The fantasy impact of the first round

The first round of the 2011 NFL Draft has come and gone, and it’s time for fantasy owners to pick up the pieces. The draft not only affects the rookie that lands in a good (or bad) situation, but it also impacts that veteran who is likely to lose his job now that his team has decided to go into another direction.

There are a number of different ways to approach a piece like this, but I’m just going to go down the list of picks and highlight the ones that will impact fantasy owners in 2011. At the end, I’ll discuss the picks that didn’t happen, and how those decisions might affect your fantasy draft this August.

Cam Newton is the new QB in Carolina.
I heard a pundit say that the Panthers should let Newton hold a clipboard for a season while Jimmy Clausen continues to start and I had to scratch my head. Clausen is not some wily vet who can hold down the fort while the Panthers let Newton develop. He wasn’t good last year and he probably won’t be good this year. If he beats Newton out for the starting gig, fine, but the Panthers will probably let Newton start from the get-go, and how he fares will impact the entire offense. Jonathan Stewart’s stock is probably the most volatile since he’s going to need Newton to manufacture some sort of a passing game so that he has enough running lanes to be productive. (This assumes DeAngelo Williams is elsewhere in 2011, which is no sure thing.) As much of a wildcard as Newton is, Stewart should be better off than he would have been with Clausen.

A.J. Green to the Bengals.
That sound you hear is the air coming out of the Jerome-Simpson-is-a-sleeper balloon. Simpson could still have a solid year, but the Bengals are going to have to find a QB good enough to support two relevant fantasy WRs. What do I mean? Well, in 2010, six teams had two WRs finish in the Top 30 in PPR leagues: Baltimore (Joe Flacco), Indianapolis (Peyton Manning), New Orleans (Drew Brees), NY Giants (Eli Manning), Philadelphia (Mike Vick) and Miami. Of those teams, only the Dolphins had instability at the QB position. That doesn’t bode well for Simpson.

Falcons trade the farm for Julio Jones.
Jones’ arrival in Atlanta is a nice boost for Matt Ryan. The Falcons didn’t give all those picks away so that Jones could get the same number of targets as Michael Jenkins. Atlanta must be prepared to throw the ball more, and that’s good for Ryan. It’s probably a wash for Roddy White, who isn’t likely to see as many targets as he did last year, but the quality of those targets should improve since defenses will have to account for Jones. I also like this pick for Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner, who will both benefit from all the attention that will be paid to White and Jones on the outside.

Titans select Jake Locker.
In the short term, this could be bad news for Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt and Jared Cook, assuming Locker starts from the get-go. If they go with someone like Kerry Collins instead, then things won’t change much for the Tennessee fantasy stars. In the long term, if Locker develops as the Titans hope he will, this will be a very good thing for the Tennessee offense.

Blaine Gabbert to the Jaguars.
See above, and replace Chris Johnson with Maurice Jones-Drew, Kenny Britt with Mike Thomas, Jared Cook with Marcedes Lewis and Kerry Collins with David Garrard. Oh, and replace Tennessee with Jacksonville and Titans with Jaguars. (This didn’t save as much time as I had hoped.)

Vikings draft Christian Ponder.
This is clearly a blow to Joe Webb’s draft stock, though I don’t know that he was going to be much of a fantasy factor even if he won the starting job. This is probably a wash for Adrian Peterson, who was going to see eight men in the box regardless, though the Vikings could still land Donovan McNabb and give him the job for a year or two to let Ponder develop. We’ll just have to wait for free agency to see how this situation shakes out.

Jonathan Baldwin is headed to Kansas City.
Dwayne Bowe owners shouldn’t worry. He’s the better talent of the two, though it will be interesting to see how many targets Baldwin gets in the Chiefs’ ball-control offense. This is a slight upgrade for Matt Cassel, though his schedule projects to be a lot tougher, so it may not matter much.

Saints draft Mark Ingram.
I won’t say this pick came out of nowhere, but it was a surprising move considering the Saints recently locked Pierre Thomas up to a new contract. Reggie Bush is likely on his way out, which would be good for both Thomas and Ingram. If Bush stays, this could turn into a mess, though Ingram figures to be the lead back since the Saints burned a first round pick to acquire him. Thomas’s stock takes a big hit, but it wasn’t all that high after his disappointing 2010 season. Then there’s also the matter of Chris Ivory. The Saints backfield is muddled, but Ingram is clearly the guy to own in keeper/dynasty leagues.

THE PICKS THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN

The Bills pass on a QB at #2.
The legend of Ryan Fitzpatrick (and his beard) lives! Fitzy was a surprise at QB last season and with an easier schedule I like him again this year, especially as a part of a Quarterback By Committee (QBBC). If the Bills draft a rookie, there’s a good chance that Fitzpatrick will be hitting the bench midseason after the Bills are out of the playoff race, but the longer the draft goes before Buffalo takes a signal caller, the safer Fitzy’s job is.

The Patriots pass on a RB…for now.
New England has three second round picks, so they could very well draft a RB on day two, but they had a shot at Ingram and passed. That’s good news in the short-term for BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Even if the Pats take a RB soon, I think Danny Woodhead is safe as the Patriots’ third-down/change-of-pace back. He was too productive last season and the Pats made it a point to lock him up to a new deal.

DeAngelo Williams-to-Miami is still alive.
Like the Pats, the Dolphins could have drafted Ingram at #15 but elected to go with a center instead. That’s a double-boost to Williams, who has been rumored to be atop the Dolphins’ offseason wishlist. Not only is the job still open, but Miami has a new mauler in the run game in Mike Pouncey. Things are shaping up well for Williams, or whomever lands the Dolphins starting RB job. It’s not a sure thing that Williams will be able to free himself from Carolina.

The Cardinals still need a QB.
Arizona went with Patrick Peterson at #5, which means they passed on Blaine Gabbert and Jake Locker. They’ve been rumored to want to add Marc Bulger this summer, and if that happens things could still improve for Larry Fitzgerald. As it stands, Fitzy and his owners are in a tough spot. Stay tuned.

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