BY DAVID KOMER
Montario Hardesty: Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMI
The NFL draft's opening night, prime-time, first-round fireworks packed plenty of fantasy implications, but it was only the beginning. Rounds 2 and 3 caused plenty of its own drama with teams thought to have found running game answers only creating more questions (The Browns! The Texans!); the ongoing quarterback watch (Clausen, McCoy ... waiting!), a few curve balls for good measure (The Vikings taking Toby!) and the Raiders admitting their king-sized mistake (No mas, JaMarcus!).
By Sunday draft fatigue began to set in, but Pete Carroll kept it interesting by reinventing the Seahawks' backfield (LenDale and Leon go northwest!).
As I wrote in my first round post-mortem last Friday , the Chargers' Ryan Mathews and the Lions' Jahvid Best created the biggest fantasy buzz, C.J. Spiller the biggest buzzkill, the receiver debate of Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant was born in earnest, and all the while Broncos Coach Josh McDaniels hooked his sizeable ego to the Tim Tebow experiment. But the next six rounds and two days would provide more than enough fantasy food for thought ...
At this point, is any 2009 waiver-wire wonder at running back safe? First it was Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, who a month ago fell into a probable time-share with free agent pickup Thomas Jones (and now Darren Sproles 2.0 in rookie addition Dexter McCluster). Now the Browns' Jerome Harrison and Texans' Arian Foster joins Charles in the fight for carries and fantasy relevance.
Cleveland drafted Tennessee's Montario Hardesty and Houston grabbed Auburn's Ben Tate in the second round Friday and both are significant pickups. Every fantasy keeper league general manager with an investment in either position should be scheming for one of them on draft day, because either one could be the feature back by the end of the year.
In Cleveland, years of limited playing time and nagging injuries subsided long enough for Harrison to break out late last season with his signature performance coming in a record-breaking 286-yard, three touchdown explosion against Kansas City. Harrison was looking like a solid RB2 and late Round 3 to late Round 4 pick for 2010. Downgrade him now and keep a watchful eye in preseason on the bigger Hardesty (6-0, 225), especially if Harrison (5-9, 205) gets dinged up.
The Texans have a more complex situation, where Steve Slaton was second only to Chris Johnson in 2008's rookie running backs coming out party. Both set the NFL and fantasy circles on their collective ears, but while Johnson entered the stratosphere in 2009, Slaton landed with a thud. Eventually, another former Vols' back, Arian Foster, stepped in and seemed to settle the position after Ryan Moats and Chris Brown tried their hands at being the feature back and failed.
In the last two games of the year, Foster tallied 216 yards, over a 5.0-yard per-carry clip and three touchdowns. Before that, Foster's claim to fame was annoying scouts during interviews at the 2009 combine as a bit of a headcase and refusing to talk to UT reporters unless the interviews were conducted in "Pterodactyl", according to Pro Football Weekly.
Enter Tate, who at 5-11, 218, has the size to be the Texans' main back and answer to its feature back search. Slaton is still a factor, but consider the race wide-open and Tate a fabulous sleeper.
Both Tate and Hardesty are mandatory handcuffs on draft day whether in keeper or regular drafts.
Brad Childress might be the fantasy football community's most vilified head coach. Adrian Peterson owners have crowed about Childress' running back rotation judgement on playing ex-Viking Chester Taylor incessantly for years. Whether it was limiting Peterson's workload early on, or later falling behind in games and inexplicably pulling him for the better pass-catching Taylor, Peterson owners have had Childress on their short list for awhile. The second round drafting of Toby Gehart last weekend makes the situation murkier. Gerhart doesn't catch the ball like Taylor did, yet he's in line to be the primary back up. This leaves one thing he could possibly add -- goal line duty. It's just speculation, but it could be a problem. Obviously, Peterson's stock stays at the gold standard of fantasy football regardless, but Childress haters might have something else to grumble about. Gerhart is an excellent short-yardage bulldozer and could steal some of Peterson's carries at the stripe.
Three non-first round receivers whose second and fourth round destinations were the most intriguing: Tampa Bay's Arrelious Benn, Seattle's Golden Tate and St. Louis' Mardy Gilyard.
When it comes to who might have the biggest first-year impact of any receivers, look no further than Tate. Drafted lower than his production and combine speed times would suggest as a result of measuring under 6-feet, Tate is good enough to help fading fantasy quarterback Matt Hasselbeck from the waiver wire scrap pile for one more year.
Benn has got measurable galore, but is still raw and joins a still developing offense with potential in Tampa. With second-year QB Josh Freeman, Benn has a chance to grow up with the Kansas State product while stiffs like one-year wonder Michael Clayton (no, not the movie) make way for him.
Gilyard is a gutsy, big-play receiver doomed to wait during the draft due to poor 40-yard dash times. But like Benn, he won't find himself awash in talented competition for snaps. He'll have plenty of chances to prove himself, and could be a nice compliment to speedster Donnie Avery.
I love all three rookies in keeper league drafts, but Tate is the lone first-round receiver not named Dez Bryant who deserves a look. In regular drafts, Tate probably won't be the first rookie receiver off the board, but he's the safest pick late in the draft of any rookie receiver.
A few player trades were big enough to cause some ripples on the fantasy radar last weekend.
