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Introduction by Sigmund Bloom
Last year's rookie class will go down as one of the best in fantasy football history if their rookie performances point in the direction that their careers are headed. Fantasy football owners who are looking for similar instant QB1 and RB1 producers will be disappointed when they survey this class, one of the weakest skill position groups in recent memory. That doesn't mean that you should write off this class as a source of points for your fantasy teams.
A very deep wide receiver class, varied and intriguing running back class, and tight end class that could yield at least three fantasy TE1s lead the way, with a few dual threat quarterbacks and strong IDP class helping fill in the gaps in rookie drafts. While this class might lack the elite upside players of 2012, it could give us more than ten starting wide receivers and plenty of running backs who can produce if they are given the opportunity. The Footballguys staff gives you the information you need to proceed with fitting rookies into your short and long-term fantasy plans.
Quarterbacks by Matt Waldman
EJ Manuel, Buffalo Bills
- Strengths: Manuel is a 6-5, 237-lb. passer with the skill to make plays with his legs, but the arm and savvy to maneuver a tight pocket and find the open man. He played in an offense that gave him a variety of experiences including working from center, operating the read-option, and passing from a traditional shotgun.
- Weaknesses: Manuel has to continue to refine his game, but his deficiencies are less a matter of poor technical skills and decision-making as much as it is a game that needs more refining. Think of Colin Kaepernick entering the league as opposed to Tim Tebow and that's the kind of blank slate Manuel has to offer.
- 2013 Outlook: Manuel will compete for the starting job in an up-tempo offense that will take advantage of his athleticism to run the zone-option with running back C.J. Spiller while spreading the field with Steve Johnson, Robert Woods, and possibly Da'Rick Rogers. This is a young offense that could use its athleticism to keep defenses off balance, but don't expect more than QB2 production from Manuel this year because this unit is young and Manuel isn't on Robert Griffin's level as a runner.
- Dynasty Outlook: Manuel has QB1 upside within a few years, but he'll need the Bills to get a lot better in a short span of time. It's probably best to consider Manuel a solid QB2 capable of developing into a low-end starter as the Bills grow.
- NFL Comparison: Manuel and Andrew Luck are similar athletes in terms of physical dimensions and both are physical runners with good skill but not quite game-breaking ability. They also share good, but not great arm strength and excel with moving away from pressure. Manuel isn't as skilled in the X's and O's of the game, but he's capable. He's just on a slower learning curve compared to Luck. Most are.
Tyler Wilson, Oakland Raiders
- Strengths: Wilson possesses skill at managing a tight pocket. He improvises well and can make plays on the move. He's also one of the tougher quarterbacks around because he's willing to stand in the pocket, take punishment to deliver the ball and then get up again to make a big play. He's aggressive and integrates his skills successfully against top competition.
- Weaknesses: Wilson has a good arm, but it's a notch below most franchise-caliber prospects. He has a reckless streak and he'll try to make throws that test the limits of his arm. His willingness to take punishment could cost him games and a chance at a long-term starting job if he tries too hard to assert his leadership on a team that lacks the caliber of surrounding talent to elevate his game.
- 2013 Outlook: Wilson has the talent to push Matt Flynn for the starting job this year. If he wins, he'll need Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford, and Darren McFadden to stay healthy and play to their potential for Wilson to have any shot at fantasy viability. He's a low-end QB2 this year, at best.
- Dynasty Outlook: I think Wilson has the talent to develop into a low-end QB1, but he's the type of player who needs talent to help him elevate his game more than he'll elevate less talented teammates. If you make Wilson a player to stash on a practice squad as a potential bye-week starter, you won't be disappointed.
- NFL Comparison: If Wilson exceeds expectations, think Tony Romo but I think Matt Hasselbeck or Marc Bulger are more akin to his skill set. Hasselbeck was reckless early in his career, but grew into a fine leader and had a stretch of fantasy productivity as a QB1.
Geno Smith, New York Jets
- Strengths: Smith has good patience in the pocket and will stand in tight quarters to find an open man. He also has fundamental accuracy at every range of the field and enough athleticism to gain yards when he breaks the pocket.
- Weaknesses: Smith's decision-making and footwork lacks consistency and the offshoot of these problems is a lack of refined accuracy.
- 2013 Outlook: The Jets have been a dysfunctional organization and now sports three quarterbacks vying for a starting gig. Asking Smith to galvanize this team will be a tall order. It's a high expectation for any rookie in a media-frenzied, drama-friendly town. Smith's absolute upside this year is a low-end QB2 if he earns the starting job. Smith and Wilson are best-considered free agent options.
- Dynasty Outlook: If Smith manages to earn the job and lead this team without dysfunction, he has low-end QB1 upside. However, this Jets situation is volatile and it reduces his upside to that of a QB2 until there's proof of a change within the organization and he hasn't been jerked around by the current regime.
- NFL Comparison: Like Tyler Wilson, Smith has a lot of qualities that stylistically fit Tony Romo's game. However, Smith has more mobility than Wilson and this places him on a continuum of player more along the lines of Romo and Rich Gannon than Romo and Matt Hasselbeck.
Matt Barkley, Philadelphia Eagles
- Strengths: Barkley has refined skill running a west coast offense. He displays accuracy as a short and intermediate passer with occasional success as a deep ball thrower. He works well in a play-action game that utilizes quick throws off boot legs. Barkley also demonstrates polish maneuvering the pocket under pressure so he can stay in position to deliver the ball downfield.
- Weaknesses: Despite a wealth of skills described above, Barkley has issues putting each of these individual components together on plays where he feels pressure from the defense. The better NFL quarterbacks integrate these disparate skills within the scope of one play to beat a defense. Barkley often had trouble doing this in the college game.
- 2013 Outlook: The Eagles loved Barkley at USC and the organization believes the rookie will be a nice fit for Chip Kelley's run-heavy, up-tempo west coast offense. If the Eagles can dictate the action and lesson pressure in the pocket, Barkley could develop into a nice fit, but he only has a minor chance of beginning the season as a starter with Michael Vick and Nick Foles in town.
- Dynasty Outlook: Barkley has a good chance to compete for the starting job in 2014 and produce as a QB2 with bye-week production for fantasy owners. He'll need this offense to take the league by storm in terms of scheme if fantasy owners can reasonably expect QB1 production.
- NFL Comparison: If Barkley plays to his absolute upside, his physical skills and style of play are similar to Matt Ryan. If he fails to integrate his skills under pressure, he'll be more like journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Sean Renfree, Atlanta Falcons
- Strengths: David Cutcliffe, Renfree's head coach at Duke, says the Falcons rookie has as a mental capacity for the game on par with Peyton and Eli Manning and claims the passer will be the steal of the draft. I believe Renfree already throws the intermediate and deep ball with greater anticipation than Matt Ryan. He's willing to stand in the pocket and maneuvers tight spaces well enough under fire to develop into a starting quarterback.
- Weaknesses: Renfree has good size and arm strength, but he lacks great mobility and athleticism. He didn't play in a top-notch program and he tore his pectoral muscle in his final game of his college career, which limited his pre-draft workouts.
- 2013 Outlook: Unless Matt Ryan gets hurt Renfree won't have a chance to get pressed into action. If he earns the No.2 job this year, which is a true possibility given the dearth of talent on the Falcons depth chart he has the talent around him to produce as a high-end QB2 as a rookie. Even so, he's a fantasy free agent and not worth drafting.
- Dynasty Outlook: A late-round of the Falcons, Renfree might be in one of the best long-term scenarios of any prospect. Think about it. The Falcons are surrounded with excellent offensive talent, Renfree will learn from a franchise starter, and if he plays he'll have a showcase with a good team compared to the dysfunction or weaker talents of other organizations. He might not be worth a pick for any bt the deepest dynasty league rosters, but he's worth monitoring if you don't stash him on a practice squad.
- NFL Comparison: Renfree has limited athleticism, which puts him in a class of player like Philip Rivers and Bernie Kosar – especially in terms of anticipation. He throws a ball that's as pretty as Sam Bradford.
Ryan Nassib, New York Giants
- Strengths: Nassib has a good arm, but hasn't refined his delivery maximize his strength. He's a smart player with good accuracy and anticipation in the short and intermediate passing game. He can maneuver the pocket and keep his eyes downfield.
- Weaknesses: Nassib's deep ball needs work. He places too much air under these passes and rarely delivers the ball with good anticipation to lead the receiver. He has some maneuverability, but his athleticism is overstated as a runner.
- 2013 Outlook: The No.3 quarterback on the Giants depth chart.
- Dynasty Outlook: Eventually successor to David Carr as Eli Manning's primary backup. He has the upside to develop into a future starter who the Giants can trade away. He's a borderline QB1 talent if this happens.
- NFL Comparison: If Nassib develops his deep ball, he has the acumen to play within the pocket-friendly, downfield style of Tom Brady. If not, think Chad Pennington.
Football analysts were split on Nassib. Some viewed him as the best prospect of this quarterback class. Others felt he was backup material. I see Nassib has a future starter, but he'll need to work on his release and his vertical passing game. He should make the Giants roster as the No.3 quarterback this year, displace David Carr by 2014, and perhaps become the subject of trade talk as a future starter for another team by 2015. Nassib will need a strong team around him to have high-end fantasy production if this happens, but his accuracy and pocket presence makes him worth a stash in deep dynasty leagues.
Ryan Griffin, New Orleans Saints
- Strengths: Griffin is strong, works well from the pocket, and has an aggressive, downfield mindset as a passer.
- Weaknesses: He played for an undermanned Tulane squad and sometimes pressed with his decision-making to make plays that weren't there.
- 2013 Outlook: No.3 quarterback as a developmental project for the Saints.
- Dynasty Outlook: Griffin has more upside than recent developmental project Chase Daniel, who signed a contract with the Chiefs as its primary backup. Griffin has potential to develop into the heir apparent to Drew Brees by 2015. He's worth monitoring.
- NFL Comparison: Griffin is built a little like Dan Fouts and has those kinds of physical tools. The mental acumen for the game is potential good enough to develop, but he needs a few years and the patience of a team to develop.
