The NFL draft is almost upon us again, and in case you haven’t noticed over the past couple years, some players selected this weekend are sure to make an impact on fantasy football immediately. It wouldn’t make much sense to project how guys are going to do in year one without knowing the situation they’re walking into, but it doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with the players. With that in mind, here comes a list of guys to know for this weekend’s NFL draft with a brief overview of the obvious names as well as a few potential sleepers and busts:
The obvious guys (In the order I would want them):
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
Derek Carr, Fresno State
Johnny Manziel, Texas A & M
Blake Bortles, UCF
I’m not worried about Bridgewater’s swooning draft stock and poor Pro Day showing. He’s the most cerebral QB in this class, has the best anticipation skills of the group, and has phenomenal accuracy on intermediate throws. His quick-decision making will keep him safe in the pocket, and his arm strength is good enough to make all the throws, even if he doesn’t have a cannon. For me, Teddy is clearly number 1 in the class.
Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are considered the top two QBs in mock drafts right now, but I’m not sold on either guy. Manziel’s improvisational skills are unlikely to translate to the NFL the way most scouts hope. He’ll have to learn to throw from the pocket to have a lengthy career as a starter. If he doesn’t, he might be another Tim Tebow. Bortles has all the skills you want from a quarterback, but you have to sift through a lot of film to find them all. His prototype size and cannon arm make scouts drool, but his inconsistency will be maddening.
Derek Carr seems unlikely to be a first round pick, but he could really surprise at the next level. He was given full control of the offense at Fresno, and it was a very productive group. He throws a pretty deep ball, and has seen what to expect in the transition to the NFL at QB from watching his brother David. He’ll have to get used to lining up under center and operating a pro-style offense, but he has the tools to be a better QB than Manziel or Bortles.
Sleeper: Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Mettenberger’s stock has takena bit of a hit due to a flagged drug test and a degenerative back condition that have been discovered, but Mettenberger features the same requisite size and arm strength as Bortles, is close to him in terms of accuracy, and faced better competition at the college level. It makes him even more valuable that he can be picked a round or two later than Bortles as well. Honorable mention sleepers: Brett Smith, Wyoming & Tom Savage, Pitt
Bust: Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech
Thomas has the measurables that get scouts hot and bothered, but he never was able to put the pieces together at Va. Tech. He’s got tight end size, good speed and a really strong arm, but his accuracy and mechanics have been a nightmare. His upside is as a bigger Jake Locker, but I see more Josh Freeman (2013 Josh Freeman). Honorable mention bust: A.J. McCarron, Alabama
The obvious guys:
Bishop Sankey, Washington
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Tre Mason, Auburn
Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona
Jeremy Hill, LSU
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
Devonta’ Freeman, Florida State
Charles Sims, West Virginia
There likely won’t be a running back selected in round one, but there could be a few productive backs in this crop. It’s difficult to separate these guys, but what puts Sankey a cut above for me is that he has no glaring weaknesses and is a high character guy who was voted team captain at UW. He won’t dazzle you with his elusiveness, but he runs well in traffic, is a great receiver out of the backfield, and he has an extra gear to run away from defenders. He’s also relentless at the goal line, scoring 36 TDs in the last 2 years.
Carlos Hyde is an impressive power runner and always seems to fall forward, and it doesn’t hurt that he averaged over 7 yards per carry in the Big Ten. His question marks are character related, but he’s got the size and skill to play all 3 downs. Tre Mason came on strong down the stretch of the season, showcasing great agility and vision. He doesn’t dance around in the backfield, he lets the hole open up and he hits it. The only question mark about Mason is that he’s undersized.
Jeremy Hill and Ka’Deem Carey both are solid runners, but each has some character red flags. Carey’s got great vision and patience, and he’s fantastic as a receiver out of the backfield, but he’s best suited to a spread offense. Hill on the other hand is a violent downhill runner, but he lacks great balance and rarely if ever uses his second hand to cover the ball in traffic. He also struggles in pass protection, which will certainly keep him off the field on 3rd downs and perhaps make it hard for him to get on the field. Seastrunk is the most explosive runner on this list, but he really has struggled against good defenses. He needs to learn to get upfield more quickly and not go east and west so much. Freeman is undersized and played in a committee in college, which raises the question of how many carries he can handle at the NFL level, and Sims seems like a 3rd down back at best.
Sleepers: Terrance West, Towson & Storm Johnson, UCF
West is no sleeper to draft insiders or anyone who saw him play, but who watched a Towson game? West set the FCS single-season records last year with 2,519 yards and 41 rushing TDs. Granted those numbers came against FCS competition, but the skills are legit. Someone is going to give West a chance, and he’s got the talent to be productive at the NFL level. Storm Johnson had a solid year for UCF, but not one that made him a household name. He doesn’t have one defining skill that jumps out at you, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. His unimpressive 40 times at the combine might make him a great value in the draft since he’s quicker in pads than on a track. Honorable mention sleepers: Lorenzo Taliaferro, Coastal Carolina & Isaiah Crowell, Alabama State
Bust: Andre Williams, Boston College
Williams was extremely productive in his senior season, leading the FBS with 2,177 yards, but he runs too upright and provides nothing as a receiver. Literally, he had zero catches last year. He also takes a bit to get up to speed, which when coupled with his upright running will make him an easy tackle as he hits the hole. I expect him to struggle at the next level. Honorable mention bust: DeAnthony Thomas, Oregon
The obvious guys:
Sammy Watkins, Clemson
Mike Evans, Texas A&M
Odell Beckham Jr., LSU
Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
Allen Robinson, Penn State
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Marquise Lee, USC
Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss
Davante Adams, Fresno State
Watkins is close to the consensus as the #1 receiver in the class, but he, Evans and Beckham are all grouped pretty closely together. Watkins has the upside of a true #1. He’s a game-changer. He runs great routes, has great hands, and is an absolute burner in the open field. He’s got a smallish frame, but plays tougher than his size. Evans has freakish size, and high-points the ball with the best of them. He’s great at tracking the deep ball, works his way back to the quarterback effectively on broken plays, and will be a nightmare to cover in the red zone. He does need to polish his route running, but he could make a fantasy impact quickly. Beckham is getting a lot of attention lately. The Jets and Eagles are both enamored with him and would like to move up to get him. His skill set compares to Victor Cruz and he could have a long career as a slot receiver who can make big things happen after the catch. His size does limit him to a slot role, but he can be a star if he lands in the right place.
