It’s not only about the rookies.
The NFL Draft impacts the veterans just as much as the rookies when it comes to fantasy football. Quarterbacks get new weapons to throw to, running backs receive more protection up front, kickers receive– nevermind. Round 1 of the draft is in the books, and fantasy diehards are already editing their ranks (me), determining whose stock is on the rise.
And your winners are…
Zac Stacy, St.Louis Rams– My parents are becoming jealous. I talk about Stacy more than anyone in my family, it seems, but I truly love the guy. Coming off a breakout season in which he rushed for 973 yards and seven scores, Stacy is entering 2014 as a top-15 fantasy back for many. For me, he is number seven, but that surprises absolutely no one. Since taking over the Rams starting job in Week 5 last year, Stacy ranked 7th in the league in rushing yards. And that was with a backup quarterback, one-dimensional offense and a banged up offensive line. The Rams helped him out by selecting Greg Robinson second overall, a mammoth of an offensive lineman that can get out in space. He has good flexibility, and now with he and Jake Long, Stacy should have some serious holes to run through in 2014.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions– As if Stafford didn’t already have enough guys to throw to, the Lions went ahead and drafted athletic tight end Eric Ebron with the 10th overall pick. Ebron is a very good route-runner with good hands and athleticism, and although he is an inconsistent blocker, the Lions are looking to use him as a glorified wide receiver, similar to Jimmy Graham or Jordan Cameron. During his final year at UNC, he lined up in the slot over 71 percent of the time. Meanwhile, Stafford now has the best receiver in the world, two elite pass-catching backs, Golden Tate and a trio of tight ends to throw to. He is my number four quarterback for the 2014 season. Throwing the ball 600-plus times in this offense is going to be fun to own, folks.
Matt Ryan, Steven Jackson, Atlanta Falcons– 2013 was a lost year for the Falcons. They suffered a ton of injuries, their defense was weak, but most importantly, their offensive line was atrocious. Matt Ryan was sacked 44 times, the 10th-most in the league. He was also hit 100 times over the course of the season, good for 5th-most in the NFL. Being able to sit tight at pick number six and grab a guy like Jake Matthews to sure up that offensive line is huge for Ryan and the Falcons. He’ll come in and help right away, possessing long, strong arms and off-the-snap quickness to create time for Ryan in the pocket. In fact, when Matthews entered A&M’s starting lineup as a freshman in 2010, their sack totals dropped drastically. However, he’ll also be good for a guy like Steven Jackson to have a bounceback season in year number two in Atlanta. If there is one elite strength of Matthews, it’s his run-blocking. Look for a nice comeback season from the entire Atlanta offense this year.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings– Patterson hinted towards fantasy greatness towards the end of last season, catching three touchdowns and averaging 6.8 targets per game over his last six contests. We know what this guy can do when in space, and the Vikings realized that he is their number one pass-catcher, so he should see a major uptick in fantasy production, especially when you consider the whole second-year wideout theory. It also helps that the Vikings ended the first round by trading up to the final pick to grab their guy, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. He may have gone third at his position, but I think he is the most pro-ready passer in this class. I don’t care about his pro day. I mean, JaMarcus Russell had an incredible pro day and can you tell me where he is now? No, seriously. Can you? Because I have no idea. Bridgewater won’t be asked to do a ton in this offense led by Adrian Peterson, but he should be more than serviceable throwing the football. Last year, he completed over 97 percent of his screen passes, the most among any quarterback college football. And, according to Greg Peshek, Bridgewater posted a 63 completion percentage when under pressure (second to Bortles) and a 76.92 completion percentage when being blitzed, the best among the top prospects. Patterson should reap the benefits of having a viable passer.