Monday, April 28, 2008

NFL Draft's fantasy impact

I love it when everybody jumps in a day or two after the NFL Draft to issue their grades for each team. Sometimes it takes three or four years to really assess a draft class, but we all want to know immediately how our teams did, who's a future Hall of Famer and who's the next dud. Funny, but I don't remember too many draftniks praising the Giants' draft last year (seven draftees played significant roles in their Super Bowl run), and we've barely seen anything from 2007's big-name picks, QBs JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn.

That being said, from a fantasy perspective, we can't afford to wait. We need to know what kind of impact the Class of 2008 will have this season. Sometimes taking a chance on an untested rookie like Adrian Peterson last year can be a championship-securing move.

Here's a look at some notable first-round draftees. Obviously we'll focus our attention on offensive skill players and what roles they'll play in their first season:

g QB Matt Ryan to Falcons: The BC product might develop into a quality starter someday, and he should have a shot at immediate playing time. But as you probably know, rookie QBs rarely make for good fantasy starters. I'm not touching him unless he's my backup, and even then I'm being cautious.

g RB Darren McFadden to Raiders: Even though they re-signed Justin Fargas (more than 1,000 yards rushing in only seven starts), and also have LaMont Jordan and Michael Bush at running back, Run DMC (above) was too good to pass up for Oakland. And that applies to him as a fantasy player too ... Peterson set the bar pretty high for rookie runners last year, but McFadden is the most obvious comparison in this year's class. He's a high-risk, high-reward No. 2 RB, and there will be a lot of competition for his services on draft day.

g RB Jonathan Stewart to Panthers: We thought Carolina might be done with the two-back system after DeShaun Foster left for San Francisco. We were excited to see what DeAngelo Williams might do as a full-time starter, but now it looks like another two-headed monster, with Stewart serving as the tough inside runner and Williams as the outside-running playmaker. Both are worthy of being on your bench, but it could be a little frustrating until we really see how they'll share the carries.

g QB Joe Flacco to Ravens: Baltimore's needed a franchise QB in the worst way for years, and it seems they've finally addressed that here. Problem is, Flacco probably doesn't have enough experience to step right in and play coming from Delaware. That means Kyle Boller will probably be the starter as Flacco eases his way in. In other words, Flacco has little to no fantasy value for '08.

g RB Felix Jones to Cowboys: Dallas has essentially replaced one Jones in their backfield with another. With Julius Jones off to Seattle, Felix and Marion Barber will be sharing time this year. Seems like the 'Boys were concerned Barber couldn't handle the full load, and Jones, McFadden's former running mate at Arkansas, probably can't either. Looks like a situation where we'll see them each averaging about 12 carries a game, but both have the skills to be touchdown-makers. Treat Barber as a No. 2 and Jones as a No. 3 for now.

g RB Rashard Mendenhall to Steelers: Starting to see a trend here? Pittsburgh's got Willie Parker but they still took Mendenhall as his complement. He's more of a power runner than Parker, and he's built to take the goal-line carries, a role Najeh Davenport was supposed to fill. This means Mendenhall will be valuable, although probably as a No. 4 fantasy RB, and Parker might be downgraded a little bit to a No. 2.

g RB Chris Johnson to Titans: Johnson, from East Carolina, made it into the first round based on his speed (4.24 40 at the combine). He's probably going to replace Chris Henry as the lightning to LenDale White's thunder in Tennessee's backfield, although I have questions about how much production we'll see from all those guys. The Titans have been inconsistent in how they use their runners, so I can't count on White or Johnson as anything more than a No. 4 RB.

Photo by The Associated Press

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