Now that we got the shmoozers *cough**cough* Tony R-Homo *cough* out of the way, let’s look at the teams that did very well on draft day. As before, teams appearing on this portion of the post are the ones who did the best job of addressing needs, rebuilding, adding depth, rounding out the roster, or grabbing great value in the draft.
1. San Francisco 49ers – Stop it guys, just stop it! This team had the best draft, hands down. Not only did they address needs at safety after releasing Dashon Goldson, with 1st round pick Eric Reid, they also made some of the biggest steals in the draft with “Tank” Carradine in the 2nd round, and Marcus Lattimore (Gore’s heir?) in the 4th round. Their entire draft was one good pick after another, adding depth at DE, QB, WR (Patton is a nice sleeper), and OLB. This team was already defensively stacked, and they got more stacked in the draft. For purposes of fantasy, any defensive starter is rosterable, and should provide very good statistics for any owner. Eric Reid should come in immediately and contribute a handful of INTs, tackles, forced/recovered fumbles, and possibly a touchdown or two. Offensively, watch the WR situation very closely, after Crabtree and Boldin, as there are some nice sleepers vying for WR3 duties in SF. My favorite to come away with the WR3 job is Quinton Patton. He has impressed early on and runs routes well, with the only concern being he sometimes tips his routes to defenders. Should he win the job, he could flirt with 5 TDs and around 600 yards, as Kaepernick is rapidly coming of age under Harbaugh. My only concern fantasy-wise with the 49ers is at RB. Frank Gore is getting old for a running back (30), Lattimore should sit this season after completely annihilating his right knee and needing major reconstructive surgery, and the 49ers do not have a viable backup to Gore for this season. I expect Gore to get 1,000 yds/9 TDs, but beware of him as he is 30 and may start slowing at any time, so be prepared to grab LaMichael James or Kendall Hunter if/when Gore goes down. When a team is this awesome, and coming off a disappointing Super Bowl loss, expect a blood-hungry, pissed off 49ers team to be ruthless as they make another push for a Super Bowl this season. No mercy shall be given.
2. St. Louis Rams – Staying in the NFC West, the Rams had a killer draft, and did the best job of rebuilding of any team. Yes, losing Steven Jackson to Atlanta hurts, but he was deserving of a championship calibre team, and will get that in Atlanta. St. Louis wasted no time in the draft rebuilding, drafting Tavon Austin in the 1st round, followed by a solid, yet raw inside linebacker (ILB) Alec Ogletree, and then nabbing high upside starters at S and RB with T.J. McDonald and Zac Stacy, respectively. Tavon Austin has the chance to be a top 20 WR this season, and should eclipse the 1,200 yd/8 TD threshold this season, Bradford’s health permitting. While their RB situation is a bit of a quagmire with Stacy, Isaiah Pead, and Daryl Richardson, Stacy should win the starting gig, but this looks like a running back by committee (RBBC) this season, unless one of the 3 runs away with the gig. The starter could get 750 yes/5 TDs, depending on the touches distribution, and how the pass game goes. Their defensive prospects look more promising than their offensive ones as the defense will still be on the field a ton. James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree should provide healthy tackle totals (100+), hopefully a handful of sacks, and a few TFLs, and hopefully some FFs or FRs. Also target Chris Long, Robert Quinn, and T.J. McDonald as the former two should provide a shot at 10+ sacks (Long had 13.5 last season), TFLs, and 2-3 FFs/FRs. If McFarland could work on his cover skills, he could be a sneaky source of tackles, INTs (possibly 4+), and likely a defensive TD as he is slated to be starting at strong safety for the Rams. The Rams definitely took the biggest step forward of any rebuilding team during the draft and could turn the leaf to relevancy again as soon as this season if things break right, although they won’t make the playoffs.They drafted extremely well, and while they didn’t necessarily fill all their needs, they took care of the most glaring holes and vastly improved the offense, adding Tavon Austin, Zac Stacy, and Stedman Bailey.
3. Green Bay Packers – Controversial pick, here, but here’s why they are on this list; Green Bay told almost all of their former running backs to go take a hike, and drafted 2 of the best RBs in the draft in Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. Yes, this is going to give fantasy owners the fits as this has RBBC written all over initially, but this is also good for fantasy owners as it will open up the pass game more for Aaron Rodgers to hit his receivers Nelson, Cobb, Jones, and Finley, putting their productions at solid to borderline elite in the yds and TD categories, and for one or more of the receivers, targets (Ts). Both Lacy and Franklin are sleepers this season, and if you draft one, make sure to grab the other. Franklin will be the between the 20’s homerun threat running back who gets more yards (600-800), while Lacy will be the smash mouth, get out of my way running back. Lacy will likely get more TDs (6-8) as he should get the bulk of the goal line touches. Eventually, Franklin should emerge as the RB1 in Green Bay and have the potential for over 1,100 yards in the future, with possibly 8-10 TDs, but for this season it’s RBBC with Franklin getting more yards and Lacy more TDs. Receiver-wise, Cobb is my sleeper pick to lead the team in both yards and TDs as he is the most elusive receiver, but Jordy Nelson could get the most catches as he tends to be Rodgers’ favorite deep threat receiver, but after Cobb’s emergence, that could change. The leader of the receiving core will easily get 1,000+ yds and 8-10 TDs in this offense, but the WR3 and TE (Jermichael Finley) will also get around 750 yds and 6-8 TDs with upside for more. Fantasy goodness in other words. Defensively, target Desmond Bishop and AJ Hawk for tackles as they should net 110+ TCKLs and get a handful of SCKs and some TFLs. For sacks, grab Clay Matthews (13 last season), and take a flier on 1st round pick Datone Jones as he could be the player that gives Green Bay the defensive end they have needed as Raji is not the answer. If you want a chance repeat performance, and not afraid to gamble on regression, nab Morgan Burnett as he could provide TCKLs,passes defensed (PDs if your league counts those), and possibly a few INTs. Green bay seems poised to take the NFC North, and could make a Super Bowl run should they prove they can match the physicality of San Francisco, Atlanta, and Seattle.
