Anxious. Impatient. Grumpy. Since the last second expired on the NFL season at Lucas Oil Field nearly four months ago, loyal Lions, Bears and Bengals supporters, to name a few, have hibernated in man-caves waiting for next year to begin. Sure the 'Shandy' may help pass along summer's dog days, but for those with an insatiable appetite for pigskin, the sweltering heat can't come and go soon enough.
Though training camps don't officially open until late July, the NFL Draft is the first step in reawakening the fantasy beast. Simply put, it gets people thinking and talking about fake football. And for those who quickly exited the playoffs last December, it sparks a renewed sense of optimism. In April, anything is possible. That is, unless you're a "cursed" Calvin Johnson owner in a keeper league. To those unfortunate few, the Noise offers his condolences.
This year's rookie crop is one of the finest to come along in years. A handful of incredibly talented players will be thrust into favorable situations, where statistical stardom could be immediately achieved.
In recent years, first-year commodities have typically fared only marginally on the virtual gridiron. Of course, there are exceptions. Cam Newton's historic 2011 carried many to championship glory. However, for every stud there are at least three duds. Ryan Mathews buyers, for example, who plunked down a large chunk of cheddar in 2010 presumably still hold a grudge. In fact, because of the air-focused evolution of the NFL, freshmen running backs have suffered the most. None have produced a top-10 return over a full season since Matt Forte in 2008. But, to be fair, DeMarco Murray (11.1 points per game in standard formats over seven starts) and Roy Helu (15.1 ppg in five starts) were strong RB2s in 12-team leagues when inserted into the starting lineup last year.
After weeks of poking, prodding and Wonderlicking, destinations are now determined. What newcomers will be cornerstones on fantasy rosters next season? Here's a half-rack of players poised to make an impact (in order of projected contribution):
Robert Griffin III, Was, QB
Current Average Draft Position (ADP): 90.5 (QB12)
The reigning Heisman winner may have gone No. 2, but he's clearly no Rick Mirer. Remarkably athletic, supremely intelligent and deadly accurate, RGIII is a perfectly constructed machine. Yes, he is a terrific open-field runner, but comparisons to Michael Vick couldn't be more off-base. In reality, he's Dan Marino with legs, a polished multi-dimensional asset. Scrambling ability is what often drives the fantasy engine among QBs. Though Newton's historic ground numbers likely won't be duplicated, Griffin could still produce a top-10 line at his position by achieving half that, unless he's overly selfish. In that case, expect much, much more. Throw in a better-than-advertised receiving corps headed by underrated tight end Fred Davis and a sound rush attack, and it's highly probable "Socks" finishes alongside or just ahead of traditional QB1s Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo. Slated to tango with New Orleans and St. Louis to open the season, he will undoubtedly storm out of the gate, making him arguably the finest mid-round target in fantasy.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 3,773 passing yards, 24 passing touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 620 rushing yards, 5 rushing touchdowns
Trent Richardson, Cle, RB
Current ADP: 28.9 (RB16)
Without question Cleveland's newest junkyard dog is the complete package. He's a bulldozing interior runner with plus burst, open-field wiggle, terrific lateral quickness, sticky hands and sound blocking ability, a rare workhorse back in a timeshare age. There are little to no flaws in his game. Comparisons to Adrian Peterson are unfounded. Richardson isn't as dynamic a runner, but his all-around skill set is more well-rounded than All-Day's was when he entered the league in 2007. In actuality, he's a bigger version of Maurice Jones-Drew. Cleveland's offensive line underachieved last year, but still has plenty of talent to quickly reverse course. If the barkers up front can execute at a 2010 level and Brandon Weeden can rectify a passing game that averaged an atrocious 193.1 yards per game a season ago, the Tide could roll along Lake Erie. Expected to touch the rock upwards of 20-plus times per game, Richardson could finish just shy of the RB upper-echelon, in the 8-10 range. He'll be a steal in Round 3.
