by Jeff West
April 28, 2004
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    About a year ago I wrote my first fantasy article for the Gridiron entitled "Mr. Irrelevant".  This piece examined the 2003 NFL draft and determined there was little for fantasy football owners to get excited about in the short term.  For the most part, that held true.  However, in 2004 I think that the rookies will have a much bigger impact.  So, without any further ado, here is my analysis of each team's draft and how it will play out for fantasy owners.

Team:  Arizona Cardinals
Grade:  B
Analysis:  Going into the draft, the perceived strengths of the Cardinals team were its receivers and its offensive line.  With that said, the Cards used three of their seven picks on a receiver and offensive linemen.  The Cards got the best WR available in Larry Fitzgerald and did help their defense with two outstanding players in Dansby and Dockett.  The selection of two centers on day two was puzzling.
Fantasy Spin:  The winner here would seem to be QB Josh McCown.  Even though the Cards drafted QB John Navarre, he won't contend for a starting position so McCown is the man.  The receivers will be very good, however it will be difficult for any of the three to put up outstanding individual numbers this season.  The addition of a couple top-notch defensive players will improve the defense, but it will still be one of the lower ranked ones.

Team:  Atlanta Falcons
Grade:  A
Analysis:  The Falcons addressed some holes on defense with DeAngelo Hall, Ettric Pruitt, Demorrio Williams, and Chad Lavalais.  They added a WR (Jenkins) who will be a nice complement to Peerless Price.  I would not be surprised if all seven picks made the team.
Fantasy Spin:  The entire Atlanta offense just became more dangerous with the addition of one WR.  Price will get more opportunities, Vick has another weapon, Dunn and/or Duckett both have more room to run now.

Team:  Baltimore Ravens
Grade:  C+
Analysis:  The Ravens added four WRs (if you include the trade for Kevin Johnson) and only one is a sure starter (Johnson).  Darling may challenge for the third receiver spot.  Dwan Edwards will be part of a DL rotation initially.  Rimpf (seventh round) will be a quality starter some day and was excellent value.
Fantasy Spin:  Kyle Boller may be able to take some steps towards better numbers with a legitimate receiving corps now that Kevin Johnson is on board.  Lewis and Heap still appear to be the only worthwhile fantasy players on the offense.  The defense will still be strong and the addition of Edwards will provide an active body in the rotation.

Team:  Buffalo Bills
Grade:  C-
Analysis:  The Bills continue to perplex, using another first round pick on a player who won't see any action this coming year.  Trading away a second and fifth rounder this year, and a first rounder next year to move up and select a back-up QB was questionable.  They also took a good receiver (Lee Evans) higher than they needed to as it won't matter how fast he is, because the Bills still don't block well enough to give Bledsoe time to make the longer passes.  Euhus and Anderson were good picks, but the bottom of the draft was weak.
Fantasy Spin:  The addition of a pass-catching TE and burner at WR should help Drew Bledsoe since he now has more targets, however the offensive line is still sub-par.  Josh Reed owners should recognize the drafting of Lee Evans as a challenge.  Is he up to it?

Team:  Carolina Panthers
Grade:  B+
Analysis:  The Panthers had needs and solidly addressed those needs.  Chris Gamble has a lot of learning ahead of him, but should be a quality cornerback on a team that needs size in the defensive backfield.  Keary Colbert will be an excellent third receiver and Drew Carter has the potential to be a game-breaker in another year or two.  Travelle Wharton will move to guard and should be a good addition.
Fantasy Spin:  Jake Delhomme and Steve Smith should both benefit from the addition of Keary Colbert.  He is a mature and efficient receiver who will give the rest of the offense more options.  Stephen Davis, I'm sure, loves the addition of a big guard.  The defense should be similar to last year's, however Gamble brings the ability to grab more interceptions.

Team:  Chicago Bears
Grade:  B
Analysis:  The Bears added two athletic defensive tackles and a speed rusher off the end.  They went a long way towards improving their defense which will, in turn, give their offense more opportunities.  Bernard Berrian (WR) has potential, however he will not contribute right away as he will struggle to be anything more than the fourth or fifth receiver on this team.
Fantasy Spin:  The Bears defensive unit might be worth a look as they've added speedy playmakers to an already decent foundation.  The draft probably didn't affect their offense at all.

Team:  Cincinnati Bengals
Grade:  B+
Analysis:  When the draft was done, Cincinnati added 11 players, including eight in the first four rounds.  Chris Perry will compete with Rudi Johnson for time at RB.  They added a lot of youth and potential to their defense as seven of the 11 picks were on the defensive side of the ball.
Fantasy Spin:  The selection of Chris Perry in the first round speaks volumes about the team's intentions with Rudi Johnson.  Remember, Johnson was a Restricted Free Agent this off-season, so he'll be a free agent again after the 2004 season.  The defense will be better than 2003, yet might not be good enough to start as a team defense.

Team:  Cleveland Browns
Grade:  C+
Analysis:  The Browns moved up one spot to select Kellen Winslow because they felt so strongly about him, giving away a high second round pick in the process.  They had only two defensive selections in the entire draft, yet Sean Jones should step in quickly with an aged safety tandem currently in place.  Too many needs went unaddressed in the draft and the team threw away a second rounder that could have produced a quality player.
Fantasy Spin:  Kellen Winslow will be an immediate threat in the offense and could be one of the top TEs in the league as a rookie.  This will also help Jeff Garcia, provided he stays healthy enough to play behind a below average offensive line.

Team:  Dallas Cowboys
Grade:  D
Analysis:  The Cowboys passed up a chance to select the consensus top RB in the draft and instead traded down to grab Julius Jones.  They followed that pick with two solid offensive linemen and a number of questionable selections following that.  Perhaps Parcells realizes that he is at least another year or two away from title contention as he traded down to obtain another first round pick in 2005?
Fantasy Spin:  Look for both offensive linemen to get a chance to start this year.  If they pan out, this will help Julius Jones become a solid fantasy contributer, otherwise, look for the Cowboys to search for another RB in 2005.

Team:  Denver Broncos
Grade:  B
Analysis:  The Broncos came away with ten selections and did a solid job.  They needed help at LB and got one of the top ones in DJ Williams.  They needed a RB to replace Clinton Portis and selected Tatum Bell, the fastest of the RB prospects.  They needed help in the secondary and got Jeremy LeSueur and the underrated Jeff Shoate.  They also added some depth at WR and QB.
Fantasy Spin:  The Broncos offense shouldn't be too bad off.  Tatum Bell, like Clinton Portis, was a second round selection who can come right in and contribute immediately.  The receivers probably won't do much to help Plummer, who now has some quality competition for the back-up position.  Keep an eye on Brad Van Pelt; in time he could be a quality NFL QB.  The defense, while younger and more athletic, will probably not be any better than last year.

Team:  Detroit Lions
Grade:  A+
Analysis:  The Lions ended up with only six picks, but made the most of them.  They passed on Kellen Winslow in order to take Roy Williams a spot lower and picked up an additional draft pick in the process.  They added a game-breaker at RB in Kevin Jones.  The two LBs they drafted are play-makers who were both underrated.  Keith Smith is one of the top CB prospects from a smaller school and Kelly Butler was outstanding value in the sixth round.
Fantasy Spin:  Joey Harrington must be smiling now.  He has two top-flight WRs, a starting RB, and an improved (through free agency) line.  Harrington could be a legitimate fantasy starter for the first time.  Jones could produce as a second or third fantasy back and both Rogers and Williams should get plenty of looks.  The Lions defense, an awful unit in 2003 will be much improved in 2004.

Team:  Green Bay Packers
Grade:  C-
Analysis:  Some great picks and some very questionable ones add up to an average draft for the Packers.  With Mike McKenzie asking to be traded and Al Harris in the final year of his contract, the Pack took two CBs with their first two picks.  Their first rounder is small and a raw underclassman, and their third rounder is a converted QB from a small school.  Their second third round pick, DT Donnell Washington, was excellent value at the position.  Their final third rounder was a punter?! When you have so many needs, it seems a bit misguided to draft a punter so early when logic indicates that he (or another solid prospect) could be had as late as the seventh round.
Fantasy Spin:  The offense remains completely unchanged from 2003, so expect about the same output.  The defense is getting younger and the outside linebackers and secondary could get picked on.

