2011 NFL Draft: Predicting The Rookie Fantasy Football Standouts
It is week 14, and unfortunately some of our fantasy football seasons are already over.
Dynasty league managers and astute redraft managers have already started doing their homework on the potential top rookies who will be entering the NFL next year.
We have provided a list of twenty names that stand to have the biggest fantasy impacts next year.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a comprehensive one nonetheless. Obviously, we do not know where these players will end up so we have used Walter Football’s Mock Draft as a guide to provide some fantasy analysis.
We will do an update once the NFL draft is in the books and we can more clearly project each players potential role and fit with their new teams.
Andrew Luck: QB
Andrew Luck is projected as the first QB off the board this April and as we have seen with Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford and Sam Bradford, the first QB off the board usually gets thrust into action relatively early.
Luck has tremendous NFL potential and will likely land on a QB needy team that will throw him in to the fire so to speak.
In this scenario Luck will be one of the only fantasy relevant rookie QB’s in 2011.
In a recent mock Luck went to the Panthers. I think the Panthers are set with Clausen but Luck would be an upgrade. Add a stud rookie receiver in round two or three and the Panthers can claw their way back to relevance. This would be an ideal spot for Luck as he gets a top-15 wide receiver in Steve Smith to throw the ball to.
Mark Ingram: RB
Mark Ingram is the consensus top running back in this class, at least until the NFL combine anyways. Ingram measures out at 5’10 and 215 lbs and is the only running back currently projected to go in the first round.
Ingram possess an excellent vision and power combination that should help him to excel at the next level.
As the likely first running back of the board there is a good chance he will be drafted for an immediate feature role.
He is projected to run a 4.4 40-time in April’s combine and this 2009 Heisman winner should be the first running back off the board in all fantasy drafts. He has all the skills to dominate in his rookie year and his success will likely be dependent on the strength of his offensive line.
Ingram is a dual threat with reliable hands which will only help to increase his fantasy value.
In a recent mock draft Ingram went to the Dolphins who have both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown entering free agency. This would be an ideal landing spot for Ingram as he would immediately step in to the feature back role and be a RB2 in fantasy leagues.
Cam Newton: QB
Cam Newton is the Heisman trophy favorite and his terrific campaign has thrust him up draft boards all over the country.
Cam Newton is an absolutley ridicuous talent who has managed to amass 28 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns. This 6’6 monster is a quarterback and a running back rolled into one and is destined to be a 1st round pick.
Some may compare him to Tim Tebow for obvious reasons, but Newton has the leg up with superior mechanics, arm strength and mechanics.
A team like the Dolphins may make Newton their top pick in April. Newton as a member of the elite 20-20 club is gushing with fantasy upside. It is more a matter of him getting the immediate opportunity that will dictate his fantasy value for 2011.
In a recent mock Newton went to the Vikings. This is an ideal landing spot for Netwon as he gets two top-25 wide receivers in Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, a legit red zone weapon in Vinsanthe Shiancoe and of course the best running back in the game in Adrian Peterson. AP, Newton and Harvin would give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares. There may not be a better landing spot in all of the NFL for Newton.
A.J Green: WR
A.J Green is one of the top two receivers in the draft and has the potential to be an instant impact player if he falls to a receiver needy team.
A.J Green is NFL ready and is expected to run a 4.38 40-time which should make him a 1st round lock.Green will undoubtedly have one of the best careers of any receiver in this draft class and is poised for great things in fantasy football.
Green has significant upside and will likely be drafted to be an immediate starter. Due to Julio Jones’ drop problems Green may hear his name called first in April 2011.
Green has been hailed as one of the best receiving prospects since Calvin Johnson, with some arguing that he is the best one.
In a recent mock drafts A.J Green went to the Cardinals to line up across Larry Fitzgerald. This would be an ideal landing spot as he would get to benefit from opposing defenses focusing on a player other than himself which would be a boon for his fantasy value.
Julio Jones: WR
Julio Jones is an incredible talent at wide receiver the only knock on him being his sometimes inconsistent hands.
He will be something special in the NFL and should be, no questions asked be the second rookie receiver taken in fantasy drafts.
Jones was once hailed as the 2nd best receiving prospect since Randy Moss i.e. better than Dez Bryant or Michael Crabtree. Jones is projected to run a 4.3 40-time. Jones’ speed, strength and elusiveness make him arguably the top receiving prospect in this draft class. If Jones did not play on a run-first offense led by 2009 Heisman winner Mark Ingram he may be the top prospect in this draft class.
In a recent mock draft Jones fell to the Redskins to play with Santana Moss and Donovan McNabb. This would represent a home run pick for the ‘Skins and also for Jones who gets a big armed quarterback and a competent fellow starter to deflect defensive attention.
