So you didn’t watch the whole NFL draft. It’s okay to admit it. Hey, if you don’t get the NFL Network I can completely understand why more than five minutes of Chris Berman’s mumblin’ bumblin’ stumblin’ would drive you to the brink of insanity. After a while even the guys broadcasting the event grow fatigued, leaving you with exchanges like, “The last five picks are scrolling by at the bottom of the screen, but let’s get back to our discussion about who delivers the best pastrami on rye to Radio City Music Hall…” You can always see who went where in the next morning’s paper—or, better still, on the Internet almost instantaneously.
Of course, most folks following the draft devote the bulk of the coverage to the sexy picks: the early round selections and the skill position players. So unless you pore over the agate type some of the subtle nuances of the draft may not rise to the surface.
That’s okay; I’m here to help. After a rundown of nine helpful fantasy drafts yesterday, it’s time to dig a little deeper to look at nine subtle to downright sneaky fantasy drafts.
You’re likely aware of the selection of Notre Dame’s John Carlson in the second round, and if you need me to explain the upside of a talented tight end in a West Coast offense you may need to go back a grade and take some remedial courses to catch up. But beyond that addition, the Seahawks added some help for Julius Jones on the form of fullback Owen Schmitt—and by “help” I mean a 250-pound escort into the secondary. Hey, it worked for Steve Slaton at West Virginia. Finally, the Seahawks drafted a kicker to replace Josh Brown, so file away the name Brandon Coutu for the last round of your fantasy draft. But to make sure Coutu gets the ball cleanly and can rack up plenty of points for your fantasy squad, the Seahawks also took the extra step of drafting a long snapper in Round Six. Seriously.
For a team that didn’t have any picks in the first three rounds, went defense with its earliest selection (104th overall), and didn’t address the one area of its offense (a running back to groom behind Jamal Lewis) that appeared to be its biggest need… the Browns still made out just fine. Stealing Martin Rucker in the fourth round provides a talented alternative should Kellen Winslow get hurt yet again; when an offense is as reliant on its tight end as the Browns, having only Steve Heiden as a fallback plan is asking for trouble. Cleveland also struck potential gold in Round Six, adding Wisconsin receiver Paul Hubbard. He’s similar in size and speed to another former Big 10 standout, current Brown Joe Jurevicius, and could be groomed to fill that role down the road.
The Cards didn’t take a running back at No. 16 overall like we thought they might, even though Rashard Mendenhall was still on the board. However, despite picking defensive players in the first two rounds Arizona did plenty to help their fantasy prospects. Early Doucet is a solid option to replace Bryant Johnson as the team’s third receiver, and you’ve seen the solid stats Johnson has been able to put up in that role. Moreover, if Doucet is fully recovered from the injuries that slowed him during his senior season and Anquan Boldin gets his wish to be dealt… well, let’s just say a dynasty leaguer who stashes Doucet on their roster might get an Early surprise (you saw that one comin’, didn’t you). A couple late-round selections also warrant mention. You may not have heard of Tim Hightower, but can he be any worse than Marcel Shipp or J.J. Arrington… or the shell of Edgerrin James we’ve been watching in Arizona the past two seasons? Last year at this time you probably hadn’t heard of Ryan Grant or DeShawn Wynn, either. Regardless of which back is carrying the mail for the Cards, if Russ Grimm can find a way to motivate talented but troubled seventh-round selection Brandon Keith the Arizona offense offensive line will be opening some gigantic holes through which any back could run.
There’s no bigger proponent of taking an offensive lineman in the first round than me, and I’ve been berating the Texans for years for ignoring their line to the point that David Carr was beaten into submission and Matt Schaub was bruised and battered as well. So they at least get an “A” for effort for moving down after the initial run of tackles went off the board and ultimately ending up with Duane Brown. It seemed early for a guy largely considered a second-rounder at best, but after further review it’s the smart move. First, Brown is the prototype for new line coach Alex Gibb: quick feet, mobile, and nasty. Second, the Chargers indicated that had Brown not gone to Houston they would have taken him with the next selection; in other words, the reach for a position of need was a necessity. Once Brown is properly trained in the ways of Gibb, it’s entirely possible he’ll be chopping defenders and creating lanes for third-round pick Steve Slaton to zip through. A bit undersized and labeled as an outside-the-tackles-only kind of guy, Slaton may actually work in the Texans’ zone blocking system. It’s not as if Ahman Green and Chris Brown are locks to remain planted in front of him for 16 games this season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Maybe Dexter Jackson is the next Joey Galloway, maybe he’s not. And while the Appalachian State star will at minimum contribute to the Bucs’ return game he’s not the only fantasy helper in this class. The most immediate impact will come from versatile lineman Jeremy Zuttah, who provides depth across the line and could be center Jeff Faine’s heir apparent. Dynasty leaguers have to be intrigued by noted quarterback collector Jon Gruden’s selection of developmental quarterback Josh Johnson, who has many of the same athletic attributes as current Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia. And just like Earnest Graham came out of nowhere last year, so to might seventh-round pick Cory Boyd as a third-down option.
