The time is (almost) here. Your dynasty fantasy football draft. Where you can finally put all your Madden Franchise mode skills to use. Unlike re-drafts, where the choices are obvious, you’re playing GM to your very own franchise. You have to take into account need, potential, opportunity and, most of all, skill. Let’s see who DFFC would take in an IDP, 12-team PPR league:
Round 1, Pick 1 – RB-Le’Veon Bell (PIT) – After finishing 26th in rushing, Pittsburgh needed an injection of talent in the running game. After long-time incumbent Rashard Mendenhall moved on Pittsburgh determined that holdovers Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are not suited for the top spot. Enter Bell. At 6′ 1″ and 230 pounds, the Michigan State product can be a punishing runner. Pittsburgh is also implementing a zone-blocking scheme along the lines of Mike Shanahan’s offenses in Denver and now Washington that will allow Bell to see the holes created by his lineman and strike where convenient. Bell is already penciled in as the starter and has a chance to become the rare rookie that contributes both now and later.
Round 1, Pick 2 – RB-Eddie Lacy (GB) – The Bruiser from ‘Bama was thought to be the top running back in the NFL draft but fell to 61 and Green Bay. With little (to no) competition, Lacy has been able to establish his starter status after some impressive practices. Becoming what New Orleans had hoped for fellow ‘Bama running back Mark Ingram appears to be the goal – someone who can convert the 3rd and 1, 1st and Goal, etc. However, there are some real concerns with Lacy’s long-term health which caused several teams to refrain from taking him in the NFL draft. Lacy’s doctors insist he’ll be ok but it’s still something to watch. If healthy, Lacy will be a fine compliment to the passing attack of Aaron Rodgers and co. He, like Bell, has a chance to be a contributor very early in his career.
Round 1, Pick 3 – RB-Giovani Bernard (CIN) – The first running back taken in the draft, Bernard is probably the most explosive. He’s being compared to Ray Rice thanks to his short stature but big build and versatility. He’s so versatile the Bengals even have him lining out wide. Skill-wise he’s set but it’s all about opportunity. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was signed in 2012 to a three-year contract. He could aways be cut earlier but chances are they’ll let his contact run out after 2014 and block Bernard’s path to an everyday role. The hope is Green-Ellis falls flat and they turn the ball over to Bernard sooner than expected. At the moment, he’s a RB3, at best, but could be up to RB1 by the end of the season.
Round 1, Pick 4 – RB-Montee Ball (DEN) – Drafted in the second round out of Wisconsin, Ball was probably the most experienced of the running back class after almost 1,000 attempts in college. He entered a high-powered offense but a crowded backfield. Knowshon Moreno has had four years to show he’s not the long-term answer but Denver will still use him sparingly. It’s Ronnie Hillman that’s blocking Ball’s path to fantasy greatness. Hillman was drafted in the 3rd round of last year’s draft and has ‘earned’ the starting spot. He’s currently the 1A to Ball’s 1B which sounds eerily familiar to Coach John Fox’s last team where the Panthers refused to favor one of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Fantasy owners don’t need to be reminded of that hot mess. It’s ok to draft Ball but don’t expect a workhorse role for at least a year.
Round 1, Pick 5 – WR – DeAndre Hopkins – In the first upset of the first round, I have Houston first round pick DeAndre Hopkins as the first receiver off the board. At 6′ 1″ and 214 pounds, Hopkins fits the mold more as a long-term receiver than Tavon Austin. Drafted by Houston, he was the immediate favorite for the ‘Z’ position and has not disappointed. He had a fantastic week of camp, including a 40-yard bomb, and has already established the trust of the coaching staff. There is no one to challenge him as the heir apparent and he’ll get the benefit of learning from one of the best (very Terrell Owens-esque). He’s already slated for at least 50 catches his rookie year with that number sure to grow. Grab him early, grab him often.
Round 1, Pick 6 – TE-Tyler Eifert (CIN) – With more NFL offenses utilizing their tight ends as receivers, expect more rookie tight ends to be drafted higher. Tyler Eifert, drafted in the first round in 2013 is first up. Even though Cincinnati had an established tight end, and not necessarily a bad one, they still opted to draft the Notre Dame product. He’s lining up wide and catching passes in traffic which is music to dynasty fantasy owners ears. And with the likes of Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski going in the first or second rounds of drafts, Eifert could be right up there with them and soon. There’s no doubt that tight end is the position with the most disparity between first and worst. If you can grab a difference maker, you take him. Eifert could be that.