Justin Blackmon: WR
Justin Blackmon has produced an elite level for the Oklahoma State Cowboys and there is no reason to think his success wont carry over to the NFL.
He recently made Mel Kiper’s big board and is rising up draft boards across the NFL after racking up 102 receptions, 1,665 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns this season.
Blackmon has excellent size, speed and hands and should be thrust into action immediately for a wide receiver needy team.
Remember Blackmon’s name for your rookie drafts and at the tail-end of redraft league drafts next year. He has sleeper written all over him.
In a recent mock draft Blackmon went to the St. Louis Rams to play with Sam Bradford. This would be a dream scenario for Blackmon and I can not see him racking up any less than 80 receptions and 900 yards if this scenario comes to fruition.
Mikel Leshoure: RB
Mikel Leshoure has the type of size/speed combination that make fantasy football analysts like myself drool.
Leshoure measures out at 6’1 and 228 and is expected to run a 40-time in the low 4.5 range. Leshoure already has 1,513 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns including a crazy 330 rushing yard performance against the Northwestern Wildcats. Leshoure has not shown that he can be a threat out of the backfield but he has managed to average at least one reception per game for Illinois.
A recent mock draft had Leshoure falling to the Redskins in the 2nd round and being the 2nd running back off the board. In this scenario Leshoure becomes Mike Shannahan’s workhorse by seasons end. However with Ryan Torain, James Davis and Keiland Williams a dreaded Mike Shannahan RBBC would likely be employed until one running back could distinguish himself from the others.
Ryan Williams: RB
Ryan Williams is poised for success at the next level and posses excellent strength and vision. He has the type of talent that can still be productive even with a leaky offensive line and should be a productive player from week one as part of a tandem attack.
He is rated as the number two running back prospect by Scouts Inc.
Williams is a power runner and hits holes hard which is what NFL coaches love to see. He has had a disappointing season which will lead his stock to drop but he should end up on the roster of a contender and provide solid fantasy value during the 2nd half of next season.
Daniel Thomas: RB
Daniel Thomas is not the speediest running running back in this draft class but at 6’2 and 228 Thomas may be the toughest. Thomas also possess reliable hands which is always a serious boon for a power back that is built like Thomas is.
Thomas has been on fire this year already amassing 1,495 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns with 29 receptions to boot.
In a recent mock draft Daniel Thomas went to the Saints. In this scenario Thomas steps in as the power back and splits time with both Chris Ivory and Reggie Bush with Pierre Thomas becoming expendable. This would be an ideal landing spot for Thomas as he would get plenty of goal-line opportunities. He would not be an immediate fantasy option but should be on watch lists to before the season even begins.
Demarco Murray: RB
Demarco Murray has had an excellent season with 1,121 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
At 6’1 and 214 lbs many wish that Demarco would a little more aggressive and decisive when hitting the holes but an NFL running backs coach and limited playing time will quickly fix that problem.
He has an excellent size/speed combination and is expected to run a 4.4 40-time.
Murray has unreal hands and has the ability to be a true PPR stud in his first year. Murray’s fantasy success will depend on who drafts him, but this is a name to remember as he is oozing with fantasy upside.
In a recent mock draft Murray went to the Packers in the 2nd round. The Packers have Ryan Grant and now James Starks, but the Packers will likely decide against passing on a prospect as good as Murray.
LaMichael James: RB
LaMichael James is a fantasy beast waiting to happen.
Measuring in at only 5’9 and 185 lbs James has amassed an amazing 21 touchdowns and 1.682 rushing yards in just 11 games opposed to the 12 of some of the others on this list.
James is set to be the next impact Oregon back following the lead of Jonathan Stewart and LaGarette Blount.
Some team will likely take a chance on James early, and I have a sneaky suspicion he will end up on and become the lead back for a playoff team.
Jonathan Baldwin: WR
Jonathan Baldwin is 6’5 and is expected to run a 40-time in the high 4.4 range.
At his size and with decent college production to back him up Baldwin will be drafted to fill a red-zone weapon role in the NFL.
His height, hands and speed combination will make a terror for opposing defenses and if he has an above average quarterback throwing the ball to him than the sky is the limit.
The draft combine will determine where he goes in the draft, but Jonathan Baldwin has superstar potential. He is likely to be the 3rd or 4th wide receiver off the board in next years fantasy drafts and is a must-target in dynasty leagues.
In a recent mock draft Baldwin went to the Bears in the first round and Jay Cutler would be just what the doctor ordered for Baldwin’s fantasy value. Cutler and Baldwin would instantly become one of the best duos in the NFL.
Michael Floyd: WR
Michael Floyd is one of the top wide receiver prospects in the 2011 draft.
