- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Nineteen skill players were picked Friday night in the second and third rounds of the NFL draft: three quarterbacks, four running backs, nine wide receivers and three tight ends. How many of them will have fantasy football value in 2012? To be honest, not that many. But even if many of the rookies themselves won't be fantasy forces, some stars from their new teams will be affected.
Let's take 'em one by one and figure out whether any early fantasy front-runner rookies might emerge. Remember, you also can read my review of Thursday night's first round.
33. Brian Quick, WR, St. Louis Rams: Quick went from my calling him a "sleeper for NFL teams" in my combine review back in February to being one selection away from the first round. Yes, taking him this early probably was a bit of a stretch for a Rams team that needs receiving help now, but that doesn't mean Quick isn't an interesting prospect. He passes the eye test; the kid is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and ran a 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the combine, which makes him a "Moneyball" WR fantasy players need to keep an eye on. In my formulation, that combo makes him a very legit candidate to be a No. 1 fantasy wideout someday. But Quick went to Appalachian State, so his level of competition is about to take 10 leaps forward. I expect the learning curve to be steep. Plus, remember people trying to sell you Austin Pettis (78th overall in the '11 draft) and Greg Salas (112th overall) as potential fantasy options last year? Quick clearly has more physical tools than those guys, but the point is: Are the Rams -- especially under conservative new coach Jeff Fisher -- likely to produce a great fantasy WR at this point? I won't have Quick ranked to be selected in redraft leagues.
34. Coby Fleener, TE, Indianapolis Colts: In person at the draft, people seemed especially vexed that Fleener didn't go in the first round. Personally, I'm surprised to see him selected this high. There's obviously tons to like about Fleener teaming up with Andrew Luck, his collegiate QB, from day one. But is Fleener really a replica in the Rob Gronkowski/Jimmy Graham/Jermichael Finley mold? I have to say I'm skeptical. First off, he is a horrendous blocker and will have to be used basically as a slot receiver; his presence in certain formations is going to tell defenses a lot. He runs very well for a big guy (6-foot-6, 247 pounds) but he's not a "sudden" athlete like, for instance, Graham is. But most damning is the guy the Colts selected with the No. 64 overall pick (see below). I know the New England Patriots have made hay with two top-flight TEs in the same draft class, but whatever benefit Fleener gets from his familiarity with Luck has to be dampened just a little by the idea that he'll have to share TE targets, doesn't it? There are already an awful lot of fantasy-worthy TEs out there, so it's going to be hard for me to say, "Oh, sure, Fleener needs to be drafted in all leagues." I grant you that he's going to have a few nice games this season and that his future could be very bright. This year, though, I recommend you draft the guys we've already seen perform well as pros.
43. Stephen Hill, WR, New York Jets: Boy, am I a grinch! In a vacuum, I like this pick fine. Nobody screams "Moneyball!" louder than Hill. He's 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, and at the combine, he was a freak -- he ran a 4.36 40, submitted the best broad jump among WRs, produced a huge vertical jump and, to top it all off, made the catch of the combine, diving on a vertical route and coming up with an overthrown pass. Raw-ability wise, Hill has as much potential to be a No. 1 fantasy WR as anyone in this draft. But like Demaryius Thomas before him, Hill played in Georgia Tech's triple-option offense, meaning he did little more than run straight down the field on pass patterns. He caught 28 passes his entire final season in college. (He also dropped six.) He hasn't run pro routes, and receiver is a difficult NFL position to learn on the fly. I simply can't see Hill being consistent enough -- especially with some combination of Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow throwing him the ball -- to start right away for the Jets. I think the team has to go out and sign another veteran to play alongside Santonio Holmes (Braylon Edwards, maybe?), and basically give Hill a redshirt season. As such, again, I don't see Hill as an option in redraft leagues.
45. Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears: I guess I admire these NFL teams foregoing the lower-ceilinged, more-polished wideout prospects and taking risks on potential No. 1s. I think it's probably what I would do, were I a general manager. But it doesn't make for immediate fantasy glory. Jeffery isn't as fast as Hill or Quick, but he has that similar big body (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) and definitely isn't slow. Yet maturity questions linger. Jeffery was among the best WR prospects in the nation after a sophomore season that saw him catch 88 passes for 1,517 yards, but then he showed up for his junior season overweight and dropped down to 49 grabs for 762 yards, with admittedly horrendous QB play around him. Scouts were ready to slam Jeffery for showing up fat and lazy at the combine, but instead he lost about 30 pounds. Alas, then he decided not to run a single drill. Suffice it to say, there is diva potential here. And landing in the Windy City, where the NFL's current King Diva (Brandon Marshall) resides, seems like a scary fit. Jeffery isn't a quick player, and while he has a decent path to playing time right away, he's going to be a possession receiver to Marshall's top threat. Here's another guy I'd skip in redraft leagues. The comparisons to Mike Williams (the Lions/Seahawks version) are scary.
50. Isaiah Pead, RB, St. Louis Rams: Steven Jackson appears to have a new handcuff. Pead was the Senior Bowl MVP and had a whopping 545 career carries at Cincinnati, and while his straight-ahead speed isn't elite, he's a nice combo of very quick and not prone to dancing at the line of scrimmage. He gets the ball and pushes straight ahead, using his quickness to make people miss before he gets to them. Now, Pead weighs only 197 pounds (compare that to Jackson's 231 pounds), so there will be questions about whether he's big enough to ever truly be someone's workhorse RB. This season, he doesn't have to be. He'll occasionally spell Jackson on early downs and play a lot on third -- he's a super receiver. Of course, Jackson is in the way of Pead getting tons of offensive touches, and I won't be surprised if Pead gets involved on kick returns. Anyone who drafts Jackson needs to know Pead's name.
54. Ryan Broyles, WR, Detroit Lions: To me, this is a stunner. Broyles was an ultra-productive wideout at Oklahoma; he's the all-time NCAA leader in receptions. But he tore an ACL in November, plus there always were going to be questions about whether he's big enough to be an outside receiver in the NFL. He's 5-foot-10 and 192 pounds. It seems to me the Lions drafted a better version of Broyles last year at No. 44 overall, in Titus Young. Young himself is best-suited as a slot player and has 4.4 40 speed. Broyles is a good route runner but doesn't have that game-breaking ability. Any receiver associated with the Lions' pass-happy attack has to be kept in mind, but playing behind Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Young, Broyles seems very unlikely to make an impact this season. In future years, the guess is that Burleson leaves the Motor City, but then is either Broyles or Young capable of running flanker routes? ("Megatron" lines up all over the place, but he's more often a split end than anything else.) I have my doubts.
57. Brock Osweiler, QB, Denver Broncos: Osweiler is a 6-foot-7 former hoops player with only 15 collegiate starts under his belt, and as you might expect from one of the tallest QB prospects ever, he featured bad throwing mechanics at Arizona State. With Peyton Manning in the fold, the Broncos don't need Osweiler to do anything but soak up the NFL experience and hold a clipboard on game days, and certainly learning the pro game at the foot of the master will be a great experience for Osweiler. In a perfect world, he won't need to see the field for three seasons. As such, he's completely off the fantasy radar screen. I wouldn't even expect him to be Manning's backup in '12.
61. LaMichael James, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Geez, what in heaven's name does Kendall Hunter have to do? I liked Hunter's rookie year behind Frank Gore just fine. He played about 30 percent of the 49ers' snaps, averaged 4.2 yards per carry and looked as quick as advertised. But the Niners have spent this offseason signing Brandon Jacobs and then drafting James. Listen, James was a productive player at Oregon (and had at least 230 carries three straight seasons), but that spread offense covered up his obvious lack of size and physicality. In the NFL, it's fair to question whether he can be more than a Darren Sproles type. Right away, I suspect we'll see James play some special teams and fill in on passing-down situations, and in a backfield this crowded, that's not a path to fantasy utility. Long term, both James and Hunter have to prove they're not the dreaded "specialty back" who only frustrates fantasy owners.
