Top 10 for 2011, Day 3 recap
I'm not gonna lie to you. It's not easy to find fantasy stars in Rounds 4 through 7. It's not that there isn't good talent available later in the NFL draft, though obviously the physical freaks are all gone. Maybe in small part it's because teams don't have to commit high dollars to these later picks, and thus are under less pressure to use them immediately. Regardless, a perusal of the 2010 Day 3 draftees finds maybe five guys who played their way onto fantasy radars in their rookie years: Mike Williams (Buccaneers), Jacoby Ford (Raiders), Aaron Hernandez (Patriots), Anthony Dixon (49ers) and James Starks (Packers). Heck, there were at least as many undrafted guys who had impacts last year: LeGarrette Blount (Buccaneers), Chris Ivory (Saints), Keiland Williams (Redskins), Blair White (Colts), Javarris James (Colts) and Seyi Ajirotutu (Chargers) come to mind.
But of course, if you can find that Mike Williams? Oh, boy, that's sweet.
Before I scan Saturday's Day 3 skill position draftees for hidden fantasy gems, I figured I'd also give a first glimpse at my top 10 fantasy rookies for 2011. I reserve the right to change my mind based on where free agents sign once the lockout ends, but here's my first take:
1. Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins: Frankly, at the moment it doesn't seem close. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are free agents, and Thomas can play three downs. He's a talented guy, but at the moment this rating is about opportunity.
2. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Marvin Lewis is currently taking Carson Palmer at his word, which means Andy Dalton has a straight line to starting Week 1. I'd like Green better if a veteran was throwing it to him, but he's got a shot to be a clear No. 1 wideout right away.
3. Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints: You don't trade away a first-round pick and not use a guy, especially a running back. Reggie Bush has seen his last snap with the Saints, in my opinion, Ivory's ankle is a big question mark and Pierre Thomas isn't great at the goal line. Ingram gets a big chunk of a time-share.
4. Leonard Hankerson, WR, Washington Redskins: I like Hankerson fine, but this is mostly about opportunity. Santana Moss is an unrestricted free agent, and Anthony Armstrong and Malcolm Kelly are what's left. Hankerson has a chance to start, though the Skins also drafted Niles Paul.
5. (tie) Mikel Leshoure, RB, Detroit Lions: Jahvid Best figures to lead Detroit in touches, but Leshoure is a good bet to replace Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris as the second man in, and is a bull in short-yardage situations. Plus Best is injury-prone.
5. (tie) Ryan Williams, RB, Arizona Cardinals: I still hate this draft pick. One of the only things Arizona didn't need was a rusher. Williams jumps into a crowded backfield with Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower. It doesn't matter how talented he is. This is a jumble.
7. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons: Jones will mean more to Atlanta's offense than to fantasy owners. He's third fiddle in the passing game behind Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, plus Michael Turner will get his. Jones will have good weeks and bad.
8. Roy Helu, RB, Redskins: Does anyone think Ryan Torain can stay healthy? Put your hand down, Mrs. Torain. Helu is 220 pounds and a true one-cut runner. He should at least be in the mix with Torain and Keiland Williams. (Washington also drafted Evan Royster.)
9. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: He's got character questions and doesn't come hard out of breaks, but Baldwin is huge and can get deep. Dwayne Bowe will stay the primary receiver and the Chiefs ran it more than anyone last year, but Baldwin will be ownable.
10. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: For now, I'll give Newton the nod over Christian Ponder, Dalton and Jake Locker because I think he'll get you some rushing TDs. But one or more of these rookie QBs will see their team sign a veteran, and that'll reshuffle the order for '11.
Day 3 recap
And now, here are some skill guys drafted on Saturday you might want to keep in mind for the upcoming fantasy season:
102. Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns: I list him here simply because he was the first skill guy taken Saturday afternoon. He's got one year of major-college football experience and can't block, but is a good athlete. He's not ready to contribute a la Jimmy Graham last year. He's a project, pure and simple.
103. Luke Stocker, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: It's surprising Cameron went before Stocker, and frankly, Stocker would've been more attractive fantasy-wise had he landed with Cleveland. In Tampa, he'll learn from Kellen Winslow and play in some two-tight-end sets, but I'd guess to begin he'll be more of a blocker than a receiver. He's experienced, with 38 straight starts at Tennessee, but he's not ready to be Jason Witten yet.
