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.

Brett Favre Retires: What It Means for the Vikings’ Fantasy Values

ESPN reports this morning that Brett Favre plans to retire rather than rejoin the Minnesota Vikings. He managed to keep the Vikings on the hook until training camp before finally dropping the hammer. What a team player. IF and when Brett Favre actually takes the stage and says…for the third time…that he plans to retire, his absence will cut into the value of all the Vikings’ fantasy studs.

ESPN is bringing in the whole cavalry to cover the situation (Oh boy!), but here’s my take on the fantasy impact of losing the man, the myth, the legend, and the bane of offseason news.

Fantasy Impact on Vikings

Favre was the engine that got this offense moving in 2009. Without him, everything grinds to a halt. It remains to be seen how much Tarvaris Jackson can do to get it going again.

Jackson is no Brett Favre. He won’t be as creative with the offense, and I don’t see as many first downs in their future. That means fewer touchdowns for the entire unit, including newly anointed stud wide receiver Sidney Rice and running back Adrian Peterson.

Now there’s a chance that Sage Rosenfels, forgotten quarterback on the Vikings payroll, gets a shot. Many NFL minds lift him up as one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league, worthy of starting on a team somewhere. Despite rumors that he would have been on the roster bubble if Favre had returned, he could win the job as starter.

Last season, prior to Brett Favre’s decision to return to football, I covered the Vikings’ fantasy potential without Favre and argued that Rosenfels might be able to do just as well. With Rosenfels under center, Sidney Rice could still be a champ. Rosenfels has the arm, and he kept Andre Johnson fantasy relevant in stints as the starter in Houston.

But Tarvaris Jackson is a downgrade in the passing game. Unless Jackson has truly found his way as a quarterback and mastered Brad Childress’ offense, I don’t know that you can trust him to keep the Vikings in it this year.

Some would argue that Adrian Peterson stands to benefit from this blow, but I don’t see it. As I mentioned in my arguments for taking Chris Johnson at No. 1, A.P. had 18 touchdowns and 1,383 rushing yards last season with Favre. In 2008, he had just 10 touchdowns and 1,760 yards. Without Favre to open up this offense and keep defenses honest, A.P. will struggle.

And as A.P. gets worked into the ground game after game, there’s also a chance he could be injured. His running style is unforgiving, and he doesn’t avoid contact. A.P. could be this year’s Steven Jackson. He’ll get plenty of yards, I’m sure, but his touchdowns will be way down from his 2009 numbers.

I’d consider both Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew before A.P. with this development, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking the safe out with one of those two rather than taking a chance on Peterson this season.

For Real?

We’re all assuming that these text messages to teammates and sources within the Vikings administration have it right. We’re taking their word that Favre is done. I’m not sure I buy it just yet. At least not until I hear it from the old man’s mouth.

Favre may just want to get us all writing about him two or three more times this offseason. He could wait out training camp and change his mind. So I’ll believe it in…let’s say Week 2 when Brett Favre isn’t in purple.

Until then, there’s always a chance “the most magical player to ever play the game” (Seriously, Hoge?) returns for a final campaign. I, for one, have made peace with the fact that he is going to play until 2025.

Whether you think Favre is really done or not, there’s one thing we can all agree on, he is one helluva drama queen.

Shameless Plugging: Keeper no more?

In the most recent Fourth & 1 fantasy football roundtable debate, we tackle what players have lost the most keeper value this season besides LaDainian Tomlinson.

I chose to single out Darren McFadden.

Despite the Oakland Raiders’ miraculous victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, who really beat themselves in this weekend’s upset, McFadden is on one of the worst teams in the NFL.

For an offense whose strength was supposed to be the running game, the Raiders’ rushing attack and, more specifically, McFadden have gotten shut down in almost every contest.

McFadden no longer seems like a challenger to Adrian Peterson’s crown as the best running back in the NFL, and fantasy owners holding onto him through his injury this season should worry about when he will pan out as a keeper.

More than likely, he’ll struggle on a mediocre team until he is traded or reaches free agency.

For more on my McFadden pick and all of the rest of the roundtable’s selections, read the Fourth & 1 Debate, hosted this week by Lester’s Legends.

What do you think of McFadden as a keeper? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Michael Crabtree signs…and I don’t care [Fantasy Impact]

Michael Crabtree, who majored in diva-ology at Texas Tech, has finally signed with the San Francisco 49ers as of yesterday. Apparently, that whole “we can win without you” message got into his head, but he’ll certainly be upset that his own signing was upstaged by the Braylon Edwards trade, relegating Crabtree to just a footnote.

After weeks of speculation about why he was holding out and accusations that the New York Jets were tampering, which will still be investigated despite Crabtree’s signing, the wait is over.

Full of rookie potential and college hype, scouts expect Crabtree to become one of the truly dominating receivers in the NFL, a weapon that the 49ers could really use to make their offense more dynamic–or as dynamic as an offense can be with Shaun Hill at quarterback.

But don’t expect Crabtree to immediately jump into the 49ers offense and start diva-fying everything. The 49ers have no room for divas. They run the ball, and I don’t expect that to change just because Crabtree is now a member of the NFL club. He’s likely to spend most of the coming weeks learning the offense.

