- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Our long national nightmare is over.
So much wind and consternation was devoted to the respective fates of Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy yesterday, you'd have thought their names were Tim Tebow or something. We waited and waited and waited, and finally Clausen and McCoy saw their names come off the board. And you know what? They're still both better players than Tebow, and landed in situations that might allow them to start at least a game or two in 2010.
Let's take a look at the fantasy-relevant players taken in the second and third rounds of the 2010 NFL draft:
36. Kansas City Chiefs: Dexter McCluster, WR. That's right, "WR." When the Chiefs announced the McCluster pick, they didn't identify him as a running back, but rather as a receiver. Maybe that's for the best, for two reasons. First, Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones are already in the Kansas City backfield. Second, McCluster is 5-foot-8 and weighs 165 pounds. The Chiefs claim they envision McCluster as a slot receiver in three- and four-wideout packages, but it's hard to say that's definitive; the little guy could easily line up in the backfield occasionally, too. For the moment, though, we'll go with McCluster as a receiver, and that certainly hurts the fantasy stocks of Charles and Jones less than I initially feared. Charles still figures to get the most carries on first and second downs, and Jones still figures to be a pounding, change-of-pace and potentially a goal-line guy, though it's now clear that Jones isn't going to play much in passing situations. As for McCluster, he looks like a gadget player, which doesn't come with much fantasy relevance, other than a lot of hype and the occasional home run. Must be nice for these teams with a million holes to make luxury picks like this. Sigh.
39. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Arrelious Benn, WR. Now this is a receiver. Since the departure of Antonio Bryant, the Bucs have been a wideout wasteland, so much so that Benn looks like a decent bet to be a Week 1 starter out of necessity (that is, unless you're still waiting for Michael Clayton to come around). Indeed, the depth chart around Benn is unimpressive: Clayton, Reggie Brown, Sammie Stroughter, Maurice Stovall, Mark Bradley and fellow rookie Mike Williams. Benn (who goes by "Regis") was saddled with a poor offense at the University of Illinois, but showed that at 6-2, 220 pounds with mid-4.4s speed, he's no fun at all to tackle after the catch. Stroughter might actually lead the Bucs in receptions because he's likely the only unquestioned starter of the bunch (out of the slot), but Benn looks like the guy you'd most want to own. The Bucs have announced he'll play split end, which makes him a big-play threat. Of course, while I do really like Josh Freeman's career potential, his accuracy has a long way to go. There's no way you can consider Benn a fantasy starter just yet. He's a high-upside, late-round guy.
42. New England Patriots: Rob Gronkowski, TE. Like Jermaine Gresham, Gronkowski didn't play in 2009 because of an injury (in Gronkowski's case, it was a back injury that required surgery), so it's tough to see a clear path to fantasy relevance in 2010. He's likely just got too far to come. But unlike Gresham, Gronkowski is a complete tight end, a good in-line blocker who can also scoot down the field, and he boasts soft hands. Of course, the Patriots haven't consistently utilized the tight end as a receiver for a few seasons, much to the eternal consternation of fantasy owners who kept drafting Ben Watson. Maybe Wes Welker's injury slows down Tom Brady's spread offense a bit, and causes the team to run bigger, slower-paced sets, but I'm not betting on it. If Gronkowski is healthy, he looks like the pass-catcher in this offense, but Alge Crumpler is on hand to be a blocker, too, and I think you'll see Crump out there at least as much as Gronk. That means you shouldn't be lured by the siren's song of this promising rookie tight end, except maybe near the end of a deep-league draft.
