With NFL football far and away the most popular sport here in the U.S., it stands to reason that there is a virtual sea of related websites offering everything from player blogs, team news, injury status and projections to our own personal favorite, fantasy information and advice.
Navigating that sea of information and affiliating yourself with those sites that bring the “must have” news and information to your doorstep (monitor) is paramount in your quest for fantasy dominance. Any site can deliver information, but that does not mean that those behind it or the material that they deliver, are worthy of your time or investment. Of course, we here at DynastyLeagueFootball.com are working hard to earn that trust, respect and your clicks towards creation of something much larger. But there are other sites worthy of your time.
Scott Wright’s DraftCountdown.com is a site that must be on your list of essential resources, especially prior to the NFL draft each year. I’ve been reading their content for years and have come to appreciate Scott’s analysis and objectivity when it comes to evaluating rookie talent and draft expectations. While I rely on my own research and analysis primarily for rookie evaluations, DraftCountdown.com is at the top of my list when I need a second opinion or need to make sure that I’m not out in left field when it comes to my own views on a player or mock draft.
DLF is committed to not just giving you our views but also those of other experts to ensure that you are getting the best information available to help in constructing your team and making the best use of those coveted draft picks. To that end, I recently had the opportunity to catch-up with DraftCountdown.com’s Shane Hallam, Scott’s writer and fantasy expert to get his opinion on the upcoming draft, the would-be rookies and early ranking thoughts.
Below is our Q&A with Shane that you can use as further information for your early rookie cheat sheets. We’ll try to catch up with Shane again just prior to the draft to get an updated look at key positions.
DLF: Can you give us a brief introduction?
Shane: I actually started my journalism career in fantasy football, writing for a few different sites and a dynasty league I run is what ultimately got me into the draft and what I am doing today. A lot of my Podcasting career has been about fantasy football as well on the fantasy sports channel.
DLF: We’re entering a very uncertain 2011 considering the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and a potential lockout. What impact could this have on existing player values or the upcoming draft?
Shane: In all honesty, the lockout looks to be having very little effect on the NFL Draft. Underclassmen are coming out in the same type of numbers. The problem with the lockout is that these players may not get paid immediately. No rookie drafted (or free agent for that matter) will be signed by a team after the draft with the uncertainty of the CBA. Likewise, a new CBA will likely bring about a new rookie salary scale. If the CBA is settled by April, this could result in a few more trades at the top since Top 5 trades are a rarity.
DLF: Can you give us your top 3 in each of the positions of QB/RB/WR as it stands right now? Since this interview, Luck has initially stated that he will be staying at Stanford and not enter the 2011 draft.
1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford – One of the best QB prospects since John Elway. Has the full set of tools in size, accuracy and decision making. Arm strength isn’t worldy, but it gets the job done.
2. Jake Locker, QB Washington – I’m still a Locker fan because he has just as much upside and downside as the rest of the 4 first round quarterbacks. Watching the tape, Locker needs a ton of help with his decision-making skills, but he has Ben Roethlisberger type of upside to be able to roll out of the pocket and make big plays. Give him some better players around him and Locker can be successful.
3. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas (If he declares)- Mallett is lead footed in the pocket and has some major accuracy issues, but there is no denying what he has done statistically this year. Arkansas’ offense uses plenty of crossing routes and makes it easy on the quarterback, so decision making is a question mark, but Mallett’s big arm will endear some team.
My Top 3 Seniors: Jake Locker, Ricky Stanzi, Christian Ponder
1. Mark Ingram, Alabama – Ingram is the full package. He is a hard nosed between the tackles runner who has world class vision. Though he isn’t the fastest or most explosive player, he gets it done with toughness and intelligence. The only true workhorse #1 RB in the draft.
2. Mikel Leshoure, Illinois – Leshoure is a major sleeper if he declares for the draft. Leshoure is similar to ex-Illini runner Rashard Mendenhall in his speed and cutting ability. He doesn’t always finish his runs hard, but Leshoure can be a complete back catching out of the backfield as well as a downhill runner.
3. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma – Murray is a bit small to be a starter in the NFL, but he can be dangerous weapon as a receiver. A great PPR dynasty pick-up who will catch a ton of passes and with a healthy season this year, has shown some great explosiveness at Oklahoma.
My top 3 Seniors: DeMarco Murray, Daniel Thomas, Bilal Powell
1. A.J. Green, Georgia – All around extraordinary talent. Potential #1 overall pick. He has excellent body control, size, and smooth route running ability. He is a future top fantasy pick at wide receiver and worth nabbing.
2. Julio Jones, Alabama – Tough player who blocks well. He isnt overly fast, but extremely strong and a massive red zone threat. Another guy with Hall of Fame potential.
3. Torrey Smith, Maryland – He is a bit raw, but a better prospect than Darius Heyward-Bey was (Though not as fast). He is a bit more developmental than the first two, but an intriguing sleeper who may be overlooked in fantasy drafts.
DLF: Assuming that Ingram goes #1 in rookie drafts,which player would take with the 2nd pick?
Shane: It has to be WR AJ Green out of Georgia. This is a very special player who is a potential Hall of Famer. If he ends up in a position with a QB who can throw him the ball, it is just money in the bank. Cincinnati looks the most likely right now, which isn’t bad considering how productive T.O. was from a fantasy perspective. Go with talent over situation in dynasty drafts, and AJ Green is the supreme talent.
DLF: I’m on record as saying that I believe the 2011 draft class is RB weak, would you agree or disagree?
