One of the most highly anticipated days (or now few days) of the NFL off season is the NFL draft. It comes in the spring. Spring is the time for renewal. The draft, to a legion of NFL fans, means a rebirth - a rebirth for their franchise, a rebirth for their seasons and the hope that lies ahead when every team is tied for first. Who will be the new players to lead us to the Super Bowl? Who will be the difference makers in the NFL this coming season? For a fantasy football junkie such as myself, the NFL draft marks the few days where I can start to get the jump on my league. Although not every NFL team will add the next budding fantasy star, many will make moves that can give us clues to who is a part of their game plan for the upcoming season. Did you have a disappointing finish last season in your fantasy league? Draft day (or days) is the beginning to your championship run this year. Take a page from Gordon Ramsay who said "I’m not the one to sort of sit and cry over spilt milk. I’m too busy looking for the next cow." You can use the NFL draft to start milking the cow for this coming fantasy season. Here’s how.
I am going to go through team by team in order using Mel Kiper’s mock drafts to help you realize what the fantasy implications of these picks are. Remember – these are MOCK DRAFTS! There will be plenty of surprises on draft day. You will want to be in tune to these changes as they will give you clues on how NFL teams value their current roster or a particular player. For instance – if the Ravens select a running back early you would believe that they are less than enamored with Ray Rice’s performance last year and his legal woes. It would also indicate they aren’t thrilled with Bernard Pierce’s ability to come back from shoulder surgery. There is a running back that could step right into a major role right away.
Also realize that there are new coaches, new coordinators and new offenses to be installed. You really won’t be able to get a feel for how much of a contribution a given player will make based on the draft. This, as I said, will give you a jump start for the coming season. You still have to do your homework. You still have to pay attention during pre season and training camp. This is a good head start on selecting keepers and beginning your scouting for the new season. As the great author John Naisbitt says, "Strategic planning is worthless – unless first there is strategic vision."
On to the Kiper mock draft:
1. HOUSTON TEXANS – Jadeveon Clowney, DT, South Carolina
Clowney doesn’t help anyone on the Texans except solidify a defense worth drafting. A QB would be a much better fantasy fit here and would immediately help Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and Arian Foster.
2. ST. LOUIS RAMS – Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
This is the smart pick. Robinson is ready to step in immediately and with Jake Long coming off ACL surgery and Scott Wells unable to stay healthy this is a pick that makes Zac Stacy very happy. There are rumors here of the Rams picking Manziel. Again – good for Stacy not so much for Sam Bradford. If the Rams do take a QB, watch where Bradford lands and take notice.
3. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS – Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
This is the guy I am most looking forward to seeing in the NFL other than Manziel. Jacksonville needs help all over and can’t ignore the QB position but Watkins may be too good to pass up. He is the immediate #1 on this team as Justin Blackmon is still serving and indefinite suspension. The Jags are behind often enough that Henne will have to air it out.
4. CLEVELAND BROWNS – Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Browns need a QB in the worst way to get the ball to Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. Any QB in the draft has high fantasy impact to these two. If they draft a QB here Gordon would have serious keeper consideration.
5. OAKLAND RAIDERS – Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
The Raiders are so bad that there isn’t a single player they could draft that would be a fantasy upgrade. Raiders in "best player available" mode here but would be better served from a fantasy perspective as in real life by trading down for multiple picks.
6. ATLANTA FALCONS – Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Good news here for Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the rest of the Falcon offense. Although the Falcs don’t impress me from an NFL team standpoint the fantasy firepower is impressive. If they can keep Ryan upright, they should be back to the 2012 fantasy juggernaut they once were.
7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS – Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Good news for Mike Glennon or Josh McCown - not so much for anyone else. If the Bucs keep this pick – and that’s a big if – Evans can actually step in and make an impact right away. Vincent Jackson isn’t getting any younger.
8. MINNESOTA VIKINGS – Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
Vikes didn’t pick up the option on Christian Ponder. It is clear they need someone who can step in right away. This is great news for Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson. The ball control run game and short bubble screen game play right into their hands, which is what Vikes will do with a rookie QB.
9. BUFFALO BILLS – Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Solid player who excels at both run blocking and pass protection. He is an upgrade to the entire offense – notably E.J. Manuel, C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
10. DETROIT LIONS – Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
Beckham Jr. is a disciplined route runner who is an immediate upgrade to Megatron. With Odell creating space, Megatron faces less (or at least makes it more difficult) double teams. He also upgrades Matthew Stafford by giving this offense a true #2 WR. Newly signed Golden Tate gets downgraded slightly here.
11. TENNESSEE TITANS – Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Not much here from a fantasy perspective except to say that if they go CB here it would mean that new coach Whisenhunt is fine with Jake Locker – for now. Coach Whisenhunt has made noise of late that he was less than enamored with the incumbent signal caller here so a QB pick wouldn’t be a shocker. I’d like to see a healthy Locker get a long look under Coach Whis throwing to Hunter and the two Walkers. In fact – he may be a good sleeper in two QB leagues for 2014.
12. NEW YORK GIANTS – Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Donald adds depth to a unit that came on strong late last year. Giants D is always draftable because of the emphasis on takeaways with Coughlin. Donald gives the Giants a solid power rusher over the middle. Would love to see them draft a WR with this pick for fantasy purposes but this is the right football pick.
13. ST. LOUIS RAMS – Ha Ha Clinton Dix, S, Alabama
The Rams need secondary help and Ha Ha is the best of the bunch. Would not surprise to go OL again here as well. No fantasy impact whatsoever.
14. CHICAGO BEARS – Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Bears to go heavy on defense this draft. Trestman’s fantasy all stars (Forte, Marshall, Jeffrey, Cutler, Bennett) are all set on offense. But it would take a lot more than one CB addition to make the Bears D draftable.
