The NFL Draft wrapped up for another year this past weekend. There were a lot of predictable picks (Cam Newton) but also a lot of surprises (Christian Ponder). So what does all of this mean from a fantasy football perspective? And who has the best chance of making your opening day roster? Here’s a list of the top 10 names you should keep tabs on.
There’s a lot of pressure on Jones coming into this season – after all, the Falcons gave up the farm to move up and grab the wide receiver out of Alabama. But with the move, Atlanta’s offence just went into another hemisphere. Jones is a big, fast, worker bee who has drawn comparisons to Hines Ward and Terrell Owens for his outstanding blocking ability. He should start on opening day and replace the unreliable Michael Jenkins. He has the talent to be a touchdown-maker for a long time, and it doesn’t hurt having Matt Ryan around to throw him the football either. Draft this man!
The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner will be a big player in a crowded Saints backfield. Does Ingram’s arrival spell the end of Reggie Bush in The Big Easy? That’s still up in the air. But along with Bush, Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas will also be battling for playing time. That doesn’t mean Ingram won’t get his opportunities to carry the ball. Despite the number of running backs on this team, no one individual has stepped up to claim the No. 1 spot. The Saints are first and foremost a passing team, but a productive running game can only make that stronger.
In terms of talent, I give Green the slight edge over Jones, but there’s no denying that the latter wide receiver has a much better set up coming into this season than the former. The Bengals are a team in transition, especially on offence since it’s doubtful Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and Carson Palmer will return. Barring a miracle, it looks more and more like fellow rookie Andy Dalton will be under centre when the Bengals open their season. But despite all that, Green is someone you’ll want on your fantasy team because he has the skills and ability to be the top guy. The Bengals will give him the opportunity to do just that.
The Chiefs really needed an upgrade at the wide receiver position – their second-leading receiver last year was a tight end (Tony Moeaki) and their third was a running back (Jamaal Charles). By drafting the Pittsburgh product, Kansas City gets another reliable option in an offence that has the potential to be very good again this year. Head coach Todd Haley has a reputation for getting the most out of his receivers (see: Fitzgerald, Larry or Bowe, Dwayne) and there’s no reason he can’t do the same with Baldwin, who will use his size (6-4, 228 pounds) to outwit his opponents. Another great tandem will be born in Kansas City.
Once again, the Dolphins filled a major need by picking up Thomas. Coming into this offseason, their big name running backs (Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams) are free agents. That means right off the bat, Thomas will get a chance to compete for the starting job in a run-first offence. He could be a big factor, especially because he’s able and familiar with working out of the Wildcat Formation. The Dolphins traded three picks to move up and get Thomas, so they obviously have a lot of faith in his ability after he rushed for 1,585 yards in college last season – the third-highest total in the NCAA.
Top to bottom, offence and defence, the Lions had a very good draft in 2011. By adding Young, Detroit picked up a solid insurance policy for the injury-prone Nate Burleson. The Boise State receiver is a big play threat that can stretch the field vertically and will be put in a position to take advantage of the double teams that will undoubtedly continue to follow Calvin Johnson. The only drawback on Young? Matt Stafford has a ton of weapons at his disposal, which might mean less action for the rookie.
Dalton ranks in the high-end of my rookie quarterbacks for one simple reason – he will likely be under centre and not holding a clipboard come opening day. The pivot from TCU has drawn comparisons to Drew Brees and Peyton Manning (not bad) for being a smart, productive and reliable QB. But he will have his hands full in Cincinnati. Yes, Dalton will have a great wide receiver (Green) at his disposal, but once again, that Bengals’ offence is in a state of flux. In terms of his fantasy value, his true worth won’t be realized this season, but he could be a decent bye week/spot starter in the short term.
There were a lot of questions about whether Newton should have been selected first overall – but there’s no denying that the Panthers needed a quarterback. Newton will make a big impact in Carolina’s offence, with defences forced to keep an eye on the big QB, opening up running lanes for Jonathan Stewart while also creating space for the wide receivers. But with rumours that Steve Smith is on his way out of town, who will Newton be throwing to? And what about Jimmy Clausen? Will Newton be the starting quarterback come opening day? Only time will tell.
This was the biggest surprise of the draft. But just because the Vikings drafted Ponder doesn’t mean they’re done shopping for quarterbacks (Donovan McNabb?). There could be a fierce competition in training camp. Minnesota does have some good offensive weapons and a solid running game, so that will take some of the pressure off. But just like Newton, it’s unclear whether Ponder will be the Vikings’ QB once the season kicks off. And for that reason he has limited fantasy value, but the Ponder picture will get less foggy as the offseason progresses.
Baltimore spent a lot of money on the wide receiver position last year (Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh) and didn’t get much in return. So the Ravens went out and picked up a receiver that has explosive speed and has the chance to make a real impact. Baltimore has a well-rounded offence, and that in itself is a plus for a deep threat like Smith. It’s unlikely that Smith will begin the season in the staring lineup, but depending how camp goes, don’t be surprised to see him on the field leaving defenders in his dust.