Rookie Winners and Losers - Part 1
By Jeff Tefertiller
June 7th, 2010

Leading up to the NFL Draft, there were several rookies that were thought to make an immediate impact. These players were expected to contribute right away. Well, as the draft played out, some of the players saw their fantasy value skyrocket while the worth of others plummeted just due to the situation. Dynasty owners know not to draft or value players based on situation, but it happens frequently. This article will examine first-year players who saw their value increase sharply over those three fateful days in late April. The next article will focus on the rookies whose value declined that weekend.

This is just a short-term look at situation, not talent. Some players were highly thought of before the draft and have seen their value decline sharply. Others were late risers coming into April and it was a great surprise where they were selected. Either way, it offers value opportunities for fantasy owners. One of the biggest things to take away from these articles is the way the players' values set up great chances to buy or sell in dynasty leagues. Some of the players in this article are worth many times more than their talent dictates merely due to the situation in which they were drafted. In the next article, there will be several players who are worth much less than they should be only because of the current situation. Always remember that situations change and talent remains the constant.

The Denver Broncos paid a premium to trade up for Tim Tebow. Baltimore was giddy with the haul after the deal. The Broncos, and their young coach, are now heavily invested in Tebow. He enters an opportune situation in which to succeed, but is still a ways away from contributing. With Orton in the last year of his contract, and the faith shown in Tebow by coach McDaniels, he will get his opportunity soon enough. In fact, it may happen too sooner than expected. It will be interesting to see the improvements McDaniels can make in the ex-Gator's footwork and delivery. Ultimately, those will be the determining factors of his success. But, for now, Tebow is worth a ton as the future play caller in the pass-happy Denver offense. The jury is still out whether or not he will be a factor in fantasy.

The Houston Texans selection of Ben Tate in the second round was a big surprise to many followers of college football, especially the SEC. Tate had only one 1,000-yard season while at Auburn. Even then, he disappointed against the better teams last year, averaging less than four years per carry against West Virginia (3.9), LSU (3.7), Georgia (3.4), and Alabama (2.5). Tate did have a good showing at the NFL Combine. It was enough for the Texans to take a chance on him. Tate gets a great opportunity in Houston. The Texans have very little at the running back position after the neck injury to Steve Slaton. The rookie has a chance to garner the majority of the carries with Slaton and Arian Foster splitting the remainder The Texans' run scheme is perfect for Tate's one-cut-and-go style. He will be able to make a cut and get up the field quickly. The situation is much superior to Tate's ability. This makes him a much better play in the short term than in for the long haul. He has a great opportunity to put up some numbers before being exposed as an average talent. Tate's running style will help, but there is not enough natural ability to be a long-term solution for the Texans.

Right after the Texans took Tate, the Cleveland Browns traded up to select Monterio Hardesty. Hardesty is another back that has not proven himself over several seasons but is now thrust into being the primary ball carrier at the professional level. At Tennessee, Hardesty was only the starting tailback for one season. He had no years with more than 107 carries coming into the 2009 campaign. With the big Senior season and solid NFL Combine, Hardesty catapulted himself into a second round selection. But, as we take a closer look, Hardesty only had five 100-yard games last year. They came against the likes of Western Kentucky, Ohio University, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky. Hardesty did have a very good Senior year totaling 1345 rushing yards and another 302 through the air. Like Tate, it would have been nice to see him come up huge against the better teams of the SEC. The Volunteers played in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against Virginia Tech. The bowl game offered a good opportunity for Hardesty to showcase his talents, but 18 carries for 39 yards was not inspiring. In Cleveland, Hardesty will be in a committee with Jerome Harrison and possibly James Davis. Harrison is the better back, but Hardesty will likely get the first crack at getting the larger share of carries. Hardesty was drafted into a great situation but lacks the talent to be successful for very long. Add in the injury history and there is not a good recipe for long-term success.

Brandon Lafell enters a great situation in Carolina. The Panthers took Lafell in the third round of April's NFL Draft. The team is in desperate need of a receiver to start opposite Steve Smith. Dwayne Jarrett is a bust. Muhsin Muhammad remains unsigned but likely will not be back with the club. Lafell was less than productive at LSU. He had exactly one 100-yard game as a Senior and it came against the powerhouse known as Mississippi State. Carolina drafted Lafell to be a credible option that defenses have respect opposite Smith. He is not that type of receiver. Lafell is a possession receiver who is prone to dropped passes. He will get a chance to start right away. Another rookie receiver to watch in Carolina is former Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards. He is a great athlete with good hands and is adjusting well to the transition to catching passes. Lafell does have a chance to be productive, but his upside is limited to the level of a possession receiver. His value will be high initially with many assuming a permanent starting gig in Lafell's future. With limited speed and quickness, he will struggle for consistency against NFL cornerbacks.

Golden Tate was drafted into an outstanding situation. The Seattle Seahawks do not have much talent at the wide receiver position. Only the pair of aging receivers, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch, remain after the departure of Nate Burleson. Coach Pete Carroll saw plenty of the Notre Dame star after the annual clashes with Fighting Irish. In fact, Tate lit the Trojans up for 117 yards and a pair of scores in 2009. He does have the talent to be a long-term starter in Seattle. Tate showed plenty of ability last year, amassing over 110 receiving yards in all but three of the Irish contests. Carroll is bringing his offense to the Pacific Northwest. Matt Hasselbeck is back healthy with Charlie Whitehurst knocking on the door. The situation sets up for Tate to be one of the big winners of the draft. The Seahawks have no play makers. The oft-injured Branch has not been a viable option in years. Houshmandzadeh is good at finding holes in the defense but cannot make a play after the catch. There is a very real possibility that Tate leads all rookie receivers in catches and yards. He had a monster Junior season with 93 receptions for 1496 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. Tate can make a play after the catch. The Seahawks need him to start early in his career. Tate enters a "golden" situation.

Demaryius Thomas has all of the pressure on him after the Broncos bypassed Dez Bryant for the former Georgia Tech star. Thomas was another big winner in the draft. Many expected Thomas to go high, but not as the first wide receiver off the board to a team void of a a number one pass catcher. The conservative Yellow Jacket offense kept the athletic receiver from seeing a large number of targets. Coming into the NFL after his Junior campaign, Thomas has huge shoes to fill while trying to replace the productivity of Brandon Marshall. He will be given every opportunity to start right away, but still may be on the raw side. Thomas' willingness and ability to block in the run game will help him see the field. With so few targets in college, the jury is still out on Thomas, but he will see the field often as a rookie. The Broncos traded away Marshall and passed on Bryant. There will be pressure to get Thomas on the gridiron.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had little at wideout after not re-signing Antonio Bryant this offseason. Instead of pursuing Bryant or another free agent, the team chose to fill the void through the draft. Tampa Bay addressed the position in spades. Illinois standout Arrelious Benn was chosen with the 39th overall pick and Syracuse's Mike Williams was selected early in the fourth round, pick 101 overall. Benn was productive in 2007 and 2008 before suffering at the hands of quarterback Juice Williams last season. As a Junior last year, Benn had zero 100-yard games and only 490 receiving yards on 38 catches. He will now get ample opportunity to start in the young Buccaneer offense. Williams was having a great season before leaving the Syracuse team in the middle of the year. He accumulated 746 receiving yards and six touchdowns in only seven games. This included a 209-yard, two score outburst against Northwestern. Both of these receivers are big, physical, and athletic. They will give Josh Freeman big targets at the receiver position. Expect Benn and Williams to be the starting wideouts early in the season. They both landed in the same great situation with little or no talent to contend with at the wide receiver position.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to tefertiller@footballguys.com.