With the NFL Combine in the rear-view mirror it's time to begin the process of breaking down this year's draft class. Through my contacts in the NFL I've received videos of close to 150 draft prospects. I use what I see on those videos to go along with countless hours of watching college football in order to form my opinions.
After breaking down each prospect we'll offer some early thoughts on their potential fantasy impact. We'll take a look at quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends for fantasy purposes. If you want to discuss any draft prospects or have fantasy football questions you can follow me on Twitter @thomascasale or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let's kick things off with the position that will most likely produce the top two selections in this year's draft: quarterback.
Andrew Luck, Stanford
The Good: There's a lot to like when watching Luck on tape. The first two things I look for in a quarterback is how he surveys the field and if he can make every throw required in the NFL on a consistent basis. Luck is clearly the best quarterback in this draft class at both of those things. No quarterback in college football looked off his primary receiver better than Luck. If his first option isn't there, Luck doesn't waste time. He immediately looks for another receiver and delivers the ball quickly.
Luck also does a great job of fitting the ball into tight spots. Remember, Stanford didn't have the most talented skill position players on the planet and a lot of times Luck had to fit the ball in a tight window. That's one of the most important skills an aspiring pro quarterback can possess, and Luck does it extremely well.
Luck may not move like Robert Griffin III but he has good pocket presence and he slides well to avoid sacks. As he showed at the Combine, Luck is a much better athlete than people think, the total package. The biggest compliment Luck can get is that when you watch him on tape you feel like you're already looking at a pro quarterback.
The Bad: Luck didn't have many weaknesses in college but sometimes he has too much confidence in his arm strength. Luck has a very good arm but he doesn't have the freakish arm strength of a John Elway or Brett Favre. Those guys could make bad throws at times and get away with it simply because the ball got to their receivers so quickly.
Luck does a good job of reading defenses and delivering the ball to the right target a majority of the time. He just has to remember that at the NFL level defenders are faster than the guys he played against in college, so sometimes taking a sack or throwing the ball away is better than trying to fire a pass into coverage.
The Bottom Line: People use the term "once in a lifetime" a lot when referring to Luck. In my opinion the only two college quarterbacks who fit into the once in a lifetime category are Elway and Peyton Manning. I wouldn't quite put Luck in that class but he isn't that far off either.
Luck has everything NFL teams look for in a quarterback. He's big, strong, smart, athletic and a great leader. You really can't ask for much more than that if you're the Colts picking at No. 1.
Fantasy Impact: Look for him to have the kind of rookie impact that Matt Ryan did a couple of years ago. The Colts still have some offensive weapons. Luck will be a solid QB2 in most fantasy leagues this coming year.
The Good: People get hung up on Griffin's running ability but the fact is he's already a polished passer. Further, he is a much more accurate thrower coming out of college than any of the quarterbacks in last year's class, including Cam Newton.
Don't fall for the "he plays in a spread offense" garbage some of these media people like to spew. As with Newton, most of these college offenses run by guys like Gus Malzahn and Art Briles are much more sophisticated than the offenses currently being run in the NFL. I thought people saying Newton would have a hard time adjusting to a pro offense were way off base. Seriously, how hard is it to learn Cam Cameron's run-up-the-middle-twice-and-throw-an-out-on-third-down offense?
People reading this already know about Griffin's game-breaking running skills and world class speed, so I won't bore you with talking about the obvious. The more impressive thing for me is Griffin's ability to read defenses and deliver the ball quickly to the open receiver.
The Bad: Anyone who knows me knows my stance on the Big 12: it plays by far the worst defense of any major conference in college football. When Michael Crabtree was coming out one NFL scout said it was hard to assess him because he was rarely jammed at the line of scrimmage and always wide open.
The same is true when watching Griffin on tape. So many of his receivers were wide open that it can make it hard to judge how effective Griffin is at throwing the ball into tight windows.
This is the one thing that separates Luck and Griffin: On tape you see Luck constantly fit the ball in between defenders, where the Baylor receivers are usually running freely through those awful Big 12 defensive backfields. That's not to say Griffin didn't make some impressive throws in tight coverage, but there just isn't a huge sample size compared to a guy like Luck.
