by Steve Stegeman
May 16, 2004
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    The buzz in the fantasy football world...  This year's NFL draft has many a fantasy footballer salivating.  But, now, almost a month removed, it is time for the rational of us to start gaining some perspective and adjusting, if not outright lowering, those expectations, those once high expectations.  The quality of the '04 NFL draft, from a fantasy perspective, is very deceiving.  While the pool of talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball, around which most fantasy games revolve, ranged from somewhere between intriguing in the least to potentially explosive in a big-time way, it does not really pan out that way fantasy-wise.  Actually, just generally speaking, if you are not in a keeper league, a deep keeper league at that, and even moreover one that is not an IDP league (one that employs individual defensive players), the importance or relevance of the NFL draft is really almost nil.

    First off, the "keyest" of key positions in fantasy football, similar to on the real gridiron, is tailback a.k.a. running back, and the '04 NFL draft was indubitably running-back deficient.  This, in and of itself, mitigates the strength and value of the '04 NFL draft as it relates to fantasy football.  Running backs are the MVP's of fantasy football on many fronts, three of which are:  1) in most systems, they usually weigh in the heaviest, 2) the pool of high-quality running backs, moreover vis--vis the two or three you have to start, runs dry real fast, and 3) they are one of the easiest, though none of this is easy, positions to predict.  And, along the lines of that last point, rookie running backs, especially as compared to quarterbacks and receivers, are definitely among the easiest to reason out or figure out in light of their respective situations, and they, again in relation to the aforementioned positions, have the greatest chance to have immediate impact in year one.  Still, all of that having been said, the best fantasy pick from the rookie pool at running back and probably overall, when it all comes out in the wash come fantasy draft time, may actually turn out to be the second round pick, #43 overall, of the Dallas Cowboys, RB Julius Jones.  That is pathetic, fantasy-wise, period.  He may not be, but going into your fantasy draft, that reality is.

    Besides the dearth of obviously well-positioned and poised rookie running backs, this dismal reality is also a function of where the other perceived impact rookies went.  Just to name some of the biggest of big names that fantasy footballers were oogling over...  Even though it was preordained, WR Larry Fitzgerald to Arizona, the perennial doormat of the NFL, and his being scheduled to start opposite Anquan Boldin, (ironically) last year's week-one free-agency/waiver-wire darling,... yuck!  WR Roy Williams to Detroit to start opposite Charles Rogers, last year's Randy Moss-to-be, with a still very raw Joey Harrington throwing him the ball,... yucky!  RB Stephen Jackson's going to St. Louis, where he will have to at least wait out Marshall Faulk for a year or two and then there is LaMar Gordon, who you just cannot discount,... nasty!  RB Chris Perry shipped to Cincinnati, which just muddles the situation there with Rudi Johnson,... gnarly!  You can rationalize it all you want, but the bottom line is that the respective destinations of these players at least "lack luster", at worst downright rot.

    Again, addressing the big names, only time will tell with QB's Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger.  They will not be fantasy-ready for probably two to three years, which does not help you if you are in the usual, run-of-the-mill turnover league.  Some of the best fantasy picks from the '04 NFL draft, or should I say from the '04 rookie pool, will once again likely be, like Julius Jones, the diamonds in the rough, or at least the "longer shots to show" that are situated nicely/auspiciously.  To name a few that I have my eye on/who I think have reasonable chances to succeed, with a little luck of course:  Tampa Bay WR Michael Clayton, San Francisco WR Rashaun Woods, Atlanta WR Mike Jenkins, Kansas City WR Samie Parker, St. Louis QB Jeff Smoker, Denver RB Tatum Bell, Detroit RB Kevin Jones, Tennessee RB Jarrett Payton (Oh my, right?  But, I mean it,... to a degree) and a Cleveland TE (which in fantasy football is a position of limited value) Kellen Winslow, Jr.... whacky, especially given all the hype and high hopes going into the draft.

    All that hype and yet this draft is not much better than last year's draft, which was considered absolutely god-awfully horrendous,... and if you are not in a deep keeper league, forget about it.  Even if you are, stop counting those chickens before they hatch!

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