2006 NFL Rookie Rankings Contributed By: David Circelli
The 2006 NFL draft is just around the corner, which means that the fantasy football community is once again busy evaluating this year’s rookie class. The following article is intended as a primer for some of the more important rookies that fantasy owners everywhere should monitor over the next 2 months. These rankings include both IDP (Individual Defensive Players) and their offensive counterparts and are intended to slot rookies according to their long-term upside.
It’s important to keep in mind that these rankings can and will fluctuate greatly right up until the moment that the players listed are selected by an actual NFL franchise. Please also note that these ranking are intended for use in well-balanced IDP leagues with an emphasis on the “primary” fantasy positions (QBs, RBs, WRs and LBs). I’ve split up the list into 5 different tiers in order to group similarly talented players.
DEVELOPMENTAL FANTASY PROSPECTS
30) A.J. Nicholson, OLB, Florida St.
Prior to his latest suspension, Nicholson had been considered a potential first round draft pick. This was just the latest episode in a long line of problems for Nicholson. His checkered past (including but not limited to alcohol and drug issues, sexual assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest) well probably see him freefall in the draft, potentially all the way into a 2nd day selection. That said, Nicholson is a talented playmaker and if he gets his life turned around he has excellent “fantasy” potential at the next level (albeit he may end up as a SSLB at the next level).
29) Maurice Stovall, WR, Notre Dame
Scouts love Stovall’s size and believe that he turned the corner his senior season after being considered a career underachiever prior to Charlie Weis’ arrival. Don’t count me among them. Despite his impressive build, Stovall struggles versus press coverage and it takes him far too long to get up to top speed. Many of the catches that Stovall made jumping over lesser defensive backs also aren’t likely to happen in the NFL and he really needs to fine tune his game if he ever wants to become more than a 4th receiver in the pros. His size does, however, make him a viable redzone option and his TD potential alone is the reason he’s ranked where he is.
28) Abdul Hodge, MLB, Iowa
Hodge is a similar prospect to D’Qwell Jackson in that both are undersized MLB prospects expected to be drafted at some point in the second round. There are concerns about whether Hodge will be anything more than a 2 down MLB at the next level. Some scouts also believe that Hodge’s best fit at the next level would be as an ILB in a 3-4 (which would dramatically limit his NFL options). Hodge’s fantasy prognosis will clear up the closer the draft approaches, but at the present time this would probably be considered a lower ranking than you’re likely to see elsewhere.
27) Leon Washington, RB, Florida St.
Washington took over the FSU tailback position after Greg Jones was drafted in ’04 and ended up with over 950 yards rushing as a junior in 2004. Thanks in part to a wide variety of injuries his senior season he accumulated only 430 yards rushing and durability is a major concern for NFL scouts. When healthy, Washington is an excellent cut-back runner with excellent quickness and agility. Given his laundry list of injuries Washington will likely be a 3rd or 4th round selection on draft day. He earns this ranking thanks mainly to the excellent upside he has if he can ever put his injury problems behind him.
26) Martin Nance, WR, Miami-Ohio
Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite former target needs to prove that he’s completely healthy at suffering a serious knee injury in 2004. If he proves to be healthy Nance has the kind of size/speed ratio that leaves scouts foaming at the mouth albeit. Opinions on Nance vary widely and I have seen him ranked anywhere between the 3rd to 12th best WR in this years draft class from a number of national recognized scouting services. If Nance performs as well as some predict he will at the combine expect his draft stock to shoot up over the next few weeks. If concerns over his knee or level of competition creep back into the equation, however, Nance could fall all the way to a 2nd day selection.
25) Thomas Howard, OLB, UTEP
Howard has been flying up the draft boards over the last few weeks and he reportedly wowed NFL scouts with a blistering 40 yard dash time of under 4.5 seconds at the combine. Howard’s measurables are eye-popping and his athleticism is hard to ignore. However considering UTEP isn’t exactly a hotbed for NFL prospects there are plenty of concerns about whether Howard will be able to adapt to the speed of the NFL game. Howard is likely to be one of the most scrutinized players in this years draft class because of concerns that he may just be another “workout warrior” along the same lines as former Eagle Mike Mamula.
24) Jerome Harrison, RB, Washington State
If he shows enough speed and pass-catching ability in his individual workout Harrison should solidify a spot in the 3rd round of the draft. While Harrison accumulated over 2,800 yards rushing at a 5.8 YPC clip over the last two years, the Pac-10 isn’t exactly known as a conference that preaches defense (think USC and UCLA) and considering former Pac-10 star J.J. Arrington’s struggles at the next level last year don’t get too excited over Harrison’s NFL potential.