Tyler Bray, Kansas City Chiefs
- Strengths: Rare arm strength and the ability to squeeze the ball into tight windows from off-balanced positions. Bray has the ability to place the ball anywhere on the field from the pocket or on the move. He demonstrates maneuverability under pressure to keep his eyes downfield.
- Weaknesses: Bray lacks the discipline to make mature decisions. He takes too many risks because of extreme belief in his arm strength and natural accuracy. He's immature and doesn't prepare. He willfully ignores safe plays and doesn't work at the craft of quarterbacking.
- 2013 Outlook: He'll vie for the No.3 quarterback job behind Alex Smith and Chase Daniel, two players who lack his physical talent as a thrower.
- Dynasty Outlook: If Bray can learn from his less talented teammates on the depth chart and develop into a professional with his approach to the game, he has more natural upside than any quarterback in this class and has fantasy QB1 talent. In fact, he has high-end QB1 talent.
- NFL Comparison: A bigger, more athletic Jeff George in terms of skill, style, and maturity.
Running Backs by Cecil Lammey
In 2012 Trent Richardson (Browns) and Doug Martin (Buccaneers) were both first-round picks so it was expected when they became fantasy darlings. However, when sixth-round pick Alfred Morris rushed for over 1,600 yards as a rookie many were surprised. Other late round backs like Vick Ballard (5th Colts), Bryce Brown (7th Eagles) and Daryl Richardson (7th Rams) also became key players for their team as rookies. This year's draft class isn't as exciting as 2012's class, but that doesn't mean it lacks talent. This year we should see rookie runners like Eddie Lacy (Packers), Le'Veon Bell (Steelers), and Montee Ball (Broncos) get a chance to be starters for their respective teams. They don't have completely clear paths to the starting job and all three will have to win the job in training camp. The first running back selected in this class, Giovani Bernard (Bengals) may also be in line to start this season. A late round pick like Zac Stacy (Rams) is a great fit for the Jeff Fisher offense and might have a bigger role than some think. Arguably the best pure runner in this year's class, 49ers fourth-round pick Marcus Lattimore could begin the season on the PUP list but has high dynasty value.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
- Strengths: Lacy runs with a lot of power and can generate that power instantly after the handoff. He has the leg drive to charge through arm tackles and runs with a good pad level which allows him to pick up extra yardage after contact. Lacy has outstanding feet for a big man and can execute a dangerous spin move at speed and lose little momentum. While not known for his receiving ability, Lacy can be counted on as a reliable receiver out of the backfield. Lacy runs with a nasty attitude and loves to toy with or punish defenders.
- Weaknesses: Durability is a huge concern (turf toe, ankle sprains) and the reason he fell in the NFL draft.
- 2013 Outlook: Lacy will compete with fellow rookie Jonathan Franklin and veteran DuJuan Harris for the starting job. He is considered the favorite to win the job and will benefit from defenses that aren't stacking the line to stop the run. Lacy has top 25 potential if he wins the job and stays healthy as a rookie.
- Dynasty Outlook: Perhaps a shorter NFL career due to injury woes. Top 25 potential while he's healthy.
- NFL Comparison: Smaller Jerome Bettis with durability issues.
Montee Ball, Denver Broncos
- Strengths: Productivity is the name of the game with Ball. He led the FBS in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and runs of 15 yards or longer since the start of the 2011 season. Ball makes his living between the tackles and does a good job of running through trash at the line of scrimmage. He does have the speed to get to the edge consistently. Over the last two years he averaged 7.1 yards per carry outside the tackles and almost 37 percent of his rushes went there during that time. Ball has good phone booth quickness and finds ways to get skinny to avoid contact. He is a determined and patient runner who will fight for the extra yard.
- Weaknesses: Ball is not creative in the open field and lacks the long speed to be a breakaway threat.
- 2013 Outlook: Seen as the most likely to win the starting job for the Broncos. The history of rookie running backs under John Fox is not kind and the best case scenario for Ball is around 225 carries on the year. His nose for the end zone will increase his fantasy stock.
- Dynasty Outlook: Could be top 25 back while Peyton Manning is under center for Broncos. After that Ball could struggle against more defensive attention.
- NFL Comparison: A more decisive Ben Tate.
Le'Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Strengths: Bell has an outstanding size/speed combination and will take defenders by surprise in the open field. Even though he's big Bell does a good job of getting skinny to squeeze between blockers and pick up extra yardage. Bell is athletic in the open field and has light feet for a big man. He can even jump over would be tacklers if they go low. Bell intimidates opponents with his size but can run around them with his speed. He is the most versatile back in this draft class. Bell has good hands, can run routes like a wide receiver, and can even line up in the slot if need be.
- Weaknesses: Bell runs upright which exposes his midsection to punishment and also causes ball security issues. He lacks instant burst and instant power, and thus will struggle if the hole isn't there.
- 2013 Outlook: Bell should win the starting job for the Steelers. He could be in for the biggest amount of carries for any rookie running back in this class. Bell could be a top 25 back if he wins and keeps the job for the entire season.
- Dynasty Outlook: Has the potential to be a top 25 back for years.
- NFL Comparison: Michael Bush with better hands and versatility.
Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
- Strengths: Bernard was one of the best backs in college last year, ranking fourth in the nation with an average of 198.1 all-purpose yards per game. He has an instant burst which gets him to top speed in a hurry. Bernard has good foot frequency and can change direction on a dime without losing much speed. He runs low, with good pad level and balance, which helps him run through arm tackles. Bernard does a good job of allowing blocks to fully develop in front of him and will wait until the right time to turn on the speed. He has great hands as a receiver out of the backfield and causes mismatch problems on wheel routes.
- Weaknesses: His frame is maxed out and he lacks the size to be a workhorse at the pro level.
- 2013 Outlook: Bernard should start his career as a change of pace back and big play option for the Bengals behind BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Some think he could surpass Green-Ellis as the starter sometime during 2013.
- Dynasty Outlook: If Bernard shows the ability to take the NFL beating and stay healthy he could perform like a top 20 running back because of his big play ability.
- NFL Comparison: A DeAngelo Williams clone.
Zac Stacy, St. Louis Rams
- Strengths: Yards after contact is the name of the game with Stacy. He is built low to the ground, runs with proper pad level, and always falls forward when tackled. Stacy loves to initiate contact and will punish defenders as the game goes on. He is a rhythm runner who gets stronger with more carries and thrives on contact. He is a slippery runner with subtle moves to create his own space. Stacy is known as a team first player and has an outstanding work ethic on the practice field and in the weight room. He is a decisive runner and wastes little motion with the rock in his hand.
- Weaknesses: Stacy doesn't have ankle breaking moves and only averaged 10 catches per season in college. He also tends to get dinged up quite a bit as he missed parts of several games with various injuries.
- 2013 Outlook: Stacy will compete with Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead for the starting job. A dark horse to win the position, Stacy is the best fit for a Jeff Fisher offense because of his leg drive and power at the point of attack.
- Dynasty Outlook: If Stacy is the lead back in the RBBC he could consistently be a top 25 back.
- NFL Comparison: Shorter Shonn Greene with better footwork.
Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay Packers
- Strengths: Franklin runs bigger than his size and has the speed to get to the edge consistently. He moves well laterally and will make defenders miss in tight spaces. Once in the open field Franklin has the speed to score from anywhere on the field. He was affectionately known as ìjet skiî by his college teammates and is a big play waiting to happen. Franklin is a high effort runner who can create on his own if defenders shake free of their blocks. He has excellent foot speed and keeps his feet upon contact, showing good balance to pick up yards after taking a hit.
- Weaknesses: Franklin is not polished in pass protection and had ball security issues throughout his college career.
- 2013 Outlook: Franklin will battle Eddie Lacy and DuJuan Harris in training camp for the starting job. He will have to be patient and wait for his time if Lacy wins the job initially. Once on the field Franklin could impress and hold onto the starting position.
- Dynasty Outlook: Franklin has starter's ability and may get into the starting lineup as a rookie. If the featured guy in a RBBC Franklin has the ability to be a top 25 running back.
- NFL Comparison: A smaller Frank Gore.
Marcus Lattimore, San Francisco 49ers
- Strengths: Lattimore is a smooth runner who is swift in the open field and can get to top speed in a hurry. He finishes strong and can run over defenders in his way. Lattimore has the moves and creativity to make defenders miss in the open field as well. He will fight for extra yards and refuses to go down after contact. He moves well for a big man because he stays light on his feet and does a good job of setting up defenders. He has good concentration as a receiver out of the backfield and will square up rushers in pass protection.
- Weaknesses: Durability is a huge concern after two major knee injuries in back-to-back seasons.
- 2013 Outlook: The 49ers could choose to put Lattimore on the PUP list if he's not ready for the start of the regular season. He could perhaps have a limited role later in the season or in the playoffs if healthy.
- Dynasty Outlook: Potential to be a top 15 fantasy RB if he stays healthy. Durability may shorten his NFL career.
- NFL Comparison: If 100% healthy, a mix between Jonathan Stewart and Arian Foster.
Christine Michael, Seattle Seahawks
- Strengths: Michael is an exciting player to watch. His legs are like pistons when he runs, constantly churning and each step he takes comes with incredible power. He's not afraid of contact and will lower his shoulder to take defenders head on. An aggressive runner, Michael will often blast through defenders in the hole and pick up yards after contact. He does have the burst and acceleration to get to top speed in a hurry and he can make the corner consistently. Michael loves to hurt defenders and has a punishing stiff arm he uses to get free in the open field.
- Weaknesses: Durability is a huge concern after multiple leg injuries in college. Michael is a high energy runner who dances too much at times and wastes a lot of motion when he runs. Attitude and pass protection are also question marks with his game.
- 2013 Outlook: Will compete with Robert Turbin to be the primary backup behind Marshawn Lynch. He is most likely to be the third-string runner with limited touches as a rookie.
- Dynasty Outlook: Durability/maturity issues could hold him back. If healthy and motivated he has the ability to be a top 20 back with upside.
- NFL Comparison: High energy, harder charging Mikel Leshoure.
