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The Morning After the NFL Draft
David M. Dorey
2004

The NFL draft is now over and Mel Kiper is put back in his box for the next ten months. All the trades and drama from the last two days are now a memory and the natural thought comes to mind – “what’s any of this mean for my fantasy football team?”

This early look does not take into account mini-camps, training camp and certainly not what happens when the pads go on and the NFL lines up against these rookies. But the draft starts to make situations become more clear and here’s a brief look at the interesting rookies that will most likely be mentioned in your drafts and auctions this summer.

Quarterbacks

Eli Manning (NYG) – Taken with the first pick in the draft and then later traded to the Giants, Manning provided ample fodder for the commentators when he said he would not play for San Diego. Boos and name-calling aside, the reality is that there is zero chance he will not get every chance to succeed and he has the tools to do it. Kerry Collins was speaking to the press within hours of the realization that his job in New York may be temporary and eventually include a clipboard. Look for Manning to get playing time this year though Collins may get to start the season. Manning should be your first pick for a rookie quarterback and already has Jeremy Shockey, Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard ready to help out.

Philip Rivers (SD) – Rivers was taken fourth and then traded to the Chargers for Manning. Marty Schottenheimer wanted him all along and Rivers is considered athletic and smart. His delivery is a little closer to side-armed than most coaches would like and he is not considered to have a big arm. His stock soared because of his maturity, leadership, quick release and instincts for playing quarterback. A precise passer, Rivers may not have the best physicals skills of all rookies but you can argue he has intelligence and the ability to “make it happen” as much as any other. With Drew Brees and Doug Flutie still around, there is no guarantee that Rivers starts this season but he should at least see some playing time and he is considered very ready for the pro ranks. The Chargers are no big passing team, so temper your expectations of Rivers in the Chargers offense even for the long term.

Ben Rothlisberger (PIT) – The Steelers snagged Rothlisberger with the 11 th overall pick they picked up the third and final low-risk quarterback on the board. He is considered to have a slower delivery but has been very accurate even when on the run. At 6’5” and 240 lbs., he can move when he needs to but is still a pocket passer. Many had him above Rivers and there is no denying his physical skills. Chances are he’ll stay behind Tommy Maddox this season and take the reins in 2005. With a receiving trio of Plaxico Burress, Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El, he will pay off dividends to those in dynasty leagues that can stash him away for a year.

J.P. Losman (BUF) – Taken with the 1.22 by the Bills who traded down to get him, Losman comes from a Tulane squad that did not provide him with many tools to win last year. Losman has good size, a great release and a big-time arm. He is considered raw but with great potential down the road. In Buffalo, Bledsoe has yet to renegotiate his contract which means the Bills may be needing a new quarterback next season. Losman makes a decent pick deeper in a dynasty draft with no expectations for this season.

Running Backs

Kevin Jones (DET) – The Lions got the runner they wanted and still took Roy Williams with their 1.07 pick. Jones was still there at the 1.30 and fits well into the Lions scheme. Joners was only a Junior last season at Virgina Tech. He is proto-typical in size (6’ 0”, 225 lbs.) and has both speed and strength. His area needing work will be in the passing scheme. With James Stewart cut and the duo of Bryson and Gary doing little last year, Jones should be the first runner taken in a fantasy draft since he has the best tools in the best situation of any rookie runner.

Julius Jones (DAL) – This was a curious pick by a team that had a big need for a running back. In trading away their #1 pick to the Bills, Dallas allowed Jackson, Johnson, Perry and Bell to be taken before the 2.11 pick. On the good side, Parcells and Jones have reiterated that they wanted Julius all along, had already contacted him and he is Thomas Jones little brother. On the bad side, it looks somewhat like the Cowboys got caught playing a waiting game and settled for the fifth best runner in the draft. Jones is one of the smaller backs taken early (5’ 9”, 216 lbs) and has been uneven in college. He did not play in 2002 because he was academically ineligible and came back to score 10 TDs and gain 1268 yards for the Irish last season. He is considered quick though not a burner and could be the project that Parcells could mold. Then again, he has been knocked as someone who does not like to be coached. With virtually no one to challenge him this season, Jones deserves to be the second rookie back taken in fantasy drafts from his raw potential and great opportunity.

