The 2013 NFL Draft was something like we’ve never seen. Nine of the first 11 picks were players that will be battling in the trenches and we only saw one offensive backfield player taken in the first round. That player, E.J. Manuel, was a bit of a reach by Buffalo considering their numerous holes on both sides of the ball and may actually subtract overall value on the fantasy landscape (more on that later). Only three receivers were also taken, so the lack of offensive skill position players may have left the world of fantasy football unfulfilled. Rounds 2 and 3 should have plenty of action with a litany of teams needing to add depth to their running back and wide receiver corps, so die-hard fantasy owners will want to tune in on Friday night.
Everybody loves rookies. If you’ve had success in fantasy football over the past few seasons, there is a very good chance that you rode a rookie to a fantasy title. Obviously, last year was a prime example with the three-headed monster of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson providing essentially must-start numbers through majority of the season. Let’s not forget about Doug Martin, Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson finishing the season as RB1s in fantasy leagues, as well. While that season was a bit of an anomaly, two years ago players like Cam Newton, DeMarco Murray, Julio Jones and A.J. Green turned huge dividends for fantasy owners.
Sadly, that’s not going to happen this year due to the dearth of talent and the low supply of TD scorers was accentuated by all those big uglies going off the board in the first round. That said, let’s take a look at the magnitude that the 2013 rookie class could have in fantasy football. These players will be listed based on how I’d project their average draft position to be:
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Tavon Austin - WR: The Rams wisely moved up eight spots to get the most lethal playmaker in this year's draft. They arguably had the least talented skill positions players heading into the draft with Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson heading out of the Gateway to the West. In fact, those players accounted for 46.8 percent of the Rams offense last year.
Austin is extremely likely to fill the void left by Danny Amendola. Amendola averaged 5.7 receptions game and was targeted 9.2 times in 11 contests while even battling through injuries in at least three of those 11. Even though Chris Givens did come on a bit down the stretch with 7.2 targets per game, he and Brian Quick are hardly going to be the solution to the Rams’ offensive woes.
Sam Bradford still has to improve and his 6.72 yards per attempts ranked 26th in the league. It’s not entirely his fault and he should have much better protection with Jake Long taking over at tackle. What’s more, the Rams were just 26th in the league in yards after catch, which should be alleviated by the addition of Austin.
There is a whole like to like about Austin in fantasy – especially in PPR formats. The Rams are going to face numerous amounts of solid, blitz-happy defenses, so the three-step drops for Bradford and plays like a bubble screen to Austin figure to be mainstays in their offensive system. Although, it’s a little premature to draw comparisons to Percy Harvin, who is a YAC monster and is arguably the best open-field player in the game, but Austin is a tremendous fit for St. Louis. He ran a 4.34 at the combine, but ran an unofficial 4.25 and his speed on tape certainly has the look of a sub-4.3 guy with the way he separated from defenders. The West Virginia product was one of the fast risers in the draft for a reason, he’ll have WR2 upside and is someone to target in the early second half of your drafts at this point.
DeAndre Hopkins – WR: It was fairly obvious that the Texans were going to go with a receiver with their 27th pick. They’ve had the best receiver in the AFC over the past decade and Andre Johnson has won multiple receiving-yard titles even without a productive complementary piece on the other side. Hopkins certainly makes a lot of sense as a guy that can line up at flanker to cover the tight end on the strong side of the formation. AJ will see double-team coverage for most of the game, so if Hopkins can learn how to get open, he has a shot to crack 50 receptions with the Texans.
Furthermore, despite Andre Johnson staying healthy last season, let’s not forget he missed nine games back in 2011. Hopkins hardly has the imposing physical skills as Johnson, but he has OK size at 6’1" and has shown the skills to catch the ball in traffic. He makes sense as a player that has upside at the end of a 10-team bench and also a handcuff-type guy for those taking the plunge on Andre Johnson.\
Cordarrelle Patterson—WR: The Vikings, like the Rams, took a massive hit in the play-making department with the loss of Percy Harvin. Yes, the addition of Greg Jennings is going to help Christian Ponder, but comparing Jennings to Harvin is like comparing a Justin Verlander to Jarrod Parker – who is dead last in ERA (catering to the audience right now). Ponder really struggles at getting the ball down the field and in the last four weeks of the fantasy season (Week 13-16), he had a pathetic 5.4 yards per attempt and completed just 58.3 percent of his passes.
Secondly, there is some guy named Adrian Peterson that is the engine, transmission, axles, wheels and steering wheel of the Minnesota offense. Despite the aforementioned struggles of Ponder, the Vikings were still able to win the last four games of the regular season. While there isn’t going to be an overhaul to their game plan, their opponents will be loading up the box to stop him again, so the deep balls could be there for a guy like Patterson. The Tennessee product ran a 4.42 and with a 37-inch vertical at 6’1" he fits the bill of a home-run hitter.
If Greg Jennings stays healthy, Patterson’s upside isn’t going to be all that high and he’s not someone that’s worth targeting in 10-team or even most 12-team leagues. If Jennings does get hurt, CP84 could make for a hot pickup, though.
Tyler Eifert – TE: It’s not every year we see rookie tight ends have big impacts in their rookie seasons. Antonio Gates remains the gold standard, but teams will have a tough time counting on rookies to handle their red zone targets. That’s especially the case for the Bengals. They have one of the best red-zone threats in the NFL with A.J. Green.
On the other hand, the Bengals were much more pass-happy than expected last year. They ranked seventh in passing TDs and 17th in passing yards. That has a lot to do with A.J. ranking rankings fourth and 10th in those categories, respectively, but Andy Dalton’s improvement is well charted and he might actually be the big winner here. Compared to his rookie season, Dalton improved in completion percentage by 4.2 percent, yardage by 271 yards and TDs by three. Quarterbacks tend to make sizable leaps in their third seasons and the tools for success are in place for the Red Rifle with the addition of the best tight end in this year's draft class.
As for Eifert, it’s going to be tough for him to be someone that makes a major splash in his rookie season. Comparatively, Coby Fleener was put in a similar situation. He had a target-demanding monster in Reggie Wayne and some competition for tight end targets with Dwayne Allen. The Bengals with Green and Jermaine Gresham should limit Eifert’s upside enough to keep him from standard-league consideration.
E.J. Manuel – QB: The Bills made the reach of the draft taking the Seminole QB with the 16th pick. The Bills were a sexy pick to break through last year and one would have thought that getting a linebacker behind their impressive front D-line would have been a smart move. Not to mention they also ranked third in giveaways thanks to a below-average offensive line. But I digress. Manuel is purely a prospect and he’s been known to make his mistakes in games. On the big stage against Florida he threw three interceptions, completed just 54.5 percent of his passes and had a season-low 92.7 passer rating (college rating system, not pro). While Manuel’s cumulative numbers were impressive at the end of the season, taking on Murray State, Savannah State and Wake Forest the first three games inflated his stats. If you’re scoring at home, the ‘Noles won those games by a combined score of 176-3.
Manuel is too raw to have an impact and the Bills just brought in Kevin Kolb to handle the starting duties. However, Kolb hasn’t exactly been Cal Ripken when it comes to playing in games. He’s missed exactly half of Arizona games for a myriad of reasons, so it’s not too farfetched to think that Manuel will become the starter during the season. He’s also a much better runner than Kolb and could get some looks on goal-to-go situations. That idea would impact the value of C.J. Spiller, Stevie Johnson and Kevin Kolb. To be clear, Spiller should not be knocked down based on this pick.
Manuel is not on the radar in standard leagues.
Thanks for reading!