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Fantasy Football and the 2011 Draft

Greetings all of our fellow WCG followers, and thanks to the staff for sticking by me while I went through a surgery and recovery on my shoulder & bicep that prevented me from contributing the last few weeks. Now that I am well into physical therapy and recovery, I thought it would be a good time to get back to the business of football...Fantasy football that is!

Since my last article, a lot has moved in the NFL because of the draft, even if we don't have free agency yet. Follow me after the jump to take a look at how the 2011 NFL draft may impact the 2011 NFL season, assuming we have one.

There are three primary ways the draft can impact fantasy football - you get new players (ala Julio Jones) that will score and may need to be added to our list of guys to draft; you can see improved play (hopefully ala Matt Forte) from existing veterans because of upgrades that support them (like Gabe Carimi); and you can see veterans fall off because they lose playing time or targets to rookies. Now, some vets may get cut or traded, but that will be covered if and when we get a free agency edition. I will focus entirely on impact #1 in this article - Rookies. We will save vet impacts after we see how FA plays out.

Quarterbacks: Two things you must know - #1  Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick may all get a chance to start in 2011. #2 Rookie quarterbacks just don't put up fantasy football starter numbers. It just doesn't happen. Even when rookies have first year success (Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco) they don't finish top 12 in fantasy scoring at their position. That means they are not starter quality quarterbacks. All of the above rookies are at best 9th+ round selections. Now, there are exceptions to every rule, and in this case, the exception is this: Dynasty Leagues. Rookie quarterbacks have more value and go higher in dynasty leagues. You have to balance "win now" against "build for the future".: They still aren't starters, and might not be worth the #2 spot, but you might have to make room for them and carry a 3rd QB. I specify dynasty because standard keeper leagues (3 or less keepers) don't have room for developmental players. If I am targeting a future QB for a dynasty league, I am focusing on Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick, and Jake Locker. They are some of the most "typical" NFL QBs who landed in the best situations. You could argue Christian Ponder, but I don't know about taking an over-drafted rookie QB, who despite a great supporting cast of play makers (Rice, Harvin, Peterson) has to play 6 games a year against GB ,Chicago, and Detroit's D-Lines and pass rushers. My money would be on Kaepernick to be honest, because I have more faith in Harbaugh than any other coach with a rookie QB to develop, and more faith that you can succeed in the NFC West than any other football division.

Running Back: 29 running backs drafted by 23 different teams...That's a lot of backfield additions, which means someone I don't talk about will probably rush for 1000 yards and make me look stupid. With that being said, I look back at what Pierre Thomas did in New Orleans when healthy in 2007-2009 (averaging 4.8 YPC or more) and have to believe New Orleans plans on getting Ingram more touches than they gave Thomas back then. Ingram isn't as fast as you'd like in an NFL back, but in New Orleans open offense, Ingram's ability to blow through contact will let him have similar success. He is worth tagging as a 3rd-4th running back. I would NOT fall into the trap of drafting him as a starter; his team hasn't proven they will lean on a back enough to show me he will get the touches he needs to be a #2. In dynasty leagues, he will probably go early, and its always hard to tell how soon or late to draft a rookie RB in a dynasty league...He just may be late first round material in that situation. Mikel Leshoure is a Chicago favorite, but he will share carries and play against some good run defenses most of the year, and probably won't hit 1000 yards in the next couple of seasons. He and Ryan Williams in Arizona will both fall into time shares, though they may be good #4-#5 backs to play based on situation. I wouldn't invest a high pick in either for dynasty leagues for the same time share concerns. Daniel Thomas in Miami might be the player to watch; he is a power runner on a team that likes power offense that may be losing both of their starting running backs this off-season. Before anyone asks, I never trust New England running backs. New England prefers to use backs rotationally, reinforced by taking two high round running backs this year to restock (2nd and 3rd round).  They prefer to pass, and they like to use fresh legs. No one is likely to average over 16 carries or 20 touches in their offense.

Wide Receivers: Julio Jones. If you are targeting a "production this year" or "dynasty keeper" rookie wide receiver, Julio Jones is the answer. He could be a bust, but Atlanta gave up too much to not give him every chance to succeed. They have a great QB in the making for him to grow with. They have a dynamic #1 receiver to play across from him. They have a powerful running game to keep guys in the box. You couldn't ask for a better situation for a receiver. In dynasty keepers, if you have a need, he is a 1st-2nd pick. In standard leagues, think #3 receiver. A.J. Green will get the high number of snaps and surely has the talent as well, but may not have a QB and faces stiff defenses much of the year. Baldwin finds himself in the second best situation to Jones in my opinion and might be worth taking as a 4th-5th receiver this season. Kansas City can run, likes to throw, has a mediocre division, and has a decent QB and play making #1 receiver already. Other guys to watch for #5-#6 receiver positions, also called "just in case" spots in my book include: Titus Young in Detroit, Torrey Smith in Baltimore, Randall Cobb in Green Bay, and Vincent Brown in San Diego. Any of them could end up as solid #2 receivers in the next 1-3 years, but draft them as what they are this year - sub-1000 yard rookie receivers who will have to adjust to the NFL.

Tight Ends: Buyer beware. Kyle Rudolph will be the second best receiving tight end in Minnesota, the 4th-5th best receiving option, and will have a rookie QB at the helm against some great defenses. If you need a rookie tight end, look at Lance Kendricks in target starved and QB talented St. Louis instead. He is coming out of a pro offense and coming off of a 40+ catch, 600+ yard 5 TD season. I'd still look at him as a #2 tight end, drafted in the double digit rounds...but if you need a TE of the future for a dynasty league this might be your guy.

Wrap-Up: Mark Ingram, Daniel Thomas, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, and Anthony Baldwin all deserve drafting this year. Most of the rest will be double digit round acquisitions or undrafted free agent pickups in Fantasy. The worst thing you can do is overhype a rookie, overdraft a rookie, and try to rely on him as a starter in fantasy football. Only Running Backs can claim to put out starter worthy stats for first year players, and that is still not as bright in this draft class as it was say in 2008, when you knew guys would get carries where they were going. If its a dynasty building for the future my picks are Colin Kaepernick, Julio Jones, Daniel Thomas, and Lance Kendricks.

Next Up: Friday we will take a look at IDP implications of the draft, and mention impacts on D/ST squads.


Its good to be back, Bear down and Bull over the competition! (kinda like Taj on Wade)