Here's a quick nugget on the Jason Campbell trade: Just because fantasy football's preeminent pedestrian quarterback has changed zip codes doesn't mean he's suddenly useable. Campbell was acquired to, in all likelihood, replace 2007 first pick overall JaMarcus Russell. Overweight, inconsistent and frustrating, Russell was hardly a realistic starting option in fantasy, let alone real life. Campbell is an instant upgrade, but two problems loom in that No. 1, the Raiders' supporting cast on offense is highly suspect, and No. 2, Campbell's numbers have never been awe-inspiring, having hit the 20-touchdown pass mark only once. The biggest news is that the Russell era (OK, charade is more like it) is finally over, although Campbell is still a shaky fantasy backup at best.
On the other hand, another overweight disappointment just got the reset button pressed on his career. LenDale White was picked by the Seahawks last weekend and reunites with Pete Carroll in a USC reunion. This is the perfect springboard for White, who showed flashes with the Titans in previous years (most notably his 1100 yards in 2007, 17 touchdowns in 2008) before his teammate Johnson went nuclear last season. He joins fellow trade acquisition Leon Washington and shaky incumbent Justin Forsett, for a shot at the Seahawks' lead running back position. White becomes a great late mid-round sleeper to target in the 9th to 10th round.
1 RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers -- A ready-made offense for him to fit in, LaDainian who?
2 RB Jahvid Best, Lions -- Their first game-breaking back since "He who shall not be named ?"
3 RB C.J. Spiller, Bills -- Great back, but a crowded stable of runners looks like a logjam.
4 WR Dez Bryant, Cowboys -- Goodbye, Roy Williams, hope he doesn't pick up any bad habits.
5 RB Ben Tate, Texans -- A serious threat to be the every-down back.
6 RB Montario Hardesty, Browns -- Jerome Harrison's size and durability now on the clock.
7 TE Jermaine Gresham, Bengals -- Health a question, but potential isn't.
8 QB Sam Bradford, Rams -- Long-range investment, payoff could be nice.
9 WR Golden Tate, Seahawks -- The most polished and pro-ready receiver in the draft.
10 WR Demaryius Thomas, Broncos -- Raw as sushi, but a speedster with size.
11 WR Arrelius Benn, Bucs -- Josh Freeman has a nice, big target.
12 QB Jimmy Clausen, Panthers -- As in real life, a nice second round rookie fantasy draft value.
13 WR Mardy Gilyard, Rams -- Little competition for playing time outside of Donnie Avery.
14 QB Tim Tebow, Broncos -- The project begins; be patient.
15 WR Brandon LaFell, Panthers -- Panthers still looking for WR2 help to help Steve Smith.
16 QB Colt McCoy, Browns -- Mike Holmgren has a plan and time to develop him.
17 WR Damian Williams, Titans -- Will have chances to play but has to fight USC position lineage.
18 RB Toby Gerhart, Vikings -- Might become goal line vulture; a weird fit as Peterson's backup.
19 TE Rob Gronkowski, Patriots -- Possibly the best all-around, full service tight end.
20 RB Dexter McCluster, Chiefs -- Expect Sproles-esque, production but joins a crowded backfield.
21 WR Taylor Price, Patriots -- With Wes Welker out, will have a chance for snaps.
22 WR Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers -- With no Santonio Holmes around, will get a look.
23 RB Joe McKnight, Jets -- Lots of untapped potential, but could be just Reggie Bush-lite.
24 WR Eric Decker, Broncos -- Ed McCaffrey comparisons aren't that crazy.
25 TE Aaron Hernandez, Patriots -- A nice red zone passing target, but second fiddle to Gronkowski.
26 RB Jonathan Dwyer, Steelers -- Not a bad handcuff. Consider him Rashard Mendenhall insurance.
27 WR Jordan Shipley, Bengals -- Wes Welker comparisons aside, he'll do well in the slot.
28 WR Antonio Brown, Steelers -- CMU product will boost return game, has receiver upside.
29 WR Armanti Edwards, Panthers -- Former QB tries to transition (isn't this a Steelers' kind of pick?)
30 WR Jacoby Ford, Raiders -- A speedster who was overdrafted. Where have we heard that before?
31 TE Jimmy Graham, Saints -- Jeremy Shockey may one day be replaced by this fellow 'Canes product.
32 WR Mike Williams, Bucs -- Has potential, consider him a penny stock.
I know the new draft format's ratings were off the charts and the advertising money is probably enough to bring back the long-dead NFL Network's college football show (and its brown and orange 1970's set complete with wood trim), but the red carpet upgrade of this year's event felt like more of a downgrade.
I know the second and third round got its own stage to shine Friday night, but hear me, Mr. Goodell and hear me well: the tradition of the old Saturday-Sunday format has been wrecked. Making the draft into a primetime show on a weeknight with many fans stuck at work or scrambling to catch it, is a disappointing obstacle and I can't imagine being on West Coast time and forced to follow the draft from my cubicle online.
Draft weekend was once a hallowed event where the wives and family knew to block off on the calendar and we, the fans, got to eat, drink and live off a solid 48 hours of NFL info fed to us intravenously.
More people may have watched the show this year -- but the tradition and even some of the fun, were casualties along the way.
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