Team:  Houston Texans
Grade:  C
Analysis:  The Texans addressed their defense with six of their first seven picks, including trading up into the first round for DE Jason Babin from Western Michigan.  Their secondary was addressed by drafting Dunta Robinson, Glenn Earl, Vontez Duff, and Jammal Lord, a former Nebraska QB who they hope to move to safety.  They seemed to reach for a few players and three of their picks played a different position in college than they are expected to play in the NFL.
Fantasy Spin:  The offense will be largely unchanged from 2003, so the Texans clearly expect better production through maturity and experience.  The defense, the Achilles heel of 2003, should be improved in 2004, but will still have trouble stopping the run and getting after the passer.

Team:  Indianapolis Colts
Grade:  D
Analysis:  The Colts defense was barely able to keep teams from outscoring its high-powered offense in 2003, so it was the focus of the draft this time around.  Tony Dungy clearly wanted to be faster on defense and went with smaller, quicker players in the draft.  Third round pick Ben Hartsock (TE) will help prevent the troubles Indy had when Dallas Clark was injured in 2003 and the team had to change from its two-TE offense.  Interestingly, last year the Colts also selected a TE and a small safety with their first two picks.
Fantasy Spin:  The offense could be marginally improved, but only if there is a need for the depth at TE.  The defense should be better at stopping the short passing game, however they will still have trouble stopping the run as they don't have the size up front.

Team:  Jacksonville Jaguars
Grade:  C+
Analysis:  The Jags had an unusual draft.  They got some very good players, but for some areas of need (defensive end, for example), they fumbled the ball.  In the first round the Jags added a top WR in Reggie Williams and later traded Kevin Johnson.  They also added a couple LBs who should get playing time this year.  An interesting pick was RB Greg Jones in the second round.  A top RB who was rated as a late first or early second round pick, Jones will back up Taylor and probably become the TD vulture that Stacey Mack was a couple years ago.
Fantasy Spin:  Greg Jones could score double-digit TDs this season in goal-line work and will render LaBrandon Toefield largely obsolete.  The addition of Reggie Williams will pay huge dividends for Byron Leftwich.  Williams will also take a lot of the fantasy points away from Jimmy Smith.

Team:  Kansas City Chiefs
Grade:  F
Analysis:  The Chiefs accomplished next to nothing in the 2004 NFL Draft.  They had needs all over their defense, however they drafted back-ups at positions that were already set and completely ignored the secondary, which is where they had their biggest needs.  Only DT Junior Siavii (a reach in the early second round) should garner any significant playing time.  On offense they used a second round pick on an overrated TE who will also play FB and H-back.  They had needs at WR and used fourth and sixth round picks to select small, speedy WRs (much like current third WR Dante Hall).
Fantasy Spin:  I would not be surprised if this year's draft totaled zero starts in 2004.  The fantasy projections for the Chiefs should be nearly the same as last season on offense and marginally improved on defense.

Team:  Miami Dolphins
Grade:  B-
Analysis:  The Dolphins had only one pick on the first day and moved up one spot to select OL Vernon Carey at #19.  Day two produced Will Poole (projected as early as round one), a college LB converted to S, two solid offensive linemen in the sixth and seventh rounds, and a speedy OLB in Derrick Pope.  They made the most of their picks and got good value with nearly every selection.
Fantasy Spin:  The addition of a quality offensive lineman (and some good depth along the line) has to be appealing to owners of Ricky Williams and AJ Feeley.  The offense should be more explosive and consistent.

Team:  Minnesota Vikings
Grade:  A
Analysis:  The Vikings got their picks in on time this year, and they were good ones.  They grabbed a top-ten prospect in Udeze, who may need surgery, but will be a dominating DE before long, plus got an extra fourth round pick to move back one spot to get him.  Thomas was a solid pick in round two and Dorsey was a steal, if a bit of a project, in round four.  Davis and Eiland (fifth and sixth rounders) could contribute right away.  Only Moore was a questionable pick with the glut of RB talent the Vikes currently have.
Fantasy Spin:  If Dorsey is able to start (and contribute) at RT, the running game and passing game should be even better (an enticing thought for owners of any Vikes offensive player).  The defense will be much better and could be worthy of selection as a starting unit in 2004.

