Commentary

Round 1 recap: 2010 fantasy outlook

Tebow a nonfactor, Mathews a potential starter

Updated: April 23, 2010, 2:01 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Like it or not, 2010 will always be known as the Tebow Draft.

The Denver Broncos were the NFL's most active team Thursday, trading down a couple times before jetting back up to the No. 25 spot, where they selected Tim Tebow. To say I'm perplexed that Tebow went above Jimmy Clausen would be an understatement. The notion that Tebow is a first-round pick is laughable. I mean, he seems like a nice kid. I'm sure he gives a great interview. But in today's NFL, you can't spend a first-round pick on a player you know won't give you anything for two years. You just can't. (Perhaps the Broncos felt they could do it because there's no salary cap this year? I still find the logic flawed.) I love the pundits' waxing about how Tebow is going to play right away, just at a different position. Nonsense. He's not a running back or a tight end, and the notion that he's going to be able to bowl over linebackers in the NFL the way he did in college is folly.

Josh McDaniels has inextricably tied his coaching administration to Tebow now, despite the fact that the rookie poses no threat to the playing time of Kyle Orton or Brady Quinn this season. I really like what the Broncos have done with their defense, especially along the defensive line: Jarvis Green, Justin Bannan and Jamal Williams should, if healthy, mean a huge improvement in the team's run defense. But in two drafts, Boy Genius McDaniels has traded up into the second round to get a tight end who caught eight passes for 97 yards in his senior year of college (Richard Quinn), has traded even further up into the second round to get a shortish cornerback who doesn't run all that well (Alphonso Smith), has reached for a second-round free safety who got on the field to play only special teams in 2009 (Darcel McBath), has reached for Tebow, and has traded away a Pro Bowl quarterback (Jay Cutler) and a Pro Bowl wide receiver (Brandon Marshall). Remember that bushel of picks the Broncos got for Cutler? The Bears' 2009 first- and third-rounders and '10 first-rounder? Right now, those picks have turned into (via a separate trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers last year) Robert Ayers, Quinn and Demaryius Thomas. Heck, the guy Pittsburgh took at No. 84 last year (the Chicago Bears' third-rounder given up as part of the Cutler deal) might wind up being worth more than all three of those guys combined: Mike Wallace.

That, friends, is not a good draft record for McDaniels, at least from Friday morning's perspective.

Let's look at the other fantasy-relevant players taken in Thursday night's Round 1:

1. St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford, QB: From a fantasy perspective, Bradford is, let's face it, a long shot to contribute to your team this year. As of Friday morning, I have him rated 29th among fantasy quarterbacks, and that's assuming he's able to beat out A.J. Feeley and start Week 1. He's got career upside, but are the weapons there this year? I like Laurent Robinson as a sleeper, Donnie Avery's OK, Brandon Gibson was good coming over from Philly. More importantly, the offensive line got Marc Bulger throttled last year, and there are still enough holes among the blockers that Bradford's going to be on the run a ton in 2010. Dynasty leaguers will have to consider him a top-10 pick, but this season there will be some long days for Bradford's fantasy owners.

C.J. Spiller
Brian Schneider/US PresswireC.J. Spiller gives the Bills a home run threat, but how many touches will he receive as a rookie?
9. Buffalo Bills: C.J. Spiller, RB: The first real shocker of the first round came when the Bills selected Spiller, throwing the fantasy backfield into disarray in Buffalo. Spiller is a home run hitter of the first variety, but until he proves otherwise, he's not an every-down back, and for the moment he enters a situation in which he'll have to split carries with Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch (though this might be a signal that Lynch could be on the move). Jackson was a top-25 back in fantasy for me before this. Not anymore. With offensive tackles still left on the board (Anthony Davis, Bryan Bulaga), the Bills seemed to signal that they're comfortable with Karl Marlone's kid, Demetrius Bell (who's recovering from a torn ACL), as their left tackle. Ga. This was a luxury pick; we may look back on it and say it was a great one, if Spiller winds up producing the kind of long runs for which Chris Johnson is known. But for '10, fantasy-wise, it's kind of a killer. And this seems to be a theme of the offseason: running backs landing in situations designed to do the most fantasy harm possible. Chester Taylor to the Bears. Thomas Jones to the Chiefs. LaDainian Tomlinson to the Jets. Spiller, Jackson and maybe Lynch will split touches and frustrate fantasy owners.


11. and 17. San Francisco 49ers: Anthony Davis, OT, and Mike Iupati, OG: I don't usually review offensive linemen in this space, but when a team takes two in the top 20, it's worth a mention. Neither Davis nor Iupati is a can't-miss prospect; Davis is a questionable run-blocker and has off-field maturity issues, and Iupati, when he faced better competition in his bowl game and the Senior Bowl, did a lot of grabbing and holding, and got bowled over in pass-blocking. So let's not throw a party for Frank Gore just yet. Sure, maybe this draft class signals the 49ers' intention to get back to a run-focused attack (as the talking heads kept saying ad infinitum Thursday night). But maybe not, at least not right away. I already had Gore as my No. 7 fantasy rusher, and I don't see him going any higher than that as a result of a couple good O-line prospects coming to San Francisco. But Gore's owners did dodge a bullet, given that there were rumors that the Niners might look at Spiller.

