5. AJ Green, Cincinnati
Biggest Impact: Whoever is throwing the ball
This is a tough one to analyze because of all the uncertainty for the Bengals. Will Carson Palmer return? Is this Marvin Lewis's last chance? Is it really Chad Johnson again?
AJ Green was the best wideout in the draft, and might have a chance to be one of the rare rookies to be a great fantasy player off of the bat. The only problem is we don't know who will throw to him. If Palmer leaves, that leaves Jordan Palmer (the wrong Palmer) as the QB until the Bengals go out and get someone. And of course, they will, but how good will that somebody be.
If the triumverate of C Palmer, C Johnson, and AJ Green are together, then all 3 will benefit. It's just a matter of wait and see, but Green will definitely be top 30 WR material on fantasy draft day.
4. Cam Newton, Carolina
Biggest Impact: Cam Newton, Jimmy Clausen
Newton was the top pick in the draft, but won't be having the biggest impact. I may even only be slotting him this high because of how high he was drafted. However, he does have a chance to be a TD machine at some point in his career.
Last year Panther QB's completed 52% of their passes for 9 TD's and 21 INT's and were sacked 50 times. I personally think a team like the Panthers should build something around a QB before they draft one, and the Panthers are very thin at WR, but they decided against AJ Green probably because WR's rarely ever go #1.
I don't think Steve Smith is done, he could be a steal in next years drafts, but I also don't know how the Panthers will improve year-to-year on offense only with Cam Newton. Their are reasonable comps to Ben Roethlisberger, and even Big Ben has only been a top 10 fantasy QB twice in his 7-year career. He can manage a game, he can make the throws, but he is not Peyton Manning.
Additionally, I don't think Cam will win the job to start the year, and drafting Cam might push Clausen, now in his 2nd year, to improve his own game. It was only a year ago that Clausen was the QB of the future. I personally think the next QB on this list will be the best in 2011.
3. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville
Biggest Impact: David Garrard
Garrard had a career high 23 TD's last season, but also threw a career high 15 picks and his 195 YPG was the lowest its been in 4 years. In 2007, Garrard was 9-3 as a starter and threw 18 TD's to just 3 picks. He's not a bad quarterback, but he's not a franchise quarterback either and I think he's been living off of the notion that he is.
Case in point, over the last 3 years he has a 20-26 record as a starter, 53 TDs and 38 INTs. These are manageable numbers, but they aren't "franchise" numbers that are going to take the Jags deep into the playoffs.
Gabbert might be that guy. He's my favorite QB in the class and I think that despite having a "manageable" QB in front of him, Gabbert will be starting from week 1. Rather than sit and learn from Garrard, instead it will be Garrard being insurance in case of Gabbert.
Mike Thomas, Mike Sims-Walker, and Marcedes Lewis give Gabbert more good options that you might expect, not to mention the two backfield options in Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings, who combined for 60 catches last season.
Gabbert could be a great last round steal.
2. Mark Ingram, New Orleans
Biggest Impact: Mark Ingram, the Saints crowded backfield
Rookie running backs have the biggest fantasy impact of any other position historically. There was only one drafted yesterday, and he happens to be a former Heisman winner going to the most explosive offense in the NFL.
The Saints finished 28th in the league in rushing last year after injuries to Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. Chris Ivory led the team with 716 yards and 5.2 yards per carry. A great number, but it will be hard for anyone to hold off Ingram.
Thomas was a fantasy beast in 2009, but there should be some doubt about his place now that Ingram is there. He'd also have to stay healthy, which he couldn't do a year ago. Running backs have short lifespans in the league, so its almost always safer to go younger or keep yourself within reaching distance of the backup. Ingram was injured to start the season, and rushed for a lot fewer total yards, but actually rushed for more yards per carry (5.6) than his Heisman winning season.
He's been compared to Emmitt Smith and it's easy to see why he could be drafted in the first 5 rounds come fantasy draft day. Pierre Thomas, Chris Ivory, and Reggie Bush all take a hit because of the presence of Ingram, who will either be the every down back or a touchdown vulture because of his bruising style of play.
Ingram has the best shot in the class to lead rookies in fantasy scoring.
1. Julio Jones, Atlanta
Biggest Impact: Every offensive skill player in Atlanta
Whenever I watched an Alabama football game, I couldn't help but hear the name Julio Jones 10-15 times per game called out by the announcers. It seemed like any time the Crimson Tide needed a big play, Jones was there. He made all the catches and could be explosive with the ball. He ran a 4.34 40 at the combine and his explosive speed and great hands could make him one of the top WR in the game.
That being said, I'm shocked that Atlanta gave up all that they did to grab him. The Falcons certainly are putting all of their eggs into his basket.
Still, they could be the leagues top offense next season. As good as Matt Ryan is, the Falcons finished just 15th in the league in passing yards. Roddy White was the NFLs best WR last year, and Tony Gonzalez had another pro bowl season, but it got thin after that. The addition of Jones, who can ease himself into an offense that already has a #1 wideout, allows Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran (depending on which WR are still there next year) to slide down into a more appropriate slot on the depth chart.
This kind of depth reminds me of the Saints and we all know what that meant for Drew Brees. I expect Matt Ryan to jump into the top 3-5 range for fantasy QB's and while White may take a small hit, he'll still be a top WR in fantasy. This should also open things up for Michael Turner some more, who may only have 1-2 years left in the tank as a top RB.
As for Jones, I won't be shocked to see him top 800 yards and snag a few TD passes. That's pretty darn good for a rookie. But the biggest impact will be seen on the Falcons offense all-around.
I don't know if this makes them a Super Bowl championship caliber team, but it certainly gives them an explosive offense to add Jones.