We’ve had tons of questions on the forum regarding player availability and/or expectations at various spots in the first couple of rounds. It’s important to start thinking about this now, because the draft picks you own may not have a higher value than they do today. Many coaches who have no draft picks right now will likely overpay right now to feel part of the process. If you don’t have a general idea of who could be available at your spot, it’s hard to field any offers wisely. Those picks will likely lose a little value when some high caliber players go to some less than high caliber destinations.
As a side note, this is my own personal opinion on value in a non-PPR league, with 6 pts for TDs, regardless of position. I’ve been spending the past two months combing over stats, video clips, measureables and using my own formula for success based on both fantasy and NFL Draft trends to come up with this pre-draft list. Does that mean it’s better than yours? No. However, I can promise you it comes with a lot of work behind it. I’m confident it’s as good a measuring stick as you’ll find out there. These rankings will change a little after the draft, but I would caution everyone out there not to make too many changes and be too impulsive after the draft. Talent tends to always win out in the end.
1. Ryan Mathews RB Fresno State
Possible Destinations: SD, HOU, CLE, NE
I’m comfortable having Mathews in the top spot because I believe he has the lowest floor of the top three players. While CJ Spiller and Dez Bryant could have higher ceilings, I believe in what I see with Mathews. He has a great combination of speed, size and balance. He also is the best of the “every down backs” in this class.
2. CJ Spiller RB Clemson
Possible Destinations: SF, CLE, JAX, SEA
Spiller is dynamic – there’s no doubting that. However, I believe Spiller may be one of those better “real players” than “fantasy players.” He’ll be a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball, but I doubt his ability to carry a full load. He’s one of those players who would give you a five game scoring stretch of 10, 5, 25, 9, 15. It’s going to be awfully hard to rely on him as a RB1. There’s been a lot of speculation that he’s the next Chris Johnson and not the next Reggie Bush. I see him somewhere in between.
3. Dez Bryant WR Oklahoma State
Possible Destinations: CLE, JAX, SEA, DEN, MIA
The enigma that is Dez has sparked more debate on our message boards than anyone else in draft history. My concern with him has nothing to do with his off-field issues. I think he’s a good kid who’s had a hard life. The trouble I have with Dez is having a year off from football followed by a very average pro day, coupled with no combine activity. I don’t put too much stock in pro days, but he was unprepared, and that tells me he may not be a hard worker. He has all the talent in the world, but I wonder what happens when he’s challenged early in camp. He may have to work harder than ever to get himself back into shape and the spotlight is going to be on him 24/7. I’m not confident enough to move him up the board…but not obtuse enough to move him down too far, either.
4. Jahvid Best RB California
Possible Destinations: DET, CLE, NE, SD
Best has an enormous amount of natural talent, and he’s the last of the four players I list who I could justify taking first overall. As a PAC-10 football viewer, I’ve seen enough of Best the past few years to make me believe in him. However, his knack for injuries is concerning. You could make an argument that he’s the most talented offensive player in the draft, but I’d pause taking him too high. In fact, I actually believe he’d be a BETTER fantasy player if he goes to a team like New England instead of a team like Detroit – they wouldn’t force him to do more than he should and that would protect his explosiveness and limit his exposure to injury.
5. Jonathan Dwyer RB Georgia Tech
Possible Destinations: SD, HOU, CLE, SEA
Dwyer starts the 2nd tier of players in my mind. Questions about him are more prevalent than answers. He put up monster numbers again this year in the triple option Tech offense, but that simply doesn’t translate to sure things at the NFL level. Dwyer’s value is as closely tied to his destination as any player on the board. If he goes to a team like Seattle, Houston or San Diego, I like him quite a bit. Otherwise, I could see him slip as many as 3 or 4 spots on this list.
6. Sam Bradford QB Oklahoma
Possible Destinations: STL, CLE (via trade)
Bradford’s shoulder seems to have checked out fine and he put up some crazy numbers behind that offensive line two years ago. The pause I have with him is pretty easy – the last two times he’s been hit, he was out for an extended period of time. In leagues where TDs are 4 pts, I’d probably put Bradford around 8th or 9th on the list. He’s still a solid first rounder, though.
7. Demaryius Thomas WR Georgia Tech
Possible Destinations: BAL, JAX, TEN, DAL
Thomas has a high ceiling, no doubt. His floor is pretty much basement level, too. I can’t recall any player’s draft perception rising this much when the player being evaluated couldn’t even work out. We THINK he’s fast. We THINK he can run routes. We THINK he can make the transition to a pro style offense. Thing is, nobody knows. Remember last year when DHB had some pretty good measurables, but not great stats? That didn’t turn out too hot. Those perceived to be “in the know” say his talent rivals Calvin Johnson’s. I doubt that, but that makes me wonder.
8. Toby Gerhart RB Stanford
Possible Destinations: SD, HOU, BUF, CLE
I’ve seen enough of Gerhart to believe in his ability as well. Those who believe he’ll have an inability to make people miss haven’t stayed up past 11ET. His limitation is the fact he’ll likely only be a 1st and 2nd down back. I don’t believe he’ll be only a short yardage guy, however.
9. Jimmy Clausen QB Notre Dame
Possible Destinations: CLE, BUF, MIN, KC
I believe that Suntan Man’s leadership ability is pretty sound. All this talk about his in ability to lead others seems to be overblown. I am very curious to see what happens if he goes to a real losing situation, though. I think he’d be best served sliding in the draft and learning behind Favre in Minnesota, Brady in New England, or Manning in Indianapolis. I doubt it happens, but we’ll see soon enough.
10. Jermaine Gresham TE Oklahoma
Possible Destinations: BAL, CIN, NE
Gresham could be a real weapon, cut right from the Jermichael Finley mold. He’s had TWO major knee injuries, but he’s going to be really good, especially in heavy TD leagues. Remember, he was a top-5 or top-10 NFL pick before his injury last year.
The second ten I have pre-ranked have some pretty big question marks as well, but I also believe this may be the year where a player in the 2nd ten ends up being the best player of the bunch. Hardesty, Tate and Dixon could easily bust into the top-10 if they end up in a good spot like Houston, San Diego, or New England.
11. Arrelious Benn WR Illinois
12. Montario Hardesty RB Tennessee
13. Ben Tate RB Auburn
14. Anthony Dixon RB Mississippi State
15. Dexter McCluster RB Ole Miss
16. Golden Tate WR Notre Dame
17. Colt McCoy QB Texas
18. Joe McKnight RB USC
19. LeGarrette Blount RB Oregon
20. Tim Tebow QB Florida
Just missed: Brandon LaFell, Mardy Gilyard, Dan LeFevour, Tony Pike, Damian Williams, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Eric Decker, James Starks.
Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK