It’s been 125 days since the 2004 draft has ended; as everyone waits in anticipation to see how the fiasco of the draft will best get him or her to the trophy and the bragging rights until next season.
The rookie class typically has many reaches for the current fantasy year, but spotting talent now can pay big dividends in keeper’s leagues. As everyone probably knows, being great in college almost never translates to immediate success in the NFL, and sometimes no success at all. If you have any doubts, just ask Ron Dayne, Peter Warrick, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Ki-Jana Carter. We will examine some of the players I think will have some immediate impact, some which should be selected in later rounds for future value, and the others that you should leave for others to draft while you pick up some late round backups.
Who’s the Man?
Eli Manning – After the well publicized draft fiasco, Eli seems to be in the news almost every day. After the first two preseason games, he seemed poised to take over the starting job posting an efficient 16/28 for 208 yards, and showing poise in the pocket. He also showed a knowledge of the offense that seemed well ahead of the pack. However, in game three he had a setback going 4/14 for only 20 yards and two picks, and Kurt Warner looked like the calm, prepared starting QB that most expected him to be. I feel unless there is a miracle there is no way Manning will start week 1, and unless the Giants completely struggle with Warner he may not see action until after the bye week in Week 6. Due to the uncertainty, his fantasy value is only in keeper leagues, and he is a late rounder at best at this point. If the Giants throw him to the wolves, expect him to continue to struggle as teams like the Eagles throw everything but the kitchen sink at him when the regular season starts.
Take me to the River:
Philip Rivers– Rivers decided to take most of training camp off in a holdout, looking for number one money before he took up with the team. His rust was evident as he went 5/14 and 79 yards with two throws that ended up in defender’s hands. He is definitely the future of the team, but not yet. I don’t think the Chargers are ready to turn him into another Drew Brees, so most likely he will sit for a while, primed for a mid season entry. Much like the debated Manning, he will struggle this year and only has value in keeper leagues. He can probably go undrafted at this point, waiting to see how he performs before adding him to a roster.
Show me the Benjamins:
Ben Rothlisberger – Ben gets the award for the longest name in the rookie class, and also for the most impressive showing in three games. There is little doubt that he will sit all of 2004, unless an injury takes Maddox down. He may get some late mop up duty, but is of no value this season. In three preseason games, he has posted 23/39 for 290 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. Some of his throws have been rushed a bit, but he shows a leadership quality that the veterans respect. He has good command of the huddle and after he learns the offense he will live up to the hype. He has also shown his strength to avoid pressure and throw with confidence outside the pocket. If Pittsburgh’s offensive line struggles this season as it did last year, I doubt the Steelers will risk their quarterback of the future. Count on him getting similar treatment to Carson Palmer, and draft him late for keeper leagues.
Lets pile up the Wins:
Kellen Winslow – After a holdout and a long ego trip, Winslow finally has come to show whether or not he can live up to the hype. I must say I didn’t have warm fuzzies about him coming out of Miami, because I didn’t think he had enough bulk to play in the NFL at tight end. The more I thought though the more I think he resembles Tony G. in some important aspects. He runs the field well, and will create match-up problems at 6’4″, 250. He has the speed to blow away LBs and the size and strength to muscle away from SSs. His skills are as pure as anyone at the position, and will take just a little time to be considered a top three TE, if not number 1. If he doesn’t have injury issues like Shockey, he could be an arguable number one in the next two years. Though I feel he will be a top five tight end in the league this year, he will have to bite the bullet and develop his blocking skills off the line to help in the running game. Jeff Garcia will find solace in having a safety valve like Winslow, as he will be running for his life behind a patchwork front line. I have a real problem drafting TEs before round six, and he should be available there in most leagues.
About to give defenses Fitz:
Larry Fitzgerald – This kid has the ability to catch every ball thrown in his direction, and the most pure talent since Randy Moss came out of Marshall. He had some trouble separating and dominating against solid defenses in Miami and Va Tech. He is an outstanding route runner and has the big play ability. With the loss of Anquan Boldin until who knows when (probably mid season) he has positioned himself to be the number one in Arizona. The only problem is, he’s in Arizona. An unproven quarterback and suspect running game will mean tighter coverage that will force him to step up. His time to shine will be the first half of the season, and he has the ability to perform like Boldin did in 2003. He has been hampered by a foot injury, which will keep him out of the preseason, but the upside is tremendous. The team will undoubtedly be far behind in many games, benefiting the passing games, I would recommend him for an easy eighth round pick as a WR3, and a no brainer for keepers. Any earlier than that will be a reach.
Where there’s a Will there’s a way
Roy Williams– Roy is a big play wide receiver from my home state of Texas. He has blazing speed and average strength, and will be a burner and big play guy. Williams has great hands but the questions that plague him are about his durability and strength. I think he will serve an adjustment period with the physical corners that are in the league, especially since the entire division is built around stopping Randy Moss. I have a feeling that he will see a lot of single coverage in Detroit, since Charles Rogers is on the other side and Hakim will be in the slot in 3 WR sets. Despite a talent level near Fitzgerald’s, he is not as far along as Fitz overall.
Keeping up with the Jones’
Kevin Jones – He is in the best position to make an immediate impact, even though he has Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson in the backfield as well. At 5-11 and 220 he fits Mariucci’s scheme well, as a versatile back that can carry and catch. He will not see many third down opportunities based on his lack of experience, but I can definitely see 15 carries a game and a thousand yards this season with six touchdowns, barring injury. I have a feeling the Lions are going to surprise some people this year. I really see him in as a solid number three, maybe even a two in deeper leagues. If you expect this guy to still be around after round four or five in a twelve-team league, your either playing with mental patients or you are one. After the premier backs are gone, grab this guy.
Julius Jones – People were really doting on this guy until Eddie George was signed. My first question is, so what? Eddie brings experience, but a career 3.7 a carry back whose best days are behind him is not going to fly with Parcells. Even though he has started every game in his previous eight years, he certainly hasn’t finished them all. He simply doesn’t have the burst to the hole like before. The rookie has impressed Bill and he has shown why in preseason, averaging 5.1 per carry and a touchdown against Oakland. The forgone conclusion that George is the starter is far overstated in my opinion, and I think you can consider the same role for Julius as Kevin’s in Detroit. He should be considered in the third or fourth tier running backs and should be gone by the late fourth or early fifth round. He lags slightly behind Kevin because of the presence of George.
Greg Jones – Greg’s season is not nearly as bright as the others, currently buried at number 3 behind LaBrandon Toefield for the backup spot to Fred Taylor. We all know how important this spot can be, based on Taylor’s history. Jones may very well get the spot since Jack Del Rio has been frustrated with Toefield’s inability to be on the field in preseason due to an ankle injury. At 6-1 250 Jones is much different than Taylor as a shifty back, Jones will straight run you over. The best comparison I can make is to Herschel Walker, or more lately Jerome Bettis. He has a little trouble turning the corner and is better suited to straight downhill, between the tackles type of running. When he gets through the hole he can put a hurt on you and has a surprising second gear in the open field. He will suffer a bit in this respect since the Jags line is not the best in the NFL and will be incapable of giving him the best opportunity to be successful. Currently, I would consider him as a last round pick as a stretch, because if Taylor goes down and Toefield is healthy he will still split carries and teams will stack against him with eight man fronts.
The rookie class of 2004 will bring some future stars and undoubtedly some future busts. This group has the potential to be fantasy stars, we may just have to wait to see them produce on our rosters.