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Mock Draft: NFL rookies

Brandon Funston
Yahoo Sports

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Brandon
Funston
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Mike
Harmon
Now that the 2005 draft class has found an NFL home, the legions of fantasy prognosticators can dive in and start making more educated opinions on the values of these players. Yahoo! Sports' fantasy experts, Brandon Funston and Mike Harmon, did just that, taking time post-draft to stage a two-owner fantasy draft consisting entirely of the NFL '05 rookies.

The rules were simple: pick a QB, two RBs, two WRs and a flex player (RB, WR or TE) from this year's draft class. The picks were based solely on the players' expected fantasy value for 2005.

Harmon was gracious enough to concede the first pick to Funston. Below is the full account of the draft, along with analysis by each expert:

2005 NFL ROOKIES FANTASY MOCK DRAFT
Brandon Selects: Mike Selects:
  1. Ronnie Brown, Mia, RB (1)
  2. Carnell Williams, TB, RB (3)
  3. Troy Williamson, Min, WR (5)
  4. Mark Clayton, Bal, WR (7)
  5. J.J. Arrington, Ari, RB (9)
  6. Heath Miller, Pit, TE (11)
  7. Jason Campbell, Was, QB (13)
  1. Cedric Benson, Chi, RB (2)
  2. Braylon Edwards, Chi, WR (4)
  3. Mike Williams, Det, WR (6)
  4. Matt Jones, Jac, WR/TE (8)
  5. Eric Shelton, Car, RB (10)
  6. Maurice Clarett, Den, RB (12)
  7. Alex Smith, SF, QB (14)

1. Ronnie Brown, Mia, RB
Funston says – Yes, a Ricky Williams cloud is hanging over Miami, and head coach Nick Saban has stated that the door still is open for Williams' return, even after selecting Brown at No. 2 overall. But it sure sounds like Saban (and Brown, for that matter) is expecting Brown to be the starter in '05. Said Saban, "We thought [Brown] had the best speed, the best hands, and also the most power of any player we could pick at his position …" Saban also has talked about a study the team conducted in which it looked at the first-year success of QBs, RBs and WRs. The test revealed that RBs, far and away, had more impact early on.

Brown is surprisingly grounded, low-key and humble for a player with so much talent. That is why it was curious to see him quoted as saying simply, "I never doubt myself," when asked if he thought he'd start this season. Brown's agent also has said Williams' return (to Miami) would be unrealistic. So, I've selected Brown as the top rookie with confidence that he'll be Miami's go-to guy. I was already a big believer in his talent. But talent needs to meet opportunity, and I think Brown will have that from the get-go.

Funston 2005 Projection: 1,250 yards, nine touchdowns
Harmon 2005 Projection: 1,200 yards, 11 touchdowns

2. Cedric Benson, Chi, RB
Harmon says – I loved the passion that Benson showed on draft day when he was selected by the Bears. This is a guy who wants to shake the inevitable comparisons to Ricky Williams and become a threat in his own right. His body has taken an NFL-like pounding during his career at Texas, so he's ready for Sundays.

Benson can catch the ball out of the backfield (22 receptions for 179 yards and a score in 2004) and will offer another threat for QB Rex Grossman. Thomas Jones is on the roster, but given the lofty No. 4 pick used on Benson, it's pretty clear that the job is Benson's unless something truly goes awry.

Harmon 2005 Projection: 1,100 rushing yards, six touchdowns
Funston 2005 Projection: 800 rushing yards, five touchdowns

3. Carnell Williams, TB, RB
Funston saysMichael Pittman's '04 numbers were pretty darn good, at least for fantasy purposes – 13 games, 10 TDs, 4.2 yards per carry, 926 rushing yards, 41 receptions, 391 receiving yards. But Tampa Bay hasn't finished better than 24th in the league in rushing the past three seasons, and Pittman's production wasn't enough to keep head coach Jon Gruden from falling in love with "Cadillac." The love affair intensified when Gruden coached at the Senior Bowl and ran Williams in the Bucs' offensive system. Gruden liked him so much that he ultimately sat Williams on the bench for most of the game so other scouts wouldn't be able to get a good look at him.

While Gruden often is said to have disdain for younger players, this is a guy who plugged rookie Michael Clayton into the lineup last season and leaned on him for 80 catches, 1,193 yards and seven TDs. Like his former running mate Brown, I expect Williams to step right in and make an immediate impact.

Funston 2005 Projection: 1,000 rushing yards, six touchdowns
Harmon 2005 Projection: 900 yards, five touchdowns

4. Braylon Edwards, Cle, WR
Harmon says – Having watched him dominate the opposition at Michigan, the sheer athleticism of Edwards should have made him a no-brainer in this spot. As Brandon and I did this mock draft, the fact that Edwards went to Cleveland made me take great pause before declaring this selection.

