Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Which Rookies Should I Take?

It may be early to be discussing Fantasy Football (since the Fantasy Baseball season hasn't even started yet), but I wanted to look at some of the prospects in the 2009 NFL Draft to see who might make an impact come fake draft time in August. Of course, this only counts for a small number of prospects, as only the skill offensive players can make a big impact fantasy-wise. Sure, Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe might help out immensely, but no game of fantasy football has blocking stats...Yet...

The thing about this draft that's different from 2008 is that there are as many as six receivers who could be drafted in the first round. Last year, no receivers went in the first, though 10 were drafted in the second. There is only one receiver really rumored to go in the top 15 (Crabtree) while a ton could go in the second half of the first round. This is good from a fantasy football perspective, as talented receivers landing on good teams usually leads to production (not 1,000 yards, but still production). The quarterback class is also weaker than normal. The top three prospects are juniors, and generally juniors take a season or two to get the hang of the NFL. There are no Matt Ryan's this year.

1) Knowshown Moreno, RB, Georgia -- From what I've read and seen of his play, he's more of a slasher than a downhill runner. He also catches the ball out of the backfield very well, so he's better suited for teams running either Denver's zone blocking scheme or a West Coast offense. His value is directly tied to which team he ends up on. As a feature-type back in Tampa Bay's offense? He's a top-20 pick. As a backup to Brian Westbrook in Philly? Take a flier on him late in the draft.

2) Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina -- In an interview with NFL Radio, Nicks compared himself to Anquan Boldin and Chad Johns, er, Ocho Cinco. He bulked up a bit from the combine to his pro day, which some teams saw as a red flag, but from listening to him, it sounds like he added muscle, not fat. If this kid can play at 225-230, he can definitely be a David Boston/Anquan Boldin type. That's why I think he can have an immediate impact. Boldin's rookie season numbers? 101 receptions, 1,377 yards, 8 TDs.

3) Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech -- The foot injury Crabtree suffered in the Cotton Bowl will keep him out of workouts, but it's unclear how that will affect his draft status. I don't see him falling out of the top 10, but it could send him falling past team's with proven quarterbacks, such as Green Bay, Cincinnati and Seattle. From what I'm hearing, Al Davis likes him, so going to the Raiders at 7 is a definitely possibility, which also depresses his value on fantasy draft day (JaMarcus Russell is a work in progress).

4) Chris 'Beanie' Wells, RB, Ohio State -- I'm personally down on Beanie. I think he has Ron Dayne written all over him, except Ronnie wasn't injured as much as Beanie was in college. In the right system (Kansas City? Cleveland?), he could be very productive as a smash-mouth, in-line brawler. With someone like Jerome Harrison or former Kent Stater Josh Cribbs as a change of pace back, he could do well in the Browns offense. I'm still skeptical.

5) Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland -- Another top prospect I'm not sold on at all. What did he do in college? He may have loads of potential and that size-speed combination some teams love, but I see a lot more bust potential here than the next Larry Fitzgerald.

6) Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia -- Stafford reminds me somewhat of David Carr. Strong arm. Big body. Great prospect on paper. Can he play? Did he ever win in college? These are all things that I question about Stafford. Plus, if he does go to the Lions, he's going to get killed for a year or two if he starts right away. The best thing for him and for whichever team drafts him is time on the bench. Which means his value fantasy-wise is pretty slim.

7) Mark Sanchez, QB, USC -- Sanchez has been touted as the most NFL-ready of all the QB prospects. If that's the case, why hasn't he jumped Stafford for the top QB spot. Why aren't the Lions looking at him with the first overall? Sanchez doesn't have the physical tools of Stafford, and while he makes most of the throws and played in a more pro-style system, he still doesn't have much experience on the field. Whichever team drafts him (Jacksonville? San Francisco?) will want him to sit for a while just to get some experience reading defenses. Again, not much value fantasy-wise here.

8) Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State --He didn't run well at the combine. There, I said it. That's out of the way. A long time ago, in a league far, far away, guys like Shannon Sharpe, Ozzie Newsom and Kellen Winslow roamed the field. They were huge, man-beasts who could block the heck out of whatever poor linebacker or defensive end lined up across from them. Then, on third down, they could sprint up the seam or out into the flat and catch a pass for first down. That's what Brandon Pettigrew is. He's an old-school tight end. He's not as fast as those basketball-playing Antonio Gates-types, but he's as solid a player as you'll find. Remember how productive Martellus Bennett was down the stretch for Dallas last season? That's what Pettigrew will do, except he will win a starting job based on his blocking. So, that's what you'll get. A top-10 tight end next season.

9) Percy Harvin, WR, Florida -- Harvin is another guy I like, in the same way I liked DeSean Jackson last season. Sure, Harvin isn't going to be your prototypical wideout. He's not Andre Johnson, so don't use him like Andre. Throw him screens, get him out on the edge and let him do his thing. This kid is fast, has the shiftiness to make people miss, and can score 5 touchdowns easily next season on the right team. He wouldn't fit with the Bears, but if he goes to, say, Indy? He'd be a star.

10) Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri -- I like Maclin less than Harvin, but for the same reasons. I think Maclin's biggest contribution his first season will be on kickoff/punt returns. He can be a game-changer in that regard, but I'm not sure how effective he'll be as a receiver out of the gate. When I saw him last season, he struggled to get good separation at times, and may need to refine his technique before he makes a big impact.

11) Brian Robiskie, WR, Ohio State -- Robiskie is a guy who I personally like quite a bit as a second-rounder. I have not seen many draft pundits talking him up so far, but I liked what he did in college. It also helps that his father played and coached in the NFL, so he's been around the game. I think he'll be one of those sneaky guys who catches 60 balls for 800 yards his first season after winning a spot as the No. 2 wideout in preseason.

12) Jared Cook, TE, South Carolina -- Cook's testing numbers at the combine were off the charts. That alone should get him on the bubble for a first-round pick. If teams miss out on Pettigrew, they'll look to Cook to fill that athletic, Gatesian tight end spot. His blocking could have been better and might hold him back at first in the league, but he's got the athletics ability to make an impact in the passing game. Probably safer as a mid-season addition than a draft-worthy player.

13) Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut -- Another late-riser in this draft, Brown and Moreno both came out of high school at the same time. While Moreno has been hyped for some time, Brown has suffered the stigma of playing at a school not known for its football prowess. I didn't see Brown play this year, but from what I hear, he's a solid, dependable back who does everything well. That doesn't mean he excels everywhere, but in Cincy or Philly, he'd be a great backup.

14) Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers -- Britt has been linked to the Giants more times than Lily Allen has been in the tabloids. Hailing from the school just down the road from Giants Stadium, Britt is a big, physical wideout who can stretch the defense a bit. Sound like anyone you might know? The Plax comparisions are inevitable and Britt may be the best choice for the G-Men at 29. My concern is whether or not they have other needs to address. If so, Britt would fall to the second round and probably end up on a less talented team. His destination will control his value, but I don't see him going much earlier than the 12th round.

15) LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh -- McCoy has great potential. He's just never been able to convert that to his play on the field. If Dave Wannestedt can't get anything out of him at Pitt, I'm not sure NFL coaches will be able to do the same. Still, he should go to a team in the second or third round, making for some intriguing possibilities. If he lands with, say, the Packers as a backup to Ryan Grant, could he have value? What if the Chiefs take him as insurance for Larry Johnson? His talent gives him value, but I'm not sure it's more than as a late-season add.

I know there are more guys out there worthy of this list, but I decided to stop at 15. Guys like Southern Miss TE Shawn Nelson, Rice TE James Casey, Oklahoma WRs Juaquin Iglesias and Manny Johnson or Texas A&M RB Mike Goodson could make an impact next season too but it's all depending on where they end up. After the draft, I'll do a more thorough rundown of the rookie difference-makers.

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