Draft Winners and Losers
We’ve talked a lot about which teams did well during the 2014 NFL Draft, and which draft picks have a chance to make an early fantasy impact based on their talent and situation. What we have not done yet is evaluate the potential impact on NFL veterans who will be affected by this year’s rookie class. Professional sports are a young person’s game, and every year we see attrition impact even the best veterans. As fantasy owners it’s important to take note of things such as suddenly crowded depth charts, increased weapons in the passing game, or better blocking up front as a result of the influx of rookies into the league.
With the NFL Draft now in the books and an eye toward upcoming fantasy drafts only a few months away, let’s take a look at the top ten fantasy veteran winners and losers from this year’s draft:
1. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Miami
Tannehill was sacked an NFL leading 58 times last season as the Dolphins finished the year 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. Some of those sacks were on Tannehill who showed a propensity for hanging onto the ball too long, but amidst the bullying scandal that rocked the Dolphins locker room, their offensive line was putrid. In free agency, the Dolphins got two new starters in Branden Albert and Shelley Smith, and in the draft they used first and third round picks on Ja’Wuan James from Tennessee and Billy Turner from North Dakota State. Even with expected rookie growing pains, these two should start immediately and provide an upgrade for the Dolphins passing game. Additionally, grabbing the sure-handed Jarvis Landry out of LSU in the second round provides Tannehill with another weapon, and provides insurance in case Brandon Gibson can’t come back from a season ending torn patellar tendon.
2. E.J. Manuel, QB, Buffalo
In his rookie year, Manuel had his ups and downs. He showed remarkable poise at times for a rookie, but also suffered injuries that kept him to only 10 starts all season. His best receivers were a hobbled Stevie Johnson and a rookie Robert Woods. Manuel is poised to improve in his second season under head coach Doug Marrone, and even more so after a draft haul that includes three large, talented offensive linemen and the draft’s top receiving prospect Sammy Watkins out of Clemson. Watkins immediately pairs with Woods to give the Bills one of the most promising young receiving duos in the league, and the trio of Cyrus Kouandjio, Cyril Richardson, and Seantrel Henderson give the Bills three new big bodies up front to protect the athletic and mobile Manuel. Additionally, draft picks traded for former Bucs receiver Mike Williams and former Eagles running back Bryce Brown complete an offensive influx of talent to ensure Manuel has the best chance to take a big jump in year two.
3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota
After facing eight and nine defenders in the box throughout his career, Peterson finally has some hope for a Vikings offense that features him, rather than one that is limited to only him. The addition of fifth round guard David Yankey helps line depth, and the Stanford product has a chance to even challenge for a starting job early, but the real help for “All Day” is the drafting of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the first round. Bridgewater plummeted in the draft due to a poor pro day, but he has all the tools to succeed at the next level and should quickly win the starting job in Minnesota. With a pair of very good receivers in Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, and a solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph, Bridgewater has the ability to solidify a Vikings passing game that has struggled the past few years since Brett Favre’s final season in 2010. Legitimizing the passing game might take some of the pressure off Peterson, as those safeties start to creep out of the box to stop Bridgewater’s pinpoint accuracy. Peterson was already an elite fantasy option, but he’s still a big winner following this year’s draft.
4. Steven Jackson, RB, Atlanta
This season will tell us all if Jackson is finished, or if he still has something left in the tank. Jackson was limited by injuries and a lackluster offensive line last season to only 12 games and 543 yards, his first season under 1,000 since his rookie year over a decade ago. This season, the 30 year-old (31 in July) will get a chance to show that he can still be a productive back as the Falcons made the offensive line a priority and drafted Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews with the sixth overall pick. Matthews is a plug-and-play starter who should immediately pair with free agent acquisition Jon Asomoah to solidify an offensive line that allowed the third highest sack total in the league and paved the way for only 3.9 yards per carry on the ground. Expect both those numbers to improve this season, and for Jackson to benefit from a more solidified front line.
5. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit
After struggling heavily last year during games when Calvin Johnson was injured; Stafford has a full array of new weapons to play with in 2014. Following a solid free agency, Detroit used the 10th overall pick on tight end Eric Ebron out of North Carolina. Ebron is an athletic player who can stretch the seam and take pressure off the outside pass catchers in Detroit, and he provides an immediate upgrade over the disappointing Brandon Pettigrew, a former first round pick who never developed into a consistent target for Stafford. Stafford was fourth in the league last year with 634 pass attempts and the Detroit offense will remain prolific as long as he’s standing in the pocket. Ebron will partner with free agent acquisition Golden Tate to create mismatches and punish opposing defenses that send double and triple coverage to Johnson’s side of the field, and Stafford should benefit from it.
6. Mike Glennon, QB, Tampa Bay
Perhaps no quarterback needed more help than Mike Glennon did going into the draft, and he had as good a draft as you can have as a struggling young signal caller in the NFL. Not only did the Bucs choose not to draft a new quarterback to replace Glennon, they gave him one of the top two receivers in the draft in the big bodied Mike Evans from Texas A&M. Evans will pair with veteran Vincent Jackson to give Tampa Bay one of the biggest receiving duos in the league, and Glennon should benefit from the addition of another large target with downfield ability on the outside. Additionally, Tampa Bay came back in the second round and drafted the super athletic tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins out of Washington, an excellent receiving tight end whose attitude may have caused him to drop further than he should have in the draft. Finally, the Bucs added a versatile running back in West Virginia’s Charles Sims who can make plays in the passing game, and they solidified their offensive line depth in the fifth round with guard Kadeem Edwards from Tennessee State and developmental Purdue tackle Kevin Pamphile. All six of the Bucs picks went on the offensive side of the ball, including Wyoming slot receiver Robert Herron to round out the draft. The team has said that there will be a quarterback competition, so if Glennon can beat out journeyman Josh McCown to remain the starter, he could see a big jump in production during his second season. If he can’t, his dynasty prospects are certainly improved after the Bucs’ draft.
7. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
Cruz operates best when he’s able to move around the formation and create mismatches, but with very little production from the rest of the offense last year, Cruz struggled at times against double coverage. While it seems odd to think that Cruz could benefit from the addition of another receiver, getting LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in the first round helps the entire Giants offense, and should take some focus off the playmaking Cruz. Additionally, the Giants grabbed productive Boston College running back Andre Williams in the fourth round, who should pair with free agent acquisition Rashad Jennings to improve a running game that was ranked 29th in the league last season. Finally, the Giants upgraded the center position on the offensive line by plucking the versatile Weston Richburg from Colorado State out of the second round. Improving the entire offense will help Eli Manning, which will help Victor Cruz get back to WR1 fantasy numbers.
8. Carson Palmer, QB, Arizona
They may not seem like big time upgrades, but the additions of wide receiver John Brown from Pittsburg State and tight end Troy Niklas from Notre Dame round out a nice array of options for the veteran Palmer, who will now have an improved line from free agency and additional weapons from the draft. Also good news for Palmer was the Cardinals’ decision not to take Teddy Bridgewater in the first round, waiting instead until the fourth round to take developmental quarterback prospect Logan Thomas from Virginia Tech. Palmer should be able to keep his job for at least another season or two while the strong-armed but erratic Thomas learns the game. Palmer was supposed to be a fantasy sleeper last season and he ended up eighth in the league in passing yards and 12th in touchdown passes. This year, he could be even better with significant upgrades on the offensive side of the ball.
9. Knowshon Moreno, RB, Miami
The same benefits that Ryan Tannehill will enjoy from the Dolphins’ draft will extend to recently acquired running back Knowshon Moreno as well. Moreno is coming from a Broncos team that passed the ball extremely well and is coming off his best season as a pro. In Miami, without a Hall of Fame quarterback threatening defenses, he may not find as much room to run, but the offensive line is significantly improved following the draft. What was a huge weakness in 2013, the Dolphins ranked 26th in rushing offense, could become a strength with four new starters, including two early draft picks. Miami was criticized for drafting James and Turner earlier than most experts had them pegged, but none have questioned their ability to come in and contribute immediately. A position group that has been ineffective and tarnished heavily by the bullying scandal has been remade, and Moreno should benefit greatly from the additions. Also, fifth round tight end Arthur Lynch out of Georgia has a chance to supplant Michael Egnew as the Dolphins’ third tight end. Lynch’s blocking will provide an upgrade at the position and will further help to open up running lanes for Moreno.
10. Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay
It may seem counterintuitive to think that Cobb is a winner in this draft when the Packers drafted three new receivers and a tight end. However, like Victor Cruz above, Cobb operates best when he’s exploiting mismatches and moving around the field. With the addition of a big target like second round receiver Davante Adams out of Fresno State on the outside, Cobb will be free to roam around before the snap and find soft spots in the defense. The Packers throw the ball as well as anyone and they have shown in the past the ability to sustain three fantasy receivers. Cobb should thrive with the additional firepower Adams brings, and he is too talented to worry about reduced snaps. The Packers will find a way to keep him on the field and quarterback Aaron Rodgers will find a way to keep getting him the ball. The only difference will be that opposing defenses won’t be able to key in so heavily on Cobb.
1. Shonn Greene, RB, Tennessee
Greene may have thought he’d get another shot to be the bell cow for the Titans after Chris Johnson was let go before the draft, but after Tennessee drafted Washington running back Bishop Sankey in the second round, all of those dreams came crashing down in a fiery blaze. Sankey is a complete back who can play on every down and has exceptional vision when running the football. Greene is a slow-footed power back who averaged only 3.8 yards on 77 carries last season, his worst in six years as a pro. This doesn’t spell success for Greene, who may find himself battling journeyman Jackie Battle for change-of-pace carries behind Sankey, who people are already predicting as an early offensive rookie of the year candidate, and fantasy gold. Fantasy owners who thought Greene might become a 1,000 yard rusher again with Johnson out of the picture will need to rein in those expectations after the draft.
2. Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Detroit
With the addition the top tight end in the draft Eric Ebron from North Carolina, Detroit may transform Brandon Pettigrew from perennial fantasy disappointment, to complete afterthought. Pettigrew has always struggled with nagging injuries, and he was limited to only 11 games last year, catching only 30 receptions and finishing with 346 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This was his worst season as a pro and on a crowded depth chart with the flashy new Ebron around, fantasy owners might want to delete Pettigrew as an option off their draft list.
3. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Cincinnati
The Bengals drafted Jeremy Hill out of LSU in the second round. With Green-Ellis and last year’s second round pick Giovanni Bernard already present in the Bengals backfield, Hill makes three a crowd and the odd man out is not likely to be the electrifying Bernard. Green-Ellis has been a productive back for the Bengals, but he’ll be 29 in July and hasn’t averaged more than four yards per carry since 2010 in New England. The player affectionately referred to as The Law Firm may have scored seven touchdowns last season, but his 3.4 yards per carry and 20 percent drop in touches last year will likely be a downward trend rather than an anomaly. The addition of Hill is the nail on the coffin and might spell the end for Green-Ellis as a consistent, albeit unspectacular fantasy back in Cincinnati.
4. Brian Hoyer, QB, Cleveland
Hoyer showed considerable promise early last season before a knee injury landed him on injured reserve. He won his first two starts as a Brown, and threw for five touchdown passes and nearly 600 yards in those two games. He had Cleveland fans thinking they’d finally found a solution at the quarterback position until tragedy struck and he blew his knee out against the Bills in early October, his third start. Coming into the season, most thought the Browns might draft a new signal caller, but when they moved up to take Johnny Manziel, the enigmatic and fiery passer from Texas A&M at pick 22 in the first round, Hoyer’s long-term future in Cleveland went up in flames. Hoyer might still start on day one, and he might stick around as a backup long term, but the future of this franchise will rise or fall with Manziel. Even if Hoyer wins the job in camp, the first time he throws in interception or gets sacked, the crowd is going to be calling for Johnny Football.