CONTRIBUTOR GRADE FANTASY PROSPECTS
23) D’Qwell Jackson, MLB, Maryland
Jackson is undersized (6’.5” 230 lbs.) for a MLB prospect but he has excellent pedigree as a 3 year starter at Maryland and he should hear his name called sometime during the 2nd round the ’06 draft. Despite playing WLB as a sophomore Jackson projects as a MLB at the next level (he did make the transition to MLB as a junior and flourished his last 2 years at the position). Jackson also possesses above average coverage skills meaning he should end up as a 3 down LB in the pros.
22) Michael Huff, FS, Texas
Huff is a ballhawk and many teams believe he may get a look at CB by whichever team drafts him since he possesses excellent closing speed (such a switch would greatly reduce his fantasy potential). Huff possesses a similar skillset to ‘04 defensive MVP Ed Reed and he should be a fantasy contributor almost immediately regardless of where he ends up being drafted. Huff also has the ability to play strong safety since he’s a solid tackler who knows how to fill against the run. He will, however, likely end up a free safety in the pros which does limit his fantasy potential.
21) Bobby Carpenter, LB, Ohio State
Carpenter is a versatile LB who has the ability to play inside or outside. Carpenter will need to prove to scouts that his recovery from a broken fibula late in the season. Considering his adaptability, Carpenter’s fantasy upside will vary greatly depending on which team he gets drafted by and which position he ends up playing. Following a similar theme in this years draft class Carpenter possesses a high “floor.” This means that while he may not possess great upside, he isn’t likely to turn into a “bust” either. And if Carpenter gets drafted into the right scheme he could turn into another Derek Smith from a fantasy perspective.
20) Leonard Pope, TE, Georgia
Pope is a huge target at 6’7”, 265 lbs with outstanding athleticism for a man of his size. Despite his massive frame Pope isn’t considered very physical and he needs to work on his in-line blocking if he wants to be an every down player at the next level. What has scouts really drooling is that Pope is still a developing player and that if he can be coached up from a technique standpoint he could become a dominating performer in the NFL.
19) Chad Jackson, WR, Florida
The history of Florida WRs moving to the NFL isn’t great and most NFL insiders believed that Jackson would have been better off returning for his Senior season considering he’s needs quite a bit of work on some of the nuances of the WR position (i.e. route running, run blocking, press coverage release, etc…). With that said, Jackson has been clocked with a 4.35 40-yard dash time and his athleticism was reportedly on display throughout the combine. Jackson will need to proof to NFL teams that he is capable of overcoming the Florida WR stigma in order to solidify a position as a mid-to-late 1 st-round selection.
18) Maurice Drew, RB, UCLA
Drew is often compared with Warrick Dunn and shares a lot of the same traits as the Falcons Pro Bowl running back. The diminutive Drew may stand at 5’6.5” and weigh only 200 lbs but he is one of those rare players that can score from anywhere on the field. Drew is as dangerous catching passes out of the backfield as he is taking the handoff and if he finds himself drafted by a team that knows how to utilize its’ RBs out of the backfield he should be a fantasy goldmine in those leagues that award points per receptions.
17) Demeco Ryans, WLB, Alabama
Ryans is a solid, blue-collar overachiever who should end up as a solid (if unspectacular) pro. What Ryans lacks in athletic ability he makes for with excellent recognition skills and fluid technique. Ryans isn’t a flashy player but he should become a solid player relatively early in professional career and like Chad Greenway, Ryans has a high “floor” and would be a relatively safe selection from a fantasy perspective among this tier of rookies.
16) Sionice Moss, WR, Miami
Like his older brother Santana, Moss is an undersized wideout with explosive speed and the ability to make people miss in the open field. Sionice, however, isn’t nearly as polished as Santana was coming out of College. That said speed kills, and Moss has plenty of it (4.38 40 yard dash at the combine). If he finds himself drafted by the right NFL team that knows how to utilize his skill set he could turn into the fantasy monster that his brother has become (once he becomes more polished as a receiver).
15) Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt
Cutler is something of an enigma in that you didn’t hear much about him during his College career yet he has NFL scouts abuzz about his potential at the next level. I remember a similar sentiment about another QB who seemingly came out of no-where a few years ago and rocketed up draft boards to become a mid-1st round pick after dazzling scouts with that dirty word “potential.” His name was Kyle Boller. As a three year starter at Vanderbilt Cutler is, however, a much more polished QB than Boller was coming out of College and his experience against the elite competition of the SEC is a definite plus. I do like Cutler’s upside as an NFL player. However, considering this article is meant to evaluate a player’s fantasy potential I have a difficult time giving him any higher than a backup QB grade which is why you find his name in this tier of players.
