Every August, when my dynasty fantasy football league holds its rookie draft, I always promise myself that nobody at the table will be as well prepared as I am. And if you’re like me, you want to be able to get a head start on not only this year, but next year and the year after that. You want to know who will be the big pickup before the next guy has even heard of the player.
And you’re OK with people thinking you made a bad draft pick as long as they sit back in wonder when that player comes out of nowhere to dominate.
Some of the players on this list don’t fit that bill. I mean, everybody knows that Sam Bradford will be the Rams starting QB. Those are the “Immediate Impact” players in this list. Then there are the guys who you can draft this year and know that they’ll be solid next year. And if you really want to look ahead, there are some players to keep in mind for 2012 and beyond. And there are even some names that are still unsigned and undrafted that you should keep in mind.
Like the heading says, these are the guys who should step in and be major contributors some time very early in their rookie seasons.
Sam Bradford: Should start from day one. Only thing holding him back from good production is team’s uncertain WR depth chart. They have good ones, but they’re all young. When he’s settled, will be a Pro Bowl-level QB.
Ryan Mathews: Norv Turner has already said that Mathews will get around 300 touches his first year, and that should be good for around 1500 total yards in 2010. And the next few years seem really bright for him. Only knock is that he hasn’t been durable.
Ben Tate: One of the more underrated backs in the draft, he goes to a perfect situation in Houston without a clear-cut #1 RB. He’s better than anyone they have on the team except for Steve Slaton, and if Slaton comes back from injury, Houston will have a dominant run game to go along with its elite passing game.
CJ Spiller: A playmaker on a team that hasn’t had one for years. Will team with Fred Jackson to be great 1-2 punch on offense. And even their QBs can throw the ball on flare passes to get Spiller open. Should sniff 1000 total yards and also help in the return game.
Jahvid Best: To me, he’s almost exactly like Spiller, but slightly less durable. He’s entering an offense on the Lions that is a complete 180 from where it was just 2 years ago. With Stafford, Johnson, Burleson, Pettigrew, and Scheffler, this should be a dynamic offense with Best a major contributor.
Montario Hardesty: I don’t like his skills as much as I like his situation. Though Jerome Harrison lit it up for the Browns at RB at the end of 2009, he’s more of a complementary back. Hardesty is a pounding between-the-tackles type with better quickness than you’d think. And he should start for them. He’s had injury problems throughout his career.
Joe McKnight: He’ll almost immediately take over the role Leon Washington is bringing to Seattle. Really more of a WR than RB, he needs to work on blocking before he’s a big-time contributor. But his speed and quickness are excellent.
Jermaine Gresham: The Bengals have rebuilt their passing game this offseason, adding the more dynamic Antonio Bryant across from Chad Ochocinco. They only needed a top-flight TE to roam the middle of the defense. Gresham has the talent to be a top-5 TE right away.
Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez: I lump them together because they were both drafted by the Patriots and both are dynamic playmakers at the TE position. They both have the talent to start immediately, but Gronkowski’s the better all-around TE. Hernandez is the H-back type. Either one could light it up in 2010.
Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson: The Ravens offense works so much better when it can throw to the TE. When Todd Heap has been healthy, that hasn’t been a problem. But Heap’s officially on his last legs and Pitta and Dickson were drafted to provide that. If either of them learns how to block, they’ll be excellent targets for Flacco on medium-range throws.
While these guys have definite talent, they are not in the perfect situations. Some have established starters ahead of them. Some just need a little seasoning. All could be major contributors to your fantasy squad by next year.
Dez Bryant: Depending on whether the team gives Roy Williams yet another chance to prove he was worth the haul it cost to get him, Bryant may or may not get a chance to shine in 2010. But by 2011, he’ll definitely be a force in the NFL. And if Miles Austin’s contract situation doesn’t clear up, Bryant may be their only guy.
Jimmy Clausen: The Panthers like Matt Moore to start in 2010, but the team drafted Clausen for a reason. He should start by 2011, but on a run-first team like the Panthers, his fantasy impact will be muted.
Demaryius Thomas: He’s a raw route runner, but his size, speed, and intelligence make him a potential fantasy stud once he settles. That could happen in 2010, but will definitely happen by next year.
Damian Williams: The Titans drafted Kenny Britt last year and he’s now their clear #1 WR. And while Justin Gage and Nate Washington are quality receivers, Damian Williams’s route running, hands, and speed will get him a big role on the team in 2010. By 2011, he should start, and may put up numbers surpassing Britt’s
Carlton Mitchell: I liked the Massaquoi and Robiskie WR picks in the 2009 draft, but the production was limited by a bad QB situation. Mitchell is like a combination of the best aspects of both of those guys — a big WR who can run and has good hands. He’ll start over one of them — probably Robiskie — but the offense won’t gel for another year or so.
Dez Briscoe: Though the Bengals’ offense has been upgraded this year, Chad Ochocinco’s not getting any younger. And while dancing may be a great workout, his years are very limited — every WR hits a wall in his 30s. Briscoe’s a tall playmaker in waiting who needs to get stronger to escape press coverage, but could be huge once he gets his chance.
Ryan Perilloux: If Favre retires after this year, the Vikings need a QB of the future (especially if they think Jackson isn’t it. Perilloux was one of the top QB recruits out of high school when he went to LSU, but he ran into legal trouble there and transferred to Jacksonville St., where he was very effective. Has elite arm strength and excellent mechanics and mobility whose game is similar to Favre’s when he came out of college. Not saying, I’m just saying.
Arrelious Benn: On a Bucs team without a true #1, Benn should fill that role right away, but the team’s offensive growing pains will limit Benn’s production in his first year. After that, he’s only limited by Josh Freeman’s ability.
