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The Fire Sale: Post-Draft Breakdown

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The NFL Draft is in the books, and that means the end of all my beloved “reports.” There is nothing better than when a media member comes out with some ridiculous report like there is a 60/40 chance that a team will draft a quarterback. Really? So in other words, you have no idea, either?

Listen, no one knows anything when it comes to the draft, and if they do have information it is given out by the team as misinformation. When I worked for the New England Patriots, everyone was banned from the football offices two weeks before the draft. If you were seen in the football offices you got fired. If you were lost and just happened to wander in there, fired. If someone needed medical attention and you knew CPR, fired. So trust me, no one knows anything when it comes to the draft. That is why Ryan Nassib went in Round 4 instead of No. 8 overall to the Buffalo Bills.

I wrote my pre-draft column about the guys I liked and didn’t like. This column will have a bit of overlap but now it is more about the players who went to the best situations for fantasy success. For example, my favorite player in this draft was Montee Ball. Ironically, the guy I loved last year was Ronnie Hillman.

Well, now they are on the same team with 10 other running backs and some guy named Peyton Manning, who I hear likes to throw the ball sometimes. So while I still love Ball, I don’t like coach John Fox or the situation he is in for immediate fantasy success. I would recommend Ball much more in a dynasty league format than re-draft leagues.
 
Below are the players I have going up and coming down following the draft. Remember, this is based on my draft board. Yes, I have a draft board. I have had a draft board since I was 12. I may not be right all the time, but those of you who have been following me for a long time know I have given you my fair share of Eric Decker’s, Stevan Ridley’s and Priest Holmes’ over the years immediately following the draft. Hopefully I can uncover one or two more fantasy gems this year.
 
Now on with The Fire Sale

Going Up

Stedman Bailey, WR, St. Louis – I said in my pre-draft Fire Sale that Bailey was one of my favorite players in this year’s draft, and if I was writing a script for where I wanted him to go to make an immediate impact, St. Louis would have been the place. If you are too lazy to click on the link above, here is some of what I wrote about Bailey last month:

The other thing I really like about Bailey is the quality of his catches. He made a ton of big receptions for West Virginia on key third downs to keep drives alive, so that tells me he is the kind of receiver that a quarterback will learn to trust quickly in the NFL.
 
As a matter of fact, according to STATS ICE, Bailey made more "clutch receptions" in 2012 than any top draft-eligible receiver that saw a minimum of 100 targets. Clutch receptions are defined as a catch that went as a first down or score. Bailey had 72 clutch receptions out of 148 targets (48.6 percent), so he made the most out his opportunities in college.
 
I like to compare draft prospects to NFL players, and Bailey reminds me of a more talented version of the New York Giants’ Steve Smith before he was injured. I think Bailey can come in and have that kind of productive NFL career, only he has more big-play ability than Smith, so he will find the end zone with greater frequency.
 

Now fantasy owners are going to be drooling over Tavon Austin and I am not saying he won’t have a huge impact. The Rams can do a lot with Austin, like put him in the backfield and move him all over at receiver. However, if we are talking purely receiver right now, I think Bailey is more prepared to produce in the NFL. Again, I am not saying Austin will not be a fantasy factor, I am saying it will be close between the two and you can bet it will not be close on where they get selected come draft day.

Sam Bradford has been dying for a guy he can deliver the ball to on third downs and in crucial situations. Now he has that guy in Bailey. We all make predictions before the draft, but the key is after the draft once we know where players land. Like I said, my two favorite players in this class were Ball and Bailey, but, at the end of the day, Bailey went to a place where he has a much better chance to be an instant fantasy factor.
 
I love what the Rams have done overall with their offense. They selected Brian Quick last year, who I still like, along with Chris Givens. They signed Jared Cook, who was the most underused player in the league last year because Chris Palmer had no business running an NFL offense. Now they add Austin and Bailey to that group. I really like where this offense is heading.
 
I have Bailey rated as one of the top fantasy rookies going into the 2013 season. I thought he was the most NFL-ready receiver in the draft and he went to a team where he can step in and contribute right away. It will not take him long to make an impact. Bailey should be a steal in fantasy drafts (he will likely even go undrafted in most leagues) unless he blows up in the preseason. Go get him.
 
Zac Stacy, RB, St. Louis – I am going to stay in St. Louis with the guy I thought may have been the best pick in the draft when you factor in talent, opportunity and where he was taken. Like Bailey, Stacy is coming into a situation where he does not have a lot in front of him and where he can carve out a role right away.

Last season the Rams selected Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead. Richardson played well in backing up Steven Jackson and Pead is expected to take on a bigger role this season, but neither is a pounder between the tackles and that is where Stacy excels.

I was looking at this Rams’ backfield before the draft and trying to figure out who was going to run the ball inside now that Jackson is gone. Not many teams ran the ball between the tackles more than St. Louis last year. I do like what I saw from Richardson but he is not going to make his money hammering the ball inside. That is why I think this is a situation to watch in training camp. I believe Stacy has a shot to get a lot of carries right away.
 
Stacy is not big in terms of height (5-foot-8, 216 pounds) but he is built like a tank. He runs with a lot of power and his legs are like tree trunks. If you watched him in the SEC, most of his runs came between the tackles, and you may have heard a lot of the guys that play defensive line in the SEC move onto the NFL. I had Stacy as one of my top sleepers this year, and, like Bailey, I was thrilled when he ended up with the Rams. This is the perfect spot for him.

