This 2014 NFL draft preview shows how the top-10 draft picks could affect the daily fantasy football landscape.
Everyone loves an NFL draft preview. Sure, they’re often fruitless exercises that fall to pieces within the first handful of picks, but they’re fun, much like fantasy football. Speaking of fantasy football, unlike most NFL draft preview articles, this NFL draft preview is intended for the fantasy football community and that’s the lens it should be viewed through when reading it.
NFL Draft Preview Pick #1- Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Clowney, in the opinion of most experts, is the top player in this year’s draft class. He’s a freakish athlete that is capable of piling up sacks, which is great in IDP leagues and helpful for those that choose to roster the Texans defense/special teams unit in traditional leagues. As a bonus he tackles for a loss. The South Carolina product would join a defense that already features the best defensive lineman in the game, J.J. Watt, and a unit that was outstanding in 2012 but bad last year. The selection of Clowney would instantly make the Texans an intriguing defensive unit for fantasy gamers to draft, and he’d help in their quest for a rebound from a forgettable 2013 season.
NFL Draft Preview Pick #2- St. Louis Rams: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Watkins tops what draftniks deem a very talented and deep wide receiving class. Finding a number one wide receiver for quarterback Sam Bradford has been a huge problem for the organization, and Watkins will fill that void. He blends excellent measurables with on-field production and he should be an immediate contributor, which is music to the ears of the fantasy football community. The Rams have been very active trading in the first round the last two seasons, moving down from the second selection in the 2012 draft, moving up to the number eight pick in the 2013 draft from pick 16, and moving down from the 22nd pick (one of the selections they received from the Redskins in return for the second pick in the 2012 draft) in the 2013 draft. Their willingness to move down and stockpile picks could be put on display again this year, though I think they stand pat and grab a much needed playmaker at wide receiver in Watkins.
NFL Draft Preview Pick #3- Jacksonville Jaguars: Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
Mack didn’t perform in the spotlight playing his college ball for a non-BCS school, but he’s a big time player getting the attention he deserves. He’s a disruptive pass rusher that tallied 10.5 sacks in his Senior season in 2013, and 28.5 in his four-year college career. In addition to piling up sacks, he has a penchant for forcing turnovers, having forced 16 fumbles in his college career while adding four interceptions. Mack is an instant impact player in IDP leagues, but his presence alone won’t be enough to push the Jaguars defense/special teams into fantasy relevance in most standard yearly leagues that use defensive/special teams units.
NFL Draft Preview Pick #4- Cleveland Browns: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Here’s the first curveball of the draft. Scouring reputable draft outlets, I’ve yet to find Evans projected to be selected this high, but multiple outlets peg the Browns as a team interested in Sammy Watkins. With Watkins gone, Evans becomes the next best thing. Josh Gordon turned in a gargantuan 2013 season, emerging as a true star at the wide receiver position. Also enjoying a breakout in the passing game was tight end Jordan Cameron, but beyond the tight end and star number one wide receiver, the cupboard is nearly empty. The team added Nate Burleson, but further upgrades are necessary. The team could pick the top quarterback on their draft board, or they could go in another direction. I think they’ll add another weapon and revisit drafting a quarterback with their second first round selection or their second round pick. Evans is a huge wide receiver that was Johnny Manziel’s top target at College Station. Standing at nearly 6-foot-5 and weighing 231 pounds, Evans is a matchup nightmare and a quarterback’s dream in the red zone. He’s not nearly as polished as Watkins, and consistency could be a problem in year one. Landing in Cleveland would be superb for Evans though, as playing opposite Gordon will lessen the attention he’ll receive from opposing defenses.
NFL Draft Preview Pick #5- Oakland Raiders: Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The Raiders offseason moves scream “win now”, and drafting a project quarterback such as Blake Bortles, or any of the other rookie signal callers that will need to learn on the go for that matter, would fly in the face of those moves. Instead, the club will add the offensive lineman that most draft pundits peg as having the most upside in the class. Robinson is a big man capable of mauling defenders in the running game, and his addition would boost the value of free agent acquisition Maurice Jones-Drew. Pairing Robinson with pricey newcomer Austin Howard at the tackle position would also shore up an offensive line that will be tasked with keeping immobile quarterback Matt Schaub upright. Drafting the guys in the trenches doesn’t often grab headlines or excite a fan base, but Robinson would drive the fantasy stock of the current Raiders offensive players up a bit.