Shane: Completely agree. It is an extremely weak class. Only one true workhorse back in Mark Ingram. Players like Mikel Leshoure of Illinois, Ryan Williams of Virginia Tech, and Shane Vereen of Cal may declare and help it, however none of them are the full package. Leshoure has the potential to be a #1 runner, but is very limited and unpolished. Ryan Williams is injury prone and had a down year. He is a better receiver than pure runner, huge downside. Shane Vereen is a smaller, shiftier back who kicks everything outside. The seniors of the class fall into two categories, 3rd down backs (e.g. DeMarco Murray of Oklahoma, Noel Devine of West Virginia, Kendall Hunter of Oklahoma State,) or bruising goal line backs (Daniel Thomas of Kansas State, Bilal Powell of Louisville). That doesn’t bode well for fantasy football.
DLF: It appears that Jake Locker made a financial mistake by returning to Washington for his senior year. What do you believe his future is like in the NFL?
Shane: I think he can have a bright future in the right place. Financially, it was a poor decision, but the offensive talent on Washington is rivaled by some FCS teams. Numerous dropped passes and poor protection didn’t help him. That being said, it is no excuse for some of the poor decisions Locker made. Against good defenses, he was a mess, leaving passing technique at the door and forcing balls in (e.g. Nebraska, Stanford, etc). Against worse defenses, he looked like an NFL QB with great technique both from under center and in the shotgun and great zip on his passes (e.g. Arizona State, Oregon State, etc). NFL coaches need to coach him up to be the latter and he can be both an NFL and fantasy threat. Falling in the draft to the mid or late first round may be GREAT for him because he will have better talent around him to start his career. Don’t discount Locker just yet.
DLF: Is AJ Green the next Randy Moss or the next Charles Rogers? Do you believe he’s a top 10 NFL selection?
Shane: AJ Green is not only a Top 10 NFL Draft selection, he is a Top 3 NFL Draft selection. He isn’t quite Randy Moss. He isn’t the deep threat Moss is, but he is so polished and smooth in everything he does, Hall of Fame potential is not out of the question. Green is physical and runs excellent routes. Toss in his huge size and spectacular catch ability, you have a true #1 threat who can do nearly everything. I envision a more polished Brandon Marshall. If you are in desperate need for a dynasty wideout, AJ Green could be very very special. Luckily, this class is so deep at wideout, you don’t need to mortgage your future for him.
DLF: Is there a little-known rookie to keep our eyes on during the combine that has the potential to far outplay his draft selection?
Shane: At quarterback, Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick is one to keep an eye out for. He is a dual threat QB, but was a high recruit out of high school. Big arm, tough persona, and a hard worker. He has the tools to develop into an NFL starter and successful fantasy QB.
At running back, I have a few. Nebraska RB Roy Helu is one of my favorites. I think he is a more complete runner than people think and could be one of those midround RBs who blows up in the pros. Louisville’s Bilal Powell isn’t a big name, but he has had a great season thus far. He is a downhill runner who pounds opposing defenses. A deeper sleeper is Miami’s RB Graig Cooper. He has dealt with plenty of injuries and competition, but he should be a better pro than college player for sure.
At WR, there is plenty of top talent (Green, Jones, Blackmon, and Baldwin,) but the midrounds will find some very productive NFL wideouts. Titus Young from Boise State has gotten plenty of publicity, but he still falls under the NFL Draft radar. He reminds me of Mike Wallace on the Steelers, a player who will start as an immediate impact deep threat and develop into an all around wideout. Matt Szcur from Villanova is a name to remember. He can play an Austin Collie type of slot role, catching a ton of passes and turning them into bigger plays. Another small school wideout is Cecil Shorts from Mount Union. He is a full package WR with size and speed who just fell short in making it to the FBS. Look for all three in the Senior Bowl.
DLF: Is there a MLB in the 2011 draft worthy of note as a possible every week starter for IDP leagues?
Shane: Not really this season. A weak year for ILBs as well, there doesn’t appear to be a “tackle machine” who will be a top IDP contributer. Dont’a Hightower, an underclassman from Alabama, may be the best, but he doesn’t fit the mold of a Patrick Willis type. I do like Quan Sturdivant from North Carolina, but he is a bit small and more of a coverage linebacker. A few sleepers to watch for though is Nate Irving out of NC State, a thumper with great technique who can wrap up on tackles. And brother of Clay Matthews, Casey Matthews out of Oregon who isn’t the prospect his brother was, but he has the same tenacity.
DLF: What are your thoughts on the fantasy relevance of the 2011 draft class?
Shane: At WR, it is the best class we are looking at in the last decade at least. You will find some of your future top fantasy WRs for the next 10 years in this class (with a few busts tossed in as well of course!) Even if you aren’t in need of a WR on your dynasty team, pick up some in your drafts. Guys who go in the 4th round this year would be 2nd rounders in most years. At QB, it is one of the better all around years. Luck is a future stud while the other potential first rounders (Locker, Mallett and Newton,) all have big downsides. It is risky to pick one of them, but could pay off in the future.
RB is weak, as we mentioned before, but there are still plenty of teams out there who need RB contributors. Look more for situation than talent for this year’s crop as that may determine who cracks lineups and contributes. There is an extremely awful TE class this year however. Kyle Rudolph of Notre Dame is the only potential first round pick, and a big injury to him this year may require him to go back to school or fall until the second round. After him, it is mostly blocking or incomplete TEs. One of my favorites to make a fantasy contribution though is Arkansas’ DJ Williams who has improved throughout the season and is in an Aaron Hernandez mold.
DLF: Thanks for taking some time with us Shane and hopefully we can catch up closer to the draft to get your thoughts!
Make sure you check out Draft Countdown and make it a frequent visit!
You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff