The 2006 NFL draft actually started on Friday night when the Houston Texans surprised the league by coming to terms with defensive end Mario Williams instead of running back Reggie Bush. What delighted every Domanick Davis owner suddenly spawned depression to those hoping to use Deuce McAllister as their keeper this year. That was hardly the end of twists and turns in the NFL draft and this year with 23 different occasions there were teams that either traded draft picks or actual players to change the order during the seven rounds. What Mario Williams started at the 1.01 pick was finally ended Sunday afternoon when New England used the 255th pick in the draft to take this year's Mr. Irrelevant - wide receiver Kevin McMahan from Maine to Oakland..
This was a year considered strong on tight ends yet weak on wide receivers and to a slight degree running backs. But most importantly - there is fantasy relevance for the 2006 season from several of the rookie class. Let's take a run-down of the names most likely to be seen in fantasy drafts this season and what - at this very early juncture - can be expected from them after less than 24 hours of being selected.
Obviously a rookie quarterback is always a major risk on a fantasy team but keeper leagues are always interested in knowing who is most valuable to stow away for next season. While any of the 12 quarterbacks selected could surprise, the first four were considered the most talented and landed in the best situations as well.
Matt Leinart (ARZ #1.10) - Okay, so Leinart did not look quite as happy as most rookies taken with the 10th overall pick, but then again none of the others had been a consensus 1.01 pick the previous year had he elected to come out instead of returning for his senior season and chance to be beaten by Texas in the Rose Bowl for the National Championship. Once he gets done pouting and realizing that Aaron Rodgers sat at the "I look stupid" table for ten more picks last year, Leinart may notice that he is going to a team with an aging and fragile Kurt Warner that also has one of the best wideout tandems in the league with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. And a coach in Denny Green that simply loves to have a quarterback toss 40 touchdowns in a season. And oh yes, there is a specter of a running game now in the desert since Edgerrin James came on board. Not only will Leinart get time to learn behind Warner, but he'll also give the Cardinals another season to fix their offensive line.
Leinart is 6'5" and weighs 224 so he fills the prototypical size of a quarterback. He is about as prototypical as they come in all facets other than he's not likely to challenge Michael Vick in rushing yardage. He won't ramble for many long runs but he is considered accurate both in the pocket and on the move. His highest marks come in those intangible areas that can elevate him into a stud if he continues to be known for his leadership, poise, ability to work under pressure and avoiding errors. Leinart is just a complete quarterback in all the measurable ways and now goes to a team that has made even Josh McCown look good. There is a chance that Leinart plays this year if Warner gets hurt - which would be no shock - but the plan is for him to be tutored for a season and likely take over in 2007. Get your chin up Matt and then put that chip on your shoulder.
Vince Young (TEN #1.03) - The Titans landed the winning half of the 2006 Rose Bowl when they selected Vince Young with the third overall pick in the NFL draft - ahead of Matt Leinart (once again). Already a friend with Steve McNair, Young comes to a team with far less quality receivers than Leinart finds. It should be the same plan here - Young learns for at least one season while McNair (or whomever) takes the reins before finally taking over in 2007 or even 2008. While Leinart came into the draft with solid checkmarks in every positive category, Young differs in that he has his negatives (at least potentially) but he also has such tremendous upside that he could end up the better quarterback over Leinart (once again).
Young is considered a supreme athlete who makes plays - often very big plays - with both his arm and his legs. He literally took over the Rose Bowl last January and won the dramatic National Championship almost single-handedly. His negatives are his side-armed throwing motion that coaches have tried to correct until finally giving up last year (with rather good results). He also has been considered less adept at reading defenses than what Leinart is credited though some of that stems from the offensive system at Texas which was not the Pro-style that USC employed. On the bad side, Young could prove to be yet another college phenom that could struggle with reading defenses, have problems with batted passes from his side-armed delivery and his running skills could diminish when he is literally playing against ex-college all-stars each week.
But on the plus side, Young just as well end up as another super-star in the NFL. His negative have always existed and yet he has already won on the biggest possible stage for a college quarterback. Once he was left alone last season, his completion percentage rose to a nice 64% and his athleticism is unparalleled. Young is considered a great team leader and made strides last season as a passer. At the same time, he proved deadly when he did elect to run though unlike Michael Vick, Young looks to pass and only takes off if there is no other alternative. Young will be a fascinating player to watch develop and if you want him to stash away for 2007, realize that he won't come cheaply. While he has some detractors who cannot get over his throwing motion and propensity to run, realize that there are only two types of people in your draft. Those who do not like him and those who absolutely love him.
