The following is a repost of our 2011 Draft – First Look article from earlier in December. Updated rankings will be done following the conclusion of all bowl games.
Fantasy playoffs are underway and for the lucky, the remaining games of 2010 still hold promise. Regardless of the performance your team has turned in as we near the end of the regular season, there is still work to be done. Whether a competing team or not, there is much to be gained by remaining a focused and dedicated fantasy coach. In the NFL, teams out of the playoff hunt turn to younger players in order to gauge future potential. There are always young players that emerge late in the season.
For all involved, there are few events that bring more excitement than the NFL draft. A high draft selection brings with it the hope of the next Adrian Peterson and possible championship contention while lower picks carry the excitement of adding much needed depth or a possibility of the next Frank Gore or Desean Jackson, previous 2nd round fantasy gems.
With the collective bargaining clouds looming, the 2011 NFL season is not guaranteed. The draft is sure to happen either way but certainly won’t carry the same excitement should the possibility of a lockout or NFLPA strike remain.
Early in 2010, I had high hopes for the 2011 rookie class. With such names as Jake Locker, Evan Royster and DeMarco Murray opting to return for their senior seasons, I believed that this relatively strong senior class would only add to the promising prospects of the junior class to make for a deep NFL draft. As it turns out, this has not been the case. In fact, as the college season progressed, I found my excitement for the class in significant decline.
The aforementioned would-be rookies all have fallen from grace, at least from the pedestal that I had them on. Locker’s and Royster’s numbers were far from impressive and Murray’s season was below expectations as well. Combine that with a running back class that looks far from dynamic and a wide receiver class that didn’t perform to expectations and I see a draft of significant risk and little excitement. In my view, the quarterback class has the most to offer and is headlined by signal callers of good size, strong arms and prototypical NFL characteristics. The wide receiver class is talented but far from proven.
Let’s take a brief look at my top five soon-to-be rookies within each of the three main positions:
#1 Andrew Luck , Stanford
6’4” 236 lbs.
Not much to say about Luck. He’s easily the top prospect, has prototypical everything and hopefully he’s learned from the recent mistakes of Matt Leinart, Brian Brohm and Jake Locker who all elected to come back for their senior seasons. 70% completion percentage is ridiculously good. QBs tend to fall on fantasy draft days, but Luck won’t.
#2 Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
6’6” 238 lbs.
If not for Luck, I would be saying much the same about Mallett. In fact, I still am. I like Mallett just a bit less than Luck but I wouldn’t object at all should I see Mallett higher on some boards. Big, great arm and good decision making make Mallett a solid prospect. He just keeps getting better.
#3 Cam Newton, Auburn
6’6” 250 lbs.
Newton needed a strong 2010 season and he rose to the challenge. Perhaps no player in college football made himself more money than Newton. While the bloom is a bit off the mobile QB in the NFL, Newton is far more than just a mobile QB. He increased his completion percentage a full 17 points, had a 28/6 TD/INT ratio and showed leadership in leading his Tigers to the championship game. He’s certain to be a first rounder as his talent grossly overshadows any potential maturity issues.
#4 Jake Locker, Washington
6’3” 226 lbs.
Oops. It’s hard to call any decision that results in finishing your degree a bad one, but when considering his future in the NFL, it was just that – a poor decision. Locker elected to return to the Huskies for his senior season and followed that up with a statistically sub-par year (compared to 2009) across the board. He’ll likely fall out of the first round but still has tremendous upside as a signal caller.
#5 Andy Dalton, TCU
6’3” 220 lbs.
A good looking QB that few are talking about. Dalton led his Horned Frogs to a very successful undefeated 2010 campaign and looked good doing it. Subtract out rushing stats and he and Auburn’s Cam Newton had statistically nearly identical years. I will be watching his combine performance and measurables closely as I don’t believe he will measure in at 6’3”.
#1 Mark Ingram, Alabama
5’10”, 215 lbs.
Ingram is the clear cut number one pick going into the draft. Unless you are ultra deep in the position, Ingram is the likely choice. I’m not as high on Ingram as many because he isn’t a dynamic back that does anything exceptionally well but he’s a good leader, has ideal size and has a NFL game.
#2 Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
6’2”, 228 lbs.
Many will call me out for my selection of Thomas over other such backs as DeMarco Murray, but I really like Thomas’s game. A relatively agile runner for his size, Thomas uses a largely downhill style to grind out yards. Not particularly punishing for his size and with more lateral mobility that one would expect, Thomas has a good NFL future in the right scheme. As big backs normally do, pad level is a concern and something that must be improved. To his credit though, Thomas exhibits great ball security.
#3 DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
Murray has never lived up to my expectations and remains an enigma. In his last two years as a starter, he averaged less than 4.5 ypc. and while he has shown flashes of that dynamic running style, not on a consistent basis. To his credit, he is very capable out of the backfield. Murray is one of those sleeper RBs that could fall in the draft but provide nice upside potential depending on his drafted situation.
#4 Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State.
5’8”, 197 lbs.
It’s not often that 5’8” RBs appear on my top five list but Hunter is an exception. A thickly built smaller back, Hunter runs with great lower body leverage, change of direction and purpose. His frame is one that should be able to add weight and he has the potential to more than just a one down role player. Hunter also possesses good hands out of the backfield, increasing his value.
#5 Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
6’1” 230 lbs.
6.0 ypc., physical and deceptively fast, Leshoure is quietly rising on draft boards. I think it’s likely that he’ll return for his senior season but 1500+ yards and 17 total TDs means that he’ll at least explore his draft potential. I’d like to see another year of him in college.
Just missed the cut: Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech.
#1 A.J. Green, Georgia
6’4”, 212 lbs.
Green is the real deal, far more than his numbers would project. Fast, rangy and with great hands, Green will easily be the first receiver off the board and should be selected in the top 10. I’ll be watching his 40 time closely but he should excel in the NFL regardless.
#2 Julio Jones, Alabama
6’4”, 220 lbs.
I’ve watched Jones now for two seasons and he continues to display NFL ability. Yet another big receiver, Jones put up his best numbers yet for the Crimson Tide, an offense that spreads the ball around. Jones is a sharp route runner and is physical off the line of scrimmage, two things that haven’t gone unnoticed by NFL brass. Jones is another sure-fire first round talent.
#3 Leonard Hankerson, Miami
6’3”, 205 lbs.
My top senior on the board, Hankerson is an exciting playmaking receiver in the mold of Terrell Owens or Calvin Johnson. I would like to have seen one more dominating year on his stat sheet but even without that, Hankerson is an exciting prospect. He is the most dynamic of the receivers in my estimation and has prototypical NFL measurable. He’s probably a 2nd round fantasy selection, but with a very nice risk/reward ratio.
#4 Michael Floyd, Notre Dame
6’3”, 227 lbs.
Floyd was a hot name in 2010 yet has never been ultra-productive for the Irish. His 10 TDs in 2010 were impressive considering the lack-luster Irish offense. Floyd has a NFL body with great size and bulk, good hands and is of quality character. I believe Floyd is a high 2nd round NFL pick that could sneak into the first round given a good combine performance
#5 Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh
6’4 ½”, 225 lbs.
Baldwin is a freakishly big and fast receiver – but he’s also an enigma as he’s never been a highly productive receiver considering those physical gifts. Not the highest of character but he’s a hard worker and has the foundation to be productive in the NFL. I’m actually hoping to see that Baldwin measures in a bit smaller than his listed height. He and Hankerson will get a lot of my attention during the combine. If Baldwin can run a sub 4.50 forty, he could be drafted in the first round.
You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff