Posted: Wednesday April 27, 2011 4:16PM ; Updated: Wednesday April 27, 2011 4:16PM
Eric Mack
Eric Mack>INSIDE FANTASY FOOTBALL

Prospects with greatest potential for immediate fantasy impact

Story Highlights

No first, second or third-year players will be viable fantasy starters next season

Mark Ingram's receiving skills could make for an immediate fantasy impact

A.J. Green's size and speed could make him a fantasy star in rookie season

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Mark Ingram averaged 5.5 yards per carry and 13.4 yards per catch as a junior last season for the Crimson Tide.
Mark Ingram averaged 5.5 yards per carry and 13.4 yards per catch as a junior last season for the Crimson Tide.
John Biever/SI

The NFL Draft will open up with and ramble on, as it always does, about quarterbacks.

Fantasy footballers don't get sucked in. The most important players to watch are still the running backs and receivers.

This is promising to be yet another year heavy on first-round signal callers, and maybe the heaviest yet. Cam Newton. Blaine Gabbert. Christian Ponder. Jake Locker. Andy Dalton. Ryan Mallett. Colin Kaepernick.

Seven QBs, really? C'mon. Are we playing flag football here? There are other positions on the field.

Sure, quarterbacks score more points than any other position in fantasy, but it is the position scarcity that makes running back and receiver the focal point of your NFL Draft scouting attention.

Yeah, scarcity of good quarterbacks keeps NFL teams from contending, but fantasy owners need to only rank the top 12 to score a productive player at the keystone position -- save for the rare format that allows a quarterback at the FLEX position. It has to be reminded here: There are no first, second or even third-year players in the range of a viable fantasy starter for next season.

My top 12 QBs for 2011:

1. Aaron Rodgers, GB
2. Michael Vick, PHI
3. Peyton Manning, IND
4. Drew Brees, NO
5. Tom Brady, NE
6. Philip Rivers, SD
7. Matt Ryan, ATL
8. Ben Roethlisberger, PIT
9. Eli Manning, NYG
10. Matt Schaub, HOU
11. Joe Flacco, BAL
12. Tony Romo, DAL

Only two fourth-year passers will rate in this elite group, Ryan and Flacco (arguably). The highest rated third-year passer figures to be the Bucs' Josh Freeman, who might crack the top 14 -- maybe. The Lions Matthew Stafford might follow right behind him. The top-ranked sophomore has to be the Rams' Sam Bradford, who might not crack the top 20. Tim Tebow could slot somewhere thereafter, too.

None of those super seven quarterbacks that could go in Round 1 this Thursday will be any higher than 25th in the preseason fantasy rankings. That means they aren't even draftable as a backup for fantasy teams in Year 1, even if they start for their NFL teams out of training camp.

Mark our words: no rookie quarterback will be worth drafting this summer.

We will have plenty of games -- no, several YEARS -- to analyze them before they are even worth owning in fantasy. Yet, we will have to hear hours and hours of deliberation about where these players are going to go and what their plusses and minuses are.

Ignore it all. It is just noise keeping you from your real focus in watching the NFL Draft to scout for your fantasy team.

Running backs are interesting, because they can be immediate impact players, but most of them will be slotted behind a veteran initially. So, you have to pay the closest attention to the depth charts ahead of them. There are a lot of talented runners, who just won't get chances right away.

Wide receivers and tight ends don't tend to be impact rookies right away in fantasy, but the scarcity of information on them makes their scouting analysis the most important to pay attention to. What you hear and see with receivers might not help you win your fantasy league this year, but if you can write stuff down and keep it for Year 2 and 3, you can score some nice finds in the latter rounds of future drafts or off the waiver wire.

Here are the top potential fantasy talents to watch as this NFL Draft unfolds starting Thursday night:

1. RB Mark Ingram, Alabama

The son of the former Giants and Dolphins receiver of the same name looks like a solid feature back in the NFL. There have been some questions about durability, but what physical back hasn't had that stigma attached to him, along with questions about his breakaway speed?

"I'm a complete all-around back," Ingram told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I could be in the game [on] first down, second down, third down, goal line and short yardage. I can pick up pass protection, go out of the backfield and catch the ball."

