I love the NFL Draft, but what’s more important to me than where 2009's prospects were drafted is how they play on the field.
For something like fantasy football, you don't (or shouldn't) care about when a player is drafted and if it was a reach or a steal. All that matters is where they play, who they play, and how many points they will get for your team when they do play.
Let's take a closer look at how some of the top rookies will do, as well as some sleeper picks.
Mark Sanchez (NYJ) is the only rookie who has a chance at being a starter when the season kicks off (barring injury).
If Sanchez is the starter, I wouldn't recommend taking him much higher than a kicker or defense, but it doesn't mean he won't be successful. You can expect the Jets' quarterback to play in a ball control style of offense much like Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens.
Sanchez might earn a spot start on a few fantasy rosters this season, but he should not be your regular starter because he won’t record enough fantasy value stats.
It will be interesting to see how the fantasy leagues handle Pat White (MIA). Will he have dual eligibility?
Miami will use White eight to 10 times per game, if not more, giving him an opportunity for a touchdown per game whether it's through the air or ground—possibly even catching a pass from Chad Pennington as well.
I would not laugh at someone drafting White in the top 100 because of his fantasy ceiling, but he does carry risk.
Last year, rookie runners were pivotal in most owners’ playoff runs. It doesn't matter if they were picked in the beginning, middle, or end of the draft; all players are just one play away from the spotlight.
However, I don't expect the same production out of this year's group.
Denver made a power play drafting Knowshon Moreno, and new head coach Josh McDaniels will use him a lot. I like Moreno as a fantasy player because you don't have to necessarily hand him the ball to be productive. I see Moreno ranking in the top 75 prospects to start the season.
The other first-rounders, Donald Brown (IND) and Chris Wells (ARZ), should also be fantasy productive as well. Brown will be behind Joseph Addai, but being a versatile back, expect it to be a shared backfield in Indy, earning him a worthy mid-late fantasy round pick. Wells should unseat Tim Hightower as the starter in Arizona, but he carries some risk entering the fantasy season, earning him a mid-to-late round pick as well.
With Brian Westbrook's health in question, LeSean McCoy (PHI) will take some of the load in Philly, but unless Westbrook is injured, I don't expect many touchdowns from McCoy, making him a reach in fantasy drafts.
Shonn Greene (NYJ) was very productive last year in college, though his one-sidedness puts his rookie potential into question. Thomas Jones has never been much of a touchdown machine, but in Rex Ryan's philosophy, I expect him to get a bulk of the red zone carries. I would hold off on picking Greene until it looks like he will be a major part of the running game.
Another waiver wire sleeper to watch for is Andre Brown of the New York Giants. He ran a sub 4.4 forty at the combine and will be replacing Derrick Ward behind NY's great offensive line.
If Willis McGahee cannot bear the load in Baltimore, Cedric Peerman will earn some touches.
Lastly, I like Rashad Jennings, the seventh-round pick of Jacksonville. The Jags have both lost Fred Taylor and upgraded their offensive line. Jennings will add some much-needed size to the rotation and could earn some goal line carries.
We are looking at one of the thickest rookie receiver crops in a long time.
While I wasn't a fan of the Darrius Heyward-Bey pick, the Raiders will attempt to get him the ball deep, making him a good option as a fifth, maybe fourth receiver in your draft. That being said, I think he will be a bust as a player, so beware.
Michael Crabtree (SF) lacks a trustworthy quarterback right now, but he will be working opposite Isaac Bruce, which will help him to get open. I like his chances of out-producing DHB as a rookie.
Other speedsters Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin received warm welcomes from Philadelphia and Minnesota, respectively. Whether it's in the receiving, running, or returning games, or even the wildcat, Maclin will score touchdowns this year. I don't expect him to rack up a ton of yards though.
Harvin will be used in many of the same ways Maclin will be, maybe in an even more diverse setting. Teams are starting to stack the box against the Vikings, which will give Harvin plenty of space to work.