Team:  New England Patriots
Grade:  A-
Analysis:  The Pats did very well waiting for Vince Wilfork and Marquise Hill to fall to them.  They grabbed two solid safety prospects in the middle rounds and a CB with a ton of potential.  PK Sam adds size to the previously diminutive WR corps and Cedric Cobbs, if nothing else, gives Corey Dillon a run for the money in poor attitude and character issues.  Watson brings tremendous potential to the TE position.
Fantasy Spin:  On offense, Daniel Graham owners should be concerned about the selection of a TE in the first round.  However, the draft did little to affect the offense.  PK Sam could contribute, but don't expect much right away.  The defense, which was already outstanding, is even more versatile than last year.

Team:  New Orleans Saints
Grade:  D
Analysis:  The Saints hoped to add a University of Miami LB in the first round, but both were gone and they grabbed Will Smith instead.  Smith is an outstanding player, and a great value at #18, but the Saints were already solid with Charles Grant and Darren Howard at the position.  The pick would only make sense if the Saints plan to move Howard inside, however he will be undersized and overmatched at DT.  Henderson adds some speed to WR.  Courtney Watson fills a need, but has some weaknesses.  Leisle and Karney were both reaches (even in the fifth round), while Bockwoldt is a sleeper in the seventh.
Fantasy Spin:  Stallworth owners should be wary about the selection of Henderson so early.  Apparently Haslett isn't impressed with Stallworth's production.  The defense still has issues and the team did not sufficiently address them during the draft.

Team:  New York Giants
Grade:  B
Analysis:  It will be hard to gauge this draft without seeing the effectiveness of Eli Manning.  The Giants gave up a lot to acquire him.  Snee should be an effective starter at guard as a rookie and safety Gibril Wilson could challenge for a starting position in 2004.  Taylor, Strojny, and Hilton all have good potential and were excellent value picks.  Reggie Torbor, the first selection on day two is a LB/DE tweener who was a questionable pick.
Fantasy Spin:  Eli Manning could very well be thrown to the wolves with an offensive line that is slightly better than last year, but still has too many holes.  It is hard to imagine he'd have much success in year one.  The Giants may look to Tiki Barber and, dare I say, Ron Dayne to carry more of the load while Manning grows.  The defense, average at best, did not improve itself in the draft.

Team:  New York Jets
Grade:  A
Analysis:  The Jets really improved their defense by selecting the best LB (Vilma) in the draft.  Derrick Strait fell to the third round because of poor 40 times, however he has plenty of savvy and moxie and will be a solid NFL starter.  Cotchery is an underrated receiver.  The two tackles are projects, but could pay off big time.  The Jets also got some high-potential players in the rest of the draft.
Fantasy Spin:  The offense was not affected immediately by the draft, unless you consider that the Jets yielded their second round pick for WR Justin McCareins.  The defense, however, should be a bit better than last year with the addition of Vilma and Strait.

Team:  Oakland Raiders
Grade:  A+
Analysis:  Oakland got three guys on the first day who are true Raiders.  Gallery, the best player in the draft at LT, just looks like a Raider.  Grove, the best center, has been accused of playing a bit dirty.  And Schweigert, a solid, play-making safety, ran afoul of the law in college.  The second day saw the addition of two very promising WR prospects in Francis, a speed merchant, and Morant, a huge WR with deceptive speed.  Johnson and Spencer should help on special teams immediately and on defense in the future.
Fantasy Spin:  This may have been one of the more fantasy-relevant drafts in 2004.  The offensive line gained two instant starters in Gallery and Grove.  This could help Gannon make a significant comeback in 2004 and allow Wheatley and Fargas to run more effectively.  The defense wasn't drastically improved in the short term as only Schweigert will see action right away.

