Pondering Christian Ponder: NFL Draft 2011 First Round Fantasy Football Gut Reactions

I don’t get excited about who “won” the draft. I get excited about who I’ll draft for  my fantasy football team.

When it comes to fantasy relevance, the first round didn’t overwhelm us. The 2011 draft set a record for defensive linemen taken in the first round with 12, but it’s hard to say that one defensive end or nose tackle will change the whole dynamic of a team defense. If you play IDP (Independent Defensive Players), those guys will matter to you, but the majority of fantasy players haven’t embraced IDP yet.

In the full list of draftees below, I’ve highlighted a few names in bold that I believe WILL have fantasy value sooner rather than later. Values may change as we (hopefully) enter into a free agency period and as teams decide how soon some of these “quarterbacks of the future” will start. Until then, I only have my gut reactions to the first round.

CAM NEWTON to CAROLINA

The Panthers desperately needed a quarterback that the team could get behind. Sorry, Jimmy Clausen. Cam Newton should get a chance to start soon, but he will have a hard time moving the ball through the air if Steve Smith forces a trade out of Carolina. Newton could start the year in a more limited role, perhaps even as a package quarterback running options and more Wildcat-style plays.

When he does get the chance to start, I could see Cam Newton having some fantasy relevance in 2011 alongside running back Jonathan Stewart, but I’d bank on Stewart carrying the load for this team with some help from Mike Goodson until Newton 1) masters the offense and 2) has some weapons around him in the passing game.

A.J. GREEN to CINCINNATI

Green was a huge get for the Bengals, who may or may not lose Chad Ochocinco this offseason in a trade. As the most talented receiver in his draft class, he’s destined to become an impact player for the Bengals, whether Carson Palmer sticks around or not. If Ochocinco  gets  traded, Green’s fantasy stock will obviously rise, but with the Bengals current roster, he’s worth drafting as a WR3 with WR2 upside.

That said, don’t forget about Jerome Simpson in Cincinnati.

JULIO JONES to ATLANTA

At first glance, you might say that Atlanta overpaid for this pick, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with you. But when you consider what Atlanta needed in this draft and their current roster, it makes sense. In an interview with ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike in the Morning, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitrioff pointed out how young the Falcons are as a team. They don’t need a bunch of new blood and roster turnover. They just need to fill some holes on defense and to get another playmaker alongside Roddy White on offense.

Obviously, if it works out, no one will complain, and I could see Jones having significant value in the Atlanta offense if they really give Matt Ryan the reigns. I’m a little concerned that Jones’ presence might prevent Roddy White from being the lock for 100 yards and a touchdown he was last season, but if White balances out any Reggie Wayne-like disappearing acts with multiple-touchdown games thanks to Jones, his fantasy owners won’t  complain.

JAKE LOCKER to TENNESSEE

While the Titans drafting Locker is surprising, we don’t yet know if Locker will start right away. Much like Newton, Locker might work behind a veteran quarterback this season while he learns the playbook and the masters the speed of the game at the NFL level. And if he does get a chance to start with a limited playbook, Chris Johnson won’t mind carrying the load for the Titans like he has the past two seasons.

So Locker’s fantasy value is largely dependent on whether he starts this year or not. I don’t see him as a must-draft this season unless you’re looking for a QB2 in a two-quarterback league, but he should be on your radar for 2012.

BLAINE GABBERT to JACKSONVILLE

Some experts say Gabbert will be the best quarterback in this class, but I don’t think we’ll see him on the field for a year, or maybe two, while he learns the Jacksonville offense. I believe it was on ESPN’s draft coverage that they said Jacksonville intended to take the Aaron Rodgers approach with him. I assume that doesn’t mean they’ll keep David Garrard around for a several more years and then trade him to the first team that promises Garrard ample opportunity to text genitalia to female reporters. What do you think?

Dynasty leaguers and keeper leagues might keep an eye on Gabbert, but I doubt he’ll have any fantasy value in 2011.