Stephen Jackson (STL) – The best running back in the draft that no one wanted. After getting passed over by Denver, Detroit and Dallas, Jackson fell to the Rams who moved up to grab him at the 1.24 slot. This was considered a weak running back class and that was proven when no backs were taken until the 24 th pick, even though three teams had definite needs. Jackson is considered the complete package. He has legitimate 4.4 speed, great hands, superior blocking skills and can bull his way to yardage when needed. At 6’1 ½” and 238 pounds, he makes a great passing target as well as a line buster. He’ll now sit behind Marshall Faulk for likely a season and learn from one of the best in the business. Faulk is already 31 years of age and Jackson makes a great heir apparent. You can stop holding Arlen Harris now and even Lamar Gordon becomes a second thought. Expect Jackson to get some carries this season with the shot at playing time for how ever many games that Faulk misses this season during his annual injury.

Tatum Bell (DEN) – Stop the presses! Denver has yet another rookie running back! Bell went with the 2.09 pick to the Broncos and brings a sub-4.4 speed and explosive running style to Denver (sound familiar?). Bell is almost the exact size of Portis, has a tendency to get nicked up like Portis and comes in with a tag of fumbler just like Portis. Will cost much less than Portis as well. You can never discount a Bronco back given their lengthy legacy, but temper your expectations at least earlier in the season since Garrison Hearst and Quentin Griffin are there as well. HC Mike Shanahan has no problem with the committee approach until he is confident one runner can take the entire load. Bell deserves to be the third or fourth back taken in a rookie fantasy draft from his potential alone, but at this early date his role is not completely known. With Denver, it may not be known when the season kicks off either.

Chris Perry (CIN) – While an apparent head-scratcher pick when the Bengals snapped him up as the second back in the draft, the reality is that Dillon is gone and while Rudi Johnson is a big fan favorite, he has not played an entire season as the starter. HC Marvin Lewis also learned last year that having two good backs provides lots of benefits in the case of injury. Perry is considered to be very good in almost all facets and great in none. Perry is now a bookend pick for those with Rudi Johnson but his upside this season does not appear to be very high barring injury to Rudi.

Interesting picks…

Greg Jones (JAX) – a powerful runner for Florida State with big size (6’1”, 246 lbs), he will go to camp and fight LaBrandon Toefield for the always popular backup spot to Fred Taylor. Jones fell in the draft in part due to a knee injury sustained in 2002. HC Jack Del Rio said he was confident that his knee injury is no longer a factor though it slowed Jones in 2003.

Cedric Cobbs (NE) – Good sized back out of Arkansas who has quick feet and natural running skills. Cobbs will not likely replace newly signed Corey Dillon, but Dillon has not been the most durable player lately anyway. The Patriots like to pass but Cobbs does not have a big history in the receiving game, so someone like Kevin Faulk would likely continue to be involved even in the best case scenario. Not a bad fantasy pick in the final round if you took Dillon.

Tight Ends

Kellen Winslow Jr. (CLE) – Winslow is fully expected to join Shockey, Heap, Sharpe and Gonzalez at being just an oversized wide receiver and a gem for a fantasy team needing a tight end. The Browns moved up to the 1.06 to get him and at 6’4” and 250 lbs., he already has Cleveland offensive coaches salivating about how to use him. With Jeff Garcia throwing to him, Winslow takes his pedigree to a great opportunity. If you draft only rookies, he should be a top five pick if tight ends are required. He was not a touchdown machine by any stretch at Miami, but he was their leading receiver last season with 60 catches for 603 yards. In a position that has so few impact players (in fantasy terms), Winslow is a great pick once Heap, Gonzalez, Sharpe and Shockey are gone.

Ben Troupe (TEN) – The Titans wasted little time to start filling in for the departed Frank Wycheck and took this Georgia product with the 2.11 pick. Troupe has good receiving skills and enough speed to allow coordinators to line him up as a receiver on occasion. Troupe is considered only an average blocker but an excellent pass catcher which will likely see him being more eased into the role than Winslow will. The Titans still have Erron Kinney, so temper expectations for this season from Troupe.

Interesting pick…

Ben Watson (NE) – While Daniel Graham was considered the up-and-comer for the Patriots, Watson was drafted with the 1.32 pick in the draft. He has turned in sub 4.5 times before which is blazing for a tight end. A great Senior Bowl performance helped his stock and he is considered to have great potential in the NFL. This will be a training camp watch, but no team uses a 1.32 pick on a player without the intention of seeing a payoff in the near future. Right now this is more a downgrade to Daniel Graham than pumping up Watson. Definitely worth watching.

