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Fantasy Football 2008: Rookie Edition

Now that the draft is over, there is nothing standing in the way of starting to preview Fantasy Football for the upcoming season.  I thought I'd start by looking at the newest members of the NFL, and projecting how I see them fitting in to the Fantasy Football fold.

Part 1: Locks

These guys should go in every league, and can be very productive.  You'll notice a pattern to these locks:  They are ALL Running Backs.  I've been in a league now for 10 years (I can't believe it's been that long now), and we play 3 Keepers from year to year.  I took the star rookie RB last season, Adrian Peterson, and will be sitting pretty next season as my lead back.  Marshawn Lynch was also very productive as the #2 rookie.  All in all, a good number of rookie RBs made an impact in the Fantasy world, including undrafted Free Agent Darius Walker for the Texans.  Here are the 2008 Locks, in draft order:

  1. Darren McFadden - JaMarcus Russell will be the starter in Oakland, which means they'll be working through a lot of kinks in their passing offense.  Teams don't use very high first round picks on RBs very often, and when they do, they sure as hell better use them.  He'll be splitting carries with Justin Fargas, and potentially Michael Bush, but could see the Raiders splitting McFadden out wide and using him as a receiver as well.
  2. Rashard Mendenhall - Willie Parker is coming off of a broken leg, so I'm guessing Pittsburgh won't be giving him 25 - 30 carries a game, especially at the beginning of the year.  Enter Mendenhall, who I see thriving in Pittsburgh's offensvie scheme.  Once Parker is fully healthy, he won't be as productive, which is why I don't have Mendenhall #1 on this list.
  3. Matt Forte - We all know about how good Forte is, and he fell to a team where he will be the feature back by game 2:  the Bears.  I completely agree with BBS, in that Cedric Benson stinks.  BBS was prescient when he said about Ced:
    "Cedric Benson stinks, and he quit on the Bears in the Super Bowl after Bob Sanders hit him so had he reverted into a past life. Now, he's the starting RB. Look for him to try and do something tonight. I still have no idea why the Bears traded Thomas Jones."
    Forte should step right in and be a key contributor for the Bears, which is presumably why they drafted him in Round 2.  The Bears also still have the Sex Cannon under center, which means they'll be relying heavily on their rookie RB.  He's used to a big workload, and I think he'll get that in Chicago.
  4. Chris Johnson - Any league that shake n bake is in, this will be his #1 pick, even if he plays for a division foe.  He was the biggest name here at Stampede Blue leading up to the draft, and went a little higher than anyone expected.  He can play both RB and WR, which will be a great weapon for the Titans, if Young can actually get him the football.  I'm not sure how they'll use him in the red zone, as they have LenDale White, who should get the majority of the goal line carries.  It's a pretty safe bet, however, that the Titans will try to get the ball in Johnson's hands.
  5. Kevin Smith - I'll save all of the Jay and Silent Bob jokes for later, as this Kevin Smith should get a "Lion's" share of carries in Detroit.  Tatum Bell was one of the many RBs to make a name for himself in Denver, only to be a complete flop everywhere else he goes.  My concerns with Smith:  Lots of carries in college, and the Lions will be throwing the ball around a lot, even though Mike Martz has left town.  He's still worth a 10th or 11th round pick in a FF draft.

Part 2: Sleepers

These are also, for the most part, all RBs.  Every once in a while there will be a rookie WR that makes a big splash, but they are few and far between (off the top of my head, I can only think of Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin, and Marques Colston).  Here are some sleepers to take a flyer on in the late rounds, but not before:

  1. Steve Slaton - The Texans already have a stable of running backs, but Slaton could become the big play back they passed on 2 years ago (and got a much better player).  Slaton could line up in the slot, take end arounds, and is always a threat to take it to the house.  Only problem, in college at least, was he would disappear for entire games.   He also was hurt consistently, which caused his draft status to drop.  If he stays healthy, he could be a decent #2/3 RB in Fantasy Land.
  2. James Hardy - The former Hoosier finds himself in a pretty good situation, as he'll most likely be the #2 WR in Buffalo behind Lee Evans.  He also should be plenty of Red Zone passes thrown to him, as he has several inches on Evans.  Again, I'm always cautious taking a rookie WR early on, but past round 13/14, anything can happen.  He's worth a shot.
  3. Mike Hart - I'm a homer, and Hart will likely be the #2 back behind Addai.  Any offensive player for the Colts is a good fantasy play (I played Utecht a couple weeks last year when Clark was hurt as evidence).  He'll get a healthy dose of carries, and a fair shot at TDs.  He also never fumbles, so he won't cost you points there.
  4. Jerome Simpson - With the future of Chad Johnson up in the air, and Chris Henry being released, Simpson should see significant playing time in an offense that is pass-heavy.  Carson Palmer won't be able to throw to Houshmanzedah on every play.  Simpson could be worth a later round pick.
  5. Ryan Torain - Any Denver running back is a good last or second to last pick.  They always produce, and always seem to find the field at some point in the season.  The key will be to cash in those weeks where he is getting the majority of the carries.

Part 3: Busts

I would not recommend drafting any of these players, as I don't see them having much of an impact at all:

  1. Any Quarterback - Whether it is Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Chad Henne, or any other one, do NOT draft a QB for any production this season.  I would even hesitate to draft one late for a keeper league.  Usually you can only keep 3 or 4 guys, at most, and rarely you keep a QB at all, let alone a rookie.  I'm still a little peeved at myself that I did not keep Saint Tom, as I easily would have been undefeated with him in my lineup.
  2. DeSean Jackson - Donovan McNabb is very fickle with his WR.  It took him 3 years to warm up to Reggie Brown, who is now a good fantasy option.  Kevin Curtis had 3 great weeks, but caught no passes in 6 or 7 games.  McNabb also loves LJ Smith, until he gets hurt.  Jackson will  be the #3 receiver, and will struggle to get balls thrown his way.  In two years he'll be a decent play, but not this year.
  3. Felix Jones - Marion Barber is set to become a big time back in Dallas, and they obviously have a good passing game as well.  Jones will be filling the role that was vacated by the another Jones (Julius), who was not a good fantasy player.  Barber will get the goal line carries, as well as 3/4 of the total carries.  Fantasy wise, I don't see Jones making a big impact.
  4. Jamaal Charles - He's behind Larry Johnson and Kolby Smith on the depth chart, which will make getting carries difficult, until someone gets hurt.  This also isn't the OL that Priest Holmes ran behind, or Johnson ran behind 2 years ago.  There also is a habit with recent U. of Texas RBs, that they don't live up to their great numbers in college in the NFL (Benson and Ricky Williams).  I'd take a wait and see approach on Charles.
  5. Donnie Avery - The first WR taken in the draft was a surprise to many, and I can't see him being productive at all this season.  The Rams are going to struggle offensively, as Torry Holt and Steven Jackson are their only two play makers.  Avery will be, at best, their slot receiver.  Very few slot receivers put up good fantasy numbers (Welker last year, and Stokley when he wore the Blue Horseshoe).  Take a pass on Avery.

There you go.  We'll have much more fantasy analysis as the summer drags on.