Jay Cutler (DEN # 1.11) - While it appeared that Cutler could end up in St. Louis, a trade by the Broncos meant that Cutler will be getting his mail in Denver from now on. Is this an indictment against Jake Plummer? Of course it is. There is no other reasonable conclusion when the Broncos moved up to grab him with the 11th overall pick. Mike Shanahan was interviewed after the selection and while he spoke in politically correct terms, he basically said what fantasy fans could have already told him. Jake Plummer can be a good quarterback but he will never be a great one and could be the one that will prevent Denver from advancing deeply into the playoffs. Jay Cutler is viewed as a quarterback who could become another great one. Shanahan mentioned both Cutler and John Elway though not in the same sentence. But close enough.
Cutler is considered to be one of those quarterbacks who was actually better than the team around him in college. He furthered this notion when he impressed in both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine. While the Broncos have an ancient Rod Smith as the primary wideout, they also acquired Javon Walker for the future so Cutler is in a situation where he could win a lot of games and be surrounded with enough talent to be a good quarterback if not a great one eventually. Behind the Denver line is also a far better place to set up shop than either Leinart or Young is likely to find in the near future. Cutler has definite promise and has been great with the big play. He just needs to wait until 2007 and try to learn the good habits of Plummer while ignoring any of the bad ones.
Kellen Clemens (NYJ # 2.17) - The Jets tabbed this ex-Oregon quarterback mid-way through the second round and Clemens has shown promise of being a very good quarterback who can throw under pressure and even run when needed. He's considered deadly accurate on short passes though he lacks some of the zip on the longer throws. With both Chad Pennington and Patrick Ramsey ahead of him on the depth chart, Clemens is not likely to see the field much this season (unless, God forbid, the Jets once again go through quarterbacks as fast as a fat guy with free nachos). But Pennington already is questionable for the future and Ramsey has already proven that he will never be more than an adequate quarterback. For the future, Clemens has promise though it could take a year - or two or three - to ever see.
Tavaris Jackson (MIN # 2.32) - The Vikings grabbed this Alabama State product at the end of the second round and by situation, he has to be considered as promising if only mildly. Brad Johnson turns 38 years old this season and Mike McMahon is only suited to be a decent back-up so the pathway is clear to a starter role. But Jackson was drafted earlier than most scouts had expected him to go and he is considered an intriguing yet raw prospect who will likely need a couple of seasons of seasoning before he could be ready to step into a starting role. Even in a dynasty league, Jackson is only interesting in the deepest of leagues and even then expectations should be kept low since much could change by 2007 or 2008 anyway.
Rookie running backs have been less than stellar for many years now largely because NFL teams have opted to add them to teams that already have a solid running back situation and there is no need to force feed their new player 340 carries in a season (sadly enough). Yes, Edgerrin James and LaDainian Tomlinson came in as rookies and tore it up, but even Shaun Alexander and Larry Johnson were almost worthless at first. Here's the first cut of those rookie rushers considering their opportunity as much as their draft slot.
Reggie Bush (NO # 1.02) - We now know that "consensus" does not include the Houston Texans. Bush was passed over by the Texans who claimed that DE Mario Williams was the better choice for them though most feel "signability" was the primary cause. Regardless, the Saints found themselves with a fortuitous gift that they could not pass by and snapped up the Heisman Trophy winner. Bush is undeniably electric in the open field and even has enough ability to hit holes on the inside and break long gainers. He's considered to be nothing short of a remarkable athlete with incredible vision, instincts and moves. In short, Bush should put a lot of fans into the seats of the Superdome and then make them rise out of their seats.
This all strikes one question - what about Deuce McAllister? Will this be another sharing scenario? According to who matters most - HC Sean Payton - the answer is "yes". Certainly this year and possibly beyond. Bush is only 200 pounds and is a bit smaller than most NFL running backs (though Tiki Barber and Warrick Dunn could care less). He also comes from a two back system at USC with LenDale White. At this early date, and likely into the season, the expectation is that McAllister and Bush share the backfield especially with McAllister coming off a knee injury from last year. Dealing away McAllister is unlikely since he just signed a $50 million, eight year extension last July so a pricey contract for a gimpy tailback does not spell "movability". Expect that Bush gets his yardage this season on the fast track of the Superdome but McAllister will be involved as well - likely all too often in that goal line duty. But realize that Bush enters the NFL more heralded than any running back for many, many years back.
