity to get dinged up, there's an exiting playmaker with game-breaking potential. If all goes well, the Vikings have added a player with a Steve Smith (CAR) ceiling, but it may be a while before that's something fantasy owners can count on, so draft him for his floor, which is more in line with Devin Hester, the receiver.
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri (6-0, 198) PHI - The re-loading Eagles happily moved up to snag Maclin, who they obviously didn't expect to last as long as he did (19th overall). Short of making a move for an established receiver like Anquan Boldin, getting a young playmaker like Maclin was the quickest way for the Eagles to get QB Donovan McNabb another dangerous weapon at wideout. The knock here is that Maclin is too much like DeSean Jackson, but if you're willing overlook the redundancy potential, and we are, Maclin could be a steal. Consider him in the later rounds, and you could see results in line with Jackson's 2008.
Kenny Britt, Rutgers (6-3, 218) TEN - After drafting a parade of running backs early on in recent years, it's about time the Titans made a big-play threat at receiver their priority. In Britt, they get a player who could easily emerge as the team's top receiving weapon right away. Yes, the Titans are a run-first team, but we think Britt - a productive player with good size and plenty (some say too much) of confidence - has a chance to follow Dwayne Bowe's career path as long as he keeps his head on straight.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland (6-2, 210) OAK - The "LOL" pick of the draft, but say what you want, the Raiders knew what they wanted (speed) and weren't afraid to reach for it. The team will have to answer to passing on Michael Crabtree for years to come, but Heyward-Bey's wheels and downfield ability are the obvious attraction and should provide JaMarcus Russell with a deep option to match his arm strength. Heyward-Bey is raw and needs to improve his route-running, but the Raiders needed to upgrade at wideout, and he has an immediate opportunity to claim a starting gig. The more we think about it, the less we hate this pick, but would it have killed the Raiders to move out of the No. 7 spot? Just for the fun of it, take him with your last pick if he's still around. That will guarantee you more upside than a proven veteran mediocrity.
Austin Collie, BYU (6-1, 200) IND - With Marvin Harrison gone, Collie is the frontrunner to claim the active No. 3 role previously held by Anthony Gonzalez and before that, Brandon Stokley. Collie is quick, has good hands and may do more out of the gate than several more heralded receivers, since he's such a natural fit for the Colts' offense.
The WR Darts
Derrick Williams, Penn St. (6-0, 194) DET - Nothing is set in stone behind Calvin Johnson, so Williams could surprise if he can win a significant role out of camp. At the very least, he'll contribute out of the slot and as a returner, where his open-field ability can shine.
Patrick Turner, USC (6-5, 223) MIA - Turner is big, and he's faster than some give him credit for, so we actually like his chances to make it as a pro, despite the failings of Mike Williams and Dwayne Jarrett, a pair of former Trojans with similar good size and productivity in college, who stumbled in the NFL.
Louis Murphy, Florida (6-2, 203) OAK - Murphy is fast (surprise, surprise) and has good size, plus he wasn't considered another Raider reach, given where he went in the fourth round. He's not a high-percentage play in the short-term, but he could develop into a nice weapon for JaMarcus Russell if he can harness his plus athletic ability.
Jarett Dillard, Rice (5-10, 191) JAC - Dillard, who breaks the mold of the measurables-heavy receivers the Jaguars have drafted in the recent past, has a chance to develop into a productive slot guy.
Mike Wallace, Ole Miss (6-0, 199) PIT - He'll work as a returner and has a chance to make some noise as another vertical threat for the Steelers.
Brian Robiskie, Ohio St. (6-3, 209) CLE - Sleeper alert. The Browns needed to re-stock at receiver, so while Robiskie's not all that toolsy, he has good intangibles and soft hands (unlike Braylon Edwards) and an immediate opportunity to contribute in Cleveland.
Deon Butler, Penn St. (5-10, 182) SEA - Butler is slot prospect with speed who could eventually replace Deion Branch, who has had a hard time staying healthy.
Ramses Barden, Caly Poly (6-6, 229) NYG - Barden is a big, physical receiver who has drawn comparisons to former Giant Plaxico Burress. Obviously, he's not as polished as Plax was entering the draft, but Barden has what it takes to develop into a red-zone threat. He may struggle to gain touches initially, however, in the Giants' crowded receiving corps.
Juaquin Iglesias, Oklahoma (6-1, 210) CHI - Now that Jay Cutler is behind center, there's some upside to playing wideout for the Bears. He's not flashy, but keep Iglesias in mind if he ends up earning regular playing time with a strong training camp.
Mohamed Massaquoi, Georgia (6-2, 210) CLE - What does it say about Braylon Edwards that the Browns took two wideouts in the second round? Keep an eye on this situation, as the Browns have two QBs who can play, meaning either Massaquoi or Brian Robiskie could produce immediately.
Kenny McKinley, South Carolina (6-0, 189) DEN - We may be reaching here, but McKinley could be Josh McDaniels' next Wes Welker. Be patient though. Welker (who went undrafted in 2004) wasn't built in a day.
Mike Thomas, Arizona (5-8, 195) JAC - The Jags threw four darts at the receiver position in the draft, and the undersized Thomas could surprise, as there are good jobs to be had behind Torry Holt.
Johnny Knox, Abilene Christian (6-0, 185) CHI - Knox is a small-school speedster who could (in time) take advantage of the opportunity now present in Chicago's Jay Cutler era.
Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma St. (6-5, 263) DET - Pettigrew gives QB Matthew Stafford a reliable tight end to grow up with. Pettigrew's an-around threat who could debut as a top-15 fantasy option, but given some experience, he figures to climb into the top 10.
Travis Beckum, Wisconsin (6-3, 243) NYG - Beckum is an athletic tight end who has the tools to be effective in the Giants passing game. GM Jerry Reese said the team will likely deploy Beckum in an H-back type role, where he should draw favorable matchups against slower, less athletic linebackers. Beckum is an above average pass-catcher, but there are some questions about his blocking and durability, as he missed much of his senior season with a broken fibula.
Jared Cook, South Carolina (6-5, 246) TEN - The Titans needed weapons in the pass-catching game and got one in the Cook, who comes with the "wide receiver trapped in a tight end's body" label. Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler had better watch their backs.
Cornelius Ingram, Florida (6-4, 245) PHI - The athletic Ingram will help the Eagles fill the void at tight end left by L.J. Smith, who departed for Baltimore this offseason. Ingram is coming off a torn ACL, so look for the Eagles to work him in slowly as he gets his game wheels back. Once that happens, he'll be an worthwhile free agent pickup.
Shawn Nelson, So. Mississippi, (6-5, 240) BUF - Tight end was a big need for the Bills heading into the draft, and Nelson will get plenty of opportunities to contribute immediately as a pass-catcher given the team's lack of depth at the position.
Chase Coffman, Missouri, (6-6, 244) CIN - It's been ages since the Bengals have a had a good fantasy tight end, but if Coffman can block well enough to carve out a consistent role, he has the receiving skills emerge as a worthy mid-season fantasy pickup.
Article first appeared 4/27/09