14) A. J. Hawk, SSLB, Ohio State
Hawk is projected as a top 10 prospect by most NFL draft publications, but his fantasy potential is not nearly as rosy. Hawk is projected by many analysts as a strongside linebacker prospect, a position which greatly reduces a LBs chances for fantasy success. He could, however, end up as an ILB if he gets drafted into a 3-4 defensive scheme and if that were to happen I would move him up into the next tier of rookie prospects.
13) Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State
Holmes is undersized at 5’10”, 185 lbs but in this day and age of NFL officiating that doesn’t mean nearly as much as it did 5 or 10 years ago. Holmes is compared favorably to Buffalo Bills WR Lee Evans with both players possessing a similar build with the same skill set. Holmes will end up as the top WR off the board, but this is one of the weakest WR classes in recent memory and a lot of Holmes’ fantasy appeal will depend on which team ends up drafting him.
STARTER-GRADE FANTASY PROSPECTS
12) Brian Calhoun, RB, Wisconsin
Wisconsin has seen some very productive College players struggle in the transition to the NFL level (Ron Dayne, Anthony Davis, etc) but none of them possessed Calhoun’s greatest attributes- speed and elusiveness (*update* Calhoun reportedly disappointed with a 4.6 40 yard dash time… if this is true and if he doesn’t improve I would move him down a tier). If he nails his workout at the combine expect to hear a lot of buzz about Calhoun which could vault him as high as an early-to-mid 2nd round pick. Like many of the RBs in this years draft class Calhoun is considered undersized by NFL standards. Unlike some of those other prospects, however, Calhoun has proven he can carry the load offensively with almost 350 rushing attempts in ’05 alone.
11) Mario Williams, DE, North Carolina St.
Excellent size at 6’7”, 290 lbs and combined with his outstanding athleticism, Williams is considered by many to have the biggest upside of any DE coming out of college since Julius Peppers was drafted in 2002. Williams should hear his name called within the first 5-8 picks in the ’06 draft and if he ends up being drafted by a team that allows its defensive lineman to attack the line of scrimmage (i.e. the Bears and Colts scheme) he could become a fantasy monster once he gets used to the speed of the NFL game.
10) Ernie Simms, WLB, Florida State
Simms is a prototypical Cover-2 weakside linebacker prospect with great speed and range. Simms is considered undersized at 6’, 230 lbs but his athleticism and upside are hard to ignore (*update* Simms reportedly ran a 4.48 40 yard dash at the combine which is outstanding for a LB). In order for him to reach his full potential Simms needs to be drafted by a team that will allow him to play in space away from the opposing teams TE. His size concerns and speed have some teams rumbling about possibly giving him a look as a strong safety, but that is such a rare occurance I can’t see it happening unless he freefalls to a team that is already stacked at LB.
9) Joseph Addai, RB, LSU
As of the date of this articles release, Addai continues to fly under the radar when you hear analysts talk about ’06 prospects thanks to size and durability concerns. I suspect this will change once the draft starts to move closer because Addai is an excellent all-around NFL prospect. Addai is considering by many analysts to be the most “complete” back in the entire draft and he raised eyebrows with a solid showing at this years Senior Bowl practices. Although currently projected as 2nd to 3rd round prospect, Addai would likely cement a position as one of the first 50 players off the board if he nails his individual workout. If he gets drafted into the right offense with the right need at RB, Addai has the potential to be an elite fantasy prospect (especially in those leagues that award points for receptions).
ALL-PRO FANTASY PROSPECTS
8) Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland
This is a fantastic draft class at the TE position and Davis finds himself at the head of the pack. Davis is considered by many to be the best “pure” athlete at TE that has come out of College since Tony Gonzalez. Davis would be best utilized as an H-back because of his deficiencies as a blocker (similar to how the Redskins use Chris Cooley). Current projections have Davis being drafted between picks 10-12 and if he ends up being selected by Arizona or St. Louis he has a chance to be an impact fantasy player almost immediately.
