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Investing in futures

How this year's draft class can help your fantasy team

Posted: Sunday April 24, 2005 10:44PM; Updated: Sunday April 24, 2005 10:44PM
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Ronnie Brown
Ronnie Brown appears to have landed in a prime situation to put up big stats right away.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

As if many fantasy football players hadn't already started looking forward to the 2005 season, this weekend's draft definitely puts the wheels in motion. The influx of new talent always brings feelings of both anxiousness of the unknown yet hope that there could be magic in these freshly minted rookies.

The top of this year's draft definitely has fantasy owners buzzing, given all the skill position players taken by teams that appear to have starting jobs available for them. For many fantasy players, it's as much the opportunities available as the talent that makes the draftees so enticing. However, you can never be sure who will get chances at any point. (How many of you thought Ben Roethlisberger would start as many games as he did last year?)

Still, it's fun to project what the draftees what might do what in their rookie years. Unless you're in a deep keeper league, you're not necessarily relying on these guys to carry your team, but it's nice if they do since you feel that you got in on the ground floor. And remember, it's not always the first-round picks or even first-day who do the most damage -- second-round picks Julius Jones and Keary Colbert had solid seasons in 2004, while fourth-rounder Mewelde Moore was a hot commodity for a few weeks last season.

So here is my rough ranking of the top 30 offensive rookies you might want to target at your fantasy draft. The earlier picks are better bets to produce this year, while later picks are better for keeper leagues and very deep leagues (usually more than 14 teams). Sure, many people say you really can't judge a draft class until at least three or four years down the line. But you want to win your fantasy league now.

1. Ronnie Brown, RB, Dolphins (1st round, No. 2 overall): He didn't start at Auburn last year, but he did more than enough to deserve the No. 2 overall pick. He appears to be the complete package running and catching the ball, and as long as Ricky Williams doesn't return, Brown looks to be the main man and should put up big stats right away. He has the best opportunity to start right away, compared to fellow top-fivers Cedric Benson and Carnell Williams.

2. Cedric Benson, RB, Bears (1st round, No. 4 overall): Chicago keeps on swinging at top running backs, going with Thomas Jones last year, who did have his moments. Maybe now they've found something in Benson, who, whether he likes it or not, is a lot like Ricky Williams -- a bruising workhorse from Texas. Benson is a guy you can give the ball early and often. Plus, he appears to be a stud in the red zone, which is very helpful for fantasy owners.

3. Carnell Williams, RB, Buccaneers (1st round, No. 5 overall): Brown was the higher pick, but the Cadillac was the main man at Auburn for most of his career. Williams has the overall skills to be a star in the league, and right now his competition is the oft-injured Charlie Garner and the sometimes troubled Michael Pittman. Both Benson and Williams have some work ahead of them to grab a starting job, but they both have the upside to shine.

4. Braylon Edwards, WR, Browns (1st round, No. 3 overall): I used to like Cleveland's receiving corps before realizing it was just a bunch of decent No. 2 and 3 guys instead a collection of No. 1s and a couple of 2s. Now they appear to have a true No. 1 in the former Michigan star. If they can figure out who can get him the ball, he could add nice depth to a fantasy receiving corps.

5. Mike Williams, WR, Lions (1st round, No. 10 overall): More than a few people wonder if Matt Millen is putting together his own fantasy team by taking his third wideout in the top 10 in as many years. He's a nice fit for the offense and should be a good red-zone threat, but you've got to wonder how many balls can go around among Williams, last year's first-rounder Roy Williams, oft-injured Charles Rogers, plus running back Kevin Jones, who shined at the end of last year, and even ex-Colts tight end Marcus Pollard.

6. Alex Smith, QB, 49ers (1st round, No. 1 overall): He's got the skills you want in a quarterback, and it appears that he could be the starter on opening day, but given the lack of weapons around him, it's hard to believe he'll put up consistent numbers this year. He does have some running ability that could mean a few extra points. It's hard to get really excited about any rookie QB. Remember, Roethlisberger was not much better than a No. 2 QB in fantasy circles last year.

7. Mark Clayton, WR, Ravens (1st round, No. 22 overall): Baltimore may actually have some semblance of a passing game with the addition of Derrick Mason plus Clayton to go with Todd Heap. Mason and Heap are going to get the bulk of catches, but Clayton should make some noise too.

8. J.J. Arrington, RB, Cardinals (2nd round, No. 44 overall): Arizona decided not to trade for Travis Henry and was shut out of guys like Brown, Williams and Benson. So instead, they get a 2,000-yard rusher in Arrington in the second round, and he could step in and put up nice numbers should he win the starting job. The production is there, the question is can he supplant Marcel Shipp?

9. Reggie Brown, WR, Eagles (2nd round, No. 35 overall): Terrell Owens is griping about his contract. Freddie Mitchell may have talked his way out of town. Todd Pinkston is mediocre. That means the former Georgia star Brown (not to mention Greg Lewis, who shined late in the year) could see considerable action and get his share of catches from Donovan McNabb. It took a while for McNabb to find a No. 1 target; maybe he now actually has a real No. 2.