Stepfan Taylor, Arizona Cardinals
- Strengths: Taylor is arguably the most well rounded back in this draft class. He's a dependable runner who can be a workhorse if called upon. Taylor can run effectively between the tackles and has the size to pick up short yardage and goalline situations. He also showed the ability to get to the corner on outside runs and does a good job allowing his blocks to fully develop in front of him. Taylor has sharp footwork and can make surprising cuts for a bigger back. He can also be relied on to be a good receiver on screen passes.
- Weaknesses: Taylor is a well-rounded player but lacks an outstanding trait. Too easily brought down by ankle tackles and will often miss cutback lanes.
- 2013 Outlook: Taylor will compete with Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams for the starting job. Likely the third option in that race initially. Receiving ability and durability issues of Williams and Mendenhall could get Taylor onto the field at some point in 2013.
- Dynasty Outlook: Good but not great future. Taylor is a good all-purpose runner and receiver who could be top 32 back if given a bigger role.
- NFL Comparison: Rashad Jennings with better hands.
Mike Gillislee, Miami Dolphins
- Strengths: Gillislee has good footwork and can set up defenders in the open field. He has good anticipation and it helps him maximize the yards gained on each carry. He's a tough and somewhat effective runner between the tackles. Gillislee got stronger as games went on and led the SEC in carries last year. In 2012 Gillislee averaged 2.0 yards after contact per rush in the second half of games compared to 1.5 yards after contact per rush in the first half. He's rarely brought down by the first defender and is known as a feisty runner.
- Weaknesses: He doesn't play as big as his size. Gillislee will often look for the big play, dance, and lose yardage when it's best to just lower his head and drive his legs.
- 2013 Outlook: Gillislee will compete with Daniel Thomas to be the primary backup behind Lamar Miller. He could make it onto the field as a rookie in short yardage or goalline situations.
- Dynasty Outlook: Better suited as a backup player and spot starter. Gillislee can provide valuable depth and has a good all-around game.
- NFL Comparison: Knowshon Moreno.
Joseph Randle, Dallas Cowboys
- Strengths: Randle is arguably the best pass protector in this draft class. He has incredibly straight line speed and is difficult to catch from behind. Randle accelerates quickly and shows a strong plant foot when changing direction. He is not the biggest back but will lower his pads to take on tacklers in the box or in the open field. Randle compiled 108 career catches at Oklahoma State and can be relied on as a receiver out of the backfield with big play ability. He runs with good balance and can bounce off would be tacklers at the second level.
- Weaknesses: An overly emotional player that needs to show more maturity on the field. He's lean and lacks the frame to add much more muscle at the pro level. Randle will overrun cutback lanes at times because of his aggressive style.
- 2013 Outlook: Essentially locked in as the primary backup behind Demarco Murray. Should see significant change of pace carries and could start this year if/when Murray is hurt.
- Dynasty Outlook: A good change of pace back because of his speed. He could struggle with a bigger role because of his lack of size and creativity.
- NFL Comparison: A less creative but as explosive Felix Jones.
Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders
- Strengths: Murray is a swift runner who glides down the field. He has the size to punish defenders in the box and can consistently run through arm tackles. Murray can get to the corner and once he squares his shoulders to the line of scrimmage he is a big load to bring down. He runs with a nasty attitude and loves to run over opponents. This attitude also helps Murray fight for extra yards and maximize every carry. He is a smooth athlete with subtle moves to create his own space in the open field.
- Weaknesses: Murray has good straight line speed but it takes a while to build a head of steam. He lacks explosion and can too often be swallowed up by the defense.
- 2013 Outlook: Murray will compete with Rashad Jennings to be the primary backup behind Darren McFadden. With McFadden's injury history Murray could see three or four games of an increased workload in 2013.
- Dynasty Outlook: Not explosive enough to be a consistent starter. Can be productive as a fill in starter and reserve player.
- NFL Comparison: Slower version of former Titans RB Chris Brown.
Chris Thompson, Washington Redskins
- Strengths: Foot frequency, speed, and big play ability is the name of Thompson's game. He is a jitterbug in the open field and difficult for defenders to get a bead on. He accelerates in the blink of an eye and can change direction without losing much (if any) speed. In the open field Thompson is incredibly dangerous because he has the speed and explosion to outrun angles and pick up huge yards. He should be featured on draw plays and screen passes to get him into space.
- Weaknesses: Thompson lacks the size to be anything more than a change of pace back. Durability concerns abound because of his knee injury in 2012.
- 2013 Outlook: Thompson will compete with Roy Helu and Evan Royster for snaps behind Alfred Morris. He is the perfect complementary back behind Morris because of his speed and homerun ability.
- Dynasty Outlook: A good change of pace back who can score from anywhere on the field. Thompson is best suited as a big play complementary back behind a solid starter.
- NFL Comparison: Danny Woodhead with better long speed.
Denard Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Strengths: Robinson is a dangerous runner in the open field because of his speed, burst, and acceleration. He can change direction on a dime and has incredible stop/start ability. Robinson is a patient runner who understands angles and where a defense is likely to pursue him from. He has good balance and will surprise defenders who give him a shoulder by keeping his feet and continuing to run down the field. He's a versatile player who can help in the return game in addition to playing Wildcat quarterback or wide receiver.
- Weaknesses: Robinson runs too upright and will get tackled too easily. He has ball security issues and takes a lot of unnecessary hits.
- 2013 Outlook: The Jaguars would like to get Robinson 10-15 touches a game as a runner, receiver, or return man. Must show the ability to stay healthy and hold onto the rock.
- Dynasty Outlook: Size will prevent him from being anything more than a change of pace player.
- NFL Comparison: Dexter McCluster.
Knile Davis, Kansas City Chiefs
- Strengths: Davis has the straight line speed to be a factor in the open field. He gets to top speed in a hurry and is known for an aggressive playing style between the tackles. Davis hits the hole swiftly and can bounce off would be tacklers because of his balance. He has the build of a starter in the NFL and the speed to pick up yards in chunks.
- Weaknesses: Durability is a huge concern after multiple ankle problems in college. He's fast but lacks creativity or elusiveness in the open field.
- 2013 Outlook: Davis will compete with Shaun Draughn to be the primary backup behind Jamaal Charles. He may get on the field this year in short yardage and goalline situations.
- Dynasty Outlook: Borderline NFL talent. Will struggle to make an impact and stay healthy with a bigger role.
- NFL Comparison: If healthy, a less elusive Darren McFadden.
Wide Receivers by Sigmund Bloom
The 2012 rookie class had a couple of massive hits at running back and quarterback, but the wide receiver class wasn't nearly as fruitful. Like 2012, 2013's class of wideouts lacks a “can't miss” player like Calvin Johnson, AJ Green, or Julio Jones, but it is deeper than 2012, and there are a few wide receivers poised to make an instant impact.
The 2013 class is full of intriguing talents that span the very wide spectrum of the types of players that the NFL looks for at the position. The success or failure of players like Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Justin Hunter will influence how similar players are treated in future drafts. In the case of Austin and Patterson, they could even broaden the ways wide receivers are used in offenses.
What this class lacks in star power is made up for by its diversity and the compelling nature of some of the stories in the group. Let's break down this fascinating class
Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
- Strengths: Patterson is lethal in the open field. His inspired moves, field vision, and breakaway speed will keep defenses on their heels from the moment he has the ball in his hands. He is an ultra-athletic big receiver with the ability to create mismatches against all but the best corners in the game.
- Weaknesses: Patterson is one of the rawest first-round picks at wide receiver in recent memory. He is prone to lapses in concentration and effort and his route-running is work in progress. Patterson's intelligence and ability to learn the playbook have been questioned, and his pre-draft interviews did not go very well.
- 2013 Outlook: Patterson will attempt to push Jerome Simpson to start opposite Greg Jennings, but he is more likely to be used on special plays designed to get the ball in his hands on only a dozen or two snaps a game. He is talented enough to force his way on the field if he can become more reliable.
- Dynasty Outlook: Patterson has the highest ceiling of anyone in this depth. If he can just become average as a receiver, he can be a fantasy WR1. If he develops some polish to his game, he'll threaten the top five.
- NFL Comparison: Bigger Percy Harvin
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
- Strengths: Austin will instantly become one of the quickest players in the game, and he has the long speed turn any touch into a touchdown. He can provide playmaking punch out of the backfield and in the return game. Austin did not miss a game at West Virginia despite being only 5'9” 174.
- Weaknesses: Austin is too small to line up outside, and some doubt his ability to hold up under NFL punishment. He generally lacks fear working the middle of the field, but Austin might get dangerously pinballed around in that area if he runs downfield routes in the pros.
- 2013 Outlook: The Rams didn't trade up to #8 to have Austin on the bench. He'll get on the field a lot and St. Louis will make every effort to get the ball in his hands. Consider him an upside WR3 play and priority target in the mid-rounds of PPR leagues.
- Dynasty Outlook: Austin may not catch 120 balls in a year like Wes Welker has been lately, but he can provide the same mid-low fantasy WR1 value Welker has been creating in PPR leagues.
- NFL Comparison: A love child of Wes Welker and Darren Sproles
DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
- Strengths: Hopkins is a very advanced route runner, with a keen understanding of how to change speeds and disguise breaks in his routes. He has tremendous ball skills and hands, especially on targets above his head, and Hopkins is an aggressive and dangerous runner after the catch.
- Weaknesses: Hopkins lacks top-end size, speed, or quickness. He sometimes struggles on balls that he has to compete for over the middle of the field.
- 2013 Outlook: Hopkins will step in and start right away for the Texans opposite Andre Johnson. He'll probably go off the board as a WR4 in the 9th-12th round.
- Dynasty Outlook: While his ceiling is probably no higher than a fantasy WR2, Hopkins also has probably the highest floor of any receiver in this class. His pro-ready all-around game gives him very little bust risk.
- NFL Comparison: Slower Roddy White
Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers
- Strengths: Allen is a big, strong receiver, with a “my ball” mentality and a strong game after the catch. He creates separation with a quick get-off and excellent footwork in his precise route-running. His ball skills and body control create a huge catch radius.
- Weaknesses: Allen was allegedly red-flagged for a drug test result at the Combine and also had a knee injury that kept him from being 100% at any point in the pre-draft process. He lacks good straight-line speed and Allen's hands could be more consistent.
