It has now been two weeks since the NFL Draft and most teams have either held or are now now holding rookie minicamps. As we inch closer to the start of training camp, let’s review what each team accomplished on draft weekend and how it will impact your fantasy team, both short term and long.
Buffalo used their first pick on Leodis McKelvin, who they hope will step in and fill the void created when Nate Clements left last offseason. The team was smart not to pay market value for the overrated Clements and McKelvin could start at some point this season. Fantasy owners are more interested in their second-round selection, James Hardy of Indiana. With only Roscoe Parrish as competition, Hardy should be able to win the No. 2 receiver job in training camp. He is a great complement to Lee Evans, a speedy deep threat but lacks height. Meanwhile, James stands 6-5 but isn’t a true burner. Despite the fact rookie wideouts rarely produce consistently enough to warrant fantasy attention, Hardy has sleeper potential because he projects to be an excellent red zone target.
Although he doesn’t play a skill position, the selection of Michigan product Jake Long could be a huge boost to the fantasy value of more than one Dolphin. All you have to do is take a look at the impact Joe Thomas made last season to see why it is worth paying attention to offensive linemen when evaluating players for your team. Miami did use a pick on a skill position when they chose quarterback Chad Henne in the second round, but it will be a couple years before any dividends are paid on that pick. It looks like Henne will enter the season third on the team’s depth chart behind John Beck and Josh McCown.
New England Patriots:
The old saying goes, “cheating is only cheating when you’re caught” and that is exactly what happened to the Pats last season, costing them the 31st overall selection. If they had been able to keep the pick, they could have had their choice of any receiver in the draft or used it to upgrade the depth of their offensive line. New England had a solid draft, but they didn’t add much to their offense, and thus failed to catch the attention of fantasy owners.
New York Jets:
New York‘s selection of Vernon Gholston made sense on many levels, especially since he would have been an excellent fit for the rival Patriots one pick later. They also made a nice move by trading back into the first round to acquire tight end Dustin Keller, who could easily make the biggest impact of any non-RB rookie, especially since Chris Baker is threatening to hold out as a form of protest. Baker is drastically overestimating his value to the team and will experience a reality check this summer when his holdout is met with apathy, not concern.
The Ravens played the draft board well this year. Once they lost the chance to draft Matt Ryan, they traded down with the Jaguars to get some extra selections and then trade back up with the Texans to get the 18th pick to ensure they got the next quarterback on their board, Joe Flacco. It remains to be seen if the Ravens throw Flacco to the wolves as a rookie or chose to groom him with a baseball cap and clipboard. Either way, fantasy owners shouldn’t expect any returns from him until 2009 or 2010 because he’ll be experiencing a huge jump in competition from lowly Delaware to the big leagues. Baltimore also added some quality depth at running back by selecting Ray Rice, whose stock has dropped a bit since the 2006 season but still was a very good value in the second round. He is Willis McGahee‘s handcuff.
The Bengals took a pair of wideouts with their first four picks, which is no surprise since they’ve already parted ways with Chris Henry and are currently in stare down with Chad Johnson that may result in him being traded. The problem, though, is that they picked two guys who won’t be able to make an immediate impact. Selecting Jerome Simpson ahead of Limas Sweed is a move that can euphemistically be described as interesting but really was just stupid, especially for a team that may call upon a rookie to start at some point this season. Andre Caldwell is a nice long-term prospect who probably won’t be a consistent fantasy producer until his third season at the earliest.
Cleveland spent their first three picks on Brady Quinn, Corey Williams, and Shaun Roger via trades, and each player was a good value, especially considering how late in the round the Browns’ picks were. The only skill position players they drafted were pass-catching tight end Martin Rucker, who will be behind Kellen Winslow on the depth chart but is a name to keep in the back of your mind because of K-2’s injury history, and wideout Paul Hubbard, whose 6-2 frame makes him a potential red-zone threat in the future.
The Steelers had one of the most fantasy-friendly drafts in the league. They used their first-round pick on Rashard Mendenhall, who will immediately become Willie Parker’s primary backup. Even if Parker stays healthy all season, Mendenhall has a chance to be a productive option because the team has said they will implement two-back sets with Rashard and Parker. Plus, Mendenhall and his 225 pounds of muscle will get a chance to win the short-yardage job from Najeh Davenport. The other big addition on draft day was Limas Sweed. The Texas product would have been the first wideout off the board, and probably a first-round pick, if he hadn’t suffered a wrist injury during his senior season that still isn’t 100%. He should be fully recovered by the time the season begins and will be Santonio Holmes’ backup at the “X” receiver position. It is always risky to expect a wideout to have a huge impact prior to his third season and Limas will likely follow that timeline. I believe Sweed will be the first wideout from this year’s class to gain 1,000 yards, although the depth Pittsburgh has at receiver with Holmes and Hines Ward may prove to be detrimental to Limas’ fantasy prospects.