The NFL draft is not only beneficial to the college players who enter the league. It is also beneficial to the professionals who get to play with the highly skilled rookies.
While many NFL players will see their stats and fantasy values adversely affected by the arrival of high-round draft choices—talking about you, Mark Sanchez, Knowshon Moreno and Nate Washington!—many other fantasy stars should see their numbers and fantasy worth helped now that their teams have drafted some talented youngsters.
Here are three players whose fantasy values have gone up since the NFL draft, starting with the St. Louis Rams signal-caller:
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams (QB)
How do you make a quarterback like Sam Bradford the first pick overall in the draft a couple years ago and never surround him with any decent receivers? It is like picking Kate Upton to be on the cover of your magazine, but then sticking her in a spacesuit and putting a Frankenstein mask over her face.
Bradford has been throwing to an injury-prone, underachieving kiddie corps of receivers for too long. And when St. Louis did land a decent receiver for Bradford to throw to, such as Brandon Lloyd, Laurent Robinson or Danario Alexander, the organization made sure those players were not on the roster long enough for Bradford to benefit.
St. Louis signed humongous tight end Jared Cook to an equally humongous contract in the offseason to kick-start the process of giving Bradford more viable and talented options to throw to. But it was St. Louis’ daring doings in the first round of the draft that should have really pumped up Bradford owners in fantasy dynasty leagues.
The Rams traded up ahead of the receiver-starved New York Jets to steal West Virginia greyhound Tavon Austin with the eighth pick overall. Austin racked up 114 receptions for 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2012 and should be a multidimensional weapon who will make Bradford’s life a lot easier.
And to put an even bigger smile on the face of Bradford and fantasy owners, the Rams then drafted Austin’s equally dangerous college teammate, Stedman Bailey (1,622 yards, 25 TD in 2012), in the third round. Now Bradford has two new game-breaking receivers and an above-average tight end known for his passing attack, so that can only mean great things for his numbers.
Bradford has been a borderline No. 2 fantasy quarterback during his first three seasons. His 3,702 passing yards and 21 touchdowns passes in 2012 were career highs, but that still did not place him anywhere near fantasy football’s top 12 at the quarterback position.
But now that he has Austin, along with Bailey and Cook at his disposal, Bradford could finally realize the lofty potential of being a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL. If he throws for 4,000 yards and 25 TD in 2013, no one should be shocked.
Andre Johnson, Houston Texans (WR)
For years, Johnson has been double-covered by defenses, thanks to the mediocre Kevin Walter and below-average No. 3 and No. 4 receivers who could barely get a cornerback or safety to look in their direction.
If it was not for tight end Owen Daniels and one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL led by Arian Foster, Johnson would have likely been triple- or quadruple-covered on most Sundays.
Houston selected DeAndre Hopkins toward the end of the first round, so Johnson finally might have a receiver on the other side of the field who can distract defensive backs just enough so Johnson will not need a machete to get open.
Hopkins is a leaper and a burner—a big-play threat every time a ball is thrown his way, no matter if it is on a five-yard slant or a 50-yard go-route. He could turn out to be the best receiver Johnson has ever had on the other side of the field.
You could make the argument that Hopkins could actually hurt Johnson’s fantasy value because if the rookie catches on quickly and starts catching five passes per week that Johnson will not get targeted 160-170 times like he has during other seasons.
I am not that shortsighted. Hopkins will help more than he will hurt.
Was Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald more productive for fantasy owners when Anquan Boldin was with him? Yes. Was New York’s Victor Cruz more effective when Hakeem Nicks was hobbled or when he was healthy? The answer is healthy, because, last year, Cruz’s numbers suffered when Hicks was hobbled and opponents were able to shift their coverages Cruz’s way.
Look for Johnson to have another huge year, thanks in part to Hopkins being around and instilling some fear into defensive backs, just like Atlanta’s Julio Jones does for teammate Roddy White. Johnson should have another banner fantasy season in 2013.
Carson Palmer, Arizona Cardinals (QB)
There is no debate about which team had the worst offensive line in the NFL in 2012. It was easily Arizona, who allowed a league-worst 58 sacks and had its backs average a league-low 3.4 yards per carry.
Considering Carson Palmer is never confused with Russell Wilson in terms of speed and agility, the Arizona Cardinals had to upgrade their offensive line or else the football world might have had to be subjected to another appearance of Ryan Lindley at some point in 2013.
Arizona wisely drafted guard Jonathan Cooper with the seventh pick overall, and although the pick does not have the sexiness of a Jessica Alba, Cooper should help protect Palmer, which should lead to more passing yards and touchdown tosses for Arizona’s starting statue, not to mention more receptions, yards and touchdowns for receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.
Running backs Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams should also be helped by Cooper’s arrival, along with fifth-round steal Stepfan Taylor from Stanford, who does his best running between the tackles.
Arizona, hopefully, is not done beefing up its line, but Cooper is a step in the right direction for Palmer. The Cardinals also used its last couple late-round picks on skilled-position players, so Palmer should have a better supporting cast surrounding him than Kevin Kolb did last year.