I’ve seen several articles talk about winners and losers based on last weekend’s Draft. The winners typically include Matthew Stafford, EJ Manuel, and the NFL for getting higher ratings than the NBA playoffs for an event that is months removed from the next game-day. I’m going the other way on this one. The winner of the Draft in my mind was clearly Elton John. I’m not sure what type of rights deal he negotiated with Aloe Blacc, but I’m sure Sir Elton benefited from this weekend’s festivities as much as Emperor Goodell did.
From an IDP perspective, despite the first overall pick being on the defensive side of the ball, and a record number of DBs going on Thursday night, the people most impacted by the draft are the existing veterans in the league. More so even than on offense, defensive rookies’ fantasy value is heavily tied to the team that picks them. Other than a few elite players, and sometimes even including them, situation matters more than talent. Before apparently lighting up a fat one, Josh Gordon lit up the league the last two years while playing on a terrible team without a legitimate professional QB. On the flip side, Dont’a Hightower (taken 25th overall the same year Gordon was picked in the Supplemental Draft), has toiled away in a crowded New England LB corps. Hightower will get his chance this year, but his owners have had to show tremendous patience, with very little to show for it thus far.
So as I run through the big names taken in this year’s draft, keep in mind that they will likely take multiple years to make an IDP impact, and their most immediate effect will likely be on the veterans that they are either complementing or trying to replace.
Jadeveon Clowney – The title of this article is an obvious paraphrasing of Bill Shakespeare’s age old question. It applies to several in this rookie class, none more than the draft’s wunderkind who is now heading to Houston. The good news for Clowney is that he won’t see the double and triple teams he saw in the SEC last year. The bad news is that he’ll almost surely be classified as a Linebacker, zapping nearly all of his fantasy value outside of big-play or dreadlock-only leagues. The good news here is for J.J. Watt, who O-Lines will not be able to focus all of their efforts on either. I thought Watt was overpriced as the #1 overall IDP last year, but this year might be a different story with Clowney in H-Town.
Khalil Mack – Mack falls into a similar situation as Clowney, though with slightly more uncertainty, which is weirdly a good thing. Because they run a 4-3, Oakland could theoretically put Mack’s hands on the ground and classify him as a Defensive End, but the smart money is on him ending up as a Linebacker as well. In either case he would be competing to unseat a veteran, but in the most likely scenario Mack plays the Strong Side LB, and shifts 2013 rookie Sio Moore to the weak side. With Kevin Burnett and Miles Burris around as well, I would avoid drafting Mack too highly until we see how this shakes out.
Justin Gilbert – When a premiere talent ends up in a great situation, it’s like when you used to break off the creamy side of two Oreos and combine them into a Super Oreo. This was before they actually made Double Stuf Oreos, and well before they made the inexplicable Watermelon Oreos, which I would assume taste like stale Fruity Pebbles. Gilbert, as well as 4th round steal Pierre Desir, step into an enviable situation opposite Joe Haden. Quarterbacks target rookie corners regardless of who’s on the other side of the field, so I would expect Gilbert to be startable from Day One in corner-required leagues.
Anthony Barr – A bigger discussion is probably warranted about the Vikings LB situation, but to be as evasive as possible, Barr could be in line for a big season if things break correctly. Outside of Chad Greenway, there is a lot of unproven talent fighting for the other two spots. A top 10 pick would seem to indicate that Barr will be the starter on the weak side, but his ceiling will depend on who gets the 3-down role opposite Greenway. I tend to avoid pass-rushing LBs outside of big-play leagues, but Barr’s situation has me giving him a second look.
Ryan Shazier – Here is my early pick for top rookie IDP taken in 2014 fantasy drafts. He steps into a great situation next to Lawrence Timmons, and should fend off incumbent Vince Williams easily enough. The only downside here is that I lose one of my favorite sleepers and team names for 2014. RIP SeanSpenceNoneTheRicher.