5. Rob Housler, TE, Arizona
The athletic Housler was a big fantasy disappointment last year and may be on a much shorter leash going into 2014 with the addition of second round draft pick Troy Niklas out of Notre Dame. Housler never really got it going last year. He was injured to start the season and then struggled to keep snaps away from the likes of Jim Dray and Jake Ballard throughout the year. In the end, he finished with only 454 yards and one lone touchdown reception. Niklas on the other hand, is a 6’7” monster who is already a better blocker than Housler will ever be and caught five touchdown passes his final year in college. Housler should be watching over his shoulder, because a 270-pound athlete with developing route running skills will be lurking over him throughout camp. With the addition of John Carlson in free agency, it’s very possible Housler could find himself third on the depth chart when all is said and done.
6. Marcus Lattimore, RB, San Francisco
The 49ers tend to redshirt their rookies, and Lattimore was a perfect candidate for that treatment last season coming off repeated knee injuries in college. Lattimore was a first round talent who enters the 2014 season with a chip on his shoulder, out to prove that he can be a productive and healthy back at the NFL level. While his steps toward physical recovery have been positive, his chances of seeing the field behind long time starter Frank Gore took a big hit when the 49ers drafted Carlos Hyde in the second round. Hyde was a physical terror at Ohio State and many scouts had him ranked as the top running back in the draft this year. His presence may cut into Frank Gore’s production, but Lattimore seems destined to be affected the most by his arrival. Hyde is bigger and more highly touted, and it will be difficult for the second year player out of South Carolina to beat him out in training camp in an already-crowded San Francisco depth chart.
7. Rueben Randle, WR, New York Giants
Randle looked promising his rookie season, flashing good games against the Eagles and Bears in October, but disappearing down the stretch. With Hakeem Nicks moving on to the Colts in free agency, Randle looked poised to take over a starting job on the outside, filling the Giants’ WR2 role behind Victor Cruz. With the first round selection of Odell Beckham Jr., Randle may experience the opposite effect of Cruz. Beckham Jr. will relieve the pressure on Cruz, but will likely take looks away from Randle. While the Giants have sustained three fantasy receivers in the past, Eli Manning’s erratic arm makes that an improbable feat at this point, and it’s more likely that the fantasy value of Randle will suffer after the Giants’ draft.
8. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Philadelphia
Back on a one year “show me” deal after a devastating knee injury wiped out his 2013 season, Maclin will have additional stress after the Eagles drafted two receivers this year, Jordan Matthews from Vanderbilt in the second round, and Oregon receiver Josh Huff in the third. Both players have high upside, with Huff likely winning a job in sub packages early, and the bigger Matthews battling Maclin for a starting job right away. Maclin has flashed the ability to excel in this league, but his injury history has really derailed an otherwise promising career. If he can’t stay on the field this season, Matthews and Huff will be happy to take over his fantasy production.
9. Stevie Johnson, WR, San Francisco
Stevie Johnson was affected so much by the Bills’ drafting of Sammy Watkins, that he was shipped out to San Francisco to battle for the WR3 spot on the 49ers depth chart. While a change of scenery to the more successful San Francisco 49ers might turn into a good thing overall for Johnson, it’s hard to think he’ll win a job over Michael Crabtree or Anquan Boldin on the outside. He’ll also be battling rookie Bruce Ellington, an undersized but explosive slot receiver out of South Carolina who the 49ers drafted in the fourth round, and the likes of Brandon Lloyd, Quinton Patton, and Jonathan Baldwin for a roster spot. Johnson isn’t assured to make this roster either, but it’s clear that he belongs on the loser side of this list following the Bills’ draft.
10. Christian Ponder/Matt Cassel, QB, Minnesota
Whoever would have won the starting job (likely Cassel) before the draft, their chances just decreased drastically when the Vikings traded up to get Louisville passer Teddy Bridgewater with the last pick of the first round. Ponder is coming off a dreadful year, in which he threw only seven touchdown passes and nine interceptions in nine games. Veteran Matt Cassel, who looked like an All Pro by comparison, with 11 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and 1,807 yards, only marginally outperformed him. Bridgewater is a better quarterback than both of these players and even if he doesn’t win the job right away, this situation does not look good for the two incumbents. The mostly likely scenario is that Bridgewater beats out both of them, and Ponder fails to make the roster, with Cassel settling back into his role as a permanent backup.
11. Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver
Okay, so I cheated. I couldn’t get my list of draft losers down to 10, so I’m putting Sanders in the 11-spot. Sanders, fresh off a disappointingly inconsistent attempt to replace Mike Wallace in Pittsburgh, signed a deal to replace Eric Decker in Denver this off season. However, he may struggle to find the field much with the addition of Indiana receiver and second round draft choice Cody Latimer, a big, physical player with the downfield ability to thrive in the Denver offense. Sanders, a player better suited for the slot anyway, will struggle to beat out the more talented Latimer, and if he fails to do so, then he may be fighting for snaps in four receiver sets. Wes Welker is not going to relinquish his slot position easily, making Sanders the possible odd man out in the Denver passing offense.
Chad Henne, QB, Jacksonville
Henne is the interesting player who is both a winner and a loser following the draft. With the addition of first round quarterback Blake Bortles in the first round, the Jaguars are clearly planning on replacing Henne, a former second round pick who has always looked like “almost a starter, but not quite” since he entered the league in 2008 with the Miami Dolphins. On the other hand, the Jaguars have said they’d like to bring Bortles along slowly, so Henne gets the benefit of two new pass catchers in Lee and Robinson, as well as a new guard in third round Miami product Brandon Linder. Underrated seventh round UCF running back Storm Johnson, who is a better receiver out of the backfield than free agent acquisition Toby Gerhart, could also help Henne out on passing downs. Henne isn’t going to be an elite fantasy option, but he has a chance to put up improved numbers with some new toys to play with as he assumes the role of temporary caretaker for the Jaguars offense.
Justin Blackmon, WR, Jacksonville
Off field issues have placed Blackmon’s season in question, and the Jaguars showed everyone in the draft this year that they are ready to move on from the talented but troubled receiver. After drafting quarterback Blake Bortles from UCF in the first round, Jacksonville drafted two receivers in the second, including Marqise Lee from USC, a player many considered to be a mid-first round talent. Allen Robinson from Penn State is also heading to the Jaguars, and he’s a larger target than the incumbent Cecil Shorts, and a better fit on the outside. While Blackmon may be a talented player, the Jaguars draft has clued everyone into just how much faith the Jacksonville organization has in the troubled youngster, and if and when he does come back from his league suspension, he may find a cold shoulder waiting for him in the form of two shiny new receivers in the passing game.
This article was meant to focus on the offensive fantasy positions, but the improvements made to the Ravens defense are notable, making the Ravens Defense a big fantasy winner as a result of the draft. The Ravens have always been great at identifying and taking advantage of excellent value on draft day, and they did it again in this year’s draft. In the first round, they solidified the middle of their defense for the next decade with Alabama middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, an athletic player who can cover and hit and won’t ever have to come off the field. In the second round, they took versatile, penetrating defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan from Florida State, a player ideally suited to play in Baltimore’s hybrid defense and a guy who was thought of as a top 15 prospect at one point. Finally, they got a plug-and-play starter at free safety in Terrance Brooks, also out of Florida State, who will pair with last year’s first round pick Matt Elam to form a talented young safety duo that can develop together. Brooks is a solid player who can cover the back end, and allow the hard-hitting Elam to play closer to the line of scrimmage, where he’s most effective. The Ravens already had the 12th ranked defense in the league last year in yards allowed. They should take a big jump again this year.
Much like the Ravens, the Packers Defense is a big fantasy winner, with the addition of three players who could contribute right away. In the first round, Green Bay snatched up one of the most NFL-ready defenders in the draft in the rangy Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama who should be able to start immediately at free safety for the Packers and should be in contention for defensive rookie of the year. Additionally, Green Bay got excellent value in Arizona State linebacker Carl Bradford in the fourth round, and DT Khyri Thornton from Ole Miss in the third. Bradford is a versatile gym rat who loves the game and could push Brad Jones for a starting job next to A.J. Hawk inside in Dom Capers’ defense. Thornton is an excellent athlete who lacks polish and dropped to the third round due to a “questionable motor” label coming out of college. The presence of Clay Matthews rushing by Thornton operating as a five technique should help to keep the talented lineman motivated, and combined with free agent addition Julius Peppers, the Packers defense could be scary good this season.