- 2013 Outlook: Allen will be waiting in the wings for a Malcom Floyd or Danario Alexander injury to threaten for a starting spot. He can play in the slot even though he is a big receiver, so he could get on the field right away in three or four wide receiver sets.
- Dynasty Outlook: Even though he fell to the third-round, Allen is more of a top 50 overall talent, and he has a pretty clear path to be the Chargers long-term #1 receiver if he develops well.
- NFL Comparison: Less physically-imposing Brandon Marshall
Markus Wheaton, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Strengths: Wheaton has sprinter's speed combined with very good feet to create separation with sharp routes. He can adjust well to errant throws and Wheaton is not afraid to leave himself open to a big hit to make a catch over the middle.
- Weaknesses: Wheaton is on the small side and can get pushed around by strong corners. While he is a burner, he is not elusive in the open field.
- 2013 Outlook: He should be able to overtake Jerricho Cotchery to become the team's #3 receiver at some point this season. If Emmanuel Sanders can't stay healthy, Wheaton could start by year's end.
- Dynasty Outlook: Wheaton projects as a long-term starter opposite Antonio Brown, assuming the team doesn't bring Sanders back in free agency next year.
- NFL Comparison: Santonio Holmes with his head on straight
Robert Woods, Buffalo Bills
- Strengths: Woods is an acrobatic receiver with great hands, concentration, and body control on difficult catches. He is a tough, balanced runner after the catch, with good speed and quickness that could improve if his ankle gets back to 100%.
- Weaknesses: Woods hasn't been fully healthy for two years because of a nagging ankle injury. He hasn't looked as fast, or generally dangerous on offense since the injury. He is somewhat undersized and has gotten more inconsistent as of late.
- 2013 Outlook: Woods really has no stiff competition to start in Buffalo. The installation of a new offense could be bumpy, especially if first-round pick EJ Manuel starts, but Woods should have immediate opportunity.
- Dynasty Outlook: Woods projects as a complementary receiver with WR3/WR4 fantasy value, but one that could be very productive with a good #1 on the other side.
- NFL Comparison: USC Steve Smith before his microfracture surgery
Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
- Strengths: Before tearing his ACL in 2011, Hunter looked like Randy Moss at times. He has a long, lean frame, with big ups and the body control to make catches that no defender can stop. Hunter has breakaway speed and he can make things happen after the catch.
- Weaknesses: Hunter had an alarming number of drops in 2012, and hasn't been consistently excellent since before his injury. He is a bit of a stick figure who could get manhandled by powerful corners if he doesn't bulk up in the pros.
- 2013 Outlook: Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright should start, but if Britt slips up or gets hurt, Hunter will be right there to replace him. He should be on your waiver wire speed dial list if he goes undrafted, and on your late-round sleeper list if he has a good camp.
- Dynasty Outlook: Only his collegiate teammate Patterson has a higher ceiling, as Hunter has all of the tools to be a #1 wide receiver in the pros. He also has a moderate-to-high bust risk as a player whose draft stock was mostly based on potential, not production.
- NFL Comparison: Randy Moss with stretches of bad Braylon Edwards
Stedman Bailey, St. Louis Rams
- Strengths: Bailey is natural tracking the deep ball over his shoulder, and he will go up and bang in the air for the ball despite being only 5'10” 190. Bailey can make tacklers miss after the catch, and he runs with a back's mentality when it comes time to absorb and fight through contact. He is a crisp route runner who should have no trouble creating separation in the pros.
- Weaknesses: Bailey isn't especially, big, fast, or quick. Some think that his production was more a function of his offense than his talent. He might be pigeonholed as a slot receiver in the pros.
- 2013 Outlook: If 2012 second-round pick Brian Quick isn't progressing, Bailey could pass him to get on the field with collegiate teammate Tavon Austin. He'll be a deep sleeper to track in training camp.
- Dynasty Outlook: With the Rams constructing a spread passing offense, Bailey projects as a good fit outside, but he will be blocked by the larger and more athletic Quick if Quick hits. His ability to play the short/long game with Austin could give him an edge if Quick slips up.
- NFL Comparison: Less explosive Carolina Steve Smith
Josh Boyce, New England Patriots
- Strengths: Boyce has true breakaway speed in a running back's 5'11” 206-pound frame. He runs precise routes and has good hands, including outside of his frame. Boyce runs hard after the catch and will not be brought down by weak tackle attempts.
- Weaknesses: Since he is short with short arms, some doubt his ability to play outside in the pros. He was sidelined with a broken bone in his foot before the draft.
- 2013 Outlook: Boyce will be a battle royale with fellow rookie Aaron Dobson and a host of veteran castoffs to start opposite Danny Amendola
- Dynasty Outlook: Although he'll have to beat out Dobson, who was drafted higher, Boyce could end up in a very good WR2 spot as long as Tom Brady is in New England. He was more consistent and productive than Dobson in college.
- NFL Comparison: Thicker Chris Givens
Terrance Williams, Dallas Cowboys
- Strengths: Williams has an excellent size/speed combination, and he has been getting better every year of his collegiate career. He's also an excellent blocker.
- Weaknesses: Williams is not an advanced route-runner, and most of effectiveness comes via his tools. He isn't always a hands catcher, and Williams is not difficult to tackle after the catch.
- 2013 Outlook: Williams will compete with Dwayne Harris for the sometimes very productive WR3 job in Dallas. If Miles Austin continues to have trouble staying healthy, Williams could start at some point this year,
- Dynasty Outlook: Austin's salary and durability woes are a bad combination that could get him cut next offseason, opening the door to a starting spot for Williams.
- NFL Comparison: Less Explosive Miles Austin
Quinton Patton, San Francisco 49ers
- Strengths: Patton was extremely productive in college even though defenses knew he was the primary option in his offense. He gets up to speed quickly and creates separation with quick foot and an instant throttle down.
- Weaknesses: Patton isn't a true burner, he's not big, and he's not a dangerous runner after the catch. He also has trouble catching contested balls in the air.
- 2013 Outlook: Patton will be competing with 2012 first-round pick AJ Jenkins and veteran Kyle Williams to be the third wide receiver behind Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. If Mario Manningham can recover from his late-season ACL tear, then Patton will vie for the #4 wide receiver job.
- Dynasty Outlook: With Boldin on only a one-year deal and Jenkins a huge disappointment so far, Patton has a good chance to the long-term #2 receiver in this offense with good development during his rookie year.
- NFL Comparison: Poor man's Reggie Wayne
Da'Rick Rogers, Buffalo Bills
- Strengths: Rogers has terrific size and strength and will make smaller corners look powerless to stop him from catching the ball. He is a very good athlete for a big receiver and most NFL corners will be at a physical disadvantage against him both before and after the catch.
- Weaknesses: Rogers was booted from Tennessee for multiple failed drug tests, and teams thought so little of this 2nd-3rd round talent's character that he went undrafted in April. He's not elusive after the catch and Rogers' game is mostly predicated on his physical gifts.
- 2013 Outlook: Rogers needs to avoid any transgressions in camp just to make the roster. If he does, he should push for playing time in three-wide sets right away.
- Dynasty Outlook: Rogers will either be a wasted rookie pick, or he'll hit bigger than many of the names above him on this list.
- NFL Comparison: Tampa Mike Williams with less game in the air, but more strength
Aaron Dobson, New England Patriots
- Strengths: Dobson has a long-limbed, explosive, agile body with highlight-reel body control. He'll be a red zone weapon and give the Patriots a jumpball receiver that they sorely need.
- Weaknesses: Dobson was not very productive in a high-flying pass offense and he struggled with drops and inconsistency.
- 2013 Outlook: The path to a starting job in one of the best passing offenses in the league is clear. Dobson should be considered a late-round sleeper in redraft leagues as long as he holds onto his headstart for the #2 wide receiver job.
- Dynasty Outlook: Dobson could settle into WR3/WR4 level value long-term if he can successful win and hold onto the #2 job in New England.
- NFL Comparison: Less explosive Sidney Rice with inconsistent hands
Marquise Goodwin, Buffalo Bills
- Strengths: Goodwin is instantly one of the three or five fastest wide receivers in the NFL. He has good hands, and he is tough and physical despite a track background. Goodwin is short for an NFL wide receiver but not slight, with a solid 5'9” 183 pound build.
- Weaknesses: Goodwin is a very raw route runner, and he sometimes has trouble spotting the ball in the air. He wasn't used very much in college and might take a while to develop.
- 2013 Outlook: Goodwin should start out no higher than #4 in the wide receiver pecking order and contribute on special teams.
- Dynasty Outlook: Speed can't be taught, but most of the rest of the wide receiver position can, so Goodwin could become a player that demands at least five touches a game to get his jets into play. He is an underrated dynasty prospect.
- NFL Comparison: Pint-sized Mike Wallace
Chris Harper, Seattle Seahawks
- Strengths: Harper has a power running back build and mentality even though he's a wide receiver. He has surprising speed for a receiver with his bulk, and Harper is aggressive after the catch, often making the first man miss.
- Weaknesses: Harper doesn't create great separation in his routes, and his fight after the catch can leave him exposed to tacklers looking to force fumbles. His concentration and effort were inconsistent, at least in part due to poor quarterback play from Collin Klein.
- 2013 Outlook: Harper is likely going to use this year to learn the ropes behind Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, and Golden Tate.
- Dynasty Outlook: With Rice due 8.5 million next year, he could be a cap cut candidate if he has trouble staying healthy again in 2013. Harper has an outside shot to start in 2014 and beyond.
- NFL Comparison: Faster Juron Criner
Other wide receivers to remember:
- Corey Fuller, Detroit - This late bloomer has legitimate deep speed and might compete to start right away with Ryan Broyles recovering from his second ACL tear in two years.
- Mark Harrison, New England - Harrison fell out of the draft because of inconsistent hands and a broken bone in his foot, but he has a rare combination of size, speed, and explosiveness, and he is in an organization with openings at the wide receiver position.
- Tavarres King, Denver - King could get a lot of playing time in a Peyton Manning offense this year if Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker go down, and Decker is a free agent next year.
- Ryan Swope, Arizona - Swope is a slot receiver with running back toughness and the speed to get behind the defense. He only fell to the draft's third day because of a history of concussions in college.
