What a great draft! The new format started out later than most wanted but the ten minute first round picks and seven minute second round selections sped the draft along fast enough that it was actually "watchable". The constant trading of picks made it a little difficult to follow for the fans of some teams and Jerry Jones turned it into a swap meet but overall, this was the most "audience friendly" draft ever. Some conjecture has a Friday evening and all day Saturday draft next year to be pushed by several parties. The 2008 season has truly begun and NFL teams are all within a couple of players from their final rosters if not already set.
Let's take an early look at a draft to see which players are most likely to have fantasy value this year.
Matt Ryan (1.03 ATL) - The first quarterback taken did not take very long. The Falcons moved to make their non-Vick era official when they tabbed the finest quarterback to ever come out of Boston College. At 6'4" and 227, Ryan is truly the anti-Vick. A pure passer that has all the physical tools needed in the passing game and all the intangibles that grant him the "it" factor for signal callers in this draft. In college, Ryan did not have the high level talent around him and basically carried his team but in the NFL he'll be surrounded by players who were college all-stars. 2008 Expectations: Ryan has an excellent chance of becoming the starter in Atlanta this year and won't remain on the sideline any longer than the new coaching staff believes is necessary. Considering the success that Roddy White had with a carousel of cast-off quarterbacks last season, the passing game in Atlanta will quickly erase the anemic production of the past.
Joe Flacco (1.18 BAL) - Another franchise looking to make a break with the past is the Ravens who happily snapped up this Delaware product. Flacco is considered to have the strongest arm in the entire draft. He's 6'6" and 235 so he brings a huge presence to the backfield and should ignite the passing game in Baltimore. Coming on the heels of the Boller and aging McNair years, Flacco should bring the passing game here to a level unseen for literally decades. He still has some learning to do like working more under center than the shotgun he enjoyed in college but he has all the marks of a difference maker - finally - for the Ravens. 2008 Expectations - Like Ryan, there is an excellent chance that Flacco will get playing time this year and could be the starter by year end if not earlier. He's a lock to be the starter in 2009 and likely steps up much earlier than next season..
Brian Brohm (2.25 GB) - This Louisville product has played since he was the Freshman of the Year in the USA Conference and posted eye popping numbers in the wide open, pro-style offense there. He lacks the arm strength of Ryan and Flacco but still has enough knowledge and ability to become an NFL quality quarterback. 2008 Expectations - In the year 1 A.F. (After Favre), it's likely that Brohm stays on the bench while Aaron Rodgers finally gets his shot. Since Rodgers is a lock to pale in comparison to Favre, Brohm could get a little playing time this year if not at least some consideration in training camp 2009.
Chad Henne (2.26 MIA) - With Parcells in control and only John Beck in the way, Henne has landed in a nice spot that could pay off at least in the future. The Michigan star has a great arm and comes in with as much experience as any rookie quarterback but his mechanics are considered in need of some work and he was inconsistent enough in college to still be available at the 2.26 pick. And yet, he lands in the exact spot he needs to be - a building franchise that is starting over from scratch and he already is the only Miami quarterback drafted by Bill Parcells and HC Tony Sparano. 2008 Expectations - While Henne could get some playing time this year, he's not going to be worthy of a fantasy pick this summer. The Fins are trying to turn around a franchise that has been floundering for a couple of years and one season is not nearly enough to expect too much.
This was a wild draft for running backs. Seven were taken in the first two rounds and yet it is possible that none of them may end up as a true full-time back. The number of potential fantasy running backs just went up and the number of low risk, full time backs just went down.
Darren McFadden (1.04 OAK) - Sure, like like there was any way that Al Davis could ignore a hot offensive playmaker in the NFL draft. The 6'2", 210 pound Arkansas phenom comes to the Raiders who already signed Justin Fargas to a long contract. Then again, this could be a replay of Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. McFadden is a gifted runner and his only potential black mark is that he's a bit thin in the legs and could be challenged as a between the tackles runner in the NFL. Then again, he was so magic when he "was in space" in college that he'll add a very nice spark to the offense and should provide a Reggie Bush-like outlet for JaMarcus Russell. 2008 Expectations - McFadden will play from day one and the only two questions to ponder is how much Fargas will be involved and if the Raiders will use McFadden as a receiver since he is most dangerous in the open field. Low risk fantasy pick this year but how much he does depends on how the offense uses him.