7) Chad Greenway, WLB, Iowa
I consider Greenway the best LB from a fantasy football perspective in this years draft class. That has more to do with the high floor Greenway possesses and his ability to succeed in whatever role (in whatever scheme) he’ll find himself in at the next level. Greenway doesn’t have nearly the upside of the top LBs from last years rookie class (Odell Thurman and Derrick Johnson) or even some of the LBs in the ‘06 class, but he should make at least solid #2 LB option regardless of where he lands.
6) Vince Young, QB, Texas
Young is a raw talent with excellent upside if he can find a way to evolve as a passer. While many scouts consider his mechanics fundamentally flawed (including an orthodox throwing delivery) the biggest question mark surrounding Young is how well he’ll be able to adapt to professional game after playing what is widely considered a simple offensive scheme at Texas (he also reportedly scored in the single digits on the Wonderlic test). Everyone saw how much talent Young possessed after he carved up the USC defense during the National Championship game. However, scouts worry that the athleticism he displayed throughout the season won’t translate into nearly as much success at the NFL level and even if it does we’ve seen via Michael Vick that a QB can’t live and die with his legs alone.
ELITE FANTASY PROSPECTS
5) Laurence Maroney, RB, Minnesota
If Maroney can overcome the perception that he was a product of the system with solid combine statistics then he should solidify a spot as one of the first 20-25 players drafted in ’06 (*update* Maroney reportedly suffered a hamstring injury and didn’t run at the combine). Maroney is an elusive runner with good burst, vision and cut back ability. While his running ability is excellent Maroney needs to work on his receiving and blocking ability before he’ll get a chance to step on the field at the next level. Similar to LenDale White, scouts are also concerned that Maroney split most of his carries in college with Marion Barber (who was drafted in ’04 by Dallas) and his ability to carry the ball 20-25 times from one week to the next is in question. Maroney has more fantasy upside than either White or Williams, but he also has a lot more question marks associated with him.
4) Matt Leinart, QB, USC
Leinart is a considered a better pro prospect that either of the last two #1 overall pick QBs (Alex Smith and Eli Manning) and his own coach, Pete Carroll, is on record as saying that he would choose Leinart over former teammate Carson Palmer (the #1 overall pick in 2003). If Leinart ends up in New Orleans as most analysts are currently projecting he’ll find himself in an ideal situation with weapons all over the Saints offensive roster. Even in a top heavy draft for RBs, Leinart has to be considered amongst the highest tier of elite fantasy prospects and he should be a top 5 selection in every rookie fantasy league draft in 2006.
3) LenDale White, RB, USC
White would be a fantastic fit in the right pound the ball “between the tackles” offensive scheme. That works both ways, however, and if he gets drafted into the wrong offensive scheme he could become this years version of TJ Duckett. At the very least White should be a redzone monster regardless of where he ends up early in his NFL career. White also needs to get past concerns about whether he can shoulder the load as a fulltime RB after splitting carries with Reggie Bush throughout his USC career. That concern also has scouts leary as to whether straight ahead running style will make him susceptible to injury with an increased workload at the next level.
2) DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis
Williams will be the trendy “conservative” selection for many fantasy owners at the top of their rookie drafts and rightfully so. In terms of pure rushing ability Williams finds himself at the top of this years draft class (much like Cadillac Williams did last year). He does not, however, have the homerun hitting ability of Reggie Bush and he has the same kind of smallish frame that scouts are concerned about with the USC standout. That said if Williams winds up on a run-first offense like the Ravens he would force owners of the #1 rookie pick to make a very difficult decision about who to select with that top pick.
1) Reggie Bush, RB, USC
Bush is the consensus #1 pick and barring something dramatic happening he’ll likely end up in Houston in ’06. While his position in the NFL draft appears secure, this #1 fantasy ranking is far from carved in stone and I can see him falling as far as #3 on this list depending on how the situation in Houston unfolds regarding the status of Domanick Davis and the teams anemic offensive line. Bush is a homerun threat every time he touches the ball but he does have serious question marks about whether he can take the pounding required out of NFL RBs, and whether or not he can be successful running between the tackles. Bush has dynamic potential and if he’s utilized properly he could become the kind of player that Marshal Faulk was during his prime. Even with his tremendous upside, however, don’t make the mistake of thinking that Bush is the All-Pro lock that many analysts are calling him.
Keep in mind that this is a fantasy-based article, not a ranking of top NFL prospects. It took me a while to figure that out, so I just wanted to give the heads up. I'd love to nabb Leon Washington in a fantasy draft. He's got the potential to slip far and should be a contributor.
ADMIN edit: please note that the overall sig limit is 12k - thanks! (Thanks Leber) AIM is like multiplayer notepad