Thursday, May 10, 2007

Cool, Refreshing, Genuine Draft

Did anyone see Beano's reaction to the 2007 NFL Draft on ESPN? If you did, then you know Beano is a washed up old windbag who must have dirt on an executive at the network otherwise I can't explain why he has a job. That being said, Beano's segment was an old man lamenting the hype that surrounded this year's draft. Did this year's draft hype surpass year's past? Maybe. Was this year's talent pool the best in recent memory? No. Well, then why all the hoopla? It probably has something to do with the billion dollar industry that fuels it, but that investigation is not the purpose of this post. While the weeks leading up to the draft were nerve racking - mainly due to my vested interest in a certain Irish quarterback, we ain't seen nothing yet.

Fantasy football is looming in the increasing heavy spring air. While folks spend their evenings singing "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," my nerves quiver at the thought of one, two or possibly three (if I'm lucky) fantasy football drafts. Last year was an intense affair spent in the war room (aka my mom's dining room) with some of my best pals from home on a conference call with some of my best pals from my new home. As we continue to inch closer to this year's fantasy drafts, I want to determine which rookies from the class of 2007 will have the biggest impact in fantasy football.

Let's break it down by position, but to be fair to the players on the other side of the ball a disclaimer must be included. Defensive players aren't point earners so unless its a cornerback who returns kicks (a la the Jets' Darrelle Revis), they have no place in this conversation. The same goes for players like Cleveland's Joe Thomas who is undoubtedly worthy of being the third pick in the draft, but in the fantasy world - his name will never reach the big board. You can also toss out the kickers. Who cares? If you waste an early round on a kicker you are a moron. Sure, you'll hear cries of "Robbie Solid-Gold" from Chi-town, but seriously, will the bears even be a contender this year? So guys like Justin Medlock and Colorado's boomer Mason Crosby won't be high on anyone's draft lists.

So let's get to the positions that matter; the bread earners like quarterback, wide receiver and running back. Like last years' Bush, Young, Addai, Jones-Drew and Maroney; there may be some fantasy diamonds ripe for the picking.

This position has catch 22 potential in the fantasy draft. While most young talents won't see more than a few snaps during their first season, last season we saw many coaches rush the decision to play their new field generals. It happened in Tennessee with Vince Young, Denver with Jay Cutler and even Arizona with Leinart who got the nod after Kurt Warner took a sufficient beating. All that being said, don't bet on many 1st round quarterbacks because they most likely won't see the success Young found with the Titans.

With all that being said, you can expect the first pick of the draft, JaMarcus Russell of the ailing Oakland Raiders, to be forced into playing a big roll from day one. The question isn't with Russell's talent, but the talent around him. The departure of Moss and the erratic Porter situation leaves holes at the wide receiver position. Combine this with LaMont Jordan's pitiful production and injury plagued first year in silver and gold and one can't help to think there is something poisoning the water across the bay.

Despite the disaster that was Brady Quinn's draft day, expect the former Irishmen to compete for the starting position in Cleveland. Charlie Frye may have the only realistic shot of starting over the young buck from South Bend. Under the guidance of Charlie Weiss and the constant spotlight at Notre Dame, Quinn gained NFL experience that will undoubtedly jump start his career. Expect Romeo Crennel to keep Frye on a tight leash. Let's not forget the distinct advantage Quinn lands by playing for two coaches who studied under Bill Bellicheck.

Other than these potential opening day starters, look for a few more rookie QB's to see some playing time later in the year. If Matt Schaub is a complete disaster in Houston, Kevin Kolb may get the chance to dirty up his jersey with a few sacks courtesy of the Houston O-Line. The same goes for former Spartan Drew Stanton who was drafted by the Detroit Lions - a team with heaps of offensive firepower that has never been fully realized. My love for Kitna runs deep, but the poor guy can't win so don't expect him to start 16 games in the Motor City.