Wide Receivers

Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ) – Taken as the first receiver in the draft at the 1.03, Fitzgerald reunites with Denny Green after having served as a ball boy for the Vikings as a kid. At 6’ 3” and 225 lbs., Fitzgerald was almost unstoppable last season for Pittsburgh. He had 92 receptions, 1672 yards and 22 TD’s. That’s pretty eye-popping numbers in the NFL and they are astounding in college. He has tremendous hands, great ball control and while he is not a burner (4.55/40), he gets everything out of a catch with great awareness and open field moves. He is considered a good student of the game with a great attitude. His only downside, if it is one, is that he comes out after only his sophomore season. Fitzgerald goes to a team with an unproven quarterback in Josh McCown and will share with Anquan Boldin who will most of the looks as well. Great pick for this season midway in a fantasy draft and plenty of upside for the future as well. He should be the second receiver drafted in a fantasy draft.

Roy Williams (DET) – Roy is perhaps the most complete and accomplished receiver coming out this season. Williams passed up the NFL draft last season to complete his senior season at Texas. At 6’2” and 212 pounds, Williams has the speed (4.45) for the long ball but also has the size to excel as a possession receiver. He is noted for his ability to catch the ball in traffic. Not unlike Fitzgerald, he goes to a team that has a great receiver already in Charles Rogers but Williams has a better chance to shine this season as the possession man to Charles Rogers open field and long ball ability. Some scouts noted that he did not always get a lot of separation from the defenders but that he still came down with the ball anyway. He is a big, natural receiver with willingness to always improve and work hard. He should be considered about mid-draft as well for fantasy teams, and in dynasty leagues he should be considered one of the must-have receivers from a deep 2004 draft.

Reggie Williams (JAX) – Unlike Roy and Larry, Williams heads to a situation that needs him to step up at some point and fill the shoes of Jimmy Smith who turns 35 this season. Of the top three receivers, Reggie actually has the better situation and a better passer in Byron Leftwich. Williams comes out after his junior year and had 89 catches for 1109 yards and eight scores last season with a shaky quarterback situation. At 6’3” and 228 pounds, he has plenty of size to make the tough catches and catch the ball in traffic. The Jaguars tried to find a complement for Smith all last season and traded away Kevin Johnson which clears the path for Williams to make a contribution this season. Any rookie receiver is risky, but Williams has great tools in a good situation.

Lee Evans (BUF) – Taken with the 1.13 pick, Evans comes in as the Peerless Price clone that was missing last season. Josh Reed did not step up to his opportunity and with such an early pick, it is certain that Evans will get his own. Considered a polished and consistent receiver with natural skills, Evans sports a sub 4.4 speed that will make a nice complement to Eric Moulds. While Evans may not get as many catches as the bigger players taken before him, his speed may mean he does more with what he does get – ala Peerless Price. He will likely not be too consistent in his first season, but should turn in some nice games along the way.

Michael Clayton (TB) – As a reverse of Lee Evans, Clayton does not possess great speed and only clocked a 4.6 at the combine. What he brings to Tampa Bay is a 6’2 ½ “ frame to help out with the possession catches that disappeared along with Keyshawn Johnson’s team spirit. Clayton will be eased into the possession role primarily but don’t expect too much this season as he learns the ropes. His lack of speed means he will have to learn the game before being able to shine.

Michael Jenkins (ATL) – Last season the Falcons passing attack faltered without Michael Vick and Peerless Price was unable to turn into a possession receiver of any note since he is only 5’11” and 190 pounds. Price is about speed deep – that was his great value to the Bills the previous season. While Brian Finneran has provided a possession role the past two years when he played, consider that Jenkins comes in at 6’4 ½” and 217 pounds. Jenkins also has good speed (4.5) for a receiver his size. Jenkins is considered mature and has been the star player for the Buckeyes the past couple of seasons and is used to being relied on. Jenkins could be a nice fit for the Falcons and while he is the same height as Finneran, he is faster and more polished. Jenkins could surprise and is worthy of a later pick in any fantasy draft. In a dynasty league, his value is higher since he combines possession ability with decent speed.

Rashaan Woods (SF) – Since the 49ers literally cleared the table of 2003 offensive starters, Woods finds himself with a good opportunity on a team that seems likely to want to throw. The jury is still out on how well Tim Rattay will do that and the general rebuilding theme in San Francisco could limit what Woods could do this season. He is considered to be a very natural, gifted receiver but fell some in the draft due to lack of a top end speed but has was always productive at Oklahoma State. Woods is very polished and a complete receiver. Deep in fantasy drafts he is worth a shot and given the lack of apparent talent in the 49er receiving corps now, he is also worth grabbing in a dynasty league for the future.