Team:  Philadelphia Eagles
Grade:  C+
Analysis:  The Eagles helped to ensure solid OL play by moving up to select Man Mountain Shawn Andrews, however they may have paid too steep a price and ignored other needed players at the #16 pick.  Ware will be a solid back-up corner in 2004 and adds much needed height to the CB ranks.  Reed is an excellent prospect at a position of non-need.  Darilek, Clarke, and Furio add instant depth to the line, Hall to QB, and Tapeh and Perry to RB.  Reed and Wynn will probably see time as return specialists in 2004.
Fantasy Spin:  A good offense just got better.  Andrews will give McNabb more time to find TO and Westbrook should have bigger holes to run through.  The Eagles should now have good depth at nearly every offensive position.  The draft did little to help improve their defense, which played over their heads in 2003 and may not be able to duplicate that effort in 2004.

Team:  Pittsburgh Steelers
Grade:  C+
Analysis:  The Steelers waited patiently as the QB with the most upside fell to them in Ben Roethlisberger.  They added a small-school big-potential CB to their weakened secondary.  The Steelers needed immediate help on the offensive line, however OL draftees Starks and Lacy probably won't make immediate impacts.  Adibi will move to OLB where he will get after opposing QBs in a hurry.  Kranchick is a huge TE who runs fairly well and will create match-up problems for smaller LBs and DBs.
Fantasy Spin:  Only Ben Roethlisberger could have any fantasy impact on offense this season, however he may sit behind Tommy Maddox for a good part of the year.  The defense looks pretty similar to the underachieving unit of 2003.

Team:  San Diego Chargers
Grade:  A-
Analysis:  The Eli Manning potential-debacle turned out pretty well for the Chargers.  They got a top QB out of the deal in Philip Rivers, an early third round pick, and a first rounder in 2005.  Then they added an athletic DT who can only get better.  Dave Ball was great value in the fifth round and Shaun Phillips will move from DE to OLB as a fourth round pick.  They received outstanding value along the OL with Olivea and Joseph, and a good backup RB in Turner.  The third round was a bit of a mystery with the selection of a center (not a position of need) and a kicker (perhaps too early?).
Fantasy Spin:  There is a chance Rivers could be asked to start right away.  He has a weak receiving corps, so don't expect much.  Turner could be a good handcuff pick with Tomlinson as LT will certainly be asked to carry most of the load again.  The defense is slowly taking shape and has a good foundation that will improve in 2004.  Keep an eye on Kaeding as a kicker.  He has outstanding range and accuracy, and with the ineffectiveness of the Charger offense, he could be asked to try more than a few long field goals.

Team:  San Francisco 49ers
Grade:  A
Analysis:  The Niners had a number of holes to fill and, using some well-timed trades and draft board maneuvering, went ahead and filled most of their holes.  They added two potential starters to their WR corps in Woods and Hamilton.  Cody Pickett was a tremendous pick up at QB in the seventh.  He has the potential to be a starter in this league.  Guard Justin Smiley was the top at his position on many draft boards and can start immediately.  On defense, Isaac Sopoaga was a steal in the fourth round as was ILB Richard Seigler.  Shawntae adds size and speed to the defensive secondary.
Fantasy Spin:  The transition to Rattay at QB was certainly eased a bit with a seasoned Rashaun Woods, who I feel could have the best numbers of all the rookie WRs.  Adding a stud offensive guard certainly helps too.  On defense, the addition of Sopoaga, Spencer, Seigler, and Lewis will add youth to a defense that played well at times in 2003.

Team:  Seattle Seahawks
Grade:  B-
Analysis:  The Seahawks clearly needed help on defense and addressed that need with three of their first four picks.  Marcus Tubbs provides the bulk and run-stopping ability the team needed at DT when it lost John Randle and Norman Hand.  Michael Boulware will move from LB to SS and should provide great athleticism to the secondary.  Koutovides, with an impressive training camp, could work his way into a starting role as well.  Sean Locklear was a good pick in the third round and could start at RG.  Their draft after the fourth round lacked excitement and potential.
Fantasy Spin:  The offense could be marginally improved by the addition of a rookie guard, however I suspect he may struggle a bit.  The defense was greatly improved with the addition of Tubbs and Boulware.  Look for them to be a bit more stout in 2004.

