The NFL draft is over and now 256 players are all optimistic about starting their NFL career (at least for now). For untold dozens others, their chance for a pro career will begin as a rookie free agent. We had a huge fantasy year from 2008 when rookie runners were everywhere and throwing a rookie quarterback into the fire resulted in a Rookie of the Year honor and a remarkable turnaround in Atlanta. Not unlike every warroom out there, we're likely all far too optimistic about this newest batch of players and yet it cannot be denied that at least a few will have fantasy significance if not become actual difference makers in their first year.
Mini-camps and training camp will wash out the bad ones and showcase who is real, but for now let's take a quick stab at who seems most likely to matter.
Matthew Stafford (1.01 DET) - The classic pocket passer with a big arm ends up in Detroit where a quarterback savior hasn't been seen since Bobby Layne (oddly enough also from Highland Park High School in Dallas). The ex-Bulldog is only 6-2 which is a little short according to standards that like to see a 6-4 or 6-5 quarterback but his rocket arm and success in a tough conference was enough to merit the first pick. There is no doubt that the success of Matt Ryan in Atlanta and Joe Flacco in Baltimore last year helped to make this decision. Stafford has a great chance at being the starter this year and even as early as week one. If Stafford can meet lofty expectations, you can expect he and Calvin Johnson to become one of the hottest connections in the NFL. Roddy White had no problem with his rookie QB last year and Stafford comes in no less heralded. And Calvin Johnson has already been an elite player without an elite quarterback.
Mark Sanchez (1.05 NYJ) - The Jets moved up to grab the ex-Trojan Sanchez and he fills a glaring need that Kellen Clemens could never hope to fill. Many had Sanchez ranked higher than Stafford and he'll need to be better if he hopes to match what Stafford will do. While the first overall pick will effectively play inside and play catch with Calvin Johnson, Sanchez gets to face the swirling winds of New York which annually drive down Eli Manning's numbers starting around November. And instead of arguably the most talented wideout, he currently has wideouts of David Clowney and Jerricho Cotchery (you figure out which one is really best). But Sanchez could get playing time this year and may even end up an early season starter since the management needs to show progress this year. And if Joe Flacco can do it in Baltimore, then by golly Sanchez should be fine in New York. Like Stafford, Sanchez is only 6-2 and not quite as big as standard.
Josh Freeman (1.17 TB) - Yet another rookie quarterback that has a decent chance at producing stats this year. The Buccaneers moved up to grab him and there is no doubt that Freeman will become the franchise quarterback - the only question is will it happen this year or next? Freeman is prototypical in size at 6-6 and 248 pounds and would probably be better served seasoning some while the new offense is installed.
Honorable Mention - Patrick White (2.12 MIA) was a fascinating pick and while he'll see action this year, it may not be as quarterback. Or it may be. What Miami will do with the 6-0 multi-dimensional White remains to be seen but he's worth keeping at least a casual eye on this summer.
It may seem like this was a down draft for running backs but the reality is that it was just about average. 2008 had an incredible five first rounders and overall produced no less than eight players with relevant fantasy stats - more if you counted Tashard Choice or Ryan Torain. There is no way this class will have such a huge impact and only four runners heard their name on the first day. That won't keep us from falling in love with the lot of them, but it probably should serve notice to at least temper expectations.
Knowshon Moreno (1.12 DEN) - This was the first true surprise of the draft. Not that Moreno wasn't a good value at the 12th overall pick but it was hardly a pressing need for the Broncos who had spent the offseason apparently snapping up all the mediocre free agent runners they could find. Moreno was considered the most complete back coming out of the draft and definitely the best bet to become an NFL starter. In fantasy terms though, he ends up in Denver where Shanahan is gone but HC Josh Daniels comes from New England where running backs change depending on a game of rock-paper-scissors on the sideline before each series. No team takes a back with the 1.12 pick without the intention of getting him week one work but there stands a terrible risk that Moreno does not get as full-time use as the fantasy world would love to see. He was our best bet. Now he is a Bronco.
Donald Brown (1.27 IND) - Yet another fantasy "doh!" The Colts grabbed some depth for running back and all you holding Mike Hart on your dynasty team can probably let him go now. The selection of Brown helps replace the loss (again) of Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai hasn't proven to be a king of durability. Brown could see action as a reliever and especially third down. What we will all want is for either Brown to someone win the job for Addai or to be holding Brown when/if Addai goes down with a significant injury. You know Brown goes too high in every draft from his sheer potential given a chance.
Chris Wells (1.31 ARI) - Wells had hoped to go far earlier than this but at least he still remained a first rounder. The 6-1, 235 bruiser probably would have been a top ten or maybe even top five pick had he never been injured but a big man that gets nicked up scared a lot of teams away. Tim Hightower's stock probably took a shot here since Wells can punch in the short one's just as well. Edgerrin James remains on the roster so it is muddled this early. But - Wells could be a dark horse surprise here since James has almost no tread left on the tires and Wells can outplay Hightower. More I think of it, the more I may like this. Not so much if I owed Hightower in a dynasty league.
LeSean McCoy (2.21 PHI) - This will likely be a great pick for the Eagles since McCoy is similar to Westbrook and can spell him this year. Of course we thought the same thing about Ryan Moats for a while. But McCoy is almost certain to be a better contributor than Moats ever was and Correll Buckhalter is gone. Someone has to be there when Westbrook misses his one game per year. And since Westbrook is 30 years old, his durability may be even less. McCoy is going to be the handcuff for Westbrook owners and yet maybe worth stealing.