63. Rueben Randle, WR, New York Giants: Jerry Reese is a wizard. I know Bill Belichick gets knee-jerk praise galore, but somehow sneaky-good draft picks always seem to find their way to Reese, and here's another one. With Mario Manningham gone from the Giants, there's an opening on the outside in Gotham, and Randle is the kind of guy who might fill it immediately. In my combine story back in February, the two players I compared to Randle were A.J. Green and Hakeem Nicks, and now here Randle is as Nicks' new teammate. Randle is 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, and ran a 4.5 40, putting him in "Moneyball" territory, and is a wonderful athlete. It's fair to wonder whether he actually plays as fast as he sprints, but Randle is extremely tough on slants and in the red zone, a description that also fits Nicks to a tee. This pick speaks volumes about the Giants' concerns over last year's No. 83 overall pick, Jerrel Jernigan, who now seems likely to lose a battle for the No. 3 job with Randle. The only lingering question is whether the New York offense will lack a game-breaker who can blow the top off defenses, the way Manningham did. But the way Eli Manning throws it down the field, there's room for three WRs to have fantasy appeal in this offense, and that makes Randle draftable in all leagues.
64. Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis Colts: With both Allen and Fleener, the Colts took the 2012 draft's top two tight ends, mirroring the Patriots last year (Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) and the Baltimore Ravens in 2010 (Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta). I like Allen almost as much as I like Fleener; he's not the vertical player Fleener is, but he's significantly more complete as both a route-runner and especially as a blocker. The initial party line will be that Fleener is the pass-catcher and the thicker Allen (6-foot-3, 255 pounds) will stay in to block, and that might be the case to begin '12. But Allen is no Brandon Manumaleuna. He's got ball skills, and he can get open. I agree that Fleener will likely be the better fantasy option throughout their respective careers because he'll catch it downfield. But I think Fleener's numbers will regularly be hindered because Allen will make many possession-style grabs and will rumble for decent yardage and TDs on occasion. A larger question for Colts fans at this point in the draft might be: We're changing our entire defensive philosophy and have precious few defensive players who fit our new system, and you took three skill-position players with our first three picks? (And there's another one coming later at pick No. 92.) What gives?
67. Ronnie Hillman, RB, Denver Broncos: Most folks seemed to believe Denver would target a bruiser to play alongside the aging Willis McGahee, someone who could take over lead-dog duties should McGahee falter in his age-30 season (he actually turns 31 in October). Instead, the Broncos took Hillman, and my thought is that if they were going to go smaller, I'd have taken Lamar Miller. But perhaps what Hillman's selection means most is that the Broncos still believe Knowshon Moreno, who's returning from a torn ACL, will give them something. Hillman was an every-down player at San Diego State, but at 5-foot-9, he seems destined for a supplementary role, at least early in his pro career. He certainly would be no replacement for McGahee, and his rookie season will see him used in change-of-pace situations and maybe on special teams. Not much fantasy value here.
68. DeVier Posey, WR, Houston Texans: The Texans traded out of the second round Friday night, passing up the chance to select Rueben Randle. I think they'll live to regret it. This is a franchise on the brink, and Houston really needed only two things: a pass-rusher to help replace Mario Williams, and a wideout to finally give Andre Johnson some breathing room. Randle would have been a great option. Instead, the Texans took the underwhelming Posey, a moderately productive collegiate player who was suspended in Ohio State's tattoo scandal last season, isn't the burner AJ could use to keep safeties honest and isn't a strong, physical player who'll attract attention over the middle. I think he's just another guy. (Very few scouts had him listed among their top 15 WR prospects in this draft.) That said, Posey did run a strong 4.5 40 at the combine, and as soon as the Texans took him, rumors began to fly that Jacoby Jones was not long for the Houston roster. That could put Posey in the No. 3 role (behind AJ and Kevin Walter) as soon as this year. Do I expect fantasy glory? I do not, but it's an awfully good offense.
69. T.J. Graham, WR, Buffalo Bills: Graham is a track star much more than he is a football player at this point in his career, and he ran a 4.39 40 at the combine to prove it. To begin his NFL career, he will almost certainly be the Bills' kickoff returner, so those in deeper return-yards fantasy leagues should take note. But Graham is extremely raw as a route-runner, and at this point, it's unlikely he could consistently get open as a pro doing anything other than running straight down the field. That could happen for him a couple of times in '12, but it's far likelier that he concentrates on special teams.
75. Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks: Nobody loved Wilson as a collegiate player at Wisconsin last year more than I, but color me skeptical that this ends well. He's just too short. Wilson is shorter than 5-foot-11, and Pete Carroll can issue all the Carroll-esque platitudes he wants, but there's a reason short guys don't thrive at this position. You have to manipulate your offense so much to get a short guy enough space to throw the ball when he's got 6-foot-6 behemoths in his face. In my opinion, as much as it pains me to say it, Wilson is a career backup, albeit a charismatic and intelligent one. Regardless, with Matt Flynn on hand in Seattle, Wilson has no immediate fantasy value.
78. Michael Egnew, TE, Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins apparently fell in love with Egnew at the combine, where he tore it up athletically. He was an All-American tight end catching passes from Blaine Gabbert in his junior season. Unfortunately, his productivity fell off the map last season, and he's another tweener who won't be able to block at all in the NFL. In a pro landscape where there are so many interesting TE options, fantasy owners shouldn't expect much from this glorified wideout in '12. As I wrote in my combine review, Missouri's spread offense has produced some tight ends with terrific numbers in the past, but they've tended to bust (Chase Coffman, Martin Rucker) in the NFL.
83. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: It's hard to question Sanu's productivity at Rutgers; he caught an insane 115 passes last season alone. But he averaged only 10.5 yards per reception in college, which tells you about his game. He's a physical, speed-challenged player who will be a pure chains-moving possession receiver in the NFL. I rated Sanu as the absolute safest wideout on my board; I think you know exactly what you're getting from him, and you'll get it for 10 years. With A.J. Green going deep and sucking down double-teams, Sanu will find himself matched on some linebackers and safeties he can outmuscle. Fantasy stardom probably isn't in his future, but he's going to be ownable in relatively short order, maybe as soon as '12. His best recent comparables are Muhsin Muhammad and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
84. Bernard Pierce, RB, Baltimore Ravens: And so the Ricky Williams era officially comes to an end. By selecting Pierce, the Ravens have signaled they don't expect Williams to unretire, and it's quite likely that Pierce will jump into the handcuff role behind Ray Rice. However, Pierce is a difficult guy to figure out. He looks like a No. 1 back: He's 6 feet tall and 218 pounds. But at Temple, he ran like a little guy, zigging and zagging away from contact, using good vision and lateral quickness to produce huge numbers against often-inferior opponents. At the combine, Pierce ran a 4.49 40, but he bench-pressed a measly 17 reps, which is crazy for a guy with as broad a chest as he has. He will need to be far more powerful than he's ever shown to become more than a career backup. That said, there's really nobody else on Baltimore's roster who could pick up major slack should the starter go down. Pierce will be a wise handcuff if you spend a top-five pick on Rice.
88. Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles: Andy Reid has a good track record of taking middling pro prospects at quarterback and turning them into NFL-worthy players. In Philly, he's done it with Koy Detmer, A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb (Bobby Hoying probably doesn't count), and in Green Bay he did it with a couple of guys named Brett Favre and Mark Brunell. So Foles lands in a good place. Of course, with Michael Vick on hand and veterans such as Trent Edwards and Mike Kafka around, it's highly unlikely Foles will see any regular-season playing time in '12. Foles is a slow-footed prospect with poor pocket presence and middling accuracy, but you can't fake 6-foot-5 and 243 pounds with good arm strength. Foles will require a complete breakdown of his throwing mechanics and footwork, but Reid is the guy to make that happen. For fantasy, Foles should be a nonfactor for years.
92. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts: And somehow here the Colts are, drafting their fourth consecutive offensive skill-position player and completely neglecting a defense that's likely to get overwhelmed in '12. Hilton is a specialty player, a straight-ahead-fast slot prospect who ran a 4.37 40 at the combine, but who measures 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds. He's known to be a pretty decent route-runner, but there are extreme questions about whether he'd ever be able to get off the line if he played outside. Expect his rookie impact to come in the return game. With Austin Collie likely to see lots of snaps in the slot this season, Hilton will be relegated to four- and five-receiver packages, with only a few big plays to mark the '12 campaign. Outside of return-yards leagues, he's someone you can safely ignore this season for fantasy.
18hPat McManamon and Jeremy Fowler