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Draft Recap

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As predicted, the 2013 NFL draft was filled with obscurities. For example, the first time in 50 years not a single running back was selected in the first round. Three of the top four picks, and eight of the Top 20 were offensive linemen, both NFL records. It’s been 11 years since only one quarterback was taken in round one ( E.J. Manuel). All told, only five “skill players” were selected in the opening round.

So what does it all mean for fantasy owners? Simply put, we should expect a reduced number of rookie breakouts in 2013. But, although we lack volume, history has proven that every season there are a handful of rookies capable of becoming key contributors on our run to glory. Here are a group of rookies who will likely be climbing in the ranks as we progress through the offseason workouts.

Tavon Austin, WR, St. Louis

I realize Tavon Austin in the obvious choice, but he’s obvious for good reason. The rookie out of West Virginia skyrocketed up draft boards after being widely compared to Percy Harvin. Austin has earned his praise possessing the “it factor” as a dynamic slot receiver. He’s elusive, has great vision, excellent hands and kick returner talent to break a bubble screen into a long touchdown. On the downside, the Rams have done little to bolster their porous offensive line, which inhibits the production of every offensive player. But Austin should lead this team in targets by seasons end giving him the potential to become a low-end WR2.

Aaron Dobson, WR, New England

Let’s review the facts. Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd are gone. Rob Gronkowski (broken arm) and Aaron Hernandez (shoulder) could be in street clothes Week 1, leaving the often-injured Danny Amendola as the Patriots’ lone weapon. Enter Aaron Dobson. At 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Dobson has the straight line speed and physical attributes to be a playmaker. When we also factor Tom Brady’s arm talent and the sheer number of targets shelled out in the Patriots offense, Dobson should have enough opportunity to be an impact player. As of right now he’s a late-round flyer, but a solid preseason will send his fantasy draft value climbing.

Montee Ball, RB, Denver

Since the hiring of John Fox, the Broncos have been looking for answers at the running back position. Willis McGahee was brought in as a stop-gap, but age and injuries are mounting. About this time last year we were reading about Ronnie Hillman becoming the new Broncos starter, but he didn’t have the power to be an every down thumper. Knowshon Moreno has flashed brilliance, but he too succumbed to his injury prone status. With Ball, the Broncos have a proven starter with an array of skills to be successful. As a full time starter at Wisconsin, Ball produced a whopping 3,753 yards over the past two seasons and 61 touchdowns. Many will knock Ball for his lack of size, but, given the prolific Denver passing game, no defense will be able to load the box. Ball will be given every opportunity to compete for this job, and playing alongside Peyton Manning gives him high upside as a potential mid-RB2.

Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay

As the lead pony on the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, Lacy was the most hyped running back in this year’s draft class. He’s a powerful downhill runner who plays behind his pads, has shown solid hands and a great spin move for a big man. Lacy’s sheer size should earn the role of goal line running back, and we know how many times the Packers see the goal line. A knock on many rookies is a lack of pass blocking abilities, as Lacy has been criticized in the past. Recent reports also surfaced that Lacy has a “fused toe,” causing many teams to remove the Alabama star from their draft boards (most notably was the Denver Broncos). Let’s not forget the Packers have been a notorious running back by committee team in the past, and Cedric Benson is still on the roster. Given the value of the running back position, Lacy will be hyped in fantasy circles, and likely overdrafted somewhere in the late second round. Nonetheless, this list wouldn’t be complete without mention.

Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis

Like many forward thinkers, for the past two years Jeff Fisher has been forecasting the impending release of Steven Jackson. Need proof? In the second round of the 2012 draft, the Rams selected Isaiah Pead as a possible incumbent to Jackson. Pead proved to be on the small side, lacking the power to gain tough yardage. In fact it was seventh rounder Daryl Richardson delivering a spark to the Rams offense as the compatriot to Jackson. But the departure of Jackson has left an opening for competition in the Rams’ backfield. As for Stacy, his career highlights include back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons on a weak Vanderbilt team playing in the monstrous SEC (talk about David and Goliath). Stacy is a powerful runner who grinds out tough yardage and isn’t afraid of contact. Like Tavon Austin mentioned above, the Rams offensive line will be a detriment. However, should Stacy wrangle the Rams’ starting job, he could become a high-RB3 with upside.