To the surprise of no one, guys like Darren McFadden and Rashard Mendenhall and Jonathan Stewart will go off the board relatively early in your fantasy draft or auction. Someone may take a shot at Matt Ryan as well, though fantasy contributions from rookie quarterbacks are more rare than an original joke during a Carlos Mencia stand-up set. And a few more of the big names you’ll hear this weekend will be repeated when your fantasy league convenes later this summer.
However, it would behoove you to pay at least a little bit of attention to the far less glamorous Sunday portion of the NFL Draft as well. Last year Day Two yielded Isaiah Stanback, Dwayne Wright, Kevin Boss, Aundrae Allison, Troy Smith, Nick Folk, Mason Crosby, DeShawn Wynn, and Ahmad Bradshaw, among others. No one on this list had a LaDainian Tomlinson-sized impact on your fantasy season. But if you at least knew who Boss or Wynn or Bradshaw were, you had a leg up on the competition when opportunity knocked for these former afterthoughts.
The second day of the 2006 draft provided Michael Robinson, Brad Smith, Leon Washington, Brandon Marshall, Jeff King, and Marques Colston. Between Colston and Marshall, that’s a nice combo platter of immediate impact and dynasty league potential - certainly more than ’06 second-rounders Chad Jackson and Sinorice Moss or third-rounders Travis Wilson, Derek Hagan, Brandon Williams, Maurice Stovall, and Willie Reid have delivered thus far.
With that in mind, the following isn’t a list of guys who’ll win you a fantasy championship in 2008. However, they’re names worth knowing now so that you’re ahead of the game should the fates conspire to throw one or more of them into the fray this season. And, obviously, they’re guys to keep tabs on in a dynasty situation as well.
Dennis Dixon, QB, Oregon - Dixon was a Heisman frontrunner who had his Ducks in contention for a national title before suffering a torn ACL near the end of the 2007 season. If there was any question regarding Dixon’s work ethic it can be answered at his personal web site, as he is posting video of his rehab for all to see. Much like Vince Young, Dixon’s running will overshadow his passing; however, the injury means the team that drafts him won’t expect much if anything in year one. Given time to work on the aerial portion of his game, Dixon could follow the David Garrard plan and develop into a very productive all-around quarterback.
Matt Flynn, QB, LSU - A sixth-round pick like Tom Brady comes along once in a lifetime. That said, if a good NFL team lands Flynn as a backup the stage is set for a lower-level reprise. Flynn sat behind JaMarcus Russell at LSU; when he finally took over the reins, all he did was lead the Tigers to a national championship. He has decent size and athleticism as well as the intelligence to quickly digest an NFL playbook. Sure, the Brady comparison is a pie-in-the-sky best-case scenario, but many of the same elements are lined up for Flynn.
Mike Hart, RB, Michigan - Hart is a productive Big 10 back whose game has very few holes; moreover, he’s tough, competitive, and blocks and catches as well as he runs. Why won’t he go off the board on Day One? Because he’s a little small for the NFL, lacks elite speed, and put on a ton of mileage at Michigan. His greatest upside would come in a zone-blocking offense, as he’s not particularly elusive but can see the hole and hit it quickly. His skill set reminds some of Emmitt Smith; if he were to deliver even a fraction of Emmitt’s production he’d be a valuable fantasy commodity.
Ryan Torain, RB, Arizona State - Torain’s college career was derailed by injury, including a Lisfranc fracture near his big toe that prematurely ended his Sun Devils run. His combine 40 failed to impress, though the fact that he was even back running at all just a couple months after surgery speaks to his dedication as well as his recover. And while Ryan improved on his time at ASU’s pro day in March, it isn’t speed that will punch his ticket to the NFL. What Torain can do, when healthy, is bang inside and move piles. He’s not a ginormous back in the Jerome Bettis mode, but he runs hard and falls forward. Picture him as a complementary, “Mr. Inside” back to Joseph Addai or Laurence Maroney and you’ll see the kind of upside he might have.
Xavier Omon, RB, Northwest Missouri State - It was easy to dismiss four straight seasons with at least 1,500 rushing yards because of Division II competition; then Omon produced 91 yards and was named MVP of the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game and suddenly the scouts took notice. Omon has good size (5-11, 228), decent speed (4.59 40), is a natural runner, catches the ball well, has a nose for the stripe (38 touchdowns last year), and actually tries to block when called upon. He’ll be a perfect complement to a team that already employs a speed back - the Steelers, for example - and could wind up as a short-yardage/goal line helper in basic scoring fantasy leagues.
Jerome Messam, RB, Graceland - Messam’s collegiate path started when he signed with Rutgers, proceeded to the North Dakota State College of Science, and wound up at Graceland (not Elvis’s house, the NAIA school in Iowa) thanks to academic eligibility issues. His productivity, however, was thwarted only by a knee injury that prematurely ended his senior season. Messam doesn’t have freakish speed (his 40 time is listed at 4.55, though he’s reportedly run sub-4.4 - which is freakish for a 6-3, 230-pounder), but he doesn’t go down on first contact and treats arm tackles like Russell Crowe treats paparazzi. Amaze your friends by pulling this name out of your… um, draft guide and you may just have yourself the next out-of-nowhere, Brandon Jacobs-type success story.
Davone Bess, WR, Hawaii - Colt Brennan set a ton of passing records for the Rainbows, but he couldn’t have done it by himself. Bess leads a trio of insanely productive Hawaii wideouts into the draft, all of them fighting the perception that their numbers were merely a product of the June Jones system. Bess is a bit on the smallish size, but he caught the attention of scouts by catching everything - everything! - thrown his way at the NFL Combine. Working out of the slot, Bess could bring a Wes Welker-like element to the team that employs him; quick players with great hands and the ability to pick up yardage after the catch will eventually find their way to the field on Sundays.
Marcus Henry, WR, Kansas - NFL teams love taking 6-4 athletes and turning them into receivers. The good news is, Henry (who’s 6-4, in case you hadn’t already figured that out) already has good mitts - which he flashed during workouts for the East-West Shrine game - and is maybe even a little faster than the 4.50 he posted at the Combine. Given that to work with, it’s not hard to envision a pro club taking a shot on Henry in hopes he’ll develop into another Plaxico Burress or Marques Colston. When the cost of answering that question is merely a fourth-round draft pick, it’s a tough investment to pass up.
Josh Morgan, WR, Virginia Tech - Morgan’s collegiate productivity was dampened by the Hokies’ talented receiver rotation, but he has all the measurables pro scouts look for. He can catch in traffic, adjusts well to the ball, and racks up plenty of YAC. He also appears to have the diva mentality prevalent in so many of the NFL’s top wideouts; that could make him the next Chad Johnson… or the next Freddie Mitchell. Given his physical attributes Morgan should have little difficulty finding a home in the NFL, likely with a WCO team that wants to get the ball in his hands on slants and let him work his magic.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Mount Union - The primary passing-game weapon on Division III’s most dominant team, Garcon has a leg up on other small school stat-makers because he has an NFL-ready body. Of course, the 4.48 40, 36.5-inch vertical, and 20 bench press reps at the Combine didn’t hurt, either. Garcon fared well against D-I competition at the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game, and his 62-yard punt return there offers a glimpse of what he can bring to the special teams table. Plenty of receivers with big-school pedigrees have made their way to Sundays by starting off on special teams and working their way into the lineup. If you’re a fan of the little guy - figuratively, in Garcon’s case - and looking for an underdog to root for on draft day, here’s a serious option.