- Aaron Mellette, Baltimore - This big, athletic small school receiver will likely require a redshirt year to start his career, but the Ravens have no entrenched #2 wide receiver on the roster right now.
- Kenny Stills, New Orleans - This speedster with a good game in the air landed in a terrific pass offense without a clear #3 wide receiver.
- T.J. Moe, New England - Moe has an ideal game to play slot receiver in New England's offense, and the players ahead of him on the depth chart (Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman) have always had trouble staying healthy.
- Marquess Wilson, Chicago - Wilson's long, lean build and explosive athleticism fit in the NFL, but he quit his Mike Leach-coached team last year. The Bears still used a seventh round pick on him.
- Charles Johnson, Green Bay - Johnson is a small school size/speed freak who could be groomed to be the #4 in an explosive pass offense.
Tight Ends by Matt Waldman
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
- Strengths: Kelce is an excellent blocker. He doesn't just hit people like most people seem to think good blocking is, but he actually knows how to coordinate his hands and feet and utilize a variety of techniques at the line of scrimmage or in space. He's quick enough to handle edge defenders and safeties in the open field, but strong enough to anchor and turn big men. The former high school quarterback has soft hands and knows how to use them to gain a release at the line of scrimmage against ends and linebackers and defeat the jam against a defensive back. He makes plays as a receiver in tight coverage, but also has the speed and quickness to set up double moves and or run away from opponents in the open field. He played in a pistol offense at Cincinnati and was used as a fullback, H-back, in-line tight end, and outside receiver.
- Weaknesses: He was suspended for a year at Cincinnati due to a drug-alcohol problem and depending what limited perspective you believe from the media, he could still be a potential character problem despite not having any known issues since returning.
- 2013 Outlook: The Chiefs hired Chris Ault – the father of the Pistol offense – as a consultant, which means Kansas City will likely incorporate this into its system. I've been saying since November that Kelce would be a perfect player for the Pistol. I just thought it would be Washington. Expect Kelce to share time with the likes of Anthony Fasano and (if healthy) Tony Moeaki early, but I think the rookie is a slam-dunk to win the job as the H-Back with Fasano functioning as the in-line player. Kelce could be a high-end TE2 this year with TE1 upside.
- Dynasty Outlook: Kelce should be a priority pick among tight ends in this class. Tyler Eifert is coming off the board earlier, but I think Kelce is a better all-around player with a more physical game in every respect. This gives him more upside than Eifert, but I don't blame those who look at the Chiefs and Bengals offenses in their present forms and opt for the Eifert.
- NFL Comparison: I think Jason Witten with a dash of Rob Gronkowski is a good stylistic explanation of what Kelce brings to the table. Witten was an H-Back at Tennessee and he's a rugged player as a blocker and receiver. Witten, Gronkowski, and Kelce all share these traits and if any one of these three tight ends were in New England and wore Gronkowski's number I think may 10 percent of the viewing public would know the difference.
Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
- Strengths: A savvy zone receiver who finds open spots in the defense and an athletic pass catcher who can win man-to-man with the ball in the air, Eifert has good speed and will threaten the seams of NFL defenses. He's a solid blocker in the college game with the right techniques and room to grow into a decent NFL tight end at the line of scrimmage. He has enough athleticism to work from a variety of spots as a “move” tight end.
- Weaknesses: Eifert needs to get stronger in his core so he can anchor as a drive blocker in the run game and in pass protection. He's a better zone route runner than man-to-man receiver. He has good speed, but he's not Vernon Davis.
- 2013 Outlook: Eifert will be the move tight end in Cincinnati and it will mean looks in the slot or on the wing in 12 personnel sets with Jermaine Gresham functioning as the in-line blocker. Expect a split in targets for Gresham and Eifert, which reduces the rookie's opportunities for fantasy relevance beyond that of a bye-week option in 2013.
- Dynasty Outlook: Jermaine Gresham will be a free agent after the 2014 season, which gives Eifert time to develop as a blocker. It's reasonable to project Eifert as a potential TE1 by 2015 – perhaps a top-five option at the position.
- NFL Comparison: Eifert is not as athletic as Tony Gonzalez, but he's the style of player who has enough athleticism to win the football and the intelligence and guile to maintain his level of production over the course of a long career as his athleticism diminishes.
Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
- Strengths: Ertz demonstrates some fluid footwork on designed routes where he's split away from the formation. He can hit a defender and do some effective work as the wing back in double-teams with a tackle or in-line tight end in the run game. He adjusts to the football in the air on high and low passes and is a solid route runner versus zone coverage.
- Weaknesses: Ertz's blocking was sub par for the college game outside of a limited role as a wingback. He does not anchor well enough to drive defenders with good footwork, which makes him a liability at the line of scrimmage in one-on-one situations where it's not designed for Ertz to hit an off-balanced defender paying more attention to the flow of the play than the blocker. Ertz has the athleticism to adjust to the ball, but he doesn't catch the ball against contact or tight coverage in these situations with near the consistency required of top tight ends in the NFL. He rarely breaks tackles when wrapped or hit unless he has a significant head of steam.
- 2013 Outlook: Ertz landed in one of the few situations where I would actually recommend taking him in a fantasy league. Chip Kelly's offenses often relied on tight ends that aren't great all-around athletes but can catch the football. Expect Ertz to work as a wingback in an up-tempo offense where he'll thrive versus zone coverage on a small number of targets per game as he shares the workload with Brent Celek. Since Celek can block and Ertz has a long way to go, don't expect anything more than a few fantasy relevant games from the rookie this year.
- Dynasty Outlook: Ertz has a chance to develop into a low-end TE1 over the next few years if he can get better as a blocker and show more against tight coverage. I just wouldn't pick him in the first four rounds of a rookie draft with the depth at running back and wide receiver. I think his chances of developing into a long-term fantasy starter are slim.
- NFL Comparison: If I'm completely wrong, Ertz will have Jimmy Graham upside. I wouldn't count on it. Think more along the lines of Chase Coffman-Michael Egnew-Luke Stocker – all high-cut tight ends who thrived in zone coverage. Only Coffman looks like he might have a chance to develop into a contributor of fantasy relevance and I think it's still a long shot.
Dion Sims, Miami Dolphins
- Strengths: Big, fluid, and a strong blocker, Sims is a prototypical in-line tight end prospect in the way many viewed Jermaine Gresham and Brandon Pettigrew. Sims has soft hands and adjusts well to the football. When at full speed as a ball carrier he can change direction or run through defenders.
- Weaknesses: He had multiple injuries that limited him throughout his career at Michigan State and it cost him playing time. He also had run-ins with the law early in his college career. On the field, he tends to overextend his body as a blocker and lose his balance at the point of attack. He can stretch a seam, but relies more on his frame to make these plays than his speed. Lost a lot of weight in the past two years. Could be a good thing unless he can't keep it off.
- 2013 Outlook: Sims will earn a shot to contribute as the in-line tight end and earn looks in the passing game even with Dustin Keller joining the Dolphins. Don't count on fantasy starter production this year. He might develop into a semi-reliable bye-week option as the season progresses.
- Dynasty Outlook: He's worth a pick in the latter stages of many rookie drafts because I think he's a better long-term option than Keller and should grow with Miami's offense. I think there's high-end TE2/low-end TE1 upside.
- NFL Comparison: There are flashes of Antonio Gates' athleticism in Sims' game, but don't draw the conclusion he'll ever approach this level of production. It's safer to consider Sims along the continuum of Pettigrew and Jermaine Gresham.
Vance McDonald San Francisco 49ers
- Strengths: A potential successor to Vernon Davis, McDonald has good size, speed, and skill after the catch. He looks the part of a rock-solid, well-defined athlete with prototypical dimensions and conditioning. He has displayed moments where he makes pretty adjustments to the football in difficult situations. He can play outside or at the line of scrimmage. With time he could develop into an all-around tight end.
- Weaknesses: He drops easy passes due to concentration lapses. He has potential to become a good blocker in the NFL, but he has work to do with hit feet and pad level.
- 2013 Outlook: Vernon Davis is the most talented tight end in the game as a pass receiver and has been underutilized for years. McDonald is unlikely to see much production this year – even as San Francisco's offense takes on more of a Palo Alto flavor under Jim Harbaugh.
- Dynasty Outlook: McDonald is a nice sell-high, throw-in option for as long as Vernon Davis remains a 49er. I like his potential, but there's a huge tease element due to his lapses as a receiver and this offensive system. He's a patience play I'm not sure I'll have the patience for.
- NFL Comparison: Todd Heap and Greg Olsen come to mind – good receivers with downfield speed and promise as blockers, but also teased fantasy owners for years.
Luke Willson, Seattle Seahawks:
- Strengths: Willson has prototypical tight end size and 4.5-speed. He catches the ball with his hands and is a fluid receiver when attacking the football. He doesn't get knocked off his routes very often. He can run through or away from defenders in the open field. He's a reliable in-line blocker that can turn defensive ends and linebackers.
- Weaknesses: Willson suffered ankle and back injuries last year and was an unknown to most college evaluators. Willson wasn't featured as much as McDonald but is a very similar looking player.
- 2013 Outlook: Expect Willson to earn occasional playing time in Seattle this year, but he's not worth a roster spot unless he builds on an impressive mini camp and Zach Miller or Anthony McCoy get hurt or cut in lieu of Willson's performance.
- Dynasty Outlook: Willson has the look of a late-round steal that can develop into a reliable all-around threat in PPR leagues. He could be the shark move of dynasty drafts when we look back three years from now.
- NFL Comparison: Tony Gonzalez. While your league mates are taking Gavin Escobar, take Willson who can run like Gonzalez in his prime and also block and break tackles.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins:
- Strengths: Reed is a fluid runner after the catch and he can adjust for the football like a receiver, which has the public drawing comparison with his fellow Gator alum Aaron Hernandez. He can make plays in tight coverage and offers a big-play element as a move-tight end or H-Back.
- Weaknesses: His blocking is sub par at this stage of his development. He cannot drive block with good technique and he's limited to shielding defenders on the backside of plays. He's not nearly as strong as Hernandez and he has a greater history of mental mistakes.
- 2013 Outlook: He'll either have a specialty role that affords him opportunities to produce as a high-end TE/WR2 or he'll be working on getting good enough to see an NFL field. I believe it will be the later.
