Fantasy Football: An Attempt to Quantify Justin Blackmon's Rookie-Season Impact
Here's a same-position battle between fantasy assets that I couldn't have imagined just one month ago.
Mock Draft Central currently has Jacksonville rookie Justin Blackmon ranked as the No. 32 wide receiver in fantasy drafts, ahead of Laurent Robinson (Jaguars) and Sidney Rice (Seahawks) and behind Santonio Holmes (Jets) and Reggie Wayne (Colts).
But MDC's Average Draft Position rankings, by and large, were formulated before Blackmon's DUI arrest. Since that public misstep with the law, Blackmon has taken a big hit in fantasy circles...even though he's not likely to draw any game suspensions from the NFL.
In Minneapolis, Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson (50 catches, 725 yards, 4 TDs last year with the Bengals) didn't crack Mock Draft Central's top-60 listing of receivers, primarily because of the drug-related suspension (three games) that loomed throughout the offseason.
Nevertheless, the sleeper buzz has already begun: First, the Vikings players and coaches started gushing over Simpson's incredible athleticism (yes, The Flip) and quick comprehension of Minnesota's playbook.
After that, things really ratcheted up after the TV networks, and sports blogs aired/promoted practice video of Simpson's over-the-defender diving catch during OTA sessions—perhaps the greatest minicamp-based reception you'll see this spring.
All this begs the question: With Blackmon trending downward after his arrest, can Simpson ride this tidal wave of positive publicity all the way to top-40 respect in the fantasy realm—once his suspension ends after Week 3?
In a word...maybe.
With Cincinnati last year, Simpson drew seven or more targets seven times, but only once after Week 11. In his first 10 games, Simpson collected 70 targets, 30 catches, 562 yards and two touchdowns. Assuming he can get the receptions-to-targets ratio above 50 percent and avoid clunkers of zero, six or 14 yards (five times last year), Simpson has room for interesting growth with his new club.
Simpson's greatest competition for catches will likely be Percy Harvin (1,312 total yards, eight TDs in 2011), Devin Aromashodu, Michael Jenkins, tight ends Kyle Rudolph/John Carlson and, of course, running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.
Verdict: Even with the above mouths to feed, Simpson still has a good shot at 49 catches, 738 yards and five touchdowns for 13 games. (For the record, I prefer Minnesota's Christian Ponder over Jacksonville's Blaine Gabbert at quarterback.)
Regarding Blackmon, he was an on-field force at Oklahoma State, with per-season averages of 103 catches for 1,476 yards and 17 touchdowns for 2010 and '11. In the long-term view, he projects to be a WR1 for the Jaguars and a top-15 consideration among all wideouts in the next year or two.
But for 2012, let's keep things in perspective. After all, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald averaged only 53 catches and six touchdowns in their inaugural NFL seasons.
Targets: 64 catches, 936 yards and six touchdowns.
Blackmon pre-draft standing: Don't let him slide past Round 8 in standard-scoring drafts...and Round 7 for Points Per Reception leagues.
Simpson pre-draft standing: Round 13 in standard-scoring and PPR drafts.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.
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