His 40-time ranges from 4.4-4.6 and the speed he runs at the combine will determine his draft status. If he can run a 4.4 at 6’3 he has a chance to be a first day wide receiver.
Floyd will need to land on the right team to get meaningful playing time in his first year but should emerge on fantasy radars by the time his team has come out of its bye week. Floyd projects as a legitimate red-zone weapon at 6’3.
In a recent mock draft Michael Floyd fell to the Browns in the 2nd round and this is the type of ideal landing spot that will make him fantasy relevant from week one barring any free agent additions.
Jake Locker: QB
Jake Locker was the consensus top QB available heading into the 2010 college season but his stock has since dropped due to the strong play of Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, and a little of his own struggles.
That, however does not change the fact that Jake Locker is a potential franchise quarterback. He has most of the intangibles you look for in a QB, and he should be starting next year by mid-season for most teams that would draft a first day quarterback.
A recent mock had Locker going to the Seahawks. In this scenario Locker and Whitehurst battle it out in training camp with Locker easily winning. Locker will have a decent receiving corps at his disposal but would probably need one more weapon to threaten QB1 status in fantasy leagues.
Noel Devine: RB
Noel Devine is a speedy running back from West Virginia in the Darren Sproles mold.
Steve Slaton’s former backup has a ton of speed and is expected to run a low 4.3 40-time. Devine has seen his production take a major hit in his senior season but scouts are sure to remember his excellent 2009 campaign as well as be wowed by his top end speed.
At only 5’8 and 180 lbs I would have told you last year that Devine was destined to be the lesser back as part of a committee. Things have changed and Devine will now be given a serious look as a lead back with a power back playing behind him.
A recent mock draft has Devine going to the Chargers to replace impending free agent Darren Sproles.
Ryan Broyles: WR
Ryan Broyles is a possession receiver with low 4.4 speed that should find his way to fantasy relevance in 2011.
His speed/hand combination will endear him to his coaches and he should see snaps early in the season.
On the right offense Ryan Broyles has some serious fantasy upside and he needs to be on fantasy radars.
A recent mock draft had Broyles going to Kansas City to join the Chiefs. In this scenario he is immediately fantasy relevant as a top three option in the passing game.
Ryan Mallet: QB
Ryan Mallet is a giant Joe Flacco sized quarterback at 6’7 and has a ton of upside.
He seems to be more of a project and may not get to start in his rookie campaign but injuries and/or a strong preseason can change that.
His fantasy success and relevance next year is predicated on what team drafts him. He can be highly productive with great receiver talent around him and if he is in the right system.
In a recent mock draft Mallet went to the 49ers. This is the type of landing spot he would actually compete to be a starter in. Alex Smith has talent, ditto for Troy Smith, but Mallet may be able to make better use of the 49ers weapons in Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan. In this scenario Mallet would be a first year starter and would be fantasy relevant.
Shane Vereen: RB
Shane Vereen has already amassed 1,317 yards and 11 touchdowns and has proven himself as a reliable receiver out of the backfield with 22 receptions and nine plus yards per catch.
Vereen measures out at 5’10 and 204 lbs and is projected to run a 4.45 40-time at the NFL combine.
Vereen possess excellent vision and elusiveness and these two characteristics are what ensures he will have some success at the next level. Where he gets drafted to will have a large part to due with his fantasy relevance in his rookie season.
A recent mock has Vereen going to the Broncos in the 2nd round. In this scenario he plays second fiddle to a superior talent in Knowshon Moreno.
Devier Posey: WR
Devier Posey projects as a solid #2 receiver in the pros, but he will have to land on a team with a feared wide receiver to make an immediate fantasy impact. Posey excels at short to intermediate routes and may be a good fit for a West Coast offense.
Posey is someone to keep your eye on in dynasty leagues and is a name to keep buried in the back of your mind in redraft leagues.
In a recent mock draft Posey went to New England Patriots to take Brandon Tate’s number two role. This would not be the best fit as Wes Welker is a master short to intermediate route player but Brandon Tate and Deion Branch are already in town to fill the vertical threat role. This would not be an ideal landing spot for Posey’s fantasy value as unless he is able to take the number two job in preseason his path to fantasy relevance will be a tough one to navigate.
Jerrel Jernigan: WR
Jerrel Jernigan projects as a slot receiver at the next level but should also be able to make use of his speed on some vertical routes.
Jernigan’s path to fantasy relevance depends largely on the receiver depth of the team that drafts him. Jernigan is someone to monitor during training camp and pre-season.
Players that deserve honorable mention include: Leonard Hankerson, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Jacquizz Rodgers, Graig Cooper, John Clay, Greg Little, Niles Paul and Titus Young.