Kevin Smith (3.01 DET) - No player walks into a better opportunity than does Smith. The Lions have released Kevin Jones and T.J. Duckett and have little more than Tatum Bell left on the roster. The new offense being installed this year removes the pass-happy days of Mike Martz and returns the team to a more traditional attack with more focus on rushing. Smith was only the 8th running back taken last weekend but the Central Florida product was downgraded in the draft in part because he was so heavily used in college. At 6'1" and 215 pounds, he has the size and style of running to be a workhorse back as he has always been. He's a bit slower than the backs taken before him but he's never been anything less than productive in the past. He was the Conference USA Player of the Year for 2007 when he ran 450 times for 2567 rushing yards and nearly broke Barry Sanders single season rushing record. 2008 Expectations - About as high as any rookie back since Smith has such a clear path to being a full-time starter in the NFL. The Lions still have work on their offensive line but Smith has demonstrated the ability to run and lands in the most advantageous situation in the league. That was worth waiting until Sunday to be picked.
Jonathan Stewart (CAR 1.13) - Just when you thought DeAngelo Williams had finally caught a break, the Panthers showed they still do not want to rely on him when they grabbed Stewart with their first pick. The 5'11", 235 pound Stewart is hoped to rekindle the glory years of Stephen Davis who was built the exact same way. The reality is that the Panthers have never had a running back with the potential of Stewart in their 13 year history. He comes in considered to be multi-dimensional with power, speed and quickness and he has the size and desire to drive through would be tacklers. Williams can still be the speedy complement (for the third year now) but Stewart brings the every-down, power back that they offense needs. 2008 Expectations - Stewart was recovering from a turf toe injury but is expected to be ready for training camp. He wasn't taken with the 1.13 pick to be a back-up or even just a complementary runner. Stewart will become the starter and the only question is how much Williams will detract from Stewart. Plenty of upside here for Stewart but the reality of tandem offenses could limit him a bit.
Felix Jones (DAL 1.22) - While almost everyone had Rashard Mendenhall ranked higher than Jones, the Cowboys had their sights set on McFadden's teammate and pulled the trigger. It wasn't a bad pick by any means and merely signaled that the Cowboys would remain "Barber and Jones" in the backfield again this season. Felix is considered a dynamic runner that can take it to the house on any play. Not only a fast and shifty runner, Jones can also give Tony Romo with a valuable passing outlet for those rare plays where Terrell Owens or Jason Witten are not getting the ball. Compared to the bruiser Barber, Jones brings a very nice complement to the backfield and makes the Cowboys a far better rushing team - albeit with two rushers. 2008 Expectations - Jones will play from the first week and provide what should be a somewhat growing presence in the backfield to keep Barber fresh and offer longer runs between the 20 yard lines. He can have very nice fantasy value in reception point leagues if the Cowboys will utilize him as a receiver.
Rashard Mendenhall (PIT 1.23) - The Steelers had to be surprised to see Mendenhall slip to them at the 1.23 pick but kudos to them for taking the best available player. Willie Parker is recovering from a broken leg at the end of last season and the Steelers had no one to turn to last December. That won't be the case anymore with the 5'10", 225 back out of Illinois that many had ranked as high as #2 in the draft. Mendenhall is prototypical in size and can provide the exact brand of power running that the Steelers have always preferred. His only downside was that he had only one highly productive year in college but he was the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2007. 2008 Expectations - This will depend in part on the health status of Parker but in all cases, it is Parker owners who have really taken a hit with this draft pick. Mendenhall will likely mix with Parker in the worst case scenario but could end up taking the job because of Parker's health or just that Mendenhall is the exact sort of power back that Mike Tomlin would like to use. Big training camp watch with this one.
Chris Johnson (TEN 1.24) - The biggest speed merchant in the draft brings his 4.3/40 speed to the Titans who now can screw every Lendale White owner by opting for a tandem backfield this year. Johnson is only 5'11 and 199 pounds but is capable of scoring on every play if he gets a big enough slice of daylight. He also has excellent hands and can offer return duties as well. A bit too small to hope for every down duty but far too dangerous and fast to leave on the bench much. 2008 Expectations - Welcome to the true Thunder and Lightning of the NFL. Lendale White (6'1" and 235 pounds) will be relied on for goal line and short yardage while sharing other work with Johnson who will give Young a nice passing outlet. If Johnson can meet expectations, he'll be turning in at least some big yardage games with long runs but he'll need to add receptions to maintain any consistency.
Matt Forte (CHI 2.13) - The Bears still are not sure how back to form Cedric Benson will be for 2008 and let's be serious - if he returns to 2007 form they don't want him on the field anyway. Forte was a wise choice for a team that craves the rushing game that has been absent for two years now. He was clearly the biggest weapon for Tulane and though opponents always schemed to stop him first and foremost, Forte still turned in eye-popping numbers. He's not a flashy back but has the power and enough speed to get the job done as well as being a good receiver when used in that capacity. 2008 Expectations - The Bears will open the training camp up to find a runner and Benson is not nearly the lock to return as starter as it may seem. True, the Bears paid a lot for him only two years ago but at some point - and maybe that has already happened with drafting Forte - they have to just go with what works best. Training camp will prove it but at the least expect Forte to be used in rotation with Benson until one of them clearly shows capable of being more full-time. And Benson has already had that chance and not profited and returns with a bad ankle to some degree.
