Steppin’ Up/Down: Post-Draft Edition
Staying ahead of the curve
By Joe Kilroy
The NFL draft is like Christmas in April for football fans both fantasy inclined and otherwise. Each selection is like the unwrapping of another gift. The fantasy football community is flooded with the arrival of new prospects that must be fit into their rankings. This is especially true for dynasty owners where rookies need to be evaluated beyond their immediate impact within the league.
For dynasty leaguers each offensive skill position player (and every defensive player for those in IDP leagues) represents the chance to cash in. Making the right selections with your early picks can transform your team from competing for the “Potty Bowl” year after year to actually contending for the league title. And for those of you already contending for the title the correct selections with the later picks in each round can establish your squad as being truly worthy of the “Dynasty” label.
There is another evaluation process beyond that of the rookies themselves that must take place year after year however for those of us with a desire to stay ahead of the curve. And that is to garner insight about what each teams draft says about the veterans already on their roster. After all, for every player drafted into the NFL that flourishes it comes at the expense of another.
Whether it happens immediately or over the course of a two-to-three year period it still happens. How far ahead we look and plan as fantasy owners determines how far ahead of the curve we’ll ultimately be.
He’s a few situations that stood out to me following the year’s draft.
Brandon Weeden, CLE: Leading up to the draft questions abounded in Cleveland as to whether or not the new coaching staff headed by Rob Chudzinski would truly commit to Weeden as the future of their franchise at quarterback. Now that the draft is complete it appears that question has been answered – or at least partially.
If Weeden struggles this year the Browns could always go in a different direction in 2014. The fact they went the entire draft without selecting another quarterback however indicates they didn’t feel a need to already begin planning ahead.
This season represents a golden opportunity for Weeden. He’s no longer a rookie and is surrounded by a wealth of young talent with the highly regarded Norv Turner calling the offense. Weeden will either sink or swim, and how he fairs will go a long way in determining whether or not he’s a starting caliber QB at the NFL level over the remainder of his career.
Considering the relatively low asking price for Weeden, I’d suggest any dynasty owners in need of help at the position acquire him now.
Mark Sanchez, NYJ: There are no surprises here. The quarterback that saw the biggest drop in value on draft day is Mark Sanchez. Not that he had much promise to begin with, but the Jets selection of Geno Smith with the 39th overall pick has all but spelled the end of Sanchez’s future with the Jets.
For Sanchez to remain a starter in New York, and perhaps the NFL, he would have to thrive within the game plan of new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. The likelihood of that occurrence is slim to none.
Josh Freeman, TB: To the bewilderment of many Tampa Bay’s second year head coach, Greg Schiano, isn’t sold on Josh Freeman as his team’s long term solution at quarterback. As a reflection of that Tampa Bay inquired about the services of Carson Palmer, Matt Cassel, and Chase Daniel at Schiano’s behest earlier this off-season.
While ultimately none of those quarterbacks found their way onto the Buccaneers roster, the team did spend a third-round pick on Mike Glennon out of North Carolina State. Glennon was the third quarterback off the board in this year’s draft (behind only E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith) and possesses the capabilities that could translate into him becoming a starter at the NFL level.
Like most rookies there are things Glennon needs to improve upon, but the Buccaneers coaching staff will now have a full year to evaluate him as he works behind Freeman. With Freeman being on the final year of his rookie contract a mediocre season won’t likely be enough to keep him around as the starter in Tampa Bay.
Ryan Mathews, SD: There isn’t a single player that lost more value during the 2012 season than Ryan Mathews. Heading into the beginning of the new year he was regarded as a breakout candidate on the verge of becoming a star amongst his peers. Even after he broke his right clavicle on his first carry of the preseason he was still highly regarded amongst the majority of fantasy owners.
Mathews returned to action in Week 3 however only to continually disappoint from there on out. When he broke his left clavicle in a Week 15 contest against the Carolina Panthers it only made matters that much worse. And when Norv Turner was fired at the end of the year it called into question whether the new coaching regime would commit to Mathews as their starting halfback.
Well, following the completion of the NFL draft this Saturday Mathews owners finally have something to rejoice about – the Chargers didn’t draft a running back. This is the clearest indication yet that Mathews is the Bolts primary ball carrier for the 2013 season.
Veteran Ronnie Brown returns to the team for a second season and Danny Woodhead was added as a free agent, but there isn’t a back on the Chargers roster that could be legitimately called upon to challenge Mathews as the team’s primary ball carrier. This should ease some of the concerns surrounding Mathews for the upcoming season and get his arrow pointing in the upward direction.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, CIN: Much like Sanchez’s situation in New York, there’s no debate as to which running back saw his value take the biggest hit during this year’s draft. With the fifth pick of the second round Cincinnati made Giovanni Bernard out of North Carolina the first running back off the board. This move essentially reduces Green-Ellis’ role to that of a part time player.
While “The Law Firm” may hold onto the “starter” label to begin the year it’s hard to imagine he’ll retain that status throughout the season. And even if he did, should he even have it come opening day, he’ll no longer handle the 18.5 carries he averaged per game in 2012. A high-end estimate is that BJGE sees no more than 10-12 carries per contest this year.
Daryl Richardson & Isaiah Pead, STL: With the departure of Steven Jackson this off-season many wondered if the Rams would use an early selection on one of the more highly touted running backs from this year’s draft class. As it turns out they waited until the fifth round to select Vanderbilt product Zac Stacy.