CHRISTIAN PONDER to MINNESOTA

A bit of a head scratcher, but Ponder will have to be the quarterback of the future now that he’s in Minnesota. They don’t have much else. There’s still some question about whether Sidney Rice will return to the Vikings, and that could greatly affect Ponder’s value.

Of all the rookie quarterbacks with the potential to start right away, Ponder would be last in my rankings. He’s also got Adrian Peterson in the backfield, so there’s no rush as long as he’s got a good hand off. Much like Locker, you might look at Ponder if you’re in a two-quarterback league, but he’d be very, very low on my list.

NICK FAIRLEY to DETROIT

In general, I try to stay away from saying one player will change the value of a team defense, but Detroit’s building on an area of strength by taking Fairley, who some considered to be the best player in this draft up until a few weeks ago. Next to Suh on the Detroit Lions defensive line, Fairley will put up some numbers. If the Lions offense holds up their end, and the defense gets to the quarterback with Suh and Fairley, they’ll be worth consideration as a team defense in 2011.

JONATHAN BALDWIN to KANSAS CITY

I don’t know a whole lot about Jonathan Baldwin, but I’ve seen mixed reactions to him being taken in the first round. According to some analysts, he’s not necessarily a perfect fit for what Kansas City does on offense. Bowe had a huge last half in the 2010 fantasy season, but Baldwin may not immediately share in the fantasy points there.

If you read any of my posts last season, you know I’m not a huge fan of Cassel. I’m probably selling Baldwin a little short just because I see Cassel regressing from his 2010 season. But if you’re looking to draft Baldwin, I’d take him as nothing more than a late-round stash with the potential to be a WR3.

MARK INGRAM to NEW ORLEANS

Depending on who you ask, Ingram will either be a fantasy stud or be just another fantasy dud. Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory are both still in New Orleans. Reggie Bush may or may not get a deal done to return to the Saints. That’s a lot of mouths to feed in an offense that ALSO likes to score points through the air from time to time.

Regardless, I think this eats into Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory’s value significantly. Only time will tell how the Saints adjust around Ingram, but he’s worth RB2 consideration and definitely worth drafting this season. I tend to believe the folks who say he might have RB1 upside. If you can get him for the right price in your fantasy draft, why not take the chance?

FIRST ROUND OF THE 2011 NFL DRAFT

  1. Carolina Panthers >> Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
  2. Denver Broncos >> Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
  3. Buffalo Bills >> Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
  4. Cincinnati Bengals >> A.J. Green, WR, Georgia
  5. Arizona Cardinals >> Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
  6. Atlanta Falcons (from Cleveland) >> Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
  7. San Francisco 49ers >> Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
  8. Tennessee Titans >> Jake Locker, QB, Washington
  9. Dallas Cowboys >> Tyron Smith, OT, USC
  10. Jacksonville Jaguars (from Washington) >> Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
  11. Houston Texans >> J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin
  12. Minnesota Vikings >> Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
  13. Detroit Lions >> Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
  14. St. Louis Rams >> Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
  15. Miami Dolphins >> Mike Pouncey, C/OG, Florida
  16. Washington Redskins (from Jacksonville) >> Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
  17. New England Patriots >> Nate Solder, OT, Colorado
  18. San Diego Chargers >> Corey Liuget, DE, Illinois
  19. New York Giants >> Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
  20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers >> Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
  21. Cleveland Browns (from Kansas City) >> Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor
  22. Indianapolis Colts >> Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
  23. Philadelphia Eagles >> Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor
  24. New Orleans Saints >> Cameron Jordan, DC, California
  25. Seattle Seahawks>> James Carpenter, OT, Alabama
  26. Baltimore Ravens >> Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado
  27. Kansas City Chiefs (from Cleveland, previously Atlanta’s pick) >> Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
  28. New Orlean Saints (from New England) >> Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
  29. Chicago Bears >> Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin
  30. New York Jets >> Muhammad Wilkerson, Temple
  31. Pittsburgh Steelers >> Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
  32. Green Bay Packers >> Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State

I’ll have another wrap after the entire draft. Consider this the tease. What do you think of the draft so far? What teams have changed their fantasy value the most in the first three rounds? Let me hear it in the comment below.

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