Since the beginning of January, I’ve been hearing the 2013 rookie class lacks a truly elite player at virtually every skill position. Now that the NFL Draft has come and gone and the rookie class finally has a home, its safe to say that feeling was spot on. The more I think about this draft class, the more I realize I personally would not want to be faced with the decision on who to draft with a pick in the range of 1.01-1.03. I feel like there isn’t a player who impresses me enough, or is talented enough to warrant such a high draft status.
So, I decided to adapt and create an entirely new draft strategy for myself this year. After looking at multiple rankings, mock and actual rookie drafts, I’ve come up with specific targets I think can be drafted in the “sweet spots” of this year’s rookie drafts based on average draft position. Let’s take a closer look at each zone and break it down by who I feel could be the best players available in each zone.
Zone One (1.04-1.05)
In most rookie drafts I’ve seen, a combination of Giovani Bernard, Tavon Austin, LeVeon Bell and Montee Ball are traditionally the top three picks. To me, all four of these players are a reach in the top three. If I’m sitting with a top three pick, it’s in my best interest to trade back into the 1.04-1.05 range because there is one player I’m targeting in every rookie draft I participate in.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR HOU
To me, Hopkins is absolutely the safest player in the draft because I feel like he has the highest floor. Also, it’s a beautiful thing when a talent of Hopkins caliber lands into one of the best situations possible – consider it the perfect storm. I think Hopkins will be a WR2-3 for a lot of dynasty teams within two years and has the ability to firmly establish himself as a WR1 going forward.
Nobody seems to value Hopkins in the top three from what I’ve seen lately, so taking him at say, pick 1.03, is a reach because essentially you’re leaving value on the table. Trading back into the 1.04-1.05 range if you own a top three pick should net you something in the early second round and put you squarely into what I consider the next “sweet spot” of the draft. If it’s me, I don’t chance letting Hopkins get past 1.04. Reports out of Houston’s rookie mini camp already have stated that Hopkins is “special.” I couldn’t agree more.
Zone Two (1.09-2.03)
This is a pretty wide range, but situation has driven up the price tags of less talented players like Aaron Dobson, Zac Stacy, Ball and Bell who were considered nothing more than mid-to-late second round rookie picks before the NFL Draft. So, what that tells me is more talented players who may have less favorable situations (for the time being) are going to slip a little bit. There are three players who I feel are some of the most talented players in this draft class who are consistently falling into this range.
Justin Hunter, WR TEN
All of a sudden, the situation at first glance seems like a crowded one in Tennessee. However, Kenny Britt is in the last year of his rookie deal and will be a free agent after the 2013 season. To me, it looks like the Titans just drafted Britt’s replacement a year in advance and he is in a great situation for the future. It doesn’t hurt he is one of the most talented wide receivers in this draft class, either. This receiver has 4.4 speed and can literally jump out of the gym. If nothing else, Hunter should be a matchup nightmare in the red zone in 2013. He is an absolute steal in this range.
Christine Michael, RB SEA
Considering Marshawn Lynch is 27 years old, is eligible to be released in 2014 for a $5 million dollar cap hit and could be facing suspension this season, I don’t see why a lot of dynasty owners consider Michael’s situation a bad one. Based on the talent Seattle’s front office has brought in via the NFL Draft since Pete Carroll arrived in town, they’ve firmly established themselves as one of the more trustworthy NFL franchises in my mind. So, if Michael was the most talented player on their board, he’s the most talented player on my board. Of every player in this rookie class, I feel like Michael will be the most valuable player in dynasty formats within 2-3 years and is one of my “must have” players. Getting a player of Michael’s talent level in this range is insane value. I had him rated as my RB1 of this draft class and stand firmly behind that ranking. Even if players like Eddie Lacy and Cordarrelle Patterson slid this far, Michael would still be my guy every time, regardless of team need.
Tyler Eifert, TE CIN
Let’s face it – Cincinnati does not have an established WR2. Mohamed Sanu had injury concerns last season and Marvin Jones; well, he just didn’t look that good. So the Bengals stayed true to their draft board and took the most talented tight end in this draft class. A lot of people are turned off by Eifert’s landing spot and he could very well fall even further than the 1.09-2.03 range. I see Eifert’s situation as a positive one considering Jermaine Gresham only has two years remaining on his rookie contract. If Eifert progresses well in year one, Gresham could be handed his walking papers sooner than later. Early reports from rookie camp have stated Eifert has been getting extensive work not only from his natural position, but also in the slot, which means he could see plenty of looks this season. He should be a difference maker and a low end TE1 for your dynasty teams no later than the 2014 season.
Zone Three (2.08-3.02)
Again, a wide range depending on the size of your league, but there will be some gems available here for the taking. If your rookie drafts are coming up within the next few weeks, these are some players I believe will actually shoot up draft boards, but represent a great value in the here and now. This is the range where I’m targeting players that may sit idle on my bench for a couple of years, but if the proper amount of patience is displayed, could pay huge dividends in the not too distant future.
E.J. Manuel, QB BUF
If you draft with a best player available mentality as opposed to a team need philosophy, Manuel will arguably be the most talented player left on the board. He is the NFL’s latest installment of a young mobile quarterback with a big arm. He does have some footwork issues, but offers huge upside as most leagues offer big rewards for quarterbacks that can run the ball. I believe he landed in a great situation, and Buffalo loaded up on offense by selecting Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin in the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft. They also picked up the troubled Da’Rick Rogers as an undrafted free agent who could be a major contributor in 2013 if he keeps his head on straight. Manuel has the arm to make every throw at the NFL level and enough mobility to be a top ten quarterback in 2-3 years.
Latavius Murray, RB OAK
It’s not a matter of “if” Darren McFadden is going to get hurt in the 2013 season, it’s a matter of “when.” Enter Latavius Murray. As little as a month ago, Murray was a relatively unknown prospect the Oakland Raiders selected in the sixth round from the University of Central Florida. Today, I’m seeing him selected as early as the late second round and as late as the early fourth. Considering he is immensely talented, a physical specimen, very athletic and is playing behind one of the most injury prone running backs in the league, that fourth round draft status is not going to last long. The stars are definitely aligning for Murray who I’d expect to see somewhere in the range of 2-4 starts in 2013 because of the fact McFadden can’t stay on the field. Simply put, he may run away with the job and never look back. He has that kind of talent.
Charles Johnson, WR GB
If you are looking for a wide receiver who is big, fast, was ultra productive in college and has a giant chip on his shoulder, Johnson is your guy. During the NFL Draft process, he was a combine snub and decided to start training at a D-1 Training Facility to further develop his craft. While in training, Johnson was working on the finer things about his game like his first step and route running skills. If you were to watch Johnson’s pro day film what you would see is a player who is unbelievably explosive, but the thing that impressed me the most was his ability to square off his routes while simultaneously working his way back to the ball. It takes years for some wide receivers to develop that skill, which puts Johnson well ahead of the curve. Running precise routes is going to be a key factor in how much Johnson sees the field in 2013 and going forward. We all know that Aaron Rodgers is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the NFL and if he trusts this guy, the sky could be the limit. Another thing working in Johnson’s favor is that James Jones is a UFA in 2014. He could be looking at a WR3 role in one the NFL’s most explosive offenses as soon as next season.
My thinking behind every one of these players mentioned is they are the most talented players who could (should) be available in each zone. Drafting based on team need is futile in rookie drafts because do we really expect these guys to contribute in their rookie season? If you like the idea of drafting for team need, then consider this – your team “needs” you to draft the most talented player at each draft position you own. If anything, draft talent so you can trade for your needs later.
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