Fearless Forecast (16 games): 286 attempts, 1,229 rushing yards, 37 receptions, 294 receiving yards, 10 total touchdowns
Coby Fleener, Ind, TE
Current ADP: 154.2 (TE16)
Reunited, and it's going to feel oh so good. Fleener re-teams with Luck after a stirring three-years of football bliss in Palo Alto. During that span the duo combined for 83 receptions, 1,367 yards and 18 touchdowns. The second-round pick could be the latest and greatest oversized target in a league where hybrid tight ends are all the rage. Quick-footed, tacky-handed and route savvy, he is a matchup nightmare who will keep defensive coordinators up at night, the definition of a zone buster. Also with Indy adding Clemson beast Dwayne Allen, it's clear offensive coordinator Bruce Arians plans to showcase numerous two tight-end sets, possibly flaring Fleener out wide to exploit single coverage, a tactic the Colts often used when Dallas Clark wore the Horseshoe. Because Reggie Wayne is on the decline, Austin Collie is seemingly always concussed and due to his familiarity with Luck, Fleener could attract upwards of 7-8 targets per game right away. It's extremely rare rookie tight ends leave an indelible mark in fantasy. Rob Gronkowski owns the position record for best per game output in a season accumulating 7.2 ppg with the Pats in 2010. But given his extraordinary situation the former Cardinal could soar to uncharted top-10 heights in '12.
Fearless Forecast: 71 receptions, 986 receiving yards, 6 total touchdowns
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Doug Martin, TB, RB
Current ADP: 109.0 (RB43)
When the Bucs traded up to select Martin at No. 27, LeGarrette Blount likely slugged some poor, unfortunate soul. Billed as a jack-of-all-trades back, the Boise State product doesn't possess a wow factor in any single category. Simply, he's rock solid across the board. Several scouts have generously compared him to Baltimore's Ray Rice. Tampa head coach Greg Schiano, who coached Rice at Rutgers, "sees" the similarities. However, in my estimation, he's a shorter Fred Jackson, a quick-footed, gritty interior rusher with polished versatility who also houses enough finesse to break runs off the edge. Because of Blount's buttery hands and relative uselessness in the pass game, Tampa envisions the youngster as a "three-down back." If that viewpoint carries over into the regular season, he's a near lock for 12-15 touches per game. Considering the Bucs' plus offensive line and acquisition of field-stretcher Vincent Jackson, Martin could tally plenty of yards per touch. It's hard to argue against him as a mid-level RB2 in 12-team leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 208 attempts, 894 rushing yards, 49 receptions, 346 receiving yards, 7 total touchdowns
Among this year's bumper crop of QBs, RGIII may be the most attractive gem, but the deserving No. 1 overall pick also possesses plenty of sparkle. If not for football, the geeky Luck would be chasing Bananagram titles instead of Super Bowl rings. He generals the field with smarts and leadership skills eerily similar to Indy predecessor, Peyton Manning. Also equipped with a rocket arm and surprising speed — his 4.67 40-yard Combine time was identical to Newton's last year — he should pay instant dividends for a rebuilding Colts organization. However, his surroundings aren't ideal. Reggie Wayne is rapidly aging and Indy's ground game/offensive line are very suspect. Still, unless The Horseshoe makes miraculous advancements defensively, he could be pressed into numerous high-volume situations, fueling his fantasy potential. But, despite his blindingly bright future, Luck's inaugural campaign may parallel Andy Dalton's more so than Newton's. At this juncture, he's more of a high-end QB2 in 12-team leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 3,527 passing yards, 21 passing touchdowns, 17 interceptions, 278 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
David Wilson, NYG, RB
Current ADP: 134.3 (RB51)
Speed kills. The reigning Super Bowl champs completely agree. Wilson is a rusher with rockets attached to his shoes. Explosive, hard-nosed and effective as a receiver, he is more lightning compared to the thunder Brandon Jacobs clapped during his tenure in the Big Apple. G-Men GM Jerry Reese maintained post-draft Ahmad Bradshaw is still "the lead dog," but waxed romantically about Wilson's skill set. He should. Watching him on tape, he has the look and feel of KC's Jamaal Charles. The former Hokie will likely kick-off September as a 8-12 touch per game contributor. However, due to Bradshaw's constant run-ins with the injury imp, it's plausible he nets roughly 3-5 starts at some point. Because he's an unproven timeshare back, he'll undoubtedly slip into the triple-digit picks of most drafts. But bank on him making a significant impact, similar to Murray last year, at a crucial juncture during the fantasy season. Highlight him on your cheat-sheet.
