12 Veterans Hurt by the Draft
The NFL Draft brings a great deal of excitement to the fantasy football world, as we all try to determine the next big thing from this year’s rookie class. But the fortunes of veteran players vying for new or ongoing fantasy relevance can be negatively affected by the draft choices made by their respective teams. Here are twelve such players, whose fantasy stock took a hit following the 2014 draft.
San Francisco 49ers
After three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, Johnson took a big step back in 2013 under a new coaching regime in Buffalo. His fantasy value was already on the decline after the Bills moved up to select Sammy Watkins with the fourth pick overall in the NFL Draft, but Johnson’s stock plummeted further with his subsequent trade to San Francisco.
While the Bills offense was hardly prolific, no one threw the ball less in 2013 than the 49ers, and Johnson goes from being the number-one receiver in Buffalo to arguably the third or fourth option on a decidedly run-first team.
Green-Ellis started every game for the Bengals in 2013 and led the team in attempts, rushing yards, and touchdown runs. The emergence of second-year man Giovani Bernard was going to cut into Green-Ellis’ workload in 2014, but a renewed focus on the running game under new offensive coordinator Hugh Jackson still held promise of fantasy value for the Law Firm. When Cincinnati selected Jeremy Hill in the second round of the draft, however, Green-Ellis’ fantasy value went from declining to potentially nonexistent. The 6’1”, 233-pound Hill should be an ideal complement to Bernard in the Bengals’ backfield, and the rookie has already been running with the second team in OTAs, ahead of Green-Ellis who could find himself on the chopping block in the not-too-distant future.
While people weren’t necessarily getting excited about Greene’s fantasy prospects for 2014, the departure of Chris Johnson left a void that was going to be filled by someone in Tennessee, and fantasy value is often as much about opportunity as anything else. Enter Bishop Sankey, the Titans’ second-round pick and the first running back selected in the draft. Greene should continue to get a level of work under new Tennessee head coach Ken Whisenhunt, including some goal-line carries. But had the Titans passed on a running back in the draft or even selected one much later in the process, Greene would hold a lot more fantasy value than he does now.
New York Giants
Following the departure of Hakeem Nicks in free agency, Randle, a former second-round draft pick himself, seemed poised to assume a greater role in the Giants passing game in 2014. But inconsistent play from Randle when given the opportunity last season apparently left New York uneasy about his prospects as their definitive number-two receiver, and the team selected Odell Beckham, Jr. with the 12th overall pick of the draft in May. As a high draft pick and one of the top receiving prospects from this year’s draft, Beckham is expected to contribute for the Giants right away, likely at the expense of Randle.
Green Bay Packers
Boykin burst onto the fantasy scene in October, filling in admirably for an injury-riddled Packers receiving corp and ultimately catching 49 passes for 681 yards and three scores on the season. While he was never going to start ahead of a healthy Jordy Nelson or Randall Cobb, Boykin was in line for a lot of playing time in 2014 as the number-three receiver in Green Bay, particularly after the free-agent departure of James Jones. But the Packers used a second-round draft pick on Davante Adams and he is likely to challenge Boykin for playing time right away, especially in the red zone. Green Bay also used fifth and seventh-round picks on receivers in the draft, creating additional competition at the position.
Despite being a chronic underperformer thus far in his five-year career with Detroit, the Lions signed Pettigrew to a new four-year contract in March and there was talk of him being more involved in the new coaching staff’s offensive scheme. However, when stud tight end prospect Eric Ebron was available at the 10th pick in this year’s draft, Detroit pulled the trigger and may have finally put the final nail in Pettigrew’s fantasy coffin. Ebron is younger, more athletic, and has considerably more upside than Pettigrew, so there’s no reason for him not to get every opportunity to be the Lion’s top tight end in 2014. Even in two-tight-end sets around the goal line, Pettigrew can expect to lose reps to Ebron and second-year touchdown machine Joseph Fauria.
Shorts came out of nowhere in 2012 to record 979 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns, but even as Justin Blackmon appeared in just four games last year, Shorts failed to continue the success that he had enjoyed during the previous season. Jacksonville subsequently hit the wide receiver position hard in the draft, selecting both Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second round. While the rookies might not push Shorts out of a starting job right away, the Jaguars are building their offense around a young nucleus and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lee and Robinson stealing looks from the veteran as the season progresses, particularly if Jacksonville is having another bad year.
St. Louis Rams
A year after selecting Stacy in the fifth round of the NFL Draft, the Rams picked up Tre Mason in the third round this year. Mason isn’t likely to immediately displace Stacy at the top of St. Louis’ pecking order, but the rookie recently said that Jeff Fisher indicated he would have a chance to compete for the starting job. Even if that is a level of coach-speak, Stacy’s success last year came at least partly as a result of volume, as no other running back averaged more carries per game from Week 5 through the end of the season. With Mason potentially chipping away at Stacy’s opportunities, the veteran’s fantasy value could be down at least modestly from where it was prior to the draft, and there is certainly more competition-related risk to drafting Stacy than there was a month ago.
The Eagles selected Jordan Matthews with the 42nd pick of this year’s draft and the rookie has the size and skill set to contribute right away in Philadelphia. Cooper had a breakthrough season in 2013, but that came largely as the result of injuries to other players and DeSean Jackson’s ability to take the top off the defense.
The Philadelphia Eagles gave Cooper a five-year, $25 million contract in the offseason, but Matthews has the potential to outplay the veteran and with Jackson gone, Philly may need the rookie’s versatility more than Cooper’s experience. If Jeremy Maclin is healthy (granted, that’s a big if), I think the combination of Matthews and Maclin offers Chip Kelly the greatest flexibility in play calling.
Fantasy owners wondered for years what Rodgers might do if he was given the opportunity to carry the ball more than the plodding running backs ahead of the him on the depth chart the last few seasons. But an expanded workload in the wake of Steven Jackson’s injury in 2013 indicated that Rodgers might not be cut out to be a lead back in the NFL. The Falcons’ selection of Devonta Freeman in the fourth round of the draft seemed to confirm that the team is not comfortable with Rodgers as the primary backup to the soon-to-be-31-year-old Jackson, and Freeman also possesses the pass-catching ability to push Rodgers for his role as a third-down back. Freeman could easily be a risk to Jackson himself in Atlanta, but the rookie is at minimum a big upgrade over Rodgers.
New Orleans Saints
Stills generated a lot of fantasy buzz ahead of the 2013 season and he demonstrated some big-play ability as a rookie. Following the departure of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore from New Orleans in the offseason, Stills was once again becoming a trendy fantasy commodity. However, when the Saints traded up to the 20th pick in the first round to select Brandin Cooks, Stills’ value took a hit. Cooks was one of the fastest players in the 2014 draft and could at minimum fill the role that Stills played in New Orleans last year. There are plenty of available targets to go around in the Saints’ high-powered offense, but Stills’ path to fantasy success is complicated by the arrival of Cooks.
San Francisco 49ers
The role of the number-two running back in one of the league’s most run-heavy offenses carries a great deal of fantasy significance. Over the last three years, Hunter has filled that role in San Francisco, even if his touches have been considerably behind those of feature back Frank Gore. And with Gore recently turning 31 years old, Hunter had the potential to wrest away a bigger chunk of the 49ers running game in 2014. At least, that was the case before San Francisco drafted Carlos Hyde, ranked by many as the top running back in this year’s class. Hyde now seems like the more logical choice as Gore’s heir apparent, and the rookie’s arrival clouds the fantasy outlook of guys like Hunter, Marcus Lattimore, and LaMichael James.[ad id=”Ad2″]