48. Carolina Panthers: Jimmy Clausen, QB. The Panthers can't believe their luck getting Clausen with the 48th pick in the draft, and the Matt Moore Express is suddenly derailed. There's speculation that Clausen's toe injury precipitated the drop, or maybe it was the fact he "threw a receiver under the bus" during Jon Gruden's televised film session (did you watch it? Clausen did no such thing), but who cares? He's the most NFL-ready QB in this draft and has a decent chance to win the Panthers' quarterback job at some point in 2010. Could it happen in training camp? Yes, but I don't think it's all that likely, because Moore built up goodwill at the end of last season, and the team invested emotional capital in him when they let Jake Delhomme go. Plus John Fox is on the hot seat as a contract-year head coach, and you'd have to believe he'd rather ride the (slightly more) experienced hand for as long as possible. But Clausen has better physical tools than Moore does, and if the team gets off to a bad start (which I think it will), there will be pressure for Clausen to play. Is this a valuable job in fantasy football? Well, if you're throwing to Steve Smith, that's never bad. But the Panthers figure to stay at least as run-heavy as they've been in the past two seasons. I can see Clausen being successful, but it's not likely any Carolina quarterback throws for 20-plus touchdowns or 3,000-plus yards. So Clausen probably isn't a shallow-league fantasy draftee this year, but for those in dynasty leagues? You'd have to say he's in at least as good a spot as Sam Bradford, if only because he has a better offensive line.
51. Minnesota Vikings: Toby Gerhart, RB. Chester Taylor has a successor in Minnesota. Gerhart, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, will now back up Adrian Peterson. Of course, Gerhart is nothing like Taylor; he's not a third-down back, which means Peterson will play in a lot of passing situations, and probably catch the most passes of his career in '10. This pick probably does result in at least a very slight downgrade to AP's fantasy value, because Gerhart can be a short-yardage back if he has to be and could steal a few touchdowns. The truth is, though, that Peterson catches a break compared to what might've happened had the Vikings selected one of the smaller, quicker running backs in this draft. Gerhart's style is actually rather similar to Peterson's: crushing, head-on, rumbling, no fun at all to tackle. But because there isn't a style contrast, there won't be a ton of reasons to take Peterson out, except of course if he's tired or injured. At the very least, we can be sure that in fantasy, Peterson has a new handcuff, and his name is Toby Gerhart. If you draft Peterson, you'd best make sure you take Gerhart, too.
58. Houston Texans: Ben Tate, RB. Tate lands in a very valuable fantasy spot and certainly becomes a candidate to be a Week 1 starter in a lot of fantasy leagues. The Texans needed a big, physical runner to complement Steve Slaton (provided Slaton's neck is OK, which is no sure thing). For a man his size, Tate ran unbelievably fast at the combine (4.43 at 220 pounds), but as it's been popular to say over the past couple of months, he doesn't play that fast on the field. He was an underachiever throughout his college career until this past season, when he put it all together (and called himself the best back in the SEC, despite the presence of that guy named Mark Ingram) to the tune of 1,362 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. Tate has the whiff of a one-year wonder and workout warrior about him, but the Texans wouldn't take him here unless they viewed him as a solution to their longstanding problem of finding a physical runner. Slaton is not guaranteed to be healthy in 2010, and now may take a fantasy backseat, regardless. Arian Foster, last year's unexpected (and undrafted) fantasy playoff hero, looks like nothing more than depth-chart fodder in Houston now. Tate is going to be a fantasy factor.
59. Cleveland Browns: Montario Hardesty, RB. Hardesty has had a bunch of injuries, and if his knees hadn't been considered such huge risks, he might have gone even higher than this. But the fact the Browns took him late in the second round throws the Cleveland backfield into a bit of a frenzy from a fantasy perspective. After all, Jerome Harrison was a fantasy playoff star last year, winning a ton of league championships for his owners, and now it appears he goes back to being a part-time player. Hardesty is a thumper with decent speed, though he's not really seen as a guy who'll get around the corner consistently. But if this is really going to be a time-share with Harrison, you typically have to favor the guy who's likelier to get goal-line carries, and Hardesty's 225-pound frame is built for that. Harrison's fantasy stock takes a tumble, but then again, the way the Browns have used him over the years, he never really figured to be a true No. 1 NFL running back regardless of his few huge games at the end of '09. At least he's still draftable; that's a lot less clear for guys like James Davis, Peyton Hillis and Chris Jennings. Of course, Hardesty is very injury prone, so let's keep all those names rumbling around in our heads for the time being.
60. Seattle Seahawks: Golden Tate, WR. I love Tate, so I'm torn about where he landed. On the one hand, I don't think he's got a good quarterback situation in Seattle. He either has Matt Hasselbeck or Charlie Whitehurst throwing it to him, behind what's been a leaky offensive line (I know they took Russell Okung, but he won't cure all ills immediately) and with a shaky running game to boot (despite the incoming presence of LenDale White and Leon Washington).
Yet on the other hand, is there really anything on the Seahawks' depth chart that makes you think Tate can't start right away? He comes from the Notre Dame pro-style offense, at the combine he proved to be faster than people thought and he's got tremendous hands and is a mighty mite running post-catch. I (and many others) have made this comparison a lot this winter and spring, but there's real Steve Smith (the Panthers' version) potential in Tate. Deion Branch should be no threat to his playing time, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a big, slow inside receiver. I kind of like Deon Butler, the Seahawks' third-rounder last year, but I like Tate much more. I believe Tate can be an outside receiver (and not just a slot guy). Unfortunately, with those guys throwing it to him, I still think it's probably an uphill battle to fantasy value for 2010.
77. Tennessee Titans: Damian Williams, WR. Williams inspires dramatically differing opinions, and nobody would've been surprised if someone had liked him enough to take him early in the second round. But he fell to the middle of the third and went to the Titans, who on the face of things wouldn't appear to be a particularly receiver-needy team. Kenny Britt, last year's first-rounder, should be an ascendant fantasy player this season, and Nate Washington and Justin Gage are both on hand as well, as is Dominique Edison, a developmental guy from last year. But GM Mike Reinfeldt has already said that he sees "No. 1 potential" in USC's Williams, and will probably immediately install his rookie receiver as the team's punt returner. It's a long path for Williams to fantasy value in '10, but he's a physical guy and a great route runner. He's someone to watch in dynasty leagues.
78. Carolina Panthers: Brandon LaFell, WR. It's funny that LaFell went one pick after Damian Williams. What a difference one pick makes in terms of landing spots. Whereas Williams is likely a punt returner at best in '10 for the Titans, LaFell gets a crack at one of the league's thinnest receiving corps, behind Steve Smith. LaFell is a great red zone threat but suffered through shaky hands this past season and doesn't have deep speed. We'll see. Maybe he can beat out the mercurial Dwayne Jarrett and play some this year. I'd certainly give LaFell a higher fantasy grade for this year than Williams, despite the fact I think Williams is a better player. In fantasy, it's all about opportunity.
85. Cleveland Browns: Colt McCoy, QB. The Browns were always a good fit for McCoy; He's a West Coast offense quarterback who specializes in accuracy and doesn't want to have to throw the ball deep outside the numbers. Hey, if Bernie Kosar could play in the Cleveland weather with his popgun arm, why can't McCoy? There's a little bit of Drew Brees in McCoy. While Browns president Mike Holmgren has already said that McCoy probably won't play in 2010, the rest of the quarterbacks in Cleveland are short-term answers, so for 2011, who knows? Certainly the price was right.
90. New England Patriots: Taylor Price, WR. The Patriots traded down like crazy but finally stood pat at the end of the third round and took Price, a guy who actually has a path to playing time in 2010. Will he be a fantasy option? It's absolutely possible. Price has 4.4 speed at 6-foot and 200 pounds, can get off the line of scrimmage in a hurry and catches everything thrown his way. This kid was limited by his collegiate offensive system, but during Senior Bowl practices, he was an utter star against top competition. Wes Welker is a huge unknown because of his torn ACL (he seems at least likely to begin the year on the PUP list, doesn't he?), and the rest of the Pats' receiving corps after Randy Moss is ragtag: Torry Holt, Brandon Tate, Julian Edelman, Sam Aiken, David Patten. Price is going to be a late-round sleeper worth watching.
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.