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Just 65 days remain between now and the start of the 2009 NFL season, and even less time before your first fantasy football draft of the year. Your rivals are already studying up, but are you? If you haven’t watch offseason workouts, poured over team depth charts, or paid any attention to free agent signings and player movement, you could already be at a major disadvantage come draft day.
But fear not, fantasyheads. NBA and NHL playoffs are over and done with (seems so long ago already, doesn’t it?), Wimbledon tennis is in the past (was anyone even watching?), and Fourth of July BBQ season has come and gone (even though the hangover may still be in full effect). You are left with no excuses, it’s time to start cramming for your draft. Come September, you know fantasy football is going to rule your life. You’re a hard-working person, it’s the new American pastime, it’s just what we do. So trust me, a little prep work now will go a long way towards a Fall full of triumph and jubilation as well as fantasy win after glorious fantasy win. And that’s really all we’re looking for in life, isn’t it?
So to kick off a summer series of fantasy football draft prep articles, today we open our text books and turn to the chapter on NFL rookies, young men who hope to play big roles for their new teams on the field, and hopefully off the field, on your fantasy teams.
Now, anyone can do a Top Ten list. I mean really, they’ve been done for years, and how much effort or originality does that take? That’s why, for the sake of my readers, I am here to go the extra mile. I’m not about to bring you just a boring list of ten names, but instead, I am about to deliver a captivating, awe-inspiring, truly fantasmalicious (new word combining “fantastic” and “malicious,” meaning “so fantastic it’s dangerous,”) list of ELEVEN of the NFL’s newborn stars in the making. To be cute, we’ll call it “The Starting 11.” Time to drop some knowledge…
While the trend out there is to be wary of rookie wide receivers in fantasy football drafts, I see Michael Crabtree as the exception to the rule. After a breakout year at Texas Tech, the Niners drafted Crabtree 10th
overall. I don’t see San Fran as a contender in the NFC, so having to play from behind will lend itself to Crabtree’s game as a down-the-field deep threat. Unless you consider a geriatric Isaac Bruce or an unproven Josh Morgan as legitimate competition, look for “The Tree” to blossom this season, right from Week 1.
I hope the Broncos have ordered more oxygen tanks for those thin-aired home games, because if Knowshon Moreno runs wild like he did last year at Georgia, he’ll be hitting the sideline oxygen buffet early and often. Now of course the big question is: “Is this the year one of Denver’s many running backs emerges as a breakout star, leaving the rest in the dust?” It is possible. While the Mike Shanahan era is toast in Denver, new head coach Josh McDaniels comes from a similar system here in New England that employed several different backs. But rest assured, despite the presence of Peyton Hillis, Ryan Torain, Correll Buckhalter, and ex-Pat Lamont Jordan on the roster, the only one that could be that breakout star, is the Bulldog rookie. Save him for a middle round pick in standard leagues, but in keeper leagues, you may want to keep your eyes on him a little earlier.
Despite being the NFC champs last season, the Cardinals boasted the league’s worst rushing offense, leading them to select Ohio State’s Beanie Wells with their first round pick. With veteran Edgerrin James given the boot, Wells will most likely jump into the fray from the outset, splitting carries with second-year man Tim Hightower. Hightower is likely to keep the goal-line duties he earned as a rookie last season, but there’s no reason why the end zone at University of Phoenix Stadium won’t be “Bean-town West” by season’s end. Like Moreno, Wells warrants a look in the middle rounds of your draft, with earlier focus on him for keeper leagues.
The Raiders have been awful for a really long time now. While I don’t think they’re playoff bound just yet, I do see Oakland finally turning the corner and showing signs of improvement. They addressed their biggest need in the draft by bringing in speedy receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey from Maryland, a tall, down-the-field deep threat with big play abilities. Like Crabtree, Heyward-Bey has very little in terms of competition at the position, with veteran Javon Walker returning from injury and Johnnie Lee Higgins hoping to build off a strong finish to last season. With a healthy JaMarcus Russell and a developing Darren McFadden, Heyward-Bey should complete a trio of playmakers worthy of putting maybe a mild scare in opponents’ defenses, something we haven’t seen from the Silver and Black for years.
