Quarterbacks were the story of Day Two of the 2011 NFL Draft--that and the lockout is back on, but for another day at least we can remain in denial. More importantly for fantasy owners and dynasty leaguers, 21 more skill position players went off the board in Rounds Two and Three—including 18 non-QB skill position players who are likely to populate the first few rounds of most dynasty entry drafts. Here’s a rundown by position of some names you’ll want to know if and when the lawyers are put out to pasture and games begin in earnest once again.
To the surprise of no one, quarterbacks were the hot commodity at the top of Round Two. The Bengals stepped up first, preparing for life after Carson Palmer by taking Andy Dalton at 2.3. He has all the tools to succeed in Jay Gruden’s West Coast offense, not to mention new teammate A.J. Green to throw to, and gives Marvin Lewis options if Palmer sticks to his guns and retires—or if Mike Brown opts to give Carson his wish and free him from Cincinnati’s shackles.
With the very next pick San Francisco traded up with the Broncos to give Jim Harbaugh a big, athletic quarterback to mold. Colin Kaepernick is more project than immediate helper, but he’ll have Harbaugh grooming him and quite possibly Alex Smith to hold down the starting job while he learns the ropes.
Capping the quarterback storyline was the freefall of Ryan Mallett. After multiple quarterback-needy teams passed on him not once, not twice, but three different times Bill Belichick could no longer resist the value. Using one of their seeming endless supply of early-round picks, the Patriots added Mallett to their roster with the 3.10 selection. Worst-case, Mallett learns the NFL game the Belichick way behind Tom Brady and the Patriots deal him for a higher pick somewhere down the road a la Matt Schaub or Matt Cassel. And of course in the best-case scenario Mallett proves 31 teams wrong and takes over for Brady like Aaron Rodgers took over for Brett Favre. Without, we presume, the sexting.
With just one running back going off the board in Round One, you expected to see some teams stocking their backfields in Round Two. The Cardinals jumped first, augmenting the thus-far disappointing Beanie Wells with Ryan Williams at 2.6. Should Wells actually stay on the field, Williams offers a solid complement as a change of pace back. And in the extremely likely case of Wells suffering yet another boo-boo, Williams could take over as Arizona’s feature back. Either way, the pick moves Ken Whisenhunt one step closer to recreating the Pittsburgh offense in the desert.
After passing on Mark Ingram twice in Round One, we were beginning to wonder when New England would start looking to replace the aging Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, and Kevin Faulk. The Patriots took the first step at 2.24 with the selection of Shane Vereen, whose size and skill set makes him a prime candidate to replace Faulk as a third-down/change of pace back. Not only is Vereen productive, he’s also an adept pass blocker which will get him on the field in passing situations. With their next selection at 3.9, New England added an inside component in Stevan Ridley. An early entrant with just one year of production under his belt, Ridley is a low-mileage project who, like Mallett, will have the opportunity to learn the NFL ropes under Belichick. Ultimately he could be the lead dog in New England’s backfield; for now he’ll battle BenJarvus Green-Ellis (assuming he returns) for carries.
The Lions continue to make up for lost time and Matt Millen’s mistakes with a string of shrewd picks. They made another at 2.25, trading up with Seattle to add Mikel Leshoure to their backfield. Perhaps the best power-running prospect in this year’s draft class, Leshoure is an ideal complement to Jahvid Best; at 227 pounds he has the size to handle the between-the-tackles carries, and should Best fall victim to injury—as has been his MO—the talent to take on a full backfield workload.
Miami also traded up to get in on the running backs, moving into Chicago’s 2.30 slot via a deal with the Redskins and selecting Daniel Thomas. With both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams on their way out of South Beach, the Dolphins have a significant need for a workhorse and Thomas definitely fits the bill. He has the size (6-0, 230) to handle 20-plus carries and enough talent and athleticism to stay on the field for all three downs if need be. As it stands the Dolphins have only Lex Hilliard to pick up the almost 500 carries of Miami’s running game, so there will be an immediate opportunity for Thomas to contribute. In fact, he could be the top rookie running back in this year’s dynasty drafts.
Perhaps the most curious running back selection of the first two days was that of DeMarco Murray to the Cowboys at 3.7. Not that Murray doesn’t have skills; in addition to being a productive runner he’s also the top pass-catching back in the class. However, he does have a knack for getting nicked and Dallas already has an injury-prone back in Felix Jones. Murray could see time early on as a third-down back, but until the Cowboys clear room amongst Jones, Marion Barber, and Tashard Choice his upside will be limited.
Green Bay closed out the second day of the draft by addressing what many viewed as one of their primary needs, adding Alex Green to their backfield mix at 3.32. Green’s skill set—quick through the hole, an adept pass blocker, a productive pass catcher—complements what the Packers already believe they have in James Starks. He could move immediately into the backfield rotation if Green Bay believes Ryan Grant’s Packer tenure has run its course, and he has the talent to eventually usurp Starks as the Packers’ primary ball carrier.
Used to be we mocked the Lions for taking wide receivers; now, we’re patting them on the back. With no real threat opposite Calvin Johnson, Detroit nabbed speedster Titus Young, whose play has drawn comparisons to DeSean Jackson and Mike Wallace. Not only should he thrive opposite Megatron, he’ll stretch the field for Jahvid Best and fellow rook Mikel Leshoure. If Matthew Stafford can stay healthy, Young has a shot to be one of the more productive rookie wideouts in this class.