Joseph Addai (IND # 1.30) - The Colts watched Edgerrin James pack his bag this spring and with only Dominic Rhodes and James Mungro around for competition, any rookie back in Indianapolis would have to be viewed as attractive. There were some hopes that Laurence Maroney would end up there as a natural fit but the Patriots snapped him up with the 1.21. This was not in retribution for the Colts taking Adam Vinatieri but be realistic - taking Maroney from the Colts would not prompt any apologies by the Patriots.
This was an interesting pick given that Addai has been tagged as a player with decent size (5'11", 215 lbs.) and natural athleticism. He has been good at most everything and yet not quite great at anything other than "potential". Some scouts had figured Addai to make a better back-up or third down back in the NFL because he lacks the power to break tackles and runs upright while not showing the burst and speed his 40-time would suggest. If the Colts end up acquiring a veteran back before the season starts, which is still possible, then Addai's stock falls this year. But until then, Addai has the situation and opportunity that demands he be considered in fantasy drafts.
DeAngelo Williams (CAR # 1.27) - Like Addai, Williams ends up in a nice situation as well though less clear. The Panthers snapped up the Memphis product towards the end of the first round and he finds himself on a team that would dearly love to have a young back take over the backfield and keep the ball moving. DeShaun Foster has shown sparks in Carolina to be sure but he has also proven to be injury-prone. By using their first round pick, the Panthers have already made a statement on how happy they are with Foster.
Williams is a bit short at 5'9" and at 213 pounds, he has never been a power back to blast the line. But he is also considered to be very quick and possesses tremendous skill at making defenders miss him. You don't have to blast through the line if you can suddenly turn on a dime and make the opponent grab at air. Williams is also an accomplished pass receiver with good instincts. And once he breaks into the open, he goes from being a problem for the defense into being a crisis for them. With a good line in Carolina and opportunity this season to play, Williams could be one of the surprises this year. Especially if DeShaun Foster ends up injured again. The Panthers are getting Eric Shelton back after he missed his rookie year but this first round pick of Williams has made Shelton little more than running back depth.
LenDale White (TEN # 2.13) - The other half of the USC backfield, White came out as a junior but fell in the draft due to questions about his conditioning and attitude. He tore a hamstring at the league combine and did not work out for scouts which led to his downgrade but this is a running back that scored 52 touchdowns in college on a team that ranked as the best over the last three years. White is 6'0" and 237 pounds and thanks to that he is not especially quick. Or fast. He's not even that elusive. But he is considered to be a consummate powerback in the tradition of Jerome Bettis. He was the perfect 1-2 punch with Reggie Bush and guess which one stayed on the field inside the five yard line? Right - the one with 52 touchdowns.
The Titans are apparently perpetually rebuilding each season and already had taken Vince Young. Chris Brown will still be the starter for how ever long it takes him to get injured and Travis Henry is still there as well. But neither runner has the blasting credentials of White who enters the NFL with a bit of a chip on his shoulder after falling from the first round and being scrutinized by the media. Like DeAngelo Williams, White is a tailback in a decent situation to get playing time that could really unfold into a great season with another injury to Chris Brown. White brings a power package to the Titans not seen since Eddie George left.
Laurence Maroney (NE # 1.21) - The Patriots took Maroney as the second tailback selected in the draft and this junior from Minnesota is considered a gifted athlete with good size (6'0", 216 pounds), natural running ability along with a 4.5/40 speed. He has good hands and can run both inside and outside though his better strength is getting around the corner and then running over tacklers for a nice gain. His main knock has been that he shortcuts his potential by not always showing enough aggressiveness. Bill Belichick will cure that. Of course, Corey Dillon is still with the Patriots and will be the starter this season but he is 32 years old and not the future. That will be Maroney once Dillon steps aside which could be as soon as next season. Or this one if he his continual dings of the last season turn into game missing injuries.