Brian Westbrook belongs in a cardboard moving box labeled “fragile.” Westbrook’s offseason has been highlighted by two surgeries, one on an injured knee and another to remove bone spurs from his right ankle. While Westbrook’s reliability has to be in question, Philly’s answer comes with the addition of rookie LeSean McCoy out of Pitt. McCoy, a 2nd
rounder, runs with similar style to Westbrook, short, shifty, with amazing breakaway speed. He may not be a featured back right off the bat, but if you draft Brian Westbrook early, be sure to handcuff him with McCoy in the middle rounds. In keeper leagues, McCoy’s value is even greater.
The Eagles have seemingly hit a homerun in April’s draft, not only landing LeSean McCoy, but also trading up in the first round to bring in Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin, who personifies speed and versatility. Maclin can be used both on the outside, as well as in the slot, where he spent significant time this past year for the Tigers. Paired with second-year speedster DeSean Jackson, QB Donovan McNabb has a pair of exciting big play receivers at his disposal that should make for a fun fall in Philly.
After being arguably one of the biggest busts of the 2008 fantasy football season, Joseph Addai kicked off his offseason on the operation table, undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, in hopes of returning to the talent level he entered the league with. As insurance for if, and more likely when, Addai breaks down, Indy drafted UConn star Donald Brown, who will likely fit into the #2 role that Dominic Rhodes held for so many years in Coltland. Like LeSean McCoy, think of Brown as a very necessary handcuff if you do decide to roll the dice with Addai. Keep him in mind even earlier in keeper leagues, as Brown’s stock will skyrocket if Addai’s injury woes turn into long-term concerns.
He’ll have to beat out a resurgent Thomas Jones and streaky Leon Washington, but rookie Shonn Greene has the talent and skill to do just that, given the chance. The Iowa Hawkeye rusher made quite the name for himself in his final season in black and gold, rushing for 100+ yards in all 13 games last fall. New head coach Rex Ryan has already taken a liking to the All-American, and will likely utilize Greene more and more as the season rolls on. Don’t expect miracles from the youngster early on, but keep him in mind as a late-round sleeper.
This spring’s top draft pick, Matthew Stafford comes into Detroit in a win-win situation…and that’d be two more wins than Detroit had all last year! Detroit can only look up after last year’s dreadful winless season, but there’s hope on the horizon in the Motor City. He might not win the starting job over veteran Daunte Culpepper right out of camp, but as the season moves on, or as Culpepper breaks down, look for the strong-armed rookie to take the reigns and get the Lions roaring by season’s end. With Calvin “Megatron” Johnson at his disposal, Stafford will have the potential to put up monster stats once given the opportunity to start.
The Lions’ second round choice was Oklahoma State’s talented tight end, Brandon Pettigrew, easily the most complete player at his position in this year’s draft. The starting job is his already, as Detroit promptly released incumbent starter Michael Gaines upon Pettigrew’s selection. Known for his talent as a run-blocker, Pettigrew should help backs Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris in the ground game, but Brandon’s hands will come into play as well in Detroit’s air attack. Having such a talented receiver as Calvin Johnson lining up alongside him, Pettigrew will act a great “Plan B” option, when the Culpepper/Stafford tandem is looking to dump the ball off underneath, especially in the red zone. Pettigrew might not be a starting fantasy TE just yet, but keep him on your radar in the later rounds, and don’t be surprised if he has a very strong stat line by year’s end.
Questions about his character? Check. Questions about his off-the-field habits? Another check. Questions about previous Gator receivers (see: Chad Jackson, for instance)? Chiggity-check. Questions about who will be throwing him the ball this season? Check, yet again. Percy Harvin, the Vikings’ first-round draftee, has battled a handful of foot injuries in his college career (Can you have a “handful” of “foot” injuries? Would it be a “footful” instead?), not to mention his failed drug test at this spring’s combine workout. But Harvin’s talent just cannot be denied. His speed led him to 17 touchdowns in his final year as a Gator, a year that ended in a national championship, his second in three years at Florida. So he knows how to win. He doesn’t know how to win you a fantasy title yet, but he’ll learn. Opposite Bernard Berrian, he’ll fit well in Minny’s West Coast offense, no matter who is behind center (hoping and praying it’s not you know who… we’ll call him “Chett Blavre.”)