The other thing about Griffin is he has those long, sprinter-like legs. Griffin has a runner's build, unlike Newton and Tim Tebow, who are running quarterbacks and are built like tanks. That can be a factor in the NFL. The Raiders' Darren McFadden has a similar build and he's had injury problems with his legs throughout his NFL career.
It's not a huge concern but in college Griffin would get up slowly sometimes after taking a big hit to the thigh area. Ray Lewis and Patrick Willis hit much harder than the starting inside linebacker for Texas Tech, so that's something to keep an eye on.
The Bottom Line: Luck and Griffin rate very close. In my opinion, Griffin is a much better passer than some people think. Briles is one of the best quarterback coaches on the planet, and Griffin improved by leaps and bounds as a passer during his career at Baylor. No one in this draft class has more upside than RGIII.
Fantasy Impact: Griffin will have fantasy value right away. In today's NFL, with the awful defenses being played, a quarterback like Griffin who can run and pass will put up strong stats. In a keeper league I would lean slightly toward Luck but in a redraft league RGIII should be one of the first rookies selected.
Ryan Tannehill, Texas A&M
Outlook: There's a big drop-off after Luck and Griffin. Those two are franchise quarterbacks, something that can't be said for any other quarterback in this class. Some put Tannehill in that elite class; I'm not one of them.
Watching Tannehill on tape, one sees a player with a lively arm and a leader who has the full confidence of his teammates. Tannehill has the qualities to become a very good NFL quarterback in time but not one worth a Top-10 pick.
Tannehill reminds me a little bit of Andy Dalton, a QB who has those intangibles that make other players around him better. Tannehill is tough as nails. More than once on tape Tannehill ran over a defender in the open field to get extra yards and fire up his team.
Tannehill hasn't played the position as long as someone like Luck because he was a receiver during his first two college seasons, so he isn't quite as polished. He'll make some exceptional throws but then he'll make some throws that have you shaking your head.
If Tannehill goes to a team with a good offensive coaching staff and he's given time to develop, he has a shot to be a good NFL quarterback. He's not ready to get thrown into the mix right away. Tannehill is a great athlete but he's still learning how to be an NFL-caliber quarterback, so it would be a mistake to rush him into action.
Fantasy Impact: Tannehill has appeal in keeper leagues but it would be surprising if he had any fantasy value in 2012. Tannehill may get drafted high but he's not ready to be a starter.
Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
Outlook: Weeden was the toughest quarterback to analyze. Sometimes it would appear that he should be the top overall pick. Other times you're left wondering if he should even be drafted.
One thing clear from watching Weeden is that he can be a slow starter. There were a lot of times, including the bowl game against Stanford, it took Weeden a quarter to warm up. It's not easy to dissect, but sometimes early in games Weeden's timing is off with his receivers. That used to happen to Favre early on in his career as well.
Once Weeden heated up, however, he was as accurate as any quarterback in the college game. Weeden needs to go to the right system; that will ultimately decide how successful he is in the NFL. Weeden would actually be perfect in a Run 'n' Shoot offense. He needs to throw the ball a lot. Weeden is the quarterback equivalent to a running back who gets better with more carries.
Like Griffin, Weeden threw a ton of balls to wide open receivers. No quarterback on tape had more wide open receivers to throw to than Weeden. Again, that's why he's so hard to break down but he was accurate when he needed to be. Overall, there's a lot more to like about Weeden's game than dislike.
Fantasy Impact: Weeden will compete for a backup position as a rookie, which means he'll be an injury away from getting on the field. He's a dark horse to help fantasy owners this season but he'll likely have more value in keeper leagues.
Nick Foles, Arizona
Outlook: One thing you have to remember about Foles is that he played for who I believe was the worst head coach in college football: Mike Stoops. Arizona quit on Stoops last year and at times it looked like Foles was the only Wildcat on offense actually trying. Once Stoops was fired, the team played better and Foles finally got better protection.
Foles isn't going to shine in situations like the Combine. He isn't all that athletic but he can make tough throws. In particular, Foles throws a nice deep ball and is accurate on those 15-30 yard passes over the middle.
Foles is tough. He got killed last year playing behind Arizona's weak offensive line but he kept getting back up and firing away and made a lot of impressive throws with defenders right in his face.