Maurice Drew (JAC # 2.28) - Another Junior who declared eligible for the draft, Drew was taken by the Jaguars at the 2.28 pick after the team had already secured his UCLA teammate tight end Marcedes Lewis. He is only 5'7" and 206 pounds so his size is an issue with breaking tackles in the NFL and even holding on to the ball. He also had some injury history in college so durability could be an issue as well. But he is considered quick and agile with the ability to elude tackles especially when he reaches the open field and can use his moves. Also a good pass receiver and return man. He has more the marks of a third down back in the NFL and his stock is interesting mainly because of the unsettled situation with Fred Taylor who is unhappy in Jacksonville. HC Jack Del Rio has already said that the backfield roles are to be won in camp which is another way to saying that Fred is not the automatic choice in Jacksonville anymore. But Greg Jones and Alvin Pearman are also on the roster, so only a big push in training camp and the departure of Taylor will mean that Drew has any significant fantasy value this year.
Leon Washington (NYJ # 4.20) - This Florida State product is another undersized running back at just 5'8" and 202 pounds but he has been a dangerous runner in college when he reaches open field and can use his 4.42/40 speed and natural moves. While he has natural talent, he has not proven to be capable of carrying a heavy full-time load and his size may prevent him from a bigger role unless he shows he can make the transition to the NFL even better than he did in college. His biggest value is playing for a team with 33-year old Curtis Martin. Cedric Houston did not show enough as a rookie to consider him the lock-sure replacement for Martin though he will start the season as the primary back-up with Derrick Blaylock also on the team. Long shot here but a team that will be transitioning to a new backfield sooner than later and without any clear options.
Jerious Norwood (ATL # 3.15) - The Falcons drafted Norwood with a reasonably high selection despite him not being an obvious replacement for either Warrick Dunn or T.J. Duckett. The rookie is 6'0" but only weighs 203 pounds which lands him much taller than Dunn but much smaller than Duckett. But Norwood is fast - he ran a 4.37/40 and has the ability to make big plays. Another upright runner who is not considered aggressive as he should be, his main value this year is being behind the aging Dunn and Duckett who is rumored to be up for a potential trade. Another rookie who will need to impress in training camp and get some lucky breaks in order to matter this season.
The NFL has witnessed a rebirth of the tight end position in the last two seasons and just in time comes the year of the rookie tight end class. This is considered to be one of the deepest and more talented groups in a long while, leading off with one of the most interesting players - let alone tight end - in the draft this season. Still, fantasy teams care less about great blockers which shrinks the field back down.
Vernon Davis (SF # 1.06) - One of the players spawning the most interest this year is hands down Vernon Davis out of Maryland. He is not considered as merely a gifted or great athlete but instead is considered already as "elite". At 6'3" and 256 pounds, he has all the size and height of a tight end with the ability to bowl over defenders. But he also ran a 4.38/40 at the NFL combine. Almost all other tight ends were running 4.7/40 or slower. Forget tight ends, there was only one wideout with a faster time than Davis had. That is freakish (in a very good way). He has great hands along with quickness and the ability to out jump the shorter defensive backs. His only weakness is considered to be lack of consistency when blocking. Who cares? This is fantasy football here and his receiving abilities is why he was snatched up with the 6th overall pick in the draft and will be a feature in your drafts as well.
The downside here? He goes to the 49ers. The team that will feature second year quarterback Alex Smith that only managed to throw one touchdown and 11 interceptions in 165 attempts last season. But for the young and developing Smith, what better to throw than a pass to the tallest guy in the secondary with great hands and the ability to run over the immediate defenders and then outrun the rest? His risk is all about his quarterback and had he gone to a team with an established and accomplished quarterback, he might already warrant a top 3 tight end pick this summer. But he didn't. so his value hinges on that shaky San Francisco passing attack.
Marcedes Lewis (JAC # 1.28) - The Jaguars used their first round pick on a tight end which already speaks to his hoped for value and Lewis comes from UCLA where his 6'6" frame has already shown him to be a nice target in the middle of the field. At 262 pounds, Lewis has the size to get extra yards when he catches the ball which could be often since he has outstanding hands. His downside is a less than blistering 4.84/40 time which only serves to make Vernon Davis seem even more freakish. Lewis is also not considered a good blocker but he could develop into a decent target in the redzone for the Jaguars with the occasional third down grab.