15. PITTSBURGH STEELERS – Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Hello Le'Veon Bell owners! If Pittsburgh shores up this injury riddled offensive line I have found my 2014 keeper.
16. DALLAS COWBOYS – Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Can the Cowboys draft a coach? An offensive coordinator? I would really love to see DeMarco Murray run the ball consistently for a whole game and not get lost because the coordinator and the coach become pass happy. This pick does not accomplish that.
17. BALTIMORE RAVENS – Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Ebron is the number one rated TE in the draft. He is a guy who can line up wide as well so you would think he would impact the passing game. Slight upgrade to Joe Flacco but hard to think where he might play with Dennis Pitta back in the mix for a full season. Ray Rice owners would like to see an o-lineman in this spot. The Ravens offensive line rated dead last in run blocking last year.
18. NEW YORK JETS – Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
With a solid defense and a commitment (at least for now) to Geno Smith at QB this pick fills a glaring need. Decker is nothing more than a solid #2 at best. Cooks is undersized but quickly moving up draft boards and the Jets are said to LOVE him. Upgrade Geno here and Decker gets a slight upgrade as well as less attention will be paid to him with Cooks opposite instead of David Nelson.
19. MIAMI DOLPHINS – C. J. Mosely, LB, Alabama
This pick does nothing for fantasy football. Knowshon Moreno and Lamar Miller owners would much rather see an offensive lineman in this spot – as would Ryan Tannehill the most sacked (58) QB in the league last year. The Fins graded out as the 28th ranked run blocking line and the 30th ranked passing line.
20. ARIZONA CARDINALS – Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State
Although he isn’t a true downfield passer in the Bruce Arians style this is a great football pick from a team that is close. The defense is more than solid. Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are a great 1-2 combination. Carr gets the opportunity to learn from Arians and Carson Palmer. No immediate impact but savvy owners will be looking to trade for Fitzgerald if the Cards start slowly and turn to Carr mid year.
21. GREEN BAY PACKERS – Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Good player here but not filling a need. Pack need offensive lineman and a TE. Would prefer to see them draft the TE here for fantasy purposes. This pack has little impact.
22. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Think of what DeSean Jackson did last year with Chip Kelly, Shady McCoy, Nick Foles and the Eagle offense. This is the new D-Jax. He is raw but Chip Kelly will get him to be NFL ready to step into a high powered attack. Immediate impact.
23. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS – Marquis Lee, WR, USC
There is a slight fit here but from a football sense and offensive lineman or defensive back make more sense. The good news is that Lee is someone to watch during pre season. His style matches up nicely with Alex Smith’s underneath game.
24. CINCINNATI BENGALS – Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
Bengals should definitely be shoring up their D. They lost multiple players last year to injuries and are pretty solid on offense with A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard. This is a unit that was a must own in 2013 and with the addition of a DE and a CB could be an elite option again.
25. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS – Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Chargers secondary had three of the bottom 10 ranked CBs last year so this doesn’t address the immediate need on this defensive unit but Barr can get to the QB and that can hide a lot of secondary woes. No fantasy impact with this pick but it is a good football pick.
26. CLEVELAND BROWNS – Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
I used the Browns D quite a bit last year and was rewarded for it. Adding Fuller to the CB position gives them two potential shut down corners as he joins Joe Haden. I will bank on any D with two shut down corners. In a position that is difficult to predict, Fuller is as close to a lock as any. Big upgrade for the Browns D to – dare I say – elite status.
27. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS – Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Latimer’s skills plus Brees’ arm equals great things in the Superdome. Saints can take a chance on some offense here as Rob Ryan improved the defense enough so that it is as good as I can remember in New Orleans in ages. With Colston aging and Jimmy Graham occupying opponents’ attention, I can see Latimer and Kenny Stills vying for open looks from Drew Brees. Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram aren’t going to set the world on fire running the football. Immediate impact.
28. CAROLINA PANTHERS – Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
This is quite possibly the worst 12-4 returning roster in the history of the NFL. WR is a glaring need and fantasy players would like to see a top WR addition for Cam Newton. However – if Cam isn’t upright it really won’t matter. The Panther o-line returns only one starter. Moses fills a need and although it isn’t the sexy pick, it’s the right one.
29. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS – Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Patriots ranked 30th in run defense last year and this fills a need with two aging tackles slated to start the year. Upgrade the Pats defense with this pick as an improved run defense takes the pressure off of the pass D.
30. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS – Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt
Many have Matthews projected into the 2nd round but whichever WR the 49ers take will likely have some fantasy impact in giving Colin Kaepernick another target to go along with Crabtree’s return from injury and Boldin’s aging body. They could really use a CB or a back up RB for Gore but this pick suits them and fantasy players just fine.
31. DENVER BRONCOS – Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
Looking at the Broncos roster and the splash they made in free agency it seems this team has no weakness. Looking again at how they were completely destroyed in the Super Bowl one realizes that there is always room for improvement. This pick improves a "suspect" secondary relying on injury prone Aqib Talib and #2 Chris Harris coming back from an ACL tear. No fantasy impact at all. You aren’t drafting the Broncos defense anyway.
32. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS – Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
You are drafting the Seattle Seahawks defense regardless of whether or not they select Stephon Tuitt with the last pick in the first round. No fantasy impact at all.
So there you go. The NFL draft first round and the fantasy impact of each projected draft pick. You are not excused from doing your homework during preseason and during training camp – but – if you pay attention just a little bit you – like Chef Gordon Ramsay - can find the next cow for your fantasy team. Don’t forget – no decisions will be made on draft day. You might get some insight into who your keepers ought to be or what to look out for during preseason. As a wise man once said to me "If you buy the cow for milk who cares about the price of beef!"
Enjoy the draft.