Obviously we will need to watch Stacy’s progress in training camp and during the preseason, because, regardless of how things shake out, the Rams backfield will start out the year as a committee. However, I believe Stacy will begin the year in the mix for carries, and, if I am right, he is the guy you want to own long-term.

Out of the three candidates in St. Louis, Stacy is the one most likely to carry the load more and more as the season goes on. I predict at some point during the year Stacy will be the Rams’ starting running back. Time will tell if I am right.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati –
Again, I am sticking to my theme that combines talent with opportunity, and not many players landed in a better spot to make a fantasy splash than Bernard.
 
BenJarvus Green-Ellis has what I coined back in the day as “Ron Daye Syndrome.” What that means is Green-Ellis can run over bad defenses but when he goes up against a good rush defense, he does not stand much of a chance. You all know what I mean. Pit Green-Ellis against the San Francisco 49ers and you are looking at 17 carries for 32 yards. So while Green-Ellis’ starting job is safe for now, I expect the versatile Bernard to see the field a lot as a rookie.

Oh, and did I mention Green-Ellis has about as many career receptions as Mike Vrabel? The guy is basically non-existent on passing downs, and that is an area where Bernard excels. I mean even last year at times it was like the Bengals were dying for another back to step up so they could find a way to reduce Green-Ellis’ workload. I know he had a strong end to the season, but that is when Green-Ellis was playing dog defenses. I could have run through the Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles.

I don’t know if Bernard will ever be an every down back but he certainly has the ability to be a difference maker. The guy is explosive out in space and can make things happen as both a receiver and return man. In other words, the Bengals will find a role for him and they will find one for him right away.

I would strongly recommend Bernard in a dynasty format. In re-draft leagues I don’t always believe in handcuffs, but if you draft Green-Ellis this year, make sure you try and get this dynamic rookie on your roster as insurance. I really like this kid.
 
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston – I don’t understand why the Texans drafted a receiver. I mean isn’t Kevin Walter good enough? Seriously, it has only been 20 years. Are they sure they don’t want to give Walter one more chance to prove he is not a complete waste of time as a No. 2 NFL receiver?
 
Houston finally parted ways with Walter and mercifully drafted some help for Andre Johnson. Not only that, they selected my top-rated receiver in this draft class. I know Sammy Watkins got all the love at Clemson (and he is a stud), but in this draft I thought Hopkins was the best overall receiver available.

Different people have different things they like about players, but, when it comes to receivers, I look for guys who know how to use their bodies and can go up and get the football. When you watch Hopkins play he does both of those things very well.

Larry Fitzgerald is probably the best in the NFL at both of those skills, and Hopkins has a little Fitzgerald in him with the way he snags the ball out of the air. The reason I like those traits from a receiver is because they do not need to be wide open to make a play. Hopkins can be covered like a blanket and still come down with the football.
 
Obviously everyone outside of the Texans’ organization knew they needed another receiver for years now but I thought it was paramount they get one this offseason. I don’t think they can go to the playoffs and beat the better teams in the AFC by just running bootlegs and throwing to tight ends. They need another playmaker on that offense and they got one in Hopkins.
 
Talking in terms of fantasy football, this is the one rookie I will really be eyeing. I mean I can get Bailey if I want him and guys like that, but Hopkins will be a hot name this summer and for good reason. I think he is going to have a huge rookie season.
 
I’m always asked about which rookies to target so I will make it easy. My top rookie sleeper in re-draft leagues is Stedman Bailey because he will be going late in drafts or not being selected at all and I think he will catch 60 balls. My top overall rookie is DeAndre Hopkins. He is the one rookie I would really try to get. I think Hopkins is going to be the rookie people watch this year and go “wow.” You usually want that guy on your fantasy team.
 
Deep Sleeper: Darius Johnson, WR, Atlanta – Those who follow me know I grew up a Southern Methodist/Oklahoma fan as a kid, so, like I did with Aldrick Robinson a couple of years ago, I have to mention Johnson, who I think will not only make the NFL but make an impact someday.
 
Southern Methodist coach June Jones called Johnson one of the best receivers he has ever coached, and if you have never seen him play there is a reason for the high praise. Johnson reminds me a lot of Victor Cruz, another guy who did not get drafted. Now, Johnson is on the small side at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, so he will be relegated to the slot in the NFL, but you will not find a receiver who runs better routes or accelerates out of breaks much better than Johnson does.
 
The two reasons I think Johnson is being overlooked is because of his size and the fact that Jones simply has not been able to find a quarterback to lead his Run-n-Shoot offense at Southern Methodist. Garrett Gilbert transferred from Texas and was supposed to be the savior, but he was miserable last season. Johnson still put up solid numbers but the erratic Southern Methodist quarterbacks routinely missed him when he was open. If Johnson had played with a quarterback like Colt Brennan in college he would have put up eye-popping numbers in Jones’ offense.

Johnson obviously will not make an impact this year with the Falcons because they are loaded on offense. However, Atlanta does not really have a slot receiver and Tony Gonzalez will be retiring soon (we think). If Johnson can make the team, he has a shot to find a role in 2014.
 
Again, this is a deep sleeper, so Johnson is just a guy to watch at this point, but I believe he has the skills to play in the NFL.



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