Tony Scheffer (DEN # 2.29) - Ignoring both Joel Klopfenstein and Anthony Fasano who were drafted earlier but into less advantageous situations (STL and DAL respectively), the Broncos used their second pick on this Western Michigan tight end. At 6'5" and 255 pounds, Scheffer has the size to be a well rounded tight end and is already considered to be a good run blocker. But he also has good hands and can make tough catches. He also is versatile since he played tight end, H-back and even fullback in college. His interest comes from the early pick by Denver who only has Stephen Alexander as significant competition. Alexander has spent most of his career for being a posterboy of unrealized potential and the door could open for some playing time this season by Scheffer.
This was considered a weak class for wideouts and the draft results point in that direction - only one wide receiver drafted in the first round. Compare this to the six in 2005 and the seven in 2004. With just five wideouts taken in the first two rounds, this is the least attractive group of receivers since 1999 when five players were also taken that year - Torry Holt, David Boston, Troy Edwards, Kevin Johnson and Peerless Price. Outside of Holt, not much in the way of staying power with that batch of first and second rounders eight years ago. First year wideouts are notorious at starting slow and almost always underperform for those with fantasy expectations. But a couple will have at least marginal value and as with all rookies - well, you just never really know until you know.
Chad Jackson (NE # 2.04) - After wowing the crowds at the combine with his position-leading 4.34/40 speed, Jackson climbed up the draft board but it still was not enough to be in the first round nor even be the first wideout taken. This Florida junior came out early for the draft and his stock rose in part due to a lack of other quality receivers. He runs very good routes and has natural abilities that allow him to get good separation and make precise cuts. Great hands and good instincts should allow Jackson to develop into at least a good NFL receiver and if he can show more explosiveness from the snap he could become very good.
His biggest attraction this year is going to the Patriots passing game manned by Tom Brady and the cast of receivers there after Deion Branch are less than stellar - Reche Caldwell, Troy Brown and Bethel Johnson. But the New England system is complicated enough and more so for a rookie who came out early.
Santonio Holmes (PIT # 1.25) - The Steelers took the only wideout in the first round and settled on Holmes who also was a junior last year. He's considered athletic and while he may be a step slower than Jackson, he has the elusiveness and explosiveness that translates into long gainers. A good route runner with great vision and instincts, Holmes has been a complete wide receiver in college that has his size as his only downgrade. At 5'11" and 187 pounds, he's a bit smaller than ideal and could find problems on the break and even holding on to the ball since there is some concern with the way he handles the ball. But he's the best this season had to offer.
Going to the Steelers with Hines Ward and Cedric Wilson won't likely allow him much action this season as a starter but the departure of Antwaan Randle El should yield some slot duty to him to show his stuff. The Steelers have not been a big passing team and Ward along with tight end Heath Miller are already locked in as preferred targets for Ben Roethlisberger anyway. But Holmes has as much talent as any wideout this season - and maybe more.
Greg Jennings (GB - 2.20) - The Packers filled a glaring need when they took Jennings who was followed by two more wide receivers later in the draft (4.07 Cory Rodgers and 4.18 Will Blackmon). Javon Walker was dealt away to Denver which left only Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Rod Gardner as real competition. Despite being taken in the second round, Jennings is considered to be a very complete wideout with no real weaknesses. He rates out as good in virtually every category while not being great in any. A good athlete that has quickness and explosiveness along with good hands, he has the marks of a player that might become a decent #2 wide receiver in the NFL.
His saving grace, and it cannot be dismissed, is that he gets to start out with Brett Favre as his quarterback and a fairly motley crew to compete against outside of Driver. This will be something to watch in training camp and there are two other rookies vying to wear the "G" on their helmet this season, but Jennings takes the earlier lead on a team with a decent situation for some potential production.
Sinorice Moss (NYG # 2.12) - The diminutive brother of Santana Moss brings a munchkin 5' 8" (which may be generous) frame with only 184 pounds on it. But like his brother, Moss is a playmaker and a speedster who can turn a shorter pass into a very long gain. Going to a team that already has Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer and Jeremy Shockey spells a certain lack of opportunity but the rookie could see some slot duty this season and turn in a few impressive long scores.
Rookies are always very hit or miss and generally miss at least in their first season. The fantasy world is still hurt by the tendency of teams to take running backs on teams with an established starter already but several backs have the situation and potential opportunity to do something this season. Wideouts look like a near wasteland this season after being treated to decent classes the last two years. As always - training camps will tell much more than college history and draft selection.
Welcome to NFL 2006!