2013 NFL Draft Predictions: Forecasting Best Rookie Fantasy Player by Position

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2013

MORGANTOWN, WV - NOVEMBER 03:  Tavon Austin #1 of the West Virginia Mountaineers carries the ball against the TCU Horned Frogs during the game on November 3, 2012 at Mountaineer Field in Morgantown, West Virginia.  TCU defeated WVU in two overtimes 39-38.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Super Bowl XLVII is a thing of the past, which means it's time to turn our attention to football's next premier event—the 2013 NFL Draft.

This year's class has quickly been termed "the linemen class." That is, almost all of the draft's top-rated players line up in the trenches, not the outside.

But as with any class, there are numerous players capable of coming in and making a big statistical difference in year one.

So without further ado, here's next year's top fantasy choice at each position.


Quarterback: Geno Smith, West Virginia

There are murmurs about how none of this year's quarterbacks deserve to go in the first round. And while I recognize and agree with their sentiment—that this is a historically weak draft class for signal-callers—I can't get on board with their message.

Geno Smith faded down the stretch last season, but much of that was the fault of his team not himself. Yes, he was blessed with some of the best offensive weapons in the nation, but he also blessed those skill guys with one of the most accurate passers.

Though he has deceptive, Aaron Rodgers-esque speed, Smith is often mislabeled a running quarterback. He's not. And though those are all the rage in the league nowadays, from a health perspective, I think he'll be better off because of it.

A whole lot of teams are wanting for passers right now, so Smith should definitely get a shot to start next season. If he's put in the right situation—say, maybe, Philadelphia—he could also be a top-10 fantasy passer.


Running Back: Montee Ball, Wisconsin

Personally, I think Michigan State's Le'Von Bell is the most complete back in the draft, and I think he'll have the best career of the bunch. But for the immediate future, I'm changing that 'e' to an 'a.'

Wisconsin's Montee Ball, the leading touchdown scorer in NCAA history, will contribute to fantasy teams because...well, because of just that: touchdowns.

Whoever is savvy enough to pick the bruising 212-pounder is getting a guy that's automatic inside the 5-yard line. A "sure thing" doesn't exist in the NFL, but Ball around the goal-line will be close enough.

It won't be long before he's the NFL's quintessential touchdown vulture.


Wide Receiver: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Cal's Keenan Allen and Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson appear higher on almost all lists and they'll probably be selected earlier, too. However, Tavon Austin will be the guy to own in fantasy leagues next year.

Even for the most transcendent talents—which neither Allen nor Patterson are—there's a steep learning curve for perimeter receivers in the NFL. Opposing corners are bigger, faster, stronger, smarter. It takes some bumps to learn how to play with them.

But for Austin, who projects as a shifty slot guy, that curve might not be so steep. The diminutive burner is tailor-made for the new NFL—a place that relies on three things, all of which are speed.

Given the proper offense, Austin could put up eye-popping numbers right out of the gate.


Tight End: Zach Ertz, Stanford

Zach Ertz was so good last year for a number of reasons, but more than anything else, his versatility made him unguardable. Per Steve Muench of ESPN.com:

Ertz caught 11 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown against Oregon in 2012, and a breakdown of that production is a testament to how he can attack defenses in different ways. He caught five passes when lined up wide, four working out of the slot and two from the traditional in-line tight end spot. 

Ertz's frame (6-foot-6, 249 pounds), athletic ability and ability to catch the ball with a defender on his back gave the Ducks problems on the outside, and his quickness gave them problems when he lined up at tight end. He can cause the same kind of matchup challenges for defensive coordinators at the next level.

He can line up at any and all spots of the field, something that—again, viewed through the prism of a new, progressive NFL—makes him a valuable commodity.

Paired with a deft offensive coordinator, Ertz may be next in a long line of great pass-catching tight ends.