While Stacy has a skill set that could make him a productive rusher in the NFL it’s not as if he’ll be handed a place atop the depth chart ahead of either Daryl Richardson or Isaiah Pead.
With that said, however, Richardson and Pead aren’t guaranteed anything themselves. And after Richardson managed to work his way ahead of Pead last year despite being a seventh round selection of the Rams (Pead was taken in the second) it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone if Stacy earned a role as the Rams primary ball carrier by the end of the year.
For these reasons Richardson’s and Pead’s value remains the same now as it was heading into the draft. We’ll have to monitor the Rams backfield competition throughout the preseason before gaining relevant insight into who’s expected to receive the lion’s share of touches amongst the trio.
Torrey Smith’s counterpart, BAL: Despite lacking a proven option to start opposite Torrey Smith following the off-season trade that sent Anquan Boldin to the 49ers the Baltimore Ravens felt confident enough in the receivers they have not to bother adding another through free agency or spending any higher than a seventh round pick on the position in this year’s draft.
The current in-house options Baltimore has are Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, David Reed, Deonte Thompson, Tommy Streeter, and this year’s seventh round pick Aaron Mellette.
Jones has the most experience amongst the group, but has never compiled more than 51 receptions in a season during his six-year career. His second highest total is just 31 receptions.
It’s far too early to tell which receiver will earn the starting role in Boldin’s absence, but it’s a situation fantasy owners should monitor as you never know when surprise talents may emerge.
For what it’s worth, Mellette was projected by a number of “mock experts” to be a mid-round selection in this year’s draft. Having played at a small school like Elon University hurt his stock. If Mellette shows he can excel against NFL caliber defenders like he had against the weaker opponents he faced in college he could be the best long term investment amongst Baltimore’s receivers aside from Torrey Smith.
Keshawn Martin & DeVier Posey, HOU: Both Martin and Posey were 2012 draft selections of the Houston Texans who some fantasy owners placed stock in as counterparts that could emerge opposite Andre Johnson once Kevin Walter was no longer serviceable.
As it turns out, Walter was allowed to exit via free agency this off-season, but now the second year receivers have an even more imposing figure standing in their way after the Texans used the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft on DeAndre Hopkins out of Clemson University.
Posey’s value was already on the decline after requiring off-season surgery to repair a torn Achilles suffered during the playoffs. He’s currently expected to start the 2013 season on the PUP-list.
Martin’s primary duties will be to work out of the slot and function as the Texans return specialist.
Miles Austin, DAL: Miles Austin’s career in Dallas isn’t over yet, but his remaining days as a Cowboy may be numbered.
There was speculation earlier in the off-season that Dallas may be forced to release Austin due to salary cap concerns, but after a restructuring of his contract it appears that is no longer the case. Nonetheless it can’t be overlooked that he is no longer the lead receiver in Dallas. And his production has dropped off considerably ever since his breakthrough season of 2009.
Austin is currently signed through 2016, but his contract contains little in the way of guaranteed money which means Dallas could release him at any time without taking much of a hit against their salary cap.
The Cowboys selection of Terrance Williams in the third round of this year’s draft could be a sign they are preparing to move on from Austin in 2014. If he fails to meet expectations and/or the Cowboys are impressed by what they see in Williams’ first year with the team there’s a fair chance this could be Austin’s final season as a Cowboy.
Jordan Cameron, CLE: As was the case with teammate Brandon Weeden, there was some concern as to whether or not the Cleveland Browns were truly committed to entering the season with Jordan Cameron as a starter. Following the completion of the 2013 NFL draft however, it appears those concerns can be put to rest.
Having bypassed the selection of a tight end in any round of the draft the rise in Cameron’s value should kick into full gear now as we draw closer and closer to training camp and preseason activities. He’s more of a legitimate “breakout” candidate for the 2013 season than he’s ever been.
Jermaine Gresham, CIN: BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn’t the only Bengal whose value took a significant hit within the past few days. Cincinnati’s surprise selection of Tyler Eifert with the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft has sent Gresham’s value into a tailspin.
Gresham was coming off his best season as a pro which gave fair reason for owners to believe his rank amongst fantasy tight ends was clearly on the rise. With Eifert thrown into the mix however it’s doubtful Gresham will match the career highs he set in receptions and receiving yards in 2012.
In order for that to occur Gresham and Eifert will have to form the “Grade B” version of Gronkowski and Hernandez. At this point I wouldn’t bank on it. Although the additions of Eifert and Bernard would seem to be an indication Cincinnati plans on opening up their offense a bit. That’s of little consolation to Gresham owners, but it would bode well for Andy Dalton.
Dustin Keller, MIA: Keller’s final season with the Jets was one to forget, but he landed in a decent spot this off-season as the new starting tight end for the Miami Dolphins. On the flipside of that, however, is that he only signed a one-year contract. In that regard his situation this year can be compared to some extent to that of Martellus Bennett’s with the Giants in 2012.
It’s a one-year audition of sorts. But even if he performs as well as hoped there’s no guarantee he’s back in Miami next year. And in that regard the Dolphins may have “covered their bases” so to speak with the selection of Dion Sims in the fourth round of this year’s draft.
Sims is regarded as strong blocker – especially in pass protection with room for improvement in the running game. He also catches the ball well, knows how to position his body against defenders while hauling in receptions, and falls forward upon being tackled.
In other words he possesses a skill set that makes him a potentially better all around tight end than Keller. But Keller is in no danger of losing snaps to Sims in 2013.
Read more DFW articles by Joe Kilroy