Team:  St. Louis Rams
Grade:  C+
Analysis:  The Rams took advantage of Steven Jackson's inexplicable slide and moved up to grab him at #24.  In the second round, they took a chance on DE Tony Hargrove, an outstanding athlete who did not play in 2003 because of academic ineligibility.  Brandon Chillar and Jason Shivers were solid picks in the middle of the draft.  Jeff Smoker, an underrated QB, was a solid selection in the sixth round and likely signals the exit of Kurt Warner (if his inflated salary didn't do so already).
Fantasy Spin:  Jackson is an intriguing pick for the Rams. They have Marshall Faulk, who, granted, has had many durability problems.  They also have a couple solid backup RBs in Lamar Gordon and Arlen Harris.  Jackson should move into the top backup role, and get some shared time with Faulk healthy or not.  Harris is moving to FB.  All of this means that all of the backs appear to have less fantasy potential in 2004 (except for Jackson if Faulk gets hurt).  The defense was largely unaffected by the draft as all of the selections project to back up roles.

Team:  Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Grade:  D
Analysis:  The Bucs missed out on the fun of the first round the past two years, but got back into it this year.  They selected a WR, Michael Clayton, with their first round pick.  He is more of a possession receiver who is ideally suited for Gruden's WCO.  Their third round pick will likely ride the bench behind Derrick Brooks.  Will Allen could be the replacement for John Lynch, although he has a long way to go before he is anywhere near as good.  The fifth rounder, OG Jeb Terry, could have a chance to play this year.  The Bucs apparently wanted the smartest TEs in the league as they took two Ivy Leaguers.
Fantasy Spin:  The Bucs appear to have only one player who will contribute to the team in 2004 and that is WR Michael Clayton.  However, fantasy owners should not get too excited as he will still have Joey Galloway and Keenan McCardell in front of him.  Charles Lee and Joe Jurevicius could also limit his playing time.  The defense, did not adequately address the many issues presented when the Bucs lost some key free agents.

Team:  Tennessee Titans
Grade:  A+
Analysis:  The Titans had to address the defensive line in light of some key free agency losses.  They did so in a big way.  Travis LaBoy (a smallish DE perhaps better suited for OLB), Antwan Odom (a player expected to go in the first round), and Bo Schobel (outstanding value in the fourth round) will all get after the passer.  Randy Starks was a steal in the third round, and Jared Clauss is a hard-working DT who will contribute before long.  Robert Reynolds was a good value in the fifth round.  Among their thirteen picks were a number of offensive players who will improve the team.  The Titans dropped out of the first round and selected TE Ben Troupe, who they had targeted as a first rounder anyway.  OL Jacob Bell was excellent value in round five.  Perhaps the most intriguing pick was sixth rounder Troy Fleming.  Fleming played FB in college, but has tailback skills.  If the team thinks highly enough of him, he could displant Eddie George and Chris Brown as the starting RB.
Fantasy Spin:  An outstanding draft will certainly help a team produce better fantasy numbers.  The defense will be much more athletic and will create more big plays than the 2003 Titans defense.  They'll have a very active defensive front that will get after the QB and lessen the burden on the secondary.  Ben Troupe should have little trouble securing the starting TE position and will be a dangerous weapon for McNair.  Troy Fleming could surprise more than a few fantasy owners.  He is a very intriguing pick up for a keeper league.

Team:  Washington Redskins
Grade:  C-
Analysis:  The Redskins walked away from the draft with only four new players.  Most important, of course, was safety Sean Taylor, the best defensive player available according to most teams.  They added a solid TE in Chris Cooley in the third round and he should challenge for a starting position in training camp.  The Skins added two offensive linemen in rounds five and six, neither of whom will provide anything other than depth or practice squad bodies.
Fantasy Spin:  The addition of Sean Taylor should help the Skins defense, however he can't do all the work himself.  The Skins defense is still not worth starting as a team unit.  Sean Taylor should be an excellent IDP performer however.  Cooley adds an outlet valve for Brunell who knows how to use a TE.  He could be a backup TE in deeper leagues.

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