By Leo Paciga ( @FFHoudini )
This past week, rookie drafts kicked off in many dynasty leagues across the country and owners everywhere started salivating at the thought of adding some of the top rookies from this NFL draft class to their dynasty squads. I’ve spent the past week reviewing rookie drafts, mock rookie drafts, and reading message board discussions that included passionate debates about which player should be the top overall pick. Most of the discussion centers around three specific players and it’s these same three uniquely gifted players that also occupy the top three draft spots in almost every rookie draft (PPR) I looked at while putting this article together. The interesting thing, however, is there is very little consensus on the order in which these three players should be drafted and their respective draft order seems to change with each and every dynasty rookie draft. Before we go any further, let’s take a closer look at the three rookies that seem to sit atop of every 2013 dynasty PPR rookie draft.
Giovani Bernard, RB – Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals selected UNC RB Giovani Bernard as the first running back off the board with the 37th overall pick. Just this week Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden stated that he doesn’t plan on using Giovani Bernard as a workhorse back and that he sees Bernard in a timeshare with fellow RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Honestly, what else is Jay Gruden going to say at this point? Do you think he’s going to go on record and state that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a pedestrian talent and that he can’t wait for Giovani Bernard to relegate Green-Ellis to the bench? The truth of the matter is that Giovani Bernard brings a dynamic and explosive set of skills to the Bengals that they have been sorely lacking at the running back position. Giovani Bernard presses the line of scrimmage better than Green-Ellis and his cutback ability is substantially better than any RB currently on the roster. Bernard also possesses a unique combination of quick burst ability and the necessary patience required to take advantage of the angles that develop as each play unfolds. Factor in Bernard’s skills catching the ball out of the backfield and this rookie has the potential to be a major factor in PPR leagues right out of the gate. With the overall talent that Giovanni Bernard brings to the table, it’s only a matter of time before he leaves his mark on the Bengals offense and on the fantasy football community in general. If I own a top pick and my dynasty squad is in need of a running back, Giovani Bernard is the only running back I’ll consider and the only running back in this draft class worthy of a top three selection.
Tavon Austin, WR – Rams
In my article last week ( NFL Draft Fallout ), I wrote the following on Tavon Austin and what he brings to the St. Louis offense:
The St. Louis Rams traded up to select West Virginia WR Tavon Austin with the 8th overall pick and he fills a pressing need for the Rams with the departure of Danny Amendola to the Patriots. Austin is a special player with deft body control and an amazing ability to change direction without losing high-end quickness. Austin also demonstrates start/stop moves that seem to defy logic as both a receiver and a return specialist. Austin does have a few weaknesses in his overall game; he needs to improve against tight man coverage and he needs to add some strength to ensure he can withstand the constant punishment at the NFL level. All in all, St. Louis is a great landing spot for this speedy wide receiver and Austin should see plenty of targets in his rookie season as Sam Bradford’s new security blanket.
Yes, Tavon Austin may be somewhat lacking in physical stature (5’9″, 175 lbs.), but his agility is off the charts and the Rams coaching staff will undoubtedly do everything they can to make Tavon Austin the focal point of the St. Louis offensive attack from day one of OTA’s. Austin’s versatile skill set makes him the perfect center piece to build around and once Tavon Austin learns how to use his quickness and his deadly array of offensive moves to offset the physical nature of today’s NFL cornerbacks; he will be incredibly difficult to account for and contain in the open field. Second year wide receivers Chris Givens and Brian Quick will continue to develop as NFL caliber wide receivers and fellow rookie Stedman Bailey will be a contributor as well in 2013, but the stage is set for Tavon Austin to electrify fantasy football owners everywhere, especially in PPR leagues.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR – Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings used their third 1st round selection ( the 29th overall pick ) on University of Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. The knock on Cordarrelle Patterson is that he is raw and unpolished with minimal experience playing the wide receiver position. Patterson spent two seasons at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, twice earning juco all-America honors before spending one season at the University of Tennessee. Cordarrelle Patterson was productive for the Volunteers tallying 46 receptions for 778 yards, 25 rushes for 308 yards and 10 total touchdowns (5 rec. TDs, 3 rushing TD’s and 2 TD’s in the return game). What makes Patterson so special is the dangerous combination of his size (6’2″, 216 lbs.), his freakish athletic ability (a 4.42 forty and a 37-inch vertical jump at the NFL combine) and his open field instincts. Let’s take a moment and talk about those open field instincts, shall we? It all starts with Cordarrelle Patterson’s vision, and more specifically, his peripheral vision. Patterson is able to find openings and creases even before they fully materialize on the field and he is able to do this because of his excellent peripheral vision. He is also able to take advantage of these seams and cutback lanes because he has such great balance and quickness for a player standing 6’2″ and weighing 216 lbs. In all seriousness, there are some NFL draft experts who believe Cordarrelle Patterson will be a bust at the NFL level and that his route-running is a major concern. Patterson also struggles with physical press coverage because he has yet to learn how to impose his skill set on defenders in every situation. The key here for me is Vikings wide receiver coach George Stewart, a man with 25 years of NFL experience and a wide receiver coach who has worked with both Jerry Rice and Terrel Owens. I think Stewart can be a calming influence and a mentor to this gifted rookie wide receiver and help Patterson make the transition to the NFL at an elite level. For me, the positive aspects of Patterson’s game far outweigh any of the shortcomings associated with his lack of experience – like an unpolished route tree or an overall “rawness” – since ultimately those things can be corrected. Even quarterback Christian Ponder isn’t a deterrent because I think Patterson is talented enough to survive Ponder’s weaknesses for as long as Ponder is with the Vikings.
So, whats the verdict? Which player is really the top rookie to target in dynasty rookie drafts over the next few weeks? Well, I really don’t think you can go wrong with any of the three players I discussed in this article…but I do believe that you’ll get three different outcomes depending on which player you choose. Tavon Austin will start strong out of the gate and provide instant gratification for owners that draft him to their dynasty squads (especially in PPR leagues). Austin will most likely win NFL Rookie of the Year based on his ability, the maturity level of his game and his overall situation with the Rams. Giovani Bernard is the perfect choice for a dynasty squad owner in need of some running back depth or a young running back to build around. Bernard will most likely start the season in a RBBC with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but will emerge as the season starts to take shape. Giovani Bernard is simply too talented and too dynamic to be left on the sideline in Cincinnati and by 2014, Bernard will be one of the few versatile young RBs near the top of every dynasty owner’s “wish list”. Cordarrelle Patterson, however, is my choice as the top rookie in the class of 2013. I know this goes against the grain when it comes to dynasty “group think”, but I simply can’t ignore the unlimited upside and rare open field ability this young wide receiver has to go along with his size, balance and agility. Patterson won’t pay dividends right away; you’ll have to wait for Patterson to hit the crossroads of maturity, experience and skill set….but that day will come sooner rather than later. By the end of the 2015 season, I believe Cordarrelle Patterson will separate himself from the rest of this draft class and establish himself as an elite NFL wide receiver and the top fantasy player from the 2013 draft. You just have to decide if you can wait that long for greatness.
Well, there you have it, a breakdown of the three rookie players sitting at the top of most PPR dynasty draft boards. You may or may not agree with my analysis of the players mentioned above, but hopefully you’ve at least enjoyed the article. I encourage everyone out there to take the time to research players, watch some film and continue to actively improve your dynasty rosters. The tools and opinions provided here at DFW can certainly help take your teams to the next level. Feel free to contact me on Twitter @FFhoudini with any questions or comments.