105. Roy Helu, RB, Redskins: His measurables at the combine were very good: 6-foot, 219 pounds and a 4.40 40. He never wrested the Nebraska running back gig for himself, which is a bit of a red flag, but he lands in a valuable situation. We all know Mike Shanahan loves to discover running backs in later rounds and throw them into the fire, and there's a great chance Ryan Torain will miss time due to injury at some point this year. For the moment, I'd put Helu behind Torain for early-down work, but with Shanny things are always fluid. Helu is a poor blocker, but has experience with zone schemes and gets downhill quickly.
107. Kris Durham, WR, Seattle Seahawks: Frankly, this was too early for Durham, a height/weight/speed guy who didn't get invited to the combine and never won a full-time job at Georgia. During A.J. Green's suspension last season, Durham did a nice job (17 grabs for 324 yards and a TD in four games), but didn't even have a single game in his four-year college career with more than five receptions. But he's 6-5 and 215 pounds, and ran in the 4.4s at his pro day, which was good enough for Seattle. It's true that the Seahawks are mostly potential-laden at wideout right now, but Mike Williams has the possession receiver job sewn up. You're not drafting Durham.
111. Edmond Gates, WR, Dolphins: Gates is yet another speedster to come out of Abilene Christian, home of Johnny Knox and Bernard Scott (Gates is actually Scott's cousin). He ran a 4.37 40 at the combine, the fastest of any wide receiver. He's only 6-foot and 192 pounds, so he's not going over the middle much, and he's had trouble with drops in the past. But unlike Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, Gates could conceivably keep defenses honest, which would be very good news for Brandon Marshall. Marshall could use a little good news about now, wouldn't you say? Gates isn't likely to be an every-week fantasy factor in '11, at least because Miami probably doesn't trust Chad Henne enough to let him go bombs away.
112. Greg Salas, WR, St. Louis Rams: Pardon me for not dancing in the streets over the Hawaii wideouts taken in this draft, Salas and Kealoha Pilares. True, Bess is a nice player out of the slot for Miami, but these high-octane spread receivers have no experience playing against the bump, and none of them have the size/speed combo to get open on the outside. Salas might be a slot receiver in St. Louis, but guess what? They already have like 10 of those.
114. Cecil Shorts, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars: Here's another wideout from D-III Mount Union, the alma mater of Pierre Garcon. Shorts is 6-foot, 202 pounds and runs in the 4.5 range, and he missed time in his final collegiate season with turf toe; there's nothing here to suspect that Shorts has Garcon's type of breakaway speed. He's also never faced NFL-level corners. He's a possession receiver on a team with Mike Thomas. Meh.
115. Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Hunter is a fascinating guy. Some folks say he's Ray Rice or Charlie Garner. Some folks say he's Darren Sproles. He's 5-7 and 199 pounds (Rice is 5-8 and 212 pounds; Sproles is 5-6 and 181 pounds) and is extraordinarily elusive in the open field. He's a good receiver, too. For as long as Frank Gore is healthy, it's tough to see Hunter doing much because Gore is such a good pass-catcher himself. But will Gore stay healthy? Suddenly it's less obvious who Gore's handcuff is, as Anthony Dixon may be a bull, but he offers nothing in the receiving game. Hunter had ball security issues at Oklahoma State (10 fumbles lost in 771 touches) and injury problems, too, and needs to become a better blocker to play in his rookie season. He'd probably be a deep-league flier only.
119. Delone Carter, RB, Indianapolis Colts: Carter's value in '11 depends very much on what the Colts do with Joseph Addai, who's a five-year veteran and who could be an unrestricted free agent depending on how the labor situation gets resolved. If Addai leaves, Carter gets thrust into the mix for early-down work. He's a fire hydrant at 5-9 and 225 pounds; he's elusive and a quick accelerator, which at Syracuse brought comparisons to Maurice Jones-Drew. But MJD is significantly faster than Carter, and if the Colts were already frustrated with Donald Brown's hesitation moves, they probably won't love Carter's. He's also a bad pass-blocker and gives you nothing in the receiving game, plus was injury-prone before his senior year. Still, again I emphasize: if Addai leaves, Carter will be a hot commodity.
120. Alex Henery, K, Philadelphia Eagles: Goodbye David Akers? Henery is the NCAA's all-time leading field goal kicker in terms of accuracy, and is the career leader in points at Nebraska. Philly assigned the transition tag to Akers, who balked at signing it, and this pick could indicate the Eagles' willingness to move on. Akers would find a job somewhere else and would still be a fantasy starter, but he'd probably drop in the ranks a bit.
123. Tandon Doss, WR, Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco reportedly came down in favor of Baltimore taking Doss, who's got great ball skills and could someday be a red zone weapon. But he's just another possession receiver on a team with too many of them, plus is coming off double groin surgery that caused him to miss the evaluation season. Torrey Smith is a far more interesting fantasy entity than Doss is for '11.