Patrick Paschall: He goes to a Patriots team that is always an enigma when it comes to RBs. But he has high ability running both inside and outside who excels in open space and has excellent stop-and-start ability. He’s probably the team’s best RB right now, but he only needs a chance.
Taylor Price: The Patriots WR corps is pretty stacked, with Moss, Welker (if he comes back from injury), Edelman, Holt, and Brandon Tate, so Price may have to wait his turn. But he has great speed and quickness and is a pretty solid route runner. I see him teaming with Tate and Edelman to form a promising young WR group next year.
Eric Decker: In the mold of a classic possession receiver. He has great size and good speed, quickness, and strength. Doesn’t offer much in the way of creativity, but with Royal and Thomas on the team, he has a shot to be productive.
Emmanuel Sanders: Mike Mayock the NFL Network draft expert, has Sanders rated as the #4 WR in this draft class. I don’t see him as quite that special, but he has the speed, quickness and hands to be very solid. And with Holmes gone and Hines Ward aging, he could be a major part of the offense come 2011.
Brandon LaFell: The Panthers have been looking for that #2 WR for years, and they found a Muhsin Muhammad clone here. He doesn’t have great hands — though he makes the circus catch — but he has good speed and he’s good after the catch.
Colin Peek: The Falcons have little at TE behind Tony Gonzalez, and Peek has excellent hands and adequate blocking skills (though they need to improve). If Gonzalez retires, Peek’s worth a peel.
These are players who look like they may have some value in 2012 and beyond. For the most part, these are guys who will be backups for a couple of years but have the skills to be solid NFL starters some day — and contributors to fantasy teams.
Colt McCoy: Seems to be the Browns’ QB of the future, with only Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace ahead of him. Has talent and skill set to succeed in West Coast offense.
Golden Tate: Playmaker on a team without any of those. Should be #3 WR on team right away, with starting potential at some point.
Charles Scott: Backup to LeSean McCoy at first, will go through some growing pains until he learns to block — a prerequisite in the Andy Reid offense. Really strong, and should fill the old Correll Buckhalter role on the Eagles.
Tim Tebow: We all know the story, and I think he needs at least two years of grooming by one of the great QB gurus in the game — Josh McDaniels — before he’s game ready. Don’t think he’ll ever set the world on fire again, but could be solid player.
James Starks: Green Bay had backup RB worries all last year, and Starks should be the guy this year. But he won’t have real fantasy value until Ryan Grant leaves town. He’s a good receiver who runs with both power and finesse.
Zac Robinson: The Patriots rolled the dice last year by only having Brian Hoyer as Tom Brady’s backup. Zac Robinson’s better than Hoyer, and should be their #2 right away. Then he’s only a heartbeat away from Gisele –I mean, the starting QB job on the high-octane Patriots.
John Skelton: He’s a very raw but high-ceiling QB prospect on a team that may or may not be sold on Matt Leinart as its starting QB. Leinart’s a restricted FA in 2012, and that’s when Skelton may be ready to fly. And he has the skills to be an excellent starter if given the chance.
Dimitri Nance: We saw Michael Turner wear down last year after his 400-carry season in 2008. To lighten the wear on him, Nance will be a good choice. And since power backs like Turner wear out their time in the league pretty fast, Nance should see meaningful time fairly early in his career. Think Shonn Greene with slightly less power but slightly better receiving skills.
David Reed: The Ravens are still unsure if Derrick Mason’s coming back in 2010, and with only Anquan Boldin as sure-fire target on the team, Reed could make fairly immediate impact. Is similar to Boldin in that he has good hands and concentration and knows how to take a hit, but doesn’t have great speed.
Because this draft was so stacked with talent, it was inevitable that some players wouldn’t get a shot at a team — either by being drafted or signing as an undrafted free agent (UDFA). Here are some of the players to watch if they should get picked up this offseason.
Roy Upchurch: Displays both power and 3rd-down ability. Protects ball well and lowers pads to deliver a hit instead of taking one. Good vision, acceleration and speed. Great stop-and-start ability for the size. Reminds me of Bernard Scott. Needs to get stronger lower body to be able to move pile and improve his blocking leverage.
Danario Alexander: Great size. Good speed. Has good vision after the catch, running smoothly. Shows good effort and hands on outside routes, though his concentration lapses over the middle and he seems to shy away from contact. Needs to learn to use his size to be more physical. Is a long strider who has trouble making crisp cuts, running routes and gaining separation. Has had three knee surgeries and is coming off a postseason injury.
LaMarcus Coker: Coker was my deep sleeper pick of the draft a couple of months ago, but it looks like teams were more leery of his background than I expected. He’s super fast and very elusive and has OK size.
Damola Adeniji: Great size. Very good hands and good speed. Productive in bowl game. Strong and doesn’t go down with first contact.
Greg Bolling: Tough receiver with good speed. Presents good red-zone target.
Gerald Baptiste: Possession receiver with average size. Good speed. Good change of direction. Good hands in traffic. Saints have shown interest.
Joe Cox: Ran a pro-style offense at Georgia. Accurate on short and intermediate throws. Has good touch. Doesn’t have great arm strength. Has long windup. Not a pressure performer.
LaRon Council: In Cactus Bowl, was game’s best rusher, with 55 yards on 10 attempts. Also an effective receiver, with 26 yards on 2 catches. Good stiff-arm and nice quickness to outside, though he was primarily an inside runner. Average speed, but very good vision. Strong lower body and keeps feet moving after contact. Good hands as receiver. Average upper-body strength.