The NFL draft is more than the influx of young talent; it changes team dynamics and directly impacts key fantasy football stars. While the draft produces 256 new players fighting for jobs currently held by veterans, it also significantly improves the fantasy prospects of select fantasy studs.
Here's a quick fantasy review of the NFL veterans that have the biggest reasons to smile.
Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook (Eagles) - McNabb never passed as well as when he had Terrell Owens - a legitimate #1 wideout. Philly used its 1.19 selection on the Missouri playmaker Jeremy Maclin to bring that level of production back to the scheme. Maclin has run a 4.3/40 and set an NCAA Freshman record with 2,776 all purpose yards. The next year he ranked 5th most in NCAA history with 2,833 yards. He'll give McNabb a new weapon and help Brian Westbrook by preventing defenses from loading up against the aging running back. Westbrook turns 30 at the start of the season and will also get relief thanks to 2.21 pick of running back LeSean McCoy who can actually help Westbrook stay healthier with a breather whenever needed. Those two picks will prevent the Eagles from becoming one-dimensional again and yet boost fantasy numbers for the two fantasy stud veterans.
Brady Quinn (Browns) - The Browns fell to 31st in passing yards last year thanks in part to quarterback injuries and wideout drops. The offseason started no better with an inability to trade Braylon Edwards before the draft and Donte' Stallworth's arrest on DUI manslaughter. Cleveland used its first three picks to shore up its offense and started by strengthening the offensive line with top rookie center Alex Mack out of California with their 1.21 pick. More importantly to Quinn, the next two selections went for wideouts with Ohio State's Brian Robiskie (2.04) and Georgia's Mohamed Massaquoi (2.18). Quinn has a chance now to restart his career in Cleveland with a talented - but young - wide receiver corps. With the likelihood that Stallworth will miss time if not be gone, the double-up pick on wideouts may be a season-saver for the Browns and provide an interesting fantasy opportunity from a team that will need to throw.
Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars) - The Jaguars made no pretense about what their priority was in the NFL draft - better blockers. The Jaguars rushing attack ranked #2 in rushing yards in both 2006 and 2007 but then fell to just 18th last season. The 1.08 pick snapped up Eugene Monroe and the Virginia product is not only huge at 6-5 and 309 pounds, but he has superior strength and quickness. Monroe even ran a 5.09/40 to prove he can cover ground when needed. The Jaguars used their 2.07 pick to return to the well once again and brought up Arizona's Eben Britton with nearly identical physical stats as Monroe. They were the third and fourth offensive tackles taken in this year's draft. No team was as serious as Jacksonville at improving their offensive line. Also favorable for Jones-Drew was what the Jaguars did not do - draft (or otherwise acquire) a replacement for Fred Taylor. The rushing lane is open for Jones-Drew this year and apparently he will be driving all alone.
Adrian Peterson (Vikings) - Granted it is hard to get much higher on the fantasy prospects of Adrian Peterson, but his lofty status could be even higher in your fantasy drafts thanks to the Vikings first two selections. Wideout Percy Harvin (1.22) was a dual-threat at Florida where his open field ability was used as both a rusher and a receiver. Considered by many to be the most dynamic playmaker in this year's draft, he brings a package of hands, speed and cutting ability that adds a new dimension to the Vikings offense. While that would help the quarterback, that also gives Peterson a boost since Harvin will have to be accounted for by the safety that can no longer just shadow the running back. Adding the massive Sooner offensive tackle of Philip Loadholt with the 2.22 pick only makes Peterson owners feel even more smug. Loadholt shows up standing 6-8 and weighing a mere 332 pounds.
Calvin Johnson (Lions) - Before you write off Johnson because he has a rookie quarterback, realize that Roddy White ranked 4th in receiving yards and 8th in receptions last year with rookie Matt Ryan. Johnson now pairs with the first player taken in the draft, Matthew Stafford who was considered the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. The ex-Georgia star is blessed with arm strength that can test how quickly Johnson can get downfield. This classic pocket passer ushers in a new era for the Lions and Johnson was already an elite wideout playing with mediocre quarterbacks. Now he'll gain chemistry with the best player to come out in the 2009 NFL draft. The Lions also added Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew with their 1.20 pick as the first tight end drafted this year. The top quarterback and tight end can only help Johnson reach his true potential.
Steven Jackson (Rams) - The loss of Pro Bowl tackle Orlando Pace was unavoidable but the Rams addressed the loss directly when they used their 1.02 pick in the draft on Baylor's Jason Smith. The 6-5, 309 pound OL had always been a superior pass blocker but stepped up to be a dominant run blocker as well. Jackson also benefits from what the Rams have not been doing - acquiring notable offensive talent around him. The Rams never drafted another offensive player until the end of the 5th round and appear ready to enter the 2009 season with Donnie Avery and Keenan Burton as the starting wideouts. Jackson not only will be heavily relied on as a rusher, he'll need to figure in as a receiver as well. He led all running backs in 2006 when he reeled in 90 catches for 806 yards and may need to repeat that role.
Every NFL team is limited to 53 active players so the flood of rookies each season will challenge the veterans to hold onto their jobs. But in fantasy football - some of those vets just raised their own value in your fantasy draft.