Fearless Forecast: 168 attempts, 756 rushing yards, 25 receptions, 204 receiving yards, 5 total touchdowns
Justin Blackmon, Jac, WR
Current ADP: 82.4 (WR32)
No question Blackmon is the finest WR prospect in this year's draft. Don't be deceived by his somewhat smallish 6-foot-1 frame. He plays like a man. Blessed with brute strength, a concrete grip and prizefighter toughness, Blackmon is an extraordinary talen who understandably has drawn comparisons to Anquan Boldin. Naysayers have questioned his lack of a top gear, but he more than makes up for it in his refined technique. Even when hobbled, as he was during the Fiesta Bowl last January, he is extremely difficult to contain. Yes, his situation is rather lackluster. A ball of lint has more pocket awareness than Blaine Gabbert. But if Chad Henne can overtake the incumbent, Blackmon should emerge a borderline WR2/3. Remember, the Jags, no longer the WR laughing stock of the league, greatly bolstered their vertical offense by adding Laurent Robinson and Lee Evans this offseason, acquisitions that should ease the burden on the frosh. It's doubtful he'll match the production of A.J. Green from a season ago, but a line in the vicinity of Julio Jones (54-959-8) is attainable.
Fearless Forecast: 68 receptions, 817 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns
[ Michael Silver: Rams roll dice on Janoris Jenkins, promise to nurture him]
Brandon Weeden, Cle, QB
Current ADP: 175+
The Oklahoma St. gunslinger might be the Jamie Moyer of NFL draftees, but age ain't nothing but a number. The 28-year-old has the polish, poise, pocket presence and leadership skills to achieve immediate success. His quick cannon, vision and dead-on accuracy in the short-to-intermediate field (Video evidence here) should excel in Pat Shurmur's West Coast brand, a system predicated on fitting balls into tight windows. Because he's sloth-footed, the Browns' offensive line, which underperformed last year, must protect him adequately. If that happens, the former New York Yankees prospect could pitch useful numbers in deeper leagues. Richardson figures to be a beast of burden. His ability to weaken defenses should greatly enhance the pass game, particularly late in contests. That combined with No. 1 target Greg Little's anticipated growth, should lead the signal caller to respectable fantasy numbers next season. He's far from QB1 material even in 14-team leagues, but if everything clicks, Weeden could be more winner than Wienke in his kick-off campaign. Count on him as a QB2 in challenging formats.
Fearless Forecast: 3,942 passing yards, 22 passing touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 67 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
Michael Floyd, Ari, WR
Current ADP: 114.4 (WR45)
When Larry Fitzgerald asks, he receives. The decorated wideout, the heart and soul of the Cardinals organization, requested GM Rod Graves draft Floyd if he fell into 'Zona's lap at No. 13. Ever the suitor, Graves complied, nabbing the Golden Domer with the club's only first-round pick. Floyd, like Blackmon, is quite the physical specimen. At 6-foot-3, 220-pounds few cornerbacks will DDT the receiver. Also equipped with terrific downfield speed, an attack-first mentality, excellent leaping ability and reliable hands, he's an ideal compliment to Fitz. Floyd's breaks, particularly on short routes, are a work in progress, but he should prove useful in spurts exploiting many one-on-one opportunities. Kevin Kolb's fluttering deep ball limits his initial worth somewhat, but he is more than capable of developing into a fringe WR3 in competitive formats as the season progresses. For now, label him an upside bench wideout in 12-teamers.