- Dynasty Outlook: I love the potential as a receiver, but in this Redskins pistol offense blocking will be important. If he can get better at it fast, he has a future as a potential mid-range TE1 in fantasy leagues, but he's a boom-bust option.
- NFL Comparison: A less-skilled Aaron Hernandez in nearly every facet in the game and to have a potential fantasy impact as this kind of unique player, he'll have to get stronger and much better as a blocker.
Gavin Escobar, Dallas Cowboys
- Strengths: He adjusts well to the football and catches the ball with his hands. He has the size to develop into an NFL-capable blocker.
- Weaknesses: Escobar lacks good functional balance as a blocker and runner after contact. His blocking needs a ton of work in terms of hand usage, pad level, footwork to turn defenders, and his punch. He doesn't demonstrate consistent skill as a route runner in man-to-man. He has gliding speed for his size, but he's a little more plodding on the field than you'd expect.
- 2013 Outlook: Reserve who won't see fantasy relevance unless the rest of the receiver and tight end depth chart gets shipped to Colombia due a travel error by the team's operations coordinator.
- Dynasty Outlook: Escobar has TE1 potential as a receiver, but his blocking could anchor his career to that of a bye-week option or fantasy tease. He's a high-risk, high-reward tight end option.
- NFL Comparison: Tony Gonzalez as a receiver in terms of adjusting to the football and playing long against coverage. I can't think of anyone in the NFL who blocks like Escobar and is still in the league.
Offensive Line by Matt Bitonti
T Eric Fisher, Kansas City Chiefs - Round 1, Pick 1
In a draft year full of impact offensive linemen, Eric Fisher was deemed the best, and went in the top of the first round. Fisher has rare athletic upside and is known as a technician, especially agile in pass protection. Fisher comes from the same program as current 49ers All-Pro Joe Staley, and that is an accurate comparison to make. Fisher is slated to start the year at right tackle, as the Chiefs determine what to do with their franchise left tackle Brandon Albert. It's possible that the Chiefs could let Albert walk, and bump Fisher to the left side after the season. Either way, the Chiefs line at this point is very young and talented. This line could be among the league's better units in the years to come. Fisher will have some adjustments to make, coming from Central Michigan to the NFL, but that is true of all the offensive line prospects, whether from a football factory or not. It's a man's position and there's no place for boys.
T Luke Joeckel, Jacksonville Jaguars - Round 1, Pick 2
After spending most of the spring projected to go number one overall, Joeckel dropped one slot to the Jaguars at two. Reportedly the Chiefs scouts liked Joeckel better than Fisher but the Chiefs coaches and front office liked Fisher (and scouts don't get to make picks). Still, Joeckel is an outstanding prospect in his own right, on par with last year's rookie Pro Bowler Matt Kalil of the Vikings. Joeckel is reportedly not as aggressive as Fisher and he certainly isn't as athletic as Fisher. However Joeckel is very effective in his assignments and he makes it look easy, despite facing tremendous competition in the Big 12 (and as a junior, the SEC). Joeckel will start at right tackle, while the Jaguars figure out what to do with their left tackle Eugene Monroe. It's possible that Monroe could sign long term and swap sides next year. It's also possible that Monroe could move on to greener pastures once his rookie contract expires. Either way, a move to the left side seems to be in Joeckel's future. In terms of instant impact, this is an upgrade to the Jaguars. By removing Cameron Bradfield from the starting lineup, the Jaguars have made their offense much better.
T Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles - Round 1, Pick 4
With Chip Kelly having no NFL experience, it was a bit of a mystery what he was going to do in the draft. In hindsight, Lane Johnson is exactly the type of prospect Chip Kelly values. Once a quarterback and tight end, Johnson is tremendously athletic for the offensive line, and he's also a large player, with massive 35 inch arms. The offensive system Chip Kelly is rumored to be installing is high tempo, and requires every player to be able to run for four quarters. Johnson certainly is a rare athlete and will have no problem with this system (which is not that different than the one he ran at Oklahoma). Johnson is not without flaws however. Johnson is a converted positional player, and as such, he is extremely raw technically. Johnson will require development from new Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland to reach his full potential. Johnson is also questionable in run blocking, as he's not a power player at this point in his career. These are all fixable problems, and he could be elite, given time to develop. Immediately, Johnson is expected to start at right tackle, and has the ability to bump over to the left side in an emergency, or once Jason Peters eventually leaves.
G Jonathan Cooper, Arizona Cardinals - Round 1, Pick 7
Everyone knew the Arizona Cardinals offensive line needed help this offseason. While most casual onlookers had the Cardinals drafting a tackle, this was not their most dire need. With Levi Brown returning from injury and Bobbie Massie looking good as a rookie, the tackles were in decent shape. Those close to the team knew that the guards were the real issue. Enter Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina. A rare top 10 guard selection, Cooper is an outstanding athlete in the finesse categories. Cooper has amazing agility, balance, and foot-speed. Cooper will use these abilities pulling, getting to the second level, or running downfield for screen plays. Cooper is slated to continue playing his college position of left guard, with current starter Daryn Colledge sliding to the right side. Cooper has Pro Bowl caliber skills and could see those honors early in his career, if the team finds success. Cooper also has potential to play center, should the need arise.
G Chance Warmack, Tennessee Titans - Round 1, Pick 10
Chance Warmack took over the national championship game against Notre Dame, and it was a fitting end to a dominant career at Alabama. Warmack was drafted in the top 10 to start immediately, likely at right guard. Warmack is not an elite athlete but he is extremely consistent in his assignments. If you like offensive line play, his Alabama film is a pleasure to watch. Warmack led his team in pancake blocks and is a destructive force in the running game. Warmack doesn't just block players, he buries them. Warmack is servicable in pass protection, but it his not his strength. Warmack is not an Adonis looking player like some of these other prospects, but it's the NFL, not a beauty pageant. Adding Warmack to a unit that picked up Andy Levitre in free agency in the offseason should ensure that the Titans' offensive line is among the league's better units for years to come.
T D.J. Fluker, San Diego Chargers - Round 1, Pick 11
D.J. Fluker is a massive player out of Alabama, and should be an immediate starter on the Chargers' woeful offensive line. Fluker is a natural right tackle and should man that spot for the Chargers from day one. Fluker's best attribute is his size, standing 6'5" with almost 37 inch arms. Despite having less than ideal agility, it will be hard for edge rushers to get around this player. As the saying goes, he's as big as a house. And it will be like running around a house to get the corner on Fluker. In terms of pro comparisons, Fluker is similar to fellow 'Bama alum Andre Smith, now with the Bengals. Another comparison is Marcus McNeill, who made two Pro Bowls in San Diego using similar physical gifts as Fluker.
T Justin Pugh, New York Giants - Round 1, Pick 19
When asked by the Giants during combine interviews in late February which former Syracuse alum in the organization he was most familiar with, Pugh reportedly answered "Tom Coughlin." The staff laughed and said "Welcome to the Giants." The rest, as they say, is history. An athletic left tackle in college, Justin Pugh is likely to try his luck as a right tackle with the Giants. Pugh has the agility to play the position but his less than ideal arm length (31.5 inches) could hamper his future on the outside. Should the tackle experiment not go well, Pugh certainly has the versatility to slide inside to guard. Wherever Pugh settles, the Giants should be getting a solid starter with potential for postseason honors. In this way he's not that different from David Diehl, a player who Pugh was drafted to replace.
G Kyle Long, Chicago Bears - Round 1, Pick 20
The obvious fact to report about Kyle Long is his bloodline. Long is the brother of Chris (defensive end with the St. Louis Rams) and the son of Howie (Hall of Fame defensive end with the Raiders). Long is known as the most athletic member of this accomplished family, as he started his career as a left handed pitcher at Florida State. Long ran into some issues off the field and eventually transferred to junior college, and then Oregon, to play football. While many saw this pick as a reach when it occurred, league insiders report that Kyle Long was going to be picked in the next few slots, had the Bears not swooped in and taken him at the 20 slot. Long should win a guard slot immediately, likely the right guard spot that Gabe Carimi manned last season. This is a pick that could be better down the road than right away, as Long has yet to reach his full potential and still has alot to learn about the position. Overall the fact that the Bears went offensive line in round one after adding Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod in free agency, should add up to more time in the pocket for Jay Cutler.
C Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys - Round 1, Pick 31
Travis Frederick was not likely to be a round one pick, and reports actually surfaced that the Cowboys scouting staff wanted the team to wait on this pick. It is possible (although not certain) that the Cowboys could have drafted this player a round later. However, all draft value questions aside, Frederick is a smart, well-coached player, from a program with a tradition of producing good NFL quality starters along the offensive line. Frederick is known as a technician and gets the most out of his limited athleticism. Frederick could start at either center or guard for the Cowboys, and it's possible that the team wants a change at guard in the near term, more than they want a change at center.
T Menelik Watson, Oakland Raiders - Round 2, Pick 42
Menelik Watson is an extremely interesting human interest story. Born in England, Watson was a basketball player who received a scholarship to play college ball for Marist. However Watson switched to football and ended up at Florida State, after a year in junior college (Saddleback, the same junior college Kyle Long attended). Watson became a starter at right tackle and declared for the draft. As one might expect, Watson has rare athletic potential, but is extremely raw technically. It might be a stretch to project Watson as a rookie starter for the Raiders, as he has a ton to learn. If he did start, there are jobs available at left guard and at his college position of right tackle. However, this is not an instant upgrade type of pick. It's a long-term gamble and over the long-term the Raiders offensive line could be better with the addition of Watson.
G Larry Warford, Detroit Lions - Round 3, Pick 65
A former All-American out of Kentucky, Warford is currently penciled in as the starting right guard for the Lions. Warford is not a rare athlete but he is a battler in the trenches, and there is a lot of tape on Warford facing some of the top athletes in the SEC. Warford tips the scales over 330 pounds and will have to watch his weight throughout his NFL career. Warford is a functionally strong mauler in run blocking but somewhat vulnerable in pass protection. Most of the time he's ok but Warford can get pulled off balance and will have to be a better pass blocker in the NFL than he was in college. In a way, Warford is similar to the player he is replacing in Stephen Peterman. Unlike Peterman, Warford is young and should get more reliable with time.
