Darren McFadden is a Raider, the Steelers restocked their cupboards, and the Falcons have their franchise quarterback. You can’t help but be aware of the fantasy fallout from the picks who shook hands with Roger Goodell, but if you couldn’t take more than the first five hours or so of the NFL Draft… well, you’re missing the big picture.
There are fantasy helpers beyond the green room, after the first round, and even outside of the typical fantasy constraints of the “skill” positions. Here’s a look at teams who improved the fantasy value of their draftable players by virtue of their performance in the last weekend of April.
Yes, John Harbaugh tabbed his quarterback of the future by trading down and then back up to secure Joe Flacco. But even if he manages to leapfrog Kyle Boller and Troy Smith on the depth chart, his impact as a fantasy quarterback is at least a year or two away. More immediate contributions may come from Ray Rice, a slower version of Maurice Jones-Drew who gives the Ravens a solid one-two punch in the backfield. That punch will be made more powerful by yet another wave of offensive linemen, with Oneil Cousins and David Hale joining a group where Jonathan Ogden is the only member not drafted in 2005 or later. And don’t forget that Baltimore’s fifth-round pick in this year’s draft was used in the 2007 Supplemental Draft to select Jared Gaither, who is Ogden’s heir apparent at left tackle. The Ravens also picked up a couple of big wide receivers (6-2, 221-pound Marcus Smith in the fourth round, 6-3, 213-pound Justin Harper in the seventh) who may not beat Flacco to the starting lineup but should provide sizeable targets down the road.
If you had any doubts that John Fox loves the power running game, Carolina’s draft should have put them to rest. Jonathan Stewart gives the Panthers the same type of back they had when Stephen Davis was their workhorse—albeit younger and faster. To ensure Stewart’s path remains clear, Carolina traded back into the first round to add road-grader Jeff Otah, a perfect bookend to tackle Jordan Gross. The Panthers didn’t ignore the interior of their line, either, adding nearly 13 feet and well over 600 pounds of guard (6-7, 335-pound Geoff Schwartz, 6-4, 298-pound Mackenzy Bernadeau) in Round Seven, who at a minimum will push the incumbents to greater heights.
It’s not difficult to see what Bill Parcells is doing here. Chad Henne is the Dolphins’ quarterback of the future, and rather than see him suffer the fate of a Tim Couch or David Carr—who endured a spleen-splitting 132 sacks between them during their rookie seasons—Miami provided him with bookend protection. Jake Long you know about, but the Fins traded up to add Shawn Murphy, a college tackle who the team projects as their starting right guard. Suddenly, a line that was suspect a year ago has moved its pieces around—and added a couple new part—to the point it could actually be viewed as a strength. Oh, and I'd be derelict in my duties if I failed to note that for the price of a fourth-round draft pick the Dolphins added a linebacker and a quality tight end in Anthony Fasano.
The Redskins’ Smurfs 2.0 receiving corps wasn’t working, and a bit of luck and astute draft board maneuvering allowed Jim Zorn to land 6-2 Devin Thomas and 6-4 Malcolm Kelly—a duo generally ranked at or very near the top of most scouts’ receiver boards. You can include 6-3 Fred Davis in the mix as well; West Coast offenses can never have too many pass-catching tight ends, and if nothing else the rebounding of the Skins’ offseason basketball team will improve dramatically. Two other moves of note: third-rounder Chad Rinehart provides depth to a line that was ravaged by injuries last season, and seventh-round pick Colt Brennan holds fantastic potential as a developmental quarterback in a WCO.
Job One for the Bills on draft day was to find a tall receiver to play opposite Lee Evans, and despite using their first-round selection on a cornerback Buffalo was fortunate enough to land 6-5 James Hardy in the second frame. To make sure Hardy has someone to go on amusement park rides with, the Bills added 6-2 receiver Steve Johnson in the seventh round. Buffalo needed help at tight end, and the fourth round yielded Derek Fine of Kansas. Xavier Omon provides depth behind Marshawn Lynch, and the Bills may have found another developmental tackle (in the same vein as Jason Peters) in seventh-round selection Demetrius Bell.
Typically the Eagles draft linemen in the first round and cobble together a receiving corps from Day Two leftovers. This year Philly switching it up, giving Donovan McNabb a playmaking receiver in the second round with the selection of speedy DeSean Jackson. An underrated fantasy element to Jackson may be his return skills; not only can he bring a bit of Devin Hester to Philly’s special teams, his presence should allow Brian Westbrook to focus on his primary duties as a running back. And don’t weep for the Eagles’ offensive line just because they didn’t use any early picks on the position; Mike McGlynn and Mike Gibson are versatile bangers, while mammoth seventh-round pick King Dunlap—all 6-9, 310 pounds of him—could be groomed to replace either of Philly’s aging tackles.
Marvin Lewis had to balance multiple defensive needs with some less-obvious holes to fill on the offensive side of the ball. With Chris Henry gone and Chad Johnson hoping to leave, the Bengals used second- and third-round picks on a pair of talented pass-catchers. If Ocho Cinco does get dealt, only Doug Gabriel and Glenn Holt stand between the rookie duo of Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell and some significant playing time in a very fantasy-friendly offense. Tackle Anthony Collins was an absolute steal in Round Four and will be developed to replace either Willie Anderson or Levi Jones. And while tight end hasn’t been a productive position in this iteration of the Cincy offense, there is at least some talent at the position in sixth-rounder Matt Sherry and seventh-round pick Mario Urrutia, a 6-6, 232-pound wideout some feel might benefit from a position switch.
Maybe it was the arrival of Jared Allen in their division, maybe it was recognizing (a year too late) that their once-solid offensive line was getting up in years. Whatever the reason, the Bears eschewed the local flavor of Rashard Mendenhall to snag the third of eight offensive linemen to go off the board in Rouhnd One and expect Chris Williams to eventually succeed John Tait as the anchor on their left side for the next decade. Da Bears also added two more linemen in the seventh round, providing depth and an insurance plan for a line with only one member under the age of 30. Chicago didn’t ignore the need for backfield help, though, and Matt Forte will provide the Bears with a powerful inside running presence—especially if the new collection of offensive linemen work out as hoped.
It was monkey see, monkey do in the NFC Norris; the Bears passed on Mendenhall for a lineman, and the Lions followed suit by moving down a couple spots and still landing Gosder Cherilus, projected to start immediately on the right side. Detroit then addressed its running back need, picking up Kevin Smith with the first pick of Day Two. Given that new offensive coordinator Jim Colletto wants to institute a power running game, and that Smith’s competition for carries includes Tatum Bell, Brian Calhoun, and Aveion Cason, he’s my early pick for fantasy rookie of the year. And just in case you thought Matt Millen had shaken his wide receiver habit, note that he picked up Kenny Moore in round five. Because, you know, two first-round picks, six undrafted free agents, and Shaun McDonald aren’t enough.