2008 represented a tremendous year for rookies in terms of fantasy football. I know because I rode 2 of them (Chris Johnson and Matt Forte) to a league championship. What will the draft class of 2009 have in store for fantasy owners come this fall? Personally, I don’t believe that this years class is talented as last years but time will tell. The following represent my preliminary takes regarding the 2009 draft class:
–Matthew Stafford QB (DET)
What kind of pro QB will Stafford be? Will he be like Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco or will his fate be more similar to Tim Couch or Joey Harrington? Fantasy owners likely won’t have a chance to find out next season. Although Lions coach Jim Schwartz said he will keep an open mind in the battle for the top spot on the depth chart, more than likely Daunte Culpepper will be the starting QB for Detroit when they open the season against the Saints in the Superdome September, 13th. That scenario doesn’t allow Stafford much of a chance to make an impact in fantasy circles. Moreover, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he comes out and has any value as a rookie. Ryan and Flacco were both fifth-year seniors coming out of college and possessed much more maturity heading into the NFL than the underclassman Stafford does. Stafford’s value will be limited to keeper and dynasty leagues on fantasy Draft Day.
–Knowshon Moreno RB (DEN)
Searching for 2009’s top fantasy rookie? Well, look no further than Moreno. Moreno is by far the most talented running back in the 2009 class and I expect him to come right in and become the starter for the Broncos. Although, the Broncos did add several veteran RB’s this past off season none of them have nearly the same talent as Moreno. I see Moreno as a No. 3 fantasy runner in 2009 with potential for more. However, because of the depth the Broncos have at the position, the former Bulldog is more likely to be seen as a viable flex starter in most drafts. Obviously, he’s also a tremendous option in keeper and dynasty leagues.
–Chris “Beanie” Wells RB (AZ)
The Arizona Cardinals took the Ohio State power back with their first round selection, setting up an interesting depth chart battle this summer. Most pundits believe that Wells is the 2nd best RB prospect in the draft behind Moreno. Furthermore, Wells is a definite upgrade over Tim Hightower and I expect Wells to emerge atop the team’s depth chart as a rookie leaving Hightower to serve as third-down back for the defending NFC champions. Whoever gets the goal line carries will obviously hold more fantasy value than the other but right now I see Wells as the better option in seasonal and keeper leagues. Both Wells and Moreno will have difficulty reaching the standards set by Johnson, Forte and Slaton from a year ago.
–Michael Crabtree WR (SF)
The Raiders loss is the 49ers gain. After the Raiders passed on Crabtree you know SF would eat him right up and they did. Crabtree was hailed as the top wideout in the draft, and he will undoubtedly have a chance to start as a rookie under coach Mike Singletary. The Niners are looking to be will a run-first team this year, however, so fantasy owners need to keep that in mind heading into 2009. Still, he’ll still be worth a middle- to late-round pick in seasonal fantasy drafts and is quite capable of putting up some nice stats as a rookie.
–Percy Harvin WR/KR (MIN)
Percy Harvin still landed in the first round despite some “character” issues and will become a serious play maker for the Minnesota Vikings. Can you imagine the Vikings lining up Harvin and Peterson in the Wildcat? Harvin has immense speed and skills as a runner and receiver and I fully expect him to compete with Sidney Rice for the number 2 WR alongside Bernard Berrian. Due to his immense potential and explosiveness, Harvin will warrant a late-round flier in most fantasy drafts and surely will do some damage at some point for the Vikings. Moreover, Harvin instantly makes the Vikings DST even better than they were last year.
–Jeremy Maclin WR (PHI)
The Eagles finally gave Donovan McNabb some weapons. Maclin has immense speed and can stretch defenses in the vertical pass attack. Furthermore, he was an absolute steal where the Eagles got him. After watching an Eagle rookie WR make an impact last year there is nothing to say Maclin cannot do the same. Look for Maclin to be a late round pick this summer and I fully expect him to make some big plays for McNabb and the Eagles this fall.
–Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton OT (JAX)
Sure, offensive linemen aren’t drafted in fantasy football, but that doesn’t make them any less important to your team’s success. Injuries absolutely decimated the Jaguars offensive line last season and was the predominant reason the team failed to make the playoffs after a very successful 2007 season. The Jags want to get back to Jag football so it was no surprise to see the team land both OT Eugene Monroe in Round 1 AND Eben Britton in round 2. The acquisition of both Monroe and Britton will only make Maurice Jones Drew more attractive in fantasy drafts. Look for MJD to be a top 5 pick this summer.
–Jason Smith OT (STL)
The addition Smith is a real positive for the value of RB Steven Jackson. Now it is up to Jackson to stay healthy and produce the numbers that fantasy owners have been yearning from him for years. With a new defensive minded head coach the Rams want to run the ball and feature Jackson in their backfield, and Smith’s presence will be huge in making the ground attack effective. Furthermore, the Rams also added FB Mike Karney this off season. As I mentioned it is now all up to Jackson to achieve his potential. He will surely go in the first round again this year. Time will tell if he is worth it.
–Mark Sanchez QB (NYJ)
Mark Sanchez was the hottest name in the 2009 class in the days before the draft and after the Jets pursuit of Brett Favre last year it was no surprise that the Jets traded two draft picks and three players to move up and select him. Alth0ugh Sanchez has started a mere 16 games at the collegiate level, he could very well wind up starting for new coach Rex Ryan when the Jets open their season. In fact, Ryan has told the media that Sanchez will in fact compete for the top spot with Kellen Clemens. Personally, I don’t see Sanchez making any noise this year as a rookie and would avoid him on draft day except in keeper and dynasty leagues.
–Kenny Britt WR (TN)
The Titans have been desperate for WR’s in recent years and hope they have found their number 1 with Kenny Britt out of Rutgers. Coach Jeff Fisher told the media that he wants to get Britt onto the field as soon as possible, so don’t be shocked to see him starting on opening day. The Titans also signed former Steeler Nate Washington this off season so it could be difficult for Britt to make a significant fantasy impact in what will remain a run-based offense with Chris Johnson and Lendale White. He is definitely a player to watch in the preseason, but more than likely won’t have more than late-round value in seasonal formats.
–Darius Heyward-Bey WR (OAK)
Being a huge Raider fan I was upset but not at all shocked at this move. It is clear at this point that Al Davis values pure speed more than any other attribute. Was Jerry Rice fast? Is Larry Fitzgerald a burner? The answer to both of these questions is no but one was the best there ever was and one is the best presently. However, with no clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver on the Raiders roster, Heyward-Bey will warrant late-round consideration in seasonal fantasy drafts and will have ample balls thrown to him this fall. Time will tell how this all works out and Heyward-Bey and Crabtree will be forever linked.
–Donald Brown RB (IND)
Donald Brown will immediately be thrown into the mix with the Colts and that spells good news for fantasy owners who draft him this summer. I have never really been sold on Joseph Addai and I don’t think the Colts are either. Although, new Head Coach Jim Caldwell told the media that Addai will remain the team’s No. 1 back, owners should definitely expect a committee situation to evolve in Indy. Addai should receive more carries, but any kind of platoon hurts his value in both seasonal and keeper leagues. Addai is no more than a No. 2 back in fantasy circles. As for Brown, he’ll be worth a middle- to late-round selection and is a must for anyone drafting Addai.
In summary, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact these and the entire 2009 rookie class will have on the 2009 NFL season. They have large shoes to fill on account of last year.
Cheers and Beers