2014 NFL Draft Fantasy Preview
If you’re like me, you pine for the day that Commissioner Roger Goodell stands at the podium at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and says, “The Houston Texans are on the clock!” This year’s draft brings with it several interesting plotlines, and the way the draft shakes out always has big fantasy implications. With a bevy of wide receivers set to go in the first couple of rounds, electrifying but risky quarterback options, and running backs continuing their downward trend on everybody’s draft boards, gauging which players are set to make an impact has never been a more enjoyable challenge.
I’ve broken down the primary fantasy positions and selected just a few potential draftees who fit each of the three following fantasy impact categories:
Immediate Impact: Regardless of which team drafts this player, they should have an immediate fantasy impact. With rookies traditionally struggling to put up big numbers right away, this is a very subjective label. However, this label means the player has the kind of talent to make a big splash in year one of his NFL career.
Situational Impact: This label indicates a player whose immediate success will be largely dependent on the team that drafts them. While these players are talented, their success will be dictated by their situation, including the team’s offensive style, coaching, other playmakers, and depth at the position.
Sleepers: These are players that currently are not considered high draft picks expected to immediately make an impact, but who have the talent and ability to surprise some people if everything goes their way.
In some years, there are elite kicking prospects available. However, this year there are only four kickers who seem draft-worthy at all, and none of them will be expected to win a job immediately. Thus, kickers will not be included in this preview.
For fun, here are the kickers names to keep an eye out for as guys who should find their way to a training camp battling for a job: Chris Boswell, Rice; Cairo Santos, Tulane; Anthony Fera, Texas; Zach Hocker, Arkansas
Should any of these prospects be drafted, our team here at 4for4 Fantasy Football will evaluate the situation. We'll be providing live, pick-by-pick coverage of all 7 rounds of the NFL Draft next week.
Quarterbacks traditionally are not big fantasy impact players in year one of their careers, but with the emergence of players such as Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, and Robert Griffin III making an early leap onto fantasy football teams, more is expected from rookie signal callers than ever before.
Blake Bortles, UCF – Bortles is a tall, athletic quarterback with an above average arm who has experienced a dramatic rise up draft boards over the past few months. Bortles will be one of, if not the, first quarterback off the board on May 8th, and no matter where he goes, Houston, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, or anywhere else, he’ll be counted on as a top ten pick to start immediately and to produce. With fantasy, opportunity is half the battle, and Bortles should get it early.
Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M – Manziel is quite possibly the polar opposite of Bortles as a prospect, but the enigmatic and fiery quarterback who has gained the moniker “Johnny Football” is an elite prospect nonetheless. Despite being undersized, Manziel has a good NFL arm and elite improvisational skills. Furthermore, whatever defines that elusive “It Factor” in a quarterback, Manziel has “It.” He’s another player that should find opportunities early and often in the NFL and will have the chance to put up good fantasy numbers through the air, as well as on the ground in his rookie season.
Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville – Bridgewater has been heavily scrutinized over the past few months, and after a dismal pro day, he’s dropped on many draft boards. Perhaps the most accurate quarterback in this class by the game tape, Bridgewater has the skills to contribute and put up numbers immediately, but may drop in the draft to a point where he’s picked up as a developmental player rather than as an immediate starter. Should Bridgewater be taken in the top ten, fantasy owners should take notice. If he falls to 20 and ends up in Arizona, then he may have to wait a year or two before he makes an impact.
Jimmy Garroppolo, Eastern Illinois – Garroppolo is a gamer with only adequate measurables, but he was wildly successful at Eastern Illinois and also flashes the “It Factor” coveted in a quarterback. He compares favorably to a guy like Andy Dalton as an instant impact player in the right position, but he could just as easily become buried on a roster and emerge as a backup. Should he find himself in a legit camp battle, fantasy owners should take note.
Running backs traditionally make the quickest fantasy impact. Fresh legs seem to mean more broken tackles, increasing their early fantasy returns over other positions. However, with a short shelf life at the position, backs are falling down draft boards, making it harder to spot the instant impact guys based solely on draft position.
Bishop Sankey, Washington – Sankey is a do-it-all back that lit up the combine after a very productive career at Washington. He’s thickly built with enough pop to take it the distance and can do some damage on the second level. Sankey may go in the second round, but he’ll be drafted to contribute, and he’s a name that fantasy owners should take note of now.
De’Anthony Thomas, Oregon – Thomas is an electrifying talent who is more quick than fast. Thomas is undersized and will never be an every down back in the league but he could have a Darren Sproles type of impact in the right system with the right coaching. If he winds up in a place like New Orleans or New England, look out!
Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona – One of the most gifted backs in this class, Carey is a powerful and patient runner with good vision and runs into linebackers like he has a personal vendetta. Unfortunately, that same tenacity on the field has gotten him in trouble off of it. A first round talent, Carey may slide as low as the fifth round due to off-field arrests and verbal altercations on campus. If Carey ends up on a stable team with veterans and a good coaching staff, he could turn into the best back in this draft. If not, fantasy owners may not find him worth the headache.