Running Backs
Last year's running back class had outstanding production. Many of the backs were fortunate to slip into low pressure rolls with seasoned veterans who lead the charge and gracefully allowed the frosh time in the headlines. Fragile Fred Taylor made room for Jones-Drew in Jacksonville, Cory Dillon did the heavy lifting for Maroney in New England, Deuce McAllister rolled out the red carpet for Bush in New Orleans and even Dominick Rhodes slipped into the number two roll with grace when Addai made big waves in Indie. Will this year's class blow past their predecessors and snatch up starting jobs or will they feel comfortable making their bones as roll players much like the 2006 class?

The first RB selected in 2007 was Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson who spent his final collegiate year sidelined with a tail bone injury that had naysayers waving fingers on draft day. Don't expect this injury or the fact that Chester Taylor and Mewelde Moore are currently listed ahead of him on the depth chart to get Peterson down. This kid is determined to get back on the field. With Moore's poor 2006, you can expect Peterson to slip into the two hole before the end of the preseason and I'd expect him to be at least splitting the load of carries by the end of October. This kid will be an impact player early in his career and may have folks in the NFC North whispering the name of Barry Sanders when they make their Monday morning comparisons.

Finding the next fantasy impact RB in this draft class is a bit difficult. You could hedge your bets on Louisville's Michael Bush who is headed into Oakland's black hole, but you're better off taking Marshawn Lynch in Buffalo. Despite his character issues, Lynch runs big and will need to in a tough AFC East division. The departure of McGahee leaves the barn door wide open for Lynch to step in as their number one back, but if he isn't able to keep his nose clean Rodger Goodell may cut his season short.

Also look out for Tony Hunt who steps into an Eagles locker room that is struggling to find some strong leadership, (sorry McNabb - your draft reaction killed your credibility). Florida State's Lorenzo Booker made a short move south and has the chance to help Miami begin the rebuilding process that was stalled by Nick Saben's move in and out of the coaching position.

Wide Receivers
The 2006 Class of wide receivers left a lot to be desired as evidenced by Santonio Holmes being the only first rounder. Very few rookie wide receivers made any fantasy waves outside of the occasional big weeks put together by former Nittany Lion quarterback Michael Robinson. Lets not waste space on this class, even if it did include my man Maurice Stovall out of Notre Dame.

This year's most talented wide receiver could arguably be the best player picked on draft day. Yes, Calvin Johnson is the real deal. His highlight reel is a jaw dropping set of acrobatic catches that had Detroit drooling. This must be the case because their team has so much depth at the position and yet they felt the need to use yet another high pick on the former Yellow Jacket. If you think Kitna was disappointed by this pick, you're probably sorely wrong. Johnson will make Kitna a better quartback and could possibly help the Lions compete in an NFC North division that could be wide open if the Bears don't solve their quarterback problems. Expect him to put up some big numbers this year, but don't expect him to last until the late rounds of your fantasy draft.

One of the big surprises of the first round occurred when Miami passed on Brady Quinn in favor of former Buckeye Ted Ginn Jr. who wasn't projected to go so early in the draft. Sure, Miami's offense sputtered last year, but that's typically the case for anyone who loses their starting quarterback early in the season. With Booker and Chambers Miami wasn't slim in the WR department which makes this early 1st round upgrade a bit of a surprise. Regardless, expect Ginn Jr. to put up decent numbers if Culpepper can stay healthy, but go for better values early and snatch him up if he's hanging around in the latter half of your draft.

There are a few other wide receivers to look out for like Dwayne Jarrett out of USC who is now a Carolina Panther. Anyone coming from Southern Cal has the ability to make an instant impact in the NFL thanks to coach Pete Carroll and the national attention the university receives. Expect the tall receiver to become a favorite target and a great second option for Delhomme. Also watch out for the other Dwayne - Bowe - who went early to Kanas City. If the Chiefs sort out quartback situation, Bowe could have a big year.

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