C.J. Mosley – It’s fitting that the other candidate for top rookie IDP is on the Ravens. After taking Arthur Brown in the 2nd round last year, I was a little surprised that they were ready to move on so quickly, even with Daryl Smith nearing the end of his career. Assuming that Smith has locked down one of the ILB slots, Mosley will have to beat out Brown in camp to earn the other spot. Given Brown’s struggles in limited time last year, I’ll put my money on Mosley.
Calvin Pryor – If you want a late-round DB who can easily end up as a top 10 performer, look no further than Pryor. He needs to beat out incumbent Dawan Landry, which is like saying that Bryan Cranston needs to beat out Matthew Broderick for the “Best Acting in a Godzilla movie” award. Rex has an impressive history with his safeties, and that Jets’ defense is going to be impressive once again next year, so I’m buying Pryor stock wherever I can find it.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix – On one hand, he joins Vontaze Burfict as a player whose name makes me smile every time I see it. But on the other hand, his IDP production may be no laughing manner. Morgan Burnett is likely to be a top 5 DB if he stays healthy, and the Sam Shields/Tramon Williams combo at corner is respectable to say the least. So while HHCD’s talent is there, he may not get the chances necessary to be an IDP starter.
Deone Bucannon – While I’m not a huge fan of what I’ve seen with Bucannon, he got picked into the best situation of any safety in the draft. He gets the benefit of playing with a shutdown corner in Patrick Peterson, and will also be joined by two complete wild cards in Antonio Cromartie and the Honey Badger. Bucannon will likely get to clean up the scraps in a secondary that can be endearingly called eclectic, and that should lead to a ton of tackles.
Darqueze Dennard – I can’t understand how this guy fell so far. He was college football’s answer to Darrelle Revis last year, and this was apparently the year of the DB after what Seattle did in the Super Bowl. I’m sure the Bengals’ brass was thrilled to pick up Dennard, who will immediately contribute in a crowded group of cornerbacks that includes Terence Newman, Pacman Jones, Leon Hall, and former 1st round bust Dre Kirkpatrick. I like Dennard the most of anyone in this bunch, though it will take a lot for him to be startable outside of CB-required leagues.
Stephon Tuitt – After the 1st round, the odds of a rookie contributing in IDP leagues drop precipitously, so the rest of these guys are more likely names to watch than names to draft. Tuitt deserves a mention because, despite a huge drop in production between his sophomore and junior seasons, he will take some of the attention away from 2013-breakout Cameron Heyward. Don’t look now, but the Steelers have done a great job reloading their aging defense over the past two season.
Dezmen Southward – It hurts me to say because I’m the president of the William Moore Fan Club, but he has yet to prove that he can stay healthy. Southward will push for time at Free Safety from Day One, and when the seemingly inevitable Moore injury happens, Southward will be a top waiver wire add in 2014.
Christian Kirksey – He shouldn’t be drafted, but Kirksey is someone to watch over the next year or so. Newly signed Karlos Dansby is getting older, and Craig Robertson is nothing special, so it’s very possible that Kirksey earns some playing sooner rather than later. Fun Fact: On the set of Growing Pains, Alan Thicke called Kirk Cameron “Kirksy.”
Chris Borland – It’s not really common practice to handcuff your IDPs, but if there was ever a time it made sense, it’s with Navorro Bowman this year. Despite being known as a cat person, Bowman could start the year on the PUP list, making Borland an intriguing late round grab.
Terrence Brooks – As of now it looks like Brooks will be starting opposite Matt Elam, giving the Ravens a shockingly young safety duo. Brooks’ range of possibilities is quite large this year, depending on his health and ability to hold off the stable of other DBs in Baltimore. He could either be a fringe IDP starter, or end up scratching “Brooks was here” into the ceiling at M&T Bank Stadium before ending it all. Okay maybe not that big of a range.
Brock Vereen – Same situation as Alexander above, just with Ryan Mundy in Chicago. Sounds like a Karate Kid villiain.
Michael Sam – Awesome. Just awesome. Completely irrelevant from an IDP perspective, but awesome nonetheless.