125. Taiwan Jones, RB, Oakland Raiders: Jones has warts galore, including a broken foot before the combine, a broken leg earlier in his college career at FCS Eastern Washington and myriad fumbling problems. But he also ran a 4.33 at his pro day; his size and speed are almost identical to Jamaal Charles. Let's not go crazy, though. Right now he's a track guy. He'll contribute on kickoff returns this year, and I guess were Michael Bush to leave in free agency (I don't consider it likely), Jones might have an outside shot at spelling Darren McFadden. But he's a project.
126. Bilal Powell, RB, New York Jets: Powell broke out during his senior year at Louisville with 1,488 yards and 11 rushing TDs, he's a good pass-blocker and he breaks a lot of tackles. But let's face it: There probably aren't a lot of rushing opportunities behind Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson and maybe Joe McKnight this year. If anything, the Powell pick might be a shot across McKnight's bow.
130. Jamie Harper, RB, Tennessee Titans: Harper is a bowling ball: 5-11, 233 pounds and ran a 4.54 40. Javon Ringer did a nice job as an alternative to Chris Johnson last year, but he's 30 pounds lighter than Harper and not much faster. That leads one to believe perhaps the backup job behind CJ2K is up for grabs. Johnson got 19 carries inside an opponent's 5-yard line last season, tied for fourth in the entire NFL, and Ringer got three. Maybe someday Harper could be a LenDale White type close to the goal line. For now, though, the Titans seem pretty content letting Johnson finish his own drives.
133. Johnny White, RB, Buffalo Bills: White started as a cornerback at North Carolina, then played wide receiver and finally landed at running back. He's a great pass-catcher and is very quick and versatile, but is predictably raw as a running back. And on a team with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, he probably isn't playing much.
145. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons: Rodgers was very productive at Oregon State, but carries the stigma of size with him: He's 5-5 and 196 pounds. There's just not a lot of precedent for a guy that short being successful in the NFL. This draft pick probably does mean that Jerious Norwood will be moving on from Atlanta, and Jason Snelling is also a potential unrestricted free agent (depending on the labor deal). But the Falcons almost certainly wouldn't rely on Rodgers as a third-down alternative to Michael Turner right away.
149. Dion Lewis, RB, Eagles: Lewis joins his Pittsburgh buddy LeSean McCoy in Philly, but as with Rodgers, there's a question whether a guy this short can make it getting regular carries in pro football. Lewis is 5-6 and 193 pounds, and is quicker than he is fast. Lewis also has a reputation for being an unwilling blocker, something that won't fly with Andy Reid. Maybe Lewis can fill the Jerome Harrison role in the Eagles' offense, but that wasn't particularly valuable last year, was it?
183. Jordan Todman, RB, San Diego Chargers: It's interesting to me that Todman went here and Shane Vereen of California went 127 picks earlier. That might say more about the Patriots reaching for Vereen than the Chargers getting the steal of a lifetime in Todman. To me, those two guys are really, really similar. Like Vereen, Todman isn't a tackle-breaker and isn't a burner, but he's got very good quicks and is a strong pass-catcher. Since Darren Sproles will be moving on from San Diego, expect Todman to jump in and fill that role immediately. How fantasy-relevant you consider that probably depends on how valuable you thought Sproles was last year.
187. Allen Bradford, RB, Buccaneers: Bradford is actually a lot like the starter in Tampa, LeGarrette Blount. Each is right around 6-foot, each weighs in the mid-240s and neither is particularly straight-line fast. But Blount is quicker and much more nimble than Bradford, who never took hold of the starting job at USC. Even if Cadillac Williams winds up going elsewhere, don't expect to see Bradford work his way into the No. 2 job in Tampa. His hope for playing time this year could come if Blount continues to be mysteriously ineffective near an opponent's goal line.
192. Matt Bosher, K, Falcons: Yay, kickers! Bosher was a punter and a place-kicker at Miami, but Atlanta announced him as a kicker. Matt Bryant is an unrestricted free agent and this pick would seem to indicate he might need to look elsewhere for work.
221. Da'Rel Scott, RB, New York Giants: Scott led all running backs at the combine with a 4.35 40, which was impressive for a guy who's 5-11 and 211 pounds. But he managed only 122 carries at Maryland as a senior basically as a backup, and had trouble with fumbles and injuries throughout his college career. He's almost certainly practice-squad fodder in '11.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy, and follow him on Twitter at @writerboyESPN.