Fantasy football owners are already planning on how their teams will be contenders in 2013—hiring Chip Kelly to run their squads is out—and one sure way is to follow which college prospects go where during the NFL draft.
Fantasy leagues were turned upside down in 2012 thanks to outstanding rookies like Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris, Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin. In fact this might have been the most valuable rookie crop in the history of fantasy football.
Too bad the 2013 NFL draft does not appear to be loaded with offensive talent, especially at the skill positions. Where franchise quarterbacks and running backs were stocking the shelves last year, this year those shelves are as bare as Best Buy’s after a Black Friday sale on flat screen TVs.
There are still some familiar college stars who could be on your fantasy roster in September. Here are four NFL draft prospects who could become fantasy factors in 2013:
Geno Smith, West Virginia Mountaineers (QB)
There is a lot to like about Smith’s college career. He steadily improved each year in terms of touchdown passes, completion percentage, quarterback rating and touchdown-to-interception ratio, and he finished with 4,205 passing yards, 42 touchdown tosses and a 71.2 completion percentage in his final season, so he ended on a much higher note than Barkley did.
But Smith’s stock was given a helmet-to-helmet hit late in the 2012 season when he faltered slightly against stiffer competition during West Virginia’s first foray versus Big-12 Conference foes. After not throwing an interception in his first six games, Smith tossed six picks over his last seven and watched his Mountaineers lose six of their last eight contests despite his above-average stats.
Smith’s passing prowess cannot be questioned. He is accurate, can throw the long ball and is not turnover-prone like Philip Rivers. But if you want rushing yards as an extra-added bonus from your fantasy QB, take Wilson or Griffin instead. Smith does not have the mad scrambling skills those two and others have. He only rushed for 342 yards and four TD during his collegiate career.
Smith is kind of lucky that he is turning pro this year, because he will be in higher demand thanks to the dearth of quality quarterbacks available in the draft. And with some NFL teams without a talented starting QB—I’m talking about you Kansas City, Arizona, Buffalo and Jacksonville—Smith will get picked in the first round, if not with the first pick overall by Kansas City, a team that has had it with the terrible twosome of Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn.
With the way rookie quarterbacks are now being thrust onto the field ASAP rather than forced to watch a veteran for a couple seasons, Smith’s fantasy impact will be immediate.
Matt Barkley, USC Trojans (QB)
The phrase “stay in school” should not apply to all college football players. Barkley is a prime example.
Barkley would have been a hotshot first-round pick, maybe a top-10 pick, if he chose to turn pro after his junior season, but many thought he was wise to return to USC because of all the other available superstar signal callers like Luck and Griffin who would have probably hurt Barkley’s draft stock.
Barkley stayed in school and his draft stock stagnated at best, and fell at worst. He had a couple poor showings in high-profile games and ended his senior season with a serious shoulder injury. Barkley and Smith are still considered the top two quarterbacks available in the draft, but do not get it twisted—they are no Luck and RG3.
But Barkley definitely has the classic look, size, arm strength and accuracy of an NFL starting quarterback. He threw 101 touchdown passes over his last three college seasons and can make any throw on the football field. If he was drafted by Arizona and got the chance to throw to Larry Fitzgerald all the time he would certainly be a fantasy factor—and cannot be as bad as John Skelton.
Expect Barkley to be drafted high in the first round and for him to start at some point in the 2013 season. He should be on your fantasy radar and will hopefully not turn out to be a bust like Heath Shuler, Jimmy Claussen and countless others.
Keenan Allen, California Golden Bears (WR)
Allen did not finish among the NCAA leaders in receptions or yards this year because he missed the final three games due a knee injury, and he only had one 100-yard game thanks to several factors including mediocre quarterbacks throwing to him and facing constant double teams from secondaries.
But do not let the stats fool you. Allen has been getting props from several draft pundits who consider him a first-round pick because of his route running, sure hands and ball skills. He may not be a burner who will average 20 yards per catch, but he should be reliable and able to make plays in the red zone and end zone. And Allen racked up 1,343 yards in 2011 when he was healthy and had more help from his teammates, so he can post big numbers.
Allen should go in the middle-to-late portion of the first round and help a team out. The question is how quickly will he help. Rookie receivers sometimes get off to rocky starts. Look no further than Arizona’s Michael Floyd and San Francisco’s A.J. Jenkins this year for proof of that.
Zach Ertz, Stanford Cardinal (TE)
Ertz appears to be the top tight end available in the draft, and if that turns out to be the case than fantasy owners will have to monitor his progress between April and September because quality tight ends are getting harder to find in fantasy leagues.
The tight end spot in fantasy has a wide margin between the top tier and the second tier guys. New England’s Rob Gronkowski, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Dallas’ Jason Witten remain as the premier players at the position. With Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez likely retiring, San Diego’s Antonio Gates fading and Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller questionable after tearing his ACL late in the season, the next tier of tight ends has been weakened.
Ertz is coming off a breakout season this year after escaping former teammate Coby Fleener’s shadow. Ertz had 69 receptions for 898 yards and six scores, using his massive 6'6", 250-pound frame down the seems to be a physical force against smaller defensive backs or slower linebackers.
One thing possibly going against Ertz is Fleener himself. Fleener was the first tight end taken in the 2012 draft, and while he has plenty of potential, he did not exactly put up Shannon Sharpe-like numbers in his rookie campaign (281 yards, two TD). So there could be a slight fear that Stanford tight ends are overrated.
Ertz appears that he could be off the board by late in the first round or early in the second round. If he can find the end zone better than Fleener did this past season, Ertz will be a dark horse fantasy factor. Six hundred yards and a half-dozen touchdowns is not unreasonable depending on which team drafts him and which quarterback is passing to him.