G Brian Winters, New York Jets - Round 3, Pick 72
Brian Winters turned heads at the Senior Bowl and impressed onlookers with his tenacity and toughness. Winters is a former wrestler with size (6'4î 320) and exhibits good balance and leverage in blocking. The Jets lost both guards to free agency and Winters will have several veteran options to compete with in training camp. Despite never playing inside, it is clear that the Jets want Winters to win this competition, presumably at left guard. If Winters can win a starting position, he will have a Pro Bowl player on each side, which would make any guard's life easier.
Other Rookie Offensive Linemen to Watch:
- T Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints
- T Dallas Thomas, Miami Dolphins
- G Hugh Thornton, Indianapolis Colts
- T Brennan Williams, Houston Texans
- C Brian Schwenke, Tennessee Titans
- G Brian Kugbila, Carolina Panthers
- T David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers
- G Barrett Jones, St. Louis Rams
- G Earl Watford, Arizona Cardinals
- G J.C. Tretter, Green Bay Packers
- T Oday Aboushi, New York Jets
Individual Defensive Players by Jene Bramel
This class of defensive linemen had a chance to be deep in fantasy prospects. Unfortunately, two of the higher upside prospects (Tank Carradine and Datone Jones) will be used in 5-technique roles. Three others (Barkevious Mingo, Bjoern Werner, and Alex Okafor) will start their careers as 3-4 outside linebackers. It's also possible that elite fantasy prospect Dion Jordan could be reclassified as a linebacker, possibly as soon as this season. That's not to say there aren't any attractive rookie defensive linemen in 2013, but the list is short.
Defensive tackle, however, was a deep position in this draft. Star Lotulelei, Sheldon Richardson (who may be reclassified to defensive end), Sharrif Floyd and Sylvester Williams all have strong fantasy upside, especially in leagues that require a defensive tackle in the starting lineup.
Dion Jordan, Miami Dolphins
- Strengths: Jordan is long and lanky at 6-6, 248 pounds and moves well in space. He's a capable edge rusher, but plays the run well and showed good coverage ability from a two point stance at Oregon. Scheme diverse, he could be successful as a 4-3 defensive end, 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 strong side linebacker.
- Weaknesses: Jordan was more often used in a two point stance and will need to add weight to his frame to effectively play the run as a 4-3 end. His versatility may work against him in fantasy leagues, as Miami could decide that his best fit is as a Von Miller like 4-3 strong side backer.
- 2013 Outlook: Matchup DL3
- Dynasty Outlook: DL2+ with risk of reclassification to LB
Ezekiel Ansah, Detroit Lions
- Strengths: Ansah is extremely athletic, with quick feet and elite change of direction ability. Some analysts called him raw in their pre-draft evaluation, but his recognition skills improved significantly last year. He has elite edge rushing upside and runs very well in pursuit. He's a very good fit in the wide alignments Detroit uses and could get 700+ snaps as a rookie with the thin depth chart the Lions have currently.
- Weaknesses: Calling Ansah raw is misleading, but he's absolutely inexperienced, having played full time for just one college season. His explosiveness off the snap, hand technique, and understanding of leverage are all inconsistent. Though he'll get extended playing time as a rookie, 2013 is likely to be a development year for him.
- 2013 Outlook: DL3 with Upside
- Dynasty Outlook: DL2 with Elite DL1 Upside
Datone Jones, Green Bay
- Strengths: Jones is explosive off the snap and can be a penetrating force inside and outside the tackles. He understands how to play with leverage and controls linemen well with his hands. Jones has a good first step and exhibits a variety of pass rush moves. He should be able to immediately handle the 3-4 defensive end role in the Packers' scheme.
- Weaknesses: Jones doesn't have many techincal holes in his game, but his fantasy upside is likely to be limited by the Green Bay scheme.
- 2013 Outlook: Matchup DL3
- Dynasty Outlook: DL2 Upside
Cornellius Carradine, San Francisco 49ers
- Strengths: Before tearing his ACL in November, Carradine played like a top ten NFL draft pick. He has extremely quick feet and seemed to shed blocks effortlessly with refined hand technique and strength. Carradine can set the edge well but is even more impressive in pursuit and showed a never-ending motor. Though the Niners plan to use Carradine as a 5-technique end, his skill set compares favorably to those who have been productive fantasy options in that role.
- Weaknesses: Still rehabbing his ACL, there's no guarantee Carradine will have the quick feet and ability to play with leverage he had pre-injury. His average first step may be a greater liability against the more athetic class of tackles he'll face in the NFL. His role in the Niners' scheme will make it very difficult for him to reach his statistical ceiling. Could be transitioned to outside linebacker in time.
- 2013 Outlook: Free agent
- Dynasty Outlook: DL2 Upside
Margus Hunt, Cincinnati Bengals
- Strengths: Hunt has flashed the ability to be a dominant player on the edge. When he's on, his explosiveness off the ball, athleticism off the edge and acceleration is striking for a man his size. He flattens well and can counter his edge rush move with a good rip and swim. When he plays with leverage and good hand positions, he can be a force against the run.
- Weaknesses: Unfortunately, Hunt's technique lapses and he allows linemen to win the leverage battle. He can be stiff and robotic in his pass rush moves and easily neutralized by athletic offensive tackles. Part of a deep Cincinnati group of defensive ends, Hunt isn't likely to get much playing time until 2014.
- 2013 Outlook: Free agent
- Dynasty Outlook: DL2 Upside
Quanterus Smith, Denver Broncos
- Strengths: Smith was quietly one of the better edge rushing prospects in this draft class, but his stock was hurt by a late season ACL injury and his small school pedigree. He showed strong hands when engaged and a solid swim move to go with his edge rush. The thin Denver depth chart should give him an opportunity to play in time.
- Weaknesses: His explosiveness off the snap and first step will need to be more consistent. He often gets too high and lets offensive tackles catch up to his first pass rush move. His strength and technique will have to improve against the run for him to be more than a situational pass rusher early in his career. Torn ACL is also an obvious concern.
- 2013 Outlook: Free agent
- Dynasty Outlook: DL2 Upside
Damontre Moore, New York Giants
- Strengths: Moore can be explosive with a good array of pass rush moves. He has shown the ability to flatten the edge and finish quickly to the pocket. His motor was usually good and he was willing to pursue to the sideline to the whistle. He will fit well in New York as a wave player and situational rusher on their always deep defensive line.
- Weaknesses: Moore's technique is too inconsistent right now to project him as an every-down prospect. He's often ridden out of plays due to poor leverage and a hit-or-miss first step renders him ineffective in pass rush too often. It's unlikely he'll be more than a 300 snap player until 2014 or later.
- 2013 Outlook: Free agent
- Dynasty Outlook: Matchup DL3
There may not be a slam dunk, elite LB1 prospect in this class, but it's a group that might be deeper in fantasy value than initially appears. Arthur Brown and Alec Ogletree will get the most immediate shots at top 25 value, with Brown in a slightly better position for statistical success. Kevin Minter, Manti Te'o, Kiko Alonso, Sio Moore, and Jon Bostic will also get a chance at every-down duty by early 2014 at the latest.
The rush outside linebacker group is shallow, but could have two elite big-play league prospects in Barkevious Mingo and Jarvis Jones. Bjoern Werner, Jamie Collins, and Alex Okafor will also have a major role for their teams soon.
Arthur Brown, Baltimore Ravens
- Strengths: Brown is a disruptive, athletic player with the ability to scrape and pursue effectively. He's fluid in coverage and projects as an every-down player early in his career. The inside linebacker depth chart is thin, making him a near lock to start and contribute in subpackages immediately. When his technique catches up with the already great opportunity, he could be a top 10 fantasy linebacker.
- Weaknesses: Brown doesn't always read the run quickly and his coverage reads will also need a little work. The acceleration and recovery speed he displayed in college will help, but a fraction of a step makes a big difference on Sundays.
- 2013 Outlook: Risk-Reward LB2
- Dynasty Outlook: LB2+
Alec Ogletree, St. Louis Rams
- Strengths: Ogletree's athleticism compares favorably to Keith Bulluck, another outside linebacker prospect once drafted highly by Jeff Fisher. When he's on his game, Ogletree reads quickly and plays downhill with physicality. His athleticism translates well to coverage and he's comfortable enough to play zone coverage while reading the quarterback rather than reacting to the receiver. It's likely he'll play every down immediately.
- Weaknesses: When Ogletree isn't on his game, he catches blockers with his shoulder, doesn't use his hands well, and gets sealed off of plays too easily. The Rams reportedly plan to use Ogletree at strong side linebacker initially. It's generally an easier position to learn, but arguably not a great fit for his flow-and-chase skill set.
- 2013 Outlook: High Variance LB3
- Dynasty Outlook: LB2, with additional upside when/if he's moved to WLB
Kevin Minter, Arizona Cardinals
- Strengths: Minter isn't dominant in any phase, but he has excellent instincts and finishes well between the tackles. He should also be effective dropping into zone coverage. Arizona targeted him specifically with their second round pick, strongly suggesting that they believe him to be a cornerstone every-down player.
- Weaknesses: Minter's statistical upside may be limited by his lack of sideline-to-sideline range and recovery speed. His path to immediate playing time may be clouded now after the Cardinals signed Karlos Dansby.
- 2013 Outlook: Depth LB w/ LB2 Upside
- Dynasty Outlook: LB2
Manti Te'o, San Diego Chargers
- Strengths: Te'o has very good instincts and is willing to shed blockers, which allowed him to be a penetrating force in college. His 40 time wasn't impressive, but his range and coverage ability is good enough to be considered an every-down prospect.
- Weaknesses: Te'o gets out of position too often and he looked slow against elite competition. The Chargers have already tempered every-down expectations a bit, so he may be a situational player only this year.
- 2013 Outlook: Depth LB w/ LB3+ Upside
- Dynasty Outlook: LB2 Upside
Kiko Alonso, Buffalo Bills
- Strengths: Alonso is quick and athletic with very good range. Alonso looks frenetic and out of control at times, but his instincts and decision making are sound. He projects as a solid coverage linebacker. With Kelvin Sheppard traded to Indianapolis, Alonso could be an immediate every-down player.