Foles has to work on his decision-making. Sometimes he threw into coverage, leaving one to wonder what he could have possibly been thinking. But that could have been a result of Foles facing constant pressure and playing from behind.
The word is Foles' draft stock dropped after a poor Combine, but I think he still makes for an intriguing prospect down the road.
Fantasy Impact: I like Foles but he doesn't have any fantasy value right now. If he helps fantasy owners it will be after he gets a couple of years of seasoning as a backup.
Brock Osweiler, Arizona State -- I'm not a huge fan of Osweiler. I wouldn't complain if he gets taken in the third or fourth round based on his physical skills but he seems to be moving up draft boards. Now there's talk Osweiler may go in Round 1; that's just crazy.
There's no denying Osweiler has a strong arm, which likely is why some NFL scouts are falling in love with him. Osweiler will wow with his arm strength but when watching him on tape he still has a long way to go to be a great quarterback.
Right now Osweiler is all arm, which is to say Osweiler throws everything hard. On tape he appeared to have trouble reading defenses at times and didn't always look comfortable in the pocket. He still needs to learn how to put some touch on his passes when the situation calls for it.
Osweiler is the kind of quarterback who could be something three years down the road with good coaching, but if a team selects him in the first round and expects Osweiler to play right away, they'll be making a mistake. He's not ready to play in the NFL.
Fantasy Impact: Osweiler has no fantasy value heading into this season. At best, he's worth a flier in a keeper league.
Kirk Cousins, Michigan State -- Sometimes a guy will appear simply to be a good college player. Then I'll watch him on tape and he'll change my mind. That wasn't the case with Cousins. I still think he'll end up being just a good college player.
The fact is Cousins doesn't make the tough throws consistently enough. His ball floats a lot and he doesn't always allow his receivers to run after the catch. Also, Cousins doesn't do a good job of surveying the field. When his first option is covered he looks confused in the pocket.
I stand by my original thinking that Cousins is a good college player who won't be much more than a decent backup in the NFL. It's funny to hear some say how good he looked throwing against air at the Combine. You know who didn't look good throwing at the Combine? Cam Newton.
That stuff means very little to NFL talent evaluators. They either like Cousins or they don't. Trust me, throwing against air didn't change their minds at all.
Fantasy Impact: Cousins doesn't have much fantasy value. He's a career backup at the NFL level.
Ryan Lindley, QB San Diego State -- I watched Lindley and Boise State's Kellen Moore back-to-back; Lindley is a more physically-gifted version of Moore.
Moore is going to be better than people think and likely will be a valuable backup in the NFL but he has physical limitations on tape. Lindley has Moore's impressive decision-making ability with a much stronger arm.
The problem with Lindley is he's inconsistent right now. On some throws he looks like a first-round draft pick but then he'll go through a stretch where he struggles with accuracy. If Lindley can become more consistent, some NFL team could get a steal later in the draft.
Fantasy Impact: Lindley has the physical skills to play in the NFL but if that happens it won't be for at least two years. He still needs to develop and become a more accurate passer.
Case Keenum, Houston -- NFL teams question Keenum's size and arm strength, and on tape those concerns are clear. However, the more you watch this kid the tougher it is not to like him.
Keenum is smart, he looks over the field well and he really takes command of the offense. I'm not sure what Keenum's ceiling is but if I were a team sitting later in the draft and Keenum was on the board, I would take a shot on him.
The perfect landing spot for Keenum: Green Bay. If the Packers select Keenum and allow him to develop in their system, he could surprise people down the line.
Fantasy Impact: Keenum has no fantasy value right now.
In every draft some players end up being better than anyone anticipated. That's a given. However, on paper I see two legitimate franchise quarterbacks in this class with Luck and Griffin. There's no doubt in my mind after watching them on tape that those two will go 1-2 come April.
In my opinion after the top two, the rest of the quarterbacks in this class are second round picks at best. That likely won't be the case because teams reach for quarterbacks, but that's how I have the position graded right now.
If I had to pick one other guy out from this lower group that I think will become a successful NFL quarterback I would have to go with Weeden. He could be the wild card in this class.