Round 1, Pick 7 – WR-Kenbrell Thompkins (NE) – Who? Exactly. Thompkins went undrafted this year and only earned a spot because of the massive upheaval in New England’s receiving corps. But boy is he making it count. Not only is a vertical threat but has shown signs of being a possession receiver as well. Of course, it always helps when you’re on the same page as Tom Brady. Brady threw the ball 637 times last year and with four of his top five receivers gone, the competition for targets is wide open. Thompkins has been the most impressive so far. Impress your friends and take him.
Round 1, Pick 8 – RB-Christine Michael (SEA) – Michael’s the first player off the board not walking into an obviously advantageous position but he could be thrown into one soon. Michael was a first round talent but fell to the second due to off-field issues. His tough, explosive running style is an ideal fit in Seattle and not that much different from incumbent Marshawn Lynch. But Lynch has his own off-field issues to deal with which could propel Michael to the starting lineup. Current backup Robert Turbin is just now getting back on the field so if Michael continues to impress, this first-round talent could be the recipient of Seattle’s powerful running game. The upside is huge.
Round 1, Pick 9 – WR-Tavon Austin (STL) – The highest receiver drafted at #8 overall, Austin is going to be a ping-pong ball and bounce all over the place. Out wide, in the slot, in the backfield. It’s just a shame he’s heading into an offense of such uncertainty. Sam Bradford is in a make-or-break year, they appear to have full-blown RBBC on their hands and there’s no skill position players coming back to estabslish some sort of consistency after the departure of Steven Jackson. Don’t get me wrong, he’s justified his draft position. But throw in the fact that Brian Schottenheimer is his OC, he of the almost 500 rush attempts last year, and the passing game is even murkier. Austin is a talent but doesn’t enter the best situation. And at this point, opportunity is half the battle.
Round 1, Pick 10 – QB-E.J. Manuel (BUF) – The first quarterback taken in the NFL draft, Manuel should also be the first quarterback off dynasty fantasy boards. Manuel is a big boy at 6′ 5″ and 230 pounds. He’s the captain of the rebuilding effort of the Buffalo franchise and should be given plenty of opportunities. Just the fact that he’ll be the starter in Buffalo at a minimum of 2-3 years props up his value since there’s only a finite number of starting quarterbacks in fantasy. His weapons are an asset as well as Buffalo has surrounded him with rookie receivers Robert Woods, Marquise Goodwin, Da’Rick Rogers and rookie tight end Chris Gragg. Throw in all-world running back C.J. Spiller and perennial 1,000 yard receiver Stevie Johnson and Manuel has no excuses. We’ll have to wait and see him in game action to determine if he’ll be a fantasy starter in years to come but Manuel is definitely in the right place in the right time.
Round 1, Pick 11 – TE-Zach Ertz (PHI) – Drafted in the second round, Ertz looked as if he walked into a less than ideal fantasy situation. New Philly coach Chip Kelly had been a run-first coach at Oregon and there were already two tight ends in front of him. Incumbent Brent Celek and free agent James Casey. Originally, Celek would have been the in-line tight end with Casey as the ‘move.’ However, Ertz has earned first-team reps in practice and is now predicted to have more catches and yards than either of the other two Philly tight ends after impressing the team. As with Eifert and Manuel, Ertz plays a position with a finite amount of quality players. Don’t be afraid to draft Ertz.
Round 1, Pick 12 – WR-Markus Wheaton (PIT) – Drafted in the 3rd round, Wheaton is the heir apparent to the departed Mike Wallace. However, he’s also been drawing comparisons to Hines Ward. Physically, both don’t/didn’t stand out but Wheaton has shown the ability to go over the middle and catch balls in traffic (at least in camp). Then comes the good news that Wheaton is already practicing with the first team and lining up in the slot or the outside. Using Ward as a comp, I don’t think anyone would be disappointed in a guy with six 80+ receptions/1,000 yard seasons. His status may be murky this year but shouldn’t be after that.