- Weaknesses: Alonso's thin frame and aggressive playing style could leave him prone to injury over a 900+ snap season. He eludes more than sheds blocks, which could hurt him as an inside linebacker if the Bills use a 3-4 front.
- 2013 Outlook: Risk-Reward LB2
- Dynasty Outlook: LB2+ Upside
Jon Bostic, Chicago Bears
- Strengths: Chicago was drawn to Bostic for his athletic style of play and see him as a long term, every-down middle linebacker. He'll be given a chance to compete with D.J. Williams immediately.
- Weaknesses: Bostic is athletic and flashed some physical play in college, but he was inconsistent. He'll need to improve to become the cornerstone the Bears think he can be.
- 2013 Outlook: Depth LB w/ LB3+ Upside
- Dynasty Outlook: Risk-Reward LB2 with Upside
Sio Moore, Oakland Raiders
- Strengths: Moore proved himself capable of playing multiple linebacker roles at UConn, including a number of successful snaps as a nickel edge rusher. He plays downhill and takes on blocks well, while still showing the ability to get to the sideline in pursuit.
- Weaknesses: Moore's passing instincts are okay, though he showed an ability to run with bigger receivers. He'll need to be a more consistent tackler with his downhill playing style. Moore may have to wait until 2014 to get enough playing time to hold statistical value.
- 2013 Outlook: Depth LB
- Dynasty Outlook: Risk-Reward LB2
Barkevious Mingo, Cleveland Browns
- Strengths: Mingo was used more as an edge setter than an edge rusher last year, but he's arguably the best pure edge rushing prospect in this class. He plays the run much better than his 241 pound frame would suggest. The Browns will likely use him a situational player early in his rookie season, but he could become a 700+ snap player quickly.
- Weaknesses: Mingo is athletic, but inexperienced in coverage. He'll likely be an attractive target in big play scoring systems only until he earns an every-down role and begins to produce against the run.
- 2013 Outlook: LB5 with Matchup Upside
- Dynasty Outlook: LB2+ in big play leagues
Jarvis Jones, Pittsburgh Steelers
- Strengths: Jones is more explosive than his raw athleticism suggests. Though he wasn't a factor on every play, he showed game-changing, impact ability on enough snaps against elite competition.
- Weaknesses: Jones doesn't consistently finish his pass rush and his counter rush moves need improvement. His play against the run and coverage was also inconsistent. Like most Steelers' rush backers, he'll get time to develop as a situational player and may not have fantasy value until 2014.
- 2013 Outlook: Free Agent
- Dynasty Outlook: Matchup LB3 in big play leagues
Dynasty leaguers will also want to track Michael Mauti (Minnesota), Nico Johnson (Kansas City), Khaseem Greene (Chicago), Gerald Hodges (Minnesota), Vince Williams (Pittsburgh), Kevin Reddick (New Orleans), Zaviar Gooden (Tennessee), Jamie Collins (New England), Bjoern Werner (Indianapolis), and Alex Okafor (Arizona) closely.
The 2013 class of safeties is the deepest group of impact players in recent memory. The depth available coincided nicely with a league starving for an influx of safety talent. Every impressive prospect went to a team with a short term depth chart opportunity.
The cornerback position was similarly deep. It's more difficult to tease out immediate fantasy value for rookie corners but Dee Milliner (New York Jets), Xavier Rhodes (Minnesota), Leon McFadden (Cleveland), D.J. Hayden (Oakland), and a handful of others could have CB2/DB3 or better upside this season.
Kenny Vaccaro, New Orleans Saints
- Strengths: Vaccaro is an elite interchangeable coverage piece. He has the size and willingness to be effective in the box but enough coverage skill to hold his own as a slot coverage player.
- Weaknesses: The Saints are likely to find a way to get Vaccaro on the field every down immediately, but the depth chart is crowded at safety with Roman Harper and Malcolm Jenkins.
- 2013 Outlook: DB2 Upside
- Dynasty Outlook: DB1 Upside
Jonathan Cyprien, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Strengths: Cyprien is a fundamental and physical run defender. Coverage isn't a strong suit for him, but it's not a clear liability either. He'll be an immediate impact every-down defender for the Jaguars.
- Weaknesses: Cyprien will need to improve his coverage angles and recognition skills to become an elite two-way safety. His recovery speed is questionable, too.
- 2013 Outlook: DB1 Upside
- Dynasty Outlook: DB1 Upside
Matt Elam, Baltimore Ravens
- Strengths: Elam is aggressive and physical and projects as a well above-average run defender. His coverage skills are solid, but not spectacular. Elam should get the chance to start immediately in Baltimore at strong safety.
- Weaknesses: Elam can be too aggressive and fail to finish plays against the run. He'll be capable in coverage, but is unlikely to ever be elite.
- 2013 Outlook: DB2+ Upside
- Dynasty Outlook: DB1 Upside
Shawn Williams, Cincinnati Bengals
- Strengths: Williams is fundamental and instinctive, traits that help to make up for a lack of elite athleticism. The Cincinnati depth chart at safety and relatively weak competition for tackles among the front seven could be a perfect storm of opportuntity.
- Weaknesses: Williams won't be an above-average coverage defender and his range might limit his statistical upside.
- 2013 Outlook: DB2+ Upside
- Dynasty Outlook: DB2+ Upside
Eric Reid, San Francisco 49ers
- Strengths: Reid was a priority target for San Francisco. He is very fluid in coverage for his size and shows good aggressiveness supporting the run. He should get an immediate starting opportunity.
- Weaknesses: Reid could be more consistent supporting the run, but his major limiting factor will be the strength of the Niners' inside linebacker corps. There may not be much left over behind Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.
- 2013 Outlook: DB2 Upside
- Dynasty Outlook: DB2 Upside
D.J. Swearinger Sr, Houston Texans
- Strengths: Swearinger is violent and physical in run support gives him elite statistical upside. Capable in coverage.
- Weaknesses: Swearinger's range in coverage is questionable. He's likely to remain behind Danieal Manning at strong safety for the 2013 season.
- 2013 Outlook: Free agent
- Dynasty Outlook: DB2+ Upside
Returners by Greg Russell
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
The Rams thought so much of wide receiver Tavon Austin as an all-around playmaker that they moved up eight spots in the 2013 draft to select him. The 5'8" Austin has explosive speed that could sorely be used in St. Louis. Last season the Rams had pedestrian performances from wide receiver Chris Givens who handled kickoff returns and from cornerback Janoris Jenkins and receivers Danny Amendola and Austin Pettis, who combined to handle punts. Head coach Jeff Fisher has already stated the team will look to get the ball in Austin's hands however they can, including as a receiver, rusher and return man. The chance for significant offensive and return fantasy points should bolster Austin's fantasy stock in leagues that credit individual players with return yards.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings
With the departure of wide receiver Percy Harvin to the Seahawks, Minnesota lost a player who was capable of performing both as a receiver and as a dangerous return man. The Vikings are looking to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson to fill Harvin's shoes. Like Tavon Austin of the Rams, Patterson is a rare rookie who has the opportunity to provide significant fantasy points from offense as well as from kickoff and punt returns. Patterson may need some time to polish aspects of his receiving game though, so may be called up on by the Vikings to use his 4.4 speed to handle kickoff and punt returns to increase the impact he can have on games early in his career. Competing for a share of those returns will be defensive back Marcus Sherels who handled every punt for Minnesota last year, and performed well on kick returns when Harvin was injured. Patterson's strength in college was kickoff returns, though one of his four punt returns did go for a touchdown. Look for a potential split in both types of returns between the two players, though Patterson may end up with kickoff returns and Sherels with punt returns.
Robert Alford, Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta cornerback Robert Alford might rank higher in a list based purely on return ability. However when taking into account team situation, Alford's fantasy stock as a returner takes a small hit. The Falcons have had amongst the fewest kick return opportunities in the league since the kickoff was moved to the 35 yard line. The team also has a capable returner in running back Jacquizz Rogers. Despite those issues, Alford may be one of the better returners in this rookie class despite not having played against the highest level of competition. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said that he expects Alford to be one of if not the fastest players on the team. Alford should see a number of opportunities as a kick returner and should compete for the punt return duties against defensive back Dominique Franks as well. He might be one of the best rookie bets for fantasy leagues that give return points only to a dedicated returner position. But for leagues where his return yards would add to his points as an IDP, owners may need to wait for his playing time on defense to develop.
Denard Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars
A college quarterback turned NFL running back and kick returner, Denard Robinson benefited from being drafted by a Jacksonville team that is in sore need of a spark in the return game. The Jaguars used thirteen different players to return punts and kickoffs in 2012, none of whom gave exceptional performances. Robinson has the speed, agility, and big play ability to be a standout returner. The inexperienced Robinson will have to prove himself in the mental aspects of the position, such as making good decisions of when to return or not, choosing the right lanes, and most importantly hanging onto the football. The Jaguars plan to get Robinson 10 to 15 plays a game including returns. Robinson's biggest fantasy detraction as a returner may end up being the presence of fellow rookie Ace Sanders, who stands a good chance of beating out Robinson for the punt return job.
Ace Sanders, Jacksonville Jaguars
While rookie running back Denard Robinson is a good bet to be the Jaguar's kickoff returner, wide receiver Ace Sanders is in the running to come away with the punt return job. Sanders was one of the best punt returners in college football, placing in the top ten in both yards per punt return and number of returns. Sanders also scored a pair of punt return touchdowns, giving him three in the last two years. Sanders's return ability has sometimes been compared to Tavon Austin both due to his 5'7" stature and his sub 4.4. speed.
Johnthan Banks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The departure of receiver Roscoe Parrish leaves the punt return job open in Tampa Bay. With the team currently thin on experienced punt returners, rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks has a good chance of landing the position. Banks had a respectable 9.6 yards per return in 30 returns during his college career in the SEC. As the addition of cornerback Darrelle Revis gives Tampa Bay a solid pair of starting corners, playing Banks as a return man would be a way to get their second round pick involved early in his career. Though there are better return men in the 2013 class, the opportunity Banks has to actually land a return job earns him this ranking.