In yet another turn of the draft, no wideout was selected until the second round for the first time in 18 years. That was less an indictment of the quality of wideouts and more about other needs that teams felt were more pressing, along with no "sure fire" hot wideout coming out this year. As a sign of the surprises of the draft, the first wideout taken was Donnie Avery who many boards had rated outside of the top ten. The position typically takes one to two years to learn and there is no apparent "plug and play" rookie wideout. The few that have the best chance of some fantasy significance this year:
Devin Thomas (WAS 2.03) - The 6'2", 215 product of Michigan State was widely considered the best wideout in the draft but that still wasn't enough to entice any team to use their first pick on him. He came out as a Junior and there is speculation that he could have been a top ten pick had he remained for his senior year and more seasoning on the collegiate level. There is no denying that Thomas has big time ability but he only had one truly great year in college and will need some seasoning before realizing his NFL potential. As a sign of his potential, he was the only player that was at home with his agent Drew Rosenhaus when he was selected. Then again, maybe that was the reason teams were scared to call him. 2008 Expectations - It would be great to see him challenge Antwaan Randle El for a starting spot and there is no doubt that he will succeed but the question is when? If he can step up in training camp, he could break into the starting lineup but barring that, he'll likely get spot duty while he gains more experience.
Donnie Avery (STL 2.02) - While you have to respect the first wideout drafted it doesn't mean you have to like it or even understand it. Avery is just 5'11" and 186 pounds but excelled last season in Houston when he had 91 catches for 1456 yards and seven scores. He was very productive in the wide open passing attack of Houston with the obligatory monster games in Conference USA. In fantasy terms, Avery was the sleeper wideout that many liked more than they let on but no one expected to be the first wideout drafted. He has talent to be sure but the Rams are expressing more faith than anyone in taking him so early. 2008 Expectations - Probably not much since Torry Holt commands attention and Drew Bennett steps up to take over for Isaac Bruce. There is a good chance that Avery gets some work in the slot eventually, but it will be hard to expect him to offer any significant fantasy value.
Jordy Nelson (GB 2.05) - The Packers used their second pick on this 6'2", 215 pound wideout from Kansas State. He comes to Green Bay noted for being a powerful receiver that can make the tough catch in traffic and should become a decent possession wideout in time. His knock was posting only a 4.55/ 40 time but he is already polished enough to come off the bench. 2008 Expect ions - probably limited this year but Nelson could take over for the 33-year old Donald Driver in a year or so. He's too big and slow to expect much slot work so he'll only see limited play this year.
If there was ever a year to avoid drafting a rookie wideout (which should be every year anyway), 2008 is not shaping up to see much fantasy significance from this group. Training camp could uncover a gem of course, but in light of the lack of wideouts with first round expectations, hands off this group in redraft leagues.
Typically there are not rookie tight ends that offer enough fantasy value warrant being a starter but this year offered up two players that not only could have good careers, but they may actually start as early as this season.
Dustin Keller (NYJ 1.30) - This Purdue tight end was the best pass catching tight end in college last year and brings a fast 4.58 speed (remember - tight ends are usually about 4.75) to the Jets. At 6'2" and 244 pounds, he isn't a big tight end and there is a good reason. He's not a blocker. He is a natural pass receiver with good hands and can create match-up problems for the defense. Just do not expect him to block. 2008 Expectations -That the Jets would use their first round pick on a tight end that not only is a great receiver but cannot block says that the offense will be throwing to the tight end much more. Hard to expect much in a rookie season but the Jets have been in a great need for a receiver outside of Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles. Keller is slated to be the third option.
John Carlson (SEA 2.07) - The 6'5", 252 pound Notre Dame product comes out of that Charlie Weis inspired offense and brings in the moniker of being an "all around talent". Carlson could have been drafted earlier but the Notre Dame offense hit hard times in 2007 without Brady Quinn and Carlson was one who suffered. He is the complete package as a tight end though and comes in having already received pro-style instruction. 2008 Expectations - Unlike Keller, Carlson can block and he'll likely spend most of 2008 learning to do that. But the Seahawks have a big need for a pass catching tight end since Marcus Pollard really was over the hill last year and Jerramy Stevens could never stay out of trouble. There is opportunity here but it will likely take some time.