The Dolphins (15th) and Patriots (17th) are two teams rumored to be considering him. Those destinations would make the hype on Ingram greater than that of last year's first rookie rusher picked, Ryan Matthews of the Chargers. Preseason noise even raised Matthews into the first round of some drafts, even of the non-keeper variety.

The Dolphins have Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams as free agents in this locked-out NFL. That would make Ingram a potential 20-carry beast right away. The Patriots have Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead on their depth chart, and notoriously and frustratingly rotate their backs, but Ingram's potential receiving skills could make him a feature in the pass-happy Brady offense.

2. WR A.J. Green, Georgia

Green grades the highest in SI.com's scale (3.24), mostly because his sub 4.5 speed is matched with size, standing 6 feet, 3.5 inches. Green is the highest-rated skill-position player on this web site.

He looks like a total receiving package and could find himself with a team in the top five, perhaps in Cincinnati with a veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer. Should Palmer remain with the Bengals, he is due for a rebound year and might not have Chad Ochocinco or Terrell Owens to throw to anymore.

Green could be a starter right away and a candidate to catch 80 passes for 1,000 yards and six-to-eight touchdowns.

3. WR Julio Jones, Alabama

Although he is an inch shorter than Green, Ingram's college teammate is a bit thicker and even faster than the highest-rated receiver. The knock on him is focus.

He has the stigma of a diva receiver. Those tend to take a bit longer to be trusted by their NFL teams. He can be a circumstantial star for fantasy owners in Year 1, but Green looks most polished and ready to contribute for fantasy owners right away.

This top three might be the only non-quarterback skill position players to go in the first round, a relative rarity by modern-day draft standards. The first-rounders tend to be the obvious top rookies to target in fantasy drafts. But it isn't always the top picks at those positions that hold the most fantasy value immediately. They need the right situation, too.

Before knowing the situations, here are the top fantasy prospects worth tracking in this in draft, by position. We will do a more thorough review post-draft of each position once the destinations are determined.

Quarterbacks

1. Locker, Washington
2. Gabbert, Missouri
3. Newton, Auburn
4. Mallett, Arkansas
5. Ponder, Florida State

Honorable mentions: Dalton, TCU; Kaepernick; Ricky Stanzi, Iowa.

This is not the order these players will get picked, but let's consider Locker the No. 1 here because he is more likely to go later. That means he is more likely to land with a decent team and not one completely rebuilding. Also, Locker was the No. 1 prospect at the position going into last season and a bad year for a team shouldn't ruin his long-term value. There are a lot of nuances to playing quarterback in the NFL vs. college, so this is easily the toughest position to rank going in.

Running backs

1. Ingram, Alabama
2. Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech
3. Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
4. DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma
5. Roy Helu, Jr., Nebraska

Honorable mentions: Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma State; Daniel Thomas, Kansas State; Jordan Todman, Connecticut; Delone Carter, Syracuse.

This position is the one most impacted by destination. Any of the top five-to-10 running backs could be an immediate impact player in fantasy -- even if they fall into Round 3. You want speed, durability and size at this position. Ingram looks the most certain to be a starter right away.

Wide receivers

1. Green, Georgia
2. Jones, Alabama
3. Leonard Hankerson, Miami
4. Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh
5. Greg Salas, Hawaii

Hankerson is the most interesting after those elite two. He was a playmaker in a bad offense that featured real shaky quarterback play. In the right system, working with the right quarterback, Hankerson could prove to be a real steal and an instant Mike Williams (Bucs version) hit. Salas has the makings of a solid possession-receiver type.

Tight ends

1. Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
2. Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame
3. Jordan Cameron, Southern California
4. Virgil Green, Nevada
5. Rob Housler, Florida Atlantic

It was a banner year for rookie tight ends last season, especially with the success of Patriots duo Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Saints also got a find in Jimmy Graham and the Bengals should get more out of Jermaine Gresham. If it takes wideouts three years, though, it might never happen for tight ends, who usually spend more time working on their blocking skills in Year 1. Kendricks looks like he could be a nice seam-runner as a fantasy sleeper.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You got your heart set on a prospect, send it to him. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.

 
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