Shonn Green (3.01 NYJ) - This all depends on what happens with disgruntled Thomas Jones. If he gets swapped out - and it could still happen - then Green may be the big fantasy surprise along with Leon Washington who has never realized he is not an every down back. But until then, Green isn't probably even worthy as a handcuff since Washington will figure in. Still no lock that Jones remains so keep an eye on this situation this summer. The Jets were in a big hurry to jump to the front of the line on day two and snap up Green.
Honorable Mention: Glen Coffee went to the 49ers and he's another who looked great in college so long as he was healthy which was never a given. He'll probably secure the #2 but Frank Gore will have to be injured before Coffee is worth owning. This was a down draft for running backs and most experts considered it rather thin. Only six runners taken in the first three rounds says teams agreed.
While 2008 was a big year for running backs, it was a drought for wideouts and none were drafted in the first round. 2009 saw that turnaround with a vengeance when six receivers were taken in the first 30 picks. 2007 had six wideouts go in the first round and Calvin Johnson and Dwayne Bowe had surprising rookie years. Not so much for Ted Ginn, Robert Meachem, Craig Davis and Anthony Gonzalez. Fact is that rookie wideouts rarely have fantasy relevant first seasons but that doesn't stop us from giggling about getting Devin Thomas in the 12th round - "the twelfth round, man!" Rest assured most of the first rounders will be taken in fantasy drafts and then become available on your waiver wire by week four of the season when it become clear they are just rookie wideouts. But - hope springs eternal and a few of these may have a stretch of good games worth seeing.
Darius Heyward-Bey (1.07 OAK) - Wow. Just wow. Big Al Davis loves speed regardless if it ever has a football in the player's hands. Heyward-Bey is a speed merchant to be sure and has clocked sub 4.3/40 times. But judging by last year what JaMarcus Russell did, the last thing he needs is a 6-2 blur going down the field. He needs 6-7 tight ends just standing still all over the field. This would have been a decent pick a round later by the Colts. But temper your fantasy expectations here.
Michael Crabtree (1.10 SF) - The stud receiver coming out this year (Oakland not withstanding) no doubt was miffed when he was passed over at the 1.07. But he goes to the 49ers so what are his chances to have a big rookie year anyway? The 49ers are going to make him start his career with either Shaun Hill or Alex Smith unless 5.35 pick Nate Davis from Ball State really, really surprises. No doubt that Crabtree is talented. His speed has been questioned but his collegiate career was stellar. Now to the 49ers is going to limit at least his rookie season. If you feel this has a ton of promise, realize what happened when super-stud tight end Vernon Davis went there. Until the 49ers get a credible passing game for the first time since Eddie DeBartolo was thumbing his nose at the salary cap, no wideout is going to do much here.
Jeremy Maclin (1.19 PHI) - This is a study in "right place, right time". Unlike Crabtree, Maclin heads to Philly where Donovan McNabb has never replaced the loss of Terrell Owens - at least until potentially now. Maclin is a playmaker supreme and will produce stats this season. Depending on his use, he could easily be the most productive rookie wideout. He may become a fantasy starter every week. Consider Maclin as the first rookie wideout taken in drafts this summer.
Percy Harvin (1.22 MIN) - This is another big playmaker in college who should see some stats this year but he'll be limited by Tarvaris Jackson which has been enough for most receivers. But Harvin has such promise that even with Jackson he should command some fantasy consideration and in a dynasty league, his value is even higher. The Vikes are always going to be a run-first team with Adrian Peterson but Harvin will still get the opportunities to matter.
Kenny Britt (1.30 TEN) - The Rutgers star is another worth watching this summer because the Titans are still looking to get a solid wideout corps and Kerry Collins needs more weapons. Since Derrick Mason left, the Titans have attempted to get by with an extensive collection of injury-prone mediocre receivers. Britt could really give the passing game a new look.
Honorable Mention - Hakeem Nicks (1.29) will compete for the spot left by Plaxico Burress and could end up notable. It's a bad weather spot to play though and the 6-1 Nicks doesn't have the same height advantages as Burress did. The Cleveland boys of Brian Robiskie (2.04) and Mohamed Massaquoi (2.18) are definitely intriguing depending on what ends up both Braylon Edwards and Donte Stallworth.
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.
Brandon Pettigrew (1.20 DET) - Granted that going to the Lions has been the kiss of career death for tight ends for many years but the new coaching staff had a reason for spending their second first round pick on a tight end. Problem here is that Pettigrew is a very talented, all-around tight end but not a spectacular receiver. He is a top notch blocker though and no doubt will find that as his primary role. Rookie tight ends almost never do much and Pettigrew doesn't seem likely to be an exception.
Chase Coffman ( 3.34 CIN) - Coffman was only the 4th tight end drafted this year but he has as much fantasy interest as any of them - which is not saying much. But what makes Coffman at least potentially noteworthy is that the Bengals drafted him knowing that he is just a pass catching tight end. A really good one (90 catches for 987 yards and 10 TDs just last year at Missouri). What would the Bengals want with a 6-5 outstanding pass catcher? You could ask T.J. Houshmandzadeh but he left the Bengals and created the need for a possession receiver... maybe a tall one that could stand in the middle just like he did... hmm... kind of interesting...
Honorable Mention - Rookie tight ends are so rarely fantasy relevant that you could ignore them all together and pretty much never be wrong. Denver grabbed Richard Quinn (2.32) but that offense needed almost everything else but another receiver. Jared Cook (3.25) in Tennessee has promise but it won't be this year.