NFL general managers will not be the only people looking to build dynasties around the top prospects available in April’s NFL draft. Fantasy football owners will be trying to do the same thing.
Rookies do not waste any time making an impact anymore, no matter the position. Just this past season fantasy owners enjoyed amazing rookie seasons from quarterbacks like Carolina’s Cam Newton and Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, running backs like Dallas’ DeMarco Murray and Washington’s Roy Helu, and wide receivers like Atlanta’s Julio Jones and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green.
Andrew Luck, Stanford Cardinal (QB)
Remember the good ol’ days when rookie quarterbacks had no chance of starting right away and had to hold clipboards for the veteran QBs for a couple years before they got their chances? Those days are long gone, my friends. That idea died around the same time Crocs were considered cool.
2011 was the Year of the Rookie Quarterback, with Newton and Dalton starting immediately for their teams and having fantastic seasons, and other first-round rooks like Jacksonville’s Blaine Gabbert and Minnesota’s Christian Ponder starting during their first years as well.
Luck will be the top pick in April’s NFL draft and will run the show from day one for the Indianapolis Colts. He has all of the physical tools—NFL arm, NFL body, mobility in and out of the pocket, accuracy, intelligence, durability—to be a franchise quarterback, which is why experts believe he is the best college prospect of the last decade.
Luck might struggle to put up outstanding numbers in his first season. With Indy rebuilding its cellar-dweller club and possibly jettisoning veteran pass-catchers Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark, Luck could be in for a long season. However, any fantasy owner who drafts Luck in a dynasty league might have a Tom Brady-type QB for the next 12 years.
Robert Griffin III, Baylor Bears (QB)
While Luck might be the prototypical passer destined for greatness, he did not win the Heisman Trophy. RGIII did. And you cannot argue with Griffin’s numbers—4,293 passing yards, 37 touchdown passes, 10 touchdown runs and 699 rushing yards makes a fantasy owner drool quicker than a a free stat service.
Griffin can throw the deep ball, throw on the run and scramble quicker for 10 yards than your average greyhound. His combination of lethal arm and dangerous legs makes him the double fantasy threat that Newton and Michael Vick are.
There are several NFL teams desperate for quarterback help, so it would come as no surprise if Griffin starts from the get-go. If he starts for the Cleveland Browns or Washington Redskins, his lack of receivers may stunt his early stats, but eventually RGIII will turn into a quarterback every fantasy owners wished he or she owned.
Trent Richardson, Alabama Crimson Tide (RB)
Richardson is the top running back available in the upcoming draft and is a lock to be taken within the first 10 picks, if not the first five. There is no other college running back coming out that is in his area code.
Fantasy owners love Richardson’s future because there is not one category he does not do well in. You want rushing yards? Richardson rumbled for 1,679 of them against mostly staunch SEC defenses. You need touchdowns? Richardson is a red-zone renegade, scoring 24 touchdowns in 2011. You love RB who contribute receiving yards? Richardson caught 29 passes for 338 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown, so he will not be substituted for on third downs in the NFL.
Richardson reminds me a lot of Arian Foster, a downhill runner who makes one cut and then sprints forward, but who also has the hands and agility to turn screen passes into 20-yard gains. He should become one of the top-10 running backs in fantasy football within his first couple years in the NFL.
Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (WR)
You see how Detroit’s Calvin Johnson has dominated the NFL and become the most valuable receiver to have in fantasy football? Blackmon could be just as dominant by 2013 or 2014.
Blackmon caught 232 passes (38 for touchdowns) over his last two seasons with Oklahoma State and is projected as a possible top-five pick, especially if he runs well at the NFL scouting combine. He has hands, size, leaping ability and can make plays downfield no matter what coverage he is up against.
It used to be that rookie receivers would need a year under their belts before they mastered the arts of route running, recognizing coverages and creating space when facing man-to-man coverage. However, with Jones and Green immediately bursting onto the scene in 2011 and paying immediate fantasy dividends, there is no reason to think Blackmon will not do the same.
The bottom line is this: Blackmon has a much better chance becoming the next Megatron than the next Michael Crabtree.
Lamar Miller, Miami Hurricanes (RB)
The Miami, Fla. product might not have received a lot of notoriety during the season because his Canes were 6-6, but Miller is projected to be the second running back taken in the draft by many pundits and has the potential to be a fantasy force.
Miller rushed for 1,272 yards and nine touchdowns this past season despite being on an average team with an average offensive line. Imagine what he could do if one of the NFL’s playoff-caliber teams, say the New England Patriots or Denver Broncos, picked him in the first or second round? He might be a 1,000-yard, 10-TD tailback right off the bat.
Miller is not a Marshall Faulk or Ray Rice kind of back because his receiving skills need honing. He only had 181 receiving yards during his two years of college ball. His hands are about as trustworthy as Don King.
But if Miller is drafted by a team who gives him 15-20 carries per game, he has the breakaway speed and big-play ability to become a fabulous fantasy find. And if he can add a couple hundred receiving yards per season to his totals, then the sky is the limit.