Fearless Forecast: 59 receptions, 777 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns
Joe Adams, Car, WR
Current ADP: 175+
Put the Noise on record: Adams outproduces first-round pick Kendall Wright next year. Though diminutive, the fleet-footed Arkansas standout is a near carbon-copy of Minnesota's Percy Harvin. Suffice it to say, Brandon LaFell's sleeper status just expired. Super explosive, shifty and elusive, he has the wheels and wiggle to humiliate defenders in the open field (See him in action here). Since Smith draws endless attention, the youngster will be gifted a number of exploitable opportunities whether lined up inside, out or, on the rare occasion, as an H-back. He'll also be a force in leagues that track return yardage. If he takes advantage, Adams and Cam Newton could become one lethal combination on bubble screens and deep routes, provided he avoids the infirmary. While in Fayetteville in 2009, Adams suffered a stroke, a frightening setback that caused him to slip to the fourth round. But now 100-percent healthy, prospective buyers shouldn't be overly concerned. Before going kicker in the final round, make him your true "Mr. Irrelevant."
Fearless Forecast: 51 receptions, 617 receiving yards, 144 rushing yards, 6 total touchdowns
Ronnie Hillman, Den, RB
Current ADP: 175+
When Hillman received a phone call from Broncos brass about his employment, he was "very surprised." With bulky workhorses Chris Polk and Robert Turbin still on the board, so was the fantasy community. The product from Marshall Faulk-U (San Diego St.) has some similarities to the Hall of Famer. The 5-foot-9, 200-pound scat-back is equipped with eye-blinking quickness, sharp vision and versatility, characteristics Faulk flashed for years with the Rams. Pass blocking is a glaring weakness, a phase of his game that must substantially improve if he wants to remain on the field, but the opportunity for immediate carries is there. Because Knowshon Moreno could begin the season on the PUP list and Willis McGahee, on the wrong side of 30, is best suited for power-only work in a timeshare, Hillman has shocker special potential. Second year rusher Mario Fannin is a dark-horse who could emerge and Lance Ball will also vie for touches in training camp, but the rookie has the strongest odds of nailing down the third-down role come August. Follow his progress closely, PPR owners.
Fearless Forecast: 108 attempts, 475 rushing yards, 46 receptions, 359 receiving yards, 4 total touchdowns
Robert Turbin, Sea, RB
Current ADP: 175+
Obviously, defenses will "Taste the Rainbow" early and often next season, but in the tragic event Marshawn Lynch were to succumb to major injury, Turbin will be a difference-maker. Standing at 5-foot-10, 220-pounds, Beast Mode Jr. is rolling beer keg personified. He's a relentless interior runner with a deceptively quick first step, a perfect fit for Seattle's zone-blocking scheme (Eye candy here). Due to his attacking nature, no doubt, if pressed into a feature role he would pile up yards after contact. Of course, Lynch is expected to tote the load, but with Turbin in the mix it's possible Pete Carroll has designs of slightly reducing his lead back's touches. The 32-carry game Lynch logged against Baltimore Week 10 last year, for example, could be a thing of the past. Barring a catastrophe between now and fantasy draft season, Turbin is nothing more than a late-round handcuff. But he's one wrenched ankle away from becoming a waivers savior even in the shallowest of leagues. Dynasty players take note.
Fearless Forecast: 101 attempts, 441 rushing yards, 17 receptions, 105 receiving yards, 3 total touchdowns
Others to Watch: LaMichael James, SF, RB, Lamar Miller, Mia, RB, Isaiah Pead, StL, RB, Mohamed Sanu, Cin, WR, Alshon Jeffery, Chi, WR, Kendall Wright, Ten, WR, Stephen Hill, NYJ, WR, Ryan Tannehill, Mia, QB, Chris Rainey, Pit, RB, Nick Toon, NO, WR, A.J. Jenkins, SF, WR
Bring the Noise on Twitter. Follow Brad @YahooNoise. Also listen to him alongside fellow "experts" Brandon Funston, Andy Behrens and Scott Pianowski every Friday starting at 8 PM ET on the Fantasy Freak Show, only on Yahoo! Sports Radio
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