12. San Diego Chargers: Ryan Mathews, RB: The Chargers weren't messing around; when they saw Spiller come off the board to Buffalo, they decided to move. So they traded way up from No. 28 into the Miami Dolphins' spot, where they selected Mathews, the nation's leading rusher in 2009. He ran a 4.37 40 at 220-plus pounds at the combine, and looks like an every-down back, thus immediately injecting himself into the conversation as a top-20 fantasy rusher. Now, he's not an in-his-prime LaDainian Tomlinson. He's not that quick. But he could be Matt Forte (hopefully the rookie version, not the second-year version). I think it's probably a mistake to say Mathews is a three-down player in Week 1 this year, because the Chargers decided to retain Darren Sproles and should work on getting the ball to Sproles -- a truly explosive player -- 10-15 times per game. But Mathews is the favorite to lead a pretty good offense in carries and rushing touchdowns. That makes him the No. 1 pick in fantasy dynasty leagues this fall.

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Jermaine Gresham, TE: This pick was the selection of so many mock drafters, it almost seemed like it couldn't happen. But it did. At first glance, taking a first-round tight end could seem to signal a continuation of the changing of the guard in Cincinnati: This is now a run-first team with an above-average offensive line, not the high-octane attack you remember from Carson Palmer's heyday. So taking a tight end would seem to say, "See, we're going to jam it down your throat!" But Gresham isn't really a tight end. He's a glorified slot receiver, and as such, can be viewed as an effort to give Palmer more weapons, to prop the passing game back up. Gresham is a huge, very fast guy with great hands coming off a torn ACL (he's now torn each ACL in the past four years). He could be a Dustin Keller or Jermichael Finley type, though on a team with a strong running attack, he'll also need to improve his blocking to see the field on all downs. It's difficult to see Gresham as a fantasy-relevant player in '10, in a league filled with so many good tight ends, but we'll be watching. If he does wind up seeing a lot of playing time, it could shave production away from Chad Ochocinco and Antonio Bryant.

Demaryius Thomas
Dale Zanine/US PresswireDemaryius Thomas has the size and athleticism to be a solid red zone target.
22. Denver Broncos: Demaryius Thomas, WR: The Broncos traded down and down in the first round, but then decided they'd had enough, and traded back up with the Patriots to take Thomas. And that was a wow. Who'd have thought Thomas, who broke his foot during offseason workouts and never really ran for teams during the scouting process, would wind up being the first receiver off the board? Thomas is a huge receiver with good (not great) speed, but needs polish on his route-running skills. He's a natural to fit into the departed Brandon Marshall's flanker role and to make hay with the kinds of possession throws at which Kyle Orton excels. Certainly, Orton's fantasy stock stabilizes a bit with Thomas around, but I still don't view him as anything close to a fantasy starter. Alas, one of my more intriguing sleepers, Eddie Royal, now seems less likely to take over Marshall's flanker role, and may be forced back to split end, where he was such a disaster last year. The best he can probably hope for now is playing the slot, but some of his 2010 upside is now removed. Are any of the Broncos' receivers fantasy starters right now? I'd have to say no. Thomas is the one with the most potential right away, though.


24. Dallas Cowboys: Dez Bryant, WR: The ghost of Randy Moss is finally exorcised. More than a decade after Moss was so irritated by the Cowboys' passing on him, Dallas traded up with the New England Patriots to get Dez Bryant, who suffered a Moss-like fall. Wow. Bryant is a top-10 talent, but you'd have to say that his off-field "issues" (the kid was second-team All-Academic in the Big 12, so he's not a dummy) definitely figured into teams' evaluations of him. And it's not hyperbole to put Bryant's physical abilities in the same category as Moss'. Will he produce anything close to Moss' '98 season, probably the greatest rookie campaign a wideout has ever had? Probably not. But if he does what he's supposed to do, learns what he's supposed to learn, and doesn't annoy anyone in Cowboys camp too much, I think he beats out Roy Williams for the starting gig opposite Miles Austin. Boy, that Dallas passing game looks scary. Again, you can go broke betting the farm on rookie receivers in your fantasy league. I'd say odds strongly indicate that Bryant won't be Moss right away, and will take a back seat to Austin and Jason Witten, at least. But is it so crazy to think he can grab 50 passes in his rookie year? I don't think so. Most importantly, I think this pick may drive Austin out of my top 10 fantasy receivers. (A lot will depend a lot on how things go with Bryant at minicamp and during training camp.) In terms of career prospects, Bryant has at least as much upside as Austin, and there are only so many passes to go around. Tony Romo's fantasy stock has never been higher.

30. Detroit Lions: Jahvid Best, RB: Best is as talented as Spiller. In fact, they're very similar players: They're basically the same height and the same weight, and they timed out in the 40 within .04 of a second of each another. The difference between them is that Best is perhaps the biggest injury risk in this year's draft. During his college career, he had surgery on his elbow, shoulder and hip, and then missed the final four games of '09 because of a concussion. So when you're evaluating him as a fantasy draft pick, that has to be a consideration. But if Marshawn Lynch does wind up staying in Buffalo, you'd have to say that Best actually has a clearer path to more touches in 2010 than Spiller does. Kevin Smith tore his ACL late in '09, and there's speculation that he'll have to begin the season on the PUP list. With only guys like Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown and DeDe Dorsey on the roster behind Smith, the Lions may be looking at Best as a significant portion of their offense right away. Of course, if the Bills' offensive line is a work in progress, the Lions' is a flat-out mess. But if he stays healthy, Best is going to produce some huge weeks via long touchdown runs.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.