4. Atlanta Falcons – This might be a homerism as I’m a Falcon fan so I think they had a good draft, but didn’t take the “sexy” names. Atlanta shored up their secondary with Desmond Trufant (1st rd) and Robert Alford (2nd), as well as the defensive line with Malliciah Goodman (4th) to start across from Umenyiora, and potentially nabbed Tony Gonzalez’s heir apparent with 6’8″ TE Levine Toilolo (4th). Offensively, Atlanta has one of the best offenses with receiver duo threat Roddy White and Julio Jones, upgraded at RB with Steven Jackson, got Gonzo back for 1 more season, and all these players could put up Chuck Norris-esque statistics this season as Matt Ryan’s maturation takes another step forth. Defensively, this unit also has some studs. Sean Weatherspoon could completely breakout this season and net 110+ TCKLs, 4-5 sacks, some TFLs, and then throw in a FR or 2, should Umenyiora return to his quarterback hitting ways. William Moore is a nasty safety who will lower the boom (100+ TCKLs), pick off a few passes, and possibly return 1-2 picks for TDs, which should open up the opportunity for Desmond Trufant to get his share of PDs, TCKLs, INTs, and possibly an FF or FR as no opposing quarterback is going to target Asante Samuel. The Falcons will be in the playoffs yet again with their eye on revenge against San Francisco, after last post-season’s 2nd half meltdown, missing a Super Bowl shot by inches. See ya in the NFC Championship, San Fran!
5a. Baltimore Ravens – Apparently the new fad in Baltimore is out with the old, in with the new. Ray Lewis: Retired! Ed Reed: Houston! Anquan Boldin: San Fran! In other words, the Super Bowl Champs lost a great deal of production, especially on defense. Don’t worry Ravens fans, the Ravens quickly addressed the defensive side of the ball in the first 4 rounds of the draft, led by safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown in the first two rounds of the draft. Both will step in immediately and start producing. Not like they really have a choice, either, as Baltimore needs them now. Both love to play smash mouth football and lower the boom. It wouldn’t be surprising if one or both were in the top 15 at their respective positions this season fantasy-wise as both are going to be extremely productive, with a chance at triple digit tackles for Brown, and 5-6 picks and 70+ tackles for Elam. Of the two, I expect Elam to put up the better all-around numbers as he’ll get the opportunity to grab the ball out of the air, as well as put receivers and running backs on the turf. Offensively, the Ravens should have done more to address the hole left by Boldin, but they might be alright, as long as Torrey Smith proves he can be WR1, Jacoby Jones stops putting the ball on the turf, and Ray Rice continues to run through defenders. Torrey Smith, and the at-least semi-emergence of a WR3 in Baltimore are the keys here. If Torrey Smith continues to up his game, and can approach the 80 catch/1,200 yd/8 TD threshold the Ravens could be fine, but if Smith regresses, or nobody steps up, the Ravens are in trouble. Ray Rice will be his typical self, and put up another 1,200 yd/10 TD rushing season with around 70/600/3-5 receiving-wise. It is unlikely that they will return to the Super Bowl, much less AFC title game with their current squad, as this is a transition year, but they should still make the playoffs and be solid this season.
5b. Cincinnati Bengals – Bengals will win the division this season. That’s right folks, I said it. The AFC North whooping boys now are the new big kids on the block, and they come with an attitude. Cincy is on this list for the sole reason that they got Andy Dalton a new toy, TE Tyler Eifert and drafted a bruising running back Giovanni Bernard, who is my sleeper to win top rookie running back honors behind Le’Veon Bell in Pittsburgh. The bad news is Andy Dalton no longer has any excuses for mediocre play in any game. He has Eifert and Gresham at TE, emerging star WR AJ Green, and a bruising run game, with Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Law Firm). AJ Green could challenge Calvin Johnson for top WR honors this season, as Green is just oozing with potential, but think Johnson reminds him who top dog receiver-wise. Green will go 100/1500/12, conservatively. in the run game, Bernard should lead the team in touches and yards by season’s end and will open as goal line back, but Law Firm will likely be season starter. Bank on 900/7 for Bernard and 900/6 for Green-Ellis, but adjust those numbers if one or the other goes down, or Bernard runs away with the gig early on (which I expect he will). For fantasy purposes, I’m not really keen on having anyone on their defense, but if I have to take a flier on someone from the defense, I’d grab Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga (LB) for tackles, Michael Johnson (DE) for sacks, and pray I don’t have to go within a ten foot pole of any of their secondary players, as it is a disaster both in real life and in fantasy. But that’s the end of the bad news for the Bengals. If the secondary can at least keep its own, Cincy could make a push for the AFC title game, but do not think they will make it that far this season.