More than a few mock drafts had Torrey Smith going to the Ravens; right player, right team, just a round off. Ozzie Newsome once again played the draft board like a maestro, picking up talented cornerback Jimmy Smith in Round One and still addressing Baltimore’s need for a field-stretching wideout with the selection of Torrey Smith at 2.26. Smith has some work to do on his game, but he has two very big factors in his favor: a solid work ethic and a pair of veteran mentors in Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin. Smith’s immediate impact may not be great, but Mason is nearing the end of his career and Joe Flacco’s going to need someone to step into that WR1 role.
After dealing down from the pick that netted Atlanta Julio Jones--and acquiring a boatload of additional selections in the process—the Browns did eventually add a big, fast receiver to Colt McCoy’s arsenal. Rather than Jones at 1.6, however, McCoy will have to settle for Greg Little at 2.27. Little sat out all of last season due to improper dealings with an agent, but he’s a versatile athlete who should elbow his way to the top of Cleveland’s thin receiving corps. He has some Josh Cribbs to him, which isn’t a bad thing--unless there’s already a Cribbs on your team.
As if the Packers needed more offense, Ted Thompson once again went to the second-round well for a receiver and found Randall Cobb at 2.32. Cobb’s best role is as a slot receiver, and even if James Jones leaves via free agency and Donald Driver’s run in Green Bay is through the Packers still have Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson on the outside. Oh yeah, and Jermichael Finley over the middle. With all that talent around him Cobb should frequently find himself with favorable matchups; he also has a quarterback in Aaron Rodgers who knows how to exploit said matchups.
Sam Bradford needs targets; last year seemingly every wideout who caught a pass for the Rams went down with a debilitating injury shortly thereafter. So after opting for a bigger (sturdier?) target in tight end Lance Kendricks in Round Two the Rams addressed the wide receiver position with Austin Pettis at 3.14. A polished receiver with good size and adequate speed, he projects to a possession role in the NFL. Assuming Donnie Avery comes back healthy the Rams have their speed guy, so Pettis can battle with Mark Clayton (if he re-signs), Brandon Gibson, Laurent Robinson, and Danario Alexander for looks. Until that mess sorts itself out, it’s tough to see Pettis garnering enough of Bradford’s attention to warrant serious fantasy consideration.
The Redskins may have been hoping for one of the elite receivers to fall to them at 10; when that didn’t happen, they uncharacteristically started trading down and stockpiling picks. With one of those picks, 3.15 from the Dolphins, Washington landed a receiver some felt might sneak into the bottom of the first round. As if setting single-season receiving records at Miami weren’t enough, Leonard Hankerson’s standout play at the Senior Bowl brightened his blip on the radar. He has good size and excellent speed, and if the Redskins ever find a quarterback he could supplant Santana Moss as their go-to receiver. As it stands right now, however, he’ll be a complementary piece on a team still searching for its trigger man.
Typically the Chargers like their receivers tall, but at 3.18 they made an exception for homegrown talent Vincent Brown. There may very well be a significant opportunity for Brown in San Diego, as three of the Bolts’ top wideouts--Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd, and Legedu Naanee—are potentially free agents. Philip Rivers made all kinds of receivers look good last year, and if he has to start over from scratch with Brown, Patrick Crayton, and Seyi Ajirotutu... well, are you gonna bet against them being productive?
The Giants are another team with multiple free agents at wide receiver, but even if both Steve Smith and Derek Hagan leave Gotham Big Blue is still deep at the position. Yet at 3.19 they added speedster Jerrel Jernigan, who will have to battle Mario Manningham and maybe Smith for snaps; moreover, Jernigan would be a fit for the slot but it’s not a role the Giants frequently used last season. Jernigan’s primary contributions, at least initially, are likely to come in the return game. And once the Giants thin their receiving corps Jernigan could insert himself as a favorite target for Eli Manning, creating a role for himself in the slot.
The 2011 draft class lacked a marquee tight end; the position’s top option, Kyle Rudolph, was viewed as a late-first round pick at best. Instead, Rudolph lasted into the second round where he was somewhat surprisingly selected by the Vikings. Not that Rudolph isn’t a fit; Minnesota’s incumbent tight ends are either nearing the end of their contract (Visanthe Shiancoe) or lengthy NFL career (Jim Kleinsasser) and young quarterbacks love having a big target in the middle of the field as a checkdown option. The surprise was that the Vikings made what appears to be a luxury pick when other needs could have been addressed. Rudolph could see the field early on in two-tight end sets, much like the Patriots ran last season, but don’t let the comparisons to Patriots rookie stud Rob Gronkowski goad you into spending too high a fantasy pick on him.
The other two tight end selections in Round Two were no less curious. In more need of a wide receiver than a tight end, the Rams opted for Lance Kendricks at 2.15. He’ll battle Michael Hoomanawanui for Sam Bradford’s affection in an offense that hasn’t tended to feature the position much anyways. Perhaps the most frustrating development is that all the time spent learning how to spell “Hoomanawanui” from memory now seems wasted.
Wrapping up the tight end run on Day Two, the Cardinals selected Rob Housler at 3.5. There’s no questioning Housler’s athleticism; he was the fastest tight end at the Combine and has a style that’s more Dallas Clark than Heath Miller. And since Ken Whisenhunt’s ultimate plan is to run a Steelers-type offense, there doesn’t seem to be a set role for Housler. You have to believe Arizona didn’t draft a guy in the third round without a plan for how to use him, but until that plan is revealed to us it’s difficult to project much in the way of productivity.