NFL Draft Preview Pick #6- Atlanta Falcons: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Matthews is in a battle with Robinson to be the top tackle off the board, and while I have Robinson projected to go one pick before him, it would be just as easy to see the two flip-flop places. The bloodlines are great for Matthews as he is the son of Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, and the youngster from the Aggies is NFL ready and just what Matt Ryan ordered. Ryan was tied for third in sacks taken, and keeping him on his feet and out of harms way is of utmost importance to the Falcons. Matthews addition would help that cause, and in turn, serve as a plus to the team’s talented receiving corps that includes Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas.
NFL Draft Preview Pick #7- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA
Barr is one of the more polarizing figures in this year’s draft class in terms of where he’s expected to be selected. Experts that love the inexperienced pass rushing linebacker view him as a top-10 talent, while others that are more skeptical of him view him as a late first round pick. New head coach Lovie Smith is a defensive minded leader that coached some top notch defensive units in Chicago, but he needs some personnel additions if he’s going to get the Bucs humming at that level. The team was tied for the ninth lowest sack total in 2013, and Barr would fill their need having racked up 23.5 sacks in 2012-2013 with the UCLA Bruins. Because he only has two years of experience playing linebacker after being converted from the offensive side of the ball, he’s still a bit of a work in progress and is far from a lock to be an immediate star in IDP formats.
NFL Draft Preview Pick #8- Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
Whelp, we know that Adrian Peterson thinks, and the Vikings would benefit from having a mobile quarterback under center. Okay, so Manziel isn’t the same type of mobile quarterback that Michael Vick is, but he does fit the mold of a dual threat quarterback that can extend plays with his legs. The jury is out on how “Johnny Football’s” game will translate to the NFL, but it’s safe to say that if the Vikings were to select him he’d be landing in a situation where he wouldn’t be left to carry the offensive load. Peterson has that part under control. Quarterbacks that can score fantasy points on the ground as well as through the air are hot commodities, and Manziel makes for an appealing backup quarterback option for gamers that choose to pass on the elite signal callers in fantasy drafts. Thoughts of Manziel extending plays with his legs and finding lightning fast Cordarrelle Patterson streaking open down the sideline are fun, and they could become reality.
NFL Draft Preview Pick #9- Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Ebron is easily the top tight end in the draft, and he’d give second-year quarterback E.J. Manuel yet another pass catching threat, albeit one working the middle of the field as opposed to the outside. The Peyton Manning led Broncos and Tom Brady led Patriots ranked first and second in offensive plays run in the 2013 season, but it might surprise many folks that Doug Marrone’s uptempo offense in Buffalo ran the third most plays. The Bills led the league in running attempts, but the split between run and pass was nearly 50-50. A healthy Manuel and full compliment of pass catchers would go a long way toward tilting the scale in favor of airing it out. All the Bills offensive players would benefit from moving the sticks more and being in a better position to score points as a result. Ebron, himself, has the athletic ability to make an instant impact in fantasy games and further stretch out the growing number of talented options at a position that once had a dearth of choices to make a fantasy waves.
NFL Draft Preview Pick #10- Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, CB, Detroit Lions
The Lions secondary has been an eye sore the last few years, and the Gilbert makes a ton of sense to draft in an effort to revamp it. Gilbert is a big corner who is very fast and has a nose for the ball. He intercepted seven passes at Oklahoma State last year and 12 in 49 games there. While helping the defense will be the primary reason for selecting Gilbert, the Lions get the secondary benefit of adding an electric kickoff returner too. He returned six kickoffs for touchdowns in four seasons. The Lions have the pieces to be a defense/special teams unit worth using in standard fantasy leagues, and Gilbert would help push them further in the right direction.