Rookie Winners and Losers - Part 2
By Jeff Tefertiller
June 7th, 2010

Leading up to the NFL Draft, there were several rookies that were expected to make a big splash early on. These players were thought to contribute right away. As the draft played out, some of the players saw their fantasy value take off while the value of others went off a cliff. Dynasty owners know not to draft players based on situation, but it happens frequently. The last article looked at players who saw their value increase sharply. This installment will focus on the rookies whose value decreased over the course of the three-day draft this past April.

This is just a short-term look at situation, not talent for these youngsters. Some players were highly thought of before the draft and have seen their value decline sharply. These are the players we will examine in this article. This type of situation offers tremendous value situations for fantasy owners. This divide between talent and opportunity sets up great opportunities to buy or sell in dynasty leagues. Some of the players in this article are worth much less than their talent merits merely due to the situation in which they were drafted. This is the time to buy for the long haul. Always remember that situations change and talent remains.

The Carolina Panthers drafted Jimmy Clausen in the second round after the former Notre Dame star fell much further than expected. Clausen was touted by many, especially ESPN's Mel Kiper, as an elite player in the draft. He was expected to be a first round pick by a team with an obvious need at the quarterback position. Instead, Clausen lands on a Panther club who has Matt Moore ready to take on the starting job. He finally wrestled the starting gig away from Jake Delhomme. Moore has a 6-2 record as a starter and will get a long leash to hold off the rookie. Also, he led the team to three consecutive victories against strong NFC teams to end the 2009 season. These wins came over the Vikings, Giants, and Saints. The strong finish was the primary reason the Panthers were willing to cut the cord with Delhomme. There are several better situations that Clausen could have entered, and possibly started early on as a rookie, but this is Moore's job to lose after the strong ending to 2009. Also, the Panthers are a running team, limiting the fantasy upside of their quarterback, whomever it is. Coach Fox will want to pound the ball as often as possible with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. With only one legitimate NFL pass receiver, neither Moore or Clausen is a good bet to be a top fantasy producer. Many will see this situation and think it is rosy for Clausen. It is not. He has to beat out a quarterback loved by the team's veterans and the coaching staff. The Panthers are a run-first team with few weapons. The situation would have been much better in Oakland, Buffalo, or even Cleveland.

Toby Gerhart set all kinds of records during his college career at Stanford. He is a big, physical runner who runs hard between the tackles. Many thought he would be taken by back-needy team to be the thumper in a committee. Of all the ball carriers, none were drafted into a worse situation than Gerhart. Minnesota used a valuable second round pick on Gerhart. They like his talent. The Vikings chose Gerhart over several heralded pro prospects. But, he is now stuck behind one of the NFL's premier running backs in Adrian Peterson. Minnesota lost change of pace back Chester Taylor to the Chicago Bears this offseason. There was a void in the backfield. Taylor's skills were a perfect complement to Peterson. Taylor is much superior to Gerhart as a receiver and open field runner. It is interesting that the Vikings brought in a physical runner in Gerhart as the backup to Peterson. This kills the value of Gerhart to the point that he is only valuable as the Peterson handcuff. In a place like Seattle, Oakland, or Denver, Gerhart would have been given quality carries most every week.

The powerful Jonathan Dwyer saw his draft stock fall further than any other. He was once thought of as a "can't miss" prospect. But, on draft day, Dwyer's name was not called until the sixth round. There were questions about his weight and work ethic, as well as the ability to transition to a pro-style offense. There was thought to be no way that Dwyer would fall all of the way middle of the sixth round. He is a big runner who has better speed and vision than expected. Now in Pittsburgh, Dwyer will aim to be the primary backup behind Rashard Mendenhall. The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket will fit well into the physical running style employed by Pittsburgh. The catch is that he will have to wait for a Mendenhall meltdown or injury to get a real opportunity. Before April's draft, many penciled Dwyer in as the 1.05 rookie pick (behind Dez Bryant, C.J. Spiller, Ryan Mathews, and Jahvid Best). Now, he is the sixth or seventh rookie ball carrier taken in rookie drafts. The good news is that he is cheap to acquire.

The 2009 SEC's leading rusher was not impervious to a draft-day free-fall. Anthony Dixon fell all the way to the sixth round himself. Dixon is a big runner who has nifty feet in small spaces. He does not consistently run as big as his size (6'1", 233 pounds) would suggest, but Dixon is still a quality ball carrier. His fantasy value would have been much higher if Dixon would not have been drafted as Frank Gore's backup. San Francisco runs their stud back often and does not give him much of a break. Dixon has value merely as the Gore insurance policy, not because of his own merits. The major knock on Dixon is his lack of breakaway speed, but that is not his forte. He is an inside runner that keeps his pads low and is not afraid of contact. Dixon owners have to wait for another Gore injury to see their big back run the ball with any consistency. He could add another level of physicality to the 49er offense.

Clausen's college teammate, Damian Williams, was believed to be a riser leading up to the draft. He slid all the way to the third round. The Tennessee Titans are not a great landing spot for the big receiver. Tennessee is a running team with a below average passer in Vince Young at the helm. In addition, the path to a starting spot is not easy. Second-year pro Kenny Britt is has a great chance to start on one side of the offense with veterans Nate Washington and Justin Gage on the other. Williams will have to play well in order to see the field and the chances of early fantasy success are extremely slim.

Taylor Price was a wide receiver who was gaining in popularity as the draft grew closer. He had a strong postseason and was thought to be in position to play right away if selected by the "right" team. Price slipped to late in the third round where he was selected by the New England Patriots. This is a bad situation for Price in the near-term, but could be huge in a couple of years. For now, Price is buried on the depth chart behind Randy Moss, Torry Holt, Brandon Tate, and slot receivers Wes Welker and Julian Edelman. But, the future is bright for Price. He is talented. Moss and Holt are both candidates to be playing elsewhere next year. If so, Price will be given a legitimate chance to start. The 2010 season will be one that Price needs to hone his craft and become a true professional receiver. He is big, fast, and has good hands. But, the transition from Ohio University to the NFL is large. The coming year will be important in the development of Price. This is the time to buy him, as he is buried deep on the Patriots' depth chart.

The name Andre Roberts was foreign to many leading up to the NFL Draft. The former Citadel star had a good offseason and showed that he could be a player at the next level. He was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the third round. The team suggested that Roberts will get the first crack at replacing Steve Breaston returning kicks. Arizona wants Breaston to concentrate solely on being a wide receiver. The good news is that Roberts will see the field. The bad news is that he will start out as the fourth wide receiver, at best, for the Cardinals, behind Larry Fitzgerald, Early Doucet and Breaston. Arizona brought both Breaston and Doucet along slowly so fantasy owners should expect the same for Roberts. He will soon be available for cheap in dynasty leagues, just like Breaston and Doucet, as his owners become impatient. Like Price, Roberts is an ideal player to target and stash after the season starts. He could be the future starter for the Cardinals, lining up across from Fitzgerald. Breaston is only under contract for 2010 and could leave the desert next offseason. Also like Price, Roberts' situation looks much worse than it is for dynasty purposes. His talent will shine through in time.

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