But then, I thought, Cleveland overhauled the entire offense this offseason. There are new coaches with a new system, a new QB (Trent Dilfer), Kellen Winslow back on the field with a more dynamic running back mix of Lee Suggs and Reuben Droughns (sorry, William Green fans). All of these factors line up to make Edwards an immediate contributor. There's no question that he's NFL-ready and that the Browns will make him a focal point of the game plan. I look for the Browns to utilize the flanker screen and multiple pick plays to get him the ball early and often. With Cincinnati, Green Bay and Indianapolis on the board before a Week 4 bye, Edwards will be on fantasy radars in a hurry.

Harmon 2005 Projection: 1,000 receiving yards, seven touchdowns
Funston 2005 Projection: 875 receiving yards, five touchdowns

5. Troy Williamson, Min, WR
Funston says – Williamson was the most explosive receiver in the draft – 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash – and, as a former high school running back, he possesses the toughness to go across the middle. Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper throws, arguably, the best deep pass in the league. It's hard to imagine these two not hooking up for at least a few bombs this season. Williamson was not used extensively at South Carolina because head coach Lou Holtz emphasized a run-oriented offense. For that reason, he may not be that "plug-and-play" type receiver who makes an immediate impact out of the gate. But few rookie receivers are.

Talk is that head coach Mike Tice envisions a lot of four-receiver sets with Nate Burleson, Marcus Robinson, Kelly Campbell and Williamson stretching the defense and vastly opening up things for the running game. Don't count on Williamson as a No. 1-3 fantasy receiver to start the season, but he's a good fourth or fifth receiver to stash on the bench. He likely will make some noise in the second half of the season.

Funston 2005 Projection: 850 yards, six touchdowns
Harmon 2005 Projection: 800 yards, seven touchdowns

6. Mike Williams, Det, WR
Harmon says – My initial reaction to the selection of Williams by Detroit was like that of many others. I scratched my head and wondered aloud when they'd address their defense. Then, I slapped myself across the face and returned my attention to the fantasy world. On paper, the Lions have assembled one of the most potent offenses in the game, with three studs from the previous two drafts (Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Kevin Jones) and the addition of Marcus Pollard. Joey Harrington has no excuse not to excel, and Steve Mariucci will not hesitate to plug in Jeff Garcia should Harrington struggle out of the gate.

Williams showed a great work ethic while being forced to sit on the sidelines, working out with future Hall of Famer Cris Carter in Florida. Just toss it up and let the big fella get it. With those receivers running opposite him, opposing safeties will have their hands full.

Harmon 2005 Projection: 800 receiving yards, eight touchdowns
Funston 2005 Projection: 700 yards, six touchdowns

7. Mark Clayton, Bal, WR
Funston says – Baltimore has been far from a fantasy receiving hotbed of late. In fact, there hasn't been a receiver on the team who has topped 900 receiving yards or six touchdowns in the past three seasons. But, to be fair, the Ravens have had to develop young quarterbacks recently and the talent of the offense has been on the offensive line and in the backfield (Jamal Lewis). A conservative approach has made a lot of sense. With Kyle Boller showing progress in the second half of '04 (10 TD passes to just five INTs), it appears that the Ravens are ready to air things out a bit more. And Clayton should figure prominently into those plans considering that the team doesn't have a proven wideout on the roster outside of free agent signee Derrick Mason.

Clayton likely will start the fantasy draft period as a late-round value, at best, as I'm not expecting a drastic overnight change in the team's offensive philosophy. But Baltimore's offense will be more open than in the past, and Clayton brings a maturity and understanding of the game that should help him acclimate quickly to the NFL. Be sure to keep him on your radar early in the season.

Funston 2005 Projection: 675 yards, four touchdowns
Harmon 2005 Projection: 750 yards, three touchdowns

8. Matt Jones, Jac, TE
Harmon says – Here, like the Jaguars, I decided to go for the reach on Matt Jones. His athleticism, work ethic and football smarts will make him an immediate contributor to Jack Del Rio's offense. Last year's No. 1 pick, Reggie Williams (No. 9 overall), failed to inspire the Jacksonville faithful, Ernest Wilford was inconsistent, and the piles of tight ends on the roster (Kyle Brady, George Wrighster, Todd Yoder and Joe Zelenka) are uninspiring to say the least.

The adjustment to the receiver position, be it wideout or TE, will take some time, but Jones will put in the reps necessary to get on the field as quickly as possible. The Jaguars will need his speed and 6-foot-6 frame to complement Jimmy Smith and provide QB Byron Leftwich with another target.

Harmon 2005 Projection: 450 yards, three touchdowns
Funston 2005 Projection: 350 yards, two touchdowns

9. J.J. Arrington, Ari, RB
Funston says – All that stands in the way of Arrington landing a starting gig in Arizona is Marcel Shipp and Troy Hambrick. In other words, Arrington looks like the odds-on favorite to top the team's backfield depth chart. Head coach Dennis Green resisted Buffalo's increased compensation demands for Travis Henry and then snatched Arrington in the second round of the draft. Green became a fan of Arrington's at the NFL combine where he flashed his blazing speed. Arrington is small, but he's a powerful runner with good hands who managed to stay healthy during his collegiate career. In this mock draft, this was the one player I really wanted to land after the two Auburn backs. I think he has a shot to be a fantasy difference-maker on Sundays this season.

Funston 2005 Projection: 900 yards, six touchdowns
Harmon 2005 Projection: 900 yards, seven touchdowns

10. Eric Shelton, Car, RB
Harmon says – In this spot, I was looking for a back on a solid team that controlled the ball on the ground. Shelton, joining the oft-injured Panthers backfield of Stephen Davis and DeShaun Foster, fits the bill nicely. At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, his body is NFL-mature.

Now, he'll start the season on the outside looking in for a full-time job, but if history has shown anything, the Panthers will need to turn to a secondary source of carries at some juncture of the season. Shelton may be used as the short-yardage and goal-line ball carrier for the Panthers out of the gate a la Jerome Bettis to keep the injury-prone Foster out of those circumstances.

Harmon 2005 Projection: 500 yards, seven touchdowns
Funston 2005 Projection: 350 yards, four touchdowns

11. Heath Miller, Pit, TE
Funston says – Pittsburgh ran 61 percent of the time in '05. The addition of Miller at the TE position might be cause for the team to balance the rush/receive splits a little more evenly. But the Steelers haven't relied on a TE in the passing game since Eric Green in the early '90s. And, despite the fact that Miller is known for incredible hands that catch everything in sight, it seems unlikely that he'll finish '05 ranked as one of the top dozen TEs in fantasy points.

The Steelers went 15-1 last season, so it seems a major change in offensive philosophy would be silly. And offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt sounds like he wants to make Miller prove himself in action before committing to a significant amount of passing plays for the rookie. Miller also is dealing with a sports hernia, and the recovery process could linger into training camp. I'm sold on Miller's ability as a receiver. I'm just not sold on his opportunity at the moment. For that reason, I'll temper my enthusiasm.

Harmon 2005 Projection: 600 yards, five touchdowns
Funston 2005 Projection: 450 yards, four touchdowns

12. Alex Smith, SF, QB
Harmon says – I nabbed the only sure-fire Week 1 starter among the rookie QBs in Smith, who will supplant Tim Rattay in a reconstructed offense. Brandon Lloyd and Rashaun Woods (last year's No. 1 pick by SF) will anchor the receiving corps. Second-year man Derrick Hamilton will attempt to break through, and TE Eric Johnson caught anything tossed in his direction before an injury derailed his monster season.

Like all rookie QBs, I don't see Smith setting the world on fire, but he should adapt to the pros well enough, despite his tender age of 20 (he turns 21 on May 7). He'll make mistakes, but as part of the rebuilding efforts in San Francisco, his job shouldn't be in jeopardy at any point this season.

Harmon 2005 Projection: 2,200 yards, 14 touchdowns
Funston 2005 Projection: 2,700 yards, 15 touchdowns

13. Jason Campbell, Was, QB
Funston says – Count me as a Campbell fan. In the back of my mind, I've had this feeling that Campbell could wind up being the best QB in this draft. I was impressed by his poise at Auburn, and you can't help but marvel at his 70-percent completion ratio and nearly 3-to-1 TD to INT ratio in his senior year. He has great size and is athletic enough to avoid the rush. I'm sure he will open the season behind Patrick Ramsey on the depth chart, but if this team struggles, I'd love to see what Campbell looks like running the show as a rookie.

Funston 2005 Projection: 1,200 passing yards, seven touchdowns
Harmon 2005 Projection: 1,100 passing yards, six touchdowns

14. Maurice Clarett, Den, RB
Harmon says – We all may disagree with his choice of Jake Plummer as his QB, but Mike Shanahan knows how to turn question marks into 1,000-yard studs. Call the line play chippy, dirty or whatever other adjective comes to mind; I just call it effective.

Clarett joins a crowded backfield with the tag of "project." He'll start training camp behind incumbent Tatum Bell, and he'll battle former No. 1 tailback Quentin Griffin, former 1,000-yard Shanahan project Mike Anderson and former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne for carries. He was a tough runner at Ohio State who showed great vision and a nose for the end zone. I see Clarett coming into camp in shape and ready to prove the critics wrong. And with many pundits having taken away Shanahan's "genius" tag in the last couple of years, he has something to prove, too. Watch for Clarett to get into the mix in the backfield that keeps everyone on the edge of his seat.

Harmon 2005 Projection: 400 rushing yards, three touchdowns
Funston 2005 Projection: 200 rushing yards, one touchdown

The Kicker (shared): Mike Nugent, NYJ
Harmon says – This pick came as no surprise after Doug Brien's misses against Pittsburgh in the playoffs last year (I still fault the play-calling that made them longer attempts). With a revamped offense that includes a more athletic TE and the return of Laveranues Coles, the Jets should move the ball. Nugent faced a number of pressure-packed situations at Ohio State and came through time and again. He also has a big leg to extend the team's scoring range.

Harmon 2005 Projection: 29 FG and 43 PATs – four FG from 50-plus yards
Funston 2005 Projection: 26 FG and 40 PATs – three FG from 50-plus yards

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League type:
Free Yahoo League
League size:
10 players
Draft time:
Aug 29 9:00 am