Lache Seastrunk, Baylor – A top recruit out of high school in Texas, Seastrunk ended up at Baylor after his recruitment to Oregon came under scrutiny. At Baylor, he proceeded to carry the offense and run for over 1,000 yards the last two seasons. Seastrunk may not hear his name until day three of the draft, but he’s a powerful runner with deceptive speed who can really get downhill in a hurry. He’s not a player who will do much in the passing game, but he has the competitiveness and running talent to start as early as this season if he finds himself in a position to compete.
Receivers traditionally struggle as rookies, but much like quarterbacks have enjoyed early success in recent seasons, we’ve seen valuable players such as Julio Jones and Keenan Allen make big strides early on. This year, the draft presents perhaps the deepest crop of pass catchers in nearly two decades, with as many as seven players who may hear their names called on day one.
Sammy Watkins, Clemson – An elite talent with breakaway speed as well as the ability to go up and fight for the ball in traffic. At a hair under 6’1, Watkins doesn’t have the physically intimidating presence of a typical number one receiver, but his body control and ability to locate and come down with the ball in traffic separates him from other players with his kind of explosive speed. While the quarterback position always plays a role in the success of young receivers, Watkins has the ability to make a difference regardless where he ends up.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M – Evans is a big, physical receiver who compares favorably to Vincent Jackson as a player, except his route running and hands are light years ahead of where Jackson was as a college prospect. Evans has the explosiveness you look for in a big receiver to get off of press coverage without disrupting offensive timing, and he made a name for himself getting open on extended plays in college. Additionally, he has a wide catching radius that Johnny Manziel used frequently to get out of trouble. Evans is a polished prospect who will be drafted to start immediately and should be the rare receiving prospect that can make a fantasy impact early on, no matter which team drafts him.
Brandin Cooks, Oregon State – Cooks had the “more quick than fast” label going into the combine this year until he busted out a 4.33 40-yard dash time, tops among wide outs this year. With that theory put to rest, scouts are looking closer at the 2013 Biletnikoff Award winner. Cooks was highly productive at Oregon State and put up big numbers on screens, catches downfield, and even the occasional handoff. A versatile threat, if Cooks winds up in the right spot, he could really do some damage in his rookie season.
Marqise Lee, USC – Lee was very productive in college, but is coming off a down season. Without Matt Barkley throwing him the ball and with the Trojans’ sketchy quarterback play in 2013, Lee struggled with inconsistency in his final year of college. This has dropped his draft stock from sure-fire top 15 pick a year ago to possible second round slide as we near the draft. Fantasy owners should watch where Lee ends up before evaluating his fantasy value. If he winds up on a team with an established passer, he could be a pleasant surprise for owners that draft him. If he ends up in a place like Cleveland or Tampa Bay with an unsettled quarterback situation, then he may struggle to make a quick impact.
Donte Moncrief, Mississippi – Moncrief is a 6’2, physical receiver who shows an uncanny knack for getting downfield and locating the ball in the air. He can fight with the best players in the league to come down with jump balls, and he flashes the ability to be a true number one receiver at the NFL level. While he probably won’t come off the board until the third or fourth round, Moncrief has the ability to be an immediate starter if he can shed the “questionable motor” label he’s been given on many scouting reports. A player with big boom and bust potential, Moncrief is worth keeping in the back of your mind as you watch the draft and look toward potential impact players for the 2014 season.
The tight end position this season is loaded with athletic and unpolished talent, but not necessarily loaded with immediate impact players. As far as sure-fire starters with big fantasy potential, there is really only one prospect this season worth immediate fantasy attention.
Eric Ebron, North Carolina – Ebron is the rare blend of size, hands, and speed that keeps opposing defensive coordinators up at night. While not a natural blocker, he’s better in protection than many other elite pass catchers at the tight end position, which will ensure he’s on the field for a maximum number of snaps at the next level. Ebron will be drafted in the top 20 picks, and perhaps even in the top 10, ensuring that whoever drafts him will be taking him for the specific purpose of using him immediately. Fantasy owners should expect good things from him early.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington – Seferian-Jenkins is an elite athlete with size and a catching radius that makes quarterbacks drool. The 6’5 prospect is a raw talent however, with questions about his consistency in catching the ball smoothly and about his work ethic and off-field behavior. In the right situation, Seferian-Jenkins could be a Pro Bowler early in his career. In the wrong situation, with a team that doesn’t have a good group of veterans around, he could fizzle out way before his time. Fantasy owners should take note where he ends up, as he’ll likely go off the board on day two of the draft.
Crockett Gilmore, Colorado St. – There isn’t really a true sleeper at this position in this draft, as most of the tight end prospects are expected to be drafted right around where they should be. As a deep, deep sleeper however, store the name Crockett Gilmore in the back of your mind. A converted defensive end, Gilmore is a freak athlete with a tremendous combination of size and speed for this position. He’s still learning his technique, but he’s got the work ethic and all the physical tools you’d want in a prospect. He flashes all pro potential and will go late on day three in the draft.