April 28, 2009
If you were to hold a fantasy draft today -- and some of us are doing exactly that -- then you obviously couldn't ignore the rookie class. First-year players led many of us to imaginary championships in 2008. Three rookie backs rushed for over 1200 yards (Steve Slaton, Matt Forte, Chris Johnson), two receivers topped 900 yards (Eddie Royal, Desean Jackson), and a pair of rookies finished among the top 20 scorers at quarterback (Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco).
Is it like that every season? No, not exactly. According to fantasy dogma, running backs are the only first-year pros who can be trusted -- in fact, the list of NFL Rookies of the Year is absolutely littered with RBs.
But quarterbacks have won the award in three of the past five seasons (Ryan, Vince Young, Ben Roethlisberger), and you'll typically find at least one rookie ranked among the top 30 fantasy receivers in year-end scoring: Royal in '08; Dwayne Bowe in '07; Marques Colston in '06; Lee Evans, Roy Williams and Larry Fitzgerald in '04; Anquan Boldin and Andre Johnson in '03.
So if you dismiss rookies as unreliable and un-ownable, you do so at your own peril.
With this fact in mind, today we'll assemble a fantasy roster composed exclusively of recently drafted talent. This would, of course, be a terrible strategy. We're just doing it here because it's a convenient gimmick, and nobody needs to see another set of draft grades.
Mark Sanchez has the clearer path to a starting role in Week 1, but Detroit has 72 million reasons to get Stafford on the field -- and 41.7 million of them are guaranteed. When Stafford arrives he'll be throwing to Calvin Johnson, arguably the NFL's most physically talented receiver. (As opposed to, you know...the NFL's most emotionally talented receiver, which is obviously Terrell Owens. Or the NFL's most theologically talented receiver, which might be Isaac Bruce. Not sure).
Stafford is a durable quarterback with terrific recall and outstanding arm strength, even by NFL standards. When you read the scouting reports you'll notice that his "negatives" have an unusually positive spin:
Takes some chances fitting the ball into tight windows and will overly rely on his arm ... Needs to learn how to take more pace off the ball. Arm is so strong that he tends to aim the deep ball instead of just letting it rip.
Just so we're clear: the arm is strong. Possibly too strong. Looking at the Lions' 2009 schedule, you really have to circle Week 8 as the best possible debut for Stafford. It's a home game against the Rams following a bye. And if Daunte Culpepper struggles for some unimaginable reason, Stafford could take the field sooner.
Fantasy bottom line: Stafford looks like an end-of-draft flier, or more likely a mid-season add at the end of the Culpepper Era.
This was a surprising choice for the Broncos given their many defensive needs, but Denver clearly selected the most talented running back available. Moreno delivered 3379 combined yards, 32 TDs, and several rather impressive highlights over two seasons in the SEC. Josh McDaniels views him as more than part-timer according to the Denver Post:
McDaniels said he believes Moreno has the potential to be an every down running back, and said Moreno impressed the Denver staff by doing more than just carrying the ball.
"One of the things that no one will talk too much about is his pass protection. For a college back that's something that doesn't get a lot of recognition," McDaniels said.
There's some clutter in the Denver backfield at the moment (Correll Buckhalter, LaMont Jordan, J.J. Arrington, Peyton Hillis), but nothing that Moreno can't leap over. (Follow that link. It's recommended). He should lead all Denver backs in touches.
Fantasy bottom line: For now, rank Moreno in the early-20s among the running backs. That's often the default position for the most talented rookies, though Moreno could dramatically outperform his rank if given the right workload. Expect an ADP in the late-40s or early-50s, somewhere in the Darren McFadden/Reggie Bush range.
Wells gets an edge here over Donald Brown (see flex below) because he's only battling Tim Hightower for touches, not Joseph Addai. The Cardinals basically live in the red zone (65 RZ possessions in '08), so there are going to be scoring opportunities despite the pass-happy nature of the offense. Wells has great size (6-1, 240) and respectable speed (4.59). It would've been nice to see him at full strength against USC's loaded defense last year; he managed only 55 yards on 22 carries in the Buckeyes' loss to Penn State.
Fantasy bottom line: Wells shouldn't slip too far beyond Moreno. Expect a position rank in the late-20s and an eventual ADP in the 55-60 neighborhood.
