The destinations of the top two quarterbacks in the NFL Draft at the end of this month look predetermined, but, as usual, it isn't the quarterbacks we should be focusing on. We need to watch where Alabama running back Trent Richardson and the likes of Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon and Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd are headed.
Sure, coming off the season of the QB, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are going to get picked in fantasy leagues next season -- most likely sooner than warranted -- but running back can still carry the greatest impact position for rookies again. And it all starts with Richardson.
We break down the Top 10 fantasy football prospects to track in the 2012 draft April 26-28:
Richardson has some question marks and perhaps the biggest one is: How can we trust him when he backed up Mark Ingram for two years and Ingram went bust for us already in fantasy last year?
Well, it should be reminded Barry Sanders once backed up Thurman Thomas at Oklahoma State.
No, Richardson is not the next Sanders. We might never see backs have that kind of impact on the game with the way NFL offenses are now run. Backs are no longer the load carriers and they often share time, particularly early in their careers.
But Richardson has the talent to hearken us right away to an Adrian Peterson, if not Sanders. It looks like the Browns are a landing spot for the Alabama back in the top five, rare air for an RB draftee that tends to make him more bust than breakout.
Like Richardson, Wilson is following in the NFL footsteps of a former teammate, Ryan Williams, who went bust as a rookie -- albeit due to injury. Unlike Richardson, we are far less sure of where Wilson might land.
We shouldn't be unsure of his ability, and, with only one year as a starter at Tech, he has less tread on the tire.
We would be hard-pressed to see Wilson land in a better run-oriented place than Cleveland, but if he does, look out. Regarded as a tough between-the-tackles ballcarrier, Wilson can be a 10-touchdown threat as a rookie. That would make him the best rookie RB in fantasy.
While no one can question Blackmon's production, some might suggest he was merely a product of a system. It was the same type of criticism we should have had of Texas Tech product Michael Crabtree. He went from a pass-happy college team to a run-focused NFL one.
It has spelled bad news for Crabtree's fantasy owners. While we should be worried about Blackmon winding up in a bad situation -- like any receiver -- his physicality plays a lot better in this modern NFL than Crabtree's fragile ways do.
A.J. Green and Julio Jones did a lot to show us how rookie receivers might not take three years to break through in fantasy anymore. And, Green, specifically, looked like an elite talent heading to a bad situation. Blackmon is the type of receiver who can make a bad situation look much better.
This ranking is not to suggest Griffin will be a better NFL QB than Luck. He will merely be more of a fantasy prospect because of his rushing talents.
If Luck is the next Peyton Manning, Griffin might be the next Cam Newton. Looking at the rookie seasons of Manning and Newton -- arguably the two best fantasy rookie passing seasons -- you have to go with Newton in terms of fantasy production. Griffin can be a 10-rushing-TD threat, even if he doesn't set the rookie record Newton set in that category.
Griffin is going to be a Redskin, so you have to worry about Mike Shanahan holding him back, but it will be tough to hold back a talent like this.
Manning's rookie season would make him a marginal fantasy starter in this pass-happy NFL, but the way NFL offenses rely on the pass nowadays, an accurate passer like Luck can rack up a lot of completions and yards -- no matter the score. And, you have to figure, the Colts will be playing in a lot of shootouts this season.
Luck is off the charts in terms of long-term fantasy production, because he can be Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers-accurate. We list him fifth here because he is still a quarterback with a learning curve -- and one without the ability to impact games like Griffin does as a runner. While Luck showed tremendous speed and athleticism for a QB, he's clearly a pocket passer. There is just too much at stake putting himself out there as a target as a runner.
If Blackmon is this year's Green -- albeit slightly -- Floyd is this year's Jones, a fast-riser who can light it up down the field with equal quicks. Floyd's strong pro day is getting some talk he might go off the board before Blackmon, too.
As with all receivers, the system you wind up in can determine your production. With the NFL's passing fancy, Floyd has a good chance to be an impact fantasy option right away, particularly if falls to a team outside the Top 10 that has an elite QB in place.
You have to be wary of receiver draft prospects who are tied to productive quarterbacks, because how can we be sure who the real catalyst for success was at Baylor? Is Wright a product of Griffin III's excellence? Or did Wright turn Griffin III from good to great?
Wright had a disappointing 40 time at the NFL Scouting Combine, which is bad news when you consider he is under six feet and will have to rely on speed and separation to be great at the next level. Still, his NFL comparison is a Steve Smith, and there is plenty of room for a talent like that on a fantasy roster ... again, if he teams with the right QB.
If you look just at the tale of the tape, Hill might be the best receiver prospect in this draft. He is taller than the three receivers ranked above him and his 40 time might be the best, too. This makes for plenty of draft excitement.
Hill's length and top speed -- he's not quick as much as fast -- make him a serious talent to watch. Since he might be a late first-rounder, he stands a better chance to land in a great situation than most. The problem then is he lacks the receiving polish of those above him
Miller is getting criticized for coming out after a mediocre sophomore season, but this should be exactly the reason we like him as a fantasy prospect. Running is more an instinctive than a learned skill, so the lack of college experience should be balanced by the fact he hasn't taken the beating other backs have.
There will be questions about his durability and pass blocking, but you shouldn't question the dynamic ability he has in his prototypical NFL running back body. If he winds up getting carries as a rookie, he is going to be a great midseason breakthrough.
According to scouts, Martin was a viewed as a max-effort back that took decent physical skills a long way. After the Combine, that view has changed and Martin is a legit running prospect.
The stocky 223-plus-pounder is apparently far more athletic than he has been given credit for. The NFL loves backs that pack some punch and can take hits, so Martin might be the best total package as the position behind the runaway No. 1 RB prospect, Richardson. If you don't worry about the small school stigma following him, Martin should be a trendy name in fantasy drafts next August.