There was no Anthony Gonzalez in this year’s haul for Indy, but the team that does a better job than any other team with second-day picks had plenty of success restocking its roster. For starters, the Colts added three versatile offensive linemen; all of them have center experience, and given the way Indy changes plays at the line of scrimmage that experience in recognizing defenses and making line calls probably had something to do with the picks of Mike Pollak, Steve Justice, and Jamey Richard. The trio can study behind Jeff Saturday and play elsewhere on the line in a pinch. With free agency depleting Indy’s tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi come to camp with a chance to contribute immediately. Tamme is a Dallas Clark type and will provide valuable insurance for the oft-injured stud; Santi will join Bryan Fletcher to fill the void left by the departure of Ben Utecht. All Mike Hart did was pile up yardage in the Big 10; for his troubles he gets kicked to the end of the sixth round. No worries; his high mileage won’t come in to play as he won’t be asked to be the Colts’ feature back. However, given Indy’s attempts to lessen Joseph Addai’s workload it wouldn’t be at all surprising if Hart received a half-dozen touches in relief. And we saw what backup backs could do in that offense in Week Five of last season. Don’t discount D-3 stud Pierre Garcon, either; it’s not as if Roy Hall, Devin Aromashodu, and Courtney Roby have a lock on the fourth receiver spot, and Marvin Harrison isn’t getting any younger.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco didn’t even take a “skill” position player until they threw Mike Martz a sixth-round bone—but it was a pretty meaty bone in the form of wide receiver Josh Morgan, who has the size and speed to be an outstanding NFL receiver but was limited by a deep receiver rotation at Virginia Tech. He’s a better bet to help down the road, but when you consider that guys like Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey have come out of nowhere to put up big numbers in Martz-run offenses, he’s worth keeping an eye on. And while Morgan is the only “skill” position member of San Francisco’s draft class, the fantasy values of Frank Gore and Alex Smith (Shaun Hill?) will only improve with second-round guard Chilo Rachal and fourth-round lineman Cody Wallace joining the Niners front line.
Remember when the Broncos used to collect quick-footed offensive linemen in the later rounds? Seems the league finally figured out that game plan, forcing Denver to spend earlier picks to acquire similar players. First-rounder Ryan Clady will protect Jay Cutler for years, and don’t overlook the addition of Kory Lichtensteiger; with 70 years of center ahead of him on the depth chart, Lichtensteiger’s time will come sooner rather than later. The Broncos drafted two backs in the later rounds, as they are wont to do. Peyton Hillis is a pure fullback, but Ryan Torian is the kind of runner who could make Mike Shanahan look like a genius. If he’s recovered from the foot injury that prematurely ended his senior season, he offers a solid between-the-tackles option with the additional bonus of good receiving skills.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints didn’t even acknowledge the offensive side of the ball until late on Day Two of the draft, and that was project offensive lineman Carl Nicks in round five. However, New Orleans did select kicker Taylor Mehlhaff one round later to compete with Martin Gramatica, and you’d have to think they didn’t just throw that pick away; Mehlhaff should have every opportunity to beat out Tiny Dancer in camp. If rookie kickers don’t do anything for your fantasy mojo, check the top of last year’s scoring leaderboard and see if you can find “Nick Folk” or “Mason Crosby” anywhere; both were sixth-round picks a year ago. As an added bonus, New Orleans picked up underappreciated Michigan receiver Adrian Arrington. He’s unlikely to be anything more than a fourth receiver at best this season, but down the road it’s not difficult to see him getting looks from Drew Brees.