Jordan Matthews might be the most underrated WR in this class. He lacks top-end speed, but he is way above average at every other aspect of the position. He’s going to be a very productive number 2 wideout for a long time, a la former Bronco Ed McCaffery. Allen Robinson has the physical tools to be a number 1 wide receiver at the next level, but he needs to clean up his route running if he wants to make that jump. He is physically overwhelming for a lot of DBs and he dominated at times against Big Ten competition. Brandin Cooks has blazing speed and piled up big numbers in a pass-happy OSU offense, but his small size will likely limit him to the slot and he may struggle against more physical corners. He has the upside to be a star (think Carolina Steve Smith), but he needs to find a way to get stronger without losing speed.
Marquise Lee had magnificent sophomore and junior years at USC, but saw a severe drop-off as a senior with Matt Barkley and Robert Woods gone to the NFL. Lee is a fluid route runner with good speed, but can be jammed at the line and has had some durability concerns in his career. He has big potential, but needs to find the right fit to realize it. Donte Moncrief might have the most upside of any receiver in this class. He wasn’t all that productive last season due to inconsistent QB play, but he also could have shown more toughness and fight for the 50/50 balls. If he can add that killer instinct, some scouts believe Moncrief can be Josh Gordon good.
Davante Adams has been extremely productive at Fresno State, but some of that is a result of Fresno’s uptempo system and Derek Carr’s reliance on Adams. Adams has very good hands and deceptive speed, but he doesn’t have great acceleration to get separation quickly and hasn’t had a chance to show what he can do against top competition. He could smoothly transition into the NFL, or he could become a career depth guy if he isn’t as effective against NFL DBs as he was against those from the MWC.
Sleepers: Cody Latimer, Indiana & Robert Herron, Wyoming
Latimer isn’t exactly a sleeper. He topped 1,000 yards receiving in the Big Ten last year and has been shooting up draft boards for the past couple months. To me he projects as Jordan Matthews-lite. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he’s got every other WR skill you need. There’s a pretty good chance he’s selected ahead of a few of the obvious names listed above, and will likely out-produce a few of them as well. Herron isn’t very well known, but he could be special. His size likely limits him to the slot, but he could be one of the 2 or 3 best slot receivers in this draft. He has surprising strength and toughness for a guy who stands 5-9, 195, and he also has elite speed. Honorable mention sleepers: Kain Colter, Northwestern & Dri Archer, Kent State
Bust: Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Scouts love Benjamin’s measurables. He’s even bigger than Mike Evans, but he isn’t nearly as polished a product. He could be a threat in the red zone, but his route running needs a lot of work, and he had several frustrating concentration drops. Kelvin could be solid if he puts in the work, but he also could be a complete bust. Honorable mention bust: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
The obvious guys:
Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Washington
This year’s tight end class has 3 potential fantasy stars, and they’re the guys listed above. Ebron has the most upside. He has the size of a tight end and runs like a receiver. He still needs some polish, specifically in his route running and blocking, but his size and athleticism remind scouts of Vernon Davis. Amaro is much more polished than Ebron, but he lacks Ebron’s speed. He’ll likely be more productive in year one, but Amaro’s upside is a little limited. He is a very natural pass catcher and a better blocker than Ebron. Amaro’s role in the NFL will be as a move tight end who does his best work lined up in the slot. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is has some character concerns, but he is the most traditional tight end of the group. He’ll be a great working underneath and potentially in the red zone, and he’s a load to tackle after the catch. His immaturity could drive his team nuts, but he’s got the skills to be a phenom.
Sleeper: Joe Don Duncan, Dixie St.
Okay, part of the reason I mentioned this guy is because I love the redneck name, but Duncan has a chance to be another Joseph Fauria. Granted, Dixie State isn’t exactly facing top competition, but Duncan was a red zone killer, scoring 13 touchdowns in 10 games last year. He won’t step right in and dominate, but he could develop into a nice player. Honorable mention sleeper: Trey Burton, Florida
Bust: C. J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
C.J. is commonly thought of as the number 4 tight end in this class, but he’s not a great receiving tight end. He won’t do you any good for fantasy purposes early on in his career. He might develop that part of his game later, sort of like a Heath Miller, but he walks in the door as purely a blocking tight end. Honorable mention bust: Xavier Grimble, Florida State
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ll be back sometime after the players have landed on teams to talk about which ones you want on your fantasy team. Until then, enjoy the draft.