Every year we see risers and fallers, surprises, disappointments and the out of nowhere picks that define a draft. However, 2013 was unlike any other, all across the board. With rookie drafts kicking off around fantasy nation, coaches selecting in the top five will have their work cut out for them. And despite everyone’s best efforts, it’s likely to be a landmine-filled first round. On the plus side, with no clear headliners at the top, it will make it much easier for coaches to draft based on their own team needs, rather than feeling the pressure of selecting the top talent above need.
The top ten this year will be extremely fluid and I’ve never had the level of difficultly I’m finding with this year’s group. However, we’re all in the same boat as we seek to sift through news, information and the fine details toward making the best possible assessments. DLF’s Rookie Draft Cheat Sheet has been completed and I’ll highlight the top ten as we have them currently. Keep in mind this is a consensus top ten with the rankings of several of us here at Team DLF combined in order to come up with the most accurate list possible.
For complete pick-by-pick analysis from the weekend, or for the newly released downloadable rookie draft cheat sheet with positional and overall rankings, visit our premium content section.
1. Giovani Bernard, RB CIN
He’s not your prototypical three-down back, but I believe he has three-down ability. He’s undersized, but with an ample base below the waist, he runs with not only surprising power but also with fine lateral agility and a wide base.
Rather than reiterate what it is we know about Bernard as a runner, let’s focus on his situation. It was one of the worst kept secrets that Cincinnati was going to be looking for a running back via the draft. While there was some discussion about the potential of a trade for Chris Ivory at one point, it was believed the Bengals would be using an early round pick on a back. Bernard now has a fine situation in that only BenJarvus Green-Ellis sits above him on the depth chart and isn’t close to Bernard in terms of dynamic ability. There’s no question that BJGE will still see a bulk of the touches early on, but what occurs after that will be natural progression of Bernard assuming the starting role.
Green-Ellis will likely retain short yardage work and is currently an adequate pass protector on passing downs – this fact will likely keep Bernard on the bench for a time until he becomes more adept. Rather than his running skills, this area that will likely pose the greatest risk for Bernard toward becoming a three-down player. The quicker he’s able to become adequate in pass protection, the quicker he will assume the lion’s share of carries. He’s not the guaranteed talent and runner we like to see in fantasy for a 1.01 selection, but he’s the top talent for his drafted situation.
2. Tavon Austin, WR STL
There’s no question that Austin’s size will concern many near the top of the first round in fantasy drafts. The real question is whether he has the ability to perform to that lofty value. We believe the answer is a resounding “yes!”
Say what you will about the diminutive Austin, but he’s nothing less than an electric playmaker in space. Even when in traffic, he retains the dynamic that has provided the momentum to the top of fantasy boards. Again, much like Bernard above, he’s not your prototypical first pick at the receiver position due to his size. When a 5’8″ receiver is your top choice at the position, you know you have an interesting group of players. What we know about his situation is that he will immediately fill in for the departed Danny Amendola in the slot. Sam Bradford and the Rams understand how to use their slot receivers and in having a greater speed and agility dynamic, Austin should easily eclipse Amendola’s production, as long as he can steer clear of the injury bug. As I noted in my video review, he tends to lower his head into contact, an issue that MUST be resolved if he expects to be durable in the NFL.
In PPR leagues, he’s an easy first choice if you’re looking for a wide receiver. If your league awards special teams return yardage, he’s arguably a lock for the first overall selection. Either way, Tavon Austin is likely to make you smile in 2013.
3. DeAndre Hopkins, WR HOU
There’s a lot to like with Hopkins, even without the attractive drafted situation that Houston provides. He plays with a chip on his shoulder, is extremely young (21), has great size and is physical in all phases of his game. What he doesn’t have is top speed enough to consistently keep defenses on their heels. However, in a physical, possession-style offense like Houston, Hopkins is certain to start along side veteran stud Andre Johnson.
The Texans are productive in all positions of their offense and have been seeking a WR2 for many years without success – Hopkins looks to be the answer. With Matt Schaub under center, a backfield tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate, Owen Daniels at tight end along with the aforementioned Johnson, Hopkins is going to have plenty of chances to find soft spots in zone coverage with the occasional deep route as secondaries cheat toward the line of scrimmage.
We won’t complain if Hopkins is the first receiver taken in your draft as he does represent a more prototypical receiver.
4. Eddie Lacy, RB GB
Lacy slid mightily into the second round of the NFL draft and was eventually selected by Green Bay a full round below expectations. Word from around the league was multiple injury flags caused his fall with at least a few teams removing him from their list completely. He has been injured throughout his collegiate career and recent injuries kept him from putting in a full workout prior to the draft. At least one report had the Steelers’ personnel exclaiming they found that Lacy’s big toe had been fused during his most recent surgery. Couple that with concerns about work ethic and toughness in general and you’ve got the makings for a draft day slide. And slide he did.
Green Bay is notoriously bad for running backs, at least as of late. Not since Ahman Green has there been a significant fantasy producer in Green Bay at the position. The drafting of both Lacy and Jonathan Franklin nearly ensures the end of DuJuan Harris and James Starks, at least as fantasy running backs in Green Bay. The addition of Franklin later in the draft does provide further risk if you’re selecting Lacy. He’s still currently fourth on our top ten list, but variability could drag him down a bit as we learn more.
What we do know is when healthy, Lacy is arguably the best back in this draft class with the ability to carry a three down load for this high-octane offense. What we don’t know is if Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are willing to establish more of a runinng game going forward – this will be the true key to Lacy’s future value.
5. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR MIN
High risk, high reward.
We would have liked to have seen a better quarterback situation for Patterson, but there’s an arguable fact that perhaps Christian Ponder may be a perfect fit for Patterson’s style. As an ex-running back, Patterson excels in the open field on crossing patterns, especially when space is provided. He’s capable (like Hopkins above) of getting over the top on occasion, but this isn’t his strength. His value resides in his physical style of play when coupled with his running back vision and instincts. In an offense led by the relatively weak-armed Ponder, Patterson will be relied upon to do what he does best – get the ball on slants, outs and crosses into space. There’s also been concerns about his football intelligence which is a red flag for a receiver.
He’s only had a single year of division one experience and competition so there is little guaranteed about Patterson as the number five rookie on our list. However, his size, athletic ability and situation should provide for an early opportunity.
6. Justin Hunter, WR TEN
The Titans continue to build a young stable of receivers, all of which are of the capable variety.
Hunter is a long receiver with the speed to take the top off a defense or the ability to sink his hips for quicker routes on the tree. His hands haven’t been consistently good, but he shows natural ability to snatch the ball upon arrival or the ability to climb the ladder to pluck it at its highest point. Working against him on the Titans is the fact that Kenny Britt still has a year left on his contract and sophomore receiver Kendall Wright is sure to be a mainstay on all downs. Other receivers are accomplished as well, which will likely limit Hunter’s value in year one.
How soon Hunter plays will largely depend on the status of Kenny Britt, be it his knee or his character, as well as his ability to pick up the Titans system. He’s a young receiver with a depth chart to climb, so it’s likely that selecting owners will need to be patient as he develops.
7. Le’Veon Bell, RB PIT
Bell was a shock in the second round, but it’s easy to see his upside.
With Pittsburgh needing a physical running back and having removed Lacy from their list for medical concerns, Bell was as easy target, even if a bit earlier than expected. The Steelers like Bell’s physicality and downhill running style, but with the agility to perform as a three-down back. Also as a huge positive for Bell is the fact he’s an accomplished pass protector and can stay on the field on passing downs. For Mike Tomlin and the Steelers, they feel they now have their every down back.
As far as Bell’s situation goes, when related to his ranking on our list, it’s easy to see him moving up on our list as time passes. He’s too raw and not as talented as other rookies above him to be taken highly, but his situation is such that you can’t look beyond him if you have an immediate need at running back. He’s a risky top three selection to be certain, but his value could ultimately prove to be very top three worthy when looking back two years from now.
8. Montee Ball, RB DEN
This is a great situation for the ultra productive Ball.
He’s not the fastest, most agile, dynamic or powerful back in the class, but he is one of the most prolific producers at the position ever to come out of the college ranks. He has incredible intangibles, patience and vision – enough to almost be considered elite when not also including speed and agility.
Denver’s situation is murky in that Willis McGahee is due to return from injury and is likely to remain a Bronco for 2013. Knowshon Moreno experienced a resurgence and proved that he could carry the load and be ultra-productive in the role. Last year’s overdrafted rookie, Ronnie Hillman, has now been called a complementary back by the Broncos front office and his value is sliding at an increasing rate. All things considered, we expect Ball to be the eventual three down back for the Broncos when 2014 kicks off. He’ll have a role in 2013, but expect it to be somewhat diminished. Hillman should stick as the change of pace option longer term and Moreno will get a chance to start for a new team in 2014 or could be traded this year after the addition of Ball.
Any offense with Peyton Manning at the helm has the ability to create substantial running back value in fantasy as was seen last year with Moreno. Ball may be a better back than any on the roster currently and he’ll be getting his chance sooner rather than later. As the eighth ranked player on our list, he’s a superior value.
9. Kennan Allen, WR SD
Much like Eddie Lacy, the receiver once considered to be first off the board at the position fell due to concerns stemming from a slow healing knee injury. Ultimately, a slow forty time in the 4.70s sealed his fate as one of the draft’s biggest “fallers.” His pro-ready skill set and good size weren’t enough to provide confidence for selecting teams, many having removed him for their lists altogether.
For the Chargers, he looks to be a starer sooner rather than later as they seek a replacement for the loss of Vincent Jackson to Tampa Bay last year. If Allen, whose knee is now said to be at ninety percent, can restore his speed and cutting ability to pre-injury form, the Chargers will have won the lottery with a great risk-reward selection. For fantasy leaguers, he represents great upside near the bottom of the first round to a team that is likely already stacked with talent. It’s a great situation and he makes for an intriguing selection.
10. Markus Wheaton, WR PIT
Replacing the talents of the departed Mike Wallace in Pittsburgh’s offense won’t be an easy task, but Markus Wheaton is just the type of receiver who can accomplish it. We tabbed him as a “riser” over the past months and he falls into a situation that’s a perfect fit for his fast paced and agile skill-set. He’ll slide in next to Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders and could eventually take over the WR2 duties in time should Sanders falter.
Like many of the other receivers outside of Austin and Hopkins, Wheaton provides an intriguing risk-reward opportunity for teams in the bottom half of the first round. Because of the depth of rookies within Wheaton’s tier, he could easily fall outside of the first round, providing an excellent value for a team that has already selected very highly in the first round. Pittsburgh is the perfect fit for Wheaton’s talent and we expect he’ll see the field in 2013.
You can find Jeff on Twitter at @dlf_jeff