Harvin finds himself in an outstanding situation. He may not be a refined route-runner, but he's a seriously impressive athlete and a dangerous man when the ball is in his hands. He'll be terror as a slot receiver and/or taking snaps from the Wildcat. The National Football Post's scouting report on Harvin would describe Adrian Peterson equally well:
Has a rare first step with excellent short-area quickness. Gets up to top speed instantly and is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball.
These were Urban Meyer's comments to the AP:
"I've coached some great players but not a dual threat and a reckless runner like that," Meyer said. "I've had our opponents say they've never faced anything like that."
And who better than Brad Childress to take full advantage of the unique skills of an extraordinary talent?
Fantasy bottom line: You won't get consistency, but that's not expected from any first-year WR. Harvin is likely to deliver a handful of useful games and he'll be a glorified decoy in many others. He should be drafted late, though not as a starter.
He makes this roster on talent, not projected workload. The Niners under Mike Singletary and Jimmy Raye are likely to be a run-heavy, ball-control team. Still, Crabtree deserved the pre-draft ranking that he received from everyone who isn't Al Davis. He's gifted enough to do plenty of damage, even if the Texas Tech playbook is a distant memory. Crabtree is a strong receiver with terrific hands. Here's the early word on his role via the Press Democrat:
The 49ers expect him to compete - and win - the starting job at split end, where second-year player Josh Morgan is also competing. Crabtree has a chance to immediately become the team's No. 1 receiver.
Fantasy bottom line: In most formats, every team's No. 1 wide receiver is going to be owned. Let's just hope Shaun Hill wins the starting quarterback gig. As with Harvin, you'd prefer not to draft Crabtree as a starter, but rather as a late upside pick. Jeremy Maclin belongs to the same WR tier.
Many sources considered Brandon Pettigrew the top real-life tight end in the 2009 draft class, but much of his value is tied to the fact that he's a punishing blocker. (Scouting reports here and here). Ingram could be the premier pass-catching TE entering the league this year. His 2008 season was lost to an ACL injury, so that's an obvious concern. However, Ingram is an outstanding athlete who ran a 4.68 40-yard dash at the combine, and the highlights aren't too shabby:
(Sorry about the porn music there. That's not really my department).
Fantasy bottom line: There aren't any rookie tight ends who need to be drafted by fantasy owners, except in the deepest 16-team formats. Ingram is more of a name to file away, as is Shawn Nelson (see below).
Brown is a talented, underhyped all-purpose back who's not extraordinary in any one area, but the collection of skills is impressive. He also put up eye-popping stats for UConn last season (2,083 yards, 5.7 YPC, 18 TDs) and he delivered against the best opponents on the schedule.
Brown's arrival in Indianapolis clearly affects Joseph Addai's value. Expect the veteran Addai to get a majority of the touches, but Brown will be a legitimate factor. Don't be surprised if the split is 60-40. And you'll recall that Addai hasn't played all 16 games since 2006, his rookie season. These were Jim Irsay's post-draft thoughts on Brown as reported by the team's website:
"They don't want to jinx him too early, but he reminds people of Thurman Thomas," Irsay said, adding, "This is really a question of the best player on the board, a guy who can make an impact. It could have been literally linebacker, offensive line – any position. It's something where we really thought he was a Pro Bowl type of guy and a guy who can make an impact."
So, um...no pressure, Donald Brown. Just go be Thurman Thomas. That's all.
Fantasy bottom line: Brown is more than a handcuff. He'll be a contributor in a spectacular offense and should be ranked in the late-30s or early-40s at his position. Dominic Rhodes, a lesser back, had 840 combined yards and nine TDs for the Colts last year. If/when Addai gets dinged, Brown will be a fantasy star. His ADP should be somewhere in the 95-105 range.
The (unusually deep) All-Rookie Bench: QB Mark Sanchez, J-E-T-S; RB Shonn Greene, Jets, Jets, Jets!; TE Shawn Nelson, Bills; WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles; WR Kenny Britt, Titans; WR Hakeem Nicks, Giants; WR Juaquin Iglesias, Bears; RB Rashad Jennings, Jaguars/Brad Evans All-Stars; WR Derrick Williams, Lions; QB Pat White, Dolphins; WR Brian Robiskie, Browns; and because they almost have to showcase him...WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders.
Photos via Getty Images