As we lead up to the NFL Draft on April 26th, I will be running a series of mock drafts that include fantasy implications. As we close in on draft day, the mocks will include more picks from the first round. The first part of this series will include only picks 1-5. With the combine still in front of us, there will be plenty of risers and fallers. However, even in early February, we know who the top dogs are. Here is a look at how the draft could play out, and what it means for your fantasy team.
1) Indianapolis Colts
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford. Luck will not fill Peyton Manning’s shoes immediately. His biggest value in 2012 will be whether or not he ends up on your dynasty roster. If (when) the Colts select him, he will undoubtedly be compared to Manning early in his career. If the transition from Manning to Luck goes anything like Favre to Rodgers, dynasty owners will be rewarded heavily.
Indianapolis will be a very different team in 2012, and Luck doesn’t have the running ability Cam Newton possesses to make as big of an impact in his rookie season. However, adding Luck will make offensive players in Indianapolis more valuable in 2012 than they were in 2011. It will take a couple of seasons for their offense to produce as many fantasy studs as it did before Manning’s injury, though.
2) St. Louis Rams
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State. This pick makes so much sense, but the Rams could lose out on him by trading back a few spaces to allow a team to trade up for Robert Griffin III. Either way, Blackmon to St. Louis would be great for fantasy owners. Sam Bradford had a down year in 2011, but so did the entire team. Their overall offense grade for 2011 was -148.2, second worst in the league. The Rams had no receivers with over 608 snaps on their team. For perspective, Austin Collie, Roy Williams, and Harry Douglas all received more than 608 snaps for their respective teams. Blackmon would have an immediate impact on fantasy teams if only because he would see the field often in St. Louis.
Danny Amendola will be back, and would be the perfect complement to Blackmon. Bradford averaged a measly 6 yards per attempt, and getting a big-framed receiver in the mix would help. I’m a believer that Bradford be a legitimate fantasy option in 2012, and drafting Blackmon could go a long way in deciding that.
3) Minnesota Vikings
Matt Kalil, OT, USC. If I’m the Vikings, I’m kicking myself for drafting Christian Ponder last season. With RGIII still on the board, the Vikings could legitimately think about him. The Panthers proved last season that an investment (Jimmy Clausen) can be dumped. However, I think the Vikings want to keep what they have in Ponder and really bolster their front line.
The 2011 Vikings had the best run blocking unit in the NFL with a PFF grade of +21.2. Their pass blocking graded out at -6.1, a middle-of-the-road number. Why draft Kalil, then? Because Minnesota’s current starting LT, Charlie Johnson, graded out at -12.4, third-worst among LTs that started all 16 games. With Indianapolis from 2008-2010, Johnson ended each season with grades of -9.2, -14.8, and -9.9. Adrian Peterson’s fantasy success in 2012 will depend more on his knee than drafting Kalil, but a solid LT can go a long way in helping out the quarterback. Maybe Christian Ponder can work his way into QB2 range.
4) Cleveland Browns
Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor. One of the most exciting players in the draft, Griffin will make an immediate fantasy impact. The Browns like Colt McCoy, but his 14 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and 5.9 yards per attempt sum him up: not explosive. People will compare RGIII to Newton from last season, but do not expect Griffin to score nearly as many rushing touchdowns. Newton is much bigger than Griffin, and was used as Carolina’s primary goal-line back. Regardless, Griffin would add an explosive element to Cleveland that the team has lacked for many years… or ever.
The Browns do not have much in the way of receivers, but they will have second year player Greg Little. Little led the league in drop rate with 18.67 percent, but he still has time to develop. Little had more targets than A.J. Green, so the Cleveland staff isn’t afraid to use him. Adding a quarterback with a big arm will help Little and the other Cleveland receivers. A very early prediction: Griffin will be the highest scoring fantasy rookie in 2012.
5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU. The Buccaneers had a -53.1 pass coverage rating, fourth worst in the league. With Ronde Barber aging, and Aqib Talib facing legal troubles, the Bucs need help at cornerback. Claiborne will be an added bonus in IDP leagues that award players who double as returners. It would be tough to match Patrick Peterson’s rookie success as a returner, but Claiborne has the necessary skills. If Claiborne can step into a dominant role from the beginning, he would make life a little harder for NFC South quarterbacks. Of Tampa Bay’s cornerbacks, only Talib finished the season with a positive grade.