When the 49ers activate him, he could still be just the second option behind Josh Morgan, who hasn’t been terrible, or even the third option behind both Morgan and a surprisingly productive Vernon Davis.

I don’t hate Shaun Hill as a quarterback; in fact, I view him as a fairly decent QB2 option most weeks. But Hill’s been far more likely to throw to Davis and hand the ball off to Frank Gore or Glen Coffee in these early weeks of the season than he has to try something deep to Morgan or Isaac Bruce. I don’t think Crabtree will change that.

So if Crabtree is floating on your waiver wire, and you have the roster spot on your bench to spare, feel free to go out there and get him, but make sure you view it as an investment for the end of the season.

In redraft leagues, Crabtree may be nothing but a blip on the fantasy radar as a situational receiver for the 49ers down the stretch, but at least you’ll be first in line to benefit when he sees the field.

If you, like many owners, need that bench spot to survive the upcoming bye weeks, I think it’s safe to wait on the diva. He will mind, but I don’t care.

Braylon Edwards traded to Jets [Fantasy Impact]

Coming off the heels of allegations that he assaulted a friend of LeBron James and a Week 4 game in which Braylon Edwards caught absolutely nothing, it’s surprising to see him be swept away to the New York Jets in a trade this morning.

But for the Jets, this move makes sense. They needed a No. 1 receiving threat that could stretch the field, and they believe that Edwards can be that guy.

In exchange, the Jets sent the Browns young receiver Chansi Stuckey, a special teamer and two draft picks.

Edwards looked like one of the top targets in the NFL in 2007 as he and Derek Anderson, coming off the bench to replace Charlie Frye, became fantasy superstars. Edwards ended the season with 16 touchdowns, and many fantasy football pros drafted him beside names like Randy Moss the following season when both Anderson and Edwards disappointingly regressed back to the usual for the Cleveland Browns.

Drowning in mediocrity, Edwards now gets his shot at the big time. He’s always enjoyed the spotlight, and New York should provide him with plenty of that as he tries to make a name for himself as a true top-flight receiver and earn a big money contract for 2010 and beyond. His rookie deal comes to an end this season unless the Jets give him a new contract.

There’s still the pesky matter of a potential suspension for Edwards, but the punishment would likely not be enforced until 2010 once the league is done investigating the incident. The Jets weren’t concerned enough to pass on acquiring him.

Now all the eyes in New York are on Braylon Edwards to overcome his recent bouts of dropsies and prove his 2007 season was no fluke. Much will be expected of him as has been expected of Mark Sanchez, who hasn’t disappointed much in his first four games as a pro.

Fantasy Impact on Edwards/Jets

While Edwards will most likely be happier in New York and possibly more open down the field for the Jets, his fantasy value should remain about the same for several weeks. He still has to learn the offense and find his rhythm with Mark Sanchez. There’s always a danger that Edwards, like Roy Williams in 2008, disappears in this offense until he can find his stride, but the Jets will try to incorporate him as best they can.

Edwards’ owners should keep their expectations in check. Remember that Sanchez is a rookie quarterback on a defensive-minded team. Sanchez’s going to play it safe most of the time, but having the option to take shots down field should open more things up in the Jets’ offense. Edwards is likely to take the No. 1 role from Jerricho Cotchery in this offense and clear the middle of the field for Dustin Keller. As always, more danger down the sides of the field should help Thomas Jones and Leon Washington find running lanes.

Overall, it’s an upgrade for Edwards and for the entire Jets’ offense, including Mark Sanchez. Edwards should be owned in all leagues already, but pick him up if someone gave up on him too soon.

If you want to trade for Edwards, wait a week or two until the trade hype and his first two quiet games have passed, and buy him low before he really does something in the Jets’ offense. He shouldn’t become a factor right away, but he could have WR2 or WR3 value by season’s end.

Fantasy Impact on Browns

Chansi Stuckey isn’t much in the fantasy department. Brett Favre took a liking to him near the red zone last season, but this season, Stuckey has been on the decline since his 64-yard and one touchdown performance in Week 1. Only time will tell how the Browns use him once he adjusts to the Cleveland way of suffering, I mean playing.

The real gainer here is Mohamed Massaquoi. Anderson neglected Edwards in favor of Massaquoi last week in Mo’s 148-yard breakout game. Massaquoi was a hot waiver wire grab going into this week, but his prospects just got hotter. Unlike Edwards, Massaquoi moves into a starring role in an offense with which he is already familiar.

As much as the Browns should have to pass this season, Massaquoi must be owned in all leagues moving forward and is desperately in need of a good nickname so that we don’t have to type out Massaquoi 10 times a day if he becomes a real fantasy stud.

While Edwards’ departure steals some talent away from the Browns roster, the fantasy impact should be minimal since Edwards just wasn’t being used enough to be a fantasy factor. Besides Massaquoi’s big jump in value and the potential for someone else on the Browns’ roster to step up in Edwards’ absence, Cleveland remains more of less unchanged.

The Hazean and Fantasy Joe have more on the fantasy impact of this trade.