It has certainly been an off-season to remember. The NFL has seen and gone through a little of everything since the Patriots and Panthers wrapped up 2003. We’ve watched some of the game’s best, including Champ Bailey, Warren Sapp, Clinton Portis, and Terrell Owens move on to different teams – twice, in Owens’ case. We witnessed Maurice Clarett successfully challenge the NFL’s age requirement and be admitted into the draft, only to have the decision reversed by an appeals court just prior to the weekend. Sadly, we also saw one of the NFL’s best stories end in tragic fashion. Pat Tillman, who selflessly gave up a lucrative contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the U.S. Army, was killed in combat just days before the draft.
This weekend’s annual college draft marked the end of one of the busiest and most emotional off-seasons to date. Even the 2004 draft itself followed suit, providing many unpredictable twists and turns. Eli Manning whined about not wanting to go to the San Diego Chargers, and was granted his wish, finding himself dealt to the Giants for fellow gunslinger Philip Rivers and additional picks. Receivers, quarterbacks, and Miami Hurricanes dominated the first round of what has proven to be a memorable 2004 NFL draft which could also have far-reaching fantasy impact. Here are several winners and losers from a fantasy perspective.
Eli Manning – QB, NYG
Manning not only got his temper tantrum upheld on Saturday, but he also did fantasy owners a huge favor by being dealt to the Giants. Instead of passing to Reche Caldwell and Tim Dwight in San Diego, Manning will have the services of Amani Toomer, Ike Hilliard, Tiki Barber, and Jeremy Shockey in the Giants offense. If Manning is as good as many experts say, he could be a dark horse coming into 2004. The G-Men certainly believe that their prize rookie can contribute right away, hammering home that point by releasing incumbent Kerry Collins.
Rookie quarterbacks don’t usually perform very well from a fantasy standpoint (see David Carr, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller), but this kid has great talent, smarts, and bloodlines. Manning has a better supporting cast than his brother did when Peyton first entered the league and should be a solid fantasy backup in his rookie season.
Jeff Garcia, QB, and Kellen Winslow Jr., TE – Cle
Jeff Garcia dropping back and throwing to a sickly talented, but brash, arrogant, and trash-talking receiver? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Kellen Winslow will instantly make a fantasy impact and should be among the top five tight ends taken in your draft. His combination of speed, size, hands, power, and confidence will give the Browns a dimension they haven’t had in a long time.
The selection will also give Garcia something he hasn’t seen in a while, as well. Garcia was exiled from the Niners in part because he didn’t get along with his top receiver, Terrell Owens (who oddly enough, is also gone now). Owens constantly complained about Garcia and how he didn’t throw the deep ball enough.
Now in Cleveland, Winslow and Garcia appear to be a match made in heaven: a quick, sure-handed tight end, and a smart, efficient quarterback who excels at the short passing game. Both Winslow and Garcia are solid fantasy prospects coming into this season.
Joey Harrington – QB, Det
How about the pieces of the puzzle that the Lions are assembling? Joey Harrington in 2002. Charles Rogers in 2003. And this year, Roy Williams and Kevin Jones in 2004. Harrington now has the pieces around him a QB needs to succeed. Add Tai Streets into the mix at WR and Harrington instantly has one of the more dangerous receiving corps in the league to throw to.
Harrington, a backup at the very best last year for fantasy owners, now could be on the verge of becoming a solid starter this season. If possible, draft Harrington as your backup once again this year, but don’t be surprised if he is one the better quarterback performers of 2004.
Other Notables: The Oakland Raiders selected tackle Robert Gallery and center Jake Grove. Both were considered the best at their respective positions … The Chargers got the quarterback they wanted in Philip Rivers and received several draft picks from the Giants … A high demand for receivers and quarterbacks left DE Kenechi Udeze, whom many had going in the top ten, to fall to the Vikings at #20, filling their most pressing need.
Steven Jackson – RB, StL
This isn’t necessarily a loss for Jackson himself, but it is certainly a loss for fans and owners who anticipated a solid rookie year for the Oregon State standout. Considered the most complete runner of this year’s class, many owners wanted to see Jackson wind up in a situation where he would see the bulk of the carries in 2004 (Dallas, Detroit, etc.). However, Jackson wound up behind Marshall Faulk in the St. Louis Rams’ depth chart.
Barring injury, Jackson won’t see any significant playing time, but should be drafted late in fantasy drafts this year as insurance for Faulk.
Nate Kaeding – K, SD
The unquestioned top kicker coming out of this year’s draft wound up on a team that probably won’t be scoring too many points this year. Too bad for fantasy owners, too, because Keading has the leg, the accuracy, and the confidence to be a big-time NFL kicker very early in his career. However, by being drafted by the Chargers, he probably won’t have much fantasy value this year. Avoid him in your drafts this season, but look for him as the Chargers begin to rebuild the offense in years to come.
Jacksonville Jaguars/Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Buffalo Bills
All three teams were in dire need of a top wide receiver prospect. However, the pool became a little less deep when USC wideout Mike Williams was declared ineligible by a federal appeals court just prior to the draft. This obviously caused the receivers below Williams to be selected earlier. Jacksonville might have been able to land either Roy or Mike Williams, but instead had to settle for Reggie Williams, who is still very talented, but not quite at the level of Mike or Roy, who many felt might even be better than Larry Fitzgerald at the professional level.
In turn, Tampa Bay and Buffalo had to settle on Michael Clayton and Lee Evans, respectively, who are solid players, but again, not quite the caliber of Fitzgerald and the three Williams receivers.
Andrew Scherber looks forward to watching Kenechi Udeze take the field for his favorite team this year.
|Who do you think were the biggest winners and losers in this year’s NFL draft?|