I like Maclin as a fifth receiver and late round pick, while I may take Harvin more towards the middle rounds as my rookie receiver with the highest ceiling.
The New York Giants drafted a very NFL-ready receiver in Hakeem Nicks and a project of sorts in Ramses Barden. Nicks is the best receiver on the New York squad, and he should consume a lot of yards and catches with decent touchdown production. Barden has great jump ball potential in the end zone, and he should have a high YPC with limited receptions.
I would take Nicks somewhere after the 10th round and would wait on Barden before I roster him.
In Tennessee, Kenny Britt will get an opportunity to be the man, but don't expect the Titans to air it out much. He's a late-round grab at best.
Cleveland also added two good receivers in Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi, and it doesn't necessarily mean they are moving Braylon Edwards. Robiskie is much more polished and should be the Browns' second receiver, while Massaquoi is more of an insurance policy competing for the third or fourth receiver position. Depending on who's throwing in Cleveland, Robiskie would be good as a very late pick because he's ready to play right now.
Miami made an interesting selection in the third round with Patrick Turner out of USC. Expect Turner to be used in an H-back role where the accurate Chad Pennington can exploit him in mismatches. If there's nobody left, Turner could be a sleeper pick, and he's definitely a player to keep your eye on.
Chicago made the big offseason trade for Jay Cutler, and in the third round they added to his arsenal with Juaquin Iglesias. This could be a very productive pick for Chicago. Iglesias has plenty of experience, and Cutler has proven success with rookie receivers. I don't think he will be Rookie of the Year, but Iglesias is a strong fourth or fifth receiver for your roster. Also keep your eye on Chicago's Johnny Knox.
I'm a big fan of short receivers because they are great route runners and usually have to be very athletic to get as far as they have. Apparently Jacksonville is thinking the same thing, going away from the giant receivers they had last year. Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard will be learning from and working alongside Torry Holt, giving the Jags their best receivers since the Jimmy Smith-Keenan McCardell days.
I like Thomas, but Dillard was my top sleeper in the entire draft, so I will give him the nod if you're choosing between the two. Dillard could have Eddie Royal numbers, and I will be picking him late in the draft.
Anthony Gonzalez should be looking over his shoulder in Indianapolis because the Colts may have drafted Marvin Harrison's replacement in Austin Collie out of BYU. Collie has fantastic hands, and he is a very good route runner and ball carrier. He cannot run the go route like Harrison, and I cannot suggest him as a pick because he will start the season as the team's sixth offensive weapon, but keep an eye on him.
The last potential deep sleepers are Brandon Gibson of the Eagles and Demetrius Byrd of the Chargers. Neither player merits a pick, but they could be instrumental in their teams' success late in the season.
With Daunte Culpepper under center in Detroit, Brandon Pettigrew will have plenty of opportunities to get big and make a first down or touchdown catch. Pettigrew should be on the board fairly late in the draft, so if you're not going to target one of the elite tight ends, be sure to include the former Oklahoma State Cowboy on your watch list.
The Titans have been looking for a go-to tight end for a while, and they got a steal in the third round with the super athletic tight end Jared Cook. This is primarily a receiving pick, which bodes well for fantasy players. I wouldn't expect Cook to be a draft pick, but if he emerges as the primary target down the middle of the field, add him quick.
The New York Giants seem happy with Kevin Boss, but his stats may take a hit with the addition of Travis Beckum. Considered an H-back in the NFL, Beckum may produce a touchdown here and there, but nothing draft-worthy.
Shawn Nelson is another H-back type in Buffalo with playmaking skills. It doesn't look like there will enough balls coming his way for a pick this season though.
Cincinnati and Houston also added very good tight ends in Chase Coffman and James Casey, respectively. Both players catch the ball very well and are worth keeping your eye on.
The last tight end pick that could impact the fantasy season is Cornelius Ingram going to Philadelphia. Ingram hasn't played football in over a year, but he could come down with the clutch catches for Philly that L.J. Smith couldn't.
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