On a scale of 1 – 5, I project both the actual impact to their real teams these players will have this year, and their fantasy football impact for 2011.
Julio Jones, WR Falcons - Roddy White has needed a legitimate complimentary wide-out with the talent of Julio Jones for a while now. Julio has arrived to the NFL, and much sooner than later, he will arrive as a presence in fantasy football.
Team Impact – 4.5 Fantasy Impact – 4.0
A.J. Green, WR Bengals – No Ocho, no T.O., no problem. A.J. Green will have plenty of room to run and show off his athleticism in Cincinnati. While he should see more overall targets than his counterpart Julio Jones, Green will be working with a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton, while Jones has a proven QB in Matt Ryan.
Team Impact – 4.0 Fantasy Impact – 4.0
Greg Little, WR Browns – The wide receiver out of North Carolina should be an excellent asset to Colt McCoy in Cleveland. There is plenty of opportunity here for Little to shine as McCoy sorely needs a pair of reliable hands downfield. Peyton Hillis will break down if the Browns start him off with the workload that he saw last year, which eventually did prove to wear on him. All the more reason for McCoy to urgently develop a strong connection with Little.
Team Impact – 3.5 Fantasy Impact – 3.0
Torrey Smith, WR Ravens – Torrey Smith is a talented receiver from Maryland whose value in my opinion, does not drop from the Ravens nabbing Lee Evans. At least not in terms of on-field value, the fantasy value takes a small hit. Less targets? Maybe, but not by much, and having Evans there now to stretch defenses will make more of those targets he does get, quality ones. Things are looking better and better for QB Joe Flacco, and this will only make me harder on him if he fails to get it done in the playoffs again.
Team Impact – 3.0 Fantasy Impact – 2.5
Daniel Thomas, RB Dolphins – This is the rookie with the highest probability of getting the bulk of his teams’ rushes. With both Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams out of the picture in Miami, the door is wide open for big carries. Reggie Bush can supply a very desirable wildcat-esque dimension to the Dolphins, but Thomas will likely lead the team in touches.
DeMarco Murray, RB Cowboys – This is a running back that I believe is somewhat overlooked. This is probably mostly due to everyone’s belief that Felix Jones will be running away with the backfield duties in Big D. I say, not so fast. While Jones is certainly in line to be the lead back, this is a position that he has never been in, and he will need some help carrying the load. Murray is bigger than Choice, and for all intents and purposes, he’s flat-out more explosive than Choice. As soon as Murray can learn to pick up the blitzes and block on an NFL level, I think that he moves past Choice on the depth chart and turns those extra touches in to fantasy points.
Team Impact – 3.5 Fantasy Impact – 3.5
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB Falcons - Rodgers is someone who will often be overlooked this pre-season. It’s easy to look past a guy of his stature. We all know that Michael Turner is the man in the Atlanta backfield. But in the past 2 years, Turner has shown a propensity to be shut down by high-end run defenses while making up the difference in games against weak run defenses. There will continue to be a great deal of defensive attention brought to Turner this year, and I think that Rodgers could provide the perfect change of pace to keep defenses honest. This is a small but explosive back that should be used outside the tackles in order to make defenses pay for loading up in the box. I do not see Antone Smith as a major threat, and Jason Snelling will vulture some cheap touchdowns. But the Falcons don’t have another player that can provide the explosiveness that Rodgers can, so there is a role on this team for him to take.
Ryan Williams, RB Cardinals – Some believe that Beanie Wells will take off with the starting role that the team claims he now has and thrive as a fantasy force. Others believe that it’s really just a matter of time before Wells gets hurt and the Cardinals will depend on Williams for backfield production. I am one of the people who think that Beanie Wells can absolutely be a productive lead back for Arizona. But whether he stays that or not, there is still plenty of room for Williams to shine, especially now that Tim Hightower is gone. Williams has an excellent chance to actually start for this team, but it will not happen right away. Either way, I don’t see Wells as the kind of guy that could go the whole year with over 20 carries per, so Williams can find himself plenty of chances even if he never gets the starting role in 2011.
Team Impact – 4.5 Fantasy Impact – 4.0
Mark Ingram, RB Saints – We all know that Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory are still in New Orleans. New arrival Darren Sproles is not someone who will get in the way of the Mark Ingram. Sproles will be used sparingly as an exciting screen-pass type option. So it really just comes down to how many carries Ingram can get between Thomas and Ivory. Pierre Thomas will continue to serve his purpose in the New Orleans backfield as a dynamic runner/pass-catcher. But Ingram is still very likely to see a healthy load of carries because there really isn’t anything that Ivory can do, that Ingram cannot do just as well, if not better. Reports out of camp are that the Saints are extremely impressed with Ingram’s vision, balance, ball security, and surprising lateral quickness.
Team Impact – 5.0 Fantasy impact - 4.5
Cam Newton, QB Panthers – I know that Jimmy Clausen is officially the starter up to this point, but does anyone really believe that Clausen will fend off Newton all year? I sure don’t. Granted, Newton does have a lot to learn about running an NFL offense after having a fairly simple offense at Auburn. But with his size, athleticism, and arm strength, I find it hard to think that he wouldn’t have an opportunity this year. I think this is a guy who will have a nice career eventually. Like Jamarcus Russell, Newton is a big quarterback with a big arm that is light years away from the mental preparation it takes to be an NFL quarterback. But unlike Russell, Newton is not lazy. So while his overall effectiveness could be limited by being a rookie quarterback with a condensed off-season, Newton is a winner.
Team Impact – 5.0 Fantasy Impact – 3.0
Blaine Gabbert, QB Jaguars – Besides David Garrard, There really isn’t anything getting in Gabbert’s way to get first unit snaps this year. While I do believe that the Jaguars will give Gabbert a considerable amount of playing time this season, I think NFL defenses are going to look just a little too fast for him coming out of the gate. He is a guy who was looked at as having a much better football I.Q. than fellow rookie quarterbacks Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett. But unfortunately for Gabbert, his arm is much more ordinary than either of those two guys. The offensive line in Jacksonville is not great and the receiving corps is less than inspiring. Gabbert has a tremendous backfield security blanket in Maurice Jones-Drew, but otherwise, he has his work cut out for him to say the least.
Andy Dalton, QB Bengals - There really isn’t anyone to stand between Dalton and the first string as long as he’s not throwing four picks a game. With Andy Dalton, I doubt that will happen. Like Gabbert, Dalton has a lot of work to do on a team that has needed a make-over for quit some time now. But I believe the o-line in Cincinnati is not as bad as the one in Jacksonville, and Dalton has more weapons. Cedric Benson may not be Maurice Jones-Drew, but he’s a productive back that is hungry for a new contract. While Mike Thomas and Mercedes Lewis are decent players, I’ll take A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham over them any day.
Team Impact – 5.0 Fantasy Impact – 3.5
Please keep in mind, the scores are based on potential impact in ROOKIE terms. So a five-star rookie WR is not someone who I am actually saying will